Friday, May 05, 2006

EXCERPT - Between Tears

Pamela Ridley

We ate at a Mexican restaurant. I half listened while Roy and Benjamin shared how their days had gone. Watching them interact, seeing Roy rub the side of his nose while his father told him something, noting how Benjamin effortlessly anticipated his son’s needs, caught my attention more than the conversation. I grinned. Being in their presence delighted me. What if Roy had stayed here and Carolyn really had started using again, I wondered. If Benjamin had left them to fend on their own, would Roy still have his ready smile? Would he be this curious, out going, and well-mannered or would he have learned shut up and not speak unless spoken to and be a behavior problem just to gain any kind of attention?

As we left the restaurant, we noticed a Ferris wheel in the distance. Carnivals popped up out of nowhere these days, but this one was probably a hold over from the Fourth of July.
The Ferris wheel was Carolyn’s second favorite ride, after the roller coaster. A roller coaster was the perfect symbol for her life. Benjamin had been right about that. Her life had been riddled with so many ups and downs.

“You want to go see if they have any rides that Roy might enjoy?” Benjamin suggested.
“Yeah, that would be fun.”
“Yeah, that would be fun, Dad,” Roy chimed in.

We found the kiddie section. It contained a train, some boats in water, and an airplane. Each traveled in its own small orbit.
We got in line for the airplane ride “Is this how you and Roy spent most of your evenings when you were away?”

“Not every night, but we had our fun.”
“Roy had already begun to talk a little before you left, but when did he start to walk?”
“He was a year old, shortly after his birthday. Man oh man. I could write a book about child proofing the home. Roy was into everything.”
“I’ll bet he was.” I sighed. Carolyn didn’t get to see any of that.
“He still is. You have to keep an eye on him and make sure he can’t get into anything dangerous.”
“I know. I’m careful.”

Before long, I said good night with a hug from Roy and a wave from Benjamin. He called me just as I had settled into bed with a J. California Cooper novel. “I’m sorry if I’m out of line, but I’m thinking about you all the time.”

He and I laughed at his poetic hello. A schoolgirl giggle almost escaped my lips, before I pressed my hand to them and came to my senses. Here he was, putting his cards on the table, and I had to admire that, even though it frightened and thrilled me at the same time. The seed of anxiety that had been planted years ago in case this moment ever came to fruition, now blossomed, big time. I walked with the phone, rubbing my stomach, trying to soothe the fluttering. Following suit I said, “How can you be out of line by thinking about me all the time?”
“Because thoughts create action, and I want to hold you in a way that will make us both forget that I was almost your brother-in-law.” He paused, but when I didn’t say anything, because I couldn’t, he kept on going.
“I know how much you loved Carolyn. I know you don’t want to do anything to disrespect her memory.”
I remained speechless.
“I don’t know what to do about my thoughts. What do you suggest I do, Andrea?”

Shaking my head, I fingered the twirls of the phone cord. What should he do? He’d often asked me that when he was trying to navigate his tumultuous relationship with Carolyn. Now he wanted my help to navigate a relationship with me. The thought excited and repulsed me at the same time. He had been Carolyn’s boyfriend for a long time. Was this the right time to move forward in our relationship? A forlorn sound that might pass as laughter bubbled from my mouth. “I don’t know what you should do, Benjamin. This is awkward. You’ve only been back a couple of weeks and you know what people are going to think.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m trying to rush things. I take that back. I do know why.
There’s been too much wasted time already.”

I couldn’t argue with the profundity of that statement. Life is short. My mother’s and Carolyn’s death at their young ages had taught me that. I couldn’t help the way I felt about him, but were these feelings strong enough to justify trying to take this to the next level? “Tomorrow is your first day at work. You need to get your rest tonight.”
He chuckled, probably at my need to get him off the phone. “Tell you what, I’ll focus on getting off to a good start at work and plan on seeing you next Thursday. Would that be okay?”

“Next Thursday? Oh, okay. I’ll look forward to it.”
“Okay, good night, Andrea.
“Goodnight, Benjamin.”
“Oh, Andrea, wait a sec. You have my mom’s number, right?”
“Yes, I have it.” I had called Mrs. Elrod once a week to see if she had any news to share about where or how Roy and Benjamin were. Sometimes she’d answer me politely.

Sometimes she told her husband to tell me she hadn’t heard anything. Most of the time, I think she let her caller ID do the screening. So, yeah, I definitely had her number.
I also had a week’s reprieve. The attraction I’d always felt for Benjamin was still there. He had made it clear he felt the same about me, but I had a week to think about it, a week to decide what, if anything, to do.

Despite Carolyn’s suffering, in my heart I knew I wanted to be close to him, I wanted his arms around me. When he’d taken Roy, he was being the best father he knew how to be, and I had to give him credit for that. Since I’d met Benjamin I had to work at remembering he wasn’t mine, but now he could be.

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