*Author’s note: This is the third part to Them—a Love Story.
She is in the garden, digging and pulling.
He likes the shape her body takes as she rips at the crabgrass and white clover surrounding her rows of pink Astilbe. “Leave my babies alone,” she mutters, protectively, wrenching the choking, spidery pieces out from the roots. Her aggression helps her maintain focus on the dreaded task.
She wears yoga pants non-stop these days, and he cannot look away. He is drawn to her haunches like a moth to a flame. She folds the top part down so that they hug the low part of her waist, and they dip lower still when she’s on all fours. His lungs fill as he stretches, arching his back, clasping his hands behind his head and all he wants to do is yank them off, grab her hips and push himself into her. Her stupid pants make him want to do things.
Drawing herself up, she settles on her heels. She reconfigures her messy bun and there’s a smudge of dirt on the back of her arm—he has never seen anything sexier. “Jesus,” he breathes, turning away. He walks around to the back of the house. He picks up the hose, turns it on, and pretends it’s his dick. He shoots at the cherry tomato containers lining the patio. She comes around the corner and catches him, and he is embarrassed. But then they both laugh so he is not embarrassed anymore.
She bites her lip as she reaches for the brass nozzle the same way she sometimes reaches for him, and his eyes change and that is their undoing. When they go inside, he gently pushes her in front so he can watch her climb the stairs.
They are driving along down the street and “Honky-Cat” comes on the radio so they blast it. They sing at the top of their lungs and sway around in their seats as they drive. She plays the air keyboard and he plays the air drums. “That piano is ridiculous,” he says and they keep singing.”It’s like tryin’ to drink whiskey…from a bottle of wine!” she belts, grabbing an air mike. She sings, “But how can you stay when your heart says no, oh, the change is gonna do me good!”
And with that verse he gives her some side-eye.
He loves her food, and he should because she’s a damn genius in the kitchen. It is her wheelhouse. She makes waffles the same way her grandmother made them, and he always acts like it’s Christmas morning. “Yes please!” he yelps from the loft when he hears her banging around the cabinets with the iron and the bowl. Like all boys, he knows the breakfast sounds. She frowns. She wanted them to be a surprise.
She uses her hands when she talks into her phone. “Who are you talking to?” he asks. “I’m writing a novel,” she says. “What’s it about?” he asks, cocking his head, stacking the dishtowels. “I’m not ready to share,” she says. That clams him up fast, but she goes on talking as she walks away, leaving at least five more questions bobbing around in the folding whitecaps of her wake.
He has started calling her “Turk.” It doesn’t hurt, and she laughs along, but mostly she sighs because she doesn’t like it. It’s not that funny, but he breaks it out like it’s the best thing he’s ever said. He has toned it down, which is nice, but as much as she tries to peel it away, it seems to want to stick.
“He’s limping,” she texts, and there is welling in her words. She included the frowning emoji face with the teardrop, so he knows this isn’t good.
When he comes home, the dog does not come running to the foyer as usual. He remains stationed on the couch, his tail halfheartedly slapping the flat cushion. They get him to move around the room, and they watch. “I’ll call,” she says.
“Dude, what’s going on?” He sits next to his friend, and runs his hand down along his back. A lump forms in the pit of her stomach, and as for him, he is suddenly quieter than usual. Even though he is already a quiet man, it is noticeable.
They put him into the car and take him to the vet, which isn’t far away. In fact, the last time she took him they ran the hilly miles together to get there. He had his check-up where they told him he was a handsome, healthy boy and he blinked with his tongue hanging out and she saw his chest puff up. He sat obediently and adorably, and then they ran again, the whole distance home.
In the back seat, she talks to him. She says, “It’ll be fine, you’ll see.” And their good boy just pants and twitches his eyebrows, maintaining his wonderful eye contact. “He has such wonderful eye contact,” her mother had said, when she brought her new love and his four-legged friend to meet for coffee at the outdoor cafe. At the time, she thought her mother was referring to the dog, and maybe she was, but knowing her mother, probably not.
“There is a burr embedded in his paw,” the vet said. They gave him a sedative, and after some wrangling, they managed to hold him tight while they extracted it in two parts using long, pinching tweezers. “He might be a little sore for a day or two, but he should be okay.” That is when they realize that okay is the most magnificent, glorious, and triumphant word a person in a white coat can possibly say. In fact, okay is the best word they’ve ever heard.
They are mellow and happy all the way home. They are not ready to think about these things yet, and now they don’t have to. Then her heavy wheel begins to turn. “Maybe we should never have a baby,” she whispers, riddled with guilt and worry because this morning she couldn’t figure out what was wrong. She missed it.
Her mind churns with a newfound awareness that when true love is involved, when love feels kindred, when it excludes all others, there are so many things that might be missed, things that can recklessly slip through. They can breathe the same air and exist within the same space, they can even thrive without instructions, but there is no certainty when it comes to the ever-evolving care and keeping of their own sweet love story.
Changes are perennially weathered. Some grow with pleasure, and some grow despite pain. And she suddenly knows, to her core, as sure as her tender heart beats, that she can continue to rip out the unwanted, joyously live within her sheltered wishes, and literally feed the man who figuratively feeds her soul, but still there will be stubborn weeds and errant burrs and unexpected doubts and baseless fears that work like worms to bore holes into all the precious life she carries around in her fragile, little basket.
It is the poignancy of this introspection that propels her to seek and abruptly clutch his one free-floating hand. He lightly squeezes back, absorbing the stormy thoughts of her rigid, bird-like bones shifting beneath the surface of her smooth skin. He seemingly understands her silent, urgent message which is “I won’t let you slip away.” Turning toward their house, they remain locked in silent candor as his left hand grips the wheel.
That night they play with him—their good boy—a little extra. They pet him, they give him treats, and roll around with him on the floor, and then they let him up on their bed.
“Just for tonight,” they say, “it’s okay.”
As they settle in together, waiting for sleep, he is her blanket and he covers her. Kissing the back of her hair, he whispers, “Turk, I love you,” and she shakes her head so he can feel it. He needs to work on his timing. She is not in the mood for his teasing love because there are sentences swirling in the open spaces of her mind, unorganized and on the loose, and she wants them to stay put. She needs to be still so that they will be still. She sows her inspiration at night, and it is work.
He rubs her back, and she stops deliberating just in time to be grateful. Grateful for what is happening and for what hasn’t happened yet. She pets their tired dog, who has become a crescent roll nestled inside the curve of her abdomen.
Their special good boy seems to be smiling as he dozes off.
He can’t help but wonder if he should try to get a burr stuck in his paw more often.
Author: Kimberly Valzania
Image: Audrey Nicole
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Taia Butler