Here's the second part of the story. Thanks for reading!
After Josh and Coley leave, my happy buzz wears off, leaving me feeling worn out and all alone. Try as I might, I cannot imagine Josh able to accept Coley’s news as anything other than the tragedy it is. Josh has landed in a minefield in which I cannot protect him from himself, as if I could ever protect him from anything, two years younger and none the wiser. I can only imagine what Coley thinks will happen because of this action or accident, if it was an accident, a truly hopeless spot in which she’s found herself wedged. I have never been pregnant, insisting on the IUD from an early age, fearing the weight gain of the pill and the notorious unreliability and constant risk of urinary tract infection from a diaphragm. The IUD takes some getting used to -- it irritates as its way of protecting you and causes some pretty awful periods, but it’s good for fifteen years, longer than I can imagine being alive.
The champagne bottle mocks me as I pour another glass for this decidedly unfestive occasion. Shadows line the walls, and I wonder why Josh and I never bother with a Christmas tree, even a small one for the table. Maybe that’s what I’ll do to fill the violet hours, the time of day that can last forever. But first I check my e-mail on Josh’s computer and curse the fact that Kevin never replied to my message after he left the roses. Now there’s the fact that I fucked his son in he and his wife’s bed as well. Christopher was kind enough, generic except for the fact of his father and what I could see of Kevin in him. Even now, I do not know why I did what I did, an occasion of sin as the sisters at Regina might say. And it occurs to me that it wouldn’t be that difficult to find him given that I have his name, school, and home address. Or start the friendship with his sister that I pretended to have. Surely both of them will be home for Christmas. Something to think about, I suppose. Pushed on the wave of Vicodan and alcohol, I head out the door, leaving all the candles burning and head for Target in search of a tree that I can carry by myself. Tonight Josh and I can string some microwave popcorn and set to work making the whole place a little less gloomy.
"So how fucked are you?" I ask Josh.
He doesn’t say anything. I set down my tree, a Charlie Brown number to be sure, but it’s still better than nothing. It’s clear that Coley has left and won’t be returning tonight and I think it’s amazing how fast things can tank.
"What’s that for?" Josh asks. "Are you staging a production?"
"That’s your job," I say as I straighten out the braches of the tree so that they all look as if they are reaching for the sky.
"What the fuck does that mean?" Josh asks and startles me, my anger rising before the chemicals can push it back down.
"Not a fucking thing," I say. I want to say, you don’t think I feel like taking a razor to my face sometimes, asshole? Do you think you’re the only one around here who is fucking sick of smiling? Instead, I’m trying to improve things and fuck you for not liking the tree. I feel as if I might vomit or cry, but I choke back everything for the feelings to die. Because they always do.
"You don’t have to even look at the tree. It’ll be dead by new year’s anyway." I guess we won’t be stringing any popcorn and that is okay since all we have is Act II Movie Butter Lite, not exactly good working material.
I set out the tiny bulbs I got to put on the tree, and Josh says, "She wants to keep it."
No need to ask what Josh wants, an abortion without fanfare or consequences, preferably the cheapest way where the woman stays awake for the procedure, numbed only with local. In Josh’s ideal scenario, Coley would be driven to the clinic by a compassionate female friend who would protect her from the protesters and their ghastly signs and feed her popsicles and soup when she was up to it. Josh would offer to pay since Coley’s a poor graduate student and would be off the hook, having to cut back on books, beer, and eating out for a week, no sex with Coley for two, a penance of sorts.
"How far along is she?"
"Not far. About a month," Josh says. He takes off his running shoes, a pair that are the iridescent color of a beautiful insect.
I realized I forgot to buy hooks for the bulbs. That’s the problem with being a little stoned a lot of the time -- you forget the things that hold everything together.
"That tree looks awfully bare," Josh says, since I’m laying on the couch, having abandoned my efforts for the night.
"Forgot the hooks," I say.
Josh gets a box of jumbo paperclips and untwists a few into a hook-like shape, hangs a bulb with one.
It’s kiss and make up time. I appreciate the effort, even if I’m too tired to say so. Josh continues to decorate the tree with everything I bought -- hooks, tinsel, lights, while I close my eyes and try no to fall asleep before he finishes. I have only one ornament in my room, a bulb with Janis Joplin that says, "Don’t compromise yourself -- you’re all you’ve got." I want to hang it, lest I forget.
Father and Mother arrive an hour early in a rental car and they are forced to wait in our grungy duplex because Josh is out with Coley, accompanying her to her doctor’s appointment to confirm the almost always accurate home pregnancy test. We do these tests at Planned Parenthood all the time and it never ceases to amaze me how fast a person can know something so big. We offer this service for free, competing with many pregnancy crisis centers that also offer them, but tell them the results will take an hour and in the meantime, here’s a film about how Christ can help you regain your virginity and you don’t have to be labeled a whore or if they are pregnant a film on fetal development and how you are killing your baby with its perfect little body that has already been imbued with a soul if you have an abortion. Coley, to her credit, has enough health insurance to go to a doctor’s office where you do not have to take a big wooden number and wait your turn, something that won’t happen for a long time.
"Jo, you look lovely," my father says and kisses me on the cheek. I hug my mother, a preemptive strike, knowing that I won’t have to touch her again until she leaves.
Before my parents arrived, I thought the apartment looked good, full of warmth and glow, illuminated by a new round of candles purchased from Sunshine at Knight Light. Now through the scrim of my parents with their expensive winter coats, the whole place seems shabby and worn.
Josh’s therapist told us in our last appointment that we needed to prepare our parents for Josh’s face, that they would need time to mourn the loss of his old face. Part of me understood her, tried to force myself to call them, write a letter, something. But each time, I found a reason to avoid the whole thing and I would feel a tsunami of exhaustion overcome me.
I offer them something to drink, which they accept if only to have something to do with their hands.
My parents did not look all that worse for the wear, the preservative possibilities of money and the leisurely pace of retirement suited them. What a disappointment we must seem in our tiny house and shitty cars, both of us underpaid -- me to work with the poor, Josh with the rich, none of it making any difference.
While we sat mired in short awkward conversation punctuated by long awkward silence, I looked for Josh out the window, both eager and dreading his arrival. I wanted to say something about Josh’s face, but what besides his face itself could make them understand the magnitude of what he had done? No pictures of Josh from this after period existed -- he had even called in sick to school on picture day to be on the safe side.
"I took the liberty of making reservations at Sweet Georgia Brown for 6:30. Do you imagine Josh will be able to pull himself together by then? There is a dress code," Father says.
Kevin had taken me to Sweet Georgia Brown for my birthday last year, the ostensible reason being that they offered deep fried lobster, the real reason being that it is an upscale black restaurant and making it an unlikely place for him to get caught with me by his wife or their mutual friends. I had worn my highest pair of sandals and the owner had complimented them. I had tried to dress up enough for my parents, but it was clear that I would need to change again.
"I did realize you needed reservations for that place," I said.
Father gave me the once over. "Reservations advised, Jo. It is the holidays. Everyone will be celebrating something."
Except me, I think. And Josh, perhaps a father himself. I cannot imagine what that child would be like -- perhaps us, a sobering thought.
I hear Josh’s car wheezing its way into the back parking space and I want to run, hide, lock myself in the bathroom, but I cannot move.
My parents stare at Josh when he comes in as if he were one of those picture puzzles that required you to focus right if you wanted to see the picture that the dots contained. Josh says nothing, makes no move to hug either of him. He finally gets to speak in the only way he knows how now.
Mother excuses herself to the restroom where I presume she’s trying to decide what to do. Father and Josh look at each other.
"Josette, why didn’t you tell us something had happened? I presume he did this to himself and that it isn’t the product of the squalid ghetto you two have planted yourself in?"
"Nothing ever happens here," I say. I can see that he now understands why Josh and I have chosen to live together. Everything in time becomes revealed.
Father stares at Josh, takes him in from head to toe. I pray to whatever there is that there will be no discussion, that we can go to Sweet Georgia Brown with its 1980s Laura Ashley-like décor and listen to the sounds of smooth jazz or if better sense prevails, something real and harsh, maybe Thelonius Monk, but somehow I doubt it. Like our nights out with Mother and Father, public music is designed at best to soothe, at best not to offend. Mostly, it’s annoying and makes a person wish for nothing. Like right now.
"So is that what you’re wearing?" Father asks, looking at the ink-stained pants (the result of a pen gone amuck in the washer) Josh has chosen for the occasion.
"I can change into something a little nice," Josh says. He heads for his bedroom, and I am left alone with Father while Mother does God knows what in the bathroom and Josh tries to find a shirt. I wish I could find out about Coley.
"Jo, you can tell me anything. Why do you feel you must hide Josh’s problems?" He unzips his pants and retucks his shirt while I try not to notice at how long this action is taking him.
"Daddy," I say, knowing this will soften him and make all our night’s easier, take one for the team sort of thing. "I was afraid."
He zips up his pants and touches my cheek. "There’s nothing to be afraid of, Daddy’s here."
There are not enough substances in the world to escape from this particular hell and I won’t so I take a deep breath and let him touch me until we hear Mother pulling herself together, the sound of the faucet stopping and a door opening.
"What happened to Josh?" she asks.
"He’s changing," Father and I say in unison.
"Thank God," Mother says, her cosmetic beauty looking only a little worse for the wear. She should be thanking God she can afford expensive concealer.
"Jo, are you still on some crazy diet or will you be dining with us like a normal person tonight?" Mother asks. I wonder what is taking Josh so long and am regretting the fact that I did not think to do a last-minute razor check in Josh’s bedroom before our parents’ arrival.
"I’m not on a diet. I’ll eat anything that’s put in front of me," I say. With Kevin, I had the specialty, flash-fried lobster, and we sipped vodka martinis. His wife had been out of town visiting relatives that night and we checked into an old hotel downtown, the Ponchatrain, where we’d continue with more martinis. The city from our vantage point had never seemed so glittery and full of promise. We had fumbling brief sex, not his best performance, and I’d been shocked to wake up next to him for a minute before I realized where I was.
Josh returns with a shirt and tie, his school uniform and has thrown on a sports jacket that doesn’t match, but it’s effort and my parents don’t complain.
"We’ll follow you there," I say, seeing my chance to talk to Josh alone.
"There’s plenty of room in the rental car," Father says. "In weather like tonight, no way would I want you driving yourselves. I want to keep you both close to me."
"Good idea," says Mother. She puts on her coat, a tasteful black one with huge pearly buttons. "I like it when we’re all together."
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