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One afternoon, the twins were napping, Dre was outside with his computer, and Lanie found herself sorting laundry at the kitchen table at the same time that Ben came in to start preparing freezer meals. He glanced at her, but didn’t leave, just got started. As much as she wanted to flee, she figured that was a bit overdramatic, and would likely make him angrier. She decided to just get through the laundry as quick as possible, and then give him the room.
As she folded a onesie, though, he spoke, startling her. “The main thing that has been bothering me this whole time,” he said coolly, “is why you ran to Jake.”
Cautiously, she glanced at him, trying to analyze his motive. She needed to weigh her words and avoid setting him off. Once again, he mistook her carefulness for refusal to speak, or an admission of guilt, and kept on.
“I mean, at our wedding, when it looked like he was going to ruin everything, you told me that you didn’t have any feelings for him. And I believed you. I chose to trust you. But why would you accuse me of cheating on you with Lilah, then run to Jake, and let him be there for the birth of our daughters – ” his voice caught and he stopped talking, shaking his head.
She tried to speak quicker. “I didn’t. “
He still kept his back to her, stirring stew. “You didn’t what? Choose him over me to be there for the birth? To nurse them back to health when they were sick?”
Would he ever stop throwing so many things at her at once? “I didn’t run to him, Ben. We just ended up at the same hospital he worked at, and I was in so much pain, and scared because I was bleeding, that I didn’t say no when he offered to help me. I was scared, and Dre was scared, and Jake was just…there.”
Ben stirred the stew.
“I didn’t even know he had been transferred there. It was a complete fluke. I was just too tired to make him leave after, and he was so worried about the girls, and so helpful, and I was so sick and in pain I could barely even move.”
He sprinkled some spices. “Then why didn’t you call me? I’m your husband. I’m their father. I would have been an even bigger help.”
“I was scared, Ben, so scared. I knew you would be angry.”
The pot began to boil, steam racing upward. “Yes! I absolutely was angry. I had a right to be there, but even more than that, you knew it was my dream. I just feel like such a naïve idiot. The whole time before your due date, I was sure, so sure, that no matter how angry you were at me, there was no way you would keep me from seeing my children being born. The thing I wished I had been able to experience with Dre. The thing I was counting down to with advent calendars. I kept the house nice. I kept your bag by the door. I knew you would come back, at least, to have the babies, and let me be there. I couldn’t believe that there could be such cruelty in your heart. A heart I thought I knew, and fell in love with. But then, you did it. You made me miss not only their birth, but the first month of their life, and one of them almost dying, and both of them being really sick. You did it, Lanie. You couldn’t have made it more clear what you really think of me, and you’ve proven that you would rather I be tortured than be a little bit vulnerable, or believe that I really love you and care about you. Are you happy now? Your walls stay up, and I’m not going to try to even think that I could reach you. Never. Again.” He slammed the lid of the pot down, then bent over the counter, gripping the edges, shoulders heaving.
Hugging herself tightly, she tried to breathe past the stiffness in her lungs. At least he was talking to her again. She wasn’t sure if she preferred the silent treatment, but she tried to believe that this would be better in the long term. Ben wasn’t someone who did well when he kept things inside. He hadn’t practiced it the same way she had.
“What can I do, B?” She steeled herself when the nickname slipped out.
“Nothing,” he snapped, still not looking at her.
“You’ve got to have some idea.” She scrunched a tiny pink teeshirt against her stomach. “There must be something you want me to do. What do you wish?” Her eyes welled up. How could she make him understand? Though there was a giant hole where her heart had been, she took a tiny step toward him, and spoke in a voice so soft she could barely hear it herself. “You mean more to me than anything in the world, Ben. You have to know that.”
But their old trick didn’t work. He turned to scrutinize her face. “Did you sleep with him?”
She blinked, her mind coming to a brief standstill. “Sleep with Jake? No, of course not, not since before you got out of the hospital. You know that, Ben.”
“I don’t know anything anymore.”
“I already told you. When I saw him, I was bleeding and in a crisis labour. I pushed one human out of my vagina and then had another cut out of me. Then I got so sick that I could barely stay awake or move. Then, as soon as I could walk more than ten steps, I came home. When would I have ever been able to sleep with him? I was in pain for basically three weeks straight while I was with him.” She hissed as loudly as she could without waking the twins, hoping to get it through his stubborn head. She had been sliced into and medicated and received more needles than she could count, and she preferred not to think about it. For a moment, she was fed up with the daily lacerations he inflicted on her, even if she deserved them.
He seemed to weigh her words and continue to analyze her face for traces of deceit. “Did you guys ever kiss?” he asked finally.
She huffed. “I mean, not really. He kissed me once, on the forehead, I think, when I was in and out of fever dreams. I definitely never kissed him. Not even on the cheek. And I never wanted to.”
He seemed to take that as an accusation. “Well, I never wanted to kiss Lilah, either.”
“I know. She told me.”
Squinting, he crossed his arms. “When?”
“At mom’s group when I took the twins. She said that you had tried to push her off of you a couple times before she slipped, and you caught her, and then she got caught up in the moment because of how upset she is about Steven. I don’t know what is wrong with that woman.”
“So, do you believe me now?” he demanded.
“Believe you about what?” she asked, exasperated.
“That I didn’t come on to her. That I didn’t cheat on you.”
She threw down a pair of baby socks. “I believed you two weeks ago! That’s what I tried to tell you at your feet when I…when I…” Her face burned hot as she remembered the humiliation of prostrating herself before him, his detachment and cold rejection. How she felt like she had no heart any longer. How she wished it were true. She swallowed.
He glanced away, seeming to also remember the graphic display.
“Maybe you believe me now, but you still don’t trust me.”
Especially not after she had put her entire self on the line for him, kneeling on the floor and kissing his feet like an idiot. “And you don’t trust me,” she reminded him.
“So, it would seem that we are at an impasse.”
“So, it would seem. Which is okay with me as long as you never lay your hands on me again. And never touch the kids.” She may as well make her demands known, and if he didn’t comply, then she would find a way to kick him out.
“Lay hands on you? What are you talking about?”
“I’m sure you know.” She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of spelling it out for him.
He furrowed his brow. “Are you talking about that day in the garage? Lanie, I wasn’t laying hands on you. And I didn’t mean to push you. You don’t really think…” He seemed to grow pale. “Well. Here we are again, then. You’ve made up your mind, and twisted a situation to fit what you’ve apparently always thought about me. I can’t believe that nothing I ever said or did ever mattered to you at all.” Pushing off from the counter, he brushed past her on his way to the door. “Turn the stove off in ten minutes. Don’t forget.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Where are you going?”
“To get a lawyer. I just had to ask you about Jake, first. I really had to know whether I had a case for adultery, considering the bloody prenup. I’m done with this. I stayed so I could be close to the kids, but I’m going to find a way to keep them in my life and you out of it. And my plans also include making sure you can never take Dre from me again. I know there’s got to be a way for me to have rights to him. I am his father. We chose each other, and he loves me and needs me, whether you like it or not. You will never try to take him from me again. You will never try to act like I’m just some casual boyfriend with no real importance to him. These kids are everything to me. You had better gather up your billions and get ready for a fight.”
Still conscious of the sleeping babies, he closed the door gently on his way out.
Lanie’s arm caught on the basket as she sank to the kitchen floor, covering her in laundry.
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~ Romans 15:13