“Are you sure you don’t want to do this alone?” Daniel asked for the hundredth time.
“They’re not telling me what’s going on still. I figured one of them moved out, but now suddenly when I call my mother to let her know we’re here, and I invite myself over, she’s thrilled the her and my father get to see me? Like, nothing? Not even a hint of ‘oh we’re having some troubles’? Like, nothing!?”
“Relax,” Daniel said, placing a soft hand over my knee. “Maybe they’re just not ready to tell. And maybe they want to tell you alone, which is why I think I’m going to be an obstacle in all of this.”
I scoffed, crossing my arms over my chest. “She’s the one that invited you.”
“Maybe she was expecting you to decline.”
“Maybe she should have just told me the truth,” I muttered. “The both of them. But they want to pretend everything’s fine, okay, let’s pretend.”
We were staying at Stanley’s and Janet’s place, the both so willing to give us our own room and insist on not leaving us to go to some hotel. I for one didn’t want to impose; especially since I hadn’t properly apologised to Janet. And here she was, accommodating me just because I was going through something tough. Well tough, I thought. So many people go through parents divorcing, my case wasn’t so special. I was just weirded out by the fact that I was gliding through aimlessly, hardly shedding a tear, hardly a thudding beat of my heart blocking my throat. Nothing; and I wasn’t looking forward to the hard shell-shock that I was definitely threatening to reveal itself, coming off the horizon slowly but surely.
“Act like you don’t know,” I told Daniel just before knocking on the door. Both my parents’ cars parked out on the driveway.
The door flung open and my mother greeted me with a bright smile and tender hug. Kisses dotted my cheeks and I squeezed her just a nanosecond too long.
“Daniel!” she held out her hands, Daniel leaning in with a polite smile of his own. “So nice to see you again.”
“It’s nice to see you again Mrs. Parker,” he said.
While my mother hugged Daniel, I noticed a paleness to her. A lacklustre pastel colour stripping her of skin and muscle; revealing prominent cheek bones and sallowness. Slightly darkened circles under her eyes, she seemed tired. I could see thoughts harassing her mind as she stared at the floor, hardly smiling when she thought no one was watching. It saddened me and it melted my hard-ass deserving attitude. High and mighty I was, not even thinking twice about my parents. Way to go, Anna!
My father was next, and although he didn’t seem as faintly distraught as my mother, he had a softness about him that I could only attribute to disappointment and shame. His eyes were slanted, his forehead creased, and his bottom lip subtly pouted upwards in an almost unsatisfactorily assessment of some sorts. An evaluation of his life, looking from afar, the distance of which, in retrospect, he wondered where he went wrong.
I didn’t realise it before, but the thing that killed me the most, was that they both tried to hide the devastating news from me. And it didn’t hurt me because I thought I deserved to know, it hurt me because they were still trying their best, at their own expense, to make me happy.
So we sat murmuring and silent here and there during lunch, playing along with an uncomfortably shifted dynamic about ourselves. Daniel and I knew, my parents didn’t know we knew, and they thought I was blissfully unaware. Even so, I would’ve inquired about the distance that separated the two, the odd way they kept their hands to themselves and at no point did they ever glance at each other, even when one of them was talking. My mother’s mouth twitched at times; my father slouched, as if a statue after decades of bad weather had eroded his spine, collapsed into himself.
In the kitchen, my mother was taking her time cleaning a few dishes and making tea and I took it upon myself to keep her company. Maybe she would tell me then. Daniel was sitting with my father in the living room, talking about anything to keep my father blabbering and happy. I was, of course, unbelievably appreciative of that.
“So you and Daniel seem to be going good,” my mother commented casually.
I nodded. “We’re working through it.”
“It’s hard sometimes.”
“Relationships. I don’t want to freak you out,” she continued after a pause, “but sometimes love isn’t enough, or hard work. And in most cases, without the love, the hard work makes you spiteful of each other. So many things could happen.”
Okay, she was going to tell me now, it’s a matter of treading softly at this point.
“I think you can still stay strong.” Maybe giving her some of my perspective will make her realise she still loves my father and wouldn’t want to divorce him.
“Anna, life happens. People change, the hardest thing a couple can do is change together. Some people come out great in the end, and they’re proud of their triumph; other people—” she coughed a little, croaking back tears—“other people just come out in shame at the end. No one wants even a taste of the latter.”
I stared at her, and although she hadn’t directly me told me, I knew she was asking me for some time before she could cut deep. I couldn’t push for more details even if I wanted to. And, I knew it was irrational, but I still didn’t want to accept the cold hard fact that my parents were divorcing.
At around sunset Daniel and I took a little stroll on Venice Beach. The sun illuminated the water like crisp tail ends of orange bows. Beam, this way; beam, that. It was getting cold and that’s when Daniel removed his woollen coat and wrapped it around me. Teeth clattering, head vibrating, the night was cold but the moment was honest. Daniel wasn’t even putting up a fuss at any point of our little trip. He was attentive, sympathetic, always asking if I was alright, and although at certain times, when I wanted nothing more than to be treated like this, it infuriated me. That perfect smile set on his lips, polite and sweet, every step of the way. His hand clutching mine as we walked on the seedy sand, cold and rough, as it enveloped our feet and in between our frozen toes.
The silence was prominent, and as I stole glances from Daniel, he only smiled and pulled me closer to him. I guess I should feel like the luckiest person alive but something was eating away at me, and it had nothing to do with him.
When we reached the pier, I turned and stopped Daniel in his tracks. He bumped into me surprised and confused. “So, I want to say something,” I started, although it seemed fairly obvious I didn’t need that little disclaimer.
“Yes?” Daniel urged, waiting patiently.
“About what?” he shrugged.
My bottom lip trembled and I felt like my blood was curdling and cooling at the combination of my vicious body heat and the icy weather. “About the whole Derek thing.”
Daniel shook his head, chuckling lightly. “It’s okay. Forget about it.”
He attempted to pull me in but I gently pushed him off, placing a hand onto his chest to block him. “No, I don’t want to.”
His hands laid limp on my waist, and his lips tightened into a straight line; all traces of playfulness hiding out from the seriousness. “I know you’re sorry,” he said.
“Just,” I struggled, “just let me get this out. Please. I did know. I knew that it was wrong of me to go with Derek and have drinks and go back to his place. I didn’t want to admit it to myself then because I was ashamed.”
“You don’t have to do this,” he interjected. “You’re going through something tough right now.”
“But that’s not a good enough excuse.” Daniel furrowed his brows in confusion. “What I mean is,” I continued, “I shouldn’t be let go so easy, otherwise I won’t learn. When I first saw Derek, I was pushing out all hesitant thoughts and logical reasons of why I shouldn’t hang out with him. And it’s not just him. The way I react to that beautiful note—the list—that you wrote, wasn’t intentionally to hurt you. In fact, I couldn’t ask for a better boyfriend.”
He shrugged. “I know it can be scary for you to find something like that.”
“But that’s the thing,” I said, “even if I was scared, I should have spoken to you about it. Right?”
Daniel paused, contemplating. “I want to confess something. No, no,” he laughed when he noticed my heart thudding, “it’s not as serious. Just that, and I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but I crave you needing me. And it might sound pathetic, and it might seem like I’m ruining decades of feminist independent feats, but I want you to need me. I’m selfish like that—” his shoulders jumping as he chuckled “—I want you to need to talk to me about things. Don’t just go ripping up my notes or off with Derek.”
I nodded. “I know. Dick-move.”
Daniel smiled, brushing my lips with his thumb. “You miss California?”
“And our friends.”
I nodded. “Many things.”
“But I’m your Californian Soul.”
I broke into a grin, wrapping my arms around his neck. “You are.”
He shrugged, my arms rising along with his shoulders for a moment. “Isn’t that enough?”
And it was. Homes is what you make of where you are, with the people that are with you. I love Daniel, and even though California was where I grew up and lived for most of my life, New York didn’t seem that much of a stretch; so long as I had Daniel, it was home wherever he was, with my heart in his hands.
I stood up higher and kissed Daniel, and he backed me up against the cold pier pillars. And while we locked lips for what felt the longest time we’d ever kissed, so much so that we alternated between our lips and neck whenever one had to rejuvenate, I couldn’t help but think about that phrase: Home is where the heart is.
“Hey,” I pushed Daniel softly away, “you never told me how the dinner went with your boss.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about your parent or anything?”
I nodded. “I do. But I also want to hear you out.”
He thrust his pelvis into me and ground, his hard-on prominent and his breaths warm on my skin. “I want you first.”
His tongue slipped into my mouth and I welcomed the intrusion. “Daniel, not here,” I giggled. “Daniel!”