A/N: Look! :D I actually got another chapter out before university properly gets going again. Hopefully my updates will continue to be quite timely, but this is my last semester at university, so… I apologise in advance if updates are slow.
Hope you enjoy! :D
Time passes, and I find I have less and less time to write in this diary.
Today is my twenty-third birthday. Almost two and a half years have passed since my last entry and, let me tell you, a lot has happened in that time. For one thing, I’ve expanded my garden to grow onions, watermelons, potatoes and limes. They go nicely alongside the plants I had before and, apparently, there’s more money to be made from selling onions than from your simple lettuce.
But my garden is not the most interesting thing that’s happened in the past couple of years.
Not by a long shot.
Jamie graduated from school. I have never seen that boy so stunned. After everything that happened, for him to graduate with his peers was nothing short of amazing.
And, as I pointed out to him, he is now much more qualified than I’ll ever be.
Seeing him there, in his graduation robes, clutching his diploma…
I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud.
And then, a couple of months later, Jamie and Jenna got married.
That’s right, she came back from Bridgeport and the two of them worked it out. Jamie’s mood skyrocketed once Jenna had returned, and I think she is at least seventy percent of the reason he managed to graduate school. But, really, the two of them are a great match. Since they got married, they haven’t had a single fight (at least, not that I know of).
In a way, Jamie getting married to Jenna was bittersweet. I was so, so happy for him, glad that he’d found the happiness he needed to continue living in this world, but… at the same time, I was devastated. He would be moving out and the house wouldn’t be the same without him. I had Susie, I know, but… I admit there was a part of me that was terrified I would not be able to cope.
But Susie would look after me, and Jenna would look after Jamie and, deep down, I knew we would be just fine.
A couple of months after Jamie had moved out, Susannah and I decided we would try for a baby.
But we had no luck.
Susie had told me soon after she had moved back in about the consequences of that night long ago. The fact she had fallen pregnant with that man’s child. The fact that she had felt unable to keep it.
The lack of success on our quest for a child ate at her, I could tell. She was terrified that she was being punished for the abortion, that we would never have a child because of her selfish action. I tried to tell her that wasn’t the case, that her actions were anything but selfish, but I don’t think I got through to her.
It didn’t help that Jamie and Jenna were experiencing no such problems. Pretty soon after they had got married, they had fostered and then adopted a young boy called Jeff. A couple of months after that, Jenna was expecting.
Susie said all of the right things and kept a smile on her face whilst they told us the good news, but, when we were alone, she broke down. She told me she felt inadequate as a woman and, whilst she really was happy for Jamie and Jenna, she wished it could have been us.
I wasn’t really sure what I could do to console her. I suggested once or twice that perhaps I was the one with the infertility problem, but she insisted on blaming herself.
All I could do was to keep strong for the both of us.
Jenna gave birth to healthy twins, a boy and a girl. The boy they named Arthur, after Jamie’s brother, and the girl they named Morgana. The birth of the twins seemed to mellow Susie out a bit and, although sometimes she still cried at night, she could channel her maternal instincts into them. It wasn’t the same, of course, but it helped some.
The twins are now two years old, and we’ve still had no luck. But there’s plenty of time left, isn’t there? I’m only twenty-three, as of today, and Susie is only twenty-six.
If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen.
* * *
Scratch that last.
I’ve had an amazing birthday. You can’t fault my family – Susie, Jamie, Jenna and the kids – but, because I’ve been thinking about it, spending time with them today really made it hit home how much I want children of my own.
Usually, when I think about it, I think about Susie and how much it means to her. I haven’t really stopped and reflected on my own feelings on the matter. Perhaps I should have earlier, but… I guess I wanted whatever would make Susie happy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should talk about my day before I forget everything that happened!
I got up early, as usual, and tended to the garden. After all, the plants weren’t going to harvest themselves, even if it was my birthday.
Then, I had to pay the bills. Luckily, the vegetables growing in my garden bring us a nice little sum most weeks so, although we are not and will never be rich, we at least can afford these.
Jamie and Jenna showed up with the kids about halfway through the morning. We hadn’t seen them for a couple of weeks (they were fostering a particularly difficult, terrified little boy and decided it was best not to over expose the poor kid to too many people), so it was a great chance to catch up.
“Chance went off to his forever family yesterday morning,” Jamie said, when I enquired after said little boy. “We’ll miss him.”
“We’re planning on a couple of weeks break from fostering,” Jenna added, smiling at my unasked question. “Just to catch our breaths before the next one comes along, but, you know, if a kid needs a place, we won’t turn them away.”
“Yeah, the house won’t be empty for long.”
“I’m not sure how you do it,” Susie admitted with a smile. “If I looked after a child, I think I’d have a hard time giving them back. I’d grow too attached.”
Jenna smiled, running her fingers through Morgana’s dark locks as she contemplated what Susie had said.
“It is hard,” she said eventually. “But we can’t give every child a permanent home.”
“We just try to give every child some happy memories,” Jamie added, absently stopping Arthur from making an escape. “They’re not with us forever, so, for the time that they are, we try to do the best we can.”
“But you kept me,” Jeff piped up from beside Jamie’s leg.
Jamie grinned and ruffled his blonde curls.
“We did. Because our family wouldn’t be the same without you.”
Jeff beamed and, from there, the conversation moved on to more frivolous matters.
The twins, though now in their so-called terrible twos, were happy and well-behaved. Morgana was the sweetest little girl I had ever met, always offering hugs and kisses to whoever was closest to her. Arthur, on the other hand, had a habit of babbling to himself, but Jamie and Jenna weren’t too worried about this. He interacted well enough with other children and, I guess, when you’re little, having an imaginary friend or whatever is rather normal.
Besides, he seemed happy.
With Jamie and Jenna as parents, those kids were the luckiest kids in the world. I hope that,
if when Susie and I have our own kids, I can be half as good a father as Jamie.
I have no worries about Susannah.
After lunch, Jamie made his excuses and disappeared for an hour or so, saying he had to pick up my birthday present. Considering the children had already presented me with a basket full of packets of seeds, I was completely baffled.
But Jamie soon returned, and with him he brought a small, grey puppy.
“We saw this little guy advertised in the newspaper,” he said, as the puppy nuzzled his hand enthusiastically. “And we decided a farm isn’t a farm without a faithful farm dog.”
“Happy birthday,” he added, as he placed the wriggling puppy into my arms.
She immediately attempted to climb my shirt, licking happily at my beard.
“Hey,” I laughed. “You’re rather feisty, aren’t you?”
“You have to give it a name, Gabe,” Jenna said, looking up from the book she was reading to the twins. “And, seriously, Fluffy is not going to cut it.”
I smiled and caught Susie’s eye; I had already thought of the perfect name.
“How about Genesis,” I murmured, shifting the puppy in my arms as she wriggled and squirmed, attempting to look everywhere at once. “A new beginning.”
Genesis, or Gen (as we’d decided to call her for short), is a very playful puppy.
Of course, being a puppy, she sometimes doesn’t understand when her games go a little too far. She accidentally got a little bit over-excited and rough with Arthur, so we had to shut her in our bedroom for a while.
Suffice to say, Arthur was not much of a fan.
* * *
Later in the afternoon, Jeff accompanied me outside into the garden so he could assist me in planting some of the new seeds I had received for my birthday. He settled himself in the dirt, and I hoped that Jenna would not hold me entirely responsible for the mess he made of his nice white dungarees.
“Gramps, how can you be Dad’s dad when you’re only twenty-three?”
The question took me by surprise, but, on reflection, it shouldn’t have. I suppose that I take my strange relationship with Jamie for granted. It does mean that all of his children know me as ‘gramps’, though, which is just bizarre.
But I don’t mind.
“I adopted your dad when I was eighteen, like he and your mum adopted you.”
“Oh, so we’re the same? Me and Dad?”
I smiled at him.
“Both of you needed someone to love them, and both of you found that someone. So, I guess you’re pretty similar, yes.”
Jeff knelt up to help me give the finishing touches to the dirt pile on top of the seed.
“I don’t mind being the same as Dad,” he said, after a moment of silent contemplation.
“Good to hear,” I said, grinning. “Your dad’s great.”
“My ears are burning,” Jamie muttered, as he stepped up the garden fence, though he was smiling. “Jeff, your mother is going to go crazy when she sees the state of your dungarees.”
“Oops,” Jeff said, though his grin was completely unrepentant.
I got to my feet, grinning also, and Jeff followed my lead.
“There’s cake and tea inside,” Jamie said, with a smile at me. “Grandma sent me out to get you guys.”
To be honest, it is much weirder hearing Susie referred to as ‘grandma’ than it is hearing the kids call me ‘gramps’. I don’t know why that is.
Jeff was off like a shot, zooming out of the gate and around the fence to hug his father.
“We get cake? Really?!”
“Of course, it’s a birthday party.”
For some reason, seeing them together made my heart ache.
Jamie turned, catching my expression before I could arrange it into something more suitable.
“Gabe, are you coming in?”
“I’ll be right there. I just want to finish up here.”
“Daaad,” Jeff said suddenly, interrupting the moment. “Can I have a piggyback?”
“All right,” Jamie said after a beat, giving me one more, anxious look.
Then, he grinned and crouched down so that Jeff could clamber up onto his back.
“See you in a bit, Gabe.”
When I was alone, I allowed my heart to wilt.
It was at that moment that I realised I truly wanted children of my own, and not only because Susannah wanted it with all her being.
But until then, I guess, I will make do with being the best gramps I can possibly be.
* * *
I awoke to an empty bed.
Mumbling, I groped blindly for Susie, although I knew she was not there. My fingers clenched the cold sheets where her body should have been and my heart faltered.
Pushing myself up into a sitting position, I flicked on the light, glancing around again. It only confirmed my suspicions. Susie was nowhere to be found.
I rested my head on my hand, willing myself to calm down. She wouldn’t have left me – she had no reason to. We hadn’t even argued recently.
But the unrelentingly cynical side of me kept repeating what I’d known all along.
I didn’t deserve her.
Genesis, oblivious to my worries, slept on without a care in the world.
Thankfully, I found Susie in the living room, though my mind had come up with plenty of worst case scenarios before I had thought to look. She looked so sad and broken that, for a moment, I was at a loss as to what to do.
How can you fix someone when you feel so broken yourself?
After a moment of hovering uselessly, I crossed the room and settled on the sofa, cupping Susie’s face in my hands. Her skin was like ice.
“You’re freezing, Susie.”
“I don’t care,” she mumbled tearfully. “I want to freeze.”
I brushed a tear off her cheek with my thumb.
“Talk to me, Susie. What’s wrong?”
“We’re never going to have a family like Jamie and Jenna!” she burst out suddenly, causing me to reel back in surprise. “Never!”
“Susie, you don’t -“
“It’s all my fault,” she sobbed. “I’m not worthy of being a mother.”
Shaking my head, I cupped her face in my hands again.
“Don’t think like that, Susannah. It’s not anything you’ve done, it’s just… something that happens sometimes.”
She sniffed loudly, but didn’t speak.
“I mean,” I continued. “We just have to take things one day at a time. Maybe it’ll happen when we least expect it, or maybe not. Freezing out here in the living room isn’t going to change anything.”
There was a long silence, and then Susie asked in a whisper, “You still want babies with me? Even though it’s been so long?”
I brushed another tear away, murmuring, “Don’t be silly. Two years is barely anything. I’ll still want babies with you even if it takes another decade.”
Susie burst into tears again.
“I love you, Gabriel.”
“I love you too. But let’s go back to bed and get you warmed up, okay?”
Susie nodded, sniffling, and allowed me to lead her back to the bedroom.
* * *
After that night, Susie and I tried to keep ourselves as busy as possible.
Some days were easier than others… especially when raccoons appeared in the night and tipped over our dustbin.
Of course, ordinary household chores did an equally good job of taking our minds off things if our dustbin had not been raided by raccoons. From plunging toilets to ridding the fridge of bad food, we were never short of things to do.
Not to mention the fact I was still trying to perfect my salad recipe, using the new vegetables growing in the garden. Susie humoured me a couple of nights a week, but the rest of the time she would make sure we were eating hot meals. I still hadn’t used the oven (and I stand by my assessment of it as an evil hell-beast), but Susie could use that appliance to perfection.
When she wasn’t cooking hot meals to spite my salad, Susie threw herself into her music.
Sometimes, she would go out to the local park and play for tips, just for a change of scene. It didn’t bring in much, but, it made her happy.
And that, nowadays, was priceless.
Sometimes, the house was in danger of falling into a murky gloom.
It probably would have, if not for the antics of Genesis, who seemed to know when either Susie or I were feeling down.
She was the household sunshine, doing her best to keep a smile on our faces.
I have to admit, it worked on me.
When I was not getting distracted by the puppy, I read up on sustainable farming, different types of fertiliser, and organic salads.
Or I spent the time enhancing my culinary skills. (Peanut butter sandwiches totally count.)
On sunny days, Mr Moss often took me out on fishing trips, though I had the feeling these were not entirely altruistic. There was something about being in his company that made me feel as though my deepest darkest secrets were laid out on display, drying out in the sun.
Perhaps I was just being paranoid.
* * *
Of course, no matter how much you try to distract yourself from a problem, it comes back to haunt you eventually.
Every week, religiously, Susie would purchase a pregnancy test from the local grocery store, no matter how much I tried to persuade her otherwise. Then I, also religiously, would sit down outside the bathroom door and wait anxiously for a result.
Sometimes, it would take longer than usual and hope would spark to life in my chest.
Perhaps, after all this time, this week would be the week?
Inevitably, the hope would quickly be doused by an tumult of sobs from the other side of the door.
“What have we done to deserve this?” Susie would cry as the door burst open. “Why us?”
I never had an answer.
Neither did Susie.
At least we have each other.
* * *
One day, Susie felt so awful she couldn’t get out of bed, not even when Isaac Dream came over to pick her up for band practice. When I told him, he didn’t say a word to me, but instead moved through to the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. He talked quietly to her, murmured words I could not hear, but she didn’t stir. Didn’t reply.
But Isaac didn’t give up.
I was uncomfortably reminded of how much he had once loved her.
After about an hour (at least, it felt that way) of attempting to engage Susie in conversation, Isaac got up off the bed and came over to me. Amazingly, he was smiling.
“I think I have an idea. Give me about an hour, and then I’ll be back.”
Isaac’s idea was to pack up his drum kit, shove it in the back of his truck and then set it up again in our back garden. On one level (ie. the jealous male side of me that didn’t come out very often), I wanted him to fail.
But, mostly, I would do anything – even let Isaac succeed where I had failed – to make Susie happy again.
It felt as though our lives had become one long, dark total eclipse, and I was waiting for the sun to fight back.
Isaac had been drumming on his own for perhaps quarter of an hour when Susie appeared around the side of the house, clutching her guitar. Though his eyes flicked in her direction, Isaac did not even break rhythm.
And Susie didn’t say a word.
She merely raised her guitar and began to play.
And, for the first time in a long while, Susannah smiled.
Leaving them to it, I went back to my garden.
I could never be a part of her musical world, but, if that was what it took to make her smile again, I was willing to take a step back. Isaac was a good friend to her, and I was glad she had him.
Even if he was a lot more masculine and attractive than I was.
* * *
Something Isaac said must have stuck in Susannah’s mind as, a couple of days later, Mia Moss arrived on our doorstep. She was well on her way to becoming a doctor now and something about the way she and Susie fell into their conversation made me realise that this was not the first time she had heard of our problems.
It must be nice to have a sibling to talk to. I wonder sometimes about my half brothers in Bridgeport (the newspapers inform me there’s more than one), but I know without a doubt that they would not want me in their lives.
Susie and Mia talked for a long time about plans, charts and drugs. It was a conversation I couldn’t quite follow, but I nodded politely in what I hoped were the right places.
At one point, Mia mentioned a contact she had made whilst training as a doctor who could possibly help us, a fertility specialist. That part of the conversation, at least, I understood.
Then the conversation turned back to plans, charts and women’s stuff, and I returned to a polite state of befuddlement.
* * *
I had never felt so lonely.
Between visits to the fertility clinic and Susie’s band practice, I barely got to spend any time with my wife any more. Sex was no longer just sex, it was a means to make a baby. Sometimes, both of us were too tired even to contemplate that.
Jamie had his own family now and, with foster children coming and going, he didn’t have much time to spare for me and my problems.
Mr and Mrs Moss hated me, I was pretty sure, despite their insistances to the contrary.
I was surrounded by people that I loved, and yet I felt isolated.
What was wrong with me?
As I was stewing in self-pity, the door clicked, and Susie entered.
I turned at the sound of her voice, but any words I had for her caught firmly in my throat.
She approached me cautiously, as though she was worried I would bolt at any sudden movements.
“Can we… talk?” she asked tentatively.
My mouth formed a smile I didn’t feel.
“Of course we can.”
Susie stepped close to me, her hands resting lightly on my chest. Hesitantly, I placed my own hands on her waist, and they felt as though they belonged there.
“I’m sorry, Gabe. I’ve been selfish.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, and I meant it.
Susie shook her head with a soft, sad sigh.
“I’ve been so caught up in my own misery that I haven’t stopped to think about how you might be feeling. I know you’re hurting too, Gabe, and I’ve been pushing you away.”
My hands tightened convulsively at her waist.
“I understand, though.”
“No, you don’t. Listen. From now on, we get through this together, all right? I’ll lean on you for support, and you can lean on me. No more burying yourself in your garden.”
I hadn’t even realised I’d been doing that.
“Together,” I murmured, and kissed her.
* * *
Of course, that conversation didn’t fix everything.
There were still bad days and good days. Some days, I knew it was much better to let Mrs Moss and Mia look after my wife. Other days, Susie came and helped me in the garden and we even laughed together.
We went out for dinner and, sometimes, had sex without thinking about the end result.
Things, although not perfect, were considerably better.
* * *
About a month or so after that conversation, Susie and I were watching the stars in our back garden and things felt different.
I wasn’t sure what it was.
Perhaps it was the way Susie was holding herself, much more at ease with her body than she had been for a long time. Perhaps it was the way she smiled, shining brightly through the dark.
“Gabriel, I’m pregnant.”