|by Robin Alexander
"I’m restless, Aunt G. My shoulders and the back of my neck hurt constantly. When I dream, they’re usually bizarre or nightmarish. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve quit smoking, but I crave cigarettes more than chocolate." I pulled a weed that was growing close to Aunt Gloria’s tombstone and toyed with it. "How’re you today? A little stiff?" I laughed at my own joke, knowing Gloria would appreciate it.
When I first came to the island, Iris, the cook, told me that she felt Gloria’s spirit all around us. I scoffed at the notion. But Iris had been right when she said that living on the island changes you. I did feel the presence of my aunt, especially at her gravesite where I came to sit and talk about whatever was on my mind.
"Jeff’s jealous. Being the oldest of us two, he figured he and Wanda would be the ones to have the first Tate grandchild. They’ve tried but no luck. Maybe the world isn’t ready for a miniature Jeff." I tossed the weed behind me and stretched out my legs. "Maybe the world isn’t ready for a miniature Hayden, either, but it’s coming and soon."
I quieted and listened for a response I knew wasn’t coming. Gloria had been full of smart-assed quips in her day. I imagined hearing her say something like, "’Bout damn time. I’m not getting any younger. Ha! Ain’t getting any older, either. I’m dead." All I heard was the wind blowing through the trees and the scrub brush surrounding me.
"Never saw myself as a parent, though I can see Adrienne as the perfect mom. She’s grounded, sensible, and patient. She’s had to be those things for me because I’m certainly not. Having a child is going to force me to grow up, and I’m not sure I want to."
I laughed as I imagined Gloria’s response—"Should’ve thought about all that before you gave up an egg."
"Adrienne wants a family—with me. I couldn’t deny her that. Making her happy makes me happy. Oh, G." I sighed. "I love that woman so much. The inn was a wonderful present, but the best gift you’ve ever given me was Adrienne." I got up on my knees and laid a hand on Gloria’s headstone. "I don’t know if you have any pull up there, but please put in a good word for Adrienne. I need her, and life wouldn’t be the same without her."
I stood and brushed off the back of my shorts. "I’ve got some work to do now, so put in a good word for me, too. I know God has a sense of humor. Ask Him to go easy on me." I turned to walk away but looked back over my shoulder. "Oh, Iris wants you to put in a word for her, too. She wants rain. Her herb garden is wilting."
"What are you doing?"
I looked down at Adrienne from my perch on the ladder and smiled. "I’m thatching the roof."
"Honey," she began patiently. "We have staff we pay to do this sort of thing."
"I know, but I thought I’d help. We’re in between guests and I’m bored." I climbed up another rung on the ladder and slowly moved onto a part of the roof that was braced. I heard Adrienne inhale deeply as I did. "This cottage leaked during the last storm. Looks like a bird or something has been burrowing right here."
"I heard it say crack." Adrienne moved from foot to foot as she watched me.
"No, the roof."
She looked so cute staring up at me all pregnant and ready to pop. The baby bump was protruding through her teal sundress. She was glowing just like they say pregnant women do. Maybe it was all the prenatal vitamins or all the juice she drank, but her skin and auburn hair were absolutely radiant.
"I don’t hear it saying ‘crack.’ I hear it saying ‘get this damn bird nest out of my thatching.’" I grinned as I pushed my materials closer to the weak spot.
"Don’t go any farther." Adrienne looked angry when I peeked over the roof at her. "Don’t do it."
"No. I said no." Adrienne was pacing back and forth now.
"Yes, a little farther. I can almost reach—" The roof said crack. I froze and wondered if I had gotten off the beam. In those few seconds while I debated moving right or left, the roof made the decision for me. As it gave way and I began to fall, I saw our new house off in the distance. We were so close to moving in. I vaguely wondered how much this little trip would set us back.
The thatching, a bird’s nest, and I rained down inside the cottage. The thatching and the nest landed on the bed and I on the floor about six inches away. As I lay there trying to draw breath back into my lungs, I heard Adrienne say, "And now the roof says boom."
And then it all went black.
"You’re an idiot." I opened my eyes slowly. The face of Shelby, the island doctor, was inches from mine. She was broad-shouldered with hair that was so blond it was almost white and stood off her head in spikes. She reminded me of a Norwegian wrestler, and she was equally as strong. "Don’t move anything." I nodded, and she grabbed my chin. "I said don’t move."
Under Shelby’s direction, a group of our employees scooted me onto a hard wooden board. Shelby went to work fastening straps until I was immobile. She’d put two rolled-up sheets on either side of my head and half grinned when she put a piece of tape across my forehead. It rested firmly on my eyebrows.
Adrienne’s worried face appeared above me, then Iris’s. She looked pissed. "I’m okay," I said with a smile.
"Better hope you are, girlie," Iris said between clenched teeth. "’Cause if you’re not, you will be when I’m finished with you."
"I must be hurt because that made no sense at all." I looked back at Shelby. "Are we ready to go yet?"
I was taken to the clinic and x-rayed. Once Shelby was satisfied that I hadn’t broken anything, she freed me from the board that made me ache more than the fall. "I’d like to thank you for the fine job you did on my eyebrows." I rubbed my forehead, hoping that they were still there. "I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed to derive some sick pleasure in ripping the tape off."
Shelby and Iris were on either side of me and started yelling the minute I sat up. "What were you thinking?" Shelby demanded.
"Stupid girlie!" Iris jabbed me in the arm with her finger.
"Don’t you ever stop and think before you do something?" Shelby asked.
Iris opened her mouth to continue the verbal assault when Adrienne stepped in. "All right, ladies. I think she gets the point."
I reached into the back of my shorts and pulled out a piece of straw that was poking me in the ass and held it up. "In more ways than one." I grinned at Adrienne, hoping she’d get the joke. If she did, she wasn’t laughing.
"Can I take her home now, Shelby?" Adrienne asked with a look that said I wasn’t even close to being out of the woods with her.
"Yes, but you’re on concussion watch for the next twenty-four hours. Look for disorientation," Shelby grinned, "which might be difficult since we’re talking about Hayden."
I laughed, hoping to dispel some of the tension in the room. It trailed off when no one else joined me.
"Someone is going to have to wake her up every hour tonight," Shelby continued. "Get her up, make her walk around, and have her answer questions like her full name and the date. If she’s unable, I’ll need to be contacted immediately."
"I’ll do it," Iris said irritably. "Adrienne needs her rest."
I paled at the thought of having to share a bed with Iris. I’d heard her snore and had no doubt she’d suck the roof down on us both.
Adrienne waved her off. "No, Iris, I have to get up nearly every hour anyway to go to the bathroom."
"I want you both to take it easy for the next couple of days." Shelby shot me a look when I opened my mouth to protest. "I know you’re moving tomorrow, but you have a ton of help. Sit back and supervise."
I hopped off the table with gusto to show that I was fine. I was of course wrong but managed to fake a confident smile. I’d cry later when no one was around. "Thanks for patching me up, Shelby."
Adrienne gave Shelby a hug while Iris gave me the "you’re so gonna get it when we get outside" look. I’d seen it used on her son Teddy often, so I did what he always did—shrugged and grinned.
I headed straight for the driver’s seat of the golf cart that Adrienne and Iris had followed us to the clinic with. We called it a golf cart because it did sort of look like one, but it was more of an all-terrain vehicle that would go as fast as our Jeep. I knew this because when no one was looking and I had some room, I’d push it to the limit. But as of late, I was on "don’t do anything stupid" restriction, so I didn’t share that tidbit with anyone.
As I climbed in, Adrienne appeared at my side, and the look on her face said, "I’m driving, don’t you dare argue." I scooted over and bumped into Iris.
"I hate riding in the middle. Let me get into the back."
"No," Adrienne and Iris said in unison.
We’d barely gotten out of the parking lot when Iris went to gnawing on my ass again. "Pregnant women do not climb on roofs, Hayden."
"I’m not pregnant."
Iris elbowed me in the ribs. "You might not be carrying dat baby, but you are expecting one." Iris’s Caribbean accent was more pronounced when she was upset or angry. On an anger scale of one to ten, I would’ve given her a twenty because of the way she was gripping the bar just above our heads. "Adrienne needs you to be in one piece."
"I’ll tell you what. If I don’t find a way to burn off this nervous energy, nothing on this island will be in one piece." My stupidity was more pronounced when I was upset or angry. Iris elbowed me in the ribs again, causing me to grunt.
"Are you hurting?" Adrienne asked calmly.
"I wasn’t until Iris started jabbing." She rammed me again for ratting on her. "And what Shelby said is total bullshit. I don’t have a concussion, not even a slight headache. She just wants me to be made miserable for the next twenty-four hours."
"She’s the doctor, and what she says goes." Adrienne looked at me. "That’s what you’ve been telling me for almost nine months."
By the time we pulled up at the bar, I was feeling stiff from the fall and Iris’s abuse. Most of our employees were gathered inside finishing up lunch. They at least seemed happy to see me in one piece.
Jacob, our lead maintenance man, approached me with a smile. "If you wanted a skylight installed, you should’ve mentioned it. There are easier ways to make the hole." Everyone in the bar roared with laughter.
I smiled wryly. "Any chance we can have it repaired before the guests arrive day after tomorrow?"
"Won’t be a problem. We’ll get to work on it right after we finish…the other holes you made."
Peals of laughter went around the bar again as I looked at the golf cart-sized hole in the half wall of the bar. There was a matching one on the opposite side of the room. Backing up was never my strong suit. Fortunately, no one was hurt except for a table and two chairs that died a grisly death. "Thanks, Jacob."
I joined Adrienne at a table and watched as everyone filed out to repair my recent modifications to the inn. "If you would’ve gone a little more to the left, you would’ve taken out a brace, then we could’ve remodeled the whole bar," Adrienne said before taking a sip of her tea.
I laughed at what I thought was a joke, but Adrienne wasn’t smiling.
I slumped down in my seat and watched as Jacob and his crew worked. If the inn had a heartbeat, the bar was it. Open on three sides, it allowed the breeze to blow in off the water and keep us cool without air conditioning. The back of the building housed the kitchen and dining room, which was Iris’s domain.
In addition to being a couple, Adrienne and I were the owners of this small inn hidden away on Cat Island in the Bahamas. My Aunt Gloria started the business, and upon her passing, she left her half to me. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with her business partner, Adrienne. Until last Christmas, Iris had been our cook; our gift to her was part ownership. We loved her like family, and it seemed only right to make her a part of the business that was thriving despite the recession in the States.
Aunt Gloria loved people…in spurts. When she opened the inn, she devised a unique plan that most business-minded people would consider foolish. For two weeks, the inn would have guests for an all-inclusive stay, then be closed for five days afterward. The first two days of the off time were used to prep for the next round of guests, and the remaining time was for relaxation. It was a good deal for us, guests and staff alike, so we kept on with the tradition.
"Thank God we don’t have guests all the time." Iris sat in the chair next to me and sighed loudly. "Because we need the extra time to repair all of Hayden’s mishaps."
"You’re a riot today."
"And you’re a mule-headed child with the grace of one," she retorted.
Adrienne raised both hands. "Enough. You two are giving me a headache." She took another sip of her tea. "Are we ready for the arrival of the guests?"
Iris nodded. "All the food arrived today, and the bar is stocked."
"The cottages are ready…except for the one I…remodeled."
"Good." Adrienne sighed. "Now all we have to do is move into the house tomorrow."
Iris patted Adrienne’s hand. "Don’t you worry about that. We have plenty of help, so all you have to do is sit back and tell us where you want your things." She looked at me as she stood up. "Both of you, doctor’s orders."
"Hayden, we’ve talked about you toning it down," Adrienne said as Iris walked away to bark orders at the repair crew. "No climbing—"
"No running, skipping, jumping." I held up my hands. "I got it. No living life as normal until our child is grown with a family of its own, then of course, I’ll be too old." Adrienne glared at me. I slumped farther down into my chair. "Sorry, I’m just frustrated."
She reached over and took my hand. "You scared me half to death today. When you lost consciousness, I thought you were seriously hurt."
"It knocked the breath out of me. I think I just passed out." I stared down at our hands and watched as Adrienne rubbed my palm with her thumb. "I’m really sorry about scaring you. I just wanted to do something useful."
"Being pregnant isn’t a piece of cake, but sometimes I think it’s harder on you." Adrienne tugged my hand, and I looked up at her. She smiled. "You worry too much about me and the baby and not enough about yourself." She raised my hand to her lips and kissed it. "I think the average person’s brain runs on four different tracks, and yours, my love, runs on forty-seven. That’s why you’re so…"
Adrienne laughed. "I was going to say accident prone." Her expression grew serious. "I need you right now, whole and healthy."
I enjoyed a catnap as much as any other…cat, but being forced to do so made me cranky. Because of my trip through the roof, I was relegated to a chaise lounge on the patio behind the bar. Activity was all around me as our crew finished prepping the inn, but I could only sit and watch. It pissed me off.
Adrienne sat beside me thumbing through yet another baby catalog. She held it up. "Look at this, it’s so cute."
I glanced at the picture she was pointing at and saw a baby dressed in a sock monkey outfit. "That’s child abuse. The mother should be shot, or worse, made to wear that monkey suit in public."
Adrienne sighed and began thumbing away again.
I hated looking at baby catalogs. Baby clothes, baby towels with little ears, baby shoes, baby, baby, baby. Looking at those things was like watching the weather when a hurricane was approaching. It seemed like it took forever for it to arrive, and all the while, there were ominous warnings. Just before it made landfall, I wanted to run outside and yell, "Bring it on already, so I can begin picking up the pieces. Hurricane baby’s approach was even slower, and I had no doubt when it made landfall that life would never be the same.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was excited about the birth of our child, but just like a hurricane, I had no idea how it would affect me. Would it plow me over and forever change the landscape of my life, or would it make a few changes I could adapt to? It didn’t help to know that the child Adrienne was carrying was a Tate, and we tended to tear up a lot of shit.
When I was nine or ten, I overheard my mother giving advice to a pregnant friend. I’d never heard my mother utter one word of profanity before then. She told the woman, "Consider all your shit broken until they go away to college. There’s not one thing in this house that has not been cracked, dented, or outright destroyed."
I smiled as I thought of the great washing machine disaster of seventy-eight. Dad had bought Mom a top-of-the-line washer and dryer. I never truly understood why she was so proud of them. It wasn’t like she was going to drag out the dryer whenever her friends came for coffee, but she wiped the machines down with a wet cloth like they were made of marble.
The gold lettering on the front of the washer caught Jeff’s eye the minute they were brought in. He pulled me to the side and quietly explained that there was real gold beneath the letters. If we could get them off, we could turn them in like we did with soda bottles and get a lot more than a nickel apiece. That’s all I needed to hear.
Late that night as Jeff took a butter knife to the letters, I tried to figure out how many candy bars I could get with a million bucks because Jeff was certain that we’d get twice that much for the solid gold letters. As I stood watch, I envisioned myself riding a new mini-bike, with Randy Sandifer’s pet raccoon on the back, tail flapping in the wind. Surely, he’d part with Bandit for a thousand dollars.
The next morning, we awoke to a scream. Not a frightened scream, but a guttural cry of anguish and white hot anger. Even though Jeff assured Mom that he’d buy her six pairs of washers and dryers with the money we got from the supposed gold, she was still mighty pissed off. It certainly didn’t help that he’d dented and scratched the washer to remove the letters, which broke into pieces.
"What’re you thinking about?" Adrienne asked suddenly.
"Tearing up Mom’s new washer."
Adrienne looked at me oddly for a second. "I was getting a mental picture of a raccoon and a mini-bike."
That night, I lay in our bed and listened to Adrienne’s steady breathing and occasional groan. The only way she could be comfortable was to lie on her side with a pillow between her legs. Cuddling was out of the question. Part of me missed it just being Adrienne and me. The child wasn’t even here, and it had come between us like a bubble barrier that kept us from being physically close.
I wondered what my role would be. Adrienne was the mom, and so far, she handled it like a pro. She read aloud to the baby bump and rubbed it constantly. She’d been the one to order all the safety latches for the cabinets, and she’d washed all the blankets and crib accoutrements with special detergent. She adapted to all the changes in our life naturally.
I, on the other hand, had no idea what a receiving blanket was really used for. The Diaper Genie Adrienne was so excited about was a mystery to me. I’d read the baby books and still was clueless. I admired Adrienne’s ability to meet all the change head-on. I felt like I was flapping in the breeze behind it.
I stretched and threw an arm over my head. Everything was changing. The next day, we’d leave the cottage I’d come to know as home. Cramped as it was, I’d miss the sitting area and our tiny porch. Adrienne and I couldn’t turn around without bumping into each other, but that was a nice thing. Now we’d be in a house with actual rooms and lots and lots of space between us.
"Hayden, wake up."
I opened one eye and looked at Adrienne, then at the clock. I’d barely been asleep for thirty minutes. "You’re not serious."
"I am." Adrienne switched on the bedside lamp. "Get up."
I hoped that she’d give up this charade after a couple of times, but she did not. On the fourth wakeup, I was losing patience. "For the love of Mike, Pete, and Uncle Earl, I’m fine!"
"Hmm, I don’t know any of those people. Should I call Shelby?" Adrienne switched on that damn lamp again.
"Yes, call her and tell her I see pink elephants, that I think I’m Elvis, and I think those Hawaiian shirts she wears are totally hot!" I threw the covers over my head. "Thank you very much, good night."
Adrienne poked at me. "You have to get up and walk around."
I groaned as I threw back the covers and followed her to the bathroom. "Do you really get up this often during the night?" I paced back and forth in front of the bathroom.
"Even if the baby wasn’t putting pressure on my bladder, all the juice Iris has me drinking makes my eyeballs float. Pineapple, papaya, orange, tomato. Sometimes she mixes them all together, makes me sick."
I listened to her flush, then wash her hands. She held on to me as we walked back to the bed. "I’m sorry you have to suffer like this, honey." I fluffed her pillow.
Adrienne groaned as she climbed into bed and made herself comfortable. "It’s good practice for us both. I imagine the baby will keep us up a lot for the first month or so."
After she woke me up another three times, I wondered what we were thinking when we decided to have a child. Who in their right mind would want to carry around an extra seven or eight pounds of hitchhiker, pee every thirty seconds, and wake up all hours of the night to feed something that is going to piss and shit in their pants for over a year?
I looked down at my cat Saber who was watching me with one open green eye. "What were you thinking making all those litters before we got you fixed? Didn’t you know you’d have to clean a dozen kitten butts?"