The night was like any other. I was meeting with a friend named Thomas. I got to the bar a few minutes late.
"Greg, give me the usual," I rattled off as I came through the inner door.
"I'm Marv," the new bartender said cheerily. "What's your usual?"
"Where's Greg? He'd never miss a Thursday night shift."
"I've taken over for now."
I was rather upset, Greg was a generous bartender, one of the greatest I'd had over the years. "Well, do you know how to make the house special?"
"I'm new, I'm not that new," Marv smirked back. He seemed rather chipper, maybe he was going to be an alright sub.
My hopes were quickly dashed. Sitting in my regular booth, having trouble deciding whether I was sipping the weakest drink I'd ever had or Marv's house special was water, I knew enough. Greg would need to come back before I did again.
I was late, but Thomas managed to beat me at that too. I was waiting for almost a half hour before he practically stumbled into the bar. Apparently someone had tipped him off to a better place and I was excited to hear the recommendation. Thomas wasn't exactly a problem drinker, but the way we talked we would never blame each other for putting some armor on.
Thomas and I were quite an interesting pair when we got together for drinks. Intoxicated, we'd channel our inner selves like no one's business, spoken loud enough so it was. Hammered, the conversations felt so rich, so deep. Our time together had a limit. We knew it was a matter of time before one of us screwed it up. I would not have missed our Thursday nights for anything in the world.
That day though, the spark wasn't there. He was prepped, but I was barely buzzed and Marv wasn't likely to help me out. I stuck it out and figured I'd still try to make something out of the night.
I felt so lame. Talking to a drunk Thomas sober made me realize just how foggy my memory was, or he had overdone it. Thomas was completely incomprehensible, like a child. Was this the thought-provoking meeting of minds I'd been participating in? Cringe spread like an infection over me as the night went on.
After two hours compiling evidence that Marv was a shit bartender, I was ready to call it a night. I left Thomas to continue his conversation himself, which he'd been surprising masterful with maintaining, I'm sure he thought. The rambling hadn't bothered anyone yet. Perhaps by next Thursday he'd have another one of our kind for us to drink with if I just let him mingle, I thought.
Is this always how it goes? A series of coincidences, a random chance break from routine, between these seams of scheduled activity, is that where all the life is?
I ask because as I walked outside I was greeted with a women's scream and the force of a bike tire. I fell back towards the bar entrance, she and the bike fell to the opposite side of the sidewalk.
"Are you fucking crazy? Watch where you're going!" I shouted as I got to my feet.
A flash of concern hit me as I stood and didn't hear anything. I walked over and looked over her shoulder to get a look at her face. Our eyes met. She was physically fine, but I knew the look she was giving me somehow. At that moment, I was looking at her the same way.
I'd never looked at someone that way before. And, as I found later, she never had either.
I have a lot of stories about Brook. When we first met, when she did eventually learn to ride that bike, when we first kissed. I didn't realize I was living an eternity until time flew by with her. Our first real date I got hung up on her inability to swim ("Brook", I mean right? If you share a name with a body of water, you should know how to swim), and got lost in her eyes. She'd already proven to be a better discussion partner than drunk toddler Thomas.
The night was like no other. After two years of dating, it was finally time for me to commit. After we finished eating dinner I took her hands in mine. We exchanged glances and smirks. Had this been any other night, we would have both known that was the signal that I was about to do something stupid or say something really cheesy. And I was, but I was also proposing and she knew it too.
I pulled the box out of my pocket and stepped down. Before I could even open the box, Brook leaned over and whispered sweetly, "Of course I will, you idiot." Never one to make a scene, even then, I suppose. I took my seat across from her and slipped on her ring. She brought it to her face and inspected it. The tears were starting to come on in her eyes and mine followed. She put her hands back in mine. We leaned in to kiss for the first time as an engaged couple.
I didn't feel her on my lips. I opened my eyes to hers staring back at them. She pulled her arms away and jerked back into her chair. Uneasy, she looked all around the restaurant and then down at her hand. One glance at the ring and she burst out crying. I knew it was over.
I woke up in a bed. I looked to my left and saw Brook, barely awake herself looking at me. "Brook?" I asked, still very groggy.
I jumped to my feet. "What's going on!?" I shouted as my brain raced to comprehend.
"What are you–"
"What the fuck is going on here, Brook!?"
Her face went pale and her eyes started to water. I slowly began to calm down seeing her break down. "Stephen," she hesitated. "Stephen, what is our song?"
She buried her face in her pillows to muffle her anguish. I came around to the other side of the bed and sat beside her. She let me get closer as I rubbed her with my hands trying to console her. She gave that pillow everything she had, raising her head begrudgingly for just enough air to not pass out.
After a few minutes of quiet weeping I leaned in and lifted the hair away from her ear. I whispered, "I love you." She took a quick breath and then didn't move for a full minute. I sat, watching.
Suddenly, she grabbed my shoulder and pulled herself around me. I fell on to the bed, letting her do whatever she needed. She got on top of me and leaned over. Her hair enveloped my head and our eyes met again, just like the first time.
"I need you, and only you," she whispered. I wrapped her in my arms and pulled her body to mine. I reached down to my waist and pulled my boxers down, feeling her skin on mine. She brought her lips to mine and we kissed, finally.
I knew everything I needed to know.
I woke up in a bed. My eyes, already adjusted to the darkness, quickly found the lamp on the nightstand. I turned it on and saw a note lying beside it facing the bedroom doorway. It read, "Brook needs you. Call this number."
I reached for the phone and dialed the number. I recognized her voice and immediately wrote down her address, all the while rushing to get dressed. I hung up trying to save everything I wanted to say until we met in person, but mostly just to give myself time to find those words.
I ran down a staircase and was greeted by a young girl's voice. The little girl's head was tilted back over the living room couch watching me reach for the front door. "It's raining," she said.
"I'll be fine," I said quickly. The rain was the least of my concerns right now.
Another voice, this one coming from an older woman, surprised me. She walked down the steps slowly in a silk nightgown. Concerned, she asked, "Where are you going?"
"I have an errand to run," I said with as little hesitation as I could muster in order to avoid suspicion. I gently opened the door and walked out without conveying my urgency. I walked another quarter block away from that house before I took off running for Brook's address.
The run was exactly what I needed to recover my wits. When I arrived at her house I breathed heavy, trying to get a grip before I knocked on the door. Then I remembered there was no time for appearances. I banged on the door and Brook so quickly opened the door I knew she'd been watching me from the window. I entered and hugged her, and she hugged back.
She gestured to her living room and had me take a seat across from her. "She left you this," she said as she placed a notebook in my hands.
Brook certainly got straight to the point. A sentence in, I looked up and she answered me without needing to ask. "He's asleep right now, you're welcome to stay until he wakes up. If that's what you want." She rose and left the room.
I read everything Brook had written for me.
I'd like you to meet your son. Please be a good father to him like you always thought you'd be.
That night you returned to me he was conceived. The next morning you were gone. I experienced what you must have felt the night you proposed to me.
I started to show, and I could later tell based on the scars, those had been some very difficult months. Obviously, I must have decided to keep him. The moment I got a hold of myself, I knew I needed to tell you.
I finally found you walking in the park. You, your wife, and your daughter. You were holding your daughter in your arms so tenderly. It took everything I had in me to walk up to you that day, to your beautiful family. Words can't describe how much I wished I didn't ruin your family with my news.
I struggled to find the words then as well. I blurted out way too quickly, "I'm pregnant with your child." Understandably, your wife lit up with rage and berated us with a flurry of questions. You had no idea what was going on. Your wife took your daughter over to the playground for someone to watch her. When she came back, I was covered in my tears.
Getting back into it with more questions, your wife cut herself off when she noticed that you were crying too. The sight was bewildering. Your face was confused and stoic but tears were flooding from your eyes. Seemingly overcome with emotion and yet there was no change in your voice or body language. Your eyes spoke on their own.
Your wife Rebecca is an amazing woman, anyone who ended up with her was a lucky man. Like me, when she saw this she knew. That father had genuinely no idea why he was overcome with tears, but we could see into his eyes. Stephen, you were there, looking through his eyes in that moment. We knew it.
It took a lot of patience and difficult conversations but we built a rough timeline of events. From those events we built a story that tries making sense of everything.
Rebecca's husband is named Peter. They met a few years after you proposed to me. They got married and had Hannah less than a year later. After a few years, their marriage seemingly hit a rough patch. You would often stay out late at night and come over to my place.
This part here is not clear cut. We've agreed that during this time neither you or Peter were present. While I do personally have some doubt deep down, Rebecca believes Peter has always been faithful to her and the time I've spent with him has made me believe this as well.
Stephen, we did sleep together many times before you finally came back to me. I am so sorry I betrayed your trust. You approached me so many times and each time I asked you our secret. You could never answer correctly and insisted you couldn't remember it and were so persistent. I was a fool and wanted you back in my life so badly I finally decided to overlook it.
There were signs, looking back such clear signs, that person wasn't you, Stephen. You saw how sick I was that night you came back, and that feeling hasn't fully left after all these years. I don't think I'll ever truly come to terms with my failures without your permission. Please forgive me. I am yours, like I promised to be when I took that ring to wear.
At some point after this, Peter returned and returned to his family. The late nights Rebecca had grown concerned about stopped. Peter cannot account for any of this time.
Stephen, I need you to know Rebecca feels violated for what happened to her during this window of time. She was taken advantage of in intimate ways by someone who wasn't her husband. It has taken her many nights like the one I had and a lot of counseling to come to terms with this story.
My time with Rebecca has shown me both you and Peter have fantastic taste in women. I was so lucky to have her by my side as your son was born. Please be gentle and considerate with her, but more than anything be honest. If you can shed more light on this story, she has a right to know what happened.
Stephen, I know I'm asking a lot here, but take care of our son, your daughter and wife, and me too if I need you. There's no doubt in my mind you can do it.
I can't wait to see you once again.
To the love of my life,
the love of your life (a.k.a. Brook, your idiot)
I read every last word of this notebook over and over again. It was dawn now. I heard Brook's footsteps making the floor creak and another set of footsteps following behind. They walked into the living room together.
There he was. My son looked almost four years old already. I bent down. It hit me that the last time I could recollect kneeling like this was when I proposed to Brook. Holding back a new set of tears, I extended out my hand. "Nice to meet you son, I'm your dad."
The boy threw his hand forward and gave me a light high five.
"My name is Thomas," he said. I had to hold back the laughter. Brook named our toddler after a grown man toddler. I had wondered why his name was omitted from the notebook. She must have wanted him to deliver me that inside joke.
I was happy. This was the start of my life as a father. I stayed for breakfast with them. Beyond administering the test Brook had left behind to ensure I was actually her Stephen, which I obviously passed with flying colors, there wasn't much else that needed to be said just yet. It was the dawn of a new world and those things take time.
I returned to Rebecca and Hannah at their home. I had a house key in my pocket but I was definitely a stranger. I knocked on the door.
I was glad I had gotten Brook's message first so I could handle talking to Rebecca. Remembering the note on the nightstand, I could see so much of Brook's classic handiwork. She had prepared everything for my return.
The door quickly opened. Rebecca was rightly concerned that her husband had been gone all night and was waiting in the living room. I could see through the door Hannah was eating brunch in the kitchen.
I extended my hand and put on the friendliest smile I could, "Hello Rebecca, it is very nice to meet you. My name is Stephen."
Rebecca wasted no time administering yet another of Brook's tests before even letting me in. Once she was satisfied, she loosen her grip from the door that she had held so strongly. Brook wasn't kidding about the trauma.
"I went to see my son last night. I read a letter Brook had written to me for my return. She explained the situation and told me to tell you if there was any additional information I might have." I saw Rebecca starting to brace herself for the worst so I grabbed her hands. "I believe Peter was faithful too."
She hugged me tightly. I could feel the relief. I couldn't be completely sure Peter was faithful but I at least did not have any contradicting information. I knew that would be certainly some relief to everyone in some way.
We went into the kitchen and sat down with Hannah. She was almost nine years old. Rebecca asked me to act normal, as if I were Peter, today. I understood. Hannah had the capacity to actually remember today and I didn't mind skipping the opportunity to make a bad first impression.
It had been over four years since I had last returned and that was only for a few hours. As scary as it was, we had to wait to see if I would stick around before we did more than discuss things. Days passed with me spending time with both families. My memories were of Brook so I gravitated towards her house more, even though she wasn't there.
A month later, we were beginning to face the logistical problems of raising two families under separate roofs. Brook and Rebecca were good friends, and Peter didn't have a personal preference, so until I returned they had wanted the families to live separately. I could decide whether I wanted to manage the two under one household.
Hannah made this a really tough decision. I wanted what was going to be best for her and Thomas's development. Indecisive, a few more weeks passed and the decision was made easier. I was having dinner with Rebecca and Hannah one night and suddenly Hannah asked, "Who are you people?"
Those words were hard to hear certainly, any parent hates seeing the first signs in their children. However, it did give us some flexibility to start anew with everyone under a single roof. Life moved forward.
I share a home with two women I don't love, raising our kids. Rebecca has left and returned from time to time, Hannah and Thomas as well. Brook has shifted a few times, but so far not yet to the Brook I fell in love with. This is my family.
I've now waited decades for Brook to come back to me. Not a night's sleep is wasted dreaming about anything other than a day where she barges into my bedroom in a tizzy and embraces me just one more time. She will see I managed to pull it off, everything she asked: I raised our son to be a great young man and took care of this family. If she comes back and I am already gone for good, that boy...
I know seeing him is all she will need to know.