I Didn’t Ask For This, Chapter 15
Having his sister and nephew in town should take some of the pressure off him as they were all happy to see Dinah. At supper, their mama was chatty and animated and her eyes shone. Even Mr. Beede chuckled once or twice.
Dinah was eight when he was born. Naomi, eleven. Simeon had been a colicky baby and out of all the family, Dinah was the only one who could calm him. Dinah became his. She was the one who let him crawl up onto her lap while she did her homework, never telling him not to suck on his fingers while watching Reading Rainbow videos, crawling under his bed in her Sunday best to help find his missing socks. Their daddy had always been disinterested in his children and their mama was busy with her bookkeeping jobs. Naomi was a teen and overloaded with school and a weekend job, and in his juvenile mind, sometimes he had fantasized that Dinah was his real mama.
When he was six, Naomi had moved out to live with a girlfriend. That night, their mother had rushed him into Dinah’s arms and sent the two upstairs while their father had tried to talk to his oldest daughter.
“Don’t you think this might just be a phase?”
“Daddy, you think everything I do is a phase.”
“Someday, though, you might want a man. Right?”
“I like girls.”
“And I like all three of my girls, too.”
Naomi stood up. “Daddy. This is different.”
“Well, what if you change your mind? Will they allow you or is liking this one girl going to mess it up for good?”
Simeon had been standing at the top of the stairs, gazing down as their daddy threw his hands in the air. Dinah whisked her little brother out of sight and into his room and shut the door behind them. He pulled his two fingers out of his mouth. “Dinah, I don’t like girls.”
“You’re six. Give it time.”
“I opened the pickle jar at supper.”
“I saw that. You’re a big boy.”
“Watch this!” He threw his hands in the air like their father, only Simeon had stuffed his with toy bricks first. She had laughed while they rained down around him so he did it again and again.
On this night, though, Dinah was only civil to him, holding her toddler out for a hug then hurrying the little boy away for some microwaved chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and an early bedtime. After supper, the parents and Dinah moved their animated talk into the den. Simeon followed. Mr. Beede stopped him at the kitchen door.
“Your mama’s arthritis is acting up. Make sure the dishwasher’s loaded,” He hitched up his pants. “And use a little steel wool on that casserole she’s got soaking ‘fore you load it.”
In the morning, Simeon figured he was the first one up, only to find Dinah in the kitchen and his nephew standing on a chair, fishing multicolored cereal rings out of a bowl of pinkish milk.
Dinah looked up. Her smile fell when she saw it was him. She looked from Simeon to her son, then she scooped up the boy, leaned him over the sink and washed the sticky off his face and hands. “Go watch TV — quietly.” She sent him on his way with a pat on the behind.
“I don’t think he was finished.” Simeon stepped around the boy to open the fridge and pull out the coffee can.
“That stuff’s gross,” She took the red plastic tub from him and handed him a bag. “Here, make this instead.”
“Well, look at you, getting all fancy pants on us,” He stuck his nose deep in the bag. “Mmm. Hey, when you and mama go shopping later? I’ll watch Colton.”
“We’ll take him with us.”
“I don’t mind. I could show him how to climb into the fig tree, maybe watch a little Barney.”
“That’s not on anymore.”
“Oh, thank God,” He hummed the theme song while he measured out the water and coffee. “He’s cute, Colton. He’s got Clint’s eyebrows.”
“Did you ever think those facial fire hazards of yours would be in style?”
He prepared to duck. Instead, Dinah passed him on her way to the cupboard. “I don’t know. I think, maybe…he should be supervised around you.”
“Oh, here we go. Dinah, you know me–”
“I thought I did.”
“I’m still me,” He snorted. “Even better, I’m me 2.0.”
“He’s an impressionable kid. I don’t want him to…” She waved her hands in the air.
“What? Learn to love his uncle? It’s just a couple of hours.”
“Do they even talk at three?”
“I don’t know. I never paid attention before when you brought Kayley.”
“You’ve been to prison-”
“Okay. First of all, it was the county lockup, not prison.”
“- and who knows what things you might have picked up there-”
“Are you kidding me? Jesus, Dinah, no one touched me! Jesus!”
She opened the dishwasher and pulled out two cups. Simeon took the kitchen towel and wiped them dry. They both continued, she handing him the still wet bowls and plates, he wiping and shelving them, with an ease that came from years of sharing chores in the small kitchen.
“I meant habits.”
“Well. Let’s see,” He hung up the towel. “I don’t drink anymore. That’s a good habit. I’m employed and paying my debts.”
“You moved back home.”
“I didn’t have much of a choice, all right?”
“Daddy’s retired and mama’s only working part time. It’s not like they can afford a freeloader.”
“I’m not freeloading! My paycheck goes straight into their bank account. The city, the courts, they take their share first, then Mama and Daddy keep the rest. Except for an occasional five dollars, which I give to Beau, I get nothing.”
“Beau? Your life guard friend? You owe him money?”
“Coast Guard. And he gives me rides. It’s gas money.”
“Can’t you pay him rent? Sleep on his couch?”
“What the hell, Dinah, am I in your way here?” He slapped the counter. The towel ruffled in the breeze he created. He snatched it up and slapped the counter with it, cracking the air. “What the fucking hell! Am I in their way? Did they say something to you last night?”
“They didn’t have to.”
He felt like he had been punched in the stomach. “Well. Then, I can’t wait to leave either. Next time I see my parole officer, I’ll ask him how much more I owe and how long it will take to pay off. You know, maybe I can get a second job. I’ll be,” His voice caught. “I’ll be gone so much they won’t even know I exist. Then they can go back to forgetting they even had me.”
Dinah poured the coffee into two cups. “Simi, I’m sorry,” She put the coffee cups on the table and patted a chair. “Come here. Sit with me.” He made a reluctant effort to walk over to her and she pulled him toward her in to a hug. “Oh, my little sim, sim cinnamon.”
“God, stop that shit,” He pulled out of her arms and pushed away from the table. “Telling me to grow up then call me baby names.”
He vigorously scratched at the stubble on his head. “Fucking accident.”
“Hey, looks like all that got hurt was your hair.”
“Not what I meant,” He scowled at his cup. If he threw it, the coffee would make a big smelly mess, splattered all over the kitchen. The sugar bowl, too. He pictured the sticky brown rivulets running down the walls, and Dinah’s face. Then he pictured his heart, slowing the beats until he could breathe at a normal rate. “I’m talking about…Mama was over forty when she had me, right? Why did you have Colton when you were so old?”
“Did you call me old?”
“Why did you wait until you were almost forty to have Colton?”
“Jeez, Sim, that’s kind of rude.”
“Like you and mama didn’t yammer on about me while I was in here doing your goddamn dishes last night.”
“You sure cuss a lot,” She got up. “I better get Daddy’s grits going. He still eats them, don’t he?”
“You were nine when they had me.”
“Eight.” She opened the pantry and stepped in. It was a small pantry and much of her did not fit although she tried. The power his words had on her amused him.
“You think Colton’s not gonna wake up someday, see the gap between him and Kayley and wonder which one of them was the ‘accident’?”
She stepped back and held out the canister of instant grits. “Neither of them was. Okay?”
He waited for her to blink before he took it.
“We just took our time, that’s all. We were busy.”
“Jobs, Kayley, I don’t know. We bought a house. That was expensive. And a car. We were busy and broke.”
He reached for his coffee. “Kayley’s what…Six? Seven? I remember Mama saying when you bought that four-bedroom house that it just cried out for an SUV. And a week later, you got a brand new one. You wanted more kids. Why did you wait to have Colton?”
Dinah muttered to herself. She reached to top off his coffee but he pulled the cup out of the way. “Dang it, Simeon! I’m not Mama. I had a little health thing.”
“What was wrong?”
“Something,” She stumbled over the words. “For women, a woman. Something, surgical…”
He looked from her eyes to her chest and back. “Cancer? It couldn’t have been an abortion,” His eyes widened as she looked away. “It was? An abortion?”
“Hush, you! Don’t say that word out loud.”
“You had an abortion?”
She glanced out at Colton who was swaying in front of the TV, then nodded at Simeon.
“But you’re married. Married people don’t have to have those.”
“Tschuh!” She leaned in, waved him closer. “They don’t know, Mama and Daddy, okay? It was just something that happened. Clint was on a business trip, then I found out I was pregnant and had the, you know.”
“Abortion. Wait. You had an affair, too?”
“I said shush! It wasn’t like that, it just happened.”
“Naomi and Steph offered to adopt it and raise it and never tell anyone, but Clint said no.”
“Would you keep your frickin’ voice down? Swear to God, if you don’t keep it down, I’m going to break your arms off and beat you with them. Now drink your coffee,” She soothed her own ruffled feathers, heaving great sighs in and out. “I told Clint that I was pregnant and that my doctor recommended I have a, a therapeutic elective procedure because there were going to be some ‘problems’. Don’t give me that look, Simi. That baby would have more problems than I have hairs on my head if Clint knew. He was just a little scared to touch me after is all.”
“Because he’s like you. He don’t just take any old answer. I told him we didn’t know whose genes were involved. Stop shaking your head at me! It wasn’t a lie.”
“Dinah, I don’t know what to say.”
“Sim, it’s a private matter between a woman and her doctor and God.”
“Yeah, I understand that. I’m not the one here who ever had a problem with it. Aren’t you being a little two-faced, telling people not to have one and then you go off and get one yourself?”
“I’ve grown. I’ve changed.”
“You still go on marches?”
“Well, of course, silly. I have to support my friends and my church.”
“Unbelievable. You are just, wow.”
Having inhaled most of the oxygen out of the room, she sat back and exhaled. “Oh Sim, it feels so good to finally tell someone about it.”
“You have no idea what it was like, keeping that secret all to myself,” She got up and poured them each some more coffee. “I had to find a new doctor. I had to go all the way to Atlanta for it.”
“Did you tell the guy?”
“The one you had the affair with.”
“I told you, it wasn’t an affair, it was just something that happened, one time.”
Had he ever been something that ‘just happened’ to someone. A woman’s face came to mind along with the floral scent of her long dark hair. Someone who slipped him her number instead of a tip after he vacuumed her car at The Chamois Shine. The details of their night were vague. He recalled something about the kitchen counter. He also remembered waking up and finding she had showered and left, and that the two condoms on the nightstand were still sealed.
Dinah misunderstood the look on his face. “Simi, please. Please don’t tell Mama and Daddy. I’ll let you watch Colton.”
“No, that’s fine. I mean, yeah, I won’t tell. They should get to think at least one of us turned out like they planned.”
Mrs. Beede walked in carrying Colton. “I believe this little one’s ready for breakfast,” She looked from Simeon to Dinah. “Are you two planning something? Is Naomi coming in after all? No? I think it’s a shame she didn’t. She could have brought Oliver for this one to play with.”
After a breakfast of grits, ham and eggs for the adults with a spoonful of grits and a waffle for the boy, Simeon picked up a few of the dishes. Dinah took them from him. “I’ll get those. You go put this little boo in a bath. He went and got syrup all over hisself,” She thrust Colton into Simeon’s arms. “Now don’t go being ugly to your uncle.”
He knew she was worried he’d blab her secret, even after he whispered a reassurance to her that he rarely spoke to their parents, and even then, only to respond, but he was glad to leave them to her.
Upstairs, he stripped down to his boxers and sat in the tub, letting the boy douse him and the tiles until most of the water was on the floor. Then he soaped the child up and held him under the shower and they danced while Simeon sang. He buffed Colton dry and wrapped them both up in damp towels, then delivered him to the den where everyone laughed at the little boy’s nakedness.
“Your door was shut, Dinah. Anyway, I’m not going to go pawing through your personal things.”
Dinah and their mama excused themselves to get dressed, and headed to the mall with Colton and an offer to bring back fried chicken for dinner. Simeon threw all the wet towels in the wash and when it dinged, he hung them on the line. Mr. Beede paced between the garage and the den, the den and the bathroom, the bathroom and the kitchen. Simeon didn’t need to be in any of those rooms, but he found his feet twitching, too. Had the old man always been restless around him or was this new behavior brought on by his son’s chronic presence?
Xavier worked for his father, who had worked with his father. His mother ran the house, but yielded to her oldest son much like she did her husband. Nick’s family was from old southern money. He had had a nanny while his mother was busy with Leagues of all types from Junior to Women Voters and his father worked long hospital hours. Nick once told Simeon that, after the delivery, babies in his family thanked the ob/gyn immediately upon arrival then stayed dutiful and quiet until eighteen and that he didn’t see it as a problem, treading respectfully around his elders. Beau and his father were more like brothers, cracking one word inside jokes over a beer, ball games on the TV in their respective homes with their phones on speaker while they talked trash about the other’s team. Simeon’s mother and sisters had always told him his daddy was used to daughters, that Sim’s late and colicky arrival in his life, his wiry build and aversion to axle grease had put the two men at odds.
Simeon concluded his old man just didn’t like him.
He wanted to get moving, work off some of the irritation he was beginning to feel. He and Nick had exchanged schedules and were sparring at the hospital gym once a week or whenever Nick was available. It did feel good, the exertion and exercise, and he told himself that he was getting to know Nick better, that he was grateful for the attention. But sober Simeon was also discovering that Nick was dull. Details of the wedding were tiresome, the particulars of an especially tricky diagnosis, uninteresting. It made hitting him all the more fun.
But Nick was working and didn’t answer the phone, so Simeon called Beau.
“Hey, you busy?”
“Well, when I leave the gym-”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No, I’m done here. I was saying, I’m going to do my commissary today, love to have some help.”
“Your commissary. Is that for your leg?”
“Food prep for the week. I usually do this on Sunday, but I’ve got plans with my girl tomorrow.”
Simeon had a twinge of guilt. He knew Beau was seeing someone. Or maybe he didn’t. He thought he was getting better, no longer feigning interest, but actually listening to others.
“…I’ll swing by in an hour.”
“I’ve got my bike. Where are you doing this thing?”
Beau gave him directions to a church kitchen near the bookstore. He stepped out of his room, took a deep breath at the top of the stairs and headed down. “Going to help Beau, I’ll be on my bike.”
Goddamnit! He stopped at the front door, hoping to get the words out before his daddy could compel him to stay home. “The kitchen is clean, I’ll do my laundry when I get back.”
He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Son, here,” His daddy held out a ten dollar bill. “You don’t have to give Beau your lunch money.”
He eyed the ten, grabbed it and walked out. It wasn’t until he was at the stop sign at the end of the street that it struck him. Daddy called him ‘son’.