Daniel Josephs hid violet tulips behind his back as he opened the front door. Bleach met his nostrils. “Karen?”
She didn’t answer. Daniel walked to their bedroom and hung up his coat. She wasn’t there.
He found her in the living room a few minutes later, staring blankly at the white wall opposite the olive-colored couch on which she sat. A pair of scissors sat next to an open box on the table adjacent to the couch, and packing peanuts were strewn on the floor.
When Dan sat next to Karen, the weight shift stirred her from her thoughts. She smiled, half-heartedly, he thought, and leaned over to greet him with a kiss. As she did, he saw that her black tank top, which still didn’t fit quite right, had a bleach stain on it.
When she switched to a hug, he caught a whiff of her citrus shampoo. “What are you doing home?”
“I wanted to bring you these.” His hand shifted on the cellophane wrapper. “Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”
“Oh!” She pulled back finally, and although her brown eyes lit up, he noticed that they were wet. “So sweet, Dan. Thank you!” She brought the flowers to her face. “I’m going to put them in water.”
She stood to walk to the kitchen, but Dan stopped her. His hazel eyes searched her face. “I’m glad you like them.” He brushed her cheek with his thumb. “But those aren’t happy tears. What’s wrong?”
Karen sniffed, and pointed to the box.
Dan ran his fingers through his black hair and peeled the packing tape from the flaps. He looked inside.
A baby bouncer.
Dan’s mouth went dry. Karen sat down again and leaned into him. She clutched his arm.
“Danny, who would do that? Our moms called everyone! Everyone should have sent the gifts back!”
He shook his head. “I-I don’t know. I mean, I-I-‘m sure it was an accident.” He opened the card. A smiling teddy bear holding an “IT’S A GIRL!” balloon looked back at him.
Congratulations Dan and Karen! I can’t wait to meet your little one this summer. I hope this helps her to explore her world!
Aunt Janine was the world traveler; at the moment, she was in Italy, probably cruising on a gondola. His mother did tell her their news, but she’d already shipped the gift. He told Karen as much.
But there was no consoling her. “Couldn’t she have found a way to have it shipped to your parents’ house?”
“No, sweetheart. She bought it in-store and shipped it herself. Once it shipped, she couldn’t change the destination.”
Karen pulled back from Dan and looked him square in the face. Her cheeks were sticky and her nose was running.
“But if she sent it when she says she did, we’d have gotten it…right after…”
“I know, honey, I know. It must’ve gotten lost in the mail.” Dan’s voice cracked as he reached for Karen again. But Karen stood, picked up the box, and walked to the door.
“What are you doing?” He followed her and reached for the box. His eyebrows raised when she stepped back.
“I’m donating it. We don’t need it.” She turned the doorknob. Dan moved in front of her and held the door closed. It was Karen’s turn to be surprised.
“Kare Bear, let’s talk about this. I know we don’t have a baby right now, but – “
“One day, we might want to try again. You never know.”
“Dan, I do know. And the answer is no.” Karen shifted the box.
Dan took the box from her, and put it on the floor. He took his wife’s hands and kissed her fingertips. He looked up at her. She refused to meet his eyes.
“The day that we found out you were pregnant, you were happier than I’ve ever seen you.” He tilted her chin up with his index finger. “Happier than the day we got married.”
“I- C’mon, Dan. You know that’s not true.” Karen turned her head away and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
“It is true, Kare, and that’s a good thing. You were happy to be having a baby. And not with just anyone. With me.”
“Well, of course I was. You’re my husband, and I love you. Even when you try to talk me into things I don’t want to do. Like….now, for instance.” She rolled her eyes and turned to walk away.
Dan caught his wife’s wrist, and turned her toward him gently. “But you do want to have a baby. I want a baby, too.” Dan took Karen’s other hand into his. It was a little sticky. He didn’t care. “That’s why this is so hard. But, Kare, we can try in a few months. When we’re ready.”
Karen wrenched her hand from his. “Dan! I said no! We tried, and we lost one. I can’t go through this again. I won’t.” She turned her back to him and walked to their bedroom.
Dan sighed. He wanted to follow her, but knew she needed space. When he walked in their room an hour later, Dan found Karen laying on her side, facing away from him, in the middle of their four poster bed. He slid next to her and put his hand on her hip. After a few seconds, Karen moved to her back. Dan propped his head on one hand, and brushed a strand of blonde from her face with the other.
Karen touched his lips with her finger.
“We can talk about it. Just please give me time.”
Dan smiled tentatively, and when she returned it, he brushed his lips on hers. He’d thought that he couldn’t love her more than when they found out she was pregnant. When he paused to gaze in her eyes, he realized that he already did.