The tie-dye clad woman’s question made my brain start churning, though. Neither Gene nor I had kids between us despite our past relationships. I sometimes wondered whether he had any procreative inclinations that he hadn’t mentioned, but I hadn’t wanted to ask him because I was afraid to find out the answer. Dating at my age had proved frustrating for quite a long time before I met him because men either had young children that I didn’t want to be second mother to, or men wanted a much younger woman to produce children for them. There were also the men who’d never had kids and liked their responsibility-free life so much that they really weren’t even looking for a woman to be attached to; they just wanted a woman for a kind of brief intimacy that I wasn’t interested in. Mostly I was just interested in finding someone for conversation and companionship. Gene surprised me by giving me both and more. Now he’d given me the big L-word and it had been hard enough to verbally reciprocate. I wondered what else he might want that I wouldn’t be able to give him even if I wanted to.
Back in our yurt, I cleaned out the tote while Gene packed away our used storage bowls and utensils. I didn’t realize there was a silence in the air until he asked me what I was thinking about. When I looked up, startled by the question, he was smiling at me over his shoulder as if he’d been observing me for a while. My fingers played with one of my earrings while I tried to assemble the words that I couldn’t avoid. I’d already upset him earlier with my childish antics over simple words and I didn’t want to do that again. He raised his eyebrows as he zipped up the bag he was tucking everything in, waiting for me to answer him.
“Um, well, I just wondered if maybe you ever felt disappointed with me,” I started. I could see the confusion in his eyes. “I mean, because of my age. Like, did you want to find someone younger than me?”
“Why would I say the things I told you earlier today if I wanted someone else?” He asked, scratching his head, clearly even more puzzled. I knew I wasn’t being clear.
Blowing out a breath, I just laid it out for him. “Because it’s highly unlikely that I’d be able to give you any kids at my age.”
He closed his eyes and I watched the realization wash over his face as he connected my pensive mood to the woman’s questions at dinner. Then he opened his eyes and grabbed the belt loops on my jeans, pulling me up close to him. He smiled at me as he put his arms around my waist, gazing at me warmly. Up close, the laugh lines branching out at either side of his eyes suddenly seemed deeper, and more aged than I’d ever noticed. Maybe, like strangers often did, I’d mistaken the tolls of time etched in his features for little more than daily weariness.
“If I’d really wanted to have kids, I would’ve done that by now.” he assured me. But then Gene furrowed his thick brows at me, seeming to have a thought. “What about you, Kittie?” He asked. “You were really watching all those kids.”
That question made me nervous again because then I had to confess other little things that fleeted through my mind on rare nights when I lay awake overanalyzing the course of my life. “Sometimes I wish I’d done things differently,” I lamented.
He was silent for a minute as he considered the implications in that remark, studying me. “Well, I know it’s kind of early days, but if you ever want things to change, we can always talk about it. I’m sure there are options we could explore,” he told me. “Just so you know. I don’t want you to think I’m inflexible. I mean if I’m the person you’d want to do something like that with.”
I smiled but I shrugged. “They’re just little thoughts. Most of the time, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with any of that. I like that it’s just us.”
“I’m totally OK with that, too,” he smiled again and squeezed me tighter. “I think you worry too much, and that you like to keep all those worried little thoughts hidden in your head.”
“I think you’re a little bit drunk,” I said, hugging him.
He grinned at me. “I am a little drunk,” he agreed. “But I still know what I’m saying. I’ll say the same thing tomorrow.”
I didn’t argue with him; he was probably right. I’d never known him to drink so much he forgot the night before, and there was nothing to indicate tonight was any different. Plus, he was not wrong about the way I kept things to myself, though I had somehow thought I was not that obvious about it. All I could do was look at him in silence with a little smile. His face was close to mine and I could smell the mixture of beer, marshmallows, and smoke from the fire lingering on him, his breath minty from the square of gum I’d given him after dinner. Tilting his head, his lips brushed mine as I let my mouth fall slightly open with anticipation and waited until he gave me his familiar ginger kisses.