Abby is nervous when she pulls up to the nursing home and kills the ignition. We stay in the car for a moment, and I just remain silent, sensing she needs a moment. She closes her eyes and takes a few deep breaths, her hands balling into fists in her lap. I take one of them into mine, carefully unclenching her fingers and lacing them with mine.
“Okay,” she says quietly. “Let’s do this.”
“It’ll be fine,” I assure her. I don’t know why she is this nervous. Is it because she thinks I will bolt once I see what she may end up like if she has the gene? Maybe she’s afraid of her mother not liking me? Or perhaps she’s always this nervous to see her mother? I don’t know, Abby is hard for me to read today. All I know is that she’s way more tense than I’ve ever seen her.
She squeezes my hand and then we finally get out of the car. Abby leads the way into what looks like an average house. She greets a nurse in the small reception area, who lets us right into a small living room where about ten women are sitting around watching TV, playing board games or knitting.
“Abby!” A tall, handsome man in his early thirties walks over and hugs her. He looks pretty good in his nursing scrubs, and I can’t help but wonder what he is to Abby. The way he’s hugging her… Yeah, I don’t like him. Not at all.
“Grayson, looking good!” she replies, touching his short brown hair. “You got a haircut! Suits you.”
“Thanks, babe.” He looks at me with an amused grin. “So… who is this?”
“Christopher Davids,” I say in the kindest voice I can muster, still sounding a little bitter even to my own ears. “And you are…?”
“Grayson,” he says, like I didn’t already hear Abby call him that.
“Grayson and I have known each other since my mother moved in here,” Abby explains, her hand still on his arm. “He’s one of the only nurses my mother actually likes, and he helps me filling our stuff for the insurance and everything. He’s a gem.”
“Ah, babe, stop bragging about how great I am.” He winks at her and I feel like I might just throw up. Is he her ex? Or someone who wants to get with her? He’s a good-looking guy who takes care of her mother and he’s a hell of a lot more age-appropriate than I am. “You look amazing, by the way,” he tells her, letting his eyes travel over her body. “You look… happy.” He sounds a little surprised, and I can’t help but feel smug about that, since I’m pretty sure it’s me who is making her happy.
God, I’m turning back into a 16-year-old guy with his first crush. Pathetic.
“Grayson, this is Chris, my boyfriend,” Abby says, finally introducing me.
“Oh wow.” He takes me in from head to toe, grinning. “And you’re taking him to meet your mother? That’s a huge deal. You’ve never taken anyone but Brittany to meet your mom.”
“I know,” she agrees, stepping away from him and slipping her small clammy hand into mine, squeezing hard. “It’s a very big deal.”
“You locked down a good one,” Grayson tells me, shaking my hand. “I swear to God I was just telling my boyfriend the other day that it’s ridiculous that Abby is still single. She’s amazing.”
Boyfriend. Oh… he’s gay! I know it’s absolutely ridiculous, but I feel a lot better the moment I realize he and Abby aren’t together, never have been, and never will be. Yeah, I’m pathetic. I’m not a jealous guy, never have been, but I’m scared of losing Abby and it makes me a little crazy.
Grayson points us to where Abby’s mother is sitting, and I’m surprised at how old the woman he’s pointing at looks. Abby told me her mother is 48, but she looks like she’s already in her sixties. She glances up from her knitting with a frown, taking in Abby and me without anything but wonder in her dark green eyes. Abby looks a lot like her mother. She’s got her hair, her eyes, her curvy body. But while Abby always looks like she’s bursting with energy, her mother looks likes she’s just sitting out her last days on earth without much enthusiasm.
“Hi Mom,” Abby says tentatively, kissing her cheek before sitting down and tugging me along so we’re both on the couch across from her mother’s recliner.
“Your hair is pretty,” the woman tells Abby, and she’s right. Abby styled her hair today and put a fancy sparkly ribbon in it. To be honest though, I prefer her hair wild and all over the place the way it normally looks. “Are you her boyfriend?” she asks me, her eyes on our intertwined hands.
“Yes,” I say, not sure what else to say.
“You’re a lot older than she is.”
Abby laughs nervously. “Yeah, he 19 years older. Well… a little less, I guess. Little over 18 years or so.”
“That’s a whole person older,” her mother comments before going back to her knitting.
I don’t know what I expected today, but this wasn’t it. Abby doesn’t seem surprised. In fact, she sounds amuses when she speaks up. “Mom’s in a good mood today,” she tells me with a smile. “That’s the most she’s said in a long time. Right, Mom? Are you in a good mood?”
“It’s Christmas,” the woman replies with a little smile. “I’m knitting a Christmas’ sweater for Grayson.”
“That’s nice,” Abby says softly, not sounding bitter about not being the one getting a present today. “I brought you a present, Mom.”
“A present?” Her eyes light up and she reaches for the box I hold out to her, ripping off the ribbon. “Oh!” she exclaims happily. “I love it!”
We bought her some kind of fancy pink glittery wool. I told Abby I’d gladly get her mother whatever she wants, no matter the cost, but Abby insisted this is what makes her mother happier than anything. It’s obvious she’s right.
“Maybe you can knit me a scarf like you did last time?” Abby asks, reaching over to squeeze her hand.
“Last time?” her mother asks with a frown. “I’ve never met you before, have I?”
“No,” Abby says with a little smile. “No, I was just passing by and wanted to give you this present.”
“I like it very much.” That’s the last thing she says before going back to knitting. Abby talks to her some more, telling her about me, the kids, her life in general, but it’s like nothing truly registers. The saddest thing is that Abby doesn’t seem surprised or sad or anything. She’s used to this, and she doesn’t even let it get to her anymore.
When we’ve been there for half an hour, Abby gets up to talk to Grayson for a moment in another room to discuss her mother’s care. I stay where I am, assuring her I’ll be fine.
“Hi Miss McCaulin,” I say softly, scooting to the edge of the couch while I look at the scattered woman.
“Hi,” she says, frowning at me. “Who are you?”
“I’m Christopher,” I tell her, holding out my hand. “I’m dating your daughter Abigail.”
“Daughter?” she seems a little surprised but shakes my hand anyway. “I’m Adele. Nice to meet you, Christopher.”
“I want you to know that I love your daughter and I…” I hesitate, looking over my shoulder to make sure Abby won’t hear me. She’s still in the backroom with Grayson, so I turn back to Miss McCaulin. “I plan to marry her. Soon.”
“She’s pretty,” she replies like she’s not talking about her own daughter. “You’re in your forties. You’d be stupid not to marry her.”
I laugh at that, unable to help myself. She’s right. I would indeed be stupid not to marry Abby. My wonderful, young, pretty girlfriend walks back in then, looking surprised to see me laughing while her mother keeps knitting her red sweater. She kisses her mother goodbye and then we’re off.
“So…” Abby says as she pulls out of the parking lot in her shitty car, the loud noises it makes scaring me a little. We should have taken my car, but she insisted, and she was already so nervous that I couldn’t tell her no. I can never deny her anything and I doubt I ever will. “That was my mom.”
“She’s nice,” I say, at a loss for words.
Abby laughs, but it sounds strained. “She has no idea who I am, all she ever does is knit, and this was the most lucid I’ve seen her in a year. So… okay. Nice.”
I put my hand on her knee, squeezing in support. “I’m sorry, Abby. Thank you for taking me to meet her. I’m happy to come with you every single time, but if you’d rather do it on your own, I understand that too.”
She doesn’t reply, turning up the radio instead. I’m used to us talking about everything and anything, but it’s clear her mother isn’t a topic she likes to discuss. I keep my hand on her leg as we drive back to our house in silence. For the first time ever, I have no idea what to do or say to make her feel better. Normally, I at least have a sense of what she needs: a hug, space, or just a listening ear. Today, I think she’d rather not be with me at all, just suffer through this on her own.
Moments like these remind me that even though she’s only 27, she’s used to doing things on her own for over a decade now. Since she was 15, she’s been the head of the household, taking care of her mother. She has been through more shit than I have – my troubles don’t even begin to compare to hers. There is nothing I can do to make her feel better right now, especially not when she won’t let me in. Her walls have been crumbling lately, but right now she’s pulling them all up again, stronger than ever before.
I look up when my mother says my name, and she gestures for me to follow her. I ruffle Davy’s hair and tell him I’ll be back soon to play with his new trainset – a Christmas’ present from me and Abby – before getting up from the floor to walk into the kitchen with my mother, just out of earshot from the kids. Abby is upstairs, Jagger is out with Celeste doing God knows what, and Dad is taking Titus for a walk.
It’s been like this for day now – Abby is always upstairs instead of spending time with me and the kids. My parents are here for Christmas’, sleeping in the guest room. We were supposed to all meet up at Cameron’s this Christmas, but his wife Victoria wasn’t feeling well this week, so I invited my parents to stay with us for a few days instead. We had a nice dinner on Christmas’ Eve and the next morning watching the kids open present was fun, but also a little sad. It’s obvious the boys miss their mother more than they want to admit, and Abby isn’t in good spirits either after introducing me to her mother.
“Are you okay?” Mom asks, brushing my hair out of my face with a sad smile on her face. “You and Abby… are you fighting or something?”
I shake my head and pour both of us a cup of coffee. “We’re fine. Abby has some… erm… issues with her family. Not really my story to tell. Christmas is hard for her.”
“You really love her, don’t you?” Mom asks, not needing me to answer to know I do. “I’ve never seen you like this, Chris. Not since Gianna, and even then… I like Abby better, if I’m being honest. She’s a little young, but she’s good for you. Dad likes her too.”
I smile and sip my coffee. “Yeah, he told me already. I’m glad you like her, because I’m hoping she’ll be a part of my life for a very long time.”
“You’re thinking of proposing, aren’t you?” Mom asks knowingly. She doesn’t even seem surprised or appalled or anything, even though I’ve technically only known Abby for three months. “Don’t scare the poor girl away, Chris. I know you’ve been waiting for someone like her for a long time, but I think she needs a little more time. She seems… guarded.”
Mom is so goddamn perceptive. I may look like my father on the outside, but I’m a Mommy’s boy on the inside for sure.
“She is,” I confess, struggling with how much I can share with my mother without betraying Abby’s trust. “She’s been through a lot of horrible things in the past, and this is the first time in her life she feels safe. I know I need to take things slow, but I just… I love her. I don’t want to lose her.”
“Proposing isn’t some magical fix, honey,” Mom tells me with a sigh. “I’m all for the two of you getting married and filling this house with more kids, but Abby doesn’t seem up for that quite yet.”
My heart sinks when I hear my mother talking about me and Abby having kids, because meeting Abby’s mother made me understand where Abby is coming from better. Seeing how Abby might end up… yeah, I get it now. I get that she doesn’t want to have kids when she knows she might be like that in ten or twenty years. And the thought of giving a genetic deficit to your own kids is just horrible. I wish she’d take the test to know once and for all, but she doesn’t seem to want to even consider it.
I still want to with Abby no matter what, but I guess that I was still holding out hope of having kids with her, even though she told me in no uncertain turns that’s just not happening. Falling in love with a 27-year-old had me dreaming up a future with babies in it, but that’s just not for me, apparently.
I shouldn’t complain, though. I’ve got Davy, Yoah and Jagger. Plus, Abby and I can always foster more kids, or even adopt. I thought I made peace with that future a long time ago, but it still stings a little bit that I will never have a kid of my own, even though my girlfriend is young enough for that future to be a possibility.
“Whatever it is, talk to her,” Mom advices me, seeing right through me. “Abigail is not a woman you want to lose, Chris. She’s amazing. I love her. I wish your brother would have married someone like her instead of Mrs. Ice Queen.”
I laugh at that description of Victoria. “She’s not that bad.”
“Oh, she’s horrible,” Mom shudders. “Trust me, girls like Abby are rare. Hold onto her, but don’t suffocate her. I know you, Chris. When you’re in, you’re all in. That’s lovely, and you should show her that, but keep that ring in your pocket for now.”
“I didn’t buy a ring yet, Mom.”
“Keep it that way,” she insists. “Trust me.”
I do. I trust my mother completely. I just wish she would be able to tell me what to do to make my girlfriend feel better right now. It’s Christmas, for crying out loud. It’s not the best Christmas ever or anything, since the kids are still mourning the loss of their mother, but this shouldn’t be a sad day.