#51 Ghost from the past
It’s been years since I went out to a bar two times in one week. That makes me sound old and sad, but I don’t care. I’ve never been into the whole bar scene anyway. It’s fun to grab a beer with some friends from time to time, but picking up girls has never been my style. I got married at 25 and planned to stay that way forever. When I was 30 and unexpectedly single again, I took some time to focus on work while I dated now and then, trying to find someone new. I never particularly liked dating, but I knew it was what I needed to do to find the woman of my dreams who would want to marry me and have kids with me.
Now, I’m finally settled down with kids, and even though it’s not at all the way I thought it would be, I love my life. I don’t need to hang out in bars. I prefer being home to read Yoah and Davy a bedtime story, watch some TV with Jagger, and then snuggle with Abby in bed. My life is good.
It’s almost sad to see Paxton trying to get with girls half his age. He thinks he’s living the life, taking home 20-something girls who look like models, but I feel sorry for him. There is nothing fulfilling about one-night stands. I wish he’d find himself a woman to settle down with. I know for a fact Paxton doesn’t want kids, and since he’s slowly nearing 50, that’s probably for the better. I know from experience what it’s like to get past the age of 40 and praying that it’s not too late to find a woman to marry and have kids with. Still, even without kids a relationship is better than the empty way he spends his nights.
“Damn, look at that girl,” Arthur says in my ear as we both glance at Paxton chatting up a slim blonde with huge breasts – fake, from the looks of it – and a ditzy look on her face that’s heavy smeared with make-up. Not my type at all.
“All these girls do is make me miss Abby,” I say, not even caring how pussy-whipped I sound. Paxton has called me that all week, but I don’t give a shit. I’m in a happy, committed relationship and I miss my girl. Sue me.
“Yeah, but you’re still in that phase where you want to rip each other’s clothes off all the time,” Arthur says a little wistfully. “You’re getting to know each other, having your first fight, enjoying the first make-up sex, meeting each other’s friends… The first few months are always fun and exciting. Wait until you’re married and every fucking day is the same.”
“You love Kathy,” I remind him.
“Yeah, I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes long for the old days when the three of us went out to score women.”
I laugh. “You’re forgetting that it was just you and Pax doing that. I met Gianna when I was 20, remember? And even before that, I never had one-night stands.”
“Yeah, true, you’ve always been boring,” Arthur agrees, laughing. “And sure, Pax is gross, but don’t you ever wish that you could be single and fun again?”
“No,” I reply immediately. “I’ve spent the past fifteen years praying I would find someone to settle down with. Now that I’ve found Abby, I’m never letting go.”
Arthur smiles and pats me on the back. “Good for you, man. And you’re right. I do love Kathy. I wouldn’t trade her for a 20-something bimbo. It’s not that I want someone else. It’s just that I sometimes wish she and I could get back to the old days, when every day was still an adventure.”
“Surprise her with a weekend getaway,” I suggest. “Ignite that old spark.”
“Maybe I will,” he agrees, smiling. “Damn, Chris, I hate that you live so far away. I miss this. You’re the only smart friend I’ve got.” He points at Paxton, who is now feeling up the blonde bombshell. “I never get good advice or pep talks from Pax. He’s told me to leave Kathy about a million times.”
“Don’t listen to him,” I grunt. “You’ve got a good woman and great kids. I’ve been wishing to have a life like yours for years, man.”
Arthur looks a little taken-aback at that. “That’s kinda sad, because my life consists of work, fighting with my teenage daughters and going to bed early to find my lovely wife already passed out.”
“Sounds pretty good to me.”
We grin at each other and get back to the game of pool we’ve been playing for the past half hour. Arthur wins – he’s been playing with Paxton once a week while it’s been years for me. We have one more beer before he heads back home and I walk to the hotel I’m staying at two streets over. Paxton is still snogging the blonde girl half his age, so we don’t even bother saying goodbye to him.
The operation I stuck around for goes smoothly. It’s so nice to be scrubbing in with both Arthur and Paxton. The last time was back when I was still married. I forgot how well we fit, no matter how different we are. We’re all exhausted by the time we get out of surgery, and Arthur leaves to update the parents of the kid we just saved. It was an experimental treatment that has only been done a few times before, so the adrenaline of what we just pulled off is still raging through us, pushing the exhaustion aside.
“You should move back here, man,” Paxton says, squeezing my shoulder. “It’s been so nice to have you with us for a full week.”
“I’ve got a family back home,” I remind him with a smile. “And a hospital waiting for me to go back to work.”
“You could get a job here,” he insists. “A job as a peds surgeon here would actually pay you more than being the head of a department in a smaller town. I already talked to the chief. You’ve made quite a name for yourself over the years, and he’d be happy to offer you whatever position you want.” He grins before going on. “Except the head of the peds wing, because Arthur isn’t going to hand his job to you. And obviously I’m the rockstar surgeon and his right-hand man. But there are tons of clinical trails you could run, and we all know you’d do great teaching residents and interns. Way better than me and Arty.”
For about two seconds I imagine myself working here. A pay raise, my two college roommates at my side, here at this huge hospital with so many resources and opportunities… It would be great, professionally speaking. At the same time, I already know I won’t be happy here. I’ve got a family back home. Three kids, a girlfriend, and a huge network of friends who have become like family to me ever since I moved there. I’m not going to uproot the kids’ lives, and I know Abby won’t move so far away from her mother. Besides… I’m happy where I am. I’ve got my family, my friends, a good job, a great team of surgeons and nurse around me.
“Thanks, but I’m good,” I tell Paxton, smiling when I see his face fall. “I appreciate you putting in a good word for me, but I don’t need more money. I’d love to work with you guys again, but…”
“You love your woman and those three foster kids more,” Pax says with a sigh. “Yeah, I knew it was a long shot. Arty told me to not even bring it up with you.”
“Bring up what?” Arthur asks when he enters the doctor’s lounge.
“Pax is trying to get me to move across the country to bring the old gang back together,” I say with a smile, getting myself a cup of coffee.
“You were right, he said no,” Pax grunts. “He wasn’t even tempted.”
“Of course not,” Arthur says, rolling his eyes. “Chris has never been happier. He’d be stupid to make any huge changes to his life right now.”
“Yeah, the only change he’s making anytime soon is getting down on one knee and opening a little black box to beg Abby to marry him,” Paxton jokes.
I don’t laugh along with them. That’s not a joke. I may not have a ring yet, and I don’t have any concrete plans, but I will be asking her to marry me eventually. I’m still sure of that.
“Oh wow,” Arthur says when he sees my expression. “Damn. That girl must be really something. She’s lucky to have you, Chris.”
“Thanks.” I finish my coffee and take out my phone, wanting to talk to her and tell her how surgery went. And to tell her that tonight, I will be on a flight back home. I loved scrubbing in on an exciting new surgery and hanging out with my old friends, but it’s time to go home.
When I check out of my hotel, a woman walks in, struggling to keep a hold on her suitcase while she’s got a 3-year old kid on her hip. I hand my credit card to the girl behind the front desk and move over to help her.
“Thanks,” she says, smiling up at me.
My heart stops.
It can’t be her. That’s just not possible. What are the odds?
“Chris?” she asks, her pink lips parting in surprise. “Is that you?”
“Gianna.” Her name escapes from my mouth in a whisper. “It’s been a while.”
That’s a lame thing to say, but what else is there? I haven’t seen her since the divorce was finalized, our old house sold, all our stuff divided between the two of us. I’m not on social media and we never text of call, so we haven’t been keeping tabs on each other. I don’t even know where she lives.
“You have a kid,” I blurt out, looking at the 3-year-old boy on her hip. His skin is dark brown, and he’s got short black hair. He looks like he’s almost asleep, nuzzling his face against Gainna’s shoulder. “I mean… I assume… He’s yours?”
She nods, her cheeks flushing bright red. The way she’s so quick so blush used to be one of my favorite things about her. She looks great, now that I take a closer look at her. She’s only one year younger than me, but she looks way younger than that. Her hair is dyed dark brown – one shade darker than her original coloring – making me suspect she might be grey already, but other than that, she looks young and exactly the same she used to.
“But you…” I trail off, not sure how to put my thoughts into words without sounding like a jerk. How can she have a kid? She’s infertile. We broke up because she refused to adopt or foster. How can she be here, in this hotel in New York, with a 3-year-old in her arms?
Right when she opens her mouth to say something, a tall black man enters the hotel, carrying two huge suitcases. “I think we’ve got it all,” he says, walking over to where Gianna and I are standing. He puts down the suitcases and ruffles the boy’s hair before pressing a kiss to the top of my ex-wife’s head.
“Hey,” he says, looking at me with a frown.
“This-this is C-Christ-topher,” Gianna stammers, gesturing to me.
“Oh,” the man says with a small smile. “The ex-husband, right? Fancy running into you here, man. Checking in or leaving?”
“Leaving,” I reply, forcing myself to remain calm. I feel like screaming and hitting a wall, but I’m not that kind of guy. Why the fuck does he know who I am just by hearing my first name, while I have no idea who he is?
The man holds out his hand and shakes mine. “I’m Dan. The husband.”
“Christopher,” I say, even though he already knows. “The ex-husband.”
Gianna lets out a strangled laugh, her skin still flushed. “Honey,” she says to Dan. “We should check in. Mason needs his sleep.”
“Right,” Dan agrees, grabbing the suitcases again. “Let’s go.”
Horror of all horrors, I have to go with them to the front desk because my credit card and suitcase are there. I feel like I opened a door into the past. A very confusing one. Did Gianna have a kid with this guy? How? Or did they adopt? Or foster? Or is she a stepmother? Whatever the answer is, I already know it will cut me deeper than anything ever has.
We broke up because she didn’t want to raise a kid that wasn’t biologically hers. Either she lied to me, or she changed her mind. I loved her. I tried so hard to make our marriage work, and it took me until this past year to get my own life resembling the dream I always had of filling a house with kids. With love, laughter, and a sense of family.
All this time, Gianna has been married, with at least one kid.
When I’m checked out, I wave goodbye to Gianna and Dan, sneak one last look at the kid – who is called Mason, the name Gianna and I talked about naming our future kid back when we didn’t know she was infertile – and then I’m outside in the rain. Even the weather fits my mood tonight.
My phone buzzes, and I see that Abby is calling me, but I press the call away. No way I can talk to my girlfriend when I’m still reeling from seeing my ex-wife with her new husband and kid. I get into the cab I ordered earlier, apologizing to the driver for making him wait. The drive to the airport is a tense and silent one. I keep thinking about Gianna holding Mason.
I thought I was okay with how things turned out between us, but now… I need some answers. I don’t know how that will change things, and I probably should head back home, but I can’t. When the driver pulls up at the airport, I tell him to turn around and take me back to the hotel. I cancel my flight online and send Abby a text telling her that I’m needed at the hospital for one more day.
I know I’m letting my family down right now, but I can’t leave like this. I need to talk to Gianna.