We were both quiet for a moment. Finally I said, ‘You can’t think like that, though. You’ll make yourself crazy.’
He gave me a wry smile. ‘Tell me about it.’
I started to say something, but then he was getting to his feet, picking up the tray and taking it to the kitchen. Just as he did, I heard a thump from the wall by his bed, followed by another. I stood up, walking closer, and listened again.
‘That’s the McConners,’ Eli said from the kitchen.
He came over, standing behind me. ‘The McConners. They own this house. Their son’s room is right through that wall.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘He usually wakes up once or twice a night. Asks for water, you know, the whole thing.’ Eli sat down on his bed, the springs creaking beneath him. ‘If it’s really quiet, I can hear every word.’
I sat down beside him, listening hard. But all I could make out was two voices murmuring: one high, one lower. It was kind of like Heidi’s waves, distant white noise.
‘I used to do that,’ Eli said. We were both whispering. ‘The whole waking up, wanting water thing, when I was a kid. I remember it.’
‘Not me,’ I told him. ‘My parents needed their sleep.’
He shook his head, lying back on the bed, folding his arms over his chest. Through the wall, the negotiations continued, the higher voice rising, urgent, the lower one staying level. ‘You were always thinking of them, huh?’
‘Pretty much.’ I stifled a yawn, then looked at my watch. It was four thirty, about when I usually headed home. Through the wall, the voices kept going, and, still listening, I slid down next to Eli, resting my head on his chest. His T-shirt was soft beneath my head, and smelled like the detergent I knew he used at the Washroom.
‘It’s late,’ I said quietly. ‘He should go to sleep.’
‘Not always so easy.’ His voice was low, slow, too, and I felt his lips brush the top of my head, gently.
The light was still on in Eli’s kitchen, but it became muted as I closed my eyes, still hearing those murmurings behind me. Shh, shh, everything’s all right, I was sure I heard a voice say. Or maybe it was the one in my head, my mantra. Shh, Shh. ‘It’s not your fault,’ I said to Eli, my voice sounding thick to my own ears. ‘You’re not to blame.’
‘Neither are you,’ he answered. Shh. Shh. It’s all right.
It was so late. Late for children, late for anyone. I knew I should get to my feet, go down those stairs, and find my way home, but already I could feel something happening. A feeling, thick and heavy, creeping over me. It had been so long since I’d done this that for a moment a part of me was scared, wanting to fight it off, stay vigilant. But instead, just before it took me, I rolled over, pressing myself closer against him. I felt his hand rise to my head and then, I was gone.
When I woke up the next morning, it was seven thirty and Eli was still sleeping. His arm was around my waist, his chest moving slowly up, down, up, down, beneath my cheek. I closed my eyes again, trying to drift back, but the sunlight was slanting in overhead, the day already begun.
I eased myself away from him, getting to my feet, but then stood watching his face, relaxed and dreaming, for a few moments. I knew I should tell him good-bye, but I didn’t want to wake him. Plus, I had no idea what I could say in a note that would possibly convey how grateful I was to him for everything he’d done for me the night before. In the end, I did the closest thing I could: I refilled the coffee-maker, put fresh grounds in a new filter, and flipped the switch. It was already brewing as I slipped outside and made my way down his steps to the street.
It was one of those gorgeous beach mornings, bright and sunny already, everything enhanced with the benefit of actual nighttime sleep. Walking the four blocks or so back home, I was more aware than ever of the salt in the air, the beauty of the rambling roses climbing along someone’s fence, even the friendliness I felt toward the bicyclist I passed, an older woman with a long braid, wearing a crazy orange jogging suit and whistling to herself. She returned my wide smile, lifting a hand to wave as I made my way up the front walk.
I was so immersed in all this – the night, the sleep, the morning – that I didn’t even see my dad until I was about to walk right into him. But there he was, in the foyer at this early hour, already showered and dressed.
‘Hey,’ I said. ‘You’re up early. Did inspiration strike or something? Ready to start another book already?’
He glanced up the stairs. ‘Um,’ he said. ‘Not exactly. Actually I was just… I’m headed out.’
‘Oh.’ I stopped. ‘Where are you going? Campus?’
A pause. Right then, in that too-long beat of silence, I got the first inkling that something was wrong. ‘No. I’m going to a hotel for a couple of nights.’ He swallowed, then looked down at his hands. His face was tired. ‘Heidi and I… we have some things to work out, and we decided this was the best thing. For now.’
‘You’re leaving?’ Even the word sounded wrong, said aloud.
‘It’s only temporary.’ He took in a breath, then let it out. ‘Trust me, this is better. For the baby, for everyone. I’ll just be at the Condor; we can still see each other every day.’
‘You’re leaving?’ I said again. Still weird.
He bent down, picking up the bag I’d not spotted until now, which was by the stairs. ‘It’s complicated,’ he said. ‘Just give us some time. Okay?’
I just stood there, speechless, as he walked past me to the door, pulling it open. Here I was, with finally a chance to say everything I hadn’t two years earlier, the do-over of all do-overs. I could have asked him to reconsider, to think of other options. To stay. And yet nothing came. Nothing. I just watched him go, again.
I stood there for a long time, thinking this had to be a joke. It wasn’t until I had watched him pull out of the garage, flip down his sun visor, and drive off that I walked over and locked the door.
When I went upstairs, Heidi’s door was closed, but as I passed Isby’s room, I heard something. Not surprisingly, at first, I assumed it was a cry. But listening another minute, I realized it wasn’t. Tentatively, I pushed open the door, peering in. She was in her bassinette, looking up at her mobile, waving her arms around. Not wailing. Not shrieking. Even though these would have been perfectly acceptable and expected any day, but especially this one. Instead, she was just murmuring, making little baby noises.