I quit writing my novel for a few months. I allowed a lot of people to give me input for character descriptions, plot, and narrators. Slowly, my novel became their novel, and my characters lost their voices and point of reason. I think that if I’d finished the rewrite of this book myself, and THEN found an editor, I’d have been better off. But as a new writer, as I feel I am since my last book was written in 2000, I didn’t know better. So here is a chapter taken out of order that I hope you’ll read and vote: yay/nay.
Love Me Not
Sir: Ali came on to me in a bar, wearing a low cut gauzy blouse without a bra. She was a slut through and through, chewing gum with her mouth open, ten fingernails painted in glitter, bubblegum smelling lipstick, and loud, fake laughter following my every word. At 28, I was old enough to know what she stood for. A one night stand. And that she lied. But she was a fresh face I hadn’t seen before, and when she claimed she was 18, l let down my defense, bought a round of drinks, another after that, plying her with liquor, heading straight towards disaster. She slipped me some tongue, the piece of gum, and drunken passion gave way to bedlam. She wanted one thing, and one thing only. Sex. I switched to beer, hoping to slow down the night, and she ordered shots, unwilling to obey. Thoroughly tanked, she stuck a hand between my legs, and I responded, stiffening under her grope. She led me outside, behind a dumpster, and lifted her skirt. Pantyless, she was already wet, dripping with desire, and on the spot, we fucked, hard and fast. In less than five minutes, she returned to the bar, and zipping up, I headed home. Once the booze wore off, I forgot what we’d done, and went about my life as though she’d never entered it.
The call came a month later, as predictable as the rising sun. “I’m pregnant. Can you fix it?”
Fix it? Fix. It. Fix what? Furthermore, who was this girl? I fell silent. She was chewing. I heard a pop, like gum smacking. “Uh, hello? Are you there?” she asked, loud and impatient.
“I’ll call you back,” I lied.
“Don’t put me off, Will Brennan. I’ve already wasted precious time trying to track you down. Pretty soon, it’ll be too late for an abortion.” The line went dead, but my memory came alive with one particular face, chewing gum, smelling like Bazooka.
Calling home that night, my father urged me to give her what she wanted. “There’s no baby!” he boomed in my ear. “It’s a bribe! Whores do it all the time.”
His voice slapped me to attention. Why hadn’t I thought of that? I’d taken her for her word. A baby on the way, and no where to put it. My father sounded calmer. “She wants money, give her money. Pay her to stay away. Just this once, though. Don’t keep in touch. You have bigger fish to fry than taking the rap for someone else’s mistake.”
I was flying Black Hawks, twin turbines. I’d already served two deployments, both to Africa, where pirates were commandeering the sultry seas. I was singularly focused, that night in the parking lot long forgotten, and what she was carrying around, the last thought of every day. The military has little compassion for personal problems. When you sign up, you’re no longer your own boss. Every local female yocal near a military base wants a man in uniform. Our mantra “The Marines. The Few. The Proud”, gets changed to their mantra, “The Marines, The Few, The Snared.” In my life, a wife and children would come once I’d achieved higher ranking. Or maybe not at all. Ali wasn’t my first conquest. There’d been other women. I could get some anytime I wanted, in any bar, on any base. My uniform guaranteed it. A Marine is stealth, covert and determined. We’re known to fall in, fall out, leave without a trace. As far as Ali was concerned, I thought I had. Left without a trace. Besides, when I finished training, there was a girl, a real one, in Annapolis, awaitng my call. A serious girl, not stupid enough to trap a guy using a baby as an excuse.
Every day for two weeks, there was a rapturous voicemail on my machine from the supposed mother of my supposed child. A sharp and bitter voice whose use of the English language scorched even my seasonsed ears. And then she appeared at the base bar, Trader John’s, her eyes fixed on the door. A red eyed stubble faced ensign sat beside her, loaded with angry ammo.
She didn’t introduced him. “I don’t want your bastard!” she whispered sharply across the table. “I’m only 18! Goddamn cocksucker, all sailors use Trojans. What’s wrong with you? I gave you a three month warning and you ignored it. Well, you got yourself into this mess. And I need money to help me out. It’s only fair.”
My mother doesn’t believe in fate. She believes in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, evil and good, damnation and Hell. She said, “You’re too old for her, and she’s too young. Hell will freeze over before I let her get her hands on you. White trash. Your dad and I will make sure the baby’s well cared for. Tell her that. Then give her some distance. How can she prove it’s your baby, anyway? She was a one night stand, right? Isn’t that what you said? Besides, you don’t love her. Nor does she love you.”
My father took the phone and upped the ante. “I’ll write a check for a thousand. That ought to please the little tart.”
Everything that my parents said made good sense. Yet, when I called Ali back, and offered their alternative, I was met with stony silence, and a disconnect. I dialed the number again, and she begged to meet. When I drove to a forlorn single story base house, my father’s check was tucked in my pants pocket. The house appeared as sullen and neglected as Ali. There was a definite bump in her belly, and her leggings strained across her waist.
The same sailor who’d sat with Ali in the bar was bringing in a bag of groceries. Standing on the front steps, he looked me up and down, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “You knocked her up, you take care of her. She’s all yours.”
We sat on the front steps and she cracked a quick smile, then said, “I want a small ceremony, Will, in a courthouse. No stuffy parents, okay? Can we rent Trader John’s for a few drinks with friends? I know a DJ who comes cheap, he’s just starting out, and we can dance into the night.”
I took a lot of ribbing from the men in my platoon. “Sex from 18 year old babes is ridiculous! They’ll do anything you ask, and more.” “What’d you do, Will? Get her pregnant?” “I envy you. I married an older chick. She’ll be dead and buried before I turn 40.” Unknowingly, that last comment followed me to City Hall when we applied for our marriage license. Ali wasn’t really 18. She was halfway past 16. I should have walked out then, but the risk of statutory rape charges was too high.
The plan was I’d marry, give her baby a legal name, and then the wedding would be annulled. Plain and simple. We told no one, not even Ali. I’d set up a checking account for our child, and would continue to keep it filled until the baby turned 18. I earned weekend leave for the wedding. We got married by a justice of the peace, then met at Trader John’s for a short reception. Ali looked gentle, shy, definitely not 18, but the oldest 16 I’d ever seen. For the occasion, Dot generously splurged on a summery cotton dress for Ali that hid the bump in her belly, which would later be christened Margaret Mason Brennan, Bean for short. Fellow officers and a few members of my platoon danced to cassettes from a boombox, kicking up our heels the harder we drank. Ali’s father never showed. I went soft then, and carried her over the threshold of my apartment. By morning, as she vomited in the toilet, the honeymoon was over , and by Monday, our marriage was already on the rocks.
I couldn’t get rid of her. She clung to the bed, and when I left for work, she was still there, as though one foot out the door would end her life. At the end of eight months, with the baby due in one, I’d solved the feeling of entrapment by volunteering for deployment. One trip to Somalia killed time. The longer Ali and I were separated, the happier we both were. It was past time for annullment, only divorce would do, yet I wanted to see my child, hold it in my arms, name it if possible. I hung in, stalwart and brave, and Ali, the exact opposite, sulked in silence.
Bean was the tie that bound. I was present at her birth, and cut the umbilical cord. I touched each tiny finger and toe and stared into her deep dark eyes that dared me to love her back. I held her often and took a month’s leave as Ali suffered from post partum depression that reared its ugly head the minute Bean emerged into our world. When Bean was holding up her own head, I deployed to Somalia, and didn’t see her again until she was walking. She cried when I lifted her into my arms, but in due time grew to tolerate me, even call out my name. “Da?”
Exactly two years after Bean was born, I purposely tampered with Ali’s birth control, replacing oblong sized pills with Pez. She eschewed sex as often as I wanted it, saying “No more children, Will, aren’t we happy now?” Yes, I was delighted with Bean, and I’d have come clean, if I hadn’t wanted a son too. A namesake. My parents deserved a Brennan to carry the family name in to eternity. They’d put up with a lot from Ali while I was abroad, turning their house upside down for a child, even though their roles as parents had ended. I’d thought absence would make the heart grow fonder. I’d assumed Ali would be desperate for my touch, for the weight of my lips upon hers, for the reality of our little family safe within my arms. I’d forgotten how Ali’s moods swung when she was pregnant, how vicious she could become. But when I couldn’t change her mindset, I used trickery to get my way. We knew Ali was pregnant before the test came back positive. She was more nauseous and bigger sooner than she’d been with Bean.
“I didn’t think…” I admitted, starting and stopping as truth tripped me up, “that this would happen so fast.”
Vomit caked her lips. Ali turned sideways to ask, “What would happen so fast?”
I smiled, hoping it was contagious. Bean was a beautiful baby, why couldn’t Ali see how badly I wanted another one just like her?
“I switched out your birth control with candies.”
“Will!” she screamed, as thin streaks of bile spewed in my direction. Instant tears streamed from her eyes.
“I want a son, Ali,” I said. “I need a son.”
She slapped at me as though I were an errant child. We struggled, and she went weak under my hands. “The plan is simple. You deliver a son, and we won’t ever have to sleep together again. I get another daughter, and we keep trying. You like sex, Ali. You know you do. You’re young yet, right? And very fertile.” Cruelty breeds contempt.
So what if I’d pushed the envelope? She didn’t love me, specifically, but she did enjoy her circumstances, the generosity of the Brennans, the large house they’d opened to her to share. And, she loved Bean. Resentment between us grew faster than her body swelled. We fought. She pouted. I returned to Pensacola, and during a training run, lost control of my copter, and very nearly my life. I broke two vertebrae in my back, and recovered enough to walk with a walker to be present at the second birth.
Our marriage, on thin ice within three years of its start, improved drastically with the birth of the twins. They too became the ties that bound. I switched my career from transporation to security intelligence, and took up residence at Quantico, closer to home. Our family was complete, I thought, perfect in every way. Alex, the first born twin, had the same penetrating eyes as I. His disposition, my mother claimed, was similar to mine, difficult to calm, harder to please. Matt, gracing the world two minutes later, was the total surprise, hiding undetected under his twin for nine full months. He was quieter, calm, and ravenously hungry.
I never meant to favor one child over the other, but Alex didn’t pull away from me, shy with his own dad. Matt was closer to Ali, clinging to her when I tried to pay atttention to him. Alex was drawn to things that ran amok. He created chaos for the mere fun of it. Fearless to a fault, it’d be easy to blame him for his own death, for his fatal mistake in playing with guns. But, you can’t blame a four year old for a sense of wonder. I own that day, the accident, his death just as though I’d been the one to fire the round.
Now Matt and I need to make amends. I fucked up I arrived at Dover. I’d called him Alex when I knew it couldn’t be. I open my mouth to speak, and he leaves the room. I’m front and center when for years I wasn’t. But he thinks he doesn’t need me anymore. I didn’t keep the twins safe when they trusted in me to do so, and now, as his only parent, we need to find a way to get along. The sooner the better, the better we’ll be.