I am sitting at the top of the bleachers in a cold high school gymnasium, freezing my ass off. My eleven year old daughter Nicole is down on the floor with her best friend Danielle shooting hoops, missing shot after shot. She’s a better defensive player than she is on offense.
Next to me, sighing on her cell phone is Lana, my best friend, and she is about to leave her husband, Jeff. I always knew this day would come if for no other reason than the fact that his name is Jeff. Jeffs don’t stay married. They are too invested in having fun. I love Jeff, but I wish they would just get on with it now.
Lana hangs up and looks at me. She wants me to run away with her next weekend so that she can figure this all out, and my husband Luc has told me I can’t go.
“He’s not the boss of you, you know,” she tells me.
I can’t help but laugh at her.
“I need you,” she whines, adding, “a lot more than stupid old Luc.”
A whistle is blown and the kids are told to clear the floor because the game is about to start. Corey yells up to Lana that Garrett won’t move. Corey is Lana’s eleven year old son and Garrett is her four year old, and a brat. Like Jeff, he has the most irresistible smile I’ve ever seen. Garrett won’t be able to stay married either.
Lana climbs down to grab him, and as she does so, Luc comes in with our other three kids and the box of donuts they have picked for the team snack. Like Lana, we, too, have a bratty four year old with a devilish smile, and as Luc stops to say hi to Nicole, Garrett breaks free to run over to Gatién and have a grand old reunion. You’d think they haven’t seen each other for weeks, when in fact they attend the same preschool and were together just yesterday.
I blow on my hands and wish Luc would get up here so that I can steal his jacket. Adrian, our eight year old and the most easy going of our kids, waves and goes over to sit on the floor with our six year old, Rain. Just for the record, I have to say that I cannot believe I have a child named Rain. His full name is Rainier, and I blame his difficult delivery for the reason I gave into Luc so easily that time. I usually at least fight him on his French names, but that time I was too tired to care.
Lana gathers Garrett and Gatién and tells them to sit down in front of us where we can see them.
“I want to sit on the floor,” Gatién whines to me.
“Just sit here with Garrett,” I tell him, pointing to the bench directly below me.
“Garrett can sit on the floor, too,” he insists.
“Just stay put,” I say as Lana sits next to me and we huddle together trying to stay warm.
“Mommy,” Gatién objects, “you’re no fair!”
Luc starts over but is stopped first by Marianne and Steve Sumner, and then by Shauna Lewis.
“Luc,” Lana yells impatiently, as the game is starting and he’s blocking her view.
She motions for him to move and he turns to watch the game as Shauna touches his arm and laughs about something a little too hard. Luc is a successful director and Shauna is an actress. She makes her presence known to him every chance she gets. In Hollywood connections are more important than talent.
Nicole gets the tip off and runs the ball down court before passing it to Danielle who quickly passes it on to Corey. He shoots as Lana and I both draw in our breath, letting it out in slow disappointment as it hits only the rim. They all run down to the other end of the floor, their footsteps thundering in the echo of the half empty gym.
Luc finally makes his way up to us and kisses my cheek as I pull on his jacket and tell him I need it. Ever the gentleman he takes it off and wraps it around my shoulders. I thank him, and Lana pushes me in irritation.
“Good morning Lana,” Luc laughs.
She glares at him while pulling half of his jacket around her own shoulders. I share and we continue to hold our breath every time either of our kids has the ball. Gatién and Garrett climb on Luc and complain that they should be allowed to sit with the boys on the floor. He does his best to ignore them, squeezing my knee when Nicole manages to steal the ball. She throws it to Marshall, our star player, who shoots and makes the basket. We all stand and cheer.
By halftime, we are up by three points and Luc is beaming proudly.
“This iz fantastic, no?” he asks, as Gatién and Garrett pull on him and tell him to come on.
Taking their hands, the three of them jump down each step of the old wooden bleachers. Lana’s phone rings as she mimics, “Theeze iz fantastic, no?” rolling her eyes and putting even more of a French accent on it than Luc speaks with.
“I don’t know why you like him so much. You should really be over him by now,” she says looking at her phone to see who is calling. “It’s Kaaay,” she says in a tone that always makes us laugh.
The British comedienne Tracey Ullman has a character who is worn down and put upon and who always checks on her mother by saying, “Hello mother, it’s me, Kaaay,” The way she says it is funny, but if you’ve never seen it you probably can’t understand why it gets us every time. The Kay who is calling Lana used to think it was funny, but here ten or fifteen years later, she’s over it. Lana opens her phone and we chorus, “Hello Kaaay” cracking ourselves up. Lana listens for a minute before turning to me.
“See? Dennis says he’ll pay Kay to go with me,” she sulks.
Dennis is a first class jerk and should pay Kay just for agreeing to breathe the same air as him.
Lana complains to Kay that I am allowing Luc to control me. She insists that I should come to Tahoe with them not just because it is beautiful but because I need this more than anyone. She says this out of genuine concern for me. To say the past several months have been more stressful than most would be an understatement. While Luc was away on a long location shoot in New Zealand, not only did my Dad pass away unexpectedly, but then there was Rain’s accident. Just two weeks after we laid my dad to rest, Rain was at a friend’s house and, new to riding a bike, took a ride without wearing a helmet. He hit a rock, flipped the bike and fell down an embankment, hitting his head on the pavement below. Rushed to the hospital, he’d sustained a life threatening concussion that has since turned our world upside down.
Luc was only able to fly home long enough to see that he was moved out of the ICU. Once the immediate danger was past he had to resume production and returned to New Zealand. I was left on my own to handle Rain’s recovery, which has been long and stressful for us all. Not that I was completely alone, though, because I did have the support of Lana, Kay, and my mother. My mom has said that although she wouldn’t wish this on anyone, it has served as a distraction for her and helped her to deal with my father’s death. That’s been the silver lining.
I watch as Luc runs over and slaps hi fives with our team and then grabs a spare basketball. He dribbles it out onto the court as Garrett and Gatien try to steal it from him. He shoots and makes a perfect basket. He looks up to be sure I’ve seen and smiles proudly. I sometimes think I should be over him by now, too, but I’m not even close. He is unquestionably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Again the whistles blow and they clear the court. Both Garrett and Gatien quickly run over to sit with Adrian and Rain. Luc looks up and Lana shakes her head no. She tells Kay she has to go and tells me,
“You know they won’t sit still.”
I can only agree. Luc talks to them, obviously trying to lay down some rules, but when he starts back up to us, I tell him to either stay with them or bring them back up.
“No, they’ll behave,” he insists.
“No, they will not,” I tell him.
“Jess, iz sad what low expectations you have for them.”
“Wrong. My expectations are really rather high, but I know they will not live up to them left down there on their own,” I argue. “Either sit with them or make them come back up here.”
He stops to consider for one, maybe two seconds before deciding to ignore me. Sitting down, he places his hand on my knee, and tells me to watch the game. I look from him to the boys where Gatien is already rolling around on the floor, his foot dangerously close to the foul line.
“Seriously?” Lana complains.
“Pay attention. Corey has the ball,” Luc tells her.
“Yea, thanks,” she says, rolling her eyes and marching off to get the boys.
Luc just pats my Knee and yells to Nicole in French that she should be guarding with her hands up. The other team makes a basket, but Marshall, our star player gets the rebound, makes a fast break, and slams the ball into the basket at the other end. Our side of the crowd goes wild, but I am distracted by the fact that Garrett is refusing to stand up and Gatien is crawling away. I go down to help and Lana and I drag them back up into the bleachers. Garrett cries and attempts to pull away from Lana the whole way. Gatien just fusses that it’s not fair.
“Papa,” he insists, “tell Mommy that I can!”
“Watch the game,” Luc tells him.
Lana informs Garrett that he is about to lose all electronics. She says there will be no TV, no video games and no computer if he doesn’t behave.
“No, you will!” he wails.
“I’m counting to ten,” she warns.
“Oh mon dieu,” Luc groans in French, “not the counting.”
He reaches around me and grabs Garrett, pulling him over to his lap and telling him to hush. Garrett angrily wipes his tear and inserts his thumb into his mouth, doing as he’s been told. Brat or not, he’s cute and he loves Luc almost as much as I do.
Our team goes on to victory and we all move outside to congratulate them and to indulge in the donuts we’ve brought for snacks.
Gatien, Garrett and Rain are all running wild, which worries Lana because they are near the parking lot. I’m watching too, but since most of the cars belong to the parents of the team, it appears relatively safe.
Melinda, Danielle’s mom, rushes over to thank me again for having brought Danielle to the game. Always running behind, she yells to Danielle that they have to go. She tells us she’s left the baby in the car with the nanny, where she is having a fit. We assume she means the baby and not the nanny, but then you never know. We are also informed that they have two birthday parties to attend this afternoon as well as a fundraiser tonight.
Danielle and Nicole bounce up together and Danielle announces that they want to have a sleepover. I catch Luc shaking his head no behind their backs.
“We won’t be home, but the nanny will, so it’s your call,” Melinda assures me.
“Maybe next week,” I propose.
“What? Why?” both girls whine.
“Because for one thing you’re putting us on the spot and I’ve told you I don’t like that.”
“But it’s at their house,” Nicole reasons.
“We’ve got to be going. Just call my cell when you decide,” Melinda says rushing off.
This is what Melinda does all the time. She throws that out there so that I’ll be blamed for saying no instead of her. Kay, who was a psychology major in college, feels it’s very passive aggressive. I just find it really annoying.
“I’m saying no right now,” I call to her.
“Okay,” she answers back. “Just call if you change your mind.”
“Why would I?” I laugh to Lana.
“Why wouldn’t you?” Nicole complains. “It’s not like you have to do anything but drop me off.”
“Luc, you want to get this?” I ask.
“Non,” he mumbles checking something on his phone, while adding, “Let it go, Nikki.”
“But Papa, it’s at their house,” she repeats.
“I have to go,” he tells me.
“Couldn’t have seen that coming,” Lana mutters.
“Really? Cuz I kind of could,” I laugh.
Luc touches my back and tells me he shouldn’t be too long. Then he smiles at Lana and tells her to take care.
“Oh, sure. No problem,” she says as he walks away.
“What are you going to do for the rest of the day?” I ask as I watch the boys all surround Luc, wanting to know where he is going.
Lana also watches before sighing.
“I don’t know. Avoid Jeff, run errands, avoid Jeff some more and then attend what will hopefully be the last anniversary party for his parents.”
“Lana!” I object.
“You know what I mean. Not their last anniversary, just the last party I’ll have to attend.”
She signals for Corey to come on and I gather my kids as well, agreeing that I do, in fact, know what she means.
At home, the house is in the same state of disarray that we left it in. On the outside, it is a beautiful California Mediterranean, with manicured lawns and tall elegant palm trees. On the inside, it looks as though a tornado has hit. There are toy, clothes, and dirty dishes throughout.
In the entryway is the towel Rain used after his shower this morning and then ran around with, waving it over his head as though he were lassoing cattle. I tell him again to put it in the laundry, just as I did before we left, and he assures me he forgot. This is his excuse for everything, especially since his accident, and of course we don’t know if it’s true or if he’s playing us for fools. There were definitely glitches in his memory at first and we’ve been told some things he may never remember. Right or wrong, every time he says it my stomach flinches and I revisit that sick feeling I had when I got the call that he’d been injured. Okaying the decision to put him into a medically induced coma was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do, not that I was presented with much choice. I never for a moment allowed myself to believe we could lose him, but I did sometimes wonder at what cost we were keeping him.
I shake it away as I always do and make my way into the kitchen to check messages and put on some coffee. Adrian follows me, saying he is starving. I give him my standard answer.
“Have an apple.”
“Yuk,” he says in his standard response.
Nicole comes in as I hit “Play” and continues to complain about how unfair her father and I are. She says now she’s just going to be bored for the rest of the day.
“Can I have some chocolate milk?” Adrian asks, as the machine informs me that we have two messages.
“You just had a donut,” I remind him.
The first message is from Luc’s brother, Antoine, and all in French. It’s something about an idea he’s had for a film. I only catch every other word, especially as Adrian complains that his donut didn’t fill him up.
Antoine is an actor, and divides his time between Los Angeles and his parent’s winery outside of Paris. Hearing his voice, Rain rushes in, asking if Antoine is here.
“No,” we all say.
“But I heard him,” he insists.
“Answering machine,” I explain, as I hit “Save” and go onto the next message.
“What did he say? Is he coming back? Is he going to stay with us? Will he bring Addy with him?”
Addy is the surprise daughter that Antoine only discovered this summer that he has. We met her for the first time this Christmas and she and Rain hit it off instantly.
“Mommy, Mommy, will he?” he asks, as Kay is now on the answering machine telling me we should talk, because she agrees with Lana that I need to get away.
“Do you think?” I mutter as Gatién runs in fussing that the TV won’t work. Out of the blue, he hauls off and hits Rain.
“What did you do to it?” he demands.
“Ow!,” Rain cries dramatically, as I ask Gatién what he’s thinking.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” Adrian tells Rain as he falls against me, weeping inconsolably.
I tell Gatién to go to his room immediately. We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to hitting.
“No, Mommy, he broked it on purpose,” he cries.
“That’s ridiculous,” I tell him.
“Did you unplug the game you were playing?” Adrian impatiently asks Rain.
He doesn’t answer. He just cries. This is what he does since his accident. He falls to pieces in a way that he never used to. In the old days, he’d have hit back and defended himself. Now he just crumbles. He will cry for at least the next ten minutes.
I hold him close and tell Gatién again to go to his room, while Adrian defends him and says Rain never unplugs anything. He takes Gatién’s hand and protectively tells him he’ll fix the TV. Nicole looks at Rain and rolls her eyes. It’s been four months since the accident and they’ve all lost patience with Rain’s recovery. They think I am babying him and resent how much of my time is taken up with dealing with him. I’m not. I’m only doing what all of the doctors and therapists have told me to do.
I debate in my head what to do about the fact that Gatién is not going to his room. I wonder if it’s worth upsetting Rain further by peeling him off of me to go force the issue. I’ve been advised to pick my battles as far as the other kids are concerned, but how do you know which one to pick? As usual, I stay with Rain, and Nicole leaves the room shaking her head. I take a seat at the breakfast table, pull Rain onto my lap and tell him it’s okay and that Gatién couldn’t have hit him that hard.
The coffee maker beeps its signal that there is fresh coffee to be had, if only I could get to it. Adrian comes in still wanting chocolate milk and although I feel guilty to do it, I just wave him away. As he starts out, the phone rings and Rain startles, crying just that much louder. Adrian grabs the phone on his way out and I hear him telling whoever it is that I can’t come to the phone right now.
I eventually manage to calm Rain down to a shuddery droan, and tell him I really need some coffee. We stand, but he continues to hang on me as I move over to get a cup.
“Do you want something?” I offer.
“Juice?” I prompt, “Water, milk, what?”
“Juice,” he sniffles.
“Okay,” I say, leaning down to kiss the top of his head. “You have to toughen up a little, Rainy,” I tell him, as I gently remove his arms from around my waist and reach into the dishwasher, hoping to find him a clean glass.
When Luc gets home I have the phone nestled between my ear and shoulder, while standing in front of the dryer folding laundry. Kay is telling me about a study she read that reports three or four orgasms a week will extend your life by at least a couple of years.
“How do they come up with this stuff?” I ask, as Luc comes in through the garage which opens into the laundry room.
“I’m sure it’s all very scientific,” she tells me.
“Sure it is. Like they know what corpses have been getting off and what ones haven’t,” I laugh.
“Who is that?” Luc asks, paying no attention to what I’m saying.
He nods, kisses my cheek and passes by.
“I’m guessing the interviews take place before they are dead,” Kay tells me.
“Then how do they know how long you live?”
“They keep track of you, I guess.”
“And then what? So you die. Everyone dies. How do they know that how much sex you had has anything to do with the timing of it?”
“Easy. You track enough people and you start to see a pattern between the haves and the have nots, so to speak.”
“Maybe,” I sigh. “Hey Luc,” I call.
“What?” he answers.
“Do these have to be mutual or can you achieve them on your own?” I ask Kay.
“Together is better, don’t you think? I mean it plays into that whole companionship study about people and pets,” she says.
“Okay, this just took a rather disturbing turn,” I say, as Luc walks over and leans against my back.
“What?” he repeats.
“Never mind,” I laugh.
“Where are the kids?” he whispers.
This makes me laugh even harder. He always has this unrealistic image of the two of us sharing a stolen moment, and the only time that ever happens is in his films. Real life doesn’t accommodate such dreams. He wraps his arms around mine and I tell Kay I have to go.
“Talk to him, Jess, we all need this weekend and it won’t work without you,” Kay insists.
“I’ll try,” I promise.
I drop the phone on to the folded laundry and as with Rain earlier, attempt to peel Luc off of me.
“Stop,” I say as he kisses my neck and starts to slide his hand under my shirt.
“What did you want?” he mumbles seductively.
“You called me in here, no?” he asks gently bumping into me.
“It was a mistake,” I laugh.
“What were you talking about with Kay? I heard the word sex.”
“I’ll just bet you did,” I say, turning to kiss him.
The moment our lips meet however, Gatién runs into the kitchen calling for me.
“I need you to tie my shoe. Where are you?”
“We’re in here,” I tell him.
He comes to the doorway, and beams upon discovering Luc is home.
“You’re here!” he says delightedly. “Come play baseball with me. You promised, remember?”
Luc smiles, but sighs as he does so. I give him another quick kiss and promise him there’ll be more to come later. As is so often the case, a later rendezvous does not occur.
By ten that night I’m hitting the wall, and can barely keep my eyes open, whereas Luc is just hitting his stride. The boys are in bed, but Nicole is still up and wanting to be allowed to watch Saturday Night Live. We never stopped to consider that when we rushed our seemingly brilliant child into kindergarten at such a young age, that it would come back to bite us in the form of Saturday Night Live. Most of Nicole’s friends are older than her, and many of them are second or even third children. They are allowed to see things I’m not always ready to expose her to. Luc, on the other hand, would allow her to see just about anything. He thinks Nikki is wise beyond her years. Not only that, but he has such an honest appreciation of all media that he loves sharing it with her.
I pass by the den, and stop when I see her and Luc in there watching one of the many cartoons now aimed more at adults than kids. Luc is only half paying attention as he has his laptop open on the coffee table in front of him and is also on the phone. I go in, hug Nicole, and tell her not to stay up past eleven.
“Mom!” she objects, “The Ting Tings are on Saturday Night Live. I have to watch.”
“The who, what?”
“Ting Tings. You know, that song, It’s Not My Name?” she asks, singing a few bars.
“Honey, you’re eleven,” I sigh.
“Is okay, I’ll watch with her,” Luc says offhandedly.
“She’s only eleven,” I repeat.
“Oui, I was there at the birth. I know,” he says, explaining to Antoine on the other end of the phone in French that I’m being overly protective.
“It’s inappropriate,” I defend.
“I’ll cover her ears,” he promises as I look skeptical, but Nicole smiles, in clear sight of a victory.
I hesitate, feeling tired and starting to question myself as to if I’m fighting a losing battle.
“Antoine agrees with me,” Luc says.
“Oh, what a shock.”
Antoine and Luc agree on just about everything.
“You’ve had a long day, huh? You didn’t tell me Rain had a meltdown,” he says sympathetically.
“Did he tell you?” I ask.
“Non, Gatién did. He feels you were very harsh and didn’t care about his feelings, only Rain’s.”
“That ungrateful little creep. I totally let him off the hook. I picked my battle and stuck it out with Rain.”
“Good, so let this go, too,” he says, taking my hand.
“She’s not as old as you think, you know,” I insist.
“I’ll cover her ears,” he repeats.
I choose to take the easy way out. I kiss him goodnight and go off to bed, knowing that Lana would yell at me if she knew. She and Kay both think Luc is controlling, but in truth, I’m just lazy.