Apple Cider & Pretzels

I sat in an old, wooden rocking chair, alone on the porch, enjoying my usual cup of coffee while watching the sun emerge over the roofs of the neighboring houses. The morning was still. Children were still sleeping peacefully in their rooms. Parents were enjoying the last few minutes of sleep before the workday ensued. As the sun rose higher into the dark sky, bringing forth the transitioning shades of blue, the world began to awaken.

“Good morning, Aleena,” a voice rang out from a second-story window.

“Morning Sharlene,” I responded with a small wave and a wide smile. “How is that cute son of yours coming along this morning?”

Sharlene’s silence was deafening, but not unusual. I usually try to refrain from mentioning her son, but sometimes the question just slips out. It seems like a typical thing to ask a mother, but what would I know. I have never been so lucky to have a child of my own.

“Fine,” she muttered as her smile faded away, leaving only the look of shame, guilt, and secrecy on her face. Sharlene quickly slammed the window shut and disappeared from sight without so much as a wave goodbye. I folded the plaid blanket I had draped across my legs and placed it upon the rocker. I glanced to the window one last time before walking around the corner of the porch and into my front door. My house, unlike all of my neighbors, was silent. There was no bustling of children groggily walking downstairs to eat breakfast or the sound of another adult showering before work. The loneliness filled the house, but only emptied my heart.

I let out a heavy sigh before folding the plaid blanket I had draped across my legs and placing it upon the rocker. I glanced to the window one last time before walking around the corner of the porch and into my front door. My house, unlike all of my neighbors, was silent. There was no bustling of children groggily walking downstairs to eat breakfast or the sound of another adult showering before work. The loneliness filled the house, but only emptied my heart.

I sat at the breakfast table, staring at a single, empty chair sitting in front of me. He sat there once. The only man I had ever loved. We had met when we were 15. He transferred into my high school in the middle of that year and was placed in my 4th period English class. Not only was he the new kid, but he was a little strange. He had an accent that no one in my town had ever heard before and he dressed in tight jeans and flannel shirts. It wasn’t what all the other boys I was raised with usually wore. Everyone teased him, including me. It wasn’t until we were partnered together on a presentation that I finally understood him.

Clint was more introverted than I was used to, which was a refreshing change of pace. He was a wise soul, with an empathetic heart. A forgiving soul with a dark and complicated past. We grew as friends and began to build a family together. My parents thought we were too young to have a family, but we didn’t care. We were determined to prove them wrong. To overcome every obstacle with the greatest power of all, love. That was until…

A loud knock echoed throughout the sparsely furnished house.

‘Who could be there? I never have visitors’, I thought to myself as I pushed the chair back from the table and walked skeptically down the hall and into the foyer. I stood on my tip-toes to peer through the peep-hole. I opened the door just wide enough to poke my head through.

“Hi, Sharlene.” I tried to hide the curiosity in my voice, but the unexpected greeting was enough to make all of us standing on the porch uncomfortable.

“Hi.” She stated coldly.

My eyes drifted from Sharlene to the young boy standing next to her. I couldn’t see his eyes because he was staring at his shoes. The ends of his black jeans were tucked into his white high-top sneakers. His multicolored flannel was misbuttoned, placing his collar crookedly around his neck. For a moment he looked up, his blue eyes captivated me. Their brightness was made more vibrant by the complementing blue squares on his shirt.

“This is Clint. Clint Harris,” she announced hesitantly while pushing the boy slightly forward.

“This is your son.”

Sharlene hurried from the porch, walking back to her house alone with tears streaming down her face. He and I just stood there, staring into each other’s eyes. We didn’t speak or move for what seemed like hours. He finally squeezed past me and walked into my house, but I still couldn’t muster up the courage to turn around and follow him. All the sudden, I had the one thing that I never thought I would have. My son.

I slowly closed the door behind me and turned down the hallway. I found him sitting in my dining room, at my table, in the chair that had sat empty for the last few years. I sat across from him, neither of us speaking to one another. He was fidgeting with a piece of paper. Crinkling it and smoothing it out, repreatedly. I watched the paper fold and unfold again and again before he finally pushed it across the tabletop to me.

I opened it and began to read.

Dear Aleena, 

This marriage has been hard. We both know that. The love left a long time ago. But, what did we expect? We fell in love when we were 15. You got pregnant right after we started dating. We got kicked out and moved into that tiny apartment. We struggled to survive. We could barely make it. So, we gave up the baby and promised to never see him again. We didn’t talk about him. We didn’t acknowledge that he ever existed. We tried to move on. But, I couldn’t. You called that tiny apartment your small piece of the rainbow, but it just reminded me of all the things we lost. So, we started trying to complete our family and fill the emptiness. But, we just couldn’t. It took years just for us to get pregnant again, and every time you did, you couldn’t seem to keep them. 6. 6 babies I never got to meet. I got angry. I grew to resent you and your body. I tried to stay. I did. But, I couldn’t anymore. And we fought, all the time. About nothing, but everything at the same time. So, I got a girlfriend. Her name’s Sharlene. She reminds me a lot of you, of the person you were when we first met. It wasn’t an accident me finding her, me falling in love with her. She’s the one who adopted our little boy. Clint. Clint Harris. She kept his name. She said it was perfect. I found them when he was 4. He’s 7 today. I should have told you that I found him, that I was in love with her, that I was happy. For the first time in a long time, I was happy. I was happier without you. I couldn’t have you ruining my new life, but I can’t keep lying to you. So, I’m writing you this letter to tell you that I’m leaving. For good.  Don’t come looking for me or for your son. 

I hope you can one day find the happiness you lost so many years ago.

-Harris”

I wiped the tear from my eye. I had never seen this letter or had known it even existed. I looked at the boy. The resemblance was undeniable. He was mine. He was ours.

“How?” It was the only word I could form.

“Genetics project,” he said almost completely inaudibly, “She said the guilt was too much and didn’t want me to find out some other way.”

“When?”

“5 years ago. Dad wrote it the night of the accident and my mom couldn’t muster the courage to mail it to you. She found it on the desk after we left the hospital. Since he died, she didn’t want to hurt you more.”

“When did you know?”

“Mom told me a few days ago. I wanted to meet you.”

I put the letter face down on the table and pushed my chair back to walk into the kitchen. I could feel his eyes watching my every movement. I filled the red teapot that sat on the counter with water and placed it on the stove to let it boil. I grabbed two mugs from the shelf in the top cabinet and placed them on the counter top. The steam from the teapot exploded from the spout, so I poured the hot water into the mugs and stirred in apple cider mix. I put a few drops of honey into the cups and walked back to the table with two mugs in hand. I placed one in front of Clint and one in front of my chair. I headed back into the kitchen and reached into the cabinet over the refrigerator to pull out a bag of pretzels and a jar of chocolate spread. I placed the snack between us.

“That’s my favorite snack and my favorite drink,” Clint said reaching into the bag of pretzels.

“Mine, too,” I responded before taking a sip of my cider.

He flashed a sideways smile at me and I couldn’t help but smile back.

The End      

 

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