The Heart of Things

Sunday, November 24, 2019


“I want us to have a baby.”

The sun’s rays slanted across the polished, hardwood flooring in the living area of the suite, heralding the new morning. We’d been up for an hour and ordered room service for breakfast because I needed the privacy of our room for this discussion.

The forkful of fish in Doug’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth, before he rested it on the plate. He squinted and then asked, “What did you say?”

My back stiffened as I answered, keeping a neutral tone. “You heard me.”

Doug looked at the plate as if he wasn’t sure he wanted the rest of the bammies and escoveitched fish, but the golden-brown cassava and the batter-fried fish—heaped with onion and pepper, steeped in vinegar—was a favorite of his. He picked up the cup of coffee next to his hand, sipped, and put it back on the saucer. Then he cleared his throat, but the puzzlement in his gaze was obvious.

This was the first time I’d ever seen him thrown way off balance. I was almost sorry for him.

“That was the last thing I expected you to say.” He waited a beat before asking, “Why?”

With one eyebrow raised, I said, “Why not?”

He sighed, rested his arms on the table, and frowned. “My kids are almost grown and…”

My raised eyebrow reduced his words to a trickle. Monique and Kimone—nineteen and seventeen—were as unalike as chalk and cheese. I didn’t doubt that marrying Doug would mean interesting times ahead.

Folding my arms, I cocked my head. “So the girls are adults. Your point is?”

He spread his hands while his frown deepened. “That’s just it. What am I going to do with a baby?”

I let my hands fall to the table and pulled my head back while the

bottom fell out of my stomach and my appetite disappeared. “I beg your pardon?”

With another heavy sigh, Doug continued, “All I’m saying is that I’m forty-six years old and…”

My patience ran out and I snapped, “I know how old you are.”

He stared into the cup, while I studied the ring on my finger. I still wasn’t ready to give up my new-found independence after my divorce, but I also knew Doug was serious about wanting to marry me. I hadn’t refused the ring he put on my finger last night and in both our minds that spelled acceptance.

I loved Doug, but we couldn’t have a relationship without give and take.

“Kally.” I looked into his troubled eyes as he spoke. “Have you thought about all the implications?”

My lips twisted and I reminded myself that I needed to be conciliatory rather than combative. “Of course.”

He laid a hand on his chest, which lifted in a deep inhale. “You never said anything.”

My voice turned sharp when I said, “I don’t tell you everything.”

“Yeah, but something this big…” He gazed through the plate glass at the street below, where traffic was already bumper to bumper. With one hand, he rubbed the stubble on his jaw.

Meanwhile, his behavior made me want to wring his neck. Instead, I tried reasoning with him. “Last night you said I could have anything I wanted if I married you. This is what I’m asking.”

Doug’s eyes narrowed as he stroked his moustache. “Khalila, that’s…”

I raised both brows. “Is ‘bribery’ the word you’re looking for?”

“Yes.” He rested both hands on either side of his plate and let out his breath in a gust.

“Call it what you will.” I dragged my fork over the fish on my plate, before adding, “That’s what I want.”

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