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    Mrsgnomie
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Dichotomy of Love - 3. Part One. Chapter Three.

Molalla was the perfect place to raise kids. Rural enough to have that small-town feel while being minutes from Wilsonville, Oregon City, and Clackamas. Hell, even Portland wasn’t too far. Not that you needed to go anywhere else when you had the Coastal Farm and Ranch Store down the street. Clothes? Boots? Chicken feed? Farm equipment? Garden supplies? Yummy candies and pickled foods? They had it all.

Dayna was always dragging Kyan there. Half the time they didn’t buy a thing, just walked the aisles and dreamed of what they could do down the road. Their rental house had a quaint little pond. Dayna fell in love with it the second she saw the listing. A sketchy footbridge arched from one end to the other. No one ever used it, though the kids tried. Way too dangerous. The water was hardly deep, maybe eight inches, but under that was a foot of sludge.

Dayna dreamed of buying the house and rebuilding the bridge so the kids could use it. Kyan would have rather cleaned the pond out. What’s the point of a beautiful bridge if it arched over Shrek’s swamp?

Noah posed in front of the murky water, clad in dark blue jeans, a gray sweater, and his brand-new backpack. Kyan had gelled his black hair neatly to the side like Clark Kent. He was so handsome.

“Smile.”

Noah smiled alright, channeling too much awkward Chandler Bing energy for Kyan’s liking. But it was kind of funny. One day, they would look back and laugh.

The twins joined in for a few photos, as did Gracie, snoozing in her car seat. Pictures of the brood being awesome and epic.

Then it was off to school.

Noah blasted a mashup of Minecraft parodies from Kyan’s phone. Kyan swayed and sang along, but what he really wanted to do was press pause. Noah’s first day of school was also the first big milestone without Dayna, and his heart was in a million pieces about it.

The parking lot was full. Lots of moms walking their little ones into school. Kyan blinked back tears. ‘It’s a good day’ he told himself. Noah would only ever have one first first day of school. It was something to celebrate. So, Kyan reigned in his sadness and climbed out of his Honda Pilot.

Dayna and her siblings grew up in Molalla, so Dayna’s death was big news. Everywhere Kyan went, he could feel the looks of pity following him. The women who he knew through Dayna kept their distance now, only offering a quick hello in passing. He didn’t think it was intentional. People had a hard time knowing what to do in these situations. It was obvious they were curious, but who knows? Maybe one only needed to give their condolences at the funeral to fulfill some unspoken duty.

To be on the safe side, he made more of an effort before he left the house. It wasn’t like he let himself go, but he wore his good jeans and his nice gray zip hoodie. Of course, he couldn’t look too good.

He unloaded his kids. “Hold hands,” he instructed. He held Gracie on one side and the twins on the other.

Ever the social butterfly, Noah ran as soon as he entered the classroom. Watching him take to school like a duck to water would have been better if Dayna were there to share the joy.

“You can go now,” Noah said as he sat in a little plastic chair at the round table made just for kids his size. He spread his hands over the laminate wood top. “I’s big now.” And with his fancy little outfit and gelled hair, he sure looked big.

Kyan wrapped Noah in his arms and willed himself not to make a scene. Under normal circumstances, he wasn’t an emotional person, but it really fucking sucked to continue living a life like he didn’t just lose his wife a few weeks ago.

“Alright.” He stood up and held his hands out to the twins. “Time to go.”

Henry immediately ran away, crying. Kyan blew out a breath, grabbed Ava’s hand, and went after him. Ava was the emotional one, not Henry. No sooner than he thought the words, Ava’s lip began quivering, and her green eyes welled with unshed tears. He glanced around, and sure enough, they were prime-time viewing. Oh boy.

****

The thing about preschool is, the kiddos are only gone a few hours. By the time Kyan got home, gave the twins a snack, and fed Gracie, it was time to load them back up for pickup.

He could see Noah through the giant window when they pulled up. His little academic smarty-pants was sitting with the other kids, chatting excitedly, but the second his name was called, he ran to his dad.

Noah chattered incessantly the entire way home. “And my fwend Jace said dat he’s been to Disneyland fwee times, and my fwend Jennifer said she has two dogs and they are twins like Ava and Henwy, and the teacher says we’re going to plant a gawden this year in the spwing, and there is a giant playgwound that is so fun. It has a slide and evwything. I went on it four times. I wuv school so much, Dad!”

He must have because school was all he talked about for the rest of the day. When Perry turned up after work, Noah started all over. He followed Perry around like a tow behind duck that quacks as you walk until his uncle picked him up. When Kyan caught Perry’s gaze, Perry bit his lip to keep from laughing as the kid yammered on and on in his ear.

Jessica brought a plate of homemade cupcakes. Trudy and Jed brought lasagna. Kyan made a salad and listened while his family asked Noah a million questions about his day.

He rubbed his chest over his broken heart and wished with all his might that Dayna was sitting at the table with them, smiling at Noah’s excitement and making lasting memories. Kyan looked around at all the happy faces. It was too much, so he quietly excused himself.

Kyan had barely dumped himself into a chair on the tiny back porch when the sliding door opened and Perry slid outside. Kyan had gone outside for some alone time, but he was secretly glad his friend followed him.

“I knew Dayna wasn’t feeling well,” Kyan started before Perry even sat down. “I told myself it was normal; she’d already birthed three babies. Even so, I knew she didn’t look good. I knew something wasn’t right. I should have—” He slumped forward and put his head in his hands.

Perry knelt down and brushed the hair from Kyan’s face. “Don’t,” he said softly. “Don’t do that to yourself. There was nothing you could have done. There was nothing any of us could have done.”

“I could have made her stay at the hospital.”

“Make Dee stay at the hospital? No one could do that. Not even you, not after the doctors cleared her.”

Kyan wiped the tears from his cheek. Perry was wrong. He could have done more. The possibilities weighed on him greatly.

Perry’s muscular arms wrapped around him, making Kyan feel safe. At six feet, they were essentially the same height, but Perry had twenty pounds on him. Kyan had always been unassuming in his build. Even when he worked out, he only ever looked average. But it was more than Perry’s build that made Kyan feel safe, it was the warmth and comfort he radiated.

“I know what it’s like to want something to hang your hat on, but we can’t go down that road. Believe me, I would do anything to bring Dayna back, but it’s not an option.”

Kyan sniffed. “I don’t think I can do it without her.”

Perry squeezed even tighter. “You can. It won’t be the same, and it won’t be how you planned it, but you are one of the most capable men I’ve ever met. There is nothing you can’t do. Besides, Dayna left four amazing versions of herself in your care. You can do anything if it’s for them.”

Kyan leaned into the embrace. Perry was right, he could do this. Dayna left him with the best parts of her, and he would cherish them. Losing Dayna changed so many things, but the one thing it couldn’t change was the type of father he was.

His brother-in-law leaned back on his haunches. Perry usually wore his black hair short and neat, but since Dayna’s death, he hadn’t done much with it. Same as Kyan. Now that it had a little length, it curled out from under his self-branded Steele Electric pro-back hat.

The soft and comforting familiarity of Perry’s smile reached all the way to his eyes. They sparkled like pale emeralds in the sun. “Better?”

Kyan relaxed and nodded. “For now.” Although he felt better, he knew it was just an illusion, but he would take the reprieves when and where he got them.

Perry held out his hand, and Kyan let himself be pulled up.

Kyan expected twenty questions when they re-joined the chaos, but aside from a few knowing looks the evening continued without fanfare.

“We’re heading out,” Jed announced as he lifted the twins off the ground and gave them big hugs. Then he moved to Noah. “Congrats on becoming a big-brained scholar.”

Noah preened. When Grandpa set him down, he strutted off, surely on his way to make his siblings feel inferior.

Trudy wrapped her arms around Kyan and kissed his cheek. “You are something special, you know that?”

He opened his mouth, but she didn’t give Kyan a chance to roll his eyes and counter her compliment. She’d already moved on to kids.

Then they left.

Jessica and Perry corralled the kids into the bathroom, scrubbed them down, and brushed their teeth. Once the bigger kids were down for the night, Kyan carried Gracie back to the living room. Much to Kyan's chagrin, Little Miss was a night owl, just like her mom. Her grayish-blue eyes were wide open as they took in the room.

Jessica made a big show of taking Gracie. She was truly the best kind of aunty. She never missed anything. If the kids were upset for any reason, she would get to the bottom of it. Jessica knew how to make them feel special and loved.

“Do you think her eyes will be green like everyone else’s?” she asked as she gazed at her precious little niece.

“Not everyone has green eyes. She could get the Sheckler brown doe eyes.”

Jessica grinned. “Doe eyes?”

He batted his lashes. “Dayna said they could get me anything I wanted.”

She laughed, then looked at Perry. “What do you think? Could Ky get anything he wanted with those ‘doe eyes’ of his?”

Perry narrowed his eyes at Jessica, then glanced at Kyan so quickly that there was no way he caught Kyan’s best puppy eyes before he cleared his throat. “I guess.”

Kyan threw a pillow at his dumb ass. A moment later, he asked, “Hey, could you grab me a glass of sweet tea from the kitchen?”

He got up and fetched the iced drink without so much as a second glance. Kyan looked at Jessica and smirked, then drank it all in one go.

She watched him with a smile, then changed the subject. She smiled almost dreamily. “How cute was Noah today? I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so excited or talkative.”

Perry wiggled his finger in his poor abused ear. “Don’t I know it!”

“Oh, shut it.” Jessica leaned over and slapped her brother. “You loved it.”

He looked at Kyan and rolled his eyes. He hated it when his big sister was right…and she was right. Perry adored his nephew.

They hung out in the living room until Gracie went slack on Jessica’s shoulder. Once the littlest one was settled in the bassinet next to Kyan’s bed, Jessica and Perry helped fold blankets, put away toys, and wash dishes.

When they finally pulled out of the driveway, Kyan fell back on the sofa and smiled. It was more than having an extra set of hands at bath time. Kyan enjoyed the company, especially at night when the house was quiet. Being around other people didn’t make him miss Dayna any less, but with Jessica and Perry there, it made grappling with the void she left behind less daunting and lonely.

****

Kyan got up and wrangled the kids through breakfast, then got the twins and Gracie ready. Noah came out of his room dressed. He even had his backpack on.

Henry took one look at him and burst into tears. The little boy disappeared into his room and came out a few minutes later with his dinosaur backpack hanging upside down off his shoulder.

Kyan knelt down beside Henry and smoothed his tousled black hair out of his face. “It’s hard to watch Noah leave, isn’t it?”

With green eyes full of tears and a quivering lip, Henry nodded.

“We’re so lucky to spend all our time with such a great big brother, but preschool is just for him. And one day, preschool will be for you, too, but we have to wait for you to get a little bigger first.”

“I’s big,” he said in a shaky voice.

“You are big, so very big for a two-year-old, but you have to be a little bigger for preschool…and potty trained.”

Henry sobbed even harder. Kyan grabbed a nearby throw blanket and wrapped it around him like a burrito, then pulled him against his chest. “Are you a sad-i-pillar?”

Henry nodded. Kyan held the sad-i-pillar carefully while he processed his big emotions. Once he calmed down, Kyan peeled the blanket back and tried not to laugh as the saddest green eyes he ever saw blinked up at him.

“Are you sad that you can’t go to school? Or are you sad because you’ll miss your brother?”

Henry sniffled. “I miss bruh-ver.”

“He will only be gone for a few hours. We’ll pick him up at eleven-thirty, just like we did yesterday.”

Kyan watched as Henry’s eyes filled with panic.

“Are you afraid your brother won’t come back?”

Fat tears rolled down Henry’s rosy cheeks. Kyan adjusted the blanket around him and squeezed him tightly. “Do you miss Mom?”

Henry sobbed against Kyan’s chest. He rocked him back and forth. “Oh, Henry.”

When Kyan looked up, he saw Noah and Ava crying, too.

“I think we all miss mom.”

They nodded and crowded into his lap. Kyan grabbed another, bigger blanket and wrapped it around them until they were tucked in tightly. “Looks like we’re all sad-i-pillars.”

In the safety of their cocoon, the four cried. Once things quieted down, Kyan peeled back the blanket enough to see three little faces.

“Okay, let's take a deep breath in—” They inhaled. “And exhale our sadness.” They exhaled out. “Is that better?” Everyone nodded. “Okay then, when we come out of the cocoon, we’ll be butterflies, okay? And butterflies are—”

Happy,” they replied in unison.

“Exactly!” Kyan peeled the big blanket away, then helped Henry out of the other blanket.

“And now we stretch our arms, big and wide. And shake off the sadness—” he flailed his arms around and laughed as the kids wiggled their bodies.

Kyan itched to reassure his kids it was okay to miss their mom, but they were smiling now, so he let it go. It was better to end the morning on a high note than re-hash difficult emotions immediately after reining them in. He wished he had their resilience.

****

The seven stages of grief. It seemed like a fine outline of what to expect, but did it apply when you had four small children? If anything, Kyan thought the list was a massive burden. Like, could he hurry up and get through them so he could land on the other side already?

He had the list on a note in his phone so he could check them off one by one.

Shock: Check.
Denial: Eh. It always felt pretty damn real.
Anger: Sure.
Bargaining: What would it change?
Depression: Kyan shook his head. Absolutely not. He could not go down that road, not with Noah, Henry, Ava, and Gracie relying on him.
Testing: Whatever that meant.
Acceptance: Yes, please.

Reading the list only annoyed him because he knew he hadn’t made progress, no matter how he convinced himself otherwise. It felt like he would never get through them because he had more important things to do than be in denial, angry, or plead with God to change the outcome.

Life went on.

Instead of ticking off stages, he ticked off the days, one by one.

Kyan woke up and made breakfast, and got the kids ready. He took Noah to school three days a week while actively not engaging with other parents. They celebrated Thanksgiving. Christmas. Birthdays.

The year ended. A new one began.

The twins showed interest in potty training, and then that interest waned.

And then Gracie's first birthday.

It seemed the passing of time made no difference. Different year, same heartache.

Things might have looked manageable from the outside, but Kyan was barely hanging on. It — life, kids, money, expectations, loneliness — was too much to bear on his own.

He was losing his grip.

****

Gracie screamed from the high chair. Any food he put on her plate, she threw on the floor. She was equivocally and absolutely not interested in being a productive member of the family. Kyan tried to take her out of the chair, but she recoiled as if his touch would turn her to ash. She gasped and threw herself backward.

The TV blared some annoying cartoon, even though no one was in the room to watch it. He grabbed the remote and turned it off, which only intensified Gracie’s screaming. It wasn’t even a show she liked. As he headed back to the kitchen, he tripped over a toy and went flying. He tried to catch himself but bounced off a side chair and fell on the ground. Physically, he was fine.

Emotionally, he’d been better.

Kyan grabbed a nearby throw pillow and shoved it over his face. He screamed until there wasn’t any air left in his lungs.

When he finished, he lay on the ground and stared at the ceiling, annoyed as hell. He thought he’d feel better after that kind of release, but he felt worse. A feeling that was magnified when he finally stood, only to find the three older kids standing there with wide, panicked eyes.

“It’s okay,” he assured them. “I just tripped. I’m fine.”

They didn’t look convinced. Smart kids.

Kyan rubbed his hip and took a couple of slow breaths. Gracie still wanted nothing to do with him, but that was her problem. He ignored her screaming and got her cleaned up, then set her in the pack-n-play so she could cry safely.

Kyan was at the end of his rope. He picked up his phone.

Ten minutes later, Jessica came in. She assessed the situation cautiously. Ignoring Gracie, she went to Kyan and patted his arm affectionately. “Perry is outside. I don’t want to see you again until tomorrow, okay?”

Excuse after excuse sat on the tip of his tongue, but he kissed her cheek instead. “Thank you.”

He kissed his kids goodbye, even Gracie. He reached the door and Jessica yelled for him to take a jacket. It had been pouring all day.

Dayna always said, ‘April showers bring May flowers’.

But it was June.

He grabbed a hoodie and left.

The wipers swished as Kyan got in the truck. Without a word, Perry reversed out of the driveway.

Kyan stared out the window as the rain pummeled everything.

He didn’t know where they were heading, nor did he care. Maybe Perry would get him drunk. He hadn’t had a drink in… forever.

Perry pulled into a parking lot of the local pub and Kyan’s heart soared, then sank as the truck veered to the right and parked in front of the fitness center.

Kyan flung his head back and groaned, not much different from Gracie’s earlier dramatics. “I thought we were getting drinks.”

Perry got out and Kyan followed him inside, then crossed his arms and glared as Perry got racquets and locker keys from the front desk. His brother-in-law motioned for him to follow him to the locker rooms.

“I don’t have clothes for this.”

Perry tossed Kyan some clothes from his gym bag, which Kyan hadn’t noticed before, and Kyan hastily got changed despite it being the last thing he wanted to do. Maybe if he did what Perry wanted, they could go to the bar when they were done. He could get wasted.

He didn’t have time to think about it. The moment they walked onto the racquetball court, Perry served the ball.

Kyan missed it. He hadn’t been ready. Perry had another ball queued up and ready to go almost immediately. “What the fuck, man? I’m not fucking ready!”

Perry pulled another ball and held it up so Kyan could see it, then made a big show of hitting it, mocking him.

Kyan swung. He missed. “Fuck!” He was pissed. Racquetball was one sport he was good at. He and Perry played a lot over the years. His brother-in-law might be a natural athlete, but Kyan held his own on this court. He even won from time to time.

Before Perry could serve again, Kyan grabbed one of the discarded balls rolling around and served it as hard as he could.

Game on.

Kyan gripped the racquet with both hands and slammed it against the incoming ball, sending the blue orb flying against the wall over and over.

He panted and wiped away sweat with the hem of his t-shirt.

What a joke.

Instead of drinking at the bar, he was sweating profusely while being reminded that he couldn’t do anything anymore. That he wasn’t the same person he was before Dayna died. He couldn’t keep his kids happy. He couldn’t manage life as a single dad. He couldn’t even fucking hit the ball.

Perry served again. Unlike Kyan, Perry wasn’t short of breath or soaked in sweat. The asshole was barely phased. That pissed Kyan off.

They volleyed back and forth until Kyan missed.

With a roar he spun around, using the momentum to throw the racquet as hard as he could against the wall.

“Why the fuck did you bring me here?” Kyane yelled. He stormed to where the racquet landed. He picked it up and threw it again. “A friend would have taken me to the bar and got me drunk! A friend would have helped me forget about my problems, not throw them in my face!” He kicked the racquet and then picked up a ball and started throwing it. It wasn’t satisfying, so he went after the racquet again. He threw it, kicked it, and slammed it until the thing was dangling in pieces.

It wasn’t until Perry’s arms wrapped around him from behind that he realized his face was wet.

“It’s okay,” Perry said in his ear. “It will be okay.”

Kyan crumpled into a ball on the floor and sobbed. Perry sat beside him, not saying a word, his hand resting on his shoulder. The entire gym could have walked by and seen him losing his shit but he didn’t care. They could post it for the world to see. All he wanted to do was go home to his kids.

Instead of going home, they showered and dressed, then Perry drove across the parking lot to the pub. Kyan leaned forward in disbelief, then looked at his ex-friend. “Seriously?”

“Yep.”

“We couldn’t have gone to the pub an hour ago when I wanted to?”

“Nope. We had to get all the pent-up energy out. Now you can relax.”

“But I want to go home.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do,” he argued. “I walked out on my kids. I walked out on Gracie.”

“And she’s fine. They’re all fine, but you’re not fine. And you haven’t been fine for a while. So, you and I are going to go in here. We’re going to get some food and an ice cold beer, then we’re going to talk about gross things like feelings and sadness and depression.”

He thought he’d fight it more, but Kyan was too drained. He followed Perry inside and they found a booth in the back corner. He sat opposite his brother-in-law, with his back to the pub.

The bartender came over with a couple of menus. Before Kyan could look it over, Perry was ordering. “We’ll have two waters, two Birmington light ales, the chicken club sandwich with a side of ranch and ketchup, the double cheeseburger with no onions and a side salad instead of fries … and deep-fried zucchini with campfire sauce to start.”

Okay then. Kyan handed the menu back to the bartender.

Once they had their drinks, Kyan took a sip. It was good. Best beer he ever had — of all seven times he’d had beer. “The chicken club better be for me.”

Perry leaned on his elbows and raised a brow. “Be real with me about how you’re doing, and maybe you can have it.”

Kyan thought he would pretend like things were good, but when he opened his mouth, the truth came out. “I’m not okay.” Once the gate opened, the words flooded out.

Perry didn’t tease him or make him feel stupid. Nor did he say I told you so. He simply leaned back, draped his arm over the top of the booth, and listened.

It was more than just losing Dayna. He admitted there were times he didn’t want to be a dad anymore if he couldn’t be a dad with Dayna by his side. It would be easier if he wasn’t. It was an admission that hurt to even think about, let alone admit aloud. He admitted he was scared that he was going to screw up. He admitted there were days his kids drove him up the wall. He admitted he hated laundry. He admitted he was overwhelmed.

They were admissions that made him cry.

But admitting there were even moments when he regretted being a dad hurt the most.

Perry let him have the club sandwich.

And for the first time in a long time, Kyan felt lighter. Dayna’s death was like wearing a wool coat in a rainstorm. The coat had gotten so heavy and water-logged he could barely function.

With Perry’s help, he finally took it off.

It was still raining, and he was still wet, but he could finally breathe.

It felt good.

Copyright © 2023 Mrsgnomie; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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