Chapter 23

Anywhere Away from Here

Katherine took to motherhood like a duck to water. She was a natural. It seemed like she always knew exactly what to do when the baby cried. I mean Freya – when Freya cried. We named her after Katherine’s grandmother.

Or, well, Katherine named her. I found it difficult to have any real opinion on the matter. But Katherine seemed perfectly able to handle most of the parenting, really.

I wasn’t doing as well.

I could tell that it upset Katherine whenever I accidentally called Freya “the baby”. I tried my best to use her name, but it felt foreign in my mouth.

It didn’t help that I was plagued by doubt. I couldn’t see myself in Freya at all. Why was her skin so dark? Could the tests be wrong? Maybe she was Antony’s after all. Katherine claimed that she looked the same when she was a baby, but still. Even what little hair Freya had was dark. I had my mother’s face and my father’s colours and nose – no one had ever questioned my parentage for a second.

I couldn’t tell Katherine how I felt, but it bothered me. I was expected to love this tiny stranger unconditionally, but she was just… a stranger to me. Shouldn’t I feel different if this was really my child? Then again, my father had told me how he adored my alien brother from the first time he met him, and he definitely wasn’t his real father. Maybe something was just wrong with me.

My mood was generally terrible. Everything got on my nerves. If Katherine gave me the slightest suggestion, it felt like a harsh criticism.

I knew that she was just trying to be helpful – or desperate to make conversation – but I just felt angry and annoyed all the time.

I didn’t know what to do. If I told her to leave me alone, she’d get mad. If I ignored her, she’d get mad. Either way, we would end up arguing.

The fights got worse. Neither of us got quite enough sleep because of the… because of Freya.

It was becoming clear just how little Katherine and I had in common. After all, our relationship was built on lust, not love. Not even friendship. We never truly got to know each other beyond the passion and the excitement of doing something forbidden.

She’d finally found a job, but it was rough for her to start over from scratch, career-wise. From highly respected dean to “assistant to the manager” in a local business. I tried to be supportive. At least she found a job.

She told me that I didn’t understand. This was the kind of job a new graduate would get, not someone with over 15 years of experience and a PhD. She would have to work for years to make up for lost time, and in a completely unfamiliar field since she would never be allowed to work in education again.

She was right, I didn’t understand. I had no way of knowing how she felt. But even agreeing with her that it sounded tough pissed her off.

She told me that I should be grateful that I was still able to follow my dreams. According to her, this had barely derailed my life at all, I just ended up having kids a bit earlier than I’d planned.

I couldn’t exactly tell her that I had imagined having those kids with someone I actually loved.

Luckily, our arguments were often cut short by Freya.

Katherine would run off to care for her in the middle of an argument, and that would be it. A pattern emerged. We argued, Freya cried, Katherine went upstairs. Meanwhile, I cleaned up after dinner and poured two glasses of wine.

Katherine would come back a little later, and we’d drink in silence. Sooner or later, one of us would break the silence, pretending that the argument never happened. Neither of us had the energy to continue fighting.

It wasn’t a great solution, but it kept the peace for now. I just needed to take it one day at a time.

We’d spend the evenings mindlessly watching tv until it was time to go to bed. At least whatever we watched gave us something to talk about.

Sometimes, especially after a bit of alcohol, I would forget myself and kiss her, desperate to feel something again, anything. But the fire was gone. At least for me.

Katherine would respond enthusiastically, but it never took long before I panicked. Whenever I accidentally touched her stomach, an intense fear of getting her pregnant again paralysed me and I pushed her away.

Katherine found it hard to deal with. I couldn’t tell her the truth, and I knew she had become very self-conscious about her body. The emergency C-section had left a huge scar and she was covered in stretch marks. And her 40th birthday was looming on the horizon.

I tried to explain that it had nothing to do with her body, but of course she found that hard to believe, given my behaviour. Especially since I had no other reason to give.

She begged me to tell her what was wrong, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want her to think that I was repulsed by her body, but the truth was worse – I resented her.

I felt trapped in a life that was sort of similar and yet completely different to what I had planned. And somehow, it felt like her fault. After all, hadn’t she been the one to seduce me in her office? But I couldn’t tell her that.

I kept telling her that I was just stressed out. New baby, the vet clinic, our finances, it was a lot. I assured her that it would get better as Freya got older and we got more sleep. She didn’t believe me, of course. She was too smart for that.

The only thing that could make me smile was seeing my patients. The vet clinic was slowly gaining new customers, and we were getting close to breaking even each month.

But despite us still struggling financially, interacting with animals all day did a lot to improve my mood. At least until I got home.

I worked with an older, more experienced vet. His name was Lloyd and he’d been the resident vet when I bought the clinic. I worried people would think I was too young to have the skills, so I’d decided to keep him for now, at least until I got a solid customer base.

I was seeing the last patient for the day when I heard Lloyd talking to a customer buying some cat treats. I quickly finished up and rushed out. I recognised that voice.

I caught up with her just before she reached the doors. Cecilia. It was really her.

She squealed with delight and leapt into my arms when she saw me.

The smell of her hair brought me back to our first date in the park. It seemed like yesterday.

Suddenly, I felt 19 and invincible again.

I swung her around the clinic while she laughed. I could feel her breath on my neck and it gave me goosebumps.

I managed to contain myself and only kiss her cheek before setting her down, but I really didn’t want to let go of her.

I asked her what she was doing in the Bay, and she told me that she was visiting some relatives nearby, and on a whim had decided to go in and get some treats for her cats.

Then she put her hand on my uniform, and congratulated me on achieving my dream of becoming a vet, just like I’d planned. Said she always knew I could do anything I set my mind to.

She then looked down and smiled shyly.

“So, I’m going to be in the area for a few days. Do you want to, you know, catch up over coffee?”

An alternate future flashed before my eyes. Being with Cecilia again, feeling truly connected, never running out of things to talk about, and… and what? Throw Katherine and the baby out in the street? Or leave them behind in a house she couldn’t afford alone? Disappointing my parents yet again with more irresponsible behaviour after they spent most of their savings rescuing me from my mistakes?

“Cecilia, I… I just had a daughter, and…”


She looked at me, tears forming in her eyes, and it felt like a black hole opened beneath my feet, pulling me underground.

She quickly turned away from me.

“I’m sorry. I should go.”

“Cecilia, wait! It’s great to see you again, of course we should catch up!”

“I… don’t think that would be a good idea. I don’t want to… complicate things for you.”

“Goodbye, Eric.”

Then she walked back out of my life. I was both devastated and a little relieved. She was right, I didn’t need the temptation. I was surprised by how strong my feelings for her still were, and I wasn’t exactly known for making great decisions.

I went for a run to clear my thoughts – and to postpone going home.

After my shower, I checked Katherine’s birth control pills to make sure she had remembered to take them. She never forgot – and we hadn’t had sex for months – but I still counted them obsessively every night. Otherwise I couldn’t sleep.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It felt like my meeting with Cecilia was written all over my face, but in reality, it was mostly expressionless.

Katherine had fallen asleep on the bed, still half dressed.

I looked at her. She really was gorgeous. And strong. I admired how she was dealing with her divorce and Freya and finding a new career. How she was dealing with me.

I wished I loved her.

And I wished I could talk to her, explain how out of place I felt. Tell her that I would lie in bed next to her every night, closing my eyes, and wishing I could simply… disappear.

I didn’t want to wake her, so I quietly went back downstairs.

I found a bottle in the back of the liquor cabinet and sat in the dark kitchen.

I definitely needed something stronger than wine tonight.

As I felt the whiskey burn in my throat, I dreamed of being somewhere else.

Anywhere away from here.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 23

  1. Oh, hello, maladaptive coping mechanism!

    Who ever thought it would turn out this way? What???

    I’ll admit this: there is a wall between me and Katherine as a character, and The Baby right now, who is probably gonna turn out just fine and be able to process this. Is her desperation so great that she’s able to make such unthinkably bad decisions and then stick with them? Rule 1: never get into a relationship if you know how it will end. Maybe there’s a reason she went for a younger man after all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Goddamn, poor Eric

    You’re writing this so well though, I can *feel* this situation like I’m in it myself
    Now the question is: Does he get out of it, or does he live a life of resentment?

    Liked by 1 person

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