2.13. Better Not Wake the Baby
Life hasn’t made the drastic improvement that Lark had been hoping for. In fact, it seems to be spinning out of control: in Nikolas’ absence, laundry has been piling up, the refrigerator has begun to empty, and Lark’s patience is wearing thin.
Her agitation is also fueled by exhaustion. Every other day, Nikolas would get up with Bjorn so Lark could sleep in. It was a small luxury, one she enjoyed deeply. But now she has to go to bed early every night in preparation for a 6 AM wake up call from Bjorn.
Furthermore, her new role as single mother has rendered her unable to work. She doesn’t like the idea of leaving Bjorn with a babysitter--nor can she afford to pay one--and she can tell he wears out her parents. She’s currently relying on a small savings to make it day-to-day. She’ll have to come up with a long-term plan sooner or later.
And then there’s the matter of how to explain the change to Bjorn. Lark initially planned to rely on the poor memory of toddlers in order to bypass any sort of explanation. But the boy has always been close to his father, so Nikolas’ disappearance is almost immediately noted. Every time Bjorn asks where his father is, Lark distracts him with a game, toy, or colorful cartoon.
But she needs to tell him.
“So,” she sits Bjorn on the floor across from her and draws in a deep breath, “about daddy.”
“Daddy at work,” Bjorn says confidently.
“Um, sometimes he’s at work,” Lark hesitates. She doesn’t really know how to go about this, and now she regrets bringing it up.
“Work,” Bjorn repeats.
“And sometimes he not.”
“And he’s not coming home. At least not for awhile.”
“No, he’s not home.”
“Daddy home?” Bjorn holds out his arm, gesturing around the room.
“No, he isn’t. And this isn’t home anymore for him.”
Bjorn scowls, tilting his chin down and glaring up at his mother.
“Want to sing a song?” She suggests brightly.
“Mommy daddy home,” Bjorn pouts.
Lark sighs. “No, mommy Bjorn home.”
“Sad,” he points at her face.
“Um, yeah. A little.”
“Daddy,” he nods. Daddy always cheers him up, so that should work for his mother, too.
“He’s not here, baby.”
“Sleeping?” She pauses, “Yeah, baby. He’s sleeping.”
Bjorn angrily puts his finger up to his mouth. “Shh! Daddy s’eepin’!”
Lark hangs her head. This was a stupid idea. Still, she spends the rest of the day whispering and tiptoeing around the house lest her son chide her for being too loud. She knows she shouldn’t indulge him like this, she shouldn’t pretend that Nikolas is still around. But the alternative is too cruel.
The days drag on, exhaustion overwhelming her. She’s ashamed of the relief she feels whenever Bjorn is asleep and she has time to herself. But despite how badly she wants those moments of freedom, she spends most nights doing nothing more than sitting on the couch, idly surfing Simstagram and watching whatever stupid thing she can find on TV. Sometimes she finds herself mentally interacting with the characters of whatever she is watching, holding lively discussions with imaginary people.
She needs human interaction, stat.
“Free tonight?” She texts Kyra. She hasn’t told her friend about her breakup with Nikolas, so she shouldn’t expect Kyra to rush over with a pint of ice cream and kind-hearted platitudes. But that doesn’t soften the sting of the quick response.
“Sorry, Lowell and I are going out. Some other time?? <3”
Lark reads the message several times, her stomach sinking. “Have fun,” she finally responds.
A message to her brother ends similarly, save the name: “Have a date with Amara.”
“Wrap it before you tap it,” she responds. He sends back a middle finger emoji.
Her remaining option is obvious.
“Howdy stranger,” she texts Dominic. She hasn’t seen him since Spooky Day, but she’s certain he has nothing better to do. And it turns out she’s right: after a few playful messages, he promises to head over.
She leaps up from the couch and throws the front door open. The wind howls as she ushers Dominic in. It’s a bitterly cold night, and she slams the door behind him in a futile attempt to keep the warmth from being sucked out of the room.
“Thanks for coming,” she says, “sorry this was so last minute. I wanted to invite other people, but I guess it’s a busy night.”
“No problem,” he smiles. His eyes flicker to her stomach and then back to her face. “You were going to make an announcement tonight, weren’t you?”
“What do you mean?” She searches his face, her brow furrowing, “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You’re pregnant,” his smile widens, “congratulations.”
“How could you tell?”
“Sixth sense I guess,” he shrugs, “and you’re showing a little.”
She reflexively covers her abdomen with her hands. “Maybe I’m just fat,” she glares at him.
“Oh right, you’re so fat,” he laughs, “may I?” She nods, and he places his hand on her stomach.
“It’s not really kicking yet,” she says, “with Bjorn I didn’t feel anything until late in the second trimester. It might be sooner with this little guy. Or lady.”
“I’m betting it’s a guy,” Dominic’s smile falters, “is Nikolas happy?”
“Um,” Lark hesitates.
“Are you happy?”
“That’s kind of why I invited you over,” she says, motioning to the couch. The pair sits in uncomfortable silence before Lark finally speaks.
“We broke up,” she says flatly.
“I’m sorry,” Dominic responds too quickly.
“You’re not surprised.”
“Um,” he squirms in his seat “not really. I’ve had a feeling that things aren’t--weren’t--going that well between the two of you.”
“I guess it’s really easy to see that from the outside, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess. So how, um, how are you feeling?” he asks, “stupid question. It has to be awful, right?”
“A little bit,” Lark rests her arm on the back of the couch, “in some ways, it’s relieving.”
There’s a beat of silence. Outside, the wind begins to blow a little harder, whistling through the trees and rattling the windows. Dominic clears his throat.
“You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to. But I’m here for you if you do.”
“I want to talk about it, but I also don’t,” Lark shrugs, “what is there to say? I’m glad it’s over. It feels better.”
“Are you sure? You two had been dating since high school right?”
“So? He was an asshole,” she says crossly, “is an asshole. Whatever.”
“Have you told him yet? That you’re pregnant?”
She sighs. “No.”
“Are you planning to?”
She snorts and shakes her head.
“Won’t that make things,” he pauses, “difficult?”
“Are you really going to launch into a defense of Nikolas? Really?”
“It’s not a defense of Nikolas. I just think Bjorn deserves to know his father. This child deserves to know its father. And you deserve a partnership in raising them, even if you aren’t together.”
“What a nice speech,” Lark rolls her eyes.
“I’m not trying be contrarian or anything. I just want to provide perspective,” he frowns, “I spent the first twelve years of my life barely knowing my father. It took my mother dying for him to become involved in my life in any meaningful way. Tragedy shouldn’t be an impetus for basic human relationships.”
Lark looks at her hands. “He isn’t human. Isn’t that what you warned me about?”
“He’s still their father. And I get why you want to keep him at arm’s length. But I also think that despite everything,” he struggles to find the word he wants, “everything wrong with him, he can still have a meaningful relationship with his children. And they can know their dad.”
“You can’t make me feel bad for him.”
“You don’t need to feel bad for him,” he shrugs, “But forging some kind of partnership with him could make your life easier, and your children’s lives happier. You don’t have to do this alone.”
“It sounds almost like you’re worried about me.”
“I worry a lot,” he admits, “sometimes about you, yes. A--a lot of times about you, really.”
“That’s nice,” she slides closer to him, “to know you think about me that much.”
“Um, you’re welcome?” He immediately winces at his choice of words.
“You’ve always been there for me, Dom,” She leans closer to him.
“Oh,” he rubs his neck awkwardly, “it’s nothing, really. I--I feel like this is kind of my fault, after all.”
“Why?” she leans in a little closer, flashing a sly smile. She knows the answer, but she’s deriving some perverse enjoyment from how uncomfortable she’s making him..
He clears his throat and shifts awkwardly. “I guess because I, um, made some choices that led to--”
She puts her hand on his cheek. “It’s okay. I understand why you did what you did. And I’m glad things turned out this way.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Are you really?”
She leans in, gently drawing his face closer to hers. His breath is warm, his cheek rough. For a moment he’s passive, receptive to her advances. And then he tenses up, gently grabbing her arm and pushing back against her.
“Stop,” he murmurs, “what is this?”
“A kiss,” she laughs nervously.
“That’s not what I mean. What is this--why are you doing this? Why now? And why did you invite me over tonight in particular?”
“Really?” She laughs again, “I mean, that’s how you react? You’ve been, like, chasing after me for months and you only question it when I finally show some interest in return?”
“Is that what you think has been happening?”
“It’s obvious that’s what’s been happening.”
“I see,” his face falls, “It’s getting late.”
“I don’t get it,” she snaps, “I don’t see what the problem is. It’s just fun.”
“Just fun,” he repeats, standing up.
“You find me attractive,” she states bluntly, a desperate bid for some sort of consolation.
He tilts his head. “I do.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
He takes a deep breath,carefully inhaling through his nose and exhaling from his mouth. “I want to be your friend,” his voice is controlled, “or I want to be your partner. I don’t want to be anything in between, and I’m sorry if I gave that impression.”
“Fine,” she says stiffly, “I get it.”
“Look,” he sighs, “I’m not doing this to hurt you, Lark. You’re very--you’re attractive. I’m sure you’re aware of that. And I might be kicking myself about this in the morning. But I also think there’s more to our relationship than a one night stand. And I’m not going to accept scraps.”
“That’s not what I was suggesting.”
“Whatever you’re suggesting, it just feels disingenuous, okay? Like you only want this because you’re upset about Nikolas.”
“Whatever. See you around, I guess.”
Dominic doesn’t argue. But he does give her a pained look as she pushes him out the door. “I hope this doesn’t change things.”
“Bye,” she slams the door.
She stomps up the stairs, cursing to herself as she goes. And then a wave of embarrassment washes over her.
She’s so fucking stupid. In the span of a few days, she’s managed to isolate two of the only people who’ve ever cared for her. And now she’s alone in her room. She slips into bed alone. She’ll fall asleep alone. She’ll wake up alone. She’ll go through life alone.
It’s a restless night. Lark tosses and turns, unable to shake the humiliating events of the night from her mind. And to add to the misery, every embarrassing memory, every time she’s ever made herself look like an idiot, resurfaces. And there’s a lot of material.
She finally drifts off, but it’s a mercilessly short slumber. A shriek echoes through the house: it’s her 6 AM wake up call. Normally Bjorn wakes up gradually, babbling to himself for a few moments before yelling for his mother. Today, though, he’s sobbing, his cries more high-pitched than normal. He must have had a nightmare.
“I’m coming, baby,” Lark mumbles as she stumbles into his room.
In his crib is a dark-haired girl, a pair of sparkling wings sprouting from her back.
The girl looks at Lark and whimpers.
“Better Not Wake the Baby” -- The Decemberists