Ryan and I had a pretty good childhood, all things considered.
We had mutually agreed a long time ago not to mention the hand-me-down fiascos. Not the embarrassments or the petty revenges we had dealt in with the knowledge that anything I talked Mom and Dad into buying for me would one day get passed down to him. There was a pink and blue and yellow tye-dye t-shirt that had gotten burned, though the only thing that was really odd about that was that it had happened on purpose.
We had mostly agreed not to tally up who gave who more scars too. I’d gifted him a chipped tooth. He’d thrown an elbow that put a permanent line through my right eyebrow. Neither of us was afraid to use the obvious – minor – injuries to win an argument from time to time. We never talked about the white line just beneath my ribs that once needed thirteen stitches to keep my insides where they belonged. We definitely never talked about the jagged thing on his calf where bone had torn skin. We’d both covered them with tattoos of things we wanted to remember more.
After a half-drunk midnight where we both broke down the fine points of all the ways our parents had wound us just too tight and broken us for better things, we agreed that there was no need to confess sins twice. Especially when they weren’t our own.
We had survived. To the brilliant ages of twenty-seven and twenty-four, even if there were days we felt ninety, and days we felt five. We had gotten our smiles and forged our precious silences.
Sitting across from him now, though, I knew he was going to break one of them.
Feet flat on the floor, he rested his elbows on his knees, looking at me like I had an answer he wasn’t quite sure that he wanted. He picked at his fingernails, and considered it, so I had very little to do but wait.
I leaned back on the couch, because it was easier to breathe that way. My stomach was already too big to hide, and lots of things – like lungs and stomach – felt tighter inside me.
Ryan flicked one of his nails so that it cracked in the silence.
“You going to tell the kid?” he asked.
I paused, though it was one of the questions I had been expecting. We had never been able to decide whether we should have been told – when we should have been told. Truth be told, I had spent the last month reading all the books you’re supposed to read, getting ready to have a tiny human bust its way into your life, and I’d been laughing at all the instructions for baby-proofing your house.
Locks on the cupboards, and the fridge. Everything made of glass that could shatter and mar on high, sturdy shelves. Knives safely stored away. Edges of the coffee table padded with foam. Gates at the top and bottom of the stairs.
And I nearly forgot to catalog it all, wondering instead if I should take all the doors down off their hinges and hide them in the attic until the kid was old enough to know how to open them without accidentally opening other things too. Except the gates. Because I needed something else to keep the crawler from tumbling down that didn’t act like a door itself.
“I told David,” I said.
Ryan’s eyebrows went up. Probably because he had assumed I never would when I had married the man without ever explaining the universe’s strange way of conflating walls between rooms with walls between worlds, and the disaster that made of doors and doorknobs, locks and latches, and the things we do thoughtlessly when stepping over thresholds. I’d even let him carry me over the threshold the night after our wedding, the first night in a new house that belonged to both of us.
Ryan had thought I was an idiot. And I was. But there were a lot of stupid things I would do when David smiled like that. I held David close, and whispered all the things I needed to to keep us safe while he joked and played with the old traditions.
“We’re still talking about whether or not we’re going to tell the kid,” I told Ryan. I realized too late that I was playing with my fingernails too, and laced my fingers together crookedly to stop myself. “I figure we have a long time to discuss it still. Won’t even know how to use thumbs until its at least a year old, and won’t be tall enough to reach the knob for what… two years?”
Ryan laughed at me a little. He dropped his head. It took me a moment to wonder if he was hiding more than the stretch of his smile.
I licked my lips. “I want to,” I said carefully.
Ryan looked at me with raised eyebrows again.
I shrugged. “Whatever else happened, at least we always knew what to do when we ended up on the wrong of things, what to do when we got scared, how to get home again.”
He was nodding along, but somehow it was slow enough to make me think he was shaking his head instead. He hesitated. Then he murmured, “Wouldn’t you have rather known that Mom and Dad were coming for us, no matter what?”
I caught his eye, and I held it, steady as a vice.
“My kid’s gonna know both,” I promised him.
His smile was slow, creeping up on him like the trickle of all the old memories of times I had appeared out of nowhere, coming for him, heart pounding and hand out-stretched. He looked down again.
“That might work,” he said, grudgingly.