Kyle bought the house on Lemon Tree Road two weeks ago. It was officially his – the mortgage, the driveway, the willow tree on the side, the front door with the chipped paint, the mailbox, the patches of crab grass in the front yard, and all three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms.
Today is one of those days in March that nobody likes. It’s gray and cloudy and a fine cold mist has settled over the parked cars and the garden gnomes. Kyle unlocks the door and allows it to swing open into the living room. The previous owners took or sold all their belongings, leaving the rooms completely empty. Kyle stands in the doorway picturing exactly where his couch, television, bookcase, stereo system, and coffee table will go. The moving trucks will be there in an hour. Kyle has until then to explore his new house.
Kyle stands still for a moment on the stairs listening to the eerie silence of the air moving about the empty rooms. Besides the tour given during an open house, Kyle never had the chance to get a good look at the house again. Something about it made Kyle know it was the right choice for him, though he couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason.
He met the owners briefly and they seemed nice enough. They didn’t mention any children but then again, Kyle hadn’t asked. However, he couldn’t really imagine living in such a suburban neighborhood and not having children. This place was a realtor’s gold mine when it came to young families. If it wasn’t an American flag in a neighbor’s front yard, then it was a basketball hoop or a porch swing or white adirondack chairs and an orange ‘children at play’ sign. One could walk on the street barefoot in the summer and rake the leaves in the backyard come fall.
Kyle, of course, was no patriarch of a young family but he had always been a planner, ever since his sixth birthday. That was the day he found out about the adoption. Up until then, he had been too young to question the fact that he looked nothing like his parents. He asked them about his biological parents but they had been pretty reluctant to answer. For many years after, Kyle would jump at every opportunity to bring it up only to be shut down with a response like, “Oh, she was just too young” or when asked about their names, it was always, “I don’t know. Diana something or other,” until finally Kyle just stopped asking all together.
He never stopped wondering about his biological parents though, and made a vow to never be like them. He promised himself to work hard in school, make a good respectable income, get married at an appropriate age, and start a family when he was ready. His girlfriend, Sophie, knew about the adoption but never knew about the promise he made to himself. She had looked at him funny when he told her about the house. He didn’t ask her to move in, but why else would he need three bedrooms? Sophie spent many hours on the phone with her mother trying to answer this question. Perhaps he wanted to get settled in first before asking, but if he was definitely going to ask, then why couldn’t this be a project they did together? In any event, Sophie hoped Kyle would clue her in on his plan soon because she was pregnant and had not exactly found the right moment to tell him yet.
Paul unlocks the front door and allows it to swing open into the living room. He then walks back to his car and helps his wife out of her seat. He opens the back door of the car and takes out his newborn daughter. Although her eyes are closed, Paul and his wife Sandra carry the baby into their home and show her around.
They take her through the living room and into the kitchen where they already have the height chair set up along with a drawer full of bibs, towels, and diapers and a stack of bottles by the sink. They take the baby up the back staircase in the kitchen that leads straight to the nursery. The nursery walls are a soft green with long stemmed flowers stenciled along the bottom in a thicker paint than that of the walls. There is a wicker basket filled with small soft toys from the baby shower and in the crib is a beautiful white and pink blanket Paul’s mother knitted for the baby. Above the crib, hanging from green ribbons, are cushioned letters that spell out the baby’s name, Diana.
Sandra gently places Diana into her crib. Diana makes a few quiet noises before settling back down into another slumber. Their daughter is just as delicate and peaceful as her room. The two parents stand over the crib together watching her as exhaustion comes creeping up behind them. Paul never knew his wife to be that strong and Sandra never knew herself to be so terrified. They had read the books and Paul even quit smoking cigarettes but at this moment, staring at their beautiful healthy baby, both knew that the only real way to handle this was to take it one day at a time, and Sandra would have no choice but to become her own mother.
This had crossed Paul’s mind months ago — Sandra becoming her mother. He feared, like her mother, Sandra would become too controlling and then claim that Paul wasn’t putting in his fair share. So instead, Paul prayed. He had prayed every night for the past six months. He prayed for strength when the lack of nicotine gave him the shakes. He often prayed he and Sandra would be able to work out any fight that came their way. He prayed the baby would get the healthy background of Paul’s family and the intelligence of Sandra’s. He wanted the baby to have his humor and Sandra’s eyes, and most importantly, he prayed that the first ten years would be as easygoing as the second ten years because Paul, being a teenager once himself, knew the terrible twos and threes were nothing compared to the terrible fifteens, sixteens, seventeens…
Kyle calls the room he occupies most, the office. It is the small room on the second floor most easily accessible by the stairs in the kitchen. He chose a minimalist decor for this room by keeping the blue-gray walls and adding only a large plasma screen TV, one leather Laz-E Boy recliner, and a mini fridge.
The TV had been paid for in full by the savings bond released when he graduated college. The recliner has a crack down the middle after so many years of lounging. In the mini fridge, Kyle keeps a steady stock of cheap beer and several bottles of whiskey he had received as Christmas gifts over the years.
Kyle sits in the recliner fully extended, nursing a cold glass of whiskey. It’s a Saturday morning and he’s watching Sportscenter Classics. Kyle has been out of college for about five years but old habits die hard. Sophie said she would be over later with more of her stuff, but if Kyle is being honest, he really doesn’t feel like seeing her. She has been so moody lately.
About fifteen minutes later, Kyle hears the doorbell ring. He ignores it, but then his phone rings immediately after. “Hey, come help me bring in some of these boxes!”
She’s over an hour early. Kyle looks down at his drink. He still has a decent amount and even though Sophie would lecture him about drinking by himself in the morning, he couldn’t bare to see the drink go to waste. He takes it down in one swift gulp and pulls himself out of the recliner.
After splashing his face with water and gargling mouthwash for a second, he opens the door to see Sophie. “Hey. You’re early.”
Sophie unloads a box labeled ‘pants’ into his arms. “Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t sleep last night so I just started packing.” She picks up another box and brings it into the house. “So I was thinking for now we can keep some of the boxes in that mancave of yours but then eventually we’ll have to clear it all out to make room for the baby.”
Kyle stops halfway up the stairs and turns back to look at his girlfriend. “What?”
Sophie drops her box and looks up at him not saying anything. Kyle goes back down the stairs and heads over to the coach in the front room. “Okay…what?”
“I’m sorry. I should have told you as soon as I found out but I didn’t-”
“As soon as you found out? Soph, how long has it been?”
“About a month. Please don’t raise your voice. I’m sorry I just-”
“You just what? You were just waiting around for me to ask you to move in? What if I hadn’t asked you? Then what, Soph?” The alcohol in Kyle’s system is making it difficult for him to control his emotions let alone the volume of his voice. Sophie stands at the foot of the stairs with her arms crossed high over her chest. Kyle puts his head in his hands for a second but then bursts up off the couch. “Goddamnit! This ruins everything!”
“Ruins it? Ruins what exactly?”
“The plan! It’s ruined! I had it all planned out and now it’s all shot to hell.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I was going to work hard in school. Check. Get a good job. Check. Marry the love of my life and then have a family. Ruined!”
“Woah. Okay, I mean, you know life doesn’t always go according to plan.”
“Clearly! Why else do you think I was adopted? But there was no way in hell I was going to put a child through that. If I was going to have children, they would be born to a loving well-off couple.”
“So that’s what this is all about. Well don’t you worry dear because I’m keeping it, and for your information we are a loving well-off couple. Maybe you would have noticed that if you weren’t so busy getting drunk by yourself on a Saturday morning.”
“Yup. Knew that was coming.”
Sophie stands there shaking her head at him, then grabs her keys and heads for the door. “Well anyway, your plan was flawed from the start. You forgot the step where you’re supposed to grow up.”
Peter’s hand caresses the shape of Diana’s body, giving her the chills. Her small room is lit by two candles on her dresser and a lamp on her night table. The walls, after years of begging her mom to paint over the stenciled flowers, are now painted a blue-grey and covered with posters of bands her mom would never let her see in concert.
Diana has never seen another boy fully naked until tonight. She is certain, however, that Peter was worth the wait. As his warm tongue works its way down her body, Diana lets out a small gasp. She had waited for this for a long time. She still remembers the exact moment their eyes first met. It was at a football game back in September. It was a balmy night and Diana and her friends were sitting in a circle on the soccer field passing around a joint. Peter and his friends spotted them and walked over. They were on their way to a party and invited the girls to come along. Peter did most of the talking, looking at Diana the entire time as if it were a conversation just between them.
Diana double checks the door to make sure it is locked. Not that it matters. Diana’s parents were at some gala and wouldn’t be home until well after Peter leaves. Peter looks into Diana’s eyes. Beneath all her dark makeup, Peter can still see the innocence of a virgin. She nods, giving him the encouragement to continue. He kisses her with all the passion Peter can muster and enters her. He takes it slow and searches for any signs of pain in Diana’s face. He reaches his lips down again to kiss her neck and continues to move inside of her in a steady rhythm. Diana’s breath quickens. She lets out a soft moan and with her hands, awkwardly reaches around to clutch Peter’s lower back.
A thousand thoughts run through Diana’s mind. She tries to stay focused and match her breathing with Peter’s. The pain doesn’t bother her but what does is the fact that Peter isn’t a virgin like her. In fact, Peter, at the age of 17, is known for having had sex with multiple girls. She couldn’t help but wonder what was he thinking about right now or if she even wanted to know that answer. Did he take pride in taking her innocence away? Was she as good as these other girls? Should she stay on her back or try another position? How long is this going to last?
Peter sees Diana wince and immediately pulls out. He questions her only by raising his eyebrows. In that moment, Diana decides that stopping now, or trying to get answers to her questions, would only lead to humiliation. Peter would tell all his friends she was a prude as opposed to her infamous wild child reputation. Diana apologizes and tells him to continue. She turns her head to the side so she doesn’t have to look Peter in the eyes and Peter won’t have to see any more of her wincing. She looks over at the loose floorboard, the one she carved her name into the first time she got high. Under it she has stashed away a small bottle of vodka, a pill bottle mixed with different painkillers, and ticket stubs from all the concerts she hadn’t been allowed to go to but went anyway. Peter goes in deeper, and Diana, yearning for those little blue pills, starts to count down the seconds until he leaves.
Kyle and Sophie had spent the majority of June unpacking all of Sophie’s things which more often than not turned into an unpacking of her past as well. Kyle listened, trying his best to grow up and figure out correct timing when it came to putting in his two cents. There were nights they spent talking straight through until morning and others where they would sit silent side by side in bed; Sophie reading a parenting magazine and Kyle, the business section. Maybe it wasn’t hopeless romantic, but it did all seem to finally be going according to plan.
It’s a hot July day and Sophie is out picking up a few things for dinner. Kyle sits on the floor of the office with a pair of plyers. He starts in the corner by the door and begins pulling back the carpet. Underneath are wide damaged planks of wood. He moves steadily along the wall on his hands and knees when suddenly one of his hands falls through a piece of wood.
A puff of dust throws Kyle into a coughing fit. When he finally settles down, Kyle inspects the hole in the wood. It’s dark but the overhead light catches an object. Kyle reaches down and feels around. It isn’t just one object, but a collection. He grabs as much as his fist can hold and pulls it out. Everything is caked in saw dust and some things have yellowed with time. Ticket stubs, packaged condoms, empty pill bottles, empty alcohol bottles, and a pregnancy test.
Kyle hear’s the front door open. “Kyle! Come help me with the groceries!”
Kyle sits on the floor paralyzed by the questions running through his mind. Sophie calls him again but he doesn’t respond. After the third time, Kyle hears Sophie coming up the stairs. “Hey, I’ve been calling you. What is all that?”
Sophie sits down next to Kyle and picks up a ticket stub. “Aerosmith, right on. Where did you find these?”
“They were in the floor.” Kyle points to the hole in the wood.
“That’s strange. What else is here?” Sophie picks up the pregnancy test but the results are too faded to decipher. “Is there anything else in there?”
Kyle uses the flashlight application on his phone to shine a better light into the hole. He pulls out the piece of wood that had broken off and runs his hand over the carved out letters. “Diana.”
“Diana. Diana. I like that name.” Sophie puts a hand on her stomach. “Let’s add it to the list. This stuff is really interesting. Makes me wonder what the people who lived here before were like. Let’s take a break though. Come help me put the groceries away. Also, can you call your mom? Make sure they know to come at six for dinner.”
Kyle follows Sophie out of the room and closes the door behind him.
Peter lies naked on Diana’s bed. His birthday was a few days ago and Diana had promised him something unforgettable. They started dating three months ago and have been inseparable since. Diana is in her bra and underwear. She’s skinnier now and her relationship with her parents is hanging by a thread.
She walks over to the loose floorboard and takes out the bottle of painkillers and vodka, ignoring the pregnancy test about which she never told Peter and the condoms they failed to use. She throws two of the pills to the back of her throat and washes them down with a swig or more of the vodka. She hands the two bottles to Peter who just finished taking a hit from a joint. Together, they idolized the Rolling Stones, cursed life in the suburbs, had their hands all over each other as often as possible, and did their best to remain high, very high.
Peter started selling marijuana as soon as school let out with promises to Diana that he would save up and together they could move to the city or take a road trip to California. It was these fantasies that glued them together and pulled them away from the rest of the world.
After Peter swallows down several painkillers with the alcohol, Diana puts the bottles back under the floorboard and takes off the rest of her clothes. She climbs on top of Peter starting off slow, grinding her hips against him. Diana laces her fingers with Peter’s and looks around her room waiting for the drugs to take effect. She can still vaguely see some of the the lines from the stenciled flowers. Her mind wanders off to flashes of her childhood, like the time she was five and the boy across the street kissed her on the lips. She had thrown a tantrum until her mom took her to the doctor to get tested for cooties. Then there was the time in sixth grade when she and her friend shoplifted a corset from that adult store on the edge of town.
Peter starts coughing and choking. Diana jumps off of him. “Peter! Peter, what’s happening?”
His heart beat spikes and sweat pours down his face. His body starts to convulse. Diana screams and shakes Peter. “Peter! Peter, what’s happening?”
Diana watches Peter struggling to survive, her mind taking her in and out of reality. As her vision becomes increasingly foggy and her motor skills numb, she continues to shake Peter, begging him to stay alive. When Peter finally goes still, Diana bursts into hysterics. She rips her clothes from their hangers, pulls the drawers out of her dresser, shoves the books off her night table, and takes the mirror over her dresser and smashes it on the floor. Diana then curls up into a ball on the floor and rolls back and forth, the glass slicing her skin. With tears drenching her cheeks, Diana takes herself away on a road trip to California.
She wakes up to the beeping sound of a heart monitor. Her throat aches and her eyes hurt to open. Slowly though, she comes to her senses and sees her mom dozing off in the chair next to her hospital bed. “Mom?”
“Oh my God, Diana.” Diana stares back at her mother then says, “Where is-”
“Let me get your father and the doctor.”
When Sandra, Paul, and Dr. Mankowitz, the hospital’s psychiatrist, are all in the room and introductions have been made, Dr. Mankowitz begins. “You’ve had a rough few days Diana. We almost lost you. Do you remember what happened?”
Diana shakes her head. “I want to see Peter.”
Dr. Mankowitz and Sandra look at each other and both firmly press their lips together. “You see Diana, Peter took many more painkillers than you, and well, he didn’t make it.”
“So he’s dead?” Tears well up in her eyes as Diana’s own emotions betray her usually hard shell.
“Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what this must be like for you.”
“Another thing Diana,” Dr. Mankowitz breaks in, “Were you aware that you are pregnant?”
Diana looks at her parents and then nods her head.
“Okay, well I’m not exactly sure what you were doing feeding yourself painkillers and alcohol while pregnant but it is too late in the process to undergo an abortion so I am sorry Diana but you are going to have to go through with the pregnancy. Also, I have talked to your parents and various doctors on staff and we all feel it would be best for you to go to a rehabilitation facility during the duration of your pregnancy to ensure the delivery is safe and the baby healthy. Now, you do of course have the option to give the baby up for adoption when the time comes.”
Seeing that Diana’s face is blank and turned toward the window, Dr. Mankowitz adds, “I know this is a lot for you to take in right now but we are all here if you have any questions. We are going to get you better, Diana. Your parents love you very much. I’ll leave you three to discuss your options.”
Kyle brushes the dust off an old photograph with his sleeve and looks at it for a moment before putting it back into the box. He’s in his parents’ attic helping his mom with what started out as a search for some of Kyle’s old baby toys but quickly turned into an afternoon walk down memory lane. There was the box filled with pictures labeled ‘trip to Capris’ and another labeled ‘school years’ filled with all the projects and paintings Kyle did in grade school, plus all the boxes of decorations for each and every holiday.
Kyle opens a box labeled ‘scrapbooks.’ “I didn’t know you liked scrapbooking.”
“No. That was all your father’s doing. He used to be so into that stuff.”
Kyle takes out the first one, a heavy book with the Greek letters Alpha Sigma Phi. It’s filled with memorabilia, quotes, and photos. On the last page is a picture of Kyle and his dad both holding their own Alpha Sig paddles. Kyle smiles to himself, remembering that moment. He had just survived a week of hazing and could see in the picture that his eyes were still a little glassy. He also couldn’t help but notice how different he and his dad looked. Kyle never really liked taking or looking at family pictures for that reason. He hated how blatant his adoption was. He closes the scrapbook and takes out the next one. It’s labeled ‘newspapers.’ Kyle opens it to find it filled with all kinds of newspaper clippings. He begins flipping through it to see if anything sparks his interest. He stops at an obituary dated August 1984. “Hey, mom. Who was Peter Grant?”
Kyle’s mom looks up from the stack of pictures she was going through and sees her son looking at the obituary. She takes a deep breath, stands up, and walks over to him. She squats down next to him and places her hand on his back. “Peter Grant. Um, well, Peter Grant was your father.”
“He’s dead? That’s it? My father’s dead. All these years. All of my twenty six goddamn years, you couldn’t tell me my father was dead?
“Well, it never-”
“Don’t even say it never came up because I asked and I asked and you didn’t say one word.”
“I thought I was protecting you. I thought it was better if you didn’t know.”
“Oh please, don’t even give me that.” Kyle continues to skim through the obituary. “football player…drug overdose…condolences go out to mother, Janet, father, Hank, sisters, girlfriend, Diana…Diana. Diana!”
“She was your mother. I do believe she’s still alive. Hey, how about we-”
“I can’t be here right now.” Kyle rips the obituary from the page and runs down the steps of the attic, his mother yelling out apologies behind him. He gets in his car and drives all the way back to the house on Lemon Tree Road, the one his mom grew up in.