Summer Holiday By Carolyn Nicholson
‘Seriously, Scott. You’re acting as though I’m asking you to go to Mars for a month. It’s the bloody Mornington Peninsula. The playground of Melbourne’s rich and famous, café’s on every corner, beautiful beaches, wineries and loads of breweries.
Remember the Bass and Flinders gin we had at Shasheen’s dinner party? Their distillery is in Dromana, which is only fifteen minutes from Marlo’s house. The house she has kindly offered us for free.’ Kirsten is standing in their kitchen, hands on hips, jaw clenched.
‘Only because your sister wants to go on a holiday without her kids and needs us to look after them.’ Scott roughly loosens his tie then drops his satchel by the side board.
‘Jemima’s eighteen, with her license and a job. We’ll hardly see her, and Pip is going to be staying with friends. And they’re my nieces. Our nieces. I’m looking forward to spending time with them.
I need this, Scott. We need it. You’ve hardly been home since …’ Kirsten pauses to take a deep breath. To gather her thoughts. ‘Please Scott. You promised you’d take some time off this summer. That we’d get away. That we’d make the time to talk about it.’
‘All right. All right. Yes. We’ll go to your sister’s. Can I go for my run now? Email me the dates and I’ll sit down with Barry tomorrow, make sure he’s okay for me to take the time.’
Scott kicks of his leather shoes. Not looking at Kirsten, he walks out of the kitchen.
Watching him leave, Kirsten can’t help but wonder, will this holiday be enough to fix what she broke.
‘That’s it, Auntie K. I’ve reset the modem and logged you back on, you should be okay now.’ Jemima hands the television remote to Kirsten.
‘Thanks, Mima. I’m sorry to have pulled you away from your friends.’
‘It’s okay. Lizzie had plans with Jamie and my shift at The Portsea doesn’t start ‘til five.’ Jemima glances towards the closed study door. ‘How’s it going? You and Uncle Scott enjoying your break? Been to any of the restaurants Mum recommended?’
‘Yes. Some but um, Scott’s had to work. He wasn’t able to get the full four weeks off so he’s still logging on every day.’ Kirsten looks towards the study.
Despite agreeing to the holiday, Scott spent the first week locked away in Marlo’s home office. Working on some important report that couldn’t wait until February and, according to Scott, after they argued again about the amount of time he was working, there was no one else capable of doing it.
‘That’s a bummer.’ Jemima picks up her straw tote. ‘Well. Gotta go. There’s a beach party at the Couta Boat Club. I’m going to hang there until work.’
Kirsten hugs her niece, who, with her mum’s dark features and her dad’s height, looks like a fabled Amazonian woman. ‘Thanks, Mima. I appreciate you coming by.’
‘See ya. I’ll be staying at Lizzie’s for a few days. Will text you an update later in the week.’
Unsure what to do with herself, knowing she can’t bear spending another day lounging by the pool, Kirsten is startled when the study door opens.
‘Hey! Hi. You taking a break?’
‘No. I’m done.’ Scott remains standing in the study doorway.
‘That’s great. Want to head out somewhere?’ Kirsten takes a tentative step forward.
‘Sure. Let me have a shower first, freshen up. What do you feel like doing?’
‘Um. Don’t mind. You?’
‘Not sure. I’ll think about it while I shower.’ Scott walks away.
‘Well, that wasn’t at all awkward.’ Kirsten drops onto the leather lounge. A year ago she would have offered to join him in the shower. They would have spent a lazy afternoon of sunshine and sex.
Now it’s all cautious questions and polite responses. Not sure how to take the next step with Scott, Kirsten leans back, letting the cool, butter soft leather soothe her aching back.
‘This looks nice.’ Kirsten looks around the restaurant.
‘Mmm hmm.’ Scott picks up his menu.
Though it was late in the afternoon and not yet dinner time, the restaurant is buzzing, with wait staff zipping between tables. Taking orders. Serving food. Clearing tables.
‘Hi. What can I get you?’ A young woman with a pixie cut and braces has appeared at their table. Order pad in hand.
‘Um. I’m not sure, haven’t looked yet. Scott?’ Kirsten picks up her menu.
‘I’ll have the steak sandwich and a Jetty Road Pale Ale. Thanks.’
The waitress turns to Kirsten, pen poised.
‘Um … Well … Are there any specials?’
‘Sure.’ She reads the list from her pad. Kirsten, unable to focus, forgets each dish as soon as she hears it.
‘And the fish of the day is Barramundi.’ The waitress looks expectantly at Kirsten.
‘I’ll have the, um, Barramundi and a soda and lime.’
‘So-’ Kirsten begins, as their waiter walks away.
‘I’ve-’ Scott starts.
‘You go.’ Kirsten places her hands in her lap.
‘I’ve finished the report and told Barry I’m offline now. No more working. It’s time for us. I did need to get the report done. I haven’t been avoiding you. I thought if I focused on it for the week, then it’s done and I can be free for the rest of the holiday.’
‘That’s great.’ The waiter appears with their drinks.
They both take a long sip.
‘So now what?’ Kirsten asks.
‘You can start by telling me why you had sex with another man.’
Kirsten wakes the next morning to find Scott’s side of the bed empty. Reaching out, the mattress is cold to her touch.
Yesterday was a disaster. Shocked at being bluntly asked about that night and in a public setting, Kirsten went on the defensive. Immediately turning the conversation to his obsession with work, his hours spent on the golf course every weekend and their inability to get out of debt.
They’d argued. Loudly. Rushing through their meals and leaving the minute the last bite was swallowed. Kirsten was embarrassed and angrier at Scott than she’d ever been.
Returning home, Scott immediately changed into his running gear and left the house.
Not wanting to face him again, Kirsten went to bed, wanting nothing more than for the day to be over.
Now it’s the next day and she’s alone. Again.
Going in search of her husband, Kirsten finds him asleep in Pip’s bed. Her floral covered dooner tucked under his chin. His face relaxed, peaceful.
‘I’m sorry, Scott.’ Kirsten whispers as she gently sweeps hair from his eyes.
Scott’s hand reaches out for Kirsten’s.
‘Oh.’ She gasps.
He pulls her down, lifting the dooner as he does, tucking her in beside him.
Spooning Kirsten, Scott kisses her neck, her shoulders, all the while rubbing himself against her.
‘Shh. Not now. Not today.’ Scott rolls her towards him.
Kirsten returns Scott’s kisses. Hesitantly at first and then, as she remembers what it’s like to be wanted, to be loved, she deepens her kisses, losing herself in the feel of him.
For the second time that day, Kirsten wakes to find herself alone in a bed. Her body aches like it hasn’t in a long time and she has a tingling sensation between her legs.
Kirsten’s cheeks flush thinking about what they’d done in her nieces bed. She’s going to have to wash the bedding, twice.
The sound of music floats down the hall and Kirsten smells bacon. Following her nose, Kirsten finds Scott in the kitchen, bare chested, wearing a frilly apron, singing along to Imagine Dragon’s song, Radioactive.
The sight fills Kirsten with pleasure and she stands quietly, watching him. Feeling her own mood lift, her foot tapping.
Scott turns, catches sight of Kirsten leaning against the wall. ‘Morning.’
‘Morning. What’ve you got going on there?’
‘Corn fritters with poached eggs, avocado, bacon and spinach.’
Kirsten’s favourite breakfast. ‘Gosh. That sounds great. Can I do anything to help?’
‘You can make the coffees. I still can’t work out their machine.’
They spend the next ten minutes contentedly preparing breakfast, focused on their own tasks, singing along to Scott’s playlist.
Halfway into her meal, which is amazing. Scott makes great breakfasts. Kirsten can’t take the silence any more.
‘What do you want to know?’ She asks.
Scott doesn’t need to ask what Kirsten is referring to. He knows. Putting his knife and fork down, he looks directly at her.
‘Everything.’ He pauses. ‘But also nothing. Will knowing the details make a difference? Will it hurt less if I know the sex was bad, that you were drunk? Or will knowing the facts stop me from imaging the worst?
Because I have imagined. You, naked, doing things we don’t do. Enjoying what he’s doing to you. It’s … It’s … I don’t know what it is. But it’s not good and I don’t know how to get past it. I don’t know how we’ll get past it.’
And here they are.
At the place Kirsten was afraid they would get to but the place she knows they had to come.
‘There’s no excuse for what I did. I can’t undo the pain I’ve caused you. But I can and I will do whatever it takes to make it right between us. For you to trust me again.’
‘Tell me this, was it someone you work with? Someone you still see every day? Someone I know?’
‘No. No! I would never do that. It was when I was away, at the conference in Sydney. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since. There’s been no contact at all. I don’t even have his number and he definitely does not have mine.’
Scott is silent. He takes a sip of his coffee, then a couple more bites of his meal.
Kirsten waits. She’s been waiting for six months. Now they are running out of time.
‘Okay.’ Scott says.
‘I want to hear it. I want to know. Not about the sex but about the why. I need to understand why you would make such a choice before I can decide what comes next.’
‘Alright. I’ll tell you.’
And Kirsten does. She tells Scott everything. Everything that lead up to that night. That one, stupid, completely out of character night.
The one night that should never have happened.
The one night that has changed everything.
Kirsten talks about the pain she felt from not being able to have a child. About the guilt she carried because of the cost of fertility treatments and IVF. About the sadness and grief that enveloped her every time a pregnancy failed. About her shame at having failed, him, herself, their marriage.
She talked about how she felt lost when Scott chose to lose himself in his work. How she felt abandoned when he took up golf and stayed out longer and longer each Saturday.
For the first time, Kirsten shared with Scott how she nearly left him, more than once, thinking it only fair he be given the chance to have children, even if it was to be with someone else.
Kirsten knew how much Scott wanted children and she desperately wanted to give him a family, a house full of noise and drama, like the home he grew up in. Her inability to carry a pregnancy to term had broken her, had broken them and Kirsten was lonely and lost in their marriage.
‘It’s no excuse. I know that. But I was drowning in my guilt and sorrow, and for one night I wanted to be someone else, to feel something else, to feel nothing.
I regretted it the minute it was over. I left the conference the next morning, came home and have never seen or had contact with him again.’
‘And now here we are.’ Scott leans back in his chair.
‘Yes. Here we are.’ Kirsten places her hands on her expanding belly. ‘Now what are you going to do about it?’
‘Seriously, Mima, it’s not a problem. This is your home, come by any time.’ Kirsten assures her niece.
‘I feel like I’ve interrupted something. You and Uncle Scott looked pretty tense. Is everything okay? Is the baby okay?’
Kirsten rubs her belly. ‘Yes, everything’s fine with the baby. What about you? How’s work?’
‘It’s cool, crazy busy but I love the vibe. Hey Uncle Scott, sorry about barging in like that. I’m picking up a few things then I’ll be out of your hair. A few of us are heading over to Point Leo for a couple of nights camping.’
‘No problems, Jemima, I’m heading out any way.’ Scott avoids looking at Kirsten.
‘But I thought we were-’
‘Not now, Kirsten.’ Scott grabs his keys off the bench and marches towards the front door. ‘I’ll be back later.’
‘Okay. Now I know something’s up. Want me to call Mum, get her to give you a call?’
‘No. No need to bother Marlo. He’s fine, work pressures.’
‘He’s happy about the baby though. It’s just, Mum said she got the sense he may not be as thrilled about it as you.’
‘Did she? Don’t know where she got that from. Of course he’s happy about the baby. We both are.’
Jemima’s phone pings.
‘That’s Lizzie, Jamie’s waiting, gotta go.’ Jemima throws her arms around Kirsten. ‘If you need anything, give me a call. I can come back if you need me.’
By the time Kirsten hears Scott’s car in the drive, the sky has turned dark and her patience has grown thin. He’s had six months to come to terms with the baby, to decide what he wants. To get past his anger, his disappointment.
Rising from the chair, Kirsten stands ready to greet her husband; ready for answers.
‘Where have you been?’ Kirsten demands as Scott enters the house.
‘At the beach.’
‘This can’t go on, Scott. You asked for time and I’ve given it to you but now it’s my turn. I need answers. That’s why we came here. Why we planned this holiday. I need to know what you’re going to do and I need to know, now!’
‘Let’s sit down.’ Scott directs her to the dining table.
‘I don’t want to sit. I want to know what you’ve decided.’
Hearing a change in his voice, Kirsten takes a closer look at his face. There’s something there she hasn’t seen for a long time. Could it be?
Sitting at the table, Kirsten rubs her hands on her belly. This much tension cannot be good for the baby.
‘You’re right. We agreed we’d use this holiday to make a decision but it’s not that simple for me. It’s hard to separate the baby from that night, from what you did, from him.’
‘I understand, Scott, I really do. But I’m having this baby, with or without you. I want us to be a family, like we planned, like we’ve been trying for all these years but if you can’t get past it, there’s no hope for us.’
‘I know. Which is why I went to the beach. Why I made a list.’ Scott pulls his phone from his pocket. ‘A list of all the questions we need to answer, of all the things we need to know so we go into this with our eyes wide open. The baby could be his-’
‘But it could be yours, ours.’ Kirsten insists.
‘The baby could be his and what will that mean? Do you tell him? Will he be in our lives?’
‘But. But then I realised there is only one question I need to answer. And that is, could I love this child like it’s my own? And I know I could.
I know, because I already do. With all my heart. We can’t change what happened and I won’t risk the baby with a paternity test before its born. But I know I want this child. I know I want you.’ Scott reaches across the table for Kirsten.
‘I forgive you, Kirsten. Can you forgive me?’
Kirsten leans across the table, her belly hitting the edge. ‘Ow. Shit!’
Pushing back from the table, they reach out for each other. Embracing, they both let their tears flow, let their emotions free.
‘I’m sorry it took me so long to get here, Kirsten. I love you.’
‘I love you too. I’ll forever be sorry for that night, for doing what I did but I’ll never be sorry for this baby, our baby.’
As her daughter is handed to her, Kirsten is relieved it’s all over, that they are both safe and healthy. Breathing in the sweet scent of her, loving her with all of her being, Kirsten can hardly believe this day has come.
She’s a mother.
They’re a family.
Scott leans down. Kisses his wife. Kisses their daughter.
‘Look at this.’ Scott takes their daughter from Kirsten; gently unwraps her from the blanket. The baby, not liking the cold on her skin, cries out, shaking her tiny fists in the air.
‘Give her back. She’s cold.’
‘Wait. Look.’ Scott holds the screaming child in the crook of his left arm and gently turns her onto her stomach. ‘Can you see?’
On her right cheek, just under her waist line, is a latte coloured mark, roughly the shape of Tasmania.
Seeing what they are doing, one of the midwives leans in. ‘That’s a café au lait mark, perfectly safe, very common. Nothing at all to worry about.’
Kirsten appears to be crying but she smiles up at Scott and replies. ‘I know. Her father has one too.’