A cold wind is beginning to strengthen off the harbor tonight. Beth enters the warm kitchen of the house that she shares with Gabriel, her husband of four years with her arms full with groceries. She closes the door with her foot.
She is met by their dog, Finbar, a graying, scruffy mutt who adopted them over a year ago. She can hear the patter of one child upstairs. It is probably their four year old daughter Emily who cannot sit still for more than two minutes. Other than that, it is oddly quiet around the house. After dropping the bags onto the counter, she immediately turns on the stove to warm the kettle in hope of getting at least a sip of tea before anyone else realizes she’s home.
She’s curious as to why Sean has not been heard. Sean is usually a chatter box and at his mother side within seconds of her stepping foot in the house. Beth slides off her shoes and socks and begins to take the groceries out of the bags. She pulls down an extra tea mug for Gabriel when she hears the creaking of the stairs. Beth knows he’ll be writing tonight. He loves the energy a storm brings to his creative soul and that it takes his mind away from his torment. As she takes the tea out of the tin, he wraps his chiseled arms around her. Immediately, she can tell his serious mood as he lets out a muffled sigh instead of nuzzling up against her neck like he usually does. His black, curly hair tickles her ear.
She turns, leaning against the counter, his hands now on her hips. She peers up to his dark eyes. “What is it?”
“Sean. Teacher said he was pretty smart with everyone today. Even with me, copped a bit of an attitude.”
Beth tries to tame the black mop of hair, speckled with silver stands. “Any clue?”
“Tried talkin’ to him and he ignored me.” He leans against Beth. “You’ll talk to him?”
“Give me twenty minutes. Let me feed the twins first.”
Gabe kisses her forehead before he moves he hand under his wife’s shirt.
She playfully smacks Gabe on his behind just as Emily runs into the kitchen.
“Was daddy bad?” She stops and stares at her parents.
“Yes, daddy was bad. He needed to be spanked” He starts laughing, thankfully ending his serious mood.
Emily starts to laugh right before she taps her father on his backside. Gabe turns to his daughter. “One, two, three, go!” She runs off, her father running after her.
Between her tea, feeding the dog, and the twins, Beth wonders what could be wrong with Sean. She’s home for almost an hour before he even comes out of his room. As she puts Grace into her crib, he walks by the room.
“Sean,” Beth calls to him quietly.
He stops and stands in the doorway. He is the identical to his biological father and Beth’s first husband, Kai, right down to the way he stands when he’s in a foul mood. He kicks imaginary dirt with his foot and sticks his hands in his pockets. His head hangs as his eyes peer up at her.
“Can you go wash up and wait for me in your room? We need to talk, okay?”
“Yes, mom.” He turns and walks away without saying anything else.
This troubles Beth. Usually, he won’t stop talking, whether about dinosaurs, cars, planes, or about a girl in class.
After checking on Emily, who was talking to an imaginary prince in her room, Beth knocks before going into Sean’s room. He sits on this bed, staring out the window.
“No stars tonight with the storm.” She sits next to him, but senses he doesn’t want his mother’s touch right now.
“It’s a full moon anyway, you wouldn’t see them.” He crosses his arms.
“Is everything alright? Your dad said you’ve had a bit of an attitude today. Even the sisters took note of it.”
Sean pauses with some hesitance. “Is Gabe my dad?” He stares at his mother.
Beth feels her breath being taken away by the question. Although they wanted to wait until he was a little older to explain the complicated family that they have, it looks as if it might have to be done sooner.
“What makes you ask a question like that?” She lowers her head a little to him.
He takes a deep, thoughtful, breath and then begins in typical, breathless, Sean fashion.
“Saturday, when we were at nana Mary’s house, and I was in the guest bedroom sleeping, well not really, I was pretending to sleep even though you said it’s rude when I do that. Anyway, I heard some men in the back yard talking. They were talkin’ about me and wondering whether or not I was going to turn out like my dad. But then one of them said that it’s impossible, ‘cause I never met him. And then another said that it didn’t matter. And the first one said how much I look like him. And I know I don’t look my dad because he has black hair and black eyes, and I’ve brown hair and blue eyes. And then nana Mary came outside and told all of them to hush.”
Beth closes her eyes for a brief moment while it feels like the whole world is collapsing around her at the moment. “Sean, I need to go get your dad, alright. We both need to talk to you.”
“I’m sorry I was pretending to be asleep. I know it’s rude.”
Beth knows that in his mind, he thinks he’s in trouble for that. “We’ll talk about that later. First, let me go get your dad.”
Beth’s mind is racing. She knew this talk would have to come, but hopefully it would have been on their own terms. The walk into Gabe’s study seems like an eternity. She enters the room without a word but keeps tucking her auburn hair behind her ears.
“You okay?” He hits save on the computer before standing up.
“Sean heard some people talking over at Mary’s the other day. We need to talk to him. About Kai.” Beth runs her fingers through her hair before slumping into a couch.
“That explains the attitude towards me.” He sits next to her, his arm immediately around her.
“Will you talk to him with me? We have to tell him…something.”
“Of course. I was just dreading him finding out like this, you know.”
“I can’t even imagine the questions he’s going to have. How angry he may be.” She wipes away a tear. “I’m sorry.
“There is only so much you can explain to a six year old, Beth. The rest he’ll have to grow up to understand.” He brushes away some hair from her face.
“Gabriel, that’s not comforting.” She sighs again. “Ready?”
They enter Sean’s room, Beth first. She sits on the bed beside him. Gabe sits on a chair way too small for him, in front of Sean.
“Sean,” Beth begins, “we wanted to wait until you were a little older to explain this to you.” She runs her fingers through his hair and looks into the eyes that remind her so much of Kai. “Those men were talking about a man named Kai. I was married to him before I married Gabriel. And, yes, that man…” She pauses until a reassuring hand from Gabe is on her leg.” That man is your father. But, he wasn’t even around when you were born. Gabe, for all purposes is your father.” She pauses for him to absorb what she has told him.
“He didn’t love us?” His eyes widened, waiting for any answer.
“He did at one time. But, Sean, he didn’t even know you.”
“So he’s dead?”
“I was told he was.” Beth lowers her head and takes a deep breath before making eye contact with her son again. “But I do know that Gabe, he loves you. He adopted you as soon as he could.”
“What did he look like?”
“Will you?” Gabriel is already out the door to get a picture of Kai for Sean.
“Now, nana Mary is his mother. Do you understand why we wanted to wait until you were old enough to understand? It’s very confusing, I know.”
Sean interrupts. “Did you love him?”
Beth never thought she’d have to explain whether or not she loved Kai to her six year old son. “I did. But some people change, for whatever reason.”
Gabe brings a photo album to Sean.
“Why don’t you show him?” Beth looks up at Gabe, wanting him to be part of this very important conversation.
He sits on the other side of Sean. He opens the album to a picture of Kai taken just after he and Beth were married.
“Sean, this is your father.”
Sean studies the picture but does not say anything at first. Beth and Gabe look quizzically at each other and give him another moment to study the photo.
“Do you have any questions, Sean?” Gabe asks. “I know it’s a lot to understand.”
“I’ve met him before.” Sean shakes his head and points at the picture.
Beth is taken back by the statement.
“No, you probably think you met him. Here look at the other pictures.” Gabe flips through to find another picture of Kai..
“I met him, but he said his name was John. He was by nana Mary’s house.”
“Was she home when he stopped by?” Beth has turned pale.
“She made him tea.”
“What’s this? Beth doesn’t even look at Gabe as he hands her a glass.
Beth glares at him but and drink quickly.
“I wanted to make sure you were paying attention.” He refills her glass and one for himself with whiskey.”
Beth takes her drink and walks to the shelf lined with some of Gabe’s Army mementos. He is quick to her, pressing his body close to hers. He nestles his face in her hair and whispers in her ear. “Let’s forget about this for now.” He wraps his arms around his wife with no response.
“And if he’s alive?”
“We deal with it. Do you really think he is? Sean does have quite the imagination”
Beth breaks away taking a large sip of her drink. She sits on the couch and holds he head in her hands.
Gabe leans his head against the shelf, his back to her. “What else can we do?
Beth leans back into the couch, her hands on her face as if she’s trying to wipe this all away. “If he’s alive?”
Gabe turns and talks with the effect of three drinks in him already. “Fuck him. He didn’t love you. And if he is alive now, I want him dead for what he put you through.”
Beth jumps from the couch.
“What if he tries something? Sean’s been alone with him.”
“You really think it’s him? You were told he died.” Gabe moves to Beth and places his hands gently around her face.
“Convenient his body was never returned because it was too dangerous. If he really wasn’t dead and came to see his mother, Sean would have been a surprise to him.”
Gabe wraps his arms securely around his Beth. Beth leans into his chest and he kisses the top of her head. “You’ve nothing to worry about. We’ll keep Sean away from Mary’s. You know I’ve never liked him going over there anyway.”
The wind suddenly gusts outside as the rain begins to fall. The wind chimes in the backyard aggressively clang. The large rain drops hit the window that looks out to the Harbor and Fort Independence Park. The tremendous waves are highlighted by lightning, adding to the cacophony of senses surrounding the couple. The thunder that follows startles them both, more so Gabe.
“I’ll go check on the kids.” Beth reluctantly moves away from him.
“No, I’ll go. Fill the glasses and meet me in our room.”
“Want me to take your mind of the thunder?” Beth’s serious demeanor softens as she teases her husband with a kiss. “Don’t take too long.”
The sun shines into the large windows. Beth sits up in a panic. Confused as to day, time, or if she needs to be somewhere at the moment, she realizes that she’s been given a gift of sleeping in. As the door opens, she quickly covers herself since the clothes she threw on the floor hours ago are neatly folded on her dresser. The whiskey she used to soothe her soul also catch up to her.
“Morning.” Gabe offers a cup of hot, black coffee to Beth.
She moans at its rejuvenating powers. “Thank you.”
Gabe sits on the edge of the bed next to her. “Sean’s at hockey practice, the twins have been fed, and Emily is dressed in her princess finest and ready for a birthday party.
“Thank you. How is Sean?” She sips the black magic that is giving a red tint to her cheeks.
“Fine. Even gave me an extra hug when I dropped him off….but, you still have some detective work to do.”
“I’m sorry. I thought he was out of my life.” She leans against Gabe.
“I’m sure it’s nothing. Just Sean’s imagination. I’m gonna take the twins to the gym with me.” He takes the cup out of her hands. “I’ll fill this up for you.”
“I didn’t finish it yet.”
He stands. “You’ll never get out of bed if I leave it with you.” He winks as the chorus of “daddy, daddy” can be heard down the hall. “I’m really starting to like thunderstorms. Not only do you make me forget that they reminded me of imminent death and chaos of the desert, but you can yell my name louder than you usually can.” He shuts the door before Beth throws a pillow at him.
Beth knocks on her former mother-in law’s door before entering. The kitchen is warm, always ready for a guest.
“Yra tai, kad jūs, Kai?” The voice comes from another room on the first floor.
Beth closes her eyes at the sound of his name and the Lithuanian it is spoken in. This nightmare is becoming reality. She swallows and takes a deep breath before answering. “No, it’s just me…I brought bacon buns.” Beth hold the box up as the grease oozes through. “I could use some tea though.”
Stunned as she enters the threshold of the kitchen, Mary quickly corrects herself. “I apologize. I still forget he’s gone sometimes, you know. Sit and I’ll get us some tea.” She take the box from Beth.
Beth removes her coat and places it on a chair and the car keys on the table.
“Please, dear sit, and let me get you one of these buns. You’re wasting away.”
“Sleep seems more important than eating these days, I guess.” Beth’s eyes dart around the kitchen as she sits.
“Sean is getting so big. And he’s so smart.” Mary places fine tea cups on the table. “He’s just as smart …” she hesitates.
“He is. I think he’s even smarter than Kai was.” She desperately wanted to use the word is to gauge Mary’s reaction.
Mary brings a jar of tea bags to the table. “Let’s give the water a minute to boil.”
As usual, Mary does not mention Gabriel, little Gabe, Grace, or Emily. While they all grew up in Southie, Gabe grew up that dirty Irish punk in the Mary Ellen McCormack Housing Projects in the shadows of the ghost of some of South Boston’s most notorious criminals only to become a decorated Army Major and semi-famous author. Kai on the other hand, was a good first generation Lithuanian American who robbed from the collection at St. Peter’s Church and grew up to be a defense contractor who would have a complete change of character after the marriage certificate was signed.
“How is work?”
“Busy, as usual. After I grade the midterms, Gabe and the kids and I are going to his sister’s in Florida. It will be nice to feel some sun for a change before winter sets in.
The subject draws Beth back to the stove where the water is just beginning to boil. “You work hard, you deserve it.” She bring the kettle to the table and pours the water into the blue tea cups.
“Where are you off to next dear?” Mary stares at Beth while she hastily pours.
“I wasn’t in a rush, really. Actually have part of the day to myself.” She adds copious amounts of sugar to the generic, stale tea. “Did I interrupt something?”
“No, well, some of the ladies from the church are coming over this afternoon. I wanted to have the house ready for them.” Mary sits and dabs the tea bag in and out of the water.
Beth swirls the tea around with her spoon. “Well, actually, I did have something to talk to you about.” She places the spoon next to the cup in an almost choreographed move, then picks up the tea and sips it. She almost chokes on the sugary concoction. “But, it’s important so I can come back. Maybe tomorrow?”
“Is everything alright dear? Mary’s knuckles are turning white as she holds her tea cup.
“Everything is fine. Really. I apologize for not calling first.” Beth stands and picks up the car keys. “Please share the pastries with your church group.”
Mary stands as Beth rushes to the door.
“Thank you for the tea. I’ll call tomorrow, if that’s okay?”
“You don’t have to rush off.” Says Beth, as she now ushers Mary to the door.
But Beth is off down the sidewalk to the car, to wait.
Beth doesn’t have to endure the aftermath of the bitterly sweet tea long before she recognizes the figure walking up the block past her car. He may have his hood pulled up over his head with shades covering his blue eyes, but he has his hands shoved into his pockets and walks with a smooth, almost mesmerizing gait.
The slick engineer she fell in love with, became the psychopathic liar who didn’t have to put on hand on her body to harm her. His abrupt personality change once they married never alluded her inquisition. Beth was happy to blame it on a psychological disorder or even a brain tumor as opposed to admit she was duped by an abusive man who wanted nothing more than someone to control.
Once he is inside the house, Beth takes a deep breath and mutters to herself, “Well, what about that? I left my coat and cell phone inside her house.” A second deep breath and Beth gets out of the car.
This time Beth does not knock but walks right into the house. “So sorry Mary, I seemed to have forgotten my coat.” Beth walks up to a very shocked Kai. “You must be John.”
“Beth, this isn’t the time to get upset.” Mary seems to even question herself with the statement.
“Elisabeth.” Kai rocks back and forth on his feet. “Mom, can we…”
Mary is quick to exit the room.
“Sit?” He pulls out a chair and waits until Beth is seated before he does the same. He leans his elbows on the table and lowers his head. He speaks very low. “I didn’t have a choice.”
Beth remains with her back to the chair, she is careful not to cross her arms and places her hands on her lap. She stares at the Kai’s unblinking, azure eyes.
“What do you mean you met with him?” Pearl Jam’s Yellow Ledbetter hits the guitar solo as Gabe slams his glass of scotch down onto his wooden writing desk. Gabe takes his glasses off and places them on the table. He sighs, places his elbows on the desk rests his face against his folded hands. He glances up at Beth. Gabe bites his lower lip, places both his arms on the chair rest, and tilts his head back before answering. “What did he tell you?” The dying sun reflects orange tones across the room, making it unclear just how red Gabe’s face really is.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me you saw him?” She stomps her foot and balls her fists.
Gabe quickly stands and rushes to her, pointing his finger in her face. “Because I couldn’t. He shouldn’t have even said anything to you. That was classified.” He turns his back to her.
“None of this makes sense, Gabriel. I admit I don’t really know what Kai did as a contractor and now I’m not even sure what you were doing over there.” Beth walks to the couch and sits down, running her hands through her hair before falling back into the soft cushions.
Gabe turns. “What did he tell you?” He sighs out his aggression and moves next to Beth on the couch.
She crosses her arms. “Nothing that made sense. That he had no choice and that this time it was really goodbye.”
Gabe’s mouth twitches. Then he opens his mouth but seems to be searching for the appropriate words.
“You knew he was alive, Gabriel.” She sits and turns to her husband. “I don’t know why you couldn’t tell me…”
“What else did he tell you?” Gabe asks impatiently. “Everything.” The music has ended and the word everything seems to echo loudly through the room.
Beth looks at the floor and gathers her memory of the scattered conversation. “He didn't apologize.” She stammers as she continues. “He said he never had a choice. That while he did love me, he couldn’t. He kept saying that. He never had a choice.” Beth pauses.
Beth rubs her temples. “I didn’t tell him I was unaware that you two saw each other. He said he didn’t realize it was you in Kabul until it was too late for him. Then he told me to never tell Kai about him.” She stops and the silence is overwhelming.
Gabe leans forward. “He’s going away for good this time.”
“And how do you know?” Her sarcasm is not taken well.
Gabe glares at her. “Because the issue has been dissolved.”
“What the hell does that mean? What does any of this mean, Gabe?”
Gabe stands and walks over to the window, looking as if he is checking to make sure no one is standing outside listening even though it’s dark out. “His real name is John André Dovchenko. Long story short, Mary inadvertently adopted a Russian spy in training. You gave him citizenship and closed the circle on what the Russians were looking for.” He turns to her.
“You’re joking.” She stands. “Gabriel…”
“He didn’t have a choice. When he left you he didn’t know what he was getting into. The way he treated you, it was a part of his training. He thought the contracting company was toughening him up for his deployment. It was all a set up."
Beth closes her eyes and lets out a deep breath. “I really don’t understand any of this.”
Gabriel walks closer to her and puts his hands on her shoulders. “My mission was to find people trying to gain control of the poppy trade, in person, online accounts in the dark web. Kai was working both sides. He was sold to the foreign intel service like an indentured servant before he was born. His real father owed some debts to someone in government. When I found that out, we … I convinced him to work for us as well. ”
“Like the KGB?” Beth shakes her head side to side not believing the words she is saying.
“Sort of. He’s back because someone doxed him to both sides.”
Beth looks confused.
“Doxed. Someone revealed his identity. I’m guessing he’s home to say goodbye because he has to go underground or …” He takes her face in his hands. “I did some research while you were out today.”
“But...Sean? He’s safe?”
The darkness has enveloped them. “I told you. The issue is dissolved.”