The Melanie Chronicles (3 page)

"You can stay with me as long as you want," John said and eased into the far right lane.

She nodded. Paul Young's raspy voice slithered from the radio speakers, imploring his lover to stay for good this time. Melanie leaned forward and turned up the volume, murmured along with Paul Young and kept her eyes on the road. Being with John again, sitting so close to him and stealing glances from time to time, felt so right. Even with the awkwardness, she was glad to be there with him.

“When I was in the hospital...after the miscarriage, I made a list on a napkin of the people I wanted to see first,” she said suddenly. “And you headed the list. I’d lost Alex’s baby but you were the only person I wanted to talk to.”

John kept his eyes on the road. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was for everything he’d ever done that had pushed her away. He’d tried to so many times and got it wrong. Even when he’d gone to Stockholm thinking he could change her mind, he’d screwed it up.

He’d flown there expecting her to fall into his arms, see the error of her ways but Melanie was still besotted enough with Alex to ignore the fragility of their relationship.   Alex was too smooth, too aware of the affect he had on women to appreciate Melanie. Even during the awkward dinner party he’d arranged when John showed up, it was obvious that Melanie was a nice accessory for Alex--the exotic African American girlfriend--but she was never going to be a permanent fixture in his life. The other guests, all lithe Scandinavians with names like Jens, Astrid, Andreas and Villem and clad in expensive clothes that were just a little too perfect. They spoke a mixture of Swedish and English out of deference to John and Melanie. He’d sat across the table from them, watching how casually Alex slung his arm around Melanie’s shoulder, how she turned to smile up at him but his eyes trained on another woman.

Months later, when his cousin Maria told him Melanie was pregnant he’d given up on believing she’d ever come back to him. Too many things and people had got in the way. But then she called him late one night and whispered from across the ocean that she and Alex were over. The baby was the only thing holding them together and now she was gone...a miscarriage. Any attempts at salvaging their relationship would be futile. “All I keep thinking about is you,” she said through the distance. “I keep thinking about you and the baby we never had.”

John had listened as she told him how she wanted to come home. She was an alien in Stockholm. She couldn’t find her footing, she couldn’t see any point any longer in staying. “When I hang up, I’m going to buy a ticket back to Philadelphia.”

She didn’t say she was coming home to him but he’d hoped she was. Even with all the regrets they had, he could not picture his life with someone else. she'd fantasized about John being the father. The baby she’d and regretted aborting the child they'd conceived together.


And now she was sitting beside him again and he was giving her sidelong glances while an uncertain, boyish grin lit up his tanned face. She'd missed his tentativeness, how he rarely assumed that he was wanted. Alex had been too smooth, too aware of his own beauty to have the shy boyishness that John never lost, even when he'd seen the effect he had on people.

"I missed you so much," she murmured without realizing that the words had actually been said. But she didn't regret saying them, it felt right.

"I missed you too." He smiled at her then focused on the road again.

They were driving along Spruce Street now, passing their old stomping grounds of Penn's campus. The trees lining the street were lush with dark green foliage in spite of the heavy heat that weighed at their branches. This was where it had all started. Where she'd first met him and known from the very beginning that he was the one she'd always want to be with.


His apartment still looked the same, even though he'd tried to brighten it up with a crimson sofa and a rust and saffron-colored rug in the living room. Somehow, the fact that everything was nearly the same comforted Melanie. She'd been afraid that there would still be traces of Chloe, but John had managed to hold on to the simple charm he preferred. Chloe may have tried to live there, but she hadn't left her mark anywhere that Melanie could see. While John took her suitcases to the bedroom, she looked around, hoping not to see anything that would remind her of Chloe, no forgotten perfume bottles or silk scarves. She glanced in his office at the Wall of Days with its photos of their college days; she was still there, still sitting in that Adirondack chair, holding John's squirming Jack Russell on her thighs and beaming for the camera. Melanie smiled and covered her mouth. Then she followed John into the bedroom and watched as he put her bags in the walk-in closet.

She purposefully didn't look at the bed. Perhaps he wouldn't want to rush into a sexual relationship again. Maybe for him, this was all a platonic arrangement he'd offer to any friend in need. Then again, the space between them burned with unspoken, unanswered questions. Each time he glanced over his shoulder at her, she saw those questions clouding his brow, then he'd grin at her and they'd vanish for a little while.

But for the time being, small talk sufficed.

"Did they give you any hassles at passport control?"

She shook her head no. "It's wasn't so bad."

"Did Alex take you to the airport?"

"Yeah, it was a little weird, though. It was like we didn't even know each other anymore. But I guess that's what happens when you leave someone and you know it's for good."

John closed the closet door and walked over to her.

"It would've happened sooner or later," he said and shoved his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. He shrugged then smiled shyly.

For a moment, she tightened inside. A part of her was still afraid that he would tell her that tomorrow he was leaving her again, or that Chloe was on her way and that Melanie would have to go away again. But she steeled herself and smiled up at him. Then she did what she'd wanted to do since she saw him in the airport: she slid her arms around his waist and kissed him on the mouth. She pressed her lips to his and felt his open and his tongue trace her lower lip. A little moan escaped. She felt his hands cup her face, the roughness of his fingers on her cheeks and sliding into her hair. He pulled back and stared hard at her with eyes that she knew held some of the questions she couldn't answer yet.

Her breath caught in her throat as she began to undress him. John reached forward and undid her belt, then fumbled with the tiny buttons on her sweater. They both laughed nervously. She wondered if this was what all reunited lovers felt when they knew that the love they'd felt was too great to restrain. The rush of warmth and the lightheadedness, the strange ache to be kissed and touched even when you knew you should take it slow.

By the time they were both naked and she could drink him in, Melanie was prickly hot with the desire she'd always felt for him. There'd been nights when she and Alex were together and all she saw beneath her was John. She pulled him to the bed and pushed him down. Before he could grab at her, she climbed on top of him and slid him inside of her and rode him until he bucked beneath her and she'd tired herself out. She'd needed to be on top, wanted to look down at his beautiful face and see that the dark blue eyes staring up at her weren't the cold pale of Alex's, that the honey-hued arm that reached out its hand to squeeze her breast still had her name tattooed on it in small slanted letters. Each time she leaned forward to kiss him or suck on his lower lip, he held her so tight and so close she thought she'd melt into him. Even though she could feel the jet lag closing in on her and wrapping itself round her like tendrils of wet heavy seaweed, she wouldn't give in. She wanted more. Then she let him take over.


He didn't expect it. He wanted it, but he didn't expect it. They made love and then fell asleep curled around each other. Now the sun had gone down and his bedroom was dark. He wanted to see her, but didn't want to wake her by turning on the bedside lamp so he traced his fingers softly over her face. She murmured in her sleep, kissed his fingertips without waking. He pulled the covers up around her and settled down again. When they'd first started dating, they took naps together in the middle of the afternoon and he'd always wake to find her watching him and smiling. At first it had made him feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, but now he understood why she'd liked it: watching someone you love sleep and imagining what they dream, remembering the things you've done with that person and the silly smile it brings you.

In the year that they'd been apart, he'd missed her terribly and regretted that he'd let Chloe come between them. Most of all, he regretted that he'd been so blind to how deeply he'd hurt her and that she'd ever gone away. Maria had been right all along when she'd called him a coward for letting Melanie go. He'd known from the very first time he kissed her in the dark stairwell of her dormitory that Melanie was the one he'd always want.

"Do you want to call your mother and let her know you're back?" John was sitting Indian-style on the bed facing Melanie who was still lying down; her dark hair fanned out on the pillow in silky ringlets.

She shook her head. "Not yet. I don't want to see anyone else right now. You haven't told Maria that I'm back, have you?"

"No," he said and stretched out his legs. "I didn't think you wanted her to know yet."

"I like it the way it is," Melanie sat up and crawled over to John. She kissed the tip of his nose. "I almost wish we didn't have to tell anyone where I was."

"We could go away together for awhile. Nobody's at the summer house."

"No, I just want to stay here with you."

"How long will you stay with me?"

Melanie settled onto his lap and buried her face in the crook of his neck. She'd always liked that spot, it always smelled warm and natural.

"I don't know. Until you get tired of me or I get tired of you."

He grinned and tightened his arms around her.

It was late enough in the evening that the street lamps were lit and glowing orange against the black summer sky. Through the open bedroom window came the sounds of the street below: a woman's soft, resonant voice singing a song about the color of the sky; strains of vibrant calypso music, bursts of staccato laughter.

John nearly forgot there was a world outside.



Getting It Right



It's almost nine-thirty, and Lily and I are sitting in the backseat of a taxi speeding along the Expressway. We're on our way to meet her grandmother, Nan Cavannaugh, at the preschool Nan has hand-selected. It's a tony sort of place in Chestnut Hill that calls itself a country day school though it's hardly in the countryside. Of course the name and location give it panache, which explains the two year-plus waiting list. My husband's godmother is on the board of governors for the school. Nan cooed this to me on the phone when she told me Lily had been accepted.

"Of course Ellie Ballantine pulled a few strings since it's John's daughter being considered and not just any child," she'd said and I imagined her chest puffing up with pride like some bird ready to preen and strut as a part of its mating ritual.

Afterwards, all I remembered was how she enunciated John's daughter. And the exclusion of my name unnerved me a little.

Beside me, Lily squirms. "It smells funny in here," she grumbles as she picks at the dusty rose corduroy dress, a gift from her aunt Maria.

Lily doesn't like wearing dresses but she knows today is important so she's suffered through having her unruly dark hair combed and pulled back into two relatively tamed ponytails. She's even relented to wearing socks and shoes. At home, she refuses to wear socks no matter how cold it is. She says she likes how the hardwood floors scratch her bare feet. She'll only wear socks if John does so. Lily is a tomboy at heart. Left to her own devices, she'll dig holes in our backyard in search of worms and slugs. John has taken her to enough baseball games that she knows the entire starting lineup of the Phillies and makes up songs about her favorite players. Now that football season will soon commence she's keen to sit in the stands with her father, bundled up in an Eagles sweatshirt and scarf, drinking hot chocolate and cheering for the home team.

"Where are we going?" she asks as Boathouse Row disappears from view. She kicks the back of the driver's seat. The cabdriver, a young Jamaican man who hasn't spoken more than two words to us since he picked us up, glares at us in the rearview mirror.

I tap her chubby legs and whisper, "Don't do that, sweetie."

"Are we going to visit Nana?"

"After we've been at school, yes."

"I don't want to go to school," she announces in a voice that sounds imperious coming out of a four-year-old body. "Daddy already taught me how to count and how to say my ABCs."

"This will be fun though, Lily," I assure her. "You'll meet new friends there--"

"I don't want new friends, I want to go to school with Corey and Moesha." These are Lily's best friends. They live on Saint Mark's Square and go to a preschool just a block away from where we live, the preschool John and I had agreed Lily would also attend.

But Nan wouldn't hear of her great-granddaughter attending a school that wasn't in the top ten of Philadelphia Magazine's Best Schools in the City list. She told me we had to start early in making sure Lily met the right sort of people: the right sort of people being these moneyed friends of Nan's and their offspring's offspring. Nan has convinced herself that the idea of Lily going to any other school would hinder her chances of an Ivy League education. John laughed at his grandmother's worries and reminded her that Lily was only four. But that just led to a long rant on the many pre-pre-school programs we should have enrolled Lily in from the day she was born.

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