Tanner offered me a small smile and even smaller laugh. The emotional weight of what seemed like the most important part of our history together, obviously weighed on him heavily. “Are you still sick?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No. Much to your father’s dismay, I survived. Shortly after we found out you were pregnant I got accepted into an experimental treatment program in Colorado. By the time Sammy was born I was back home and getting better every day. I still have to take some pills here and there, but the cancer is gone, and now they think I will live forever, like a vampire, or better yet, like a mutant,” he said, crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue.
I bit my lip, wondering if I should even attempt to ask him the question on the tip of my tongue. “Do you think I can see him? Sammy? Maybe spend some time with him?” I asked. “It could help me remember more,” I added, hoping it would help Tanner say yes.
He waved his hand through the air as if my question was a ridiculous one. “Of course, Ray. You’re his mom. You don’t even have to ask.” Tanner reached for my hand but just as it was about to clasp over mine he hesitated, before withdrawing it completely and resting it on his knee.
“Now can I ask you a question?” Tanner asked.
“Yes, it’s your turn,” I said.
Tanner chewed on the tip of his thumbnail. “You and the guy with the tattoos. You were living with him, right? And then when we came to get you, you guys were arguing, like you two were…” Tanner trailed off.
I didn’t want him to feel awkward so instead of forcing him to ask the difficult question, I volunteered the answer. “King. His name is Brantley King,” Saying his name made me feel like I could breathe yet, at the same time, knocked the wind from my lungs. But that was King; a contradiction in every single way.
Tanner leaned his elbows onto his thighs and dropped his face into his hands. “This is so fucking hard to ask you, Ray but I feel like I just need to know. No, I have to know,” he moaned. “Have you guys, I mean, did you…?”
I just wanted to get it over with. Rip it off like a Band-Aid. “Yes.” After all, I’d promised him honesty, not delicacy.
“Oh my God. I think I’m going to be sick,” Tanner blurted out, jumping up from the bed.
“You said you wanted me to be honest!” I exclaimed, jumping up as well. “And don’t look at me like I cheated on you. I didn’t even know there was a you to cheat on!”
Tanner shifted from foot to foot. “I know, I know what I said. But I didn’t expect your answer to break my heart!” Tanner whisper-shouted. “And I know it’s not like you cheated on me because the Ray I know would never have had sex with some strange guy she’d just met.” Tanner paced the room. He wasn’t being purposely mean, he was just upset, but it was the judgmental tone in his voice that grated on my nerves and made me regret my promise of honesty.
“Newsflash buddy, I don’t know you or the Ray you know. My name isn’t even Ray, they called me Doe. As in Jane Doe. As in nobody knew who the fuck I was. So if you want to talk about being angry and who wronged who, then get in fucking line!” I shouted.
Tanner clutched his arms around his stomach as if I’d physically socked him in the gut. “I looked for you, you know. I spent days, weeks, months. I’d never given up hope.” His voice was so low I barely heard him. He shook his head. “But you are right, I really don’t know you.”
“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” I said. I fell back into the mattress and rolled over onto my stomach, shouting my frustrations into my comforter. When I rolled back over Tanner’s jaw was on the floor.
“What?” I asked, looking down at my body to make sure I was properly clothed. Everything was in place. I stood up and checked again.
Tanner stammered. “It’s you..your..shh..shoulder. Your..ba.ba..back. You have a…tattoo,” he said in disbelief, barley able to finish his sentence.
“Okay? So?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest and resting my palm on the place where King had marked me, feeling defensive and ready to snap.
Tanner paled. “Of his name. You have a huge tattoo on your back, of his name,” he repeated. It wasn’t so much a statement, but an accusation. I didn’t feel like explaining to him that my tattoo wasn’t anyone’s name, but it was dark in my room, and the artwork was intricate, so it would’ve been easy to mistake it for something else. I took a deep breath and tried to remember that Tanner was going through something that was hard for me to understand, just as I was going through something that was hard for him to understand.