On the Bookshelf: On the Big White Oak by Corrine Coleman

Adam had been watching Khloe. She was playing with the little boy. It
was poignant, for it reminded him of his childhood – with Marian.
Every time Khloe would try to put a puzzle piece in the wrong spot, the
boy, Alec, would explain to her why it was not correct. Adam found it
funny that Khloe seemed to be learning from the boy, but continue,
stubbornly, to place the pieces incorrectly.

He observed Delia interacting with them. She seemed lost in the puzzle
herself and was not very good at it. She was smiling – her hand frequently
touching Khloe’s – sometimes Alec’s. Every few minutes she would look
back at him and catch him watching her. She wanted him to watch her,
now, in this moment. Why?

More than once, Khloe got up to grab Michael’s hand and show him
what she’d done. She used to do this with himself. Only recently, he
noticed that behavior begin to diminish. Michael was becoming close with
her – very close. He wondered what this meant.

Delia laughed, then, and his attention was turned back to her. So happy,
she was, to be playing with these children – as if they were her own. And
her beauty seemed perfectly suited next to the little girl who was just as
pretty. What a perfect match they seemed – as mother and daughter. But
they weren’t. Delia would never be a mother.

He had been a bit short with his wife, lately, impatient. He found himself
getting annoyed at the little things. She didn’t do much all day – had
she always been so boring? The thought wasn’t very nice, he knew, but
it irked him that he worked so hard and she did nothing but spend his
money. She spoke of going back to school or work – but didn’t take any
initiative to do anything. Sometimes, when he came home from work
and asked her how she spent her day, she truly didn’t have an answer.
The other night she told him she purchased a flower pot. It still stood on
the counter, not potted.

He felt guilty, now, about his feelings. He didn’t know where they were
stemming from. He loved Delia, greatly. All that he had done for her! He
had given up his dreams of a family. He had given up his own daughter. And
sometimes, lately, he wondered if she were worth it? Was he so blinded by her
beauty that he disregarded everything else? Maybe he was searching for the
other qualities she possessed, qualities that made her who she was.
He scolded himself, Adam, you’re being unfair. Delia was a good woman.
Good and kind and always thoughtful of others. She loved him dearly and
took good care of him and their home.

He heard Michael beside him, talking about something to do with his
shop – and he nodded to prove he was listening. But he was watching his
daughter, afraid that he was losing her. Isn’t it your own fault?

“So Adam,” Rosa called from across the room – her eyes intently focused
on him, “How’s work?”

Sometimes, he wondered if she knew. If, maybe, Marian had told her. She
wouldn’t do that. She doesn’t like to let her down.
’“Work’s fine, thank you,
Rosa,” Adam answered quickly.

Marian brought the cake out, then, and everyone stood up to sing Happy
Birthday. Michael lifted Khloe up to help her blow out the candles.
Everyone was smiling. Everyone, except Adam.

Later that night, Delia came in from the kitchen with a glass of wine for
him. He preferred beer – she knew that – but still, she managed to bring
him wine, as if that action could force his taste buds to change their
minds.

“Thank you,” he said, sighing. He leaned against the couch, watching her.

She smiled at him and sat beside him. She wanted something.

“What is it?” he asked her and she shrugged.

“Nothing. Do I need a reason to sit beside my husband?” And she kissed
him on the cheek, moving closer to him. She wants to make love, he
thought. He decided he wanted to, as well. Surely it would relax him – if
the wine, itself, didn’t.

He caressed her hair and she searched his eyes. With the exception of two
times – the first time and the first time since the hospital, Delia never made
the first move. Signals, she gave, but she would never simply grab him
or begin undressing him. She hinted around the subject and waited for
him to come to her. He moved his body on top of hers and she lay back,
beneath him.

He unbuttoned her blouse and felt her body begin to writhe. It was familiar
– he knew exactly how to touch her. Within seconds her bra was off and
he was pulling down her pants. One leg, then the other. Always the same
– and he was inside of her. She moaned, softly, and he kissed her, his mind
on other things. When it was over, she was elated and smiled up at him,
noticing his demeanor. “What’s wrong?” she asked and he smiled back at
her, dressing.

“Nothing, sweetie, why do you ask?”

She shrugged, “Did you…?” and she was asking if he had finished. He hadn’t
– and it was unusual, because no matter what, he was always able to.

“Yes, of course,” he said, but she wasn’t convinced and her expression was
changed. He turned the television on and she snuggled close to him. He
put his arm around her, pulling her near. This felt nice.

“Adam?”

He turned to her, “Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking about it – and I was wondering, do you still want to
adopt?”

Adam was a bit taken back by the question. Did she?

“Why do you ask? I thought the subject was closed,” he said and she
shrugged.

“I’ve been thinking about it – and, it’s not the ideal solution. Adopting,
that is. Not to me, at all. But it’s selfish for me to say the subject is closed.
If you want to adopt, Adam, I’m ready to talk about it. I know we would
be great parents.”

Great parents. A great father. He shook his head. “No. I don’t want to
adopt,” he said simply and she seemed stunned. Tears began filling her
eyes, but she didn’t cry.

“You don’t?” she asked and he realized, with his honesty, he had shaken her.
Surely she’d be wondering a million things now, simply because of this.

He held her hand, softly, “I’m happy as we are,” he said trying to take the
edge off of his words. He kissed her.

She seemed to think of it.

He continued, “We have a good life,” and he believed it, “We do things.
We go out. We make love whenever we want. It’s very romantic, if you ask
me. We can travel.”

“But we really don’t – travel, that is,” she said, then. “Adam, can I ask –
what made you change your mind?”

He looked at her, shrugging, “I never made a big issue about adopting,
Delia.”

“No, but you did mention it. More than once. And I know you – you didn’t
push it because of me. If I had said yes then, you would have jumped at
the chance. What’s changed?”

Adam shrugged, “We’re older now, Delia. I don’t think I have the
patience.”

“It wasn’t that long ago, Adam.”

Was she trying to start an argument with him? She doesn’t want to adopt,
so what’s the difference if he does or not?

“Delia – I suppose seeing Marian with Khloe, it made me realize how much
work it is – to raise children. Not that we couldn’t do it – it’s just, I’m content
as we are. You and I – that’s enough. Do you not agree? Are you unhappy?”
and he turned it on her, a little, disapproving of his tiny manipulation.

She ran her fingers through his hair, “Of course I’m happy with you,
Adam. I was just wondering,” and she was silent for a moment and began
watching television. Adam flicked the channels, “Would you like to watch
a show?” he asked her.

“You would tell me, right,” Delia said then, “If you ever change your
mind?”

Adam kissed her, nodding, “Of course. We’re still very young,” he said,
then realized he had contradicted himself. First he had said they were older,
now they were very young. He knew she had caught on to it, but she said
nothing and they didn’t speak of it the rest of the night.


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