***TW: Mention of SA, Abortion, and Miscarriage***
Steam rushed into the air as the boiling water poured from the kettle into Kit’s teacup, the teabag bobbing in the water as it filled to the brim, turning the water into an amber hue. Kit inhaled, relishing the smell of the Irish Breakfast tea. Anastasia’s home was quiet, peaceful, far removed from the noise of the French Quarter down below. Kit sat at a barstool at the island counter, peering through the window above the sink, from which she could see the Mississippi River glistening beneath the June sun.
“I would’ve done that for you,” Anastasia said, a little out of breath as she returned from rushing up and down the stairs cleaning up after her cat, which had thrown up in various parts of the house.
“I couldn’t wait,” Kit said, stirring milk into her tea and eagerly taking a sip.
“One of those mornings, eh?”
“You have no idea,” Kit released a heavy sigh. “I hope I didn’t interrupt your plans this morning.”
“Oh, no, not at all. My only plans included lying around doing nothing. Who knows? I might go crazy later and work on a thousand-piece puzzle.” Anastasia fixed her own cup of tea, then leaned against the counter in front of Kit, blowing on her chai to cool it before drinking.
“Hey, sounds good to me,” Kit chuckled.
“Did something happen? You sounded upset when you called this morning.”
“I just needed to get out of the house for a bit.”
“Nick hasn’t hurt you?” Anastasia’s voice was soft, and genuine concern reflected in her eyes.
“No. He just has this tendency to be a bit…”
“A bit of a dick?”
“Yes, he does,” Anastasia raised her eyebrows. “Nick the Dick, that’s what Aubrey and I call him. Oh, no offense.”
Kit smiled despite herself, wiping away the red stain her lips had left behind on the white mug. She sipped her tea, thinking of Michael, still trying to believe that he was gone. She set the tea down on the granite countertop, thinking how she and Michael used to have mugs just like the one she drank out of now. The little cup brought back a wellspring of memories, and Kit worried they would overflow if she didn’t allow herself to grieve.
“I received some bad news this morning,” Kit fooled with the faux-pearl bracelet on her wrist as she spoke, twisting the small beads round and round, afraid she would break down or clam up if she made eye contact with Anastasia. “My ex-husband, uh, Michael. He passed away a few days ago. June eighteenth.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah. Nick’s the one who told me about it. He saw something on the news–Michael’s mother is Eleanor O’Rourke,” Kit paused. Anastasia showed no signs of knowing that name, so Kit explained, “she’s the democratic senator for Illinois. So her kids get a bit of press now and then, so Michael’s death was mentioned, and Nick just oh-so-casually announced his death as though he were reading the weather forecast. In fact, his exact phrase was that Michael ‘bought the farm.’”
“Ugh, classy,” Anastasia rolled her eyes as she sipped her tea.
“And it’s like he was almost angry that I was upset by the news. As if I’m not meant to give a shit just because Michael and I aren’t together anymore.”
“I mean, what kind of a thing is that to say to a person? Someone I used to love, someone I was intimate with dies at the age of thirty-two, and Nick doesn’t see a problem with breaking the news to me by saying Michael bought the fucking farm?”
“Yes, well, Nicholas is not known for his tact and decorum,” Anastasia said, then, after a pause, “not by those who know him personally, anyway.”
Kit shook her head, twisting her engagement ring around her finger until the skin beneath it grew red from irritation. The oven beeped, indicating the cinnamon rolls were ready. Anastasia turned to retrieve them and, in the process of moving them from the oven to the cold stovetop, tripped over her own feet and sent the cinnamon rolls and the baking sheet clattering to the kitchen floor. Anastasia frowned at Kit, who stifled a laugh.
“Well,” Anastasia sighed. Kit helped her clean up the mess, then Anastasia said there was a new recipe she wanted to try, if Kit didn’t mind waiting. “It’s smoked salmon eggs benedict.”
“Sounds fancy,” Kit said.
“I’m in a fancy sort of mood. That said, if this fails, we’re just going to Cafe du Monde.”
“In the meantime, would you like to see my library?” Anastasia asked, eyes lighting up. “I’ve spent all week organizing it, and I kept thinking I’d like to show you when I finished.”
“I’d love to,” Kit said, following Anastasia upstairs. She gasped when they entered the newly-organized library. “It’s amazing!” she gushed.
“I’m pretty proud of it,” Anastasia leaned against the doorframe, cradling her cup of tea in her hands and watching with amused satisfaction as Kit looked around in open-mouthed wonder. Wall-to-wall books lined the room from floor to ceiling, the only empty space belonging to a window that overlooked the Mississippi River.
“Oh, I could easily spend all weekend in here,” Kit moved around the room, eyes hungrily searching the titles displayed on the books’ spines. “I’d probably forget to eat and everything.”
“I nearly did just that while I was putting it all together. In fact, I’ve barely glanced at this week’s script, so if we get to set tomorrow and I know none of my lines, this is why.”
“Are these arranged alphabetically?” Kit asked.
“Yeah. I’m a touch anal. All the books in that middle section are fiction, so they’re arranged by author. Then the wings on the left and the right are non-fiction, arranged by subject.”
“Marry me,” Kit said to Anastasia, who laughed and rolled her eyes as she sipped the last of her tea. She said,
“Feel free to hang out and peruse while I cook. I’ll come get you when it’s ready.”
“Okay,” Kit said, her attention already back on the myriad books in front of her. Kit ventured to the left wall, where non-fiction books were located. She found a book about stoic philosophy that struck her fancy and she sat on the couch prepared to peruse, per Anastasia’s instruction. While attempting to pull the ottoman closer to her to prop her feet up, she accidentally pulled the top off.
“Whoops,” Kit muttered. Inside were more books, not neatly arranged like those on display, but dumped haphazardly as if Anastasia had been in a rush to forget them. On closer inspection, all of the books hidden away inside the ottoman were of a self-help nature, with various titles about seeking happiness and being at peace with oneself. There were several titles regarding healing from trauma. At the bottom of the pile was a plain white book entitled “The SASH.” Kit’s stomach flipped upon opening the book and seeing the title page: The Sexual Assault Survivor’s Handbook. A guided journal to help rape victims on the path to healing.
Beneath the title was a handwritten message: I thought this might help. If you’re not interested in the journal bit (I think you should try it fyi…), at least look in the back. There’s an index of phone numbers and addresses for crisis centers, therapists, and attorneys, organized by state. I love you so much and I want to help you get better. Never hesitate to call me. 🤍Aubrey xxx.
“Oh,” Anastasia’s voice from the hallway made Kit jump. She shoved the books back into the footstool and stood, her cheeks flushing as she stood.
“Yep,” Anastasia turned on her heel and headed downstairs, Kit following behind in ashamed silence, mind switching between guilt for having snooped and horror at the knowledge that Anastasia had been assaulted.
“Please,” Kit said as she resumed her seat at the counter. “Anastasia–”
“I don’t want to discuss it.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to pry, honestly.”
“Forget it,” Anastasia slid Kit’s tea to her alongside a plate of smoked salmon eggs benedict.
“Okay. Thank you, this looks delicious.”
The women ate and drank in silence, Kit stealing furtive glances at Anastasia, trying to read her emotions. Something brewed behind her stormy green eyes, but the rest of her face was, as always when she wasn’t acting, unreadable.
As she waited for Anastasia to break the uncomfortable silence, Kit’s mind went into overdrive. What happened to Anastasia was none of her business, but a creeping feeling in the pit of Kit’s stomach warned her that her own fiance might have been the perpetrator. She didn’t think he was capable, but then that was the first thing anyone said about their neighborhood criminal. He was so normal, so likeable. He went to church on Sundays and raised money for children’s cancer charities. A pillar of the community.
Unable to take the silence anymore, Kit said, “I hope I didn’t ruin our friendship.”
“Don’t be silly,” Anastasia said, near a whisper, eyes fixed on her food.
“I know it’s none of my business, but, can I ask one question?”
“If you must.”
Kit nodded. She thought back to that morning, when Anastasia asked if Nick had hurt Kit. The concern–almost fearful–in her eyes and the nervousness in her voice brought Kit to the same conclusion. Going back further, Aubrey warned Kit to stay away from him, but when Kit pressed, Aubrey wouldn’t give away any details, simply saying he was “bad news.”
As for Anastasia, she never said a word about him, yet he seemed oddly fixated on her, becoming uncomfortable, agitated, and angry when Kit started befriending her. Then there was everything that happened before Kit arrived. The interview Nick gave to a trashy tabloid, claiming he had been in love with Anastasia, that they had carried on a secret relationship for a year, and that she aborted their baby without ever telling him of its existence. All of that had enraged Kit back then, making her feel for Nick and despise Anastasia. Anastasia refused to talk publicly about him or anything else besides the character she portrayed and the soap in which they all acted. In her private circles, however, she maintained that she and Nick were never an item. They were coworkers, nothing more. As for the pregnancy and the abortion…
Kit rubbed her eyes, suddenly exhausted. She knew the answer before she asked, yet she thought she owed it to Anastasia and herself to avoid jumping to conclusions.
“Was it Nick?”
Anastasia nodded. “Sorry,” her voice cracked and her hands shook slightly as she lifted her teacup to her lips.
“You have nothing to be sorry about!”
“I should’ve told you.”
“Hey, you are not my keeper. I’m the one who should be apologizing, going through your personal stuff. Besides, you tried to tell me to stay away from him. You and Aubrey both did.”
“I should have pushed, though. I should’ve just told you the truth. All that time, he could’ve done the same to you.”
“But he didn’t,” Kit spoke softly. “He didn’t. It’s okay. And I know now, so I can get out.”
“You can stay with me, if you want. Until you sort something out,” Anastasia sniffled as she regained her composure.
“Okay. If you’re sure. Anastasia, I am so sorry.”
“It’s in the past.”
“Can I just ask–have you reported him?”
“I did. He got off.”
“No evidence,” Anastasia shrugged, her face sad, resigned.
“We should at least get him fired, if nothing else! You shouldn’t have to work with him every day. That’s torture!”
“I know it is. I’ve actually been thinking of leaving.”
“Oh, don’t. Not because of him.”
“It’s not because of him. I’m ready to move on, try other things. I’m also ready to move onto other things in this conversation, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course. Sorry. Can we talk about Michael?” Kit ventured. Anastasia nodded, sipping her chai and settling into a stool next to Kit.
“Tell me about him,” Anastasia’s voice was warm and inviting as she rested her head against her fist, her elbow propped up on the countertop. “I assume the split was fairly amicable, given that you clearly still care for him.”
“The split was amicable enough, yeah. The marriage, not so much.”
“We were young, we were dumb, we got married because I was pregnant, and we started to fall apart pretty soon thereafter. Tale as old as time, hey?”
“You were pregnant?”
“Yeah,” Kit smiled sadly, looking down at the rim of her cup. “A little boy. Sam. Long story short, we were in a car accident and, I don’t know if that was necessarily the cause, but I miscarried. I was pretty far along, so I had to deliver him.”
“Oh, no,” Anastasia covered her face. “Oh, I can’t imagine anything worse than that.”
Kit resisted the urge to hug her right then. Surely, she thought, what Anastasia had been through was worse, but there was no use in comparing grief. She sipped her tea, savoring the warmth and bitterness, and said, “suffice it to say our marriage didn’t survive the miscarriage. I never really got over Sam. I doubt I ever will. And I guess that’s why Michael will always be part of me, in one way or another, because we had a child together. Just because he never drew breath doesn’t mean he never existed, or that he doesn’t matter.”
“No, of course not.”
“And that’s partially why I was so quick to judge you, before I had even met you. I heard that you had an abortion–sorry, we don’t have to talk about it.”
“I just wanted to explain. I–I mean, yes, generally, I think abortion is wrong, but it’s particularly difficult for me because I lost my baby. And it just seems unfair, you know. That women are out there getting rid when someone like me would die to give that child a home. Sorry, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I’m just–”
“I know. I get it,” Anastasia said. They were quiet for a moment, each stewing in their separate thoughts. Anastasia continued, “What I still don’t understand is how Nick even found out about the baby in the first place. No one else seems to question that minor detail. He freely admits that I never told him I was pregnant, yet somehow he knows I had this procedure?”
“Yeah,” Kit’s brow furrowed.
“And everyone is so quick to believe him, so quick to make me the villain. Hey, he’s charming. That’s how he fooled me, after all. And you.”
“Who else knew about the baby?”
“Just me, the doctor, and Aubrey. I guess the doctor must have told the press.”
“You don’t really think that?”
“Well, I don’t think Aubrey told anyone. I don’t trust a whole lot of people, but I trust her. She would never do that to me.”
“No. She wouldn’t. Your doctor, though, of all people. God, you poor thing--"
"No, please, let's not do the pity thing. I hate pity, it's useless. And I hate being seen as a victim. Promise me you will not start treating me any differently just because you know this thing about me. Okay? I am not a victim. I was, at one point, but I’m not anymore."
"Fine, but can I hate the doctor?"
"That's fine, yeah. The doctor and the press. And Nick. Fuck all of them. Cheers," Anastasia raised her teacup.
"I'll drink to that," Kit tapped her cup against Anastasia's and took a sip. “I hate that I spoke to Nick before ever speaking to you. I wasted so much time listening to his vitriol when I should have been getting to know you. I’ve been such an idiot.”
“I hate that I ever spoke to Nick, period,” Anastasia drained the rest of her tea before jumping up from her stool and going around the counter to the sink. “I’m just glad you and I have worked out our differences. And, hey, although part of me would really rather never, ever, ever speak about it again, I am–maybe not glad, exactly, but satisfied, maybe?--satisfied that you know what happened. That you know Nick is not good news, so you can get away from him.”
“Yeah,” Kit sighed, her soul heavy with the loss of Michael and the revelation of Anastasia’s ordeal. “You’re sure it’s okay if I stay here for a few days until I find a place to live?”
“Absolutely. Hey, it’ll be fun! I haven’t had a roommate since college.”
“Want to get started on that thousand-piece puzzle?” Kit asked.
“You read my mind,” Anastasia smiled. She loaded the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, then she and Kit headed upstairs together. As they walked, Kit gave a thought to Michael, wishing his soul well, wherever he was, and promised herself that she would be a good friend to Anastasia and to herself. In a roundabout sort of way, Michael saved her from Nick. Without the news of his death, without Nick angering her with the way he told her, she never would have gone to Anastasia’s house, and she never would have learned about Nick’s true nature. It was a childish way to think of things, but it brought her a little comfort thinking Michael’s soul was out there, that he had forgiven her, and that he was watching out for her.