Kirsten's Tale

Written by Rachel

After the fourth season.

I didn't know I loved him the first time I saw him. It wasn't until a few weeks later. Maybe I didn't even love him then, but I thought I did. It was definitely the beginning. It happened the night I lost my keys. Owen had been playing with them in the backyard and when I went to leave they were no where to be found. I was looking for them when he came out. He asked if I was cold and then gave me his sweater. What did we talk about? I could never forget it. He told me about having his front tooth knocked out. I still don't believe that story, not with his perfect smile.

Charlie Salinger. I can hardly remember a time before him. Now, I'm not sure if I'll remember a time after him. There won't be a time after him. Finally it's happening and this time it's going to be forever. We're going to get married. I can hardly believe it is finally going to happen.

It started about three months ago. Or maybe it started last year when I moved back. Or maybe it never ended at all. But, three months ago I knew we would be together again. It was supposed to be. When he told me Daphne was pregnant it was like a knife through the heart. Anytime I hear about a woman being pregnant I can't help but feel jealous, but this was a woman who didn't even know if she wanted a baby, who had just gotten pregnant without really trying and she was having his baby, Charlie's baby. It wasn't fair. Initially I wanted nothing to do with it. Charlie would talk to me about the baby and I would pretend to be interested sometimes, other times I would just tune him out. No matter what, I didn't want to know anything about this baby. It all changed the day Daphne came to see me. She wanted to know what my intentions were.

"I see the way he looks at you and I see the way you look at him," Daphne said. The two of you aren't very secretive in the way you feel about each other," she said.

"Charlie and I are friends. We've been friends forever and we always will be," I said, the tension in the room growing with each moment.

"No, I don't think this is just friends. I think this is more and that's okay. Charlie and I aren't in this for the long haul. I know you think that's terrible, but I think it would be worse if we pretended that we love each other. I've heard Charlie talk about his mom and dad and that's what I want for our baby. Shouldn't he or she have that right, to have two parents who love each other?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I want you and Charlie to be honest with each other. I want my baby raised in a family of love and I think that you are the two that can do it," she said. I just looked at her, not knowing how to react. I was married for heaven's sake. That wasn't something I took lightly, but I did know it was something I had done in haste.

I thought long and hard after my conversation with Daphne. What would it all mean? Did Charlie love me like I still loved him? I didn't know how to bring it up. It was all too complicated. Going to him now wasn't a solution. I had to figure my own situation out before I put anything else on Charlie.

It took me about two weeks to figure out what to do. I actually discussed it with my mother. My depression and recovery had changed our relationship forever. I actually think I'm able to be more honest with her now, as if the experience had allowed me to be more free with my thoughts. We were on the phone. She was telling me about the golf tournament my dad had played in the day before when I just blurted the words out.

"I'm going to leave Paul," I said. We had been married just 20 months, but some days it felt like 20 years.

"I wondered when you would," my mom responded.

"You did? How did you know?" I asked.

"Kirsten, we've been on the phone for almost an hour. I've heard about Owen's play group, Claudia's new school, Charlie's new job, the baby, Julia's love life. You haven't mentioned Paul's name once. Besides, it was inevitable. From the moment you moved back to San Francisco it was about to happen. I'm amazed you've lasted this long."

I was stunned. It had taken me almost a year of being back in the city to be able to accept it and here was my mother telling me she had always known. Maybe that's what being a mother is all about. I wonder if you get that gift when you have a baby or when you become the mother to a child. I would never physically give birth, but I felt I already had children to whom I was the mother.

I did it that night. Paul was home for the evening. It seemed that recently our schedules never matched. I had petitioned to finish my degree at Berkeley and after review they had agreed to allow me to resubmit my dissertation for defense. I had started to spend many evenings at the library. Maybe I did know the end was in sight.

"Is that pesto?" Paul asked as he came in the kitchen. My guilty conscience made me prepare his favorite. I offered him a glass of wine, again his favorite.

He asked me about my day. I couldn't look him in the eye. This was worse than I thought it was going to be. My heart actually ached.

"Paul," I began looking at him carefully as he sat on the couch in our living room.

"What Honey?" he asked. He had a look of concern in his eyes, like I was going to say something terrible had happened and it had. At least to him.

"I can't do this anymore," I said.

"Do what?"

"This. Us. Being married, pretending we're at all happy. I never should have agreed to do it in the first place. It was unfair, but you were a lifeline. I might not be here if you hadn't pulled me out of the quagmire."

He sat silent, the wine glass in his hand now forgotten. It wasn't a surprise, but it had stunned him. I knew it had.

"This is about Charlie, isn't it?" he questioned his voice a bit angry, but more saddened.

"If it was just about Charlie it would be simple, but it isn't. It's about me and Charlie and you and the kids and the baby and everything. I'm not a good wife for you. I can't hurt you anymore," I said now breaking down in tears. He moved to sit next to me putting his arms around me. I quickly lost it. He had comforted me so many times, when I was still depressed, when my aunt Trudy died, even when I found out Charlie was sick. He was the one that had gotten me through all of it.

The rest of the conversation went pretty quickly. Paul insisted that he be the one that moved out. I didn't think it was fair, but he insisted. Within a week he was gone from my life like he had almost never been there at all. I didn't say anything to anyone but my mom. I had to figure my stuff out before I put it on anyone else.

That ended the day Charlie showed up on my steps. Not that I thought I would be able to keep the end of my relationship a secret forever.

"Hey," he said as he stood at the door, a smile on his face. That smile. It could stop me dead in my tracks any time of the day or the night. I let him in.

"So, Daphne says she talked to you," he said shrugging his jacket off and sitting down on the couch.

"Yeah, we had an interesting conversation," I answered.

"Daphne has quite a way of cutting to the chase," he responded looking around the room, at the ceiling, anywhere but at me.

"The thing about Daphne is that while she doesn't spend a lot of time on niceties, she get to the truth," I said in a more measured tone.

"So, you found some truth in what she said?" he asked.

"Some truth. Some insight. Some things I've thought or known but just didn't want to accept," I said. I wasn't even sure we were talking about the same thing. Charlie got up and walked to the window and looked out. He turned to me and looked me straight in the eye.

"So, where's Paul in all of this?" he asked.

"I don't know. I think he's living with his friend Mark," I answered.

Charlie didn't respond, he just stared.

"I didn't know how to tell you and I wasn't sure how I felt," I said quickly trying to make up for what I now perceived as a terrible mistake.

"No, that was okay. So, it's over?" he asked. He looked like he didn't believe any of what was being said.

"Charlie, it never really started. I was . . . I was wrong. I did a terrible thing and I hope someday Paul can forgive me. I was really awful to take advantage of him and his feelings."

Charlie walked over to me and took me in his arms. He was so gentle. These were arms of comfort. I felt like there would never be any better place to be. He put his hand on my chin and pulled my eyes up to his.

"So, what are we going to do?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know. I think I need to figure things out, but Charlie, I can't imagine spending my life without you. I need to know how you feel," the words escaped before I knew I felt them. Had I exposed too much of myself?

"I don't know much these days, but I know that the light at the end of the tunnel last year, when I thought I was going to die . . . it was always you. Always you," he said pulling me closer to him.

In my heart this wasn't a surprise. Instinctively I knew how he felt, but it was something else to hear it from his mouth. The thing was, I felt the same way. For all that had happened between us, he was my rock, my touchstone through all things good and bad. I loved him and he loved me.

We talked for a long time, about all kinds of things. We talked about the kids, his new job, facing life after the cancer and finally about Daphne and more importantly about the baby. Charlie didn't know what was going to happen, but as we talked it became more clear to me and I think to Charlie that we would be together, in every sense of the word.

Charlie left that day with one thing certain, it was going to be difficult. We had a lot of baggage together and separately. He had barely left the apartment when I put in a call to my therapist. I had been seeing Maggie since I had gotten back to San Francisco. I knew myself well enough to know that being back in this city would be hard from me. Talking to Maggie helped me keep the perspective to function and stay healthy.

"So how are you feeling about the break-up with Paul?" she asked in my next session.

"Actually, remarkably calm and good," I answered. "I think I've finally figured out what Paul was all about. I think he was part of my healing process. I'm not sure I would be here now without him, but I'm still feeling guilty about what I did to him."

"Can you get past that?"

"I think so. I know that I have to be with Charlie. I know that it doesn't feel like it ever did before. The cancer, my depression . . . it's changed us, matured us. We've grown so much that we're not the same people who met 4 years ago."

We talked more about the relationship, the baby and how I envisioned all of these things fitting into my life. I left that session scared, but feeling better than I had in a long time. It made me feel strong enough to head over to Pacific Heights and finally talk to Charlie. But, when I got there he was gone. There was a neighbor girl watching Owen. She said Charlie had gone to the hospital. Hospital, it could only be for one reason. Daphne was having the baby. I asked her to tell Charlie I had stopped and went home.

The next morning there was a knock at my door. I pulled my bathrobe on as I walked to the door. I couldn't imagine who would be there. I looked through the window. I couldn't believe my eyes. I opened the door.

"Janine said you stopped by yesterday. I hope it was for the reason I think," Charlie said. He had a wonderful glow on his face and in his arms was a small bundle. I just stood there for a minute and then realizing what was going on, I pulled back so he could come in the apartment.

"What? Who?" I was stunned and obviously unable to make a coherent comment.

"Her name is Elizabeth Diana Salinger," Charlie said pulling the blanket away from her sweet face. "She was born yesterday at about 11 am. Daphne and I have talked and talked and she's going to be in her life, but she's going to live with me."

He walked over to the couch and sat down. He loosened the blanket further, exposing the tiny baby. Her hair was dark brown and wispy, her eyes the brilliant blue of a newborn. I sat down next to him, gently touching her hands, feet, head. The room was silent, only the sound of our breathing was audible.

"Now, I know this isn't fair," Charlie started. He paused and then began again. "I know this isn't fair, but there was something I was going to ask you."

"What?" I asked taking my eyes from Elizabeth and looking Charlie in the eyes.

"I've asked you this before, several times, but I . . . Kirsten, I want to spend my life with you. Will you?"

I couldn't answer him. This was what I wanted, but now that it was here it seemed too overwhelming. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity until Charlie spoke again.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done it this way," he said getting up from the couch still holding the baby in his arms. "I should go."

"No," I said standing up and taking the baby from his arms. "You were right. All of this is right. For whatever reason we're met to be here, in this place, right now. I can't begin to explain it, but for some reason you, Charlie Salinger, are my destiny."

Charlie pulled both of us into his arms again. I knew that I was in the safest place I could be. I loved this man and in the last five minutes I had begun to love this child. This was where I was meant to be.