Chapter 22: Two Become Three

"I just feel like he's your baby and not mine."

“I just feel like he’s your baby and not mine.”

“Would you like to hold him? asked Ari. He held the baby out to Marisol.

Marisol shook her head. “I’m not ready,” she said with a weak smile. “It just feels like – like he’s your baby, and not mine.” Ari was disappointed. There was still a lot of tension between the two of them, he knew, but somehow, he had hoped that once Marisol saw the baby, she would bond to him right away, and the three of them would become an instant family. Baby Boy (9)

But Marisol refused to touch the baby, let alone hold him. She signed the custody paperwork and fixed up the nursery, but she kept her distance.

“Here’s an idea,” said Ari. “Maybe if you give him a name, then you will feel like he’s your baby, too.” He cringed the moment he said this, remembering the dog. But if it meant that Marisol would accept the baby – and maybe forgive him, too, then yes, he could even put up with a name like Fred. Baby Boy (1)

“I don’t know…” Marisol frowned. But still, Ari began to catch her sneaking into the baby’s room, looking down at him lying in his crib, and murmuring names. And then, Ari awoke one night to the sound of laughter coming from the baby’s room. He got up to investigate, and to his surprise, Marisol was holding the baby, talking to him, and laughing. Baby Boy (17)

Baby Boy (3)

“His name is John Tyler.”

“His name,” she told Ari, “is John Tyler. John Tyler Paz.”  From that moment on, she and John Tyler were nearly inseparable. So much so, that Ari soon felt almost pushed out of their little family. Baby Boy (12) Baby Boy (13)

“Guess it’s just you and me, Fred,” he told the dog. Baby Boy Still, it was wonderful to see Marisol so happy again. And one night, she finally agreed to let him come back to bed, too. Baby Boy (7) Baby Boy (6) It was just a small gesture, as their relationship was still very strained. But a mutual love for raising little John Tyler was bringing them back together. Baby Boy (10)

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Chapter 21: The Tempest

“This thing of darkness I
Acknowledge mine.”
William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Tempest (4)  “Talk about what?” Ari hated the way Marisol was look at him expectantly, as though he was about to tell her that the roof was leaking, or that the car needed a new tire. Something that could be fixed with money or a wrench. Without taking his eyes off hers, Ari spilled his confession. There was no pretty way to put it that would make the words better. With every word he spoke, he could see the cracks forming in Marisol’s eyes, in her posture, in her mouth, twisted with confusion and disbelief.

“No…” she kept whispering, shaking her head. “You wouldn’t…”

Tempest (3)

But he had. And there was no tool in existence that would fix that.

“I want us to keep this baby – my baby,” Ari said. “We can raise him as our own – yours and mine. Just think—”

“Think?” Marisol’s voice rose several octaves. “Think of you having sex with some other woman every time I look at this baby? A living reminder of what you’ve done, staring me in the face every single day? Think?Tempest (2) They spent the rest of that afternoon arguing, pleading, and shouting, before at last Marisol finally dropped into bed, and Ari collapsed onto the living room sofa, where he continued to sleep for the next several weeks.  Screenshot-4465

Marisol tried to hide how deeply hurt she was by Ari’s betrayal, but he could see her struggling. Screenshot-4469 One evening, they entertained members from her jazz band, celebrating the release of their first album. Ari and Marisol put on their best clothes and best faces, and somehow managed to pull off a great party. Tempest (7) Tempest (6) None of their guests appeared to suspect that under their shiny surfaces, a dark tempest still brewed. But later that night, after the last guest had left, Ari locked himself in the study to read alone, and Marisol dissolved into tears. Tempest (5)

As the autumn air grew as crisp and cold as the Milito-Paz household, Ari began to pace anxiously around the house, waiting for the phone call that would announce his new status as a father. But no such call came. Finally, one night, Ari and Marisol ran into Jessica Hawt at a community Halloween party, where Marisol had been entertaining with her band. From the change in Jessica’s figure, Ari knew that the baby had been born. He demanded to know where the child was.

Tempest (9)

Ari demands to know where his baby is.

“He’s at home, sleeping,” said Jessica with a shrug. “I figured he’d be fine there for a little while.”

“He’s there now, alone?” Ari’s horrified expression was hidden by his Halloween mask.

Marisol’s eyes flashed like lightning. She seemed angrier than Ari had ever seen her before. “How could you leave a defenseless little baby all by himself? What kind of self-centered narcissist are you?” Tempest (8) They both turned and hurried away from Jessica, and drove almost recklessly fast toward her house, where they found the doors unlocked and a very tiny, adorable newborn baby boy crying in his crib. Tempest (11)

“My son,” Ari whispered. For a moment, he just stood and stared, forgetting that he still wore a scary hockey mask. But he quickly recovered, approached the crib, and gently cradled his baby boy in his arms.Tempest (1)Tempest (10)

Chapter 20: The Phone Call

Ari and Marisol still had had no success with conceiving a child of their own. They didn’t speak about it anymore, but Ari could tell that Marisol felt just as frustrated and disappointed as he did. They continued to focus on their work, and soon were able to afford to rent a house in Vineyard Hills, an affluent neighborhood closer to downtown Apple Springs.New Home and New Additions (2)New Home and New Additions (1)

The new house was beautiful – not very big, but certainly roomy enough for a childless couple. Sometimes, Ari caught Marisol staring at the guest room with a dreamy expression in her eyes, and he knew that she was imagining the space filled with baby furniture and baby toys. He felt a terrible weight of guilt. He had had an affair with Jessica, and he could not give his wife the one thing she wanted most of all – a child to love and raise. New Home and New Additions

He knew that it would not make up for it, but when Marisol’s birthday rolled around that summer, he brought home a tiny and very cute puppy.  New Home and New Additions (5) New Home and New Additions (6)  When Marisol woke up and found the tiny, wiggly ball of fur in the living room, her face shone with the biggest smile Ari had seen in months. New Home and New Additions (4)

“Oh, he is so adorable!” Marisol squealed, clapping her hands together. “Let’s call him Fred.”

Ari frowned. “Fred? Seriously?” Still, he gave in, because Fred was his gift to Marisol. Having a puppy was not nearly as fulfilling as having children, but still, Fred occupied their attention and affection. Ari was happy to see his wife smiling and lighthearted again after so many months of unhappiness. New Home and New Additions (3)

But then, one late summer afternoon, Ari got a phone call from Jessica. “I’m afraid I have some —surprising news,” Jessica said. “I’m eight months pregnant. Just thought you’d want to know, since it’s your baby.” New Home and New Additions (8)

New Home and New Additions (7)

“Pregnant!” Ari was stunned.

“Pregnant!” Ari was stunned. He could hardly believe it until he raced across town to Jessica’s house to see for himself. Sure enough, she was huge with child.

“Are you sure it’s mine?” Ari asked. New Home and New Additions (13) New Home and New Additions (11)

“Completely sure,” said Jessica. “Anyway, I’m thinking about putting him up for adoption. I can’t be bothered with babies. I need to be free to live my life.”New Home and New Additions (12)

“No! No way – I will raise him. With my wife.” Oh God – his wife! When Marisol found out that he had slept with Jessica and was now expecting a baby, she was going to be so hurt. Maybe she would even leave him. But he couldn’t just let Jessica put his only child up for adoption, either. New Home and New Additions (10)

New Home and New Additions (14)

Ari braces himself to confess to Marisol.

Ari decided that there was no way around it. He had to tell her. His insides twisted as he approached his wife. “Marisol,” he said, “we need to talk.”

Chapter 19 — Jump in and Play

kittens begging

“No, we cannot get a cat!” Ari glared at Marisol. “I don’t care how cute the kittens are. No cats!”

It was not their first fight. Lately, it seemed as though they were arguing all the time. Marisol had taken the news especially hard. She now spent most of her time away from Ari, either at work or playing instruments. When they did hold conversations, they were strained and tense.

"No we cannot get a kitten!" Ari shouted.

“No we cannot get a kitten!” Ari shouted.

Screenshot-4501

Ari found himself complaining about his marriage to Jessica Hawt, the gorgeous athletic trainer who had been flirting with him incessantly. Screenshot-4510 Screenshot-4585 Screenshot-4587“Maybe,” she said, trailing the tips of her fingers along Ari’s arm, “you should take a little break from her. Could be good for both of you.” She gave Ari her cell phone number and invited him to come over her house. Screenshot-4389 Screenshot-4393

He didn’t intend to take up Jessica on her offer. But after three months of the cold shoulder from Marisol and no sex whatsoever, he was going out of his mind. So one Sunday afternoon, he went out for a walk and found himself at Jessica’s house.

He found her outside, playing in the colorful fallen leaves like a little girl. “Whee!” she squealed, tossing an armful of leaves into the air. “Don’t you want to jump in and play?” Screenshot-4611 Screenshot-4612 Screenshot-4613

Ari cleared his throat. “I would love to play,” he said, “but I had something else in mind.” Screenshot-4614 Screenshot-4617

Jessica’s eyes sparkled. She led Ari up to her bedroom, and the two of them passed the rest of the afternoon being playful together. Screenshot-4619 Screenshot-4624 Screenshot-4627

Chapter 18 Full Days and Empty Arms

Screenshot-4560

“As merry as the day is long.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The early years of marriage slid past almost smoothly for the newlyweds. Both Marisol and Ari continued to advance in their careers. Marisol’s amateur jazz troupe dissolved, but she was soon hired to play bass for a rising band, known as Silk & Wine. Ari was now a starting forward for the Llamas, and was beginning to gain a large local fan base. Early Years (9)

“I just hate how little time we have together,” Marisol admitted. And it was true. Their busy work schedules did not allow the couple much time together. Marisol did her best to attend Ari’s games, and he in turn tried to come to her shows.

Screenshot-4535

Marisol attends Ari’s football games to root for her favorite player.

Every now and then, they were able to hang out and have fun together, or even go out for a rare date. Early Years (11)

Ari and Marisol go out for a date at The Hieroglyph - Ari's favorite restaurant.

Ari and Marisol go out for a date at The Hieroglyph – Ari’s favorite restaurant.

Early Years (2) Early Years (4) Early Years (5)

When they did make love, which was never often enough, it was very hot, and very satisfying. They were both very creative in the bedroom (and the living room, and the kitchen, and wherever else the mood happened to strike). Early Years (6) Hot, Steamy Sex Creative and Passionate in the Bedroom Early Years (1)

But as satisfying as their times together were, and as much as they enjoyed one another’s company, there was one big thing missing from their lives. “I really want to have a baby,” Marisol said with a sad sigh. Early Years (10)

“I know. I want children, too.” said Ari. It was something he had dreamed of for many years – a child of his own to raise in love and happiness, with a childhood very different from his own tortured youth. Many of their friends and neighbors already had children. And though Ari and Marisol had stopped using contraceptives nearly four years ago, they still had not managed to conceive a child.

Their friends gave them all sorts of advice. “There’s this great book that helped us to conceive,” said Isabelle Shores. So Marisol and Ari read it, along with other books. They tried every method they could think of, but had no success. Early Years (13) Early Years (14)

Then one day, Ari’s doctor called with sad news. “I’m afraid that you have a very low sperm count,” he said. “We can try in vitro fertilization, but it is very expensive.”

Ari and Marisol learn that they are infertile

Ari and Marisol learn that they are infertile

“We’ll try anything,” said Ari. And so the couple spent all of their savings and maxed out their credit cards for the fertility procedure. But in the end, not even in vitro fertilization could help them to conceive. Ari and Marisol were unable to have a baby of their own.

Chapter 17 Settling Down

Except for the fact that Ari now played for the Apple Springs Llamas semi-professional football team, nothing had changed. The old-fashioned little house where they lived was exactly the same. Marisol was playing musical instruments for her jazz band, as usual. And they were still very much in love. Ordinary Morning

One Tuesday night, Ari took Marisol out for a surprise date. Marisol was excited, thinking that perhaps this was the night when Ari would propose. But to her disappointment, he took her to The Barn – a real barn out in the country, which had been converted into an arcade and bowling alley. Settling Down (2) Settling Down (7) Settling Down (5)Still, they had a great time together, bowling and playing pool. After a couple of beers and a lot of laughing, Ari led Marisol to a quiet spot outside the barn. Settling Down (3)

“Want to watch the stars together?” he asked, pulling Marisol close.

Marisol giggled. “The sky is overcast. We can’t see any stars.”

“Oh. Well, in that case…” Ari dropped to one knee and pulled out a glittering diamond ring. “Want to spend the rest of our lives together?” Marisol squealed with surprise and accepted his proposal. Settling Down (1) Settling Down (6) Settling Down (4)

They were married the next spring, in a tiny Universalist Unitarian church on the outskirts of town. Settling Down (9) Settling Down (11) Settling Down (10)They only invited a few neighbors and friends from work, as well as Marisol’s parents. It was a beautiful, perfect ceremony, and their first night together as husband and wife (although not their first time together) was beautiful and perfect, too. Settling Down (13) Settling Down (14) Settling Down (15) Settling Down (12)

The Deep, Dark Secret to Ari’s Success

Screenshot-4324 Except for the part where they had hot sex every night and slept in the same bed, living with Marisol wasn’t very different than it had been at the university. They enjoyed spending time together – eating meals, going out for dates, and even the day-to-day tasks that were just a part of adult life.

Screenshot-4331

Screenshot-4339 Ari and Marisol go snowboarding and ice skating during a winter date.

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Screenshot-4284

Doing chores together

Ari felt like a surfer, gliding through the water as the waves curled perfectly around him and Marisol.

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Marisol practices the bass for her jazz band

Well…almost perfectly. Ari had a huge problem. Ever since graduation, he had been unemployed. Not Marisol. She had taken Ari’s advice and sought employment in the music industry. After one audition, a local jazz troupe had hired her as a bassist. It didn’t pay much, but still, it was the perfect career for her. Ari, on the other hand, had yet to be signed on any football teams. He couldn’t even find a job as a youth sports coach. It was humiliating.

Ari tried to stay busy at home. He did all of the cooking and cleaning while Marisol was at work.

Ari cleans the house

Screenshot-4287 Ari cleans the house

He tried his best to stay in shape. And he spent hours each day searching for employment, but it was beginning to look as though the only football play time he would get was on a computer game. Screenshot-4316 Screenshot-4370

“Don’t give up, baby,” Marisol said encouragingly. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. Something will come along.”

Winter passed in spring, and spring passed into summer, but still Ari had no offers of employment. Screenshot-4373 Then one hot summer day, he went out to a festival at the city park. After a while, he became bored and decided to try out the free tanning booth. Unfortunately, he stayed inside a little too long. When he came out, his skin was practically the color of strong coffee. Screenshot-4519

Ari gets a very deep brown tan

Ari gets a very deep brown tan

“Oh no!” Ari groaned. He looked ridiculous! He got dressed, determined to head home, but then he came across a soccer ball, which was lying abandoned in the park soccer field. Ari forgot about his bad tan and unemployment. He kicked the ball around for a while and practiced shooting goals, not at all aware of the man watching him from the side of the field. After some time, however, the man approached Ari. Screenshot-4526 Screenshot-4530

“I am a talent scout for the city minor league team, the Llamas,” the man said. “You’re pretty good with that soccer ball, and we’ve been looking for an African-American player to round out the diversity on our team. Have you played before?”

Ari started to explain that he was not black, but then decided to keep his mouth shut. The talent scout invited Ari to a private tryout session at the Apple Springs arena, and the coaches were just as impressed with Ari’s abilities. They offered him a contract, which he eagerly signed. Ari was going to play for the Llamas! Screenshot-4536 Screenshot-4537

“I am unbelievably proud of you!” said Marisol, hugging him tightly. “This is like a dream come true for both of us!”

To celebrate, they went out for drinks at one of the most expensive clubs in the city, where they drank so much that they decided to throw caution to the wind and go skinny dipping in the rooftop pool. Screenshot-4539 Screenshot-4546 Screenshot-4551