It would not be a stretch to say that Kat cried our daughter into this world. She was only slightly early of her due date, but Kat was sobbing so hard, her vitals were skyrocketing.
“Is your wife on any drugs?” asked one paramedic in a matter of fact tone.
“Not that I know of.” I sat in the corner, watching the professionals attempt to sedate my wife. My heart was in my throat.
Then the other paramedic addressed the question of the day, “Has she done recreational drugs in the past?”
That was the first time I felt true fear for my unborn child. Kat was taken in for a Cesarean delivery. But I was not allowed to be in the room. I had to wait, so I went to the chapel to pray (to the users on reddit.com, to try to find someone having a worse week.)
When it was all over, Kat was admitted to the psych ward, with an IV of morphine, Olanzapine, and God knows what else. The baby was taken to the Neonatal ICU, awaiting evaluation. So I went to visit my wife.
Kat was strapped to the bed by her arms and legs, her eyes looked vacant like she’d lost a part of her soul. “You should take the baby. go back to Florida, raise her as a little skater.”
“The baby isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
There were tears in her eyes. “I can’t be a mother. I’m probably going to end up doing something stupid like shaking her or leaving her in a microwave.”
This was not like Kat. “Did you get to hold her?”
“No,” she replied in a whispered breath.
That explained a lot. “Would you be willing to hold her, while I’m in the room?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean if that’s what you want.”
I relayed my request to the nurse on duty. Although it was against protocol to allow a newborn into the psych ward, it would be allowed as long as my wife remained restrained.
The baby was brought in asleep. I placed her on Kat’s chest, and she immediately opened her blue eyes, Val’s eyes.
Kat blinked tears from her eyes. “Valerie.”
“Yeah, that was a given.” We had never confirmed a name, and in the mess of Kat being admitted, we never filled out a birth certificate.
“Valerie Elizabeth Miller.” Kat’s lips cracked a smile; a truly genuine smile.
“My mother’s name was Beth.”
“I know, you’ve told me that.” Kat lifted her arms, handing back our baby. “She’s a special little girl. Please take care of her.
In the next few days, I would be allowed to take the baby home. And being a single father was just as difficult as I thought it would be. Thankfully, Julia came to stay at our house, to help plan Val’s funeral.
Rocking little Valerie in my arms, I tried to clear my mind of the pile of shit my life had become.
“I made arrangements for the cremation,” Julia said from behind her computer.
At least that was one thing I didn’t have to worry about. I just needed to make sure Kat was well medicated when they mother and daughter finally met. “That’s nice.”
“What do you want to do with your portion of the ashes?”
“Why would you portion out the ashes?” I asked, my mind started to assume the worst. “Are you taking some back to Brazil?”
“No, I was just assuming you wanted to keep some here,” she said thoughtfully. “Plus I’ll be hosting the memorial, that will be enough of a token for me.”
“So you don’t want to have him pressed into a diamond that you’ll end up getting buried with?”
“And have Val haunt me the rest of my days? No, thanks.”
“I’d almost forgotten how superstitious you are.”
“I prefer the term spiritual.”
“I don’t think he would have wanted to stay here; not in California, Brazil, or anywhere. Wherever we hold the memorial, we should release him into the universe.”
“So what would Val want?”
“How should I know?” Val had left no will or instructions. All of his assets had been signed over to Kat upon his release from prison. She was his legal guardian.
“You serious? You’re the one who lived with him. Val never told you anything about what he wanted after he was gone?”
My mind drifted back to the night in Vegas, then to my ring. “He told me to forget.”
“Forget him and move on with your life? That sounds like Val. He never wanted to be a burden.” Julia choked back tears, whispering the next words, “He always wanted to fly. We’ll spread his ashes at the memorial. now it’s just a matter of where.”
A single word came to mind. “Ukraine.”
“Ukraine? Where in Ukraine? Keiv, Odessa?”
“Maybe Odessa, on the beach.” I looked at my sleeping daughter. “What do you think, Val? Does that sound right? Does grandpa want to be set free in Odessa, Ukraine?”
She opened her eyes, giggled, and within seconds the air was filled with a foul smell.
Julia stood up, unable to control her laughter. “Give her to me, I’ll change her.”
I did as she asked if only to get a break. “Thanks.”
“You really are Val little one.” Julia cooed at the baby while reaching for the diaper bag. “You have his beautiful blue eyes.”
I knew she wasn’t wrong, so I needed to change the subject. “Why didn’t you go to the wedding?”
“When you and my mentally ill daughter eloped in Vegas?” She asked as she easily changed little Val’s diaper. “I assumed you two wouldn’t want me there.”
I walked to her computer, pulling up sites about Odessa, Ukraine, and peeking at Julia’s recent emails. “Has Kat said anything to you?”
“Since her father’s death? No. But that’s not surprising. I’m sure something broke inside her. I’m hoping she could still come to the memorial.”
“That’s actually really kind of you.”
“She of all people needs the chance to say goodbye.”
With the body already cremated, the memorial could be held at any time. It was just a matter of when Kat would be deemed sane enough to be released into my care.
I needed help.
After Julia left, I laid in bed with my sleeping daughter on my chest. I swallowed my pride and composed an email, or rather a text since I still only had his cell number. “Dear Dad, I was wondering if you’d like to fly out to CA to visit your new granddaughter.”
She looks so much like Mom. I love her with every fiber of my being but I’m terrified that I’m going to screw up her life.
“Reply when you can, love Jack and Valerie Beth Miller.” I ended with a quick snapshot of Valerie. My phone was filled with random images of her little face. I didn’t deserve to be out in charge of something so precious.
My email pinged, but it was Julia. “How does December sound, for the memorial?”
“Is that so you can make a Christmas special for your show?” I replied.
“And because the beach will be cold and hopefully easy to block off. And you’ll have plenty of time to convince my daughter to be the mother that this little angel deserves.”
“December it is.” Now there was the matter of why I’d not spoken to my dad since the day of the wedding. I’d like to blame the stress, with all that was on my plate there was no time to invite my dad for that drink. but no, the truth was something deeper.
My dad replied sometime during the night. “I have some vacation days. I’ll be right out.”
“Of course you will.” I didn’t even bother to reply.
My dad arrived later that night. I had visited Kat in the hospital, allowing her some skin to skin contact with the baby. I returned to the house at around eight at night, so the sight of my father waiting on my front porch.
“No rental car this time?” I asked.
“I thought I’d wing it. Worst case I’d get to enjoy the lovely California evening.”
“Well, come in, I guess.” I tossed him the house keys while I removed Valerie in her carrier that doubled as a car seat.
I fell into my evening routine; taking off my shirt and putting on the chest carrier so I could have both hands free.
“Wow, so you really had nothing better to do?”
“Yes, I can say I had nothing more important on my schedule beyond seeing my only son and granddaughter.”
I was being the asshole. “Sorry. I’m the one who invited you. I’m the one who needs help.”
“With the baby? Or your missing wife?”
I nodded. Over a glass of wine, I told him about my situation. Kat was mentally ill, she was too afraid to be a mother, to be responsible for another life. “But I can’t say I blame her.”
“Being a parent isn’t a walk in the park.” My dad started to tell me stories about my early childhood.
Valerie woke up and looked at me, her innocent gaze causing me to put down my glass of wine. “I failed Val.”
“Your daughter or your patient?”
“The day he died, Val didn’t want to go to the hospital so I said he didn’t have to.”
“And now you’ll never do that again.”
What did that even mean? “This is why I hate you!”
“You hate me?” my father asked with a chuckle. “I could have sworn you needed my help.”
“Not everything is a teachable moment.”
“So if your daughter says she doesn’t want to do something, you’ll just give in?”
“Just tell me it’s not my fault. Tell me everything will be ok.”
“It won’t be ok if you ride by the seat of your pants. You think I’m being hard on you and I am.” My father took a long sip of his wine, before taking a meditative breath. “This is why I never talk to you about your mother’s illness.”
“What?” I was dangerously close to kicking him out.
“You would have had to carry the burden, to try and make everything right. that’s just who you are. you don’t want to change the world, you want to fix it. but there’s way too much crap in this word to fix. When you held your mother’s hand, told her stories; that meant more to her than any Webmd or google search diagnosis. What you did, that brought her real comfort.”
“So, you did believe in me.”
“I’ve always believed in you. But your path is not a straight line.”
“I don’t know if I want to go back to medicine.”
“You want my advice? Do what you’re good at; live in the now. enjoy your baby, comfort your wife. Work things out as a family. Maybe you’ll stay together maybe you won’t. But you will find a light at the end of the tunnel.”
I poured my father another glass of wine, and a fetched a Pepsi for myself. “Can you help me compose a letter of intent?”
With his help, I managed to get my wife released into my care. When she was on medication, she was calm, peaceful, and willing to entertain the idea of being a wife and mother. In the weeks that followed, I took my dad’s advice and just focused on having fun, enjoying getting to know little Valerie while preparing for our family trip to Ukraine. I made it a point to always wake up for the baby, only giving her to Kat when both females are in a good mood.
Julia took charge of the memorial, from securing the location to the press coverage. All I had to go was get Kat on to a plane.
Kat has experienced a few positive moments, where I could have sworn I saw a smile. but even with that progress, Kat was unable to nurse. This was not due to a lack of milk production or Valerie’s ability to suckle. The very act of lowering her bra, to reveal her nipple to our baby, resulted in a severe anxiety attack. Still, I could work with that. I enjoyed bottle-feeding little Valerie, so keeping her on my lap for the first half of the trans-pacific flight was no big deal.
Kat and I were both exhausted by the time we landed in Sydney. My wife buried her face in my shoulder as we attempted to exit the first flight. “How long of a layover do we have?”
“Just three hours,” I said. Unfortunately, the fastest way to get from California to Ukraine was to take two first-class flights on two different airlines while carrying just one bag each (the supplies for the baby.) Our main luggage and change of clothing were shipped ahead to the hotel.
Since we had to leave the terminal to get to an entirely different section, I decided to invest a few dollar coins in a luggage cart. I piled my sleepy wife, atop our bags, and carried my baby on a chest carrier. With that set up we easily made it to the gate of our connecting flight with time to spare.
As I took a seat, I started to remove the chest carrier. “I took the first leg, you can keep Valerie on your lap for the rest of the trip.”
“The rest of the trip?” Kat asked with a groan.
“If she starts crying I’ll take her, but if you’re just going to sleep.”
“Fine, I’ll hold her,” Kat said, as she struggled to take a seat by my side. “But I’m taking a Xanax.”
“No, you are not.”
“Try and stop me.”
We boarded the aircraft first, along with the other passengers with young children and people who needed extra time. I didn’t see how many or few pills Kat took only that she kept reaching into her purse, as I stowed our bags (with the baby carrier on my chest.)
By the time I was done, I was exhausted but my wife was asleep. that just made it easier to slip on the arm straps and rest little Val in my wife’s arms. With the baby on her chest, Kat looked like a real mother.
I sighed and asked the flight attendant for a cup of coffee and a glass of ice. My plan was to stay awake for the entire flight by chewing on ice. Halfway through the flight, the baby was getting fidgety.
She didn’t need to be changed so I could only assume she was hungry. This guess was confirmed by Kat’s lactating nipple. I reached for a blanket to cover her before removing her top, allowing our baby to nurse while Kat was asleep or unconscious. Wait, was this a bad idea? If she actually took drugs, she should not be breastfeeding.
My mind was split; Kat looked so calm and comfortable. And Valerie seemed genuinely happy as she enjoyed skin to skin contact.
No, this was no right. I had to be responsible. So in the gentlest way possible, I proceeded to remove Valerie from her arms. But Kat’s hand gripped mine.
My wife awoke with a smile. “I had the most beautiful dream.” she patted the baby, rocking her softly as her voice trembled. “I saw my Dad. He told me this is where I’m meant to be.”
I released her hand. I needed to have a little faith.
“By the way, I didn’t take any drugs. I just didn’t want to help you put the bags away.”
By the time we landed, Kat’s shoulder was covered in milk and spit-up.
“Thank God, our stuff is at the hotel right?” I asked as we walked to the waiting limo. We had three days before the memorial, plenty of time to get cleaned up, explore, and dream.
The day of the funeral was rainy, on the verge of a storm. Luckily Julia had a backup plan. A tent was erected for the few guests and invited press. The event would be live-streamed to Youtube and a few other social media platforms.
Julia stepped up to the mike. “There are many words one could use to describe Vladimir Marcus Kepler. Husband, father, lover, friend, mega Hollywood action star with the face of a soldier and the heart of an angel.” She spoke for a while about his loving adoration for his Slavic heritage. Apparently, she had done some research, on his actual linage. According to her, Val’s biological father was a soldier who died overseas, leaving behind his pregnant wife who died in childbirth. It was an elaborate layer cake of tragedy. “I now wish to open the mic to my daughter and her family.”
With Kat by my side, I took the mic. I offered it to her, but she was too emotional to speak. She held the baby to her chest. “I can feel him, he’s here.”
I had no speech prepared but I knew what I wanted to say. The mic screeched as I spoke. “Vlad Kepler was brave, a fighter, a survivor. He once drove a flaming car off a bridge, hit a home run as one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, and he defeated the leader of North Korea in hand to hand combat in the streets of Paris. Among others. If you’re watching this, even years in the future, you found your way here because a character he played in some Netflix movie impressed you, inspired you. That’s what you need to remember.” I looked towards the urn, it was a simple metal box, used only for the purpose of the ceremony. “Remember the hero that was larger than life, the man who lived to inspire.”
Everything else you can forget. That was what he wanted. Forget the man who died, the man who suffered from addiction, seizures, and anxiety. The little boy who came to America only to get physically and emotionally abused, the teen who dared to take a chance on the Hollywood dream, the man who loved his family with every fiber of his being.
Forget the real Val. But remember the iconic Vlad Kepler.
Julia invited me to stand with her as she opened the urn, releasing the contents into a hole in the roof of the tent.
but I opted to stay by Kat’s side returning to our seats at the side of the stage. A cord was pulled, opening a panel that created one hell of a storm-induced wind tunnel. The ashes seemed to shimmer, making a path straight to the stars.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was alone, by choice. Kat was out with her mother, meeting with the press, doting over the baby. I didn’t even have my baby.
I took a few of Kat’s Xanax pills, hoping to fall into a deep sleep. “Goodbye, Val.” When I opened my eyes, I was on a beach, the same place where I’d just said goodbye. I looked at my body, expecting to see the suit I’d been but instead, I was wearing the same Renaissance era, beige cotton shirt, and pants from the strange ‘Russia-themed’ dream. Did that mean I was about to see Val?
I walked along the beach a little further until I saw what looked like set clothing washed up onshore. I looked at the water.
Val’s emerged from the waves, his nude body as perfect as I remembered. He cupped my face in his hands, kissing me deeply. My eyes were wet with tears, saltwater, or both. We kissed, soft and slow. his lips felt soft and warm. I let him remove my clothes, letting my costume wash away.
Val scooped me up in his arms as I cupped his face, holding his gaze. I opened my lips to speak but no words came out.
Val kissed my neck, working his way to my ear. “Bow down to me.”
I did as he asked, kneeling in the waist-high water. I kissed his stomach, from his naval down his wet blonde pubic hair. Wave his me in the face as i took in his cock, latching on like a fish to a hook. i gripped his back, sinking my fingertips into his muscle. i wanted him balls deep, fucking my throat. ‘Choke me, Daddy. please choke me.’
He gripped my hair, pulling hard. “I don’t want to your throat I want your ass. With a swift wave of his arm, we were on the sandy beach. Val was in back of me, with his arms around my waist. He placed one hand betwwen my legs, giving my balls a firm squeze. “Spread your legs.”
He moved his other hand to my lips. I open my mouth, begging for the chance to suck his fingers.
“How many fingers can you take?” Val put in two, then three.
“More,” I groaned, pleaded.
“No, I think I’ll stop at three. I just want to warm you up little.” He removed his fingers from my mouth, and forced my legs open. He penetrated my ass, working my hole open slowly. “Do you want Daddy to fuck you?” He asked in a voice that deep and sensual, with just enough of an accent to send shivers down my spine.
“To whom are you speaking to, soldier?” Val gripped my balls hard giving them a tug. He kept pulling with noticeable force as he removed his opposite hand from my ass. “You will answer me!”
I flinched as he gave my cheek a hard slap. “Yes, Sir. I want you to fuck me, Daddy.” I wanted him. I wanted to experience the rush of pure joy that was his cock.
“That’s what I thought.” I could feel his breath, hot on my skin as he penetrated me.
I let my body go limp, leaning into his touch. He stroked my chest, resting his fingers on the tattoo Kat gave me. “Life isn’t fair.”
I reached to jerk my shaft, but Val gripped my hand sucking my fingers. “In another life you would have been a soldier with a farm and a castle. I would have been your man-slave. And devoted my life to you.”
Val was whispering in Russian, while he jerked me off.
“I love you too.”
We made love in the sand. I could feel the warmth of his skin, the powerful strength of his muscles. I could feel him inside of me, his cock had a flushed with raw passion as he rammed my prostate over and over. It was like a rush of energy, an electrical pulse locking me in an intense state of orgasm. I climaxed all over Val’s hand, my stomach, and the sand.
Val kissed my cheek. “Goodbye, Jack.”
“Goodbye, Val.” It was time to wake up, move on, and become the person Val needed me to be.
I awoke to the light of the morning sun. Kat was in my arms, naked from the waist up, nursing our baby.
“Good morning,” Kat said, sweetly. She sounded calm, peaceful. But not happy.
“I want you to go back to Europe.”
“What?” she asked with a chuckle. “You want me to go back to modeling?”
Before I could answer, there was a knock at the door. “Room Service.”
Kat answered the door while nursing. The waiter was an attractive female with her hair in a perfectly professional bun. she was blushing, clearly attracted to my beautiful wife. The two laughed.
Kat sighed the bill and gave the girl a kiss on the cheek. the waitress was clearly a fan and had her hand over her mouth, making the typical ‘you just made my year’ face as she closed the door.
“See,” I said with a giggle. “That’s one person who wants you to go back to modeling.”
“She actually knew me from my cam-girl work.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“How do you think I made a living in Napa? Did you think I was just leaching off my poor papa?” she slugged me in the arm before getting herself a slice of strawberry. “Will you follow me?”
“I’ll follow you to the end of the earth.”
“I don’t think I love you. I not sure I even like guys. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, it is. You’re still my wife, my partner, my best friend. We’ll travel with you. If you find someone you want to fuck, you can fuck them. If you fall in love, we can cross that bridge when we get there. But you will always have a place in our daughter’s life.”
“So, you’ll hold my hand, make sure I don’t fall off the tightrope of sobriety?”
Or I’ll give you a shoulder to lean on.
She took a seat next to me, still half-naked. Valerie was finished nursing and looked up at us with her blue eyes. “She’s so beautiful. Too bad she has two parents who have no idea how to ‘adult’.”
“We can work that out together.”
Kat nodded and stroked the baby’s head. “Shh.” She rocked little Val close and started to hum a lullaby. “He’s just a boy, and I’m just a girl. Can I make it anymore obvious?”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“La, la, la, …and, haven’t you heard how we rock each other’s world?” Kat paused to kiss my cheek. “I’m with the skater boy. I’ll say see you later, boy. I’ll be backstage after the show. I’ll be at the studio singing the song we wrote,” Her voice trailed off. “About someone, we used to know.”
I blinked tears from my eyes. I looked at little Val. “Your grandpa told me he’d always believe in me. I’m going to do right by you. Or at least try my hardest not to fuck up too badly.”
Valerie smiled and farted, followed by a sweet giggle.
“I promise.” I love you too.