THE sun shone off everything as Ken walked next to Hanna’s wheelchair as the orderly pushed her out of the hospital. Months of treatment that had at times left Hanna almost too weak to lift her head were now behind them. Hanna was showing steady improvement and getting a little bit stronger each day. The air was still cold, so Hanna was bundled up under blankets, but Ken couldn’t help hoping that the sunshine that had been so scarce through the winter this close to Lake Superior was a good omen. At the car, Hanna stood up, and Ken rushed around to hold open the door. She was about to get in when the hospital doors slid open and Dr. Pierson walked out in her lab coat, and embraced Hanna. Over the past few months, Hanna had won the hearts of most of the hospital staff, from the doctors to the nurses who brought in special treats so she wouldn’t have to eat the hospital food all the time. “You do what your daddy says, and I’ll see you in a few weeks,” Dr. Pierson said. “And I want another of your special drawings for my office wall.”
Hanna smiled. “I promise,” she said happily before climbing into the backseat of the car.
“You take care of yourself,” Dr. Pierson said as she turned to Ken. “You aren’t any good to her if you let yourself get run down. Call me if you have questions or concerns, and if you need help, I’m good at battling with insurance companies.” Dr. Pierson smiled, and then, to Ken’s surprise, she pulled him into a hug as well. “You’re an amazing father and her best chance at a full recovery.” She released him and stepped back, waving with the others as Ken got in the car.
“Is your seat belt fastened?” Ken asked, and Hanna belted herself in before turning toward the window to wave at everyone as he put the warm car into gear and slowly pulled away. As helpful and understanding as everyone had been, he was glad to see the hospital disappear in the rearview mirror.
“Daddy, is my hair going to grow back?”
“Yes,” Ken said with relief. “You have a few more treatments, and then once they stop and the medicine works out of your body, your hair will start to grow again.” When they’d started the treatments, Hanna’s hair had begun to fall out pretty quickly. Ken had taken it harder than Hanna had. The doctor had explained it to Hanna and had even given her a pink hat that she’d made from the softest yarn possible. Hanna had thanked her with a hug, and Ken had nearly cried at the thoughtfulness. The doctor had gone on to explain that she had knitted for years and loved making the things for little girls she’d never had the opportunity to do with her two sons. Hanna had worn the hat almost every day since, only taking it off when Ken insisted on washing it.
“Will I be able to go swimming this summer?” Hanna asked as they passed a clearing where they could see Lake Superior, still pretty much iced over.
“I hope so. Lake Superior is probably too cold, but there’s a community pool we might be able to use.” Ken knew that depended upon the state of Hanna’s immune system, which had taken a real beating over the past few months. Hopefully, by then she’d be stronger. “Why don’t you ask Dr. Pierson the next time you see her,” Ken said, and he saw Hanna nod as she looked out the window.
“Will it be warm soon?” Hanna asked, bare trees passing outside the car.
“Yes. The leaves should start coming out in a few months, and once it gets warm, you and I can go on one of our art walks,” Ken told her, and Hanna smiled. Before they’d moved, he and Hanna would spend summer afternoons in the park. Ken would take a sketchbook and Hanna her art set, and they would spend the day drawing and coloring the world around them.
“Will Dr. Pierson come too?” Hanna asked.
“She can if she wants. You can invite her when it gets closer.” Ken knew Dr. Pierson was very busy.
“Are you going to marry her?” Hanna asked, and Ken nearly jammed on the brakes in his shock. “I saw you hug her and she hugged you. Does that mean you’re going to get married?”
“No. Dr. Pierson is already married and has grown children.” There were so many things wrong with that question that Ken didn’t quite know where to start. “Where did you get that idea?” Ken asked as he peered quickly into the rearview mirror.
“Callie said once that she came into her mommy and daddy’s bedroom and they were hugging, or at least her daddy was hugging her mommy really tight. They told her that hugging is what mommies and daddies do when they love each other,” Hanna said happily, as though she understood the mysteries of the universe. Callie definitely knew and saw way too much for her own good.
“Dr. Pierson is my friend just like she’s your friend,” Ken explained. “Besides, you know I love Mark.”
“Because you’re gay?” Hanna asked.
“Yes. We’ve talked about this,” Ken reminded her. “I don’t fall in love with girls, but I do with boys.”
“You love me,” Hanna countered.
“Yes. Very much,” Ken reassured her.
“But I’m a girl,” Hanna countered seriously.
“Yes. You’re a girl and I love you. But I’m not going to marry you.” Ken had struggled to explain being gay to his daughter, and he’d obviously failed up till now. “Think of it this way. Most men want to marry women and have babies. Instead, I adopted you and I want to marry Mark.” Good God, Ken hoped that explained it well enough for her. It seemed to, because Hanna was quiet for a while. Ken knew that could be good, because she was satisfied, or bad, because she was pondering something else.
“What’s the difference between boys and girls?” Hanna asked, and Ken found himself pressing down just a little more on the accelerator. This conversation couldn’t get over with fast enough.
“What do you think the difference is?” Ken asked, feeling clever that he’d turned the question back on her.
“Boys have penises and girls have ’ginas,” Hanna said, and Ken breathed a sigh of relief. “Girls also get boobs, but some men do too. Daddy, will you get boobs?”
Ken laughed. “No. Not if I can help it?”
“Will I get boobs?” Hanna asked.
“Yes,” Ken answered, starting to laugh. If Hanna asked one more question about boobs, penises, or vaginas, Ken was going to run screaming from the car. “How about we see who can be quietest the longest. I’ll bet you ice cream I can beat you.”
Hanna opened her mouth to argue with him, but then she slapped her hands over her mouth, and Ken could see she was smiling. The rest of the trip was quiet, and ten minutes later, Ken pulled up in front of the house. “You win. After dinner, you can have ice cream,” Ken said, and Hanna laughed as Ken turned off the car before getting out. He opened the door for Hanna, and she unhooked her seat belt before climbing out of the car.
Ken got out as well, popping the trunk so he could grab their bags before following her up the walk. It had been months since Hanna had been home, and Ken doubted she really remembered their house.
Hanna was halfway up the walk when a gust of wind, cold and straight off the lake, blew across the yard. Hanna shivered at the cold and hurried toward the house. She’d just reached the steps when her hat blew off her head, the air lifting it for a few seconds before carrying it across the lawn. “Daddy,” Hanna cried, and Ken hurried to where Hanna stood. He set down the bags and hurried after it, but didn’t reach it before the wind picked the hat up again, blowing it across the street, and Hanna’s favorite pink hat ended up in a mud puddle. Hanna began to cry, and Ken hurried to her, lifting her into his arms.
“I’ll get it, and once it’s washed it’ll be as good as new, I promise,” Ken said as he carried her into the house out of the wind. He set her on the sofa and heard Mark walking through the house. Hanna was still upset as Mark came in the room. “Would you stay with her for a minute?” Ken asked and then hurried back outside.
As he descended the steps, Ken saw his neighbor walking toward him, carrying the sodden hat with an almost sorrowful look on his face. He didn’t speak as he handed over the once pink hat, now brown, with twigs stuck to it. He’d obviously wrung it out, but he didn’t say anything.
“Thank you,” Ken said. “My daughter just got home from the hospital and this is her favorite hat.” Ken waited for him to say something, but the man didn’t. Instead, his eyes conveyed that he felt badly for Hanna. “She has to wear hats all the time because she lost her hair.” Why Ken was telling him this he didn’t know, but the man looked as though he was hanging on every word.
“Daddy,” Hanna called from the door.
“I have to go,” Ken explained. “Thank you so much,” Ken said, and the man smiled and waved before turning to walk back down the sidewalk. Ken watched him leave for a few seconds, sort of getting lost in the way he moved. Then he realized what he was doing and hurried back toward the house, hoping Mark hadn’t seen him watching someone else.
“Is it okay?” Hanna asked as Ken approached.
“It will be, honey. Go on inside. I’ll bring the things in and wash it right away for you,” Ken explained, and he stopped to pick up the bags. Hanna disappeared into the house, and Ken couldn’t stop himself from looking to where his neighbor had gone. He saw him standing a few houses down watching him. He waved, and Ken did his best to wave back before walking into the house.
“I need to talk to you,” Mark said almost as soon as he’d closed the front door.
“Okay,” Ken said. “But I have to get Hanna settled in her room and then do some laundry.” He held up the sodden hat. “We can talk once I get her to sleep.” Ken moved away and hurried to get to work. Getting Hanna settled was the most important thing right now.
Ken got Hanna situated on the sofa under a blanket and let her watch television as he hurried through the house trying to get things done. He unpacked the things they’d brought home from the hospital, made Hanna something to eat and drink, and took them in to her before descending the stairs to the basement so he could get the laundry started. He had a lot to do, but he was still happy. Hanna was home with him once again and hopefully on the mend.
In the laundry area, Ken sorted the dirty clothes and got the washer started. “You haven’t hummed in quite a while,” Mark said from behind him. Ken finished loading the clothes before closing the lid on the washing machine.
When Ken turned around, he didn’t see the happy, open expression he expected. Rather, Mark’s features were pinched, he had bags under his eyes, and Ken even noticed a few wrinkles that hadn’t been there a few weeks ago. They’d both been through a lot in the past few months, and Ken moved closer, ready to pull Mark into his arms, but Mark took a small step backward, and Ken stiffened. “We need to talk,” Mark told him, and Ken sighed, nodding slightly.
“I’ll meet you in my studio in a few minutes,” Ken said, and Mark nodded before walking away. Ken heard his footsteps on the stairs as he finished up with the laundry. Once he was done, Ken climbed the stairs, turning off the lights before checking on Hanna. She was quietly watching television, resting under a pink blanket. She looked a little pale, but still as precious as ever. Looking away from the television, she smiled at him, and Ken walked over to the sofa, kissing her on the forehead.
“Are you okay, Daddy?” Hanna asked.
“I’m fine. I’ll be out in my studio if you need anything,” Ken said, and Hanna nodded, returning her attention to the television. Before leaving the room, Ken picked up Hanna’s art case from the hall and placed it near the sofa. She’d been watching a lot of television in the hospital, and Ken was hoping to entice her back to the things she’d always loved before she’d gotten sick. “Don’t forget the picture for Dr. Pierson,” Ken told her softly.
“I won’t,” Hanna answered, and Ken left the room, walking down the hall and out to the small room that had been added onto the house by the previous owner.
Mark sat on the old sofa the movers had placed against the one wall, a sofa Ken had never moved. There were still boxes that had never been unpacked and canvasses leaning along the other wall. Ken hadn’t painted in months; his heart and mind hadn’t been in it. He’d been fully occupied with Hanna.
“Sit down, Ken,” Mark said as he stood up, and Ken sat on the edge of the sofa. “I’m not quite sure how to say what I need to say,” Mark began as he wandered slowly through the room. “Things aren’t working between us anymore. They haven’t in a while,” Mark said, and Ken stared at him as he moved. “You’ve been taking care of Hanna, I know that, and you needed to. I don’t begrudge her your attention. But even before she got sick, things weren’t particularly good between us. We slept together and lived in the same house, but we’re moving in different directions.” Mark’s voice trailed off, but he continued pacing the room.
Ken opened his mouth to deny what Mark was saying, but he couldn’t, not really. He’d been living at the hospital almost constantly for months, and though he’d called Mark every day, in two months they hadn’t talked about anything other than Hanna and how she was doing.
“You know I’m right, and I’m not doing this to hurt you,” Mark continued.
“I know,” Ken finally managed to say. “You never did anything hurtful the entire time I’ve known you.” Ken sighed, wondering if there was anything he could say. “Why did you move with us, then?”
Mark stopped pacing and sat down next to Ken on the sofa. “I honestly thought that things might change between us once we moved. We would be working together to set up our new home, making new friends together. I really thought building a new life in a new place would bring us closer, like we were right after you got Hanna, but it hasn’t worked, and I don’t think it will. Circumstances got in the way, and I don’t think our relationship is reparable. Do you?”
Ken thought about it for a long time and then shook his head. “You’re probably right,” he whispered. Ken had honestly thought Mark was the man he’d spend the rest of his life with. Ken had been in the early stages of adopting Hanna when he met Mark, and he’d been supportive and loving through the ups and downs of the entire process.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love both you and Hanna and I always will. But I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few months, and to be honest, we probably would have had this conversation a while ago if it hadn’t been for Hanna getting cancer. I couldn’t have this talk with you then, and I’m trying to not be a dick about things.”
“What are you going to do?” Ken asked, feeling both hurt and a bit relieved. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that Mark was probably right. It was time they got on with their lives, and while that would have once meant working through everything together, now it meant going their separate ways.
Mark humphed softly. “Kenny, we’ve drifted apart to the point where you haven’t even noticed that most of my things are already gone. I have an apartment in town, and I’ll move the last of my things out later today.”
“Is there someone else?” Ken asked, and Mark shook his head.
“I’d never do that to you or Hanna, you know that,” he answered with a touch of hurt in his voice, and Ken nodded.
“I do know that. You’re a good man, you always were,” Ken began. “I’m going to miss you, and so is Hanna.”
“I’m going to miss you too. I’ll still be in town, and we can still see each other and talk. I want us to be friends, and I still care about both you and Hanna. I just think it’s time we look at things logically and make a break of it before we come to resent and hate each other, and we will. You need all your efforts concentrated on your work and Hanna. I need to start building my own life.” Ken felt Mark’s hand slide into his. “I do love you, Kenny, I probably always will, but this is for the best. I think we’ll both realize it pretty quickly.” Mark let go of his hand and walked toward the studio door. “I’m going to load the last of my things into the car and say good-bye to Hanna. Maybe in a few weeks, we can all have dinner together or something.”
“Okay,” Ken answered, standing up himself.
“You’ll see that I’m right,” Mark whispered before leaving the room. Ken stayed where he was, glancing around the empty studio, waiting for the hurt and rejection to hit, but they didn’t. At times like this, he’d normally feel the need to paint, but that didn’t materialize either. Ken closed the door behind him as he left the studio, walking through the house until he heard Mark softly talking to Hanna. Leaving them alone, Ken went into the kitchen to start something for their dinner, but he didn’t really feel like doing anything at all. Eventually, he heard footsteps and knew Mark was getting the last of his things. Ken joined Hanna in the living room. The television was off and she had a pad resting on her legs as she colored, her tongue sticking out slightly between her lips as she concentrated.
“What are you doing?” Ken asked, sitting next to her on the edge of the sofa. He half expected to be bombarded with questions, but Hanna kept working.
“I’m drawing a picture for Mark,” she explained without looking up, and Ken watched her for a second. She didn’t ask him anything, so Ken stood up and sat in one of the nearby chairs. Mark came into the house and walked down the hall and up the stairs, returning a few minutes later with his suitcase.
“I’ll call you in a few weeks,” Mark promised as he headed for the door. After setting down the suitcases, Mark walked over to Hanna, saying good-bye to her before kissing her forehead.
“This is for you,” Hanna said, handing Mark the drawing. “So you don’t forget Daddy and me.”
Ken blinked away the tears that threatened as Mark thanked Hanna. “I could never forget you, munchkin.” Hanna threw her arms around Mark’s neck, giving him a hug. “Things didn’t work out between your daddy and me, but that doesn’t mean either of us love you any less.” Then Mark stepped away and looked at him. Ken took a deep breath and gave Mark a hug.
“Take care of yourself,” Ken whispered before releasing Mark and watching his lover and partner of almost three years leave the house for the last time. Ken closed the door behind Mark and then walked back into the living room. He refused to allow himself to do anything as maudlin as watch his car drive away for the last time.
“Daddy, does this mean Mark isn’t your boyfriend anymore?” Hanna asked, her eyes widening.
“Yes. That’s exactly what it means,” Ken explained with a sigh. Mark was probably right. They had been drifting apart for a while, but that didn’t mean he didn’t feel the loss or the loneliness. He might not have been with Mark while he was spending those long hours at the hospital, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t missed him or wasn’t comforted simply by the fact that Mark was there. Now he and Hanna were alone, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Maybe he wouldn’t know for quite a while.
“I’m gonna miss him, Daddy,” Hanna said softly, her lips quivering slightly.
“I know you will sweetheart. So will I. But you still have me, and you’ll always have me, no matter what,” Ken said as he tried to hug away the fear he saw in her eyes.
“Promise?” Hanna asked,
“Yes, I promise,” Ken said. He and Mark wanted different things from life, and while Mark hadn’t necessarily picked the best time to leave, him hanging around for Hanna’s sake was only going to make Mark unhappier and wasn’t going to help Hanna’s recovery, which was the most important thing. “I’ll never leave you, ever.”
Hanna remained quiet for a long time and then moved out of Ken’s embrace. “Will you get another boyfriend?”
“Maybe someday,” Ken said with a slight snort, wondering just how much boyfriend material there was in a town like Pleasanton. Marquette had to have a gay community of some type, but that was most likely dominated by college students. “Right now, I’m going to work on helping you get well,” Ken said, changing the subject. “I’m going to try to figure out something for dinner. Why don’t you draw me a picture?”
“I will if you will,” Hanna said, and Ken smiled.
“How about if I turn on the heat in my studio? You could move in there, and I could start putting things away.” Ken needed to keep busy. Over the past two months, he and Mark had unpacked most of the house a little at a time. Maybe it was time he unpacked his studio and considered getting on with life. He needed to try to get some semblance of normality back for both of them. “Let me get the room warmed up, and then you can sit at one of the easels if you want.” That got him a grin, something Ken hadn’t seen as much as he liked over the past few months, and seeing that expression again was worth all the worry and exhaustion he’d been through.
Ken had left the room and was walking back through the house when the doorbell rang. Ken pulled the door open and saw their neighbor standing on the stoop holding a casserole dish. He simply smiled and extended his hands, covered by oven mitts. “Thank you,” Ken said and motioned for him to come inside. His neighbor looked around and then took a tentative step inside. Ken closed the door. “That smells wonderful.”
“Daddy, is that macaroni and cheese?” Hanna called, and Ken heard her scurrying toward him, the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. “Ooooh, my favorite,” she said as she smiled up at their neighbor, and Ken saw him grin at Hanna, a gorgeous smile that extended all the way up to his eyes.
“The kitchen’s this way,” Ken said, wondering why their neighbor was being so nice and why he was so quiet. He obviously wasn’t shy, or he would have stayed away. “That smells wonderful,” Ken commented appreciatively as he placed the dish on one of the stove burners. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” Ken asked, but their neighbor shook his head and quietly headed for the door. Ken followed and opened it for him. “Thank you so much, again,” Ken said and watched in near total confusion as the man hurried away down the walk and then along the sidewalk toward his house.
“Are you hungry?” Ken asked Hanna after closing the door.
“I guess,” she answered, but Ken found her standing near the dish of macaroni and cheese. He got her a small plate as well as one for himself, and they sat together at the table eating a sumptuous feast. After they’d both eaten way too much, Ken turned on the heat in the studio before cleaning up the dishes. Then he and Hanna moved into the warm room. Ken set her up with an easel, and then he began unpacking mobile metal racks and then his painting supplies, putting everything away in the exact spot he wanted it. When he was working, Ken often lost himself in his art, searching for supplies by feel more than sight when he got engrossed in his work.
By the time Ken had unpacked everything, he considered trying to work, but Hanna was tiring, and he didn’t want her overdoing it, so he made sure everything was where he wanted it before quietly stepping to where she was working. “What are you making?”
“It’s a picture of you, Daddy,” Hanna said before lifting the drawing to show it to him. It really did look like him. The hair color was right—light brown with a touch of blond here and there. She had reproduced his blue eyes and even the slight crookedness to his nose from where he’d broken it as a kid. Her eye for detail was pretty amazing for someone so young, and being able to transfer that to the paper was even more impressive.
“It’s wonderful,” Ken told her. “Let’s pack up and we can get you a little something else to eat before bed.”
“Mac-cheese?” she asked, and Ken smiled as he nodded.
Hanna gathered her things, and Ken put a small bowl of the macaroni and cheese in the microwave for her, careful not to get it too hot. When she joined him in the kitchen, Ken got her settled in her booster chair at the table, and she ate while he puttered. Ken wasn’t hungry, so he kept busy, and once Hanna was done, he shooed her upstairs for a bath.
It took Ken longer than normal to get Hanna bathed and into her pajamas. He had to be careful of the port near her shoulder that they used for her treatments, and he couldn’t help treating her with kid gloves. She was all he had, and he’d almost lost her, or at least that was how he felt. Mark was gone, so it was just him and Hanna now. “Let’s get you into bed, and I’ll read you any story you like.”
“Madeline?” Hanna asked as she scurried into her room. By the time Ken wiped up the bathroom and came into her room, Hanna was already under her covers, grinning up at him excitedly as he found the book and began to read. Ken barely made it halfway through the story before Hanna’s eyes began to close, and by the time he finished, she was sound asleep. He made sure she had her doll before turning off the light and flipping on the tiny butterfly nightlight on the far side of the room. After partially closing the door behind him, Ken finished cleaning up the bathroom before getting ready for bed himself. He’d spent months taking care of Hanna in the hospital, and now, when the house was quiet, he was at loose ends, and he wished he had Mark to talk to. Before Hanna had gotten sick, they would sit up and simply talk, for hours sometimes, about anything and everything. At least that was how it had been once, but that was a while ago. Ken sat on the edge of the bed, looking over at the side where Mark had always slept. Even his pillow was gone.
Ken blamed himself. He’d taken Mark for granted. He’d loved Mark, but he’d also expected him to be there when he needed him. Maybe if he’d paid more attention to him…. He knew it was his fault, and that Hanna’s illness was just the straw that had broken the camel’s back. Mark hadn’t left because of Hanna; Ken never thought that for a second. Mark loved his daughter. Mark had left because of him—that was the only explanation. Mark was gone, and whether Ken was right about why or not, that didn’t change anything at all. Ken turned out the light and slid under the covers, staring up at the ceiling, playing “what if” recrimination games with himself until he finally fell asleep sometime in the wee hours of the morning.
His bed rocked and Ken cracked his eyes open, knowing that Hanna had crawled into bed with him. “I heard a noise downstairs,” she told him as she climbed under the covers on the other side of the bed. “Maybe it’s a bear.”
“It’s probably the man delivering the paper,” Ken told her before closing his eyes once again. Hanna seemed to accept the answer, and Ken drifted back to sleep listening to the soft sound of his daughter’s breathing.
Later, Ken felt Hanna get out of the bed. Peering through slitted eyes, Ken looked at the clock before groaning and then getting out of bed. The house felt cold, and he could hear the wind whistling around the corners, making the room feel colder than it was. “Let’s get dressed, and I’ll make you some breakfast,” Ken told Hanna, and she returned to her room. “Do you need me to help you?”
“I’m not a baby!” Hanna cried back, and Ken smiled as he quickly dressed and cleaned up before going to see what kind of mischief Hanna had gotten into. He got a pleasant surprise when Hanna joined him outside her room dressed in clothes that matched, and she hadn’t managed to pull all the clothes out of her dresser to find them. She was carrying her shoes, though, and Ken scooped her into his arms, laughing as he flew her down the stairs, both of them making airplane noises.
They played all the way into the kitchen. Then Ken set Hanna down and began making breakfast. “You can get the newspaper,” Ken told Hanna, and she hurried to the front door. The words were on the tip of his tongue to have her walk and take it easy, but seeing her with energy, even if it only lasted a few hours, was very heartening.
“Daddy!” he heard Hanna squeal, and he stopped what he was doing so he could take a look at what had her so excited.
The front door stood open, and Hanna was outside in the wind, peering into what appeared to be a box. “What is it?” Ken asked as Hanna lifted the box and brought it inside before closing the front door with a slam.
“Hats,” Hanna said delightedly, and she began pawing through the box, lifting out hat after hat. There were some of every style imaginable: knit caps, wide-brimmed frilly hats, an old-fashioned stocking cap that dangled down Hanna’s back. There was even a small pillbox hat that made Hanna look adorably retro. “Where did they come from?” Hanna asked him without stopping to look up from her bounty.
“Was there a note?” Ken asked as he looked through the box, but he saw only the hats.
Ken’s phone rang, and he fished it out of his pocket, surprised to see Mark’s number. “Hello,” he said tentatively.
“How are you?” Mark asked. “I just called to make sure you were okay.” The sadness in Mark’s voice was clear even over the phone. “Is that Hanna I hear?” She’d chosen that moment to squeal with glee when she saw a puffy pink hat. She placed it on her head before dancing around the living room. “She sounds happy,” Mark said.
“I think she is,” Ken agreed with a smile. “That