Jell-O was definitely not Scott’s favorite dessert. He watched Sandy near the dining room table with the tray carrying the three white cups and forced a smile on his face.
“My favorite!” squealed Jamie from across the table. Her pig tails bobbed merrily as she clapped.
“Really?” Sandy beamed as she put the tray on the table and started handing out the dessert.
Scott’s smile grew more genuine as he watched his little girl take the cup with glee. She fumbled with the grown up spoon and then dug out a mountain of dark pudding. It was topped with a little dollop of whip cream but she managed to squeeze it all into her wide open mouth.
“What do you say?” Scott dabbed at his own dessert as he took his daughter in a firm gaze.
Her teeth were coated with pudding as she smiled again. “Thank you Aunt Sandy.”
Sandy swallowed her own bite prudently before talking. “You’re welcome, Jamie. Just do me one favor?”
The little girl perked up instantly. Her attentiveness was no doubt from both the rush of sugar Scott was sure had already started to course into her veins but also from his sister’s serious sounding request.
“Try not to eat it in one bite.”
Jamie laughed. “OK.”
Scott nodded at her as she took a smaller mouthful this time. For once, she seemed to savor the chocolate taste rather than inhaling it as thoughtlessly as air.
The dining room settled into a comfortable quiet, highlighted by the clink of spoons against the ceramic cups.
Scott created a ribbon of white through the dark brown and winced as he finally took a bite. He could feel the questions Sandy had been waiting to ask simmering just beneath the surface. She was tactful as well as prudent and knew better than to bring up the divorce in front of Jamie. It was coming though, as soon as dessert was over. His big sister wanted to look out for him as ever but before she could draw her proverbial blade and strike at the foe that had hurt him, she would need the whole story. And she wanted the whole story.
He swallowed down that thought with another painful mouthful of pudding. They both settled like concrete on the overdone steak and mash potatoes that were already filling his stomach.
From the kitchen Wally started barking.
“Does he want some pudding too?” Jamie looked down at her cup. Scott saw her realize she didn’t have any to offer the small terrier and watched her face wrinkle with concern.
“I bet he just wants to play.” Scott tried not to notice Sandy’s glance in his direction as she placated his daughters worry.
He couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer.
“Are you all done?” Scott asked.
Jamie nodded vigorously. The idea of playing with the dog appeared to be as appealing as pudding.
“Take your bowl to the sink then and take him out back.”
Jamie jumped out of her seat as if she was on a spring. She gathered her cup and cleanly licked spoon and scurried through the swinging door. The hinges creaked as the door slowed. Jamie’s feet pattered quickly across the linoleum. The excited barks of the dog were joined by the clatter of dishes finding the sink and then Jamie’s coos as she led the dog out to Sandy’s ample back yard.
Scott tossed down his spoon as the back door slammed closed and tried not to feel his sister’s worried gaze. Out of his daughter’s view, he could let his shoulders slump. The weight of the situation he tried to keep carefully hidden from his little girl fell back into place as she rushed off.
Instead of jumping into questions as quickly as Jamie had leapt from her chair, Sandy took a more delicate tact.
“She’s doing well.”
“Ok. Meet you in the living room.”
He nodded and stared down at his half eaten pudding as Sandy headed back into the kitchen. He listened to her run the tap, grind up some fresh beans and dig out a filter.
With a sigh he pushed himself away from the table and strode slowly into the living room as she had suggested. The modern furniture and mix of colors and styles blended into an elegant but comfortable arrangement. It was somewhere to entertain guests, but also where you could just sit and read without feeling like you were in a museum.
He slumped down into the warm chocolate colored arm chair. It was far more pleasing than the similarly toned pudding.
Instead of being bombarded by too much perfume, as he would have been back in his old living room, the only scent that came to him was of the coffee that was starting to brew.
Scott shook his head.
The perfume had been just the beginning. Angela had decorated like a mad woman out for vengeance against the world. There was that squishy, blue velvet couch, the fierce, red modern art that she hung on the walls and then those cat figurines that cluttered every shelf, staring at you like you had just eaten their favorite mouse. The whole arrangement had been jarring and uncomfortable to even look at, let alone live in. The smell hung on your clothes hours after you left and the residual image of the clashing colors and accusing eyes lingered as if you had stared at the sun too long.
Scott let out a sigh and sunk further into the cozy chair. Wearily he closed his eyes.
Decorating the house had been one of the warning signs he had missed. It was another symptom in the rapidly deteriorating relationship that had been his marriage.
He pushed the thoughts aside. He had dwelled on them for long enough.
Decisions had been made, paperwork was being signed. He was getting out while he still had the energy to try again. The last thing he wanted to do was live in those memories.
The aroma of coffee neared along with his sister’s soft step. He sat up and took the mug from her. It already swirled with the bit of milk she knew he liked. He was sure it already had the two scoops of sugar too. It was a far better dessert.
Drawing the mug up to his nose, he closed his eyes once more. He blocked out everything but the smell rising with the steam. The soft hush that broke through meant Sandy was sitting on the nearby couch. The dull thud that followed was her cup finding the coaster.
He sighed and opened his eyes. The dark cream of his coffee stared back up at him silently.
“So,” Sandy started slowly. He could feel her fixed her sharp brown eyes on his bowed head. He knew he wasn’t going to escape explaining this time. “What happened?”
Suddenly, the Jell-O didn’t seem so bad.