Christy set down her mug and forced her fingers to release the ceramic handle.
It’s just a phase, she told herself.
Her shoulders slumped beneath her terrycloth bathrobe as the words landed like heavy weights. Her free hand cupped her rounded belly.
Down the hall she heard the faucet shut off. A set of whacks accompanied Daniel’s vigorous shake of his toothbrush.
Christy slid the squat cow-print patterned sugar bowl from its spot on the marble counter. She pulled a trio of packets from the sunny deck crammed inside. One at a time she shook, ripped, and then dumped the contents into her empty cup.
The slam of the closet door in the distant bedroom preceded the clacking of hangers as Daniel yanked clothes free.
Christy balled up the third empty packet. “Yes?”
“Have you seen that blue tie?”
“The skinny one?”
“You gave that to Goodwill.”
“I wouldn’t have done that. I like that tie.”
You didn’t three months ago, Christy thought. But then she hadn’t been showing three months ago.
“That’s the last time I saw it.”
She listened to their dresser drawers being thrust open and slammed shut, one after the other. She tossed away the empty packets and made her way to the refrigerator with an ample sway. Her fuzzy slippers hushed against the checkered tiles.
She caught her reflection between the postcards, grocery list and calendar on the silver door. Her mirror image seemed to be holding a scream behind clenched teeth. With a shake of her head, she pulled open the fridge and found a jug of milk.
She jumped as she closed the door and found Daniel waiting to enter.
She blinked at the clipped goatee crafted out of his recently bloomed beard.
Perhaps, she thought, he had interpreted: your beard is scratchy, to mean only his mutton chops.
“Sorry,” he said as he continued passed her with his long, swift strides.
“Um…Did you find a tie?”
He jerked open the pantry and ducked inside. “Yeah,” he said, his voice muffled by the cardboard and cans. He pulled back out with a rustle of foil and a Pop-Tart nearing his mouth. “Like it?”
Christy glanced at the Pepto-Bismol knotted around his neck. The harsh contrast to his sky blue shirt and white sports coat gave her more of a belly quiver than the goatee. “I thought you gave that one away too.”
“No!” Daniel said before downing the other half of the cold pastry.
“Isn’t it…kind of old? You wore it in college.”
“It’s retro, hon’.”
The milk in her hand felt suddenly heavy. Christy nodded and moved back to her waiting mug.
“Don’t you have that client meeting today?”
Daniel shrugged and inspected the pantry’s contents while munching the last bit of frosting. “Yeah, but I think I’m going to head out with the guys afterwards.”
Christy rested the cap firmly on the counter and stared through the glass cabinet in front of her. “Randle and the rest?”
“Yeah, those guys.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Probably go skating again.”
Her weighty sigh fogged the cabinet’s surface. Behind her the pantry door slammed shut.
“What’s with that?”
She turned and found Daniel staring at her, arms crossed like a petulant child.
“I just think it’s kind of weird.”
Christy matched his posture although her arms ended up folding higher on her chest in order to avoid her belly. “Randle is what, just out of school? And you haven’t been skating for almost a decade.”
“You think I’m too old to be hanging out with them?” He thrust a finger at her nose.
“It’s not that, Danny.” She tried to force the tension out of her body as she rubbed at her temples. “I just don’t know what’s come over you recently. The clothes, the car, the yard, all this with Randle and…” She winced.
“It doesn’t matter.” She waved him off and turned back to her mug. She hoped he couldn’t see the heat rising on her cheeks.
“It’s Andrea isn’t it?”
Christy held her breath.
“Come on. She’s Randle’s girl friend, you know that.”
“Right,” Christy said. She spilled more milk than she intended into her cup.
“Listen, I know you don’t get along with them, but I do. They’re fun. They’re different.”
“Right,” she said again, reaching for the box of tea bags.
“Are you even going to look at me?”
She set the chamomile packet onto the counter and took a deep breath. She spun slowly and inhaled again before she looked up into his face. Daniel put his box of retrieved granola bars on the counter next to her and wrapped his hands around her shoulders. They felt like a desperate man’s grasp around a bridge railing.
“You think I’d do something like that? With her?”
“I don’t know anymore Danny. It’s like you’ve become a different person.”
“What are you talking about?”
Now or never, she thought and then the words began tumbling like clothes in a dryer.
“You’re wearing clothes that could have starred in Miami Vice because you think they’re trendy. There’s the whole beard thing. And you don’t stop, ever. First it’s replanting the garden and then rebuilding the garage. It’s like you’ll do anything to not be in the house. And now all this with the skate boarding.” She shook her head. “Danny you’re wearing torn jeans and hanging out with people barely out of their teens. And you can’t tell me she hasn’t made a pass at you. I’ve seen her do it.”
“You’re being ridiculous, honey.’ He squeezed her shoulders and planted a kiss on her hairline.
Christy winced and pulled back from the sharp pokes on her scalp. “This is not my hormones talking, Daniel.”
He dipped down to be at eye level. “I just need to shake things up a bit. Before everything gets so…serious.”
“This is what we both wanted.”
“I know.” His eyes drooped onto the floor. “I just don’t want to feel so old already.”
Christy closed her eyes and leaned into his chest. She tried not to assign any half heartedness to his careful embrace. He was avoiding squeezing her too hard, she reasoned.
“We’re both going to be late.”
She sighed and wished she didn’t feel like he was fleeing. She managed a smile as he pulled away. Her hands grasped onto the dangling ends of her robe’s belt.
Daniel gave her a broader grin, his eyes searching for the granola box. “I’ll see you when I get home, but don’t wait up.”
Christy nodded and let her eyes fall to her slippers. His kiss found her cheek, accompanied by itchy short hairs but she kept her eyes downcast as he left the kitchen. She didn’t look up until he locked the front door behind him and by then, her tears were warping the doorway into a swimmy, impenetrable haze.