Mitch Lovett steers his banged-up Saab up the driveway of the house he used to live in. The children pile out of the back. Addie, his four-year old, waves her hands in the air in a musical pantomime. She sings over and over again,
London Bridge is falling down,
Six-year-old Julian crosses his arms and scowls at his father as he steps out of the car. “It isn’t fair that you made me come home in the middle of Grand Theft Auto. I could’ve beat Larry.” He kicks a soccer ball in the driveway—it hits the garage door and bounces off the hood of the Saab. Mitch catches the ball as it comes down.
“You need to control your temper. Or would you like a time out?” Even as he asks the question, he feels guilty that he left the kids at the Spicer house the night before because he wanted to spend the night with Dee Wynn. What kind of father is he?
Julian must’ve sensed his doubt. “You don’t live here. How can you give me a time out?” he grouses. He sits on the ground in protest.
“You get up, son,” says his father.
“Yes, you get up. You be nice to your daddy,” agrees Addie, shaking her fist at her brother. Julian defers to his younger sister. He is, like his father, a great lover of the opposite sex.
“Now, the two of you head upstairs,” says Mitch with a wave of his hand. “Your mother’s waiting.”
He sees Kathy, the woman he once loved, crack open the front door and gaze out. She smiles gaily, and her eyes glow, but not for Mitch. The kids gallop up the stairs to hug her. “I haven’t seen you forever,” she says, gathering them in her arms until they start to giggle. She attended a conference in Richmond with her fellow shrinks and drove home that morning. Her antenna must be up.
“You saw us the day before yesterday,” says Julian as he rushes in the house, followed by Addie.
Mitch yanks the kids’ overnight bags out of the trunk and hefts them up the front steps to the hallway.
“I know something you don’t know,” says Kathy, looking at him carefully like he’s a specimen under glass.
Mitch drops the bags in the front hallway. “What would that be?” he asks, hesitating. He eyes his ex, warily.
“Oh, come in,” she says, dragging him by the arm to the living room. He sits down on the flowered sofa, which had been there since they had purchased it from the decorator at Ethan Allen before the kids were born. Kathy saunters into the kitchen to fetch two cups of coffee and a salted oatmeal cookie, which she must have purchased just for him. What is she up to? He wonders. Usually they go their separate ways until the next visitation.
Mitch looks around the room. He is amazed at how things are the same. The same two paintings hang on the wall—in the first, a woman cradles flowers in her arms as she steps out of an orange pick-up while a man behind the wheel stares at the bucolic landscape, perhaps to avoid looking at the roadside cross that dominates the foreground. In the second, a Morris Minor is poised to pull out of a country lane into the shadow of an oncoming truck. He and Kathy both love realism of the more edgy variety. They love art deco, as evidenced by the clock on the mantel that cost a fortune and the brass chandelier with the amber fleurette shades that cost nothing. (A friend was about to lower it into the trash in his condo.) The house itself was Craftsman style, with built-in wood cabinets to either side of the fireplace where Kathy kept the Waterford glasses that they received as wedding presents. He remembers purchasing all these items and how excited they were at the time, especially about the home, Kathy saying, “This is where we are going to raise our children,” though they were both anxious since she’d already had two miscarriages.
Mitch is checking out a photograph of Bob and Kathy sitting in a Paris café on their honeymoon, the Champs-Élysées in the background, when Kathy slips in with her booty balanced on a silver tray. She sets the tray down on the mission-style coffee table, another item they acquired together. He sips the tea and munches the cookie, savoring every crunchy bite. He used to eat a whole package in one day, and Kathy would say, “You’ll make yourself fat.” But that’s not true. Maybe in his fifties, but right now he’s still a lady killer, bronzed skinned, muscular, and curly haired in the same mysterious Gallic way as his father and grandfather before him and so on into the misty past.
“So, what is it you know that I don’t know?” he asks, grabbing another cookie.
“Dee called me this morning to tell me that you spent the night together.”
He isn’t sure what to say—Dee is part of his and Kathy’s extended circle of friends from high school, which still gets together on a regular basis. He didn’t know them until he was a freshman in college, but now he is tight with them as well, so tight that he is dating (or at least sleeping with) his ex-wife’s best friend—what’s more, Dee had once been engaged to Bob, Kathy’s new husband. What a mess, he thinks, and shrugs.
“What does that mean? You slept with her?”
“Where were the kids?”
“I left them with the Spicers.”
“You didn’t use up all the Stork Club tickets?”
The Stork Club was their baby-sitting co-op that they started with their friends. He took the kids to a meeting of the club. Then he planned to take them to a movie and an overnight afterward, but Dee called.
“Yes, I did. I can’t very well take the kids to Dee’s condo.”
Kathy chuckles. “Smart thinking.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
“Well,” she says. She puts on her glasses as if to read her ex more intently. Before the kids were born she wore contacts, but they were impractical, she said. They gave her a startled look that might frighten the newborns. He found this funny but he knew better than to tell her this. It would send her off on an analytical riff.
Kathy clears her throat. “The two of you together. I think it’s wonderful,” she says, leaning forward and patting him lightly on the knee. “I couldn’t think of a better solution. I know Julian loves Dee and she is good friends with Bob” – they were once engaged – “and Addie, she can adapt to anything.”
“How about you?”
“Me,” she laughs, putting down her coffee cup, a lipstick stain on the edge. “I’m a lapsed Catholic. No more guilt.”
Mitch wanders out to the backyard, where his kids are playing on the swing set that he set up—when was it? A thousand years ago. He hugs the two. Addie clings to his legs. “I love you, Daddy. I love you,” she says in her sorrowful voice that Mitch thinks is a little put on. She is already a drama queen.
“When will we see you again?” asks Julian, scowling at his shoes.
“I don’t know, a week, I think. I’ll call you.”
He heads around the side of the house, avoiding Kathy, jumps in the car, and screeches out of the driveway. He is over the divorce. He is over Bob moving into the house on Woodland a month later. He is not over losing his kids, but he is trying to soften the blow through sex. It’s the one thing that he can rely on. Women love him—in particular, one woman, Dee Wynn. They made love three times last night in a very lustful fashion, the third in the shower. He had her up against the tiled-wall. She was straddling his legs. Bouncing up and down. The wall was slick so they were moving from side to side as well. It was like he was in an earthquake, unsure of his footing. He noticed a bar of soap underfoot. He kicked it away and shouldered open the shower door. They toppled on top of her bed, finished the job they were working on, and fell back, satiated.
“Remember when we were in college and we double-dated with Kathy and her boyfriend, Darren McCall?” Dee asked as he stumbled out of bed to get dressed. He could see her in the mirror, smiling sleepily at him. “I was so jealous of the attention you were giving Kathy that I jumped in the front seat of Darren’s car and flirted with him all the way to the dorms. And Kathy, that vixen, invited you up to her dorm room out of pure spite.”
“Yep, I remember,” he said, but as he recalled, it wasn’t spite exactly. Kathy seemed to like him, and the next day they went out to The Last Detail, a flick that was perhaps too suggestive for a first date.
Dee padded over to where he stood in front of the mirror, put her arms around his chest, and squeezed tightly. She was still naked, and he could feel her breasts against his back. “Well, she had you then,” said Dee, running her hand down to his stomach. “I have you now, and I’m never going to let you go.”
Mitch thinks about those words now, driving home. He doesn’t know whether it was a threat or a promise. He finds the lady enticing in the physical sense—Dee is a pale-skinned beauty with a lush figure—but she is no Ophelia, not a shrinking violet. She is used to getting what she wants, and he doesn’t know whether he wants to be wanted, at least right now.
Mitch drives east on New Hampshire Avenue, a four-lane thoroughfare full of traffic. On either side of the road are strip malls, brand new fifty years ago, now gone to seed, a few deserted storefronts, lopsided signs, bargain stores: Mattress Discounter, Dollar Store, and Shopper’s Food Warehouse. On the top of the hill on the right behind a Wendy’s and Jiffy Wash is his house, which sits off by itself on a small road that borders the eastern end of Old Town.
He drives up Oak Lane to number thirteen, and parks in the gravel driveway. He stares at a dapper old man with a pencil mustache polishing the chrome on his Lincoln Town Car across the street. He has seen this man before but he’s not sure where. A good looking gent. Gives him the creeps. Mitch unlocks the door, trudges up the narrow stairs to his bedroom, and collapses on his bed, one of the many wood veneer pieces he acquired from a local motel furniture outlet. He dozes off. It has been a long night.
He awakes when the alarm goes off. It’s four in the afternoon. He jumps out of bed and picks out his work clothes and hangs them on a chair, but he cannot find his Rockport cordovans. He takes the room apart until he comes to the closet where, behind a small metal box that he tosses on the bed, he locates the shoes. They are four years old, worn and cracked but well-polished, his favorite for work. He may buy a new pair, but not for a while. Mitch is not comfortable with change.
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