“I just have to call my son really quick,” Elise said as Lou parked.
She stepped outside of the car. Her phone silenced and whooed into Facetime.
“Hey!” she said.
Liam sat the phone face-up on an ottoman and bounced up and down over it.
“I wanna see your face!” Elise whined.
Liam groaned lifting the phone up for a picture-perfect view of his face. Willa was behind him in a button-down dress, her posture relaxed as Elise could see her stark white underwear.
“I don’t wanna see that bulldog!” Elise said.
Liam looked over his shoulder and laughed at his mother’s joke.
“What did you guys do today?”
“Um.. we went to the bank. And then we had ice cream for dinner,” he said in question-form.
“Awesome,” Elise said with big wide eyes. “I’ll see you very soon. I just got pushed back a day but I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
They ended with virtual kisses and hugs and Elise knocked on the window for Lou to get out of the car. He waved her in. She opened the door and ducked her head in.
“Well, how is he?”
“He’s fine..” she said.
Her eyes darted to the floor.
“Yes. Are we going in?” she smiled.
“Good,” Liam said. “Everything’s good.”
He twisted the key out of the ignition.
Elise decided she’d take shots. She took two shots of Casa Noble that she didn’t feel until she sat down back in the car and floated all the way back to The Theme Park Capital of the world overlooking a still body of water stained with moss and alligators. She was dizzy and talkative. She knew she was slurring her words as hard as she was trying to hold her tongue up from the floor of her mouth. Her perfect enunciation of every word may have sounded just as drunk as slurring.
“Can you be more definitive about your intention?” Lou asked her.
Her heart was spinning.
“I mean I have to find someone,” she said more specifically.
“Why not me?”
“I don’t get the sense you want me all the way.”
“What makes you think that?” she asked.
“The way you say ‘my son’ and not his name. You separate it.”
“Well yeah. He’s my like real mom life. You’re my romantic life.”
Immediately, her stomach fluttered with regret. She foresaw a stumbling conversation that would serve no understanding in what he was asking– her intention. Everyone wanted to be loved. Elise wanted to be loved. And Elise felt that Lou was a figure in her life whose impact would never fade. She was confident she’d always love him.
She risked the stigma of seeking a stepfather or second husband unfortunately.
She took her flight and, upon walking into her house, unpacked and put back all of the toiletries she brought with her. And then she stuffed her laundry in her laundry basket and checked the kitchen. Decent. Her bathroom. Fine.
Willa was getting ice cream with Liam again. Elise took a shower and got into bed. She was feeling light and high. The disagreement she and Lou had left remnants of irritation but she chose not to think about that. She felt fresh. Relaxed at the hands of vacation and washed off of stressed airport.
She filed through her Tinder messages as she did every night. Harvey from Windsor was getting off of work and he wanted to come over. That was a week ago. Elise responded, telling him she’d be home the upcoming weekend. He accepted her invitation.
She untwisted the twist tie around a new package of white wheat bread and tossed it to the side. She slabbed on mayonnaise and slapped two cuts of turkey and then another piece of bread, making it a sandwich. She thought for a moment. She knew what she was going to do.
The sound of someone else’s car whirring in her driveway. Suspense filling her home and her emotions.
The place looked like a family home, however. DVD’s sprawled about. A colorful throw here. He rang the doorbell. Just his shadow aroused her.
“Harvey?” she asked.
“Harv!” he said sticking his hand out.
They shook as he looked around, big green eyes, bright face, loud voice illuminating her brown decor. He had a bag in his hand. Murder devices.
“You like rugelach?” he asked looking at her square in the face.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had it,” she said.
“You will tonight.”
He pointed at her with his two pointers, his ShopRite plastic bag crumpled in his fist.
He was tall, extended well over a good six feet with a long neck that lurked over his bad posture. Slanted torso like a fourteen year old girl. Clumpy black safeTstep Moc’s to match his black button-up.
He smelled stale like the back of a chain restaurant. Something like metal and cold lettuce. That smell that reminded her of a loud sports barsy kind of night that left her wondering why she spent thirty dollars on microwaveable pasta.
Harvey was smiling like Elise was his first date.
Elise was thinking about Lou when Harvey left.
She called her sister.
“Gunshot fingers all night. I’m alive though.”
“So.. are you coming to get your son or what?”
“I’m talking to you about my shitty date.”
“Yeah, I can care less. Look I’m tired and I’m kinda stressed I’m not gonna be able to find a job. You sucking me into this being your unpaid nanny isn’t exactly helping my self-esteem.”
Willa dropped Liam off at around midnight. Immediately, he sprinted up the stairs, dropping his bag at the bottom of the stairs. Elise shut the door allowing Willa to drive away. She placed one hand on the bannister, the other on her flannel robed hip.
Elise felt that Liam’s behavior wasn’t the worse of his behavior yet. He was always easygoing with the exception of occasional feet stamping and back-talking that she was not intimidated by. This night– the peak of every fit he had ever thrown– she planned to be all the more visually unintimidated by him. He would have always posed a challenge to her therefore she overlooked the root of these things. From blood work to the SIDS grace period. She always felt like panicking. But she couldn’t.
“Tia..” he said under his breath.
“Okay,” she said.
She tore the blanket from over his head.
“Why don’t you say what’s on your mind instead of being rude?”
He began to huff, his cry not yet released. He was holding it in. It was the first time she had seen him do that.
“You’re never home.”
“That’s not tr–”
“Yes it is!” he shouted in her face.
Her eyes were ablaze. She looked away from him and shut her eyes.
“I’m always going with Willa now.”
“I thought you liked Willa.”
“Then you should have let me sleep over her house.”
“So you’re cranky because you’re a little tired?”
“I’m mad because you’re never home.”
Elise had trouble feeling absolutely dreadful when he was legitimately tormented. Everything out of and in her control could have upset him. She didn’t bother tracking.
His room was dark. She touched him on his back– that tiny back that used to fit in the palm of her hand.
She walked out of his room, shut the door, and went to bed.