This is where the day started: ice cream, root beer floats, and pancakes for breakfast. Followed by three hours of cartoons, forts, and hide and seek. I was it, of course.
By noon, both girls were down for a nap. But me, I cleaned the kitchen, picked up the living room, and starting preparing lunch. Frozen pizzas. By the end of this weekend, the girls wouldn’t want anything other than to live with me.
It was after lunch and we were watching a show Aubrey picked, the five-year-old. She was twirling her curly, blonde hair around a finger with her mouth slightly opened in a trance by the characters on the television. The seven-year-old, Delia, was opposite her sister in the recliner with the leg rest kicked out and the entire chair swallowed her whole. She was small for her age. Her brown eyes were just as shiny as her brown hair. I asked them, asked, “How would you feel about living with Mommy?”
Aubrey’s eyes broke connection with the television and looked at me and said, “I would love it!” The older one said, “What about Dad?”
I grabbed the remote and turned down the television. I knelt down in front of the couch, my hands gripping Aubrey’s and looked both of them dead in the eyes. I said, “I would love it, too. Your dad wouldn’t mind! He would want what’s best for you. He could be over every day.”
“Could he live with us?” asked the younger one.
I thought about that for a second, how that might work. If Adam and I would get back together and what it would feel like to sleep with him again. “Maybe,” I said. “You never know what might happen!”
The older one stayed in her chair but Aubrey’s face lit up with a smile so big it cut across from one ear to the other on her little face. “Yay!” she screamed. “Can I go pick out my room?”
Aubrey had been to my house a hundred times and knew that there wasn’t more than two bedrooms, so she was forced to share a bunk bed with her sister on the weekends they were over. I looked at her and I said, “No, silly!” as I tickled her. “But, you and your sister can decorate your room however you want.” I glanced over at Delia. “What do you think about that?”
Her hand was in her mouth, and I couldn’t get a read on what she was about to say. “Dad might come, too?” she asked.
“Maybe! We’ll just have to convince him.”
The two girls smiled, played with the crusts of their pizzas, and when the episode finished I called their dad. They had been through a sugar rush, a nap, television, and pumped full as much hope that I had. Things were looking good. Real good. And I was ready for it.
Their dad came to the door. He had been to the gym since we split up. His shirt fit a little tighter around his chest and biceps, and was a little looser around his stomach. His face had a little stubble on it, something he never had in the ten years we were together. Let a man go out on his own for a few years and he loses the sense of complacency he had with you. He can’t just wake up and expect a fuck or a kiss, he has to actually work for it. And was he putting in overtime. With that body and face he was pulling in babes five or ten years younger than he was. At least, that’s what I imagined. I imagined the way he looked with them, his sweaty body on top of one of them. He always preferred blondes. Then I pictured what I would look like with them. The way my brunette hair would look next to her blonde. Or the way my ass would compliment her tits.
“Why would you tell them something like that?” he asked me before he even said hello. The girls were in the car, both in the backseat with their seat belts on. The car was running and it was at least eighty.
I reached one hand out to his arm, his biceps were firm. “Tell them what?” I asked with a smile on one side.
“You know what I mean. They were yelling about moving in with you. All of us together. Do you know what you’re doing to them?” He jerked his arm away from me. “We’ve been through this before.” He pointed to the car and said, “They have been through this before.” He put a big emphasis on the word they, like I didn’t know who he was talking about.
“Oh, come on,” I said, crossing my arms under my breasts. They’re nice, my tits are. And he knew it. I said, “Listen, I have been really doing a lot of thinking about you and me, our family. I think it could be nice.”
“It isn’t going to happen,” he said as he turned away. Didn’t even finish the sentence before he was walking down the walkway.
“I’ll see you next weekend, girls!” I yelled to the car and blew them a bunch of kisses.
Over these last couple of weeks I talked with the girls about what they wanted for Christmas. Things like Barbies, or some other doll. Delia wants a phone, and I promised her I’d get her one. I asked them how they would feel about a trip to the beach and I promised them that, too. Things were really looking up. The doctors and therapists, they had it all wrong. I didn’t need medication. I needed the space to figure this out on my own. I dumped my pills down the toilet last week, flushed them with a smile and winked at myself in the mirror.
You have to be careful looking up though. It’s easy to get caught up in that and wonder just how far up you can look. You keep scrolling your eyes up, tilting your head back just a little further, a little further, curling your neck, and eventually you’ll end up flat on your ass. Right back to square-fucking-zero.
Adam’s been through it before. So has Delia. So has Aubrey. The girls don’t get it though. Adam does. That’s why he left me. Said I was crazy, and maybe I am. I’ll never admit that to him. It starts small, the doubt does. Like it comes in flashes. Like when I’m lying in bed right before I fall asleep, something like, “Why would he come back to you?” Then it goes away and I tell myself of course he will. I tell myself, “Of course you’re taking the kids to the beach.” I ignore the part of me that’s screaming that I don’t have a job because that doesn’t matter. People go to the beach all the time, and there’s no way all of them have a job.
Then it gets bigger, longer. Like there’s a timer on each dream and slowly, one by one they burn away. “Okay,” I tell myself. “So you probably aren’t getting back together with Adam or having a threesome with his hot girlfriend. But that doesn’t mean the girls can’t move in with you.” Then something like, “Okay, maybe not this Summer because of finances. But next Summer I’ll definitely take them to the beach.”
That’s how it starts. Like a slow burn. And I can smell smoke, but I don’t recognize it as smoke. Smoke smells like daisies sometimes.
I’m in bed now. The sun is somewhere between noon and three. That’s where it usually is when I wake up now. There’s a knock on my door. Not just a knock, more like five or six pounds followed by somebody yelling my name. Then five or six more pounds. This goes on for some time, maybe twenty minutes, before I roll out of bed.
Adam is on the other side of it, his fist hammering into my door. He’s yelling for me and I can’t help but want to ignore him. Ignore the girls and ignore the beach trips and the way the girls love me when I’m happy. Ignore the way happy feels.
“What?” I say as I open the door.
“It’s Friday. You didn’t pick the girls up from school.” He eyes me up and down. Not in a sexual way either. More like a here-we-go-again type of way. “I fucking knew it,” he said.
“Yeah, what of it?”
The girls are in the car and I see them looking at me. Aubrey is waving her little hand left right, left right, left right. She’s smiling that same smile as last weekend. Delia, though, she gets the routine. She’s looking at me, but with reservations.
Adam, he says, “Are you off your meds?”
I says, “Fuck you.”
“The Judge said that taking your meds is a strict part of this agreement, Mel.” He’s standing in my doorway, towering and judging like he knows what the fuck he’s talking about. “I want you to see the girls.”
“Do you? Do you, Adam?” I snap at him.
“God damn it, Mel. Why do you have to do this to them? Do you know what Aubrey has talked about all week? How you’re taking them to the beach.” He’s glaring at me and I can’t help but look away. “Why would you tell them something like that? And even worse that we would all move back in together like it’s some fucking fairy tale.”
“You don’t know anything,” I tell him.
“Fine.” That’s all he says as he walks away, gets in his car, and drives off. The girls don’t wave back to me, only watch as I fade away from view, and I give them a little wave back before I close the door and go back inside.
It starts as a slow burn and engulfs me in a blazing inferno hotter than the sun. So hot it melts my soul. All those memories of ice cream and forts and joy, they all seem so distant now. Like they never happened. Or I’m viewing them from another person’s memories. I crawl back into bed where the nights are long. So long that one month feels like a single night. It might be that long before I see anybody again, or even the sun or the sky. I don’t know when I’m coming home again.