Emerging onto the front steps of the high school, Nikols shifts his briefcase from his left hand to his right, as he briefly scans the main yard for any lingering students. Eager as he is to get home, he cannot completely turn off the educator in him. As his eyes fall on two of the schools’ regular truants, he opens his mouth to motivate them to go home, when he takes notice to what their eyes are focused on; a fresh young blond, not quite 18. Her hair hangs limply down her back, while her too-short crop-top clings to her ample breasts and her too-tight low-riders hug her slim hips. Passing by them, she exaggerates her gait, attempting to flaunt her still developing curves, visually regarding them with disdain, as she physically beckons them nearer. Registering the female’s figure with an adolescent-like interest, Nikols has to smile, as a set of similar curves sashays across his mind.
Nikols and his roommate Kelly stood outside the dining hall after their last class, when Susan walked past them for the third time. Her Daisy Dukes made him hunger for much more than dining hall cuisine, and he could feel her every step in the pit of his stomach. As he dragged his fingers through his slightly damp hair and gathered his courage, Kelly nudged him strongly in the ribs.
“I wouldn’t trust her.” He said simply.
“What’re you talking about? She’s beautiful.” Nikols told him. “What do you know? Your taste in women is terrible.”
“Why, because I like my women to have hips? Hips you can trust.” Kelly said, dismissively.
“You’re full of shit, Kelly. You like your women fat.” He retorted, as Susan tossed her hair back over her shoulder.
“No, I’m serious. Look at her; she’s parading back and forth in front of you. Working so hard to show off. If she had hips, she wouldn’t have to work so hard. She’s trying to sucker you in. That let’s you know it’s gonna be hell, once you get it. But a woman with actual hips doesn’t have to flaunt ’em. They move naturally, like a pendulum. Always right on time.”
With a wave of his hand, Nikols dismissed Kelly’s warning, as was customary and shifted his attention back to Susan, only taking a brief moment to whisper over his shoulder at him.
“Who cares about hips? That face is enough. I’ll never get bored with that.”
“Faces don’t build a…”
He had moved too far away to hear Kelly’s words. Nikols was already introducing himself before his roommate could finish his thought. From behind, he could hear him yell out, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He ignored him as he did most of the time, but as the memory begins to fade, the grandfather clock downstairs chimes announcing the ten o’clock hour, and Nikols begins to wonder what was the last thing that Kelly had said.
Standing in the darkened bedroom, Nikols sighs heavily as he hears the distant sound of a car door closing. Walking to the window, he very carefully separates the sheer curtain and discerns the form of his wife, as she attempts to make a quick, yet quiet approach to the home.
“She’s hoping that I am asleep.” He says aloud to no one.
Glancing at the digital clock, Nikols grinds his teeth, when it turns 10:45 pm. He waits for several minutes, listening to his wife ascend the stairs. Estimating that she will be opening the bedroom door soon, he crosses the room and flips on the light switch, just as it opens. Startled, his wife releases a quick cry, as Nikols looks at her with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow.
“Oh god, you scared me. Why are you standing in the dark?” She asks him.
“You’re late.” He says simply. He is happy to see her, but trying desperately to hold on to his anger.
“I know I am, honey. I’m sorry. I had to finish up at work.” She says while crossing the room to the bed.
“We both have things to finish at work. But you promised me that you’d be home by 9:00 pm. We made plans, Susan.” He reminds her.
“I know we did. And we can still carry them out. Just give me a few minutes.” She requests.
With a submissive nod, Nikols watches as Susan takes off her pumps and begins shrugging out of her suit jacket. Relaxing her feet by making small fists on the plush carpet, she unzips the side of her skirt and must pause in order to yawn. Instantly, the shreds of Nikols’ patience gives over to fury. Sternly, with the slightest hint of venom in his voice, Nikols says, “No, Susan. You can’t do this again.”
“Do what?” She says, with a sigh. “I’m fine. It’s just a yawn.” She continues dismissively.
“That’s what I thought the last two times. You can’t do this to me again, Susan. It’s not fair. You promised me you’d be ready this time.”
Yawning again, she says, “I am ready. Just give me a minute. Stop overreacting.”
Clenching his jaw, Nikols balls his fist and quickly slams it against the bedroom wall, startling her once again.
“What the hell has gotten in to you!?” Susan yells at him.
“I’m tired of you breaking your promise to me. You said we’d try. I’m doing everything on my end. You were supposed to be home at 9:00. You said that was the optimal time for possible conception. How can you do this to us? You fucking promised!” Nikols shouts back at her.
“It’s not too late, damn it! Just let me fucking shower first!”
“No! Because as soon as you come out, you’ll be too tired to make love. And we’ll be forced to wait for the next optimal time. Which could be weeks!”
Rubbing his hands over his head, Nikols grips his hair tightly, before taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself.
“Susan, you promised me that we would try. You said you wanted a child, too. But you haven’t been acting like it. I don’t understand.”
In a few brief seconds, he crosses the room and lightly places his hands on her petite shoulders, looking down into her brown eyes. His anger nearly drifts away, as he takes in her beauty and he can feel the dismay ebb from him.
“I know that your career is important. Mine is too. But we said that we would do what it took to make this happen. I thought we were together on this.” He says softly to her.
“I know that’s what I said. But …We don’t even enjoy lovemaking anymore. It’s scheduled and a chore. We have to do it. And that makes me … It makes it …” Susan quiets without finishing. He can nearly finish the sentence for her. He knows that she will not say more in order to avoid hurting him any further, and his heart begins to ache for the both them.
“I do enjoy making love to you. I’ve never stopped. So you must be saying that you don’t enjoy it anymore.” Nikols says with his voice just barely above a whisper. Vocalizing this possibility causes him to nearly choke on the lump forming in his throat, but his hope is rekindled at his wife’s negative reaction to these words. She shakes her head and wraps her arms around him, holding him close to her.
“I didn’t say that.” She admits. “What I mean is …sex between us was spontaneous. We used to make love anywhere. It could be dirty and fulfilling. Maybe we would have an orgasm. Maybe we wouldn’t, but it was always fine. Ya know? But now, there’s too much pressure. We don’t even talk dirty anymore. If you don’t finish then you feel like less than a man, and if I don’t, you think I don’t want you. And then we spend the next week trying to mend fences. I don’t want it like this anymore.”
Sniffing her hair, Nikols wraps his arms around her and holds her closely. He is torn. She promised that she would not react this way. The doctor said that trying to conceive may be stressful and taxing. But she said she could do it, she agreed to try. Now she wants to go back to what wasn’t working before. Squeezing her firmly, he grinds his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut, thankful that she cannot see his struggle, his pain.
With a calm, nearly joyful tone, Nikols says, “Alright, let’s take away the pressure. Let’s not worry about needles or schedules, and just be together when it feels right. The way it used to be.” He finishes passively.
“Really?” She asks.
“Yes. Really. Let’s …just sleep now. And start fresh tomorrow.” Nikols relents.
“Ok.” Susan says happily, as she gives him a final squeeze. “This will be better for the both of us.”
“You’re right, honey. It will.”
But as his now contented wife slips from their warm embrace, and the clock downstairs signals the beginning of the eleventh hour, he is weary as he steps toward their king-sized bed.
Slowly, Nikols opens his eyes, and has to shield them from the blinding noonday sun. When his vision slowly returns, he can see Susan standing a few feet in front of him. Her shorts are just as short as the day he met her, but her face has only slightly matured, having grown more stunning with age. Her smile is warm and inviting, with lips that have beckoned to him, when she use to writhe beneath him. With the speed of a snail traversing a muddy garden, Nikols advances and Susan swiftly turns her back and begins to walk away. Her footsteps echo, resounding painfully in his ears, as he tries to catch up to her. Yet, before he can clear two feet, she is nearly out of sight. Off to his right the sound of shrill laughter catches his attention and Nikols can see his college roommate, Kelly, who has maintained his youth, playing gleefully with countless, faceless children.
Overjoyed, he calls out, “Kelly, help me, man. I can’t catch her.” “Don’t.” Kelly calls back to him. “Faces don’t build a…” But Kelly is unable to finish. Two of the faceless children grab his hands, and they run off together, quickly fading from view. Still struggling, Nikols can feel his heart pounding, as the weight around his feet triples, forcing him to scream out.
When he quiets, Nikols is laying in his bed with the comforter tangled around his feet. His throat is raw and his head aches, as the alarm obtrusively alerts him that it is 6:30 am. In one motion, he frees his feet and brings his fist down on the alarm clock, silencing it. He then calls out for his wife, but receives no answer. With this being his newly adapted routine, Nikols climbs out of bed, and gets ready for work. Much like his dream, he has not laid hands on his wife to even kiss her goodbye in several weeks. He is asleep when she arrives home and she is gone when he awakens. So when he calls her office, he expects an argument from her, but much to his delight, she agrees to be home by 9:00 pm.
At 8:20 pm, Nikols finds himself standing in the wine section of the grocery store. He is seemingly in a daze.
“I’m not sure what I should buy?” He thinks to himself. “Milk isn’t romantic, but she can’t have wine. Soda is too casual…..Ah, juice.” Quickly, he turns and strides speedily to the juice aisle. He has an anticipatory smile on his face, as he turns the corner and enters aisle six. Coming to a stop, he scans the shelves, dismissing the various beverages, just as quickly as he reads the label.
“Pineapple juice….Not sweet enough. Grapefruit juice…. Not sweet at all. Apple juice, hmmm…. To juvenile. Grape juice…uhhh, maybe. Ahhh! Sparkling white grape juice. As benign as it is elegant and it’s even corked like champagne. She’ll like this.”
Grabbing two bottles of the name-brand sparkling grape juice, he goes to the check out, where he places the two bottles on the counter. Glancing at his watch, he sees that he wasted 10 minutes choosing juice, and curses his indecisiveness. Robotically, he pays for the bubbly and takes the bag from the cashier, hoping the traffic is light on the way home. Once in the car, he plans his spontaneous attack.
“I’ve already asked if she’ll be home by nine tonight and she guaranteed she would. She wants lovemaking to be spontaneous, so I haven’t told her that based on her past record tonight will be her most fertile period this month. She said she wanted sex like it used to be, but that hasn’t happened. It’s gone from scheduled to none at all.” Glancing at the plastic grocery bag in the passenger seat, he makes the necessary left turn as he enters the final stretch towards home. “Maybe I won’t even use the juice. Maybe I’ll sweep her off of her feet as soon as she walks in and take her on the stairs. Hmm, I read somewhere that rear entry was optimal for conception.”
The prospect of sex after more than a month, especially non-missionary sex causes Nikols’ pants to become tight and uncomfortable. Yet thankfully he pulls into his driveway and parks, while glancing at the digital clock on the dashboard, which reads 8:45 pm. Grabbing the bag, he gets out and sprints towards the home, determined to at least shower before his wife arrives. After a quick once over, Nikols runs downstairs with wet feet, wrapped only in a towel to retrieve two elegant champagne glasses for the two of them, all the while expecting the front door to open and interrupt his preparations.
It’s 9:05 pm, and the juice has been poured, sending an effervescent mist dissipating into the still air. The glasses sit on their bedroom dresser, which stands next to the window that Nikols stares out of, as he absently continues to dry his damp hair. “She’s late, but only a little. I should put some clothes on.” He says aloud. “I shouldn’t look too obvious.”
By 9:20 pm, Nikols is fully dressed, and he even decides to take a moment to attend to his hair. At 9:30, his hair is perfect and he takes his first sip of the sparkling grape juice. It isn’t long before he consumes his glass of juice and hers, too. Beginning to pace the floor, he makes his way to the phone and calls her office. There is no answer, and her cell phone goes immediately to voice mail. All at once, Nikols anticipation, his lust and his hope sinks to the soles of his expensive shoes, as he swipes the champagne glass off the dresser and trudges downstairs.
When Susan stumbles through the front door, Nikols has been sitting alone in the dark for more than an hour. As she regains her footing, he quickly gets to his feet, and gestures to approach her, until she begins giggling adolescently. Susan is wearing her standard business suit, but her shirt is untucked and she is carrying her two-inch heels in her right hand. There is a slight tilt to her stance, and a single step across the threshold forces her to grab the door banister in order to steady herself. Propping herself up, she feels around for the light switch, while announcing much too loudly that it’s too dark. Her lack of balance accompanied with the slur of her words, extinguishes the worry that had grown in Nikols, allowing the choking anger to surge within him. As the overhead light erupts into life, both Nikols and his wife must squint their eyes, but then they are soon aware of each other. With a bottle of Hennessey dangling from his fingertips and a champagne glass in the opposite hand, Nikols observes his wife’s stumbling gait, who just barely makes it to the sofa.
After taking several moments, Nikols is able to mutter, “You’re late.” Watching his wife conform to the sofa, like water to a glass, he bares her wide berth, as he crosses the room to the front door, which she left standing open.
“This is the best day of my life.” Susan slurs in a drunken daze.
“Oh is it?” Nikols finds himself saying automatically. “Why?”
“Because I made partner!” She exclaims, though her voice has grown more sluggish.
Before Nikols can finish giving his false kudos, he can hear the telltale snore of a drunken sleep. Glancing at his wedding ring, which gleams too brightly in the light from the ceiling fan, Nikols gulps the remainder of the liquor in his glass and overhead pitches the elegant stemware through the open door, where it shatters on the stone walkway. Grabbing the door, he slams it closed and makes a steady ascent up the stairs to their bedroom, alone.
In the morning, Nikols awakens to the sound of a loud thud, followed by the sound of his wife’s voice. When he exits his bedroom, he is surprised to see two men dressed in beige work coveralls, maneuvering a walnut-colored wood desk into a doorway, that is nearly too narrow for it. Susan quickly comes up the stairs behind them, berating them for being late and potentially damaging her expensive new desk. Once they are inside the room, Susan exits and immediately spots Nikols, closing the distance between them.
“Honey, did the movers wake you? And I’m sure they’ll still be expecting a tip.” Susan says.
Unsure of how he should respond, Nikols simply nods, while sleepily rubbing his eyes, before being compelled to say, “Congratulations.”
With a bright smile and a polite hug, she says, “Thank you, honey. I’m sorry I got home so late last night, but I didn’t know they were throwing me a party. I see you hadn’t made dinner or anything. What’d I miss?”
“Nothing. New desk?” He asks while nodding towards the room where the desk now resides.
“Yeah. I can get more work done, if I have an office here. So I’m turning the spare room into one.”
Before Nikols can speak, Susan darts back to the top of the stairs to heap criticisms on a second set of movers carrying a bookshelf to the second floor. Confident that her warnings will keep the furniture safe, Susan turns to go back to her husband only to find him standing inches from her, wearing a confused expression.
“But Susan …I thought we were saving that room for a nursery?”
Minutely rolling her eyes, Susan says, “We are, but that’ll be in a while. We can always change it later.”
Nikols can see himself lunge at her, taking her by the shoulders and shaking her until the woman he married returned to him, but instead, he settles back on his heels and sniffs the air several times, recoiling with distaste.
“What is that scent?”
Eyes brightening, Susan says, “It’s a new fragrance. It’s called Ambition.” Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she returns to the threshold of her new office, and loudly asks, “Do you like it?”
Turning his back on her, Nikols mutters, “No.”
The school year is over, and summer has begun quickly, hot and heavy. Nikols spends every day at home, lucky that he does not have to find a part-time summer job to make ends meet. Susan’s promotion to partner has their finances intact. Her office is finished, complete with a high-back leather office chair, a Persian rug, window treatments and a fresh coat of paint. The mint green paint that she and Nikols had chosen for their nursery color is nowhere to be seen, and usually neither is Susan. The warmth of her body next to him at night use to bring arousal and pleasant dreams, but now, Nikols only wishes that she would be quiet when she comes to bed.
At 9:47 am, the rain has just stopped and a thin, mist is rising from the grass and pavement. The clouds are retreating to the east and the sun has eagerly taken the stage. With his wife gone, and all of his school suits dirty, Nikols gathers them haphazardly, and heads out for the day. The morning is beautiful. All of the professional people are tucked snugly in their cubicles, and the streets belong to the gardeners, the stay-at-home mothers and the many children who are free for the next three months. When Nikols arrives at the dry cleaners, he notices a city bus has come to a stop on the curb. As it disembarks, he exits his car, coughing as the ozone-depleting exhaust overcomes him. Suits in hand, he crosses the street and must wait as a few others enter in order to utilize the laundry mat adjoined to the cleaners. Seizing his opportunity, Nikols grabs the handle, and nearly enters, when he sees a cinnamon-skinned female approaching in his peripheral vision. She is carrying a large basket, but instead of holding it in the front of her body, like a sack of potatoes, she has it nestled firmly on her right hip. Overwhelmed by a nearly forgotten sense of chivalry, he steps aside and opens the door for her. Using the same dismissive courtesy that is common between strangers, he remarks, “There ya go.” And the woman swiftly flashes a brilliant smile, and says, “Thank you.”
He is stunned by her voice; it is thick with an accent that reminds him of a distant, tropical island. Her lips are full and reflective, shiny from a sheer gloss; and her large, dark brown eyes seem to regard and dismiss him with a single gaze. Once he is able to collect himself, the sweet scent of vanilla mixed with an unidentifiable aroma fills his nose and all of Nikols’ college-educated logic dissipates, like the morning rain surrendering to the heat. The aroma overpowers the scent of laundry detergent and the harsh odor of chemicals, blurring the edges of reason and reality. The muscles in his right arm mechanically tense to prevent the suits from cascading to the floor, and finally he steps inside, watching as she lowers the heavy basket to the ground. Stepping lazily forward, he only sees the back of her. She is fully covered; none of her bronze-toned skin is exposed. She is clad in a simple, white t-shirt and yellow capri pants, but as she makes her way to the change machine in the rear of the room, the natural sway of her rounded hips, like the arc of a pendulum, lures him like a game fish to a baited hook on the open sea.
The suits are meaningless. He considers discarding them, but then his clumsy entrance would look even more foolish. Instead, Nikols quickly finds the dry cleaning counter, giving over the garments in exchange for a ticket.
“How do you want these?” The clerk asks.
Still looking mostly behind him, Nikols says, “Just clean.”
The clerk asks him another question, but Nikols is already walking away. He has lost sight of her, and is moving to quiet the dull panic growing within him. After weaving past other woman carrying baskets and children, he spots her closing the lid on the washer and inserting a handful of coins. As she inserts the final quarter into its slot, and presses the start button, Nikols slides up beside her, leaning on the machine with his elbow propped on it.
“Do these machines take a lot of quarters?” Nikols asks nervously.
The brown-skinned woman does not answer immediately. She moves her laundry basket so that it sits directly in front of the washer, and faces him with arms folded, quickly sizing him up, before she speaks.
“They take five dollars worth of quarters per load, but luckily I only have one.” She says politely.
His ears had not deceived him, her thick-island accent was true, and he could feel his legs turn rubbery beneath him.
“Cat got your tongue?” She asks when the silence persists for too long.
“No. I, uh …am admiring your accent.”
“It surprises me that you can understand me. Most white people just smile and nod when I speak to them. But you held the door open for me earlier, so maybe I should not be so surprised by a gentleman.” She finishes with a smile.
Nikols can feel twenty years melt away from him in an instant. The warmth growing around his neck and ears tells him that he is blushing, and he wants to run like a kid from a girl that is far too pretty for him to bear.
Pointing a manicured, yet short-nailed finger at him, she says, “Eh-eh, you’re blushing young man. Doesn’t your wife give you compliments?”
Considering neither the answer nor the question, Nikols answers,
“No,” while sheepishly running his fingers through his hair.
Hands on her hips, she continues. “The house must not be a home if you’re doing your own laundry.”
“She’s a lawyer, working all the time, and school’s out for the summer. So, I’m taking care of my clothes.” Nikols confesses naturally.
“The gentleman is a school teacher. Why don’t you tell me your name young man?” She asks while gingerly moving her hair off her shoulder, so that it drapes down her back.
“Nikols. My name is Nikols.”
Extending her hand, she says, “And I am Ceillia.”
Nikols takes her hand and gives it a strong shake, but his grip slackens, as the softness of her skin enters his pores. The scent that captured him earlier is washing over him in waves, and he is taking in every detail of her; her high cheekbones and dark brown eyes. She wears little make-up, allowing her skin to glow much like the young girls he teaches year after year, before they succumb to the need to look older. On closer inspection, her dark, long hair is locked into hundreds of even ropes, pulled back into a thick braid, decorated with tiny yellow flowers. She looks strong in a way one acquires by living, not by working out and her hips could support the weight of nations. Much like the women his former roommate Kelly, would have dated.
Their conversation continues as naturally as it began. All the while, Ceillia is tending to her laundry, drying and then folding it. Before long, she looks up on the wall, and remarks that its 12 after one, and that the bus would be arriving soon.
“It’s too hot to carry laundry on the bus. I can give you a ride home.”
With an eyebrow raised, she places a hand on her hip.
“Do you think I trust you, young man?”
“I’m the gentleman, school teacher. What’s not to trust?”
Instead of outwardly accepting, she instructs Nikols to grab her laundry basket, who eagerly obliges. They have some difficulty finding the car, because although he should be leading the way, he would rather walk behind her, taking in all of her various curves. His desire for such shapeliness is novel and exotic. He feels like a young child, who has seen a bike for the very first time. The drive to her home is a simple one. She lives very close to the school where he teaches, and he even sees some of his former students along the way. Her home is modest, smaller than his own but still spacious. It stands out like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, being the only yellow house on a street littered in white and beige. She would normally have to walk several blocks from the bus stop, and expresses her appreciation for the ride home. She automatically invites him without any awkwardness or pretense, and he accepts.
When Cecilia opens the door to her home, he is bombarded by an assortment of fragrances, but the most prominent is the scent that attracted him to her hours earlier. She is showing him around and he is following her gestures, but he is not really hearing anything, merely experiencing new sights and sounds. Her home is much different from his. She has decorated with colors; deep, rich shades of blue, red and yellow. The home smells of spice and food, foreign to his palate but causing him to salivate nonetheless. He is instantly comfortable, and after placing her laundry on the floor, she gives him a glass of juice that is spicy and sweet.
“What is this?” Nikols asks, still savoring the new flavor on his tongue.
Cecilia immediately begins to chuckle as the expression of doubt crosses his face.
“It’s just called beer, but it’s not alcohol. Do you like it?”
“It’s spicy, but it’s good.” He says while taking another sip. “I’ve never had anything like it before.”
“It’s an old recipe from Trinidad that my grandmother used to make. She passed it to my mother, who passed it to me. They are both gone now. And one day I’ll pass it down to my daughter …or my son. Many say that men make the best cooks. Are ya hungry young man? I guess that wife of yours won’t be making lunch for ya either?” She says resting her hands on her hips.
Plainly, he answers. “No. She won’t be.”
With a bright smile spreading across her face, she motions for him to follow, as she walks down a short corridor.
“Then come with me, honey. Food is almost ready. Ceillia’s gonna feed ya.”
As though being controlled by a puppeteer, Nikols follows his host down the hall, watching the rhythm of her movements more than listening to her words. When he returns home later, it is well after dark and it looks as if no one is there. He glances at the dashboard clock, which reads 9:21pm. Nikols had spent the entire day with Cecilia, talking and getting to know her. Out of respect for his wife, he had journeyed home to find that there was no one to come home to. He had lived, quietly and simply for half of a day and learned more about himself than he had known throughout his entire marriage. Grasping his wedding ring with his right hand, he tugs on it until it slips off and he drops it in the ashtray. Then, he puts the car in reverse and follows the breadcrumbs back home.
When she opens the door Cecilia does not seem surprised to see him, nor is she surprised when he grabs her by the hips and pulls her close to him. All that she says is that some things are just natural. Foregoing more conversation, Nikols kisses her urgently, as though he might catch the words before they have fallen completely from her lips. He does not stay with her the entire night. Responsibly, he returns to his house, hoping to find his wife, waiting for him, angry that he has returned home so late. Instead, she is sleeping soundly, resting comfortably in the center of their bed. With the fragrance of his infidelity still radiating from his skin, he looks at himself in the bedroom mirror, just noticing the clock turning 3:42 am, and finally feels no disappointment at what he sees. After a long shower, he falls heavily asleep on the downstairs couch, accompanied only by pleasant dreams.
The next morning, there are no questions of his whereabouts. Nor are there questions a month after. Nikols hears snatches of his wife’s career successes in passing, but no longer asks. As his daily visitations with Cecilia extend later into the passing nights, his responsible need to return home diminishes, like the dew each morning that he awakens with her. Before the school year begins, he wakes up with her when she is overwhelmed by morning sickness. And once school begins, he
schedules his week around her doctor’s visits. All of the doors before him lie open, but there is only one left to close behind him. When Susan walks into his classroom, after the final bell, Nikols is surprised, but relieved all at once.
“Nothing has changed around here.” Susan says matter-of-factly.
“Things rarely do in schools.” He answers.
“Has the year started off well?”
With a genuine smile, dancing at the corners of his mouth, Nikols says, “Maybe not as great as your year, but off to a good start.”
“I’ve been winning cases. And I came home to celebrate one day and you weren’t there. Nothing was there. I went to make some dinner, guessing you would get home around nine, but the cupboard was bare. And you didn’t come home.”
“I’m not as predictable as I once was, Susan. You can’t count on me anymore.” He says while closing his briefcase, clinching his jaw in response to her sudden interest.
“You look good. Fitter than before. That looks like a new suit. It‘s a brighter color than you‘d normally wear. You’ve been eating well at least. Somewhere …Haven’t you?”
Irritated, he slams his fist down on the desk. “Don’t question me, Susan. I’ve gotta go. So come out with it. What do you want?”
“I’m your wife. You can spare me a minute of your precious time.” She spits, waving her hand at the clock on the wall over his head. Instantly, she begins to wipe at her eyes with the back of her hand. Although, he can feel their history compelling him to comfort her, their reality encourages him to think better of it.
“I know that I’m too driven. And I put my career first, but…”
Interrupting her, Nikols says, “None of that matters anymore.”
“Was it the night I made partner? That night I came home drunk. I’m sorry I should’ve called you…”
“You did what you wanted to do. But it wasn’t that. It wasn’t the missed appointments, or the late nights, Susan.” He explains, while releasing a
With her eyes widening hopefully, Susan crosses the room, standing in front of him.
“Then we can fix what we’ve squandered.”
“I haven’t squandered anything. But if you have to know, you lost me when you chose walnut colored wood over mint green for your new office. You have money and recognition, all that you wanted, but I never got what I wanted from you.” Side stepping, Nikols walks to the door and waits. “I have to go, Susan.”
“So this is it?”
“I can fight this. I can drag you into court for years.” She says through tears.
“Then it will be no different than our marriage. One sided. I don’t want anything from you. I don’t even want to hate you. I just want it to be over; so that I can continue the new life I’ve started.”
Slowly, Susan begins to weep. Sorrowful sobs sweep over her slim
form, likening her to a brittle leaf shivering in the autumn wind. Although touched by her emotions, they do little to move him. After several sniffs, she wipes her face on the back of her hand, and joins him at the door.
“We did have some good times.”
“A few.” He regards pleasantly. “A few.”
They leave the room together and walk in silence, until they reach the main steps of the building, where they part ways. Neither of them speaks, or watches the departure of the other. Once inside his car, he starts the ignition, glancing at the clock on the dashboard. It is 2:18pm, and Ceillia’s appointment isn’t until three o’clock. There is plenty of time.
When Nikols pulls up to the house, the driveway is vacant and a “For Sale” sign is slightly swaying in the breeze. With the divorce proceedings underway, it is time to retrieve the last of his belongings. After nearly an hour of loading clothing and keepsakes, Nikols grabs an empty box and climbs the stairs. When he opens the bedroom door, he sneezes uncontrollably. The air is so stale, that he considers opening a window and then smirks at the foolishness of the thought. The bed is untouched, as though not even his wife had been sleeping here. His wife. That word no longer fits comfortably on his lips or even in his thoughts. With the late day sunlight temporarily blinding him, as he crosses to the closet, he looks down at the floor, noticing the footprints that he is leaving in the freshly vacuumed carpet. He feels like a traveler walking into a hotel room, but instead of settling in, he is moving out.
The closet has very little to offer him now. Most of his belongings are boxed up in his car. He is only here to retrieve the last of his much-needed suits and box of papers for his classes. He expected to find a box of his wife’s law books, but they no longer dwell here either. They have been moved to her new office, the room that would have belonged to their future son or daughter. The thought is painful. It hurts like a day old bee sting, not as sharp but still recognizable. Instantly, he feels silly for feeling any hurt at all. They have chosen to move on without each other. Their time together had passed, but being in this room gives Nikols the sense that he is stuck in a time warp where their lives converged and parted in a single instant. So much of the hope in this terminal relationship was dependent on time. There was always plenty of time for the both of them, but they were both watching a different clock. Knowing this is both a relief and a blessing, now he can move forward, living joyfully, instead of watching time tick away in despair.
With his suit jackets stuffed into the last box, Nikols closes the closet door with his foot, and scans the room one last time. Immediately, his eyes fall on the alarm clock sitting on the end table, which flashes 12:00 mockingly. Feeling a swell of annoyance, he crosses the room to where the clock rests, finds the cord snaking from the back of it, and forcefully snatches the plug from the wall. Instantly, the numbers vanish and Nikols feels that his mockery is finally at an end. Shifting the box to his right hip, he exits, closing the door firmly behind him.