There’s nothing like Chicago in the springtime. The air is fresh, there are flowers blooming on the trees, and people have come out of hiding. I’ve been cooped up in my office all day, so I take the long way home from the train so I can take it all in.
I look up at the sky, squinting against the sunlight while feeling thankful that it’s still so light outside. In the fall and winter, it’s already dark by the time I’m heading home from work. But not today. Today, there’s enough light for me to walk through Lakeshore Park and watch everyone taking in the beautiful evening alongside me.
I’m following the cement path that curves around the outer part when I hear a voice I recognize.
“No, daddy!” it says. “I can’t do it. I’m gonna fall. Daddy, I can’t do it!”
I furrow my eyebrows and search for the source of the sound. That voice is too familiar for it not to be my daughter. It doesn’t take me long to find the both of them - Aveline and Jackson - just ahead of me on the asphalt. He has his hand on the back of her bike seat, and she’s decked out in her helmet, elbow pads and knee pads, wobbling as she pedals. “Don’t let go!” she shrieks.
“I’m gonna let you go, I swear you got it,” he tells her.
I will him not to let her go, but I don’t shout to them. I don’t want to look insane, and I doubt they’d hear me.
“I do not got it!” she screams, but he lets her go anyway. She goes steady for a second before the handlebars start to shake, which turns into her whole bike reverberating from the motion and I watch her lose control of her wheels without being able to do anything to stop it. She careens to the side and crashes into a bush, toppling off of her bike and onto the cement.
When I hear my daughter scream, I pick up the pace and jog over to the both of them in my three-inch heels.
“April?” Jackson asks, sounding confused. “What are you doing here?”
“Honey, are you okay?” I ask Aveline, kneeling down and scooping her up from the ground. She’s hard to hold with all of her protective gear on, but I do it anyway. She’s six, so she doesn’t fit easily in my arms anymore, but I make it work. Jackson says something else, but I can’t hear him over her incessant wailing.
“Daddy maked me fall!” she screams.
I hitch her up higher and give Jackson a nasty look over the back of her shoulder. He’s giving me an equally-as-nasty one back, his eyebrows set low and his mouth in a straight frown. “What the hell were you thinking?” I mouth.
He rolls his eyes and starts to walk away, shaking his head. “Hey!” I call out, clacking after him in my heels with a still-screaming 6-year-old in my arms. “Don’t just walk away from me.”
I catch up with him and see him chewing on the inside of his cheek. “I’m not talking about this with you here,” he grumbles, his mouth barely moving.
“Fine,” I spit. “But we’re talking about it.”
“Of course we are.”
I match his pace, but my arms start to grow weak. “I can’t carry her anymore,” I say. Aveline’s sobs have lessened to sniffles, but she’s too big for me to take her all the way home like this. “Can you?”
“I’m not carrying her,” he says, gesturing towards the bike that he’s rolling. “I have this. Plus, she can walk on her own. She didn’t get hurt. She’s fine.”
“She’s upset, she wants to be carried,” I say.
“She’s not a baby, April,” he clips.
I sigh and try to ignore my aching arms, telling myself that it’s the workout I didn’t get today. The burning is a good thing, and we’re almost home.
When we get there, Jackson puts Aveline’s bike in the storage closet outside the front door and unlocks our apartment. I set our daughter down when we get inside, and she plops down on her butt to take all of her pads off while rubbing her eyes.
“You okay, sweetie?” I ask, kneeling down to help her.
“Yeah,” she says. “Daddy was gonna teach me how to ride my bike. But I kept getting scared. I said I wasn’t ready to go by myself, but he didn’t listen.”
“Well,” I say, telling myself to hold my tongue. I never badmouth Jackson to Aveline, not ever. “Some things take time. You’ll get better with practice.”
“I don’t wanna practice if it gives me boo-boos,” she says, rubbing her unscathed knee.
“No pain, no gain,” Jackson says as he passes by, shoes now off.
She looks up at him and unclips her helmet. “I don’t even know what that means.”
I stand up from the floor and take my heels off, unbuttoning my blazer as I walk towards the kitchen. “You were home early today,” I say, hands on the back of a chair at the breakfast bar. “You send Vivian home?”
Vivian is Aveline’s nanny, who’s been with us basically since she was born.
“Daddy said Vivi could leave,” Aveline says, climbing up onto a chair. “Even though we were reading Junie B. Daddy wanted her to go so we could go practice bikes.” She huffs. “I wish Vivi would’ve stayed. Then I wouldn’t have gotten a boo-boo.”
“Well, I like spending time with you, just me,” Jackson says as he washes his hands.
“What about Mommy?” Aveline asks, nitpicking. It’s her new thing - picking apart and correcting what we say, taking everything literally. It’s been exhausting.
“Her, too,” Jackson says, and turns off the faucet.
“I’m gonna go change out of my work clothes,” I say, sliding my hand along the black countertop. “I’ll be back to start on dinner.”
I close the door to mine and Jackson’s room and sit at the end of the unmade bed, letting out a long breath as I cover my face with my hands. I try to center myself. I don’t want to fight with him - we’ve been trying not to do that. But as we try to get better about it, it’s only gotten worse.
I have so much stress to shoulder at work - I’m an attorney for Clifford Law Offices - and my caseload has been insanely heavy over the past three months. Every time I close one, another gets opened and is assigned to me. I have no room to breathe, and home is supposed to be my solace.
Lately, it’s been the exact opposite of that.
For the past year, Jackson and I have been on edge with each other. Our relationship has turned challenging instead of pleasant, and I’m always looking towards the future to see what hurdle we’ll have to jump over next. Whether it deals with an argument we’re always revisiting or something to do with Aveline and her demanding needs as she gets older, it doesn’t matter. It’s always something.
So now, sitting on the bed in this quiet room, I cherish the peace for at least a moment. I don’t let it last, though, I get up and change into yoga pants and an athletic tank top, and walk back out to the kitchen in my socks. Before I get there, I hear the TV playing some kids’ show, and I look at it when I rejoin Jackson at the counter.
“You turned on the TV for her?” I ask, narrowing my eyes.
He nods, taking a big sip of the beer he’s opened. “You and I need to talk, you said it yourself,” he says.
I make an annoyed little sound. “Doesn’t mean you have to placate her with that thing,” I say. “She turns into a zombie, and then she’s so nasty when I turn it off.”
“You gotta give her warnings,” he says. “Ten minutes left, five minutes left, then she doesn’t get so mad when you just up and turn it off and tell her right then what she’s gonna do next.”
“I don’t do that to her,” I say, opening the fridge. “What sounds good to eat?”
“I don’t know,” he says.
“Avi,” Jackson calls out. “What sounds good for dinner?”
“Mac and cheese!” she calls back, and I sigh.
“I’m not making that for her again this week,” I say. “She needs protein. I’m making chicken,” I call out to her. I hear whining instantly, as her response.
“Why’d you ask then, if you already knew what you wanted to make?” he says, and I can hear the eyeroll in his voice. “Doesn’t make much sense.”
“How was your day at work?” I ask, skirting the subject as I get three chicken breasts out of the fridge.
“Fine,” he answers, and I hear the clink of him setting his beer bottle down. “Yours?”
“Hectic,” I say.
“Any surgeries today?” I say.
“One,” he says. “Rhinoplasty.”
“Nice,” I say. I wait for him to ask me about the case I’ve been working on for weeks now, but he doesn’t. I offer up the information anyway. “I met with the prosecutor today and talked about how we’re going to go about the hearing on Monday,” I say. “She was willing to listen to a lot of my points.”
“Good,” he says, but his eyes are on the TV show that Aveline is watching - Strawberry Shortcake or something.
I frown and pull a bag of potatoes out of the bottom cupboard and rinse them off as I find ones to peel for us.
“She wasn’t ready for you to take your hand off the seat,” I say, swiping the potato peeler over the skin so it shucks off into our square white sink.
His eyes flit back to me, away from the TV screen. “Are you really gonna start in on that?”
“I told you I wanted to talk about it,” I say.
“You baby her,” he says, shaking his head and setting his beer down.
I pull a coaster out from the stack close to him. “Use one,” I say forcefully, and stick it under his bottle.
“It’s granite,” he says, swiping the circle of condensation away. “Christ.”
“Don’t,” I say under my breath, then lift my eyes. “She fell and got scared. What kind of example are you showing her? Oh, Daddy’s telling you that he’s here, he’s not gonna let you fall, then what do you do? You give her a shove and basically say, good luck! And she biffs it in a shrub.”
“She was fine,” he says. “I had her in all that gear for a reason. Do you see a single scratch on her? No. Because I know how to take care of our kid, April. Sometimes I swear you think I don’t.”
I scoff. “That’s really nice,” I say. “Putting words in my mouth. No, I never said that. I would never question your abilities as a father. I know how much that-”
“Itt sure sounds like you are.”
“I’m not!” I say, skinning the potatoes more forcefully, the sound of the peeler against the potato insistent and repetitive. “I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that you’re telling her one thing and showing her another, and she’s not gonna know which one to believe. You can’t just shove her off on a two-wheeler and expect her to know what she’s doing. It doesn’t work that way.”
“How does it work, then?” he counters back, leaning forward on his elbows. “If you had it your way, she’d be on training wheels until she’s 12. She needs to learn sometime, April. So what if she falls a few times? That’s how kids learn. God, that’s how everyone learns. By falling. Then you get back up. She was fine, she wasn’t even hurt.”
“I know she wasn’t hurt,” I say, staring down into the sink where all the brown, peeled skin lies. “You’re not hearing me. That’s not my issue here. What I’m saying is-”
“I hear perfectly well what you’re saying,” he says. “What you’re saying is-”
“You’re not letting me talk!” I exclaim, and feel a sharp stab of pain in my finger as soon as the words come out. Surprised, I look down and see dots of red blotting the sink and the tip of my pointer finger soaked in blood, nicked from the peeler.
“What’d you do?” he asks.
I stick it in my mouth and suck on it, willing the stinging to stop. “Cut myself,” I say.
“I’ll get you a Band-Aid,” he says, starting to stand.
I take my finger out of my mouth and shake it off. “No,” I say. “I got it. Thanks.”
I go into the bathroom and wrap my finger up, then come back out to see that he took my spot where I’d been peeling.
“The sink is all bloody,” I say, watching him from a short distance away. “You’re gonna wanna clean it before you finish.”
“What, are you planning on eating the potato skins?” he asks, his tone short and sarcastic.
I stay quiet, but stare daggers into him as he looks down again.
“You could have at least apologized for what happened earlier, when she fell,” I say. I take a sip of his beer - we’ve always liked the same drinks.
“You kind of took that moment away from me though, didn’t you?” he says, dumping the last potato into the pot so he can add water.
“What was I supposed to do, leave her lying there?” I retort. “My kid falls, I pick her up. That’s how it works.” I eye him. “Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.”
“Stop,” he says. “Just stop.” He switches the range on, then opens the oven to check on the chicken breasts, so there’s a short pause before he starts talking again. “Because one minute you say you’d never, ever compare me to my deadbeat father, then in the next breath - the next damn breath , April - you’re undermining my capabilities as her father.”
“I swear, I don’t know how you think this stuff up,” I say incredulously.
“Honestly?” he says. “Honestly, you don’t see yourself doing that?”
“You are out of your mind,” I say, taking another sip of his beer while trying to keep my hands from trembling with anger. “Never in my life would I compare you to Robert Ave-”
“But you just did,” he says, raising his eyebrows. “You just stood here and told me that I wouldn’t go comfort my kid when she needs me. Because you wanna be the superhero, right? You wanna swoop in there and save the day and there I am, the bad guy again.” He nods slowly. “That’s just how you like it.”
“I was walking by!” I shoot back. “What did you want me to do, ignore her? Ignore the fact that she was screaming on the ground as you were strolling on over all casual? No, of course not. I’m her mother, Jackson. I’m gonna go comfort my kid when she’s crying.”
“Of course you are,” he says. “No one’s telling you that that’s wrong. But you’re telling me that somehow what I did was wrong because you got there first. You don’t know what I would’ve done had you not been there.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t,” he says.
“I do,” I say. “You would have pulled her up, put her back on that bike, and made her go again. You wouldn’t have bothered to stop and wipe her tears, listen to how scared she was, you didn’t want to hear any of that. You just wanted her to ride that bike.”
“Nothing is wrong with wanting my kid to learn something new,” he says.
“There’s plenty wrong with it when she’s explicitly telling you that she’s not ready, and you continue to ignore her,” I say.
“If you wouldn’t have showed up, she’d probably know how to ride that thing by now,” he says. “Then it wouldn’t be sitting in that goddamn closet, taking up space and gathering dust.”
I scoff. “It’s not gathering dust. She’s gonna learn to ride it soon. You just need to give her time, that’s the problem. That’s always been your problem, you always want things done now, now, now. But she’s a kid, Jackson! She’s six. You need to go out with her more and let her make progress before you just shove her.”
“Enough with the fucking shoving ,” he spits. “I’m tired of hearing you say that word, I never shoved her. I let the bike seat go. That’s it.”
“You don’t need to curse at me,” I say. “She’s right over there. She hears you, you know.” I narrow my eyes. “And anyway, don’t change the subject. I wasn’t done. I was going to say that if you were home more often-”
He turns his back on me and opens the oven, sliding the pan with the chicken breasts in. But even after the oven door is closed, he stays facing that way.
“Don’t start,” he says, his voice low and gravelly.
“No, it needs to be said,” I say, my hand wrapped around the cold beer bottle. “You’re always working those long hours at the hospital, and if you’re not careful, you’re going to miss her growing up-”
“Says the pot to the kettle!” he says, storming back around with the oven mitts still on. “How often is Vivian here, huh? How often?”
I open my mouth, but no words come out.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Avi loves Vivian like a mother , April. Like a goddamn mother. And you know why? You know why? Because you’re never here. Don’t talk to me that I’m never here, because who got off work early this afternoon and specifically came home when I could’ve stayed at the hospital and done some paperwork-”
“Oh, you’re such a saint,” I say, throwing my hands up. “Coming home to spend time with your kid when you could’ve been doing paperwork. Oh my god, what a humanitarian you are.”
His eyes are burning with anger. “Stop it,” he says.
“I stay at work because I have a billion things to do. A billion people to cater to, I’ve had to be in court more than I’ve had to be in years, this is just a really busy time for me. So, yeah, it’s a good time for you to pick up slack. But you don’t seem to get that.”
“Oh, I don’t get that when I’m home at night with her and she’s asking where you are?” he says.
“She knows where I am,” I say. “I’m open with her. I don’t sugarcoat things.”
“Yeah, okay,” he says sarcastically, eyebrows raised.
“You’re the queen of sugarcoating, April,” he says. “The queen of babying that kid. I don’t think she would’ve even learned to walk had you had your way. You never put her down! You don’t let her experience life. She wants for nothing.”
“And why should she?” I ask. “You want her to suffer for some reason…? When we have more than enough means to give her everything she needs?”
“It’s more than just that,” he says, leaning forward on the counter. I glance behind me to see that Aveline is still enraptured by the TV, leaning against the armrest of the couch with her legs tucked next to her.
“I don’t know what you’re saying,” I reply.
He groans like he’s so fed up with me. “Neither of us have enough time for her,” he says.
“What are you saying?” I hiss. “She’s not a puppy. She’s not… what, do you want to take her back to the shelter? Because that’s what it sounds like you’re saying right now.” My face heats up. “Well, make sure it’s a no-kill one, okay? At least do that much for her. God, Jackson. Do you hear yourself sometimes?”
“Oh, my god, that’s not what I’m saying!” he says, pounding his fist down. “If all we’re gonna do is fight over how to raise her, fight over how much time we spend with her, fight over every little damn thing about our kid, then why did we have her at all? Huh? Why did we?”
He’s seething, and so am I. My teeth are gritted together so hard I think they might explode into dust.
“How can you say something like that?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Don’t twist my words. I’m thinking about Avi here. I love her so much, you know how much I love her - I’d die for her. I’d give my life up on the spot for her, no questions asked. But what I’m saying is that if this is the kind of life we’re gonna give her, then why did we do it? Why are we doing this to her?” He pinches his lips together. “I heard her call Vivian ‘mama’ the other day. She didn’t correct herself, either.”
My eyes well up with tears, but I beg them not to fall over. “No, you didn’t,” I say. “Stop saying things just to hurt me.”
“I’m not making it up,” he says. The potatoes start to boil, so he turns the heat down on the range. “Vivian corrected her, but Avi didn’t correct herself.” He pauses. “She’s six. She knows better. She knew what she was doing.”
“I’m done with this conversation,” I say, sliding off the raised chair. “Call me when dinner’s ready.”
“Oh, sure, run away from it,” he calls out, but I’m already on my way back to our bedroom.
I pass the living room on the way there and catch my daughter’s attention. “Where’re you going, mommy?” she asks. “Come watch a show with me.”
“Maybe later, sweetheart,” I say, blinking hard. But then I remember what Jackson said about me not spending enough time with her, and feel a pit of guilt settle in my stomach. “Well, okay, maybe one,” I say, and sit down next to her on the couch and pull her to rest against me.
I kiss the top of her curly head and squeeze her tight. “You know I love you, right?” I say.
“Shh, mommy,” she says, pointing at the TV. “I can’t hear Strawberry Shortcake.”
I let out a quiet sigh from my nose and feel weak and defeated. My daughter’s right here in my arms, but it feels like she’s being held just out of my reach. And Jackson… our relationship hasn’t been the same for almost a year now. I don’t know what’s deteriorating between us, but it’s going fast and it’s getting worse. I don’t know how to make it stop.
A while later, Jackson calls and tells us that dinner’s ready. I turn the TV off with a whiny protest from Aveline, but we make our way to the table to find that he’s set all of our plates already.
“I wanted mac and cheese,” Aveline whines, slumping down in her chair. “I don’t like chicken.”
“You like chicken fine,” Jackson says, and I take her plate so I can cut it up for her. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I feel his eyes on me, but I ignore it. I can cut my kid’s chicken without feeling guilty. She’s six, she can’t do it on her own.
“And you like potatoes,” I say, slicing open my own.
The three of us eat together in silence for a while until I break it. “So did you do anything exciting at school today, Avi?”
“What was your best thing?” I ask.
“I did the whole monkey bars at recess,” she says. “And Miss Diane didn’t even make us wear coats.”
“Wow, nice,” I say. “Good job, honey. I’m proud of you.” I squeeze her wrist and give her a kiss on top of her head. “How about...the worst thing? What was that?”
She takes a big forkful of potato and chews. “Crashing my bike,” she says.
Jackson makes a small noise, and I decide to stay quiet and not say anything so I won’t perpetuate our fight further. I’m still calming down from it, and I don’t want to rile myself up again. Or him, for that matter.
“Daddy got home early and made Vivi leave,” Aveline says after a small pocket of silence has passed.
“I know, you told me that,” I say conversationally.
“I wish you got home,” she continues. “I want you to get home first.”
I don’t know what to say, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a small sense of satisfaction from hearing that. “Well, you love your daddy,” I say.
The conversation dies off again and stays that way. I let my eyes roam around the house as I eat, pausing on the pictures that line the walls. On the weekends, I do photography. I’ve been taking pictures for almost twelve years - I started just after I finished undergrad and began law school. All of the professional shots of Aveline decorating our apartment were taken by me.
There’s one when she was about two-and-a-half years old that’s hanging on the wall, and Jackson is in it, too. Their foreheads are pressed together and they’re smiling at each other - so big that it looks like their faces could break in two. She has her hands on his shoulders and the background is blurry so the focus is on just them. That’s always been one of my favorite shots.
That day we’d gone to Museum Campus and taken a slew of pictures - it had been the perfect fall day. Aveline was in jeans, a sweater and a winter hat, and the two of us were comfortable in jeans and long sleeves. She hadn’t cried once all day, and we’d attracted the attention of plenty of passing tourists, every single one telling us how beautiful our family was. It made me feel so proud, knowing that those two were mine. That no matter how successful I’d ever be in my career, that they’d always be my greatest accomplishments.
That feeling is hard to find anymore. I have to dig for it. Most of the time, I find myself thinking about work before I think about my home life. That’s not to say that Aveline doesn’t cross my mind plenty of times during the day, but she’s getting older and more independent. I don’t have to worry if she’s swallowed a marble at home or choked on a Lego or had a violent allergic reaction to some household food. We’ve fallen into a routine that centers around our careers, not each other. I barely notice it until I start to think about it like this, then it just depresses me.
I let my eyes scan to another photo, one of the rare ones not taken by me. It’s framed and resting on the bookcase by the TV, and it’s one of the older ones in the house. It’s Jackson and me at a friend’s wedding, he’s holding onto one of my hands and the other one is in the air as he spins me. We were dancing. We used to love to dance together at those kinds of events, and the wild smiles on our faces show it. My face is red and sweaty and my hair isn’t perfect, but he’s looking at me like he can’t see any of that. I remember being so purely happy with him, and not just during that wedding. During that stage of our lives, before Aveline was born and while we were engaged, we’d been the happiest couple around. We loved each other so limitlessly - we’d been borderline obsessed with each other.
Things didn’t change once the baby was born, like they did for a lot of our other married friends. Our sex life didn’t die down, we didn’t spend less time with one another. If anything, we appreciated each other on a deeper level, in a very different way. I looked at him and saw the father of the beautiful creation I held in my arms. He was a part of me, we were a part of each other now. No matter what, we’d always have her as that link that held us together. I loved that. I was so in love with him and the life we’d made.
I hate that it’s hard to remember that feeling. Hard to remember how it felt walking in the door after a long day, kicking my heels off, and melting against him on the couch. It’s hard to remember what it felt like to have sex that meant something, instead of just using it as an outlet. I don’t remember what it felt like to sleep in the same bed and find him in the middle of the night just to pull myself closer, or what it felt like to fall asleep with his head on my chest, running my fingers over his hair. He used to love the way my hands felt on his head, and now he doesn’t even let me touch him.
We’ve changed. A lot.
After Aveline goes to bed that night, Jackson watches TV in the guest room and I go over case files on the bed that we used to share. I’m sitting cross-legged with my back against the headboard, flipping through papers and feeling my lips move as my thoughts fly warp-speed through my brain.
I’m exhausted, that’s for sure. I want to go to sleep, but I can’t let my work rest.
I eventually force myself to do just that, though, and put the thick manila folder on the floor next to my slippers. I get up out of bed in my thin, purple nightgown and walk to the bathroom, pulling one of the spaghetti straps up that fell down.
I stare at myself in the mirror as I brush my teeth, letting my mind go completely blank for the first time all day. I wrap an arm around my middle and pop my hip to one side, letting my eyes close as I try and relax, but it doesn’t work. An antsy feeling washes over me and I wish I could say I didn’t know why, but I do. I can’t unwind. And one of the only ways I can force myself to relax before going to sleep involves someone who’s really pissed at me right now, so I don’t think that’s going to happen.
I go and lay back down after switching off the light and turn onto my side, staring out the window that looks over the dark, broad expanse of Lake Michigan. I sigh deeply and try to shut my eyes, but sleep won’t come.
I’m still lying there with my eyes closed a while later when I hear the door click open. I turn halfway over, expecting to see Aveline, but I see Jackson’s silhouette instead. He makes his way to the bed and though he can’t see me without the light on, I furrow my eyebrows with confusion. I wonder if he’s in here for the reason I think he is.
“Uh, hey,” he says, and I can see his arm move up to rub the back of his neck. “I can’t get to sleep. I was wondering if you wanted…”
I roll to lie fully on my back. “Yes,” I say, and shuck back the covers so they bunch at the end of the bed.
Sometimes, this happens. I’ll be in bed, by myself, wanting him more than anything. His body on mine, just to feel that close to him again. But I’m too shy to go into the room where he sleeps and ask. So most of the time, he finds his way into mine.
I pull up my short nightgown and rid myself of my black underwear, throwing them haphazardly onto the floor as he pulls his shirt and pants off. When his boxers finally go, he gets on the bed and straddles my hips, holding them tight in his strong hands as he deliberately pushes his way inside me.
I let my eyes roll back from the sensation. We don’t use condoms - we haven’t for a long time, since I’m on the pill - and I love the way he feels inside me. We don’t speak. We never do, while we’re doing this. I think parts of us want to pretend like it’s not happening, though we know we both need it. At the end of the day some days, if I didn’t have this release, I don’t know what I’d do.
His pelvis rocks against mine forcefully, and he starts to make little grunts as he gets near what we’re both looking for. I widen my legs to welcome him deeper, and he does just that. He goes faster and harder, so hard that I have to hold tightly onto his forearms and leave little white fingerprints behind. I press my lips together so I don’t cry out, because I can get loud when I come and that’s something we’re both very aware of. When we were still having regular sex, we had a couple awkward conversations with Aveline as to why Mommy was yelling out in the night, so we’ve learned to keep it down since then.
I throw my head to the side when it happens, taking in a harsh gasp of breath. He comes at the same time as I do, which isn’t unusual for the both of us who’ve been having sex for plenty of years, but he doesn’t kiss me. He doesn’t bend at the waist and rest against me, he doesn’t palm my breast, he doesn’t let himself do any of those things.
I don’t say his name, I don’t tell him I love him, I don’t run my hands down his chest. We stay separate, except for the parts of our bodies that are joined as we come down from our orgasms.
When he pulls out, I get up so I can walk to the bathroom and clean myself up. He pulls his clothes back on and throws a look over his shoulder when he’s about to walk out, almost like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t. He stays quiet and I flit my eyes away, suddenly feeling awkward about this whole situation.
I put on the same pair of underwear as I head back to bed and sit on the side, staring at the carpet. We’re using each other when we do that, I know. It’s not healthy, and we shouldn’t be having sex at all. Because it’s not normal sex. It’s not loving or gentle or even really that passionate. We’re only doing it because we both have pent-up stress that we know the other can help us get rid of.
When I think about it too hard, I get disgusted with myself for being an active part of letting this happen. I’m a successful lawyer who makes six figures, who went to school for longer than my daughter has been alive. I’m an intelligent, capable, independent woman. Yet how can I be so emotionally stunted when it comes to the man who I’d once give my life for?
In the morning, my alarm wakes me up just as the sun is peeking in through the blinds. I lie there for a moment, staring up at the ceiling with my arms resting above me on the pillow, and breathe deeply. I’m exhausted, just like I am every morning, and I would give anything to not go into the office.
If I really needed a day off, I could just take it. I hold enough clout at that place to do close to whatever I want, but I won’t do that. My work is important to me, and I would never ditch just because I’m tired. So I haul myself out of my warm bed and into the bathroom, where I start the shower.
I get in and stand under the jet with my hands covering my face, then I hear the door open.
“Avi?” I call out, hearing how tired my voice sounds.
“No, sorry, just me,” Jackson says. He sometimes comes into the master bathroom in the mornings if he has to shave. The guest bathroom doesn’t have enough outlets. “I can wait, though, if you-”
“It’s fine,” I say, pulling the shampoo out of its holster and squirting some into my hand. While we’re in such close quarters, I’m tempted to start a conversation about last night, but I don’t know what words I’d use. It’s happened so many times - it’s not like last night was the first.
I open my mouth to begin, but find myself with nothing to say, so I close it again and work the shampoo into my hair.
For some reason, I find myself thinking about the day we met. It was about nine years ago, right when I finished law school. I was at a bar downtown called Three Dots and A Dash, celebrating with my friends because I’d just passed my Bar exam and was officially qualified to practice law. I had my life laid out in front of me, and everything was going perfectly. I had nothing to complain about.
Except for the fact that my friends wouldn’t stop bothering me about the fact that I’d never made out with a stranger in a bar before, and it was apparently my rite of passage into adulthood. Addison and Amelia, two of my close friends at the time who I’m still friendly with now, were scouting men in the bar that would be fitting for me and I was doing my best in ignoring them.
I smile to myself as I think about it now. They were pointing out the worst guys and I was saying no every time, but they wouldn’t give up for anything. They said that I wasn’t leaving that bar until I went up to stranger and kissed him, at least.
I had just passed my Bar exam. What did I have to lose? I told myself it wouldn’t hurt to just go up to a guy and give him a kiss. I had my whole life in front of me. I was a smart woman and I knew that guys found me attractive. I had my pride to lose, I guess, but that was about it.
After a whole bunch of duds, they had pointed out Jackson. He was sitting by himself at the bar with a beer in front of him - actually the same kind of beer that he’d been drinking last night before dinner. When they suggested I go up to him, I hadn’t hesitated. He was easily the best-looking man I’d ever seen in my life, and I wasn’t going to pass him up.
I stood in front of him in a black dress and heels, hair pulled away from my face and a blush on my cheeks.
“Hey,” I had said, hands clasped at my waist. I tried to pull my confidence up from the floor, but it was shrinking away from me. His eyes were dazzling, his skin was gorgeous, and his smile practically knocked me on my ass. But I was going to follow through with this. “My friends are making fun of me because I’ve never made out with a stranger at a bar. So… I was wondering…” I shifted my weight from foot to foot.
He chuckled. “Is that a pickup line?”
I blushed even worse. “No,” I said, truthfully.
“Well, it worked,” he said, and pulled me close by my waist and pressed his lips to mine.
I made out with Jackson before I learned a single thing about him, yet our lips fit together perfectly like we’d been doing it our whole lives. His grip was tight on my hips and I heard Addie and Amelia cheering from way far off, but it felt like the two of us were the only people in the room. The only people on earth, more like.
We didn’t come up for air for a long time, but when we did, we were both breathless. I stared at him with wide eyes and a surprised expression on my face, and he tucked a piece of my red hair behind my ear.
He gave me his number and told me his name and the rest is obvious.
I jolt back to reality and realize I’m still smiling.
“Hey, remember when-”
“I wanted to talk to you about something.”
We speak at the same time. “Oh, go ahead,” I say, standing still with a washcloth in one hand and the bar of soap in my other.
He sighs. “I want you to know that this isn’t easy for me to say, okay?” He pauses for a second. “I don’t want to hurt you. I’m tired of hurting you, April. This is… this is really just hurting both of us. And last night… what we did, it just helped me realize this.” Another pause. I feel like I might throw up. “I think we need to talk about trying this with other people. Dating.” He sighs again. “Because whatever we’re doing… this isn’t working.”