Unraveled, p.11
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       Unraveled, p.11

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
Page 11


  “What does Mom say?” questioned our mother as she walked into the breakfast room dressed in slacks and a blouse. She must be meeting clients at the office today.

  “That you work too hard,” I said affectionately. Mom leaned down and kissed both of our heads.

  “Someone’s got to keep you girls in cereal,” she teased and went over to make herself a cup of coffee. “Your father says hello by the way and would like for you to Skype him tomorrow. ” Dad was over in England teaching a summer fellowship on comparative American Lit at Cambridge.

  A horn honked outside and Bitsy jumped up, kissing Mom goodbye and running out the door. A cloud of perfume and hairspray threatened to choke me as she sprinted past.

  “Bad night?” Mom sat in Bitsy’s now-empty chair and pushed the abandoned cereal bowl aside.

  I considered lying to Mom, but I hadn’t been able to get away with it when I was a teen and I doubted I’d get away with it now.

  “Just felt a little lonely, I guess,” I admitted.

  She mmhmmed mysteriously but didn’t say anything else, just sipped her coffee and looked at me like I wasn’t spilling all my secrets. I knew this trick. She’d once told me that the best way to get someone to start talking was to be quiet because people hated uncomfortable silences. Trying to resist the pull of her unspoken command, I looked everywhere but her. After not even a minute had gone by, I started blurting it all out.

  “I met a guy last night and he…” There were limits to what I wanted to share so I tried to think of some euphemisms to describe what he’d done, what we’d done together.

  “You were making out with some stranger in the hallway of Gatsby’s?” Mom offered with a choking laugh.

  I pounded my head on the table. “Teresa Bush right? I thought she was too bombed to remember anything. She tried to pull down her dress and show me her tattoo, for crying out loud. ”

  Mom nodded with a smile. “Yes, Teresa wasn’t too drunk to remember seeing you being led away by a man god—I think that was the phrase that Teresa used—and then she watched as you…” Mom paused and tapped her chin, clearly searching for the most embarrassing way to put it. “Oh yes, acted out the first scenes in a porno. ”

  “Mom,” I moaned. “Really? I’m trying to eat. Don’t you have people to sue?”

  “The great thing about the courts moving to electronic filing is that I can sue people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. That means I can take time out to eat breakfast with my eldest daughter,” she said cheerfully and then took another sip of her coffee.

  “Oh my god, Mom. ”

  “So I wondered why you weren’t at your shrine with your man god but rather in my kitchen. Was it just a one-night stand? Or hook up, as you kids are calling it these days. ”

  “I’m sorry, but I have to go outside and commit Seppuku. ”

  “You girls embarrass so easily. ” Mom smirked at me and took a big sip of her coffee.

  “Do you really think it is a shrine? My condo,” I clarified. Within the walls pieces of Will were present. His old assault pack rested against my sofa and his combat boots were up against the wall. In my closet hung his combat and service uniforms. His mother and I had taken all of Will’s things to the dry cleaners and they hung there, shrouded in plastic, beside the clothes that I used to wear—the flirty dresses and skirts, my skinny jeans, a whole floor full of sandals, sneakers and the occasional heels left over from school dances.

  On the wall, covering an expanse of white-painted brick, was a large green felt where my nearly finished knitted American flag afghan hung. I’d finished all the white and red stripes but the blue blocked area where the stars should be had me stumped. I could either try to figure out how to do the intarsia stitch where I’d knit two different colors of yarn at the same time or I’d have to crochet the stars. Neither option enthused me. Tucked amongst all of Will’s Army paraphernalia, was yarn. Lots of it. In a basket near the kitchen, under the sofa, and more upstairs. It was as if I’d tried to fill my life with yarn instead of people. My condo was filled with unfinished knitting projects, balls of yarn, and the relics of my dead husband. So yeah, Mom was right. No wonder Gray had freaked out.

  Setting down her cup of coffee Mom studied me for a moment, as if gathering her thoughts for an important argument. “I think that there is a lot of Will in your condo and that might make it uncomfortable for a new man. ” She pointed to my left hand. “Along with your ring. ”

  I twisted the ring uncomfortably, hiding the shiny diamond in my palm again so only the plain band showed “I just…don’t know what to do with Will’s stuff. ”

  “And you can’t give it to Carolyn?”

  “I tried, early on, but she started crying and said Will would’ve wanted me to have it. I just wanted her to stop crying so I didn’t push it. ”

  Mom pressed her lips together, suppressing her real feelings about Carolyn. “Just because you were once married to Will doesn’t mean you’re endlessly responsible for Carolyn’s mental wellbeing. ”

  Her use of the past tense when referring to my marriage with Will made me tear up. The two bowls of cereal I’d eaten started to clog my throat.

  “I don’t know why I’m tearful all of a sudden,” I admitted. “You’d have thought that I’d cried enough during that first year to last me for a lifetime. ”

  “You’re starting to feel again. You were asleep for a long time. When you wake up sometimes it is painful. ”

  Was that it? Was I just waking up and this Gray guy just happened to push the restart button on my libido? The fact was that I’d been thinking about the lack of physical intimacy more and more as of late. I’d like to think it would pass—an illicit thought of seeing him naked in my bedroom sent a minor shiver down my spine, a shiver that didn’t escape the watchful eyes of my mom.

  “Who names their kid Gray?” I asked.

  Mom smirked. “Is that the hottie’s name? Gray?”

  “Hottie, Mom?”

  “I’m down with your lingo. I have clients your age. ”

  “Juvenile delinquents?”

  “No, you’re an adult. Full felonies for you. ” She nudged me with her shoulder. “Grayson is actually Old English meaning son of a bailiff. ”

  “You’re saying my name should be a color. ”

  “I thought of naming you Blue but your dad wouldnt allow it. ”

  “So I have a boy’s name instead?”

  “It’s gender neutral. Just think of the advantages. ” She leaned toward me. “Will I get to meet the man god?” Mom got a lascivious look in her eye.

  “Mom!” I said with outrage. “What would Dad say?”

  “I’m married, not dead. ” Mom finished her coffee and picked up Bitsy’s empty bowl and the coffee cup and headed toward the sink. “There’s no harm in looking. ”

  I harrumphed and then realized I sounded exactly like the old woman Bitsy had accused me of being. The discussion of Gray had brought to mind his broad shoulders, tapered waist and big hands. I swore I could still feel his tongue running down my neck and the pressure of his erection between my legs. I bit my lip and squeezed my legs to get myself under control. Thank God Mom’s back was to me.

  “Speaking of kids of lawyers, what are you doing, Sam? Not that I mind you bartending but is that really your life’s ambition? I know you signed up for classes at Central because your dad got the tuition waiver but what is it that you’re going back to school for?”

  “I don’t know. ” I stirred the milk left in my bowl a few times and watched the Cheerios swirl around the tiny current I was creating. Talking about the future was one way to kill any sexy thoughts. “It seemed like the thing to do. I can’t even remember what it was that I wanted to study in the first place. ” I scrubbed my face with both hands. “I’m just tired of being sad all the time. I had all these excuses why I couldn’t move to Alaska with Will and now I wish I didn’t live here where everyone who knew me rec
ognizes me as one part of a unit that’s broken and missing a major piece. I’m Will’s widow here. ”

  “So move away. Start over,” Mom urged. “You’ve got to stop living your life based on what other people think you should do. I get that you have regrets and that you wish you moved to Alaska so that you could have spent those months with Will together instead of apart. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life trying to be the best widow possible because you weren’t the best girlfriend or because you weren’t the best wife or because you resented the hell out of the fact that Will decided to join the Army. You were both teenagers at the time. Just because you didn’t move when he went combat infantry and jumped out of planes all over the world doesn’t mean that you lack a spirit of adventure. Get out there and start living. ”

  I stared at her, my mouth hanging open a bit. “How long have you been waiting to bust out that lecture?”

  “Probably a good year. ” She sighed and pulled me against her.

  “So long? Your restraint is remarkable. ”

  “You weren’t ready. ”

  “And now I am?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “How do you know?”

  “Because about two seconds ago you were shivering remembering the touch of a man’s hand. I think that means you’re ready to move on. ”

  The old “eyes in the back of the head” trick. I wondered if that rear vision was something that you developed when you started gestating. “I’m not very good at taking risks,” I said.

  Mom shouted with laughter. “Honey, the biggest risk is loving someone. You of all people know that. ”

  After that bomb, Mom kissed me and then left for her office.

  My childhood home felt empty with Bitsy off with friends and Mom at the office. I left my dad a Skype video message and then headed down to my condo. For the rest of the morning, I sat on my tiny metal balcony with my knitting. Mom’s admin assistant was having a baby and I was working on the newborn set for her. Will and I had been assiduous about the use of protection but there were several times after he died that I’d wished we weren’t so careful and that I was sitting here knitting booties for our child.

  But thoughts beginning with I wish and what if were a bad trip down the rabbit hole. That was the one negative about knitting. The mind tended to wander, and if I wasn’t careful, I would start getting maudlin. Instead, I purposely focused on the streets, the river beyond, and the pure pleasure of having the warm sun on my face. The rays of sunlight reminded me of the smattering of gold flecks that had twinkled at me out of Gray’s eyes.

  I allowed myself the guilty pleasure of visualizing all of Gray—his wide shoulders, his firm touch, his soft lips. Rubbing my elbow, I imagined that I could still feel the imprint of his fingers on my skin. It’d been so long since I’d enjoyed the touch of a male other than a swift hug from a family member. Gray had smelled good too—some blend of earthy masculine fragrance overlaid by faint notes of spice and the ocean. I rubbed the tip of my tongue across my lips, remembering how his mouth felt hard and soft at the same time. How his tongue felt huge inside my mouth and how much I ached between my legs.

  Was I really a risk taker? Dress comfortably—shorts, T-shirt, boots. Was I really seriously contemplating going hiking with a guy who accused me of cheating and then left me hanging on the cusp of an orgasm because there were too many of Will’s things in my condo? As I pulled on the shorts and a pair of thick socks, I realized that I was. What better things did I have to do? Sit here and knit? Why not take my knitting needles on a little adventure?

  I dug out a worn T-shirt that said, "I knit so I dont kill people. " Gray might appreciate the humor of it. Wait, did I really care what Gray thought of my T-shirt slogans? I threw it back into the drawer and found a workout T-shirt that had no slogans and was a neon green. Looking at my reflection in the full-length mirror on the closet door, I saw that the neon green made my entire face look sickly. My eyes shot toward the knitting shirt and vanity won out. If sturdy boots and shorts were some kind of code for outdoors sex, then I didnt want to make Gray sick at the sight of me. Not that I was going to have sex with him. He’d turned me down twice.

  I slid the knitting T-shirt over my head. I didn’t own boots and wondered if tennis shoes would be okay. When I pulled out my phone, I was struck with the realization that I didnt have Grays number. Even if I’d wanted to cancel, Id have to do it in person. Was that an accident because he just hadnt thought to ask, or was it intentional?

  I tried not to think too hard about what I was doing and instead just drove over to Adam’s house. Gray was on the lawn, throwing a football with one of the guys from the house. I didnt know them all, only Adam and Finn. Drums and the sound of a guitar poured from the detached garage where Adam and his band must be practicing. There was a hive of activity here. I didnt know exactly how many people lived here, but the number of people milling about had to be close to twenty.

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