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James was almost late to his soccer game so I dropped him off instead of parking the car and helping him with his gear. It was just faster that way. So James is currently playing his heart out on a field across town and I am on the shabby rug on my living room floor. There’s just so much to do, yet here I sit, perhaps still in shock.
I admit I was a little glad he couldn’t find his left cleat. Maybe now he will start putting things where they go. Maybe now he will learn to be tidier. Then again, how could he learn from me? I nag and complain and I don’t take my own advice. What a mother I am that I espouse depths of wisdom that I don’t demonstrate. Just because I know the right way doesn’t mean I do the right way. I just want so much better for my James. My sweet, young man.
He’s starting to outgrow me. At almost thirteen, he’s showing signs of independence in a hopefully normal way. He spends more and more time in his room doing something I don’t wish to guess. The stories about his days at school are becoming more clipped at the dinner table. It’s curious to me how we are so close that we used to share everything, but never girls. He’s never mentioned to me any girl’s name, except for his father’s girlfriend’s daughter, and she’s more of a thorn in his side, being only seven years old. Oh, and he stinks! Love the guy and all, but when he comes home from his game, he’ll smell like a back road trucker after a long summer haul with no A/C.
I was hoping to get the house clean while he was away. The two of us are always doing something, and we never seem to get to any chores. Dishes pile up in the sink. I get to them when he’s at his father’s house. Well, some of it. Laundry piles up in our cozy little cottage house until the front room looks something of a laundromat. If these weren’t all our clothes, I could be that lady that gets paid to iron clothes. Do they still do that?
There is just one piece of clothing that doesn’t belong here. No, it does belong. It just belongs with the owner. I scared her off, though. I ruined everything, with that third glass of wine. We’ve been friends since the dawn of time, me 'n' Shelly. She and I were beautiful in our twenties. Road trips, laughing in the sun with sand stuck to our shins. So much has changed in our lives, but our friendship has always remained. She did not approve of James’ father. She knew from the start he wasn’t for me. When baby James came into the picture, she fell in love with that little cherub face, and she’s like the other part of the perfect mother in me. Now the hole inside my chest eats through my heart and leaves an empty chasm where she belongs.
We’d had another great dinner. Just the three of us were the whole world here in my laundry-filled living room slash dining area. We laughed, her teeth shining brightly, the sound of her vibrated through my body. Being near her I could feel the earth and the air above me tingle. Once James retired to his prepubescent cave, it was just the two of us and my secret between us. We sat on my couch, where we’d sat a million times before, our knees touching as always, chatting and looking directly at each other. It was that third glass. I knew better, but she poured it. She was more insistent than usual, actually. Her scarf almost drifted into my glass as she bent over to pour, so she pulled it from her neck, her dark hair following until the soft red fabric danced lazily to my knee. I watched it fall, in my haze. Another piece of the puzzle, I’d said. We laughed uproariously at my nonsensical joke. When the laughter waned, something new was in its place. Something I had always wanted to be there. Something I had been hoping for, whether I had been aware of it or not, my whole life.
I couldn’t have stopped it any easier had it been a freight train coming through the house. I leaned to her and finally, I kissed her. Or she leaned toward me, maybe. Our lips touched and a thousand of points of light rang through the universe. It was just as I’d imagined it would be. She didn’t pull away, I’m remembering now. She didn’t pull away, but rather her hand was in my hair, and we shared a tender, frozen moment of perfection. When the kiss ended, I had to look at her from the other side, and it would never again be how it had always been. My eyes left hers for just a moment as I reached for the scarf, but while I wasn’t looking, she left. She’d moved to the front of the house, flustered, stumbling, said something, what was it?, and she gently closed the door behind her as she left me. I was standing then, touching my mouth, my heart agape, holding her scarf. I dropped it as I heard the click of the latch, as my hands had become numb.
Now I am letting my feet lose circulation as I sit on my hardwood floor, tenderly smelling her scarf. It’s an invasion of her privacy, I know. I’m alone in my own home, so I can allow myself this comfort. I raise it to my face, and feel her neck against my lips. Years of moments with her, a brush of my hand against her hair, an extra squeeze at the end of a hug goodbye. Countless questions inside our life together. Never answered. Still alone, I rise from the floor and my bare feet pad me into my room. I go to my bottom drawer and gently tuck her scarf in the back, behind my fancy underwear.
James bursts through the front door of our home. “Mom!” the sound of his gear dropping haphazardly wherever it falls, and his cleats throwing grass bits throughout the house as he looks for me. “Mom! I’m home!” I smile as that empty space is filled by his presence. I head to greet him before his cleats christen the relatively clean sanctity of my room.
“Shelly came to get me. We won! Can you believe it? Josh was awesome and stopped it, like, every time they tried to score. I got a goal, too! Shelly saw me! It was great! I wasn’t supposed to have the ball, but Jay fell down, so I took it all the way down the field! It was awesome, wasn’t it, Shelly?!”
While I embrace my son in greeting, he regales each detail of his excitement, Shelly had appears behind him in the open door of our little house. She is leaning against the doorway with the late morning sun on her shoulders. Her arms casually folded across her chest, tall in the frame of the door, with her long chestnut hair glimmering in the sun, she looked like a Victoria Secret Catalog model in her cashmere beige blazer. Our eyes meet for the first time since the explosion of light last night, and my body crawls with excitement. Yet I am unsure of what I see there. Meanwhile, James is obliviously continuing the recount of each score of the game. He pulls me from her gaze when he mentions food. That’s an actionable request. I assume the mother figure and head to the kitchen.
“Why don’t you go shower and I’ll make you a big lunch?” I say to my sweaty boy. I feel her eyes on me as she remains in the doorway. Do I need to invite her in? She looks so lovely standing all aglow, like an angel, my hero, my light. She has always been welcome. Has always had an open door in my life. I remember that horrible night, when it all came crumbling down, my house of cards. David had finally come clean. He had admitted that a woman had vexed him enough to leave me and his three-month-old son. I had been on the floor crying, James asleep in his crib, and Shelly let herself in to the house that was once a home. I didn’t call her. I didn’t need to. Somehow she knew. She came in and found me on the bottom of the chaos of my living room and held what had become of me. She didn’t say anything. I knew I didn’t need to explain to her. I knew she would never say I told you so, and she didn’t ask anything of me then. She just waited while I let myself fall to pieces in her arms.
I hear her boots behind me, following me into the kitchen.