She got used to his smell, even decided it was kind of organic and pleasant.
Somewhere in Eastern Ohio, they made a stop during which Tamara bought a pack of lemon Zingers and Paul smuggled a 40-ounce Bud Light onto the bus. He offered her a swig from his paper bag.
"God, you have no idea how bad I want to," she said. The sweet tingle of beer was just what she was craving. Better than ginger ale, she thought, for her nausea.
But she declined, clutching her stomach and shaking her head. She was doing enough. Wasn't it enough to rip her family arm from shoulder from torso without also going on a bender?
"C'mon," Paul said. "TaMARa. TaMARa? Don't make me drink alone."
"I can't," she shook her head, her resolve as thin and brittle as onion skin.
"Please?" he waved the bottle under her nose. "Please? It'll make the trip go faster."
"Except that we'll have to pee ten times before we get there."
"That's what old mayonaisse jars are for," he said, patting the ratty messenger bag on his lap.
"For you, maybe."
"We're stopping in another hour and a half. You can make it."
Tamara sensed the edge of a precipice zooming up underneath her, like it so often did when she was home. Was it impatience about to smash through the facade of calm she was always pretending to own? Or was it something more sinister, more portentous?
Paul wheedled, "TaMARa. Please?"
"Give it a fucking rest, okay? None of us needs a fucking alcoholic pregnant woman flying off the wagon in the middle of BF Ohio. Or Pennsylvania. Or anywhere. Give it a fucking rest!" She sat back in her seat, breathing heavily.
Paul titled his head, sympathetic rather than hurt. His voice was soft when he said, "Jeez, I didn't know. I'm sorry."
And that was it. He didn't press for details–about if she was married, how many kids she had already, when she'd last had a drink. He simply screwed the top back on his Bud Light and brought out a bag of cornuts.
"Those smell like semen," she snapped.
Paul shrugged and crunched anyway.
Tamara watched green fields rushing by. Great, skeletal irrigation systems sprawled across rows of vegetation and dark, velvety earth, reminding her of Joshua's Transformers. Those damn Transformers he was always playing with. Mom, mom, look what I made. This is cool, mom. Isn't this cool, mom? Rawrrrrr. Mom. Mommy. Look at THIS guy. He's ferocious. Isn't he ferocious? He's the baddest, meanest guy I've ever made.
She generally glanced up from her mixing bowl (the 50s housewife again) or checkbook or computer screen and murmured something affirmative. Yes, honey. That is the most ferocious guy you've ever made. Now, let me finish what I'm doing.
She was always–frantically–trying to finish what she was doing. The mom's old siren song.
Tamara worked to remember who she was before. Before, she and Dave decided to get married and have three kids.
She met him when she was 21, at the restaurant where she waitressed and he constructed elaborate desserts of tall chocolate cakes and cream puffs and ice cream sundaes. She'd liked how he carefully swirled on whipped cream, placed the mint leaf just so. She'd thought, at the time, that only a secure, sensitive guy would take pride in the presentation of a pastry. (Dave still, occasionally, liked to create towering confections for the family.).
They'd dated off and on for six years, until the pull became too strong for Tamara. Until the instinctive current of wanting (needing?) a husband, of procreating, took her over and she dragged him, hemming and hawing, into familyhood.
Now here she was. On a bus somewhere in the midwest. Running from what she'd devised, to an unknown horizon streaked with pink and orange and also black.
She'd been to New York, once as a kid with her parents and once when she was working for the magazine and was rustling up potential advertisers. But she'd stayed in nice hotels both times, ate in staid, polished restaurants, hadn't, she suspected, experienced the real New York at all, with its cockroaches, syringes and people like Paul.