You can find the first part of this story in my right sidebar, under I Like To Write.
"When are you coming back, Tamara?"
"I don't-" she stammered. "I don't know yet. I'll tell you though. I'll tell you right away when I know. It's just that...I'm not done yet."
It took every ounce, every thread of Dave's patience not to throw the phone, not to break a goddamn plate or squeeze one of her precious champagne flutes until it shattered in his hand, left blood coursing down his wrist and into the sleeve of his sweatshirt. "Done? With what?" he asked.
All he could imagine was her fucking some other guy. Some other guy who was touching her in places only Dave should've been allowed access. He thought of her naked breasts, her perfect, naked breasts, sagging a little after three babies, but still round, still incredibly responsive. "Why'd you call? If you don't have any answers for me."
"Because," she said, her voice hitching up. "I wanted you to know I'm safe. That I'm thinking of you. That I haven't just, you know, taken off with no idea of the consequences."
"The hell you haven't," Dave said. "You don't know what's going on here...what it's like."
She laughed then, a deep, throaty gurgle that rose and rose until it finally stopped, and she said, "Oh, I think I know what it's like."
He pressed the hang up button (so much less satisfying that slamming the receiver into its cradle). Then he dropped the phone into the garbage disposal and flipped the switch.
The blades crunched and rattled and, ultimately, jammed. Dave smiled. When he looked up, he realized all three kids were watching him. "Broken," he said. "Oops." He waved their gazes away. "Waffles'll be done in a minute," he said.
He lurched for the iron then, threw it open and speared the blackened waffle with a fork. He tossed it on top of the phone in the sink and blasted it with water.
Calmly, he poured more batter and vowed to watch the clock this time. Three minutes. No more.
He supposed he should look into childcare. Of some sort. He needed to work. The pump station wasn't going to rehab itself and, since he'd been awarded principal status on the project, he had to step up. His boss, wouldn't exactly understand if he called in and said his wife was on a respite in New York and he had to babysit the kids. For an undetermined amount of time.
He finished cooking the waffles, dumped on some maple syrup and let the kids eat them in front of the TV. Then he started scrounging for Tamara's address book.
"Daddy!" Caitlyn called. "Daddy! Mommy puts powdered sugar on my waffles. I want powdered sugar." Passing through the family room, he pointed at her and said, "If you don't like what I made you, go get yourself something else. I have stuff to do."
He finally found the pink, leather-bound book on top of a pile of clothes in the laundry room. Which was weird. But, whatever. He searched, unsuccessfully, for Rachel's number. He flipped until he saw Megan Roth, the daughter of his secretary.
He called her and she agreed to come at noon and stay until dinner time. At least he could go into the office for a few hours. Thank God. Thank God. He needed out.
It took most of the morning to rally the kids to dress themselves, eat and drink, brush teeth, comb hair. He didn't know why they weren't more self-motivated. What Tamara let them get away with that caused them to drag and argue and negotiate like they did.
He forced them all outside then, uncovered the sandbox he'd built a few years back, pulled up a lawn chair and started sorting through a work binder while they played, threw sand at each other, screamed.
Tamara stepped from the shower, its floor dirty gray. She dried herself with a small, scratchy towel, grateful to finally feel clean. She hadn't eaten a decent meal in over a day and her stomach was bucking, her intestines a little slack, but she was scrubbed, at least.
She thought about her towels at home: sage green and thick. Always smelling of that fucking laundry detergent. She sniffed the towel she held. Nothing. Blessedly free of scent. Who cared if it abraded the tender skin along her jaw line, the skin that always thinned when she was pregnant. Who cared about any of it.
She combed out her hair, pulled on the black skirt and one of the tops she'd taken from the woman in Milwaukee. Milwaukee. It might as well have been Singapore for how far she felt from it.
Suddenly she dropped into a crouch, hair dripping down her back. She covered her mouth with a clean hand. What in God's name was she doing in New York staying with an apartment full of guys she'd never met?
Then, as abruptly as she'd broken down, she stood and draped her damp towel over the shower bar. She was just there, that's all. Events conspired and she'd followed her instincts or her fear or whatever. And there she was.
"Can we go get breakfast?" she asked Paul as she emerged from the bathroom.
"You need food?" he asked, looking more alarmed than he ever had in the 30 hours she'd known him.
He jumped up, yanked a sweater over his head and asked Brad, "Dude? Is there a diner around here somewhere? A coffee shop or something?" Then to Tamara. "You want a real breakfast? Like eggs and stuff? A diner. Yeah, a diner."
Tamara nodded and crossed her arms over her middle. "Eggs would be good," she said. "French toast, maybe?"
Brad stood, grabbed his wallet from a bedroom and stuffed it into the pocket of his khaki shorts.
It felt great to walk, to be out of the apartment and on the street. They went a few blocks, past squealing, hissing garbage trucks and nondescript brick buildings. Sun shined through cracks in fences, through sporadic trees, down alleys, and lit their faces, lent a buoyancy to the outing that would've been missing on a gray, rainy morning.
Paul and Brad talked about a friend of theirs named Mateo who was fishing in Alaska. They joked and whooped a little and Tamara bobbed along beside them. And then a pickup truck passed, it's exhaust spewing big, black puffs.
Tamara tried to hold her breath, but the stench got in, her stomach seized, and she threw up over the curb. When she looked up, wiping her lips with the back of her hand, Paul was lighting a cigarette and Brad gaped.
"Too much drink last night?" he asked.
She shook her head, "Nah. I just need some food."
"We're almost there," he said. "Can you make it two more blocks?"
"Totally," she said, and they trooped forward, though not as blithely as before.