Tamara gazed across the living room at Paul and Cornelia. They sat on the floor, sharing a beer, both cross- legged, both with daisies where their pupils should've been. Truth be told, it was making Tamara ill.
Cornelia's feathery brown hair kept sticking to her lip gloss and her pale face stared at Paul's more often than not. Tamara still thought there was something disturbingly familiar about her, but she couldn't place what.
Squinting at her, Tamara asked, "Have you ever been in a TV show? Like as an extra or anything?"
Cornelia laughed. Her teeth were white and straight, though too narrow and widely spaced, like a picket fence. "No," she said. "Definitely not."
"Where are you from?"
"The Midwest," Cornelia answered, and she focused on the floorboards.
Flipping his pink dredlocks over his shoulder, Paul said, "That's right! You're both from Milwaukee!"
Through clenched teeth, Cornelia quietly said Paul's name, then smiled up at Tamara. "I haven't been back in a long time," she said.
Tamara looked down at her black skirt and peasant top and a strange sensation, like stepping barefoot into fresh snow, drifted over her. She thought of the woman who'd given her the clothes, who'd given her a wad of cash and told her she understood why Tamara was running. She stared hard at Cornelia's gray eyes. And she knew.
The coincidence was absurd. Too tidy.
"Are you...?" Tamara started. "Did your dad used to collect old board games?"
Cornelia's spine snapped straight, as if someone had run a cold length of chain up her back. She stood, the old wood groaning beneath her, and disappeared into the tiny bathroom. She was the daughter. The daughter who'd left and had never returned.
Tamara wanted to follow her, to pound on the door and tell her how much her mother missed her. She wanted to ask how she could've left like that. But then, Tamara wasn't exactly thoughtfulness embodied, was she?
Paul slammed his beer bottle on the floor and said, "What the fuck, Tamara? What's going on?"
Stunned, Tamara only shrugged, running her blouse's hem (Cornelia's blouse's hem) through her thumb and forefinger.
He jumped up and strode to the bathroom door. He knocked lightly, saying, "Babe? Babe. It's okay. Whatever it is, we'll make it okay."
A sense of loss struck her then. Loss that grabbed her ankles and calves and hips with its frigid hands. She wanted Paul's attention. She wanted Dave's attention. She mourned for the mom she should be and not the slippery, distracted mother she actually was. Maybe The Woman had been that way too, always looking at the next thing coming rather than appreciating each individual moment. Maybe that was why Cornelia left. And maybe Caitlyn, Joshua and Eli would eventually leave Tamara in the same way. God knew she deserved it.
Brad was in the kitchen, clinking around with a bottle opener and beers. When he came out, he set one on the scarred coffee table in front of Tamara. She was about to say no thanks. But instead she gazed at the burnished, brown longneck, imagining how the carbonation would feel slipping down her throat. She eyed the bottle's opening, curved like the head of a penis. She wanted to lick it. She thought if she could, she would be happy.
"That's for you," Brad said, raising his handsome brows and gesturing with his handsome head.
Tamara's eyes ticked back and forth, almost imperceptibly. "I know Cornelia's mother," she whispered.
Brad said, "Huh. Well, isn't Milwaukee a pretty small town?"
Stretching forward from the couch and grabbing the beer, Tamara said, "Not that small." She fondled the glass, pressing it to her cheek. A thousand barbeques and college parties and early dates with Dave and, later, nights alone on the deck whizzed past, as if she were standing on a highway median, her hair blowing back and her eyes closing with each car that blew by.
She noticed that Paul was inside the bathroom with Cornelia now. Probably having sex in the tiny, stand up shower. Or stroking her hair while murmuring comforting words. Or something.
Tamara tipped up the bottle and gulped. It was so good. So good she started to tremble and couldn't stop until the entire sixteen ounces sloshed around in her belly. Only then did she lay her head back, letting the flat spot on her skull rest against the wall.
She still ached down there from the miscarriage. And she ached up here. And everywhere. She didn't know if it'd ever stop, even with five more beers coursing through her system. Though that fact wouldn't stop her from trying. She'd downed one and nothing had exploded. No AA sponsors had burst through Brad's front door demanding that she give up her two-year sobriety pin.
What could another few hurt? New York, she'd learned, wasn't far enough. She needed to go farther. And the only way to do that, she concluded, was through those bottles of beer in the fridge.