You can find the first part of this story, Greener Grass, in my right sidebar under I Like To Write.
The room spun pleasantly, turning slowly, a few degrees at a time. Paul and Cornelia sat together at one end of the couch, his arm around her, his hand stroking her thigh. Handsome Brad was on the floor next to Tamara, both of them cross-legged, one of her knees touching one of his.
They listened to Imogen Heap who, Tamara concluded, was a genius arranger and master at sussing out any longings a person had and twisting them until they physically hurt. Even through her drunken haze: pain. She doubled over until her forehead pressed against the rug.
Brad rubbed her back.
The loneliness of the last several years, of Dave's emotional pullback, of being home with the kids–-the kids who sucked so much from her that she didn't have time for her own thoughts or aspirations, of trying to find solace with weird Craig, spilled over her. The fingers tracing her spine were so warm, so familiar and so strange.
"I am the world's worst mother," she mumbled. "Worst mother and worst wife."
"Aw," Brad said. "I'm sure there are more horrible mothers and wives."
Tamara looked up and expected to see Paul and Cornelia grinning at Brad's joke. But they only peered at her with concerned eyes. She took another swig of beer, wondering how many she'd had. Three? Four? Ten?
She'd forgotten about this part. The part where the drinks washed away the pain for a while. Until the pain tsunamied back, pummeling her harder than before. She stood and the room spun faster. She held onto the smooth, plaster wall. Through the dark window behind Paul and Cornelia she could see lights. Out of focus. Almost Christmassy.
She looked for the phone, in the kitchen, in the bedroom. And then realized Brad had no land line. "Can I borrow someone's cell?" she asked. "Just for a few minutes." She was faintly aware that her words sounded as fuzzy as the city's lights looked.
Brad pulled an iPhone from his pocket and showed her how to dial. Funny how they still called it dialing a number, when it was really more like punching. Or maybe no one but old people like Tamara called it dialing anymore.
The phone in her Milwaukee home rang and rang until her own voice answered. Tamara hung up and tried Dave's cell, entering the wrong number twice before getting it right.
When he picked up he sounded breathless and impatient. And Tamara began to cry, regretting leaving, regretting calling, wishing it could all just be easy, that everyone could be gentle with each other all the time. "Tamara?" he said.
She managed to sniffle out a, "Yeah."
"You need to get home now," he said. "This little game's over."
Her first instinct was indignance. How dare he belittle her. Then he said, "Joshua's at Children's. He's hurt, okay? Really, really hurt."
Then a blur of stammering that she'd be there as soon as she could, begging a credit card number from Brad, promising she'd pay him back, cursing herself for not memorizing her own Mastercard or for even knowing how to log on to her bank accounts, searching for plane tickets, shit-faced. Finding one that looked decent but that cost $780 and left in three hours. Buying it. Shoving her clothes (Cornelia's clothes) into her plastic grocery bag and thanking everyone, leaving with a soft click of Brad's heavy door.
As she descended the stairs, her footsteps clunking in the echoey well, someone came out behind her. She looked up and saw Paul's pink dredlocks illuminated in the light's soft glow. "Hey," he said.
She felt 100% sober then, clearer than she'd ever been. "Thanks," she said. "For everything."
"How can I reach you?"
"Tamara Marks. Just look me up."
He shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded.
With a shushing of her plastic bag, she turned and ran back up the steps. She threw her arms around Paul and laid her cheek on his shoulder. His flannel shirt was soft. "Cornelia is a lucky girl," she said.
She felt him nod again. Then she left, out of the building and onto the dark street that was still hazy with heat. It took only a few minutes to hail a cab. A cab that smelled of someone's old cigar. A cab that whisked her off, through Queens to JFK where she'd get on a plane that would take her home.