Slip of the Tongue(6)

By: Jessica Hawkins



He holds out his hands, and I pass him our meals. He sets the dishes down, opens the takeout menu drawer, and closes it. He finds the silverware in the next one.

“You don’t need to—”

“Will he mind that I’m here?” he asks.

I open my mouth to respond. When it comes to other men, Nate usually just teases me. I give it right back to him. Plenty of women have shown interest in him, some even in front of my face. I’ve never had to worry, though. “He’s not really the jealous type. I don’t think.”

“You don’t think?” he asks. “Don’t you know?”

“Not really. I don’t give him reason to be.” We look at each other a moment. My face warms. I don’t want anyone other than my husband. Nathan knows that. And I know he only wants me, even if he hasn’t shown it lately.

“All right,” he says. “If he doesn’t mind, then I’ll stay.”

I’m being silly. It means nothing that he’s here. Nathan would love to come home and meet a new neighbor our age. He’d probably invite him out. I wave him off. “Yes, of course you will. I insist.”

Somehow, he’s already set the table with placemats, silverware, and napkins. I’m not used to having the table set for me. I’m not sure I even like it. Nathan loves to come in and start eating right away. He can never get enough of anything I make him.

I refill my wine. My shoulders are loose. “Would you like another beer?”

“Please.”

I pass him a bottle, then top off each dish with cilantro and lemon juice.

Once he’s opened his second beer, he takes a seat. My seat.

I laugh, and he pinches his eyebrows together. “What?”

“That’s where I sit,” I tease. “You claim to know me so well.”

His mood visibly lightens. He smiles and stands, looking sheepish. “I knew that. I was just trying to shake things up.” He gestures behind me. “Aren’t you tired of looking into kitchen night after night? Why not give the living room a try?”

The Pinot makes me giggly. “I don’t know . . .”

“Come on.” He sits back down in my seat, newly confident in his decision. “You need a change of scenery.”

“Do I?” I take Nathan’s chair. It’s strange to be in a different spot, looking at someone else. “It’s like Opposite World.”

“I like it,” he says, peering at me. “Personally, I could get used to the view.”

I look down at my food. Is he flirting? I can’t tell. I don’t trust my judgment. It’s been a long time since I flirted with anyone other than Nathan, and I know him so well, it’s easy to get him worked up. Or, it was. Until recently, I barely had to try.

“I’m talking about the kitchen, of course,” he adds, his mouth quirking into a smile. “It’s a lovely room.”

I half roll my eyes. Now, I hear it in his tone. He’s definitely being playful. “Are we going to eat sometime tonight?”

“After you,” he invites. He waits for me to take the first bite. Judging by the way he digs in, I don’t have to ask if he likes it. “Oh,” he says, “and breakfast.”

I stop. “Sorry?”

“That’s how I ordered this morning. I pointed to the word on the menu and said, ‘I’ll take breakfast.’”

“Just . . . breakfast? And she knew what you meant?”

“I must’ve looked hungry.” He eats another forkful. “She knew.”

I laugh with my mouth closed. For some reason, that’s funny to me. “So, if I’d come along, then what? ‘We’ll take two breakfasts?’”

He shrugs. “Come with me next time, and we’ll see.”

“All right,” I agree. I don’t mean it, but it’s fun to think about.

He glances around the kitchen, chewing. “You do keep it cold in here. Not that I’m complaining.”

“We don’t turn on the heater until November twenty-first.”

He arches an eyebrow. “That’s specific. Why not the twentieth? Or the twenty-second?”

“It’s kind of a tradition.”

“Strange tradition.”

“Our friends think so too.” I take a bite. The chicken is dry. I wonder if he notices, but I try not to look disappointed. “It’s something only Nate and I can appreciate. We spent our first three weeks here without heat.”

“Are you kidding?”

I smile down at my plate, shaking my head. “We slept on a mattress on the floor until our bed arrived.”

Our first night in the apartment, we’d made love on the wood floor, then gone downstairs for food. On the same corner I stood on this morning, Nate had freed some curls from my knit cap and touched his lips all over my face. We’d walked across the street and eaten sunny-side-up eggs at one in the morning, bundled into one side of a booth at the diner.

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