Slip of the Tongue(8)

By: Jessica Hawkins



I glance up at him. His voice is soft, but he doesn’t sweeten his words. Do I look sad, or does he sense it in me? Even if I tried, I couldn’t explain the tornado of emotions working its way through me. I don’t even really know what they are. Inadequacy? Hopelessness? This is what happens when I go where I shouldn’t. For a second, I wish Nathan were across the table. He knows our story. Except that he doesn’t—not everything. And the moment passes, because if he were here, I still wouldn’t tell him there’s a piece of the puzzle he doesn’t know about.

Again, I try to think of something worth mentioning, and again, I come up short. “It is sad,” I say, “how much time we waste.”

“I didn’t ask how you wasted time. What made you happy these last few weeks?”

“Hanging out with my brother and his daughter. He’s single, so he doesn’t get a lot of help.” Ginger rolls onto her side at my feet. “Ginge and I have had more quality time together lately. Sometimes, it’s like she’s the only one who gets me.”

“Why does anyone own a dog?” he asks. “For that reason, I think.”

“Maybe.” His plate is empty. “There’s a little more in the wok,” I say. “Why don’t you take the leftovers?”

“What about your husband?”

“He’ll eat at the bowling alley—God knows what kind of junk they serve—and that’s one less meal for you at the diner.”

“Thanks,” he says. “It’s nice to have a friendly neighbor.”

“Sure, just not too friendly,” I joke and immediately wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t funny, and if anything, it might be misconstrued. Isn’t that why I said it, though? I’ve had too much wine.

He laughs, though, and picks up his plate. I turn away so he won’t see that my face is red. Partly from the alcohol, but mostly from that comment. I stand up and get the leftovers into a Tupperware container.

He’s standing at the sink with the faucet on. “Don’t even think about it,” I tell him.

“The dishes are the least I can do.”

“Absolutely not.” Nate doesn’t do the dishes. It’s our routine, and I like it that way. The kitchen is where I get to take care of him. Everywhere else, Nathan puts me first. Cooking is one thing I don’t think he’ll ever ask me to stop doing for him, no matter how upset he is. “Seriously. I’m one of those rare birds who enjoys doing the dishes.”

“Well, then.” He turns off the water and walks over. He stops right in front of me. I have to tilt my head back a little. “Aren’t we just a couple of rare birds?”

We haven’t been this close yet in here. I still sense the playfulness between us, but I think my bad joke has tipped it into new territory. I’m painfully unable to think of the right response. I like our easy nature. I don’t want to send the wrong message. “I guess so.”

“You left your hair curly.”

“You . . .” The wine has made the inside of my mouth tacky. I run my tongue along the roof. I could drink another glass or two. It’s getting a little late for company, though. “You don’t like it straight?”

“I like it both ways. I just find it interesting. Have you always worn it straight?”

“More as I get older. It’s no different than wearing makeup or heels. Most women color their hair. I just straighten it.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything.”

“Good,” I say. “Because that would be weird. I don’t even know your name.”

“Do you want to?”

“No.” I’m surprised by my response, quick and cold. That simple no is a confession. Knowing your neighbor’s name is a pillar of our culture. To deny it means more than to accept it. I should want his name, and I do. I want to know him better. From the lifted corner of his mouth, he knows it too.

We stand in silence for a moment. The parts of me closest to him get warmer. His body must run hot, like my husband’s. A noise in the hallway makes me move away. I listen for Nate’s key in the door, even though he wouldn’t be home yet. I wish he would come home now, but Ginger doesn’t bolt for the entryway.

“It’s Finn,” he says, a hint of beer on his breath. “Finn Cohen.”

“Okay.”

“What’s yours?”

“Sadie.”

“Sadie,” he repeats.

“Finn.” I hold out the Tupperware. “Here.”

He accepts it and walks a few steps back. “Thanks. See you around . . . Sadie.”

My heart beats too hard to ignore. He stirs something in me, something I’ve been forced to bury for months. I don’t like it. I don’t like the fact that if it weren’t for Nathan, I’d invite Finn for another drink. Let the lines blur, the conversation get intimate. I’ll never know where it would go from there.

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