This noise wakes the baby up. He starts to cry, Michael Jr., with his father’s big block head, his mother’s pink, pouty lips.
Heather says, “Shit.”
“I’m sorry,” says Kate.
“It’s not that. Walk with me.”
They go down the hallway to Michael Jr. in his nursery, the one that Chris helped paint, the one that he spent a month’s worth of weekends in, installing new windows, a bigger closet, wall shelves. Kate spent this time at home, in the bath, on the sofa, reorganizing the dishes in the kitchen cabinets, thinking, I am finally alone, and then, processing this, decided on how much she liked it.
“He needs to eat anyway, and if he slept any longer he wouldn’t sleep tonight,” Heather says, opening the door to the blue and white striped walls, the white wainscot, the baseballs, basketballs everywhere.
Michael Jr. is red, wet cheeks, wrinkle eyes, and screaming. Heather picks him up from his crib, nestles him in her neck, tells him, “Shh, baby. Shh.”
Kate watches as she sits with him in a wooden rocker. Heather leans forward with Michael Jr. cradled in her arms, motions to Kate while she balances the baby against her chest. Kate goes to her. She helps Heather out of her shirt only halfway, half exposed, watches as she bring her bra strap down low on her arm, pulls the cup beneath her breast.
Heather says, “Shit,” and Kate watches Michael Jr. latch on.
“Let me leave you alone,” Kate says, and then turns.
“So you are fucking her?” Heather whispers this, a hand over Michael Jr’s ear to protect him from her words. Kate pictures the baby’s eyes lighting up beneath it, gums bearing down, instantly excited.
“I just met her.” Kate stands in the doorway, arms out like she’s holding up its frame.
“Get in here and close the door.”
Kate closes it, turning away after hearing the bolt click.
And Heather, “Now define ‘amazing.’”
Kate sits at Heather’s feet. She runs her hand over the nursery’s carpet, the red threads posing as the stitching on the giant baseball. She is struggling to form the right words, ones that could paint Julia as she sees her, but she’s stuck on moments only.
Their introduction: shaking her hand and finding her skin dry and cool. The tattoos exposed on Julia’s arms beneath her rolled cuffs. Staring at the vibrant colors of the flowers and the mountains, or was that a woman’s figure? Knowing that they would be there, those tattoos somewhere, but not exactly to that extent. Staring so long that Julia moved her hands behind her, tucked them into her back pockets, which forced her breasts forward and became a significantly ruder object to focus so intently on, but Kate catching herself just in time, before Julia noticed.
In Julia’s apartment: her art framed on the walls or on the floor of her spare bedroom. Taking in the colors on the canvases subtler than the ones on her arms. Not really knowing what was going on in them, but liking that she stood next to someone who could make her stop and stare at art with at least a little bit of interest, despite having never done or caring to do so. Standing next to an artist with apparently complicated thoughts, much more complicated that her own. Standing close to an artist who, when asked, said, “They don’t mean anything really,” but then paused. Kate could feel Julia becoming small and uncomfortable under the inquiry. “Well, they do,” she finally said, “But not much.” Kate wanting to put her arms around her then, press her face to Julia’s, and lie to her by saying, “I know, I understand.”
One week ago: Julia in corduroys at least one size too big, but her fitted t-shirt. Kate in that red dress with the spaghetti straps, the low cut, back from a wedding reception. Julia’s hair blonde, eyes blue, and lips full—just like Chris’s, but softer, and with more curves. Having not seen Julia for a week and a half after coming off the previous two of seeing her at least three times each week. Being angry and feeling slighted although she could hear the flu in her chest and throat and knew it was not bullshit. Kate going there for one reason but only getting Julia’s tongue in her mouth, and no matter what Kate said or did, could not get it elsewhere.
Kate could tell Heather the truth about not really having just met Julia. She considers this as she moves her hands from the rug to her legs, rubbing now in the same absent manner over her knees and down her shins. She does not. Kate knows she could give a more honest answer to Heather’s question if it had not been are you, but do you want to. She thinks of another way to say that she has been courting Julia for at least two months now, still waiting for something substantial to happen: Julia’s hands in her pants or working under her dress, legs parted in Julia’s kitchen, maybe, with Julia on her knees between them, and then finally a chance to put her hands on her head. For weeks now, looking forward to that—an excuse to be in her hair, grabbing and moving her face to all different points on her body.
Heather is waiting. Michael Jr. has fallen asleep and is now being burped on his mother’s shoulder. She is rocking, waiting for Kate’s reply, Kate’s excuse. “If you have to think that hard,” she says softly, as though singing a lullaby, “She not what you think she is.”
Kate stops rubbing. She concentrates on Heather’s face, her too brown skin, her nose red and peeling from the sun. She considers telling Heather that, moments ago when they were having sex in her and her husband’s bed, when Kate had her face deep between Heather’s legs, making her move against the mattress, that gentle rocking of her hips, it was not for her. Not the fingers inside her, not the tongue on her clit or in her asshole. It was for Julia, who she somehow summoned into that bed. It was Julia making it easy the way Heather always does. It was not Heather’s hands on her head, always too aggressive with her nails on Kate’s scalp, but Julia’s soft fingers pressed above her ear. It was not Heather’s voice, her breathing, that she heard. It was not Heather’s stomach that she pressed her face against after making her come, Kate frozen there, not wanting to lift her head and see anything other than what she had imagined.
That Julia could work her way into her head, beneath her hands, on a day when she was fucking her best friend with their husbands right outside the bedroom window, with the kids calling out to each other from across the backyard, this, Kate thought, was amazing.
But instead Kate rises to her feet, brushes her hands over the seat of her shorts, and says, “It’s fucking impossible to keep her out of my head.”