While this is the seventh installment I’ve posted here, it’s actually the back end of what I’m calling chapter 3. It’s page 39 of the master document I’m working with, but when I convert it to a font I’d actually use, it’s a little longer. This section is more than the product of today’s efforts. I’m proud to say that I worked on it fairly steadily last week without the disciplinary reminder that posting something provides.
I don’t know if anyone is following the story. My mom and a dear friend requested that I send them the story in larger chunks so they didn’t have to navigate the blog to get it all. I know that’s easier now that I’m continuing with it instead of just experimenting. Mom is also sure it will be a sell-able novel when I’m done, but she’s my biggest fan.
If you have a lot of time on your hands (or something about this story intrigues you) here’s what’s come before:
(all that is chapter 1)
(those are chapter 2)
(That is the beginning of chapter 3)
Now, to conclude chapter 3!
Katie and Annie sat patiently at the kitchen table as Liam strained the pasta over the sink.
“Daddy, can I have cheese on mine?” Katie asked, knowing the food was almost ready.
“Yes, my love. You can get the parmesan out of the fridge if you’d like. You can also get water or milk for you and Annie,” he answered as he put a lid on the pot of noodles and stirred the meat sauce where he’d hidden several vegetables he knew Annie might not eat if they weren’t disguised.
Katie used a stool to get glasses out of the cupboard and put them on the table. Then she put the milk carton in front of Annie. “Do you want milk with dinner, Annie?” she asked.
Annie eyed the carton that wasn’t nearly as exciting as the small box from the coffee shop earlier. She hadn’t chosen milk then either. Now her little nose turned up at the offer before she vigorously shook her head.
“Annie would like water. Do you want milk, daddy?”
“No, thank you. I’m going to have a beer. Can you get one out for me when you put the milk away?” Katie poured herself some milk before doing as her father asked. She couldn’t open the bottle of beer, but she took one out and set it at her dad’s seat at the table. She then filled a glass with water for her sister, letting go of it only when Annie put both her hands around it. “Great helping, Katie. Now come show me how much you want on your plate to start,” Liam praised his daughter.
Katie took her plate over to the stove where her father stood ready to serve. “I’m hungry. May I please have a big scoop of sketty?” she asked.
“Only if you set a better example for Annie. You know what it’s really called.”
Katie rolled her eyes at Liam and huffed before acquiescing. “May I please have a big scoop of spa-ghet-ti,” she emphasized each syllable of the word.
“Yes, you may. Next time without the eye roll,” Liam said as he filled her order, adding a big scoop of sauce. Katie went to the table and began to eat. Liam prepared Annie’s plate, cutting the long noodles so they’d be easier to handle with her toddler cutlery. He made sure the squash, broccoli, and cauliflower in the sauce were well camouflaged and then set the plate in front of her. Finally he prepared a plate for himself and joined them at the table.
“Is mummy going to be here tonight?” Katie asked as she twirled a long noodle around her fork.
Liam didn’t know. This was another part of their marriage that made him uncomfortable. What was he supposed to say to his daughters? How could he explain that he and mummy didn’t talk about whether or not she would be home for dinner? How could he tell his girls that their mummy would probably yell at him for making spaghetti because it wasn’t youth preserving or fat busting? “I’m not sure,” Liam couldn’t lie to them, but he always chose to say as little as possible. He didn’t want them to pick up on the distance between their parents.
“She probably wouldn’t eat spa-ghet-ti anyway.” Katie continued to annunciate the word while showing an understanding of her mother’s eating habits. Liam tried not to laugh, but Katie was right. He let a little chuckle out as he took a bite of the carbs he knew Rebecca would hate nowadays. Hannah would eat spaghetti. Where did that come from? He’d only seen her drink espresso. Yeah, she’d put chocolate in it, which Rebecca would never do even if she allowed herself the caffeine in the first place. Liam had no way of knowing what Hannah would and would not eat. He had to stop thinking about her.
As if reading his thoughts, Katie asked, “Did you send my birthday party invitation to Hannah yet?” This time Liam didn’t bother to hold back his laugh. His daughter was psychic, and it would be scary if he didn’t find it entertaining.
“No, my love. I haven’t sent the official invitation to Hannah, but she said she would be there. Don’t worry.”
“Who’s Hannah?” Rebecca asked from the archway into the living room. She’d come in quietly, so it was the first anyone noticed her.
Annie excitedly waved her arms in the air, “Mama!” She was strapped into her seat, so she couldn’t run to her mother. Rebecca walked over to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Hello, baby. Oh, what’s this? Spaghetti sauce all over your face?” Rebecca began to wipe off the Joker smile that covered Annie’s face.
“Hannah’s a really cool lady I met today when I went after a puppy. I couldn’t find the puppy, but Hannah was sitting on a bench, and she looked so sad, so I talked to her. She’s really good at guessing and spelling. We spelled coffee and Annie and apple. She colored with us at the muffin store, and she’s coming to my birthday party,” Katie gushed, answering her mum’s question.
“You met a lady in the park and had coffee with her?” Rebecca’s tone was even as she pet Katie’s head, but she shot Liam a look that had ice in it.
Liam almost laughed again. Was Rebecca jealous? Did she think he’d picked up a woman and taken her on a date with his two daughters in tow? He’d heard of men using dogs to pick up women, but using your children seemed a bit much. He was attracted to Hannah, but he didn’t feel guilty about it. Rebecca hadn’t paid him any romantic or sexual attention in years, so what could she possibly be jealous of? He wasn’t on her radar, and he’d done nothing wrong by befriending Hannah and thanking her with a coffee for keeping Katie safe. He wanted to say as much, but he didn’t want to instigate a fight in front of his children. Liam nodded and said, “Katie took to Hannah straight away.”
It almost sounded like Rebecca growled, but Liam couldn’t be sure. Katie didn’t seem to hear it. She looked up at her mum and agreed, “Hannah’s brilliant. She’s from America, so she talks different, but she can talk like gran when she wants to. Mummy, do you want any spa-ghet-ti?” Hannah looked at her dad with a grin before returning her attention to her mum.
Rebecca made the same face Annie made when Katie offered her milk: her nose turned up slightly as she shook her head. “No, thank you. I’ll make something for myself. You can have a bite of mine when it’s ready if you’d like.”
Katie had tried some of her mum’s various health foods. Sometimes the breakfast was good, but nothing else had pleased her. She playfully imitated the dramatic refusal her mum and sister had done in sincerity, scrunching her nose and twisting her head in the negative. Liam laughed, earning him another icy glare from Rebecca.
Liam cleared his throat and directed his attention to Annie, who was licking her plate clean and getting sauce on her nose and forehead in the process. “I guess you liked that even if mum won’t eat it. Would you like some more?” he asked Annie with a smile.
“She’s probably had enough. She certainly has enough on her face,” Rebecca disapproved.
Annie put the plate down, rubbing her hand through whatever her tongue hadn’t licked up. She looked from Rebecca to Liam and back again as she sucked on her fingers. Rebecca made an exasperated sound while Liam continued to smile. He didn’t understand how Rebecca could be so frustrated with their toddler when she’d only just gotten home. It was bath night too, so he didn’t care how messy Annie got. He loved watching her enjoy herself. Settling her eyes on her dad, Annie tapped her now clean but covered in saliva hand on the plate to indicate she wanted more.
Getting up to get her another serving, Liam said, “Don’t worry, Bex, I put v-e-g-e-t-a-b-l-e-s in the sauce, so it’s not as unhealthy as it looks.”
Katie started to investigate her plate, moving bites around to find the ingredient her dad was trying to hide. “Daddy, what’s v-e-g-t-a-b-s?” she asked.
“V-e-g-e-t-a-b-l-e-s, Katie. Not whatever you said. Don’t worry about it,” Rebecca corrected her daughter.
Katie frowned at her lap and continued to scoot food around her plate. She didn’t like the way her mum had dismissed her question and told her she was wrong. She didn’t like being wrong, or at least she didn’t like being wrong and then not learning what she could do to make it right. Hannah had been so nice when she was helping Katie spell. She didn’t tell Katie she was wrong even when she was wrong. Hannah had found a way to get Katie to realize it on her own.
Liam’s thoughts were much like Katie’s. He frowned as he got Annie her second helping, thinking about how easy Hannah had made it seem. She was full of encouragement, not admonition. Why was Rebecca so stern? He set Annie’s plate in front of her and walked behind Katie’s chair instead of going to his seat. He leaned down and kissed the top of Katie’s head. “Good try spelling, my love. I’ll tell you what it spells later if you promise not to be cross with me for trying to be clever,” he whispered to her.
Katie raised her head and resumed eating. After a few bites, she said, “Daddy, you don’t have to try to be clever. You are clever. Maybe not as clever as Hannah though.”
Rebecca didn’t bother making a sound or sending Liam a look this time. Instead, she stood up from the table and silently moved through the kitchen, making her own dinner. As she worked, she had no more interaction with her family who continued to eat heartily and enjoy their meal.
“Daddy, I cleaned my plate. May I have some ice cream now?” Katie asked when she’d finished.
“Well done! Do you want orange or purple?” Liam asked over Rebecca’s snort of derision as she chopped ingredients for a salad.
“I want… orange tonight. I was spelling with an orange crayon with Hannah. How do you spell orange?”
“Ooooh that’s a tricky one,” Liam said as he took Katie’s plate to the sink. Rebecca’s shoulders were tensed up around her ears as she chopped more aggressively. Liam leaned in to whisper, “Relax, Bex. It’s peach sorbet, all natural colors and flav…”
Rebecca cut him off before he could finish, whispering angrily back at him, “You’re always sabotaging me!” She stomped out of the kitchen, leaving her half-made dinner on the counter.
Annie and Katie looked at their mum’s back as she stormed out. Annie whimpered, but Katie was quick to use her big-sister magic to distract her. “Annie, you want purple or orange ice cream? Daddy, Annie can have ice cream, right?”
“Yes, she may. She liked the purple last time, blueberry,” Liam tried not to let his wife’s quiet explosion ruin dessert with his girls. He served them each a scoop of sorbet.
“How do you spell orange anyway, daddy?”
Liam was at the sink, his hands in dish gloves. He smiled at Katie over his shoulder as he answered, “O-R-A-N-G-E.”
“I knew the O, but a G? Spelling is hard,” Katie mused as she treated herself to another spoonful of peach sorbet.
“It sure is. You’re better at it than I ever was. Keep at it,” Liam encouraged as he put the last of the dishes on the rack.
Annie and Katie finished their colorful sweets and Katie brought their bowls to the sink. She used the stool to get high enough to rinse the bowls and load them into the rack the same way she’d watched her dad do. Liam looked at his wife’s abandoned salad on the counter. Rebecca thought he was sabotaging her by serving all-natural sorbet to their daughters? He had completely lost touch with his wife. He didn’t understand her at all.
“Should we put it away?” Katie followed her dad’s gaze to the cutting board and unfinished salad.
“Let’s leave it for mum. She might want it while you’re in the bath,” Liam replied, moving to free Annie from her seat. He gathered her into his arms and looked at her still messy but smiling face. “You look very ready for bath time, little one. Let’s see if you managed to get sauce in your ears this time.”
Katie laughed and raced up the stairs ahead of her sister and dad. She loved bath time almost as much as she loved animals. She liked all the toys she and Annie had for the bath, and she liked the way her hair felt after she washed and combed it. It was soft and smooth and it smelled good. Liam didn’t bother to check on Rebecca behind the closed door of their bedroom. He proceeded to get the bath ready for Annie and Katie while they put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Liam gave the water a temperature test with his hand as his two girls marched into the bathroom wearing only their biggest smiles.
Liam let his daughters have a longer bath time than usual. They were having so much fun playing with their dolphins, mermaids, and scuba divers. Katie had a running monologue, telling Annie an underwater adventure story. Annie laughed and played along as her big sister enchanted her. Liam loved how helpful and adoring Katie was. He hoped they would always get along so well. Rebecca didn’t make an appearance during bath time, so Liam went ahead and washed both heads of corn silk hair before getting Annie out first. He dried her off with her unicorn towel and rubbed lotion on her baby soft skin.
As he helped Annie brush her teeth, Liam urged Katie out of the bath. She reluctantly got out, dried off, and put lotion on herself. Liam and Annie joined her in their shared bedroom where Katie picked out their bedtime book and Liam gently combed Annie’s hair.
“Please go clean your teeth. Then I’ll brush your hair and we’ll have story time,” Liam directed when he was done with Annie’s hair.
Katie looked at her dad for a moment, a decision clearly weighing on her precocious mind. “I’ll clean my teeth after you give Hannah my birthday party invitation,” she bargained. At the mention of the birthday party, Annie clapped and giggled.
“Well, well. Are you sure you don’t want to be a solicitor?” Liam was amused. “How about I brush your hair first? Then we can text Hannah before you clean your teeth.” He didn’t want to be steamrolled in this negotiation.
“What’s a solicitor?” Katie asked, turning her head to her dad to get brushing so they could get texting.
“Someone who is good at making deals to get what she wants,” Liam explained as simply as he could.
“I like getting what I want, but I like animals too. Is anyone ever a vet and a solicitor?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe you could be the first.”
Liam carefully untangled a few knots in Katie’s hair. He was working through the last one when she decided it was time to text Hannah, yanking her head out of Liam’s reach before he got to the tips of the strand he had in the comb. He released the comb before he could pull her hair, and Katie turned to him, the comb hanging from her head as she smiled and asked, “Where’s your phone, daddy?”
Liam laughed at her. She was so excited that she didn’t even notice her hair accessory. Annie saw it and squealed at Katie, who whipped her head around, dislodging the comb and sending it flying toward the dresser. They all laughed when it landed in the middle of the floor. “I suppose we’re done with your hair. Okay. What should we say to Hannah?” Liam took his phone from his pocket as he picked up the comb and placed it on the dresser it hadn’t quite reached.
“Tell her we’re getting ready for bed,” Katie suggested.
Liam began a text conversation with Hannah as he’d done earlier. Maybe this time he would be able to send her something with his daughter dictating what he should say.
Katie is getting ready for bed but won’t clean her teeth until I text you
“Did you send her a smiley face too?” Katie sat in her dad’s lap so she could see the screen. Annie scrambled to join them, not wanting to be left out.
“You didn’t say anything about a smiley face,” Liam frowned, pulling up the emoji menu. “Which one should we send?”
“Annie, pick one,” Katie directed. Annie selected a face wearing sunglasses. “Good choice. Daddy, are there more?” She asked as her fingers answered her question for her. She chose a cat face. “Okay. You pick one and then send it.”
Liam didn’t use a lot of emojis, but the thumbs up seemed innocuous, so he added that to his daughters’ choices and sent it. “Now teeth for you, Katie,” he nudged her off his lap.
“No. She didn’t write back yet!”
“I thought the deal was you clean your teeth after I text Hannah. I texted Hannah. You didn’t say anything about her texting back.” Liam was oddly proud of himself for catching a little girl in a verbal trap, but he knew chances to be smarter than Katie were only going to become fewer and fewer as she got older.
“I said invite her to my party, not just text.” Katie wouldn’t be outmaneuvered.
Tell Katie I used to make deals to brush my teeth too
“What did she say?!” Katie heard the ding on Liam’s phone and knew something had come through. Liam read the text to her with a laugh. “Hannah’s funny. Tell her about my birthday party now.”
Now I’ve been instructed to give you the party details. It’s Sunday, Regents Park Zoo main reception, 1:30-4:30, animal show at 2 followed by food and other activities
“Done and dusted. Now your teeth!” Liam said in the sternest voice he could muster when talking to his daughters. Katie decided she’d gotten what she wanted and went to brush her teeth while Liam put Annie into bed.
Haha she might be a better CEO than vet. I will be there
She sure is bossy. She’s in the bathroom finally
“Did she say anything?” Katie asked as soon as she came back. She didn’t wait for an answer, taking the phone out of Liam’s hands as if she could read the message for herself. “She did! What did she say?”
Liam read Hannah’s message as he herded Katie toward her bed and under the covers. “I’m going to put it on silent while I read your bedtime story,” he tried to calm Katie.
Before he could switch it off, his phone dinged again.
Good. Oral hygiene is important. Tell her and Annie goodnight from me
And dinged again with a bed and zzz emojis. Liam showed it to both Annie and Katie, relaying the message.
After agreeing that Hannah was cool, everyone settled in for story time. Katie had picked something set in the jungle. As he read, Liam kept thinking about Hannah. He wondered what she was like as a child. Her comment seemed to indicate that she was willful like Katie. He wanted to know if she was closer to her mother or father, what kind of bedtime stories she preferred, if she had any brothers or sisters. He knew she wouldn’t miss story time with any children of her own just because she was fighting with her husband. Did he even know if she was heterosexual? Jesus, he needed to focus on the story. Annie yelled because he forgot to show her the pictures on the last page. He forced himself to keep his attention on the jungle story, kissing Annie and Katie goodnight when he finished. He turned on their nightlight, which projected stars on the ceiling, and pulled the door nearly shut behind him.
He took out his phone, turning the sound on, and sent another text to Hannah.
Jungle animal bedtime story. I thought they’d never quiet down!
Katie is going to be wild at the zoo, isn’t she?
It’s going to be bedlam. I’m not sure if having you there or being able to touch some of the animals will be more exciting for her
No competition, the animals for sure!
I don’t know. She didn’t stop talking about you all day
She’s sweet. Should I bring anything?
Just yourself Liam paused before sending his reply. Should he offer to let her bring a guest? It might answer some of his questions about her. What was he thinking? It didn’t matter if she was single or not, heterosexual or not. He was a married man. Hannah would probably be more comfortable if she knew someone there besides the birthday girl. Feel free to bring +1 he added and pressed send.
I wouldn’t want to impose
Not at all. the more the merrier. I’m sure we can use all the adult eyes we can get
Haha that’s right. You’ll need lots of strong arms to wrangle all the kids, especially once they have cake
I didn’t even think about the sugar high. Bring an army with you!
I’ll see what I can do
Liam noticed the bedroom door was still closed. He wondered if Rebecca had gone downstairs to get her dinner and come back up. He didn’t know what to say to her. He didn’t really want to talk to her at all. He’d rather continue exchanging texts with Hannah, but he didn’t know what else to say. He put off checking on Rebecca by going downstairs to see the state of the kitchen. The salad ingredients were where they’d been, so it looked like Rebecca had stayed in the bedroom throughout bath time and story time. He knew he should try to smooth things over, but he was confused about what he’d done to upset her in the first place. Hannah wouldn’t have flipped out over sorbet. There he went again, thinking about what Hannah would do. She seemed to know kids would eat cake. He was pretty sure she would understand giving his girls a scoop of sorbet after they ate a good dinner. Liam decided to send Hannah one last text before approaching his wife.
Thanks again for keeping an eye on Katie when she wandered off. She’s quite taken by you. We look forward to seeing you again
It sounded a bit formal to him, but he wanted Hannah to know what an impact she’d made. On Katie, of course.
It was serendipity. She made my day when she sat next to me. I can’t wait to see her at the zoo
Smiling as he put his phone away, Liam climbed the stairs. He peeked in on his daughters to see that Annie was asleep and Katie was laying quietly, letting her thoughts drift. He blew her a kiss and whispered for her to close her eyes. Then he walked down the hall and quietly knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response, so he opened it slowly. He found a suitcase on the bed and Rebecca in the closet taking clothes off their hangers.
“You aren’t staying the night?” Liam asked.
Rebecca silently continued to pack her things, ignoring her husband’s presence.
“You know the girls love to watch Puffin Rock with you before breakfast. Can you wait to leave until tomorrow?” Liam tried to appeal to her motherly instincts.
Rebecca huffed in response, still packing.
“Bex, come on. Talk to me,” Liam stood in her path to the closet.
“Move,” Rebecca demanded.
“Not until you talk to me. Why won’t you stay the night?” Liam folded his arms.
Rebecca turned away, starting to close her suitcase. “Fine, I’ll get the rest later.”
“Rebecca, please. Tell me what I did that upset you. You said I sabotage you. How am I sabotaging you?” Liam put a hand on her suitcase to keep her from leaving.
Rebecca didn’t fight him over the suitcase. She stood back and eyed him head to toe and back again. She folded her arms and took a deep breath. “You really don’t know.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t know why we spend most of our nights in different houses. I don’t know why you don’t talk to me anymore. I don’t know what upset you about dinner tonight. I don’t know, Rebecca!” Liam was exasperated. He sat on the edge of the bed in front of the suitcase. He looked at Rebecca standing there, fuming. He wanted so much to fix whatever was wrong, but he honestly didn’t know why she was so upset. “Please, tell me,” he pleaded.
“That’s why I can’t stay here tonight or ever again. You don’t get it. You don’t understand me anymore. Everything you do undermines me, and you don’t even notice!” Rebecca burst in a hiss. Even as angry as she was, she knew to keep quiet so she didn’t disturb the children.
Liam put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. So, he didn’t get it, but wasn’t he asking her right now to explain? Running his hands through his hair, he lifted his head again. “I know I don’t get it. Will you please help me understand?” How was he supposed to know what he was doing wrong if she wouldn’t tell him? Was he a mind reader? Yes, they’d been together a long time and overcome a lot, but that didn’t mean he knew her every thought.
“No. I’m too tired to explain. I’ve had enough of you standing in my way instead of supporting…” Rebecca went on, but Liam got lost in his thoughts. She didn’t feel supported? He was standing in her way? Weren’t they the same people who had stuck together through injuries and career changes and media frenzies? He didn’t think he was any less supportive of her now than he had been all along. He knew he was no less grateful for her support than he’d ever been. What was he missing? Even now, she wasn’t being specific about what he was doing wrong or what he should be doing instead of what he was actually doing. Had they grown so far apart that he wasn’t in tune with what she wanted? “… solicitor Monday,” Rebecca concluded.
“Wait, what?” Liam shook his head.
“I’m meeting with my solicitor Monday. We can divide things the way we already have, if that’s acceptable to you. We can iron out the details this week.”
“I don’t understand.”
Rebecca scoffed, “Of course you don’t. I want a divorce. We’re getting a divorce.” She walked around Liam to get her suitcase off the bed and left the room. Liam sat there stunned. He heard Rebecca struggling to get her bag down the stairs, but he was frozen in place by the word ringing in his ears.