In the Stillness
Author:Andrea Randall

I looked up, and there he was. He was pretty. Too pretty, almost. His skin was bronzed, but it looked natural, like he’d be dark even in the winter. His black hair was longer than I cared for, but it was tucked just behind his ears and hidden under a Redskins hat.

 

“What’s your point, Tosh?” I chuckled, trying not to stare as he thumbed through the book with concentration searing across his face.

 

“He’s totally checking you out, Nat.” Tosha slid off her stool and threw her paper plate away. I followed.

 

I whispered as we walked out of Antonio’s. “He was not checking me out. Now, shut up so he doesn’t hear us.”

 

“Whatever, I’m going to grab a coffee, want one?”

 

“No, caffeine-a-holic, I’ll get some vitamin D while you fund Starbucks.” I laughed and took a seat on the bench next to the guy she’d been staring at. The line was long and I knew Tosha would wait, no mater the length. I needed to get comfortable.

 

People passed by like they were on a conveyor belt, as I checked out what would be my new surroundings come fall. North Pleasant Street in Amherst was not foreign to me; it held some of the best bars and restaurants in the area. I breathed in the smells of fresh-baked popovers from Judie’s restaurant right across from me as I turned my head to the right—where I found “fluid mechanics boy” watching me.

 

You know that split second? The one where you decide if you’re going to just smile and continue looking around, or chance an encounter with a stranger? It’s a dangerous moment. It changes absolutely everything.

 

*

 

“Come on, Natalie. Let’s not do this again.” Eric pulls me back to the present.

 

I roll my eyes and walk to the bathroom. He doesn’t try to follow me; he learned early on that I lock doors behind me. Plus, the boys are sleeping and he won’t want to wake them . . . being that he’s “Father of the Year” and all.

 

Reaching under the bathroom sink, I locate the peroxide and alcohol and run them over the razor I used earlier. There’s no need to risk infection. I’ve been there, and it’s just a sure-fire way to get caught. I can’t cut somewhere new this time because the “cat scratches” are already on Eric’s radar. I stare at the marks from earlier and decide that reopening them is the easiest route to go, the easiest way to be mad at him without screaming and starting a blow-out. I’m sick of yelling. Sick of fighting. Sick of crying.

 

Just a little. Just one more time.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

 

 

 

Eric’s alarm goes off far too early, even for a workday. The boys are still sleeping—that’s how early.

 

“Are you kidding? What are you doing?” I groan, nudging his shoulder.

 

He sits up, his back to me. “I’ve got some things to check on at the lab and I need to get there early.” His shoulders stop moving as if they’re bracing themselves for my verbal attack.

 

I don’t give in. Well, not all the way in.

 

“Whatever. Just go, before the boys wake up and think they’ll get to spend five seconds with you today.” I roll over and pull the blanket over my head.

 

I hear him swallow and take a deep breath before getting out of bed and getting dressed. Before he leaves the bedroom, he pads over to my side of the bed. I pretend I’ve fallen back asleep. He leans forward and I can smell the Old Spice body wash he used last night before getting into bed.

 

He pulls the blanket down an inch, and after he presses his always-soft lips against my temple, he whispers, “I love you, Nat. Have a good day.” Then, he’s gone. Again.

 

By the time the boys wake up, I’m thrilled. It’s Wednesday—preschool day. Max and Oliver go to preschool three days a week. Three glorious days a week that I can pretend I’m someone else for a few hours. Why don’t I take a class or two toward the anthropology Ph.D. program I started before all of this started? Because, I’d be able to take a class while they were at school and then have precisely zero time to do any work, or research, or anything.

 

“Mommy. Mommy!” A tow-headed little boy bounces in my face as I tie his shoe.

 

“Yes, Ollie honey, what is it?” He points to a red line on my arm. “Where that boo-boo come from?”

 

“The silly kitty,” I lie effortlessly with a smile on my face.

 

“Bad kitty!” Ollie shouts in Mittens’ face.

 

“Bad kitty!” Max joins in, using an empty paper towel tube as a sword to shoo the cat away.

 

“All right, boys, in the car you go. It’s time for school!”

 

I swear I sound more excited about it than they do. Because I am. I usher them out the door before they can do any more damage to my fall-guy. Poor Mittens. I smile a little as the sun beams off their golden hair. I chuckle whenever I really stare at their hair. It’s so blonde, and both Eric and I have dark, black hair. They look adopted.

 

Can you return adopted children?

 

*

 

“Fluid Mechanics, huh?” I chanced the encounter that day.

 

“Yeah.” He grinned as he held up the book to give me a better look at the cover.

 

“What the hell is fluid mechanics?” I asked over the bike rack separating our two benches.

 

He laughed. And I was hooked. Right there, on the sidewalk bench across from Judie’s Restaurant, I was hooked.