love, Ruth Nineke

Michelle peered into the pot of sauce.

Post Published: January 15, 2024
Preview from my book This Is Growing Up

She shut the dishwasher, and moved closer to the island where Kevin stood with Grace.

“I’m gonna swing by Morgan’s Department Store first; should be back before five.” Michelle stretched out her arm behind Grace, and turned her other shoulder toward her husband.

“See you then,” Kevin smiled.

He left the house without kissing her good-bye.

As she pulled out of the driveway Michelle wondered at his strange behavior over the last couple of days.

On Monday night he’d accused her of bringing his parents into their marriage, blaming her victim persona for their distrust. His words had been harsh, but she knew there was truth to them. But he hadn’t wanted to fight, and neither did Michelle.

When she brought up his sleeping Kevin said their marriage was about Grace, and told her she didn’t need to worry about him. Michelle thought they were supposed to be a team, responsible for Grace, and one another. She thought she had every right to be concerned.

But he’d wanted to go for a drive, and she wasn’t going to push him. Then, on Tuesday morning he sprung to spring impromptu dinner plans on her.

Michelle was not anxious to show off the renovations. They’d finished the house months ago, and she’d only wanted work done for herself, and Grace – not to have dinner guests. She wondered where he’d gotten that idea.

She was even more curious as to why he would invite Henry and Laura over before bringing it up with her first. If Kevin was so tired of his parents prying into their lives, why on Earth would he offer to host Henry and his wife?

They were nosy and pushy, and they weren’t even related to him. It didn’t make sense, but Michelle hadn’t found an opening to talk with him about it all week.

She’d had homework every night, and Kevin had somehow gotten sleeping pills that put him out before Grace’s bath every night. What brief interactions they’d had were limited to talk of Grace, the satellite bill, and a hole on the right side of the house where Kevin thought a possum might’ve been hiding.

The last thing Michelle felt they should be doing was putting on for a couple she barely knew, when Kevin was barely speaking to her.

But there was little she could do about it now.

She pulled up to the curb in front of Grace’s school, and sighed.

Dinner wouldn’t be terrible. There’d be wine, and after Henry and Laura left she’d find a way to get Kevin to open up.

As she pulled the key from the ignition Michelle’s eyes landed on a pair of women preparing to cross the street. They held the hands of two small children, a boy and girl.

Both their identities and their destination were unmistakable.

Shit, she thought. Shit, shit, shit.

“Mommy,” Grace addressed her. “It’s time to go to school.”

“Just a second, honey,” she stroked her daughter’s hair. “Mommy wants to wait a while before she takes you in, okay?”

Michelle watched in amazement, and horror, as Alex and Brenda walked inside the day school with whom she could only assume were Alex’s children by their side.

She took her hand from Grace’s head and clutched the steering wheel, leaning forward, her lips pressed to its top.

So, they were here permanently. And that crazy bitch’s kids were in the same school as her daughter. Michelle had no idea. She hadn’t seen them once in the past six weeks.

Then again, Kevin usually dropped Grace off earlier than she was doing today.

Shit, Michelle thought, shit.

“Mommy!” Grace whined anxiously, reminding her of their present obligation. “When am I going to school? I don’t want to be late.”
“One more minute, Grace,” she promised.

Dinner with Henry and Laura would be a cake walk compared to exchanging words with Brenda and her maniac cousin. Seeing or speaking to either of them was, in fact, the very last thing Michelle ever wanted to do. She waited until they came back outside and drove away before she took Grace into the building.

Michelle considered sharing her discovery with Kevin, but she didn’t want him to know that Brenda was back. She wondered if she could convince him to take Grace out of the school, but that was a long shot.

It was Kevin’s idea to get her an early start, and he’d never go for taking her out now. Besides, Grace liked her school. She was happy there, and Michelle didn’t want to upset her routine.

From now on, she decided, she would take the blue car and drop Grace to school by herself.

When Michelle got home that afternoon, at a quarter to five, Kevin was grating parmesan cheese into a white bowl on the island in their kitchen. The satellite radio filled the house with Classic Rock, and Michelle could smell a delicious pot of sauce simmering.

“Hey,” Kevin smiled when he noticed her. “What’d you get?” he raised his chin to her Morgan’s bags.

Michelle set down the bags.

“A new skirt, and some shirts too. I wanted to look nice,” she shrugged. “We’re entertaining.”

“Good for you,” he smiled. “Can’t wait to see. How was school?”

“Pretty good,” Michelle peered into the pot of sauce. “Work?”

“Same. We’re looking at some property in Davenport. Meetings start next week, and Henry’s excited.”

“I bet,” she replied. “Need a hand?”

“Yeah,” Kevin answered. “You can put the meatballs on. They’re over there,” he motioned toward a glass bowl, covered in plastic wrap.

Michelle washed her hands and began the meatballs.

They discussed the week, sharing arbitrary opinions on topics that barely mattered to either one of them. She wanted so badly to mention Monday evening, but again, the timing just wasn’t right.

Kevin was in such good spirits, and he really was trying.

Moments after she began stirring the meatballs into the sauce Michelle felt Kevin’s hand slide about the small of her back. When she turned to see what he needed Kevin dropped a delicate kiss on her lips.

He pulled back before kissing her again, this time passionately with his tongue. This one wasn’t like the kisses they’d shared before, for the sake of Grace and his parents.

“Everything’s gonna be all right,” Kevin smiled at her.

The man in her kitchen was an enigma.

She never knew how he felt or what he thought from one day to the next. Michelle wondered what – aside from Grace – kept her fighting for him. She wondered whether he would ever settle down enough for her to understand him.

For three weeks he’d barely slept. Then, he suddenly had a prescription for sleeping pills – the likes of which made him practically comatose. On Monday night he’d been distant and short with her, and now, not only had he invited another couple over for dinner, but he was cooking, and singing, and kissing her for no reason, when nobody else was around to see it. Michelle wondered what he was trying to prove and who he was trying to convince.

Laura was a curvy woman, with lady-like movements. She had thick eyebrows and full lips and was entirely too beautiful for her husband. Henry was as average looking as his wife was breathtaking.

Michelle wondered how they’d wound up together, but she didn’t care enough to ask for, or listen to their story.

Laura wore a navy blue dress with white polka dots. Her husband matched Kevin in what could’ve only been the same clothes they wore to work any given day of the week.

They exchanged greetings and, as the wives poured glasses of wine, Michelle realized that if not for her shopping habits and housekeeping Kevin would never have anything to wear. She wondered if he’d ever once had the responsibility of taking care of himself.
“Well,” Laura brought her attention back to the moment. They stood between the island and the kitchen counter.

“You couldn’t have very well stayed home with her for another year, could you?” she asked, referring to Grace.

Michelle wondered what on Earth made Kevin think she would want to entertain them.

“She had to start school sometime,” Laura went on. “Personally, I think it’s wonderful that you’re in school now as well. It’s a good thing,” she said, knowingly, “for a woman to establish, and be confident in, her own independence. If you ever have to be on your own, at least you’ll know that you can take care of yourself. And that’s a very good thing to know.”

She tilted her head to the side, raising her brows and curling up the sides of her mouth.

Michelle nodded and drank her wine.

Laura praised the meal, and raved about the meatballs. She may have been fishing for a recipe but no one obliged.

“I started them this morning,” Kevin lied.

“Kev’s always cooking,” Henry said to his wife. “He’s a little late to the office in the mornings, and he’s always slipping out at lunch just to go home and cook.”

“Well,” Laura remarked emphatically, “You can’t be mad at a man like that. I respect that kind of commitment to family life.”

Kevin’s cooking habits were news to Michelle. She disguised her surprise by chewing a piece of meatball. She followed the bite with a large sip of wine, acutely aware of Laura’s attention on her.

Michelle set down her glass, and smiled at the other woman.

“I’m one lucky woman,” she said, “My husband loves to cook.”

When the hell did Kevin decide he loved to cook? Pouring cereal in the morning and fixing Grace peanut butter and jelly sandwiches did not translate into cooking. Monday night was the first time he’d ever really helped with dinner, and Tuesday morning with breakfast.

Michelle put her hand on the back of his neck and scratched at his hairline, right above his shirt’s collar. Kevin leaned his head back into her fingers and smiled, relishing the attention like a purring cat.

She waited until after their guests had left to ask about his new culinary passions.

“And where are you going on your lunch breaks?”

“I’ve been coming home to sleep,” Kevin answered. “After I drop you off in the morning I pick up some extra coffee to get me through the first half of the day, and then I come home and nap. The last thing I need is for my sleeping patterns to become everybody’s business, especially when we’re just barely getting my parents to lay off, you know?”

Michelle nodded and let it go.

Whatever was going on with him, she wasn’t going to press it. They weren’t fighting anymore and that’s all that mattered. Besides, she could always bring it up in therapy. Kevin couldn’t hide from her there.

 

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