By the time Sara had finished her shower and gotten dressed, she was ready for a snack. She headed into the kitchen to find James standing in the midst of a number of boxes.
“I didn’t know where to put these things,” he said apologetically. “There isn’t really any space for them.”
“Oh, my,” Sara said, thinking about her full cabinets. “I don’t know how I forgot about that. I didn’t even think…I mean, I just figured you would just use what I have.”
“Well, I used to be a very productive member of society, with my own apartment and everything, before I was forced to move back in with my mom.” James looked at the floor. He’s embarrassed, Sara thought. I didn’t know he could be embarrassed. How cute.
“No, I didn’t mean…” Sara trailed off. What to say? “It’s just that, you know how Oden is. When one of it’s prime citizens, or the son of a prime citizen, gets married, everyone feels the need to throw lots of parties. Oh, you wouldn’t believe the parties we had. The parties I was, shall we say, encouraged, to attend by William’s mom. And we got all manner of kitchen gadgets and place settings. Twelve fine china place settings. Would you like to see?” Sara opened up the cabinet above the refridgerator, a cabinet reserved for junk and cereal at her foster home.
“Oh, wow,” James said, peering into the deep space and seeing stacks of dishes.
“Yeah, I know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful. It’s beautiful and expensive. I just don’t know when I would ever use it. When I will ever use any of it. I guess the idea is that one day we would stop being kids, have babies and move back to Oden.” Sara stopped. Those things would never happen, nor had she ever wanted them to.
James sensed this was a sensitive topic. “Well, since you have all the necessaries, how about I just put this stuff in the storage house out back. I mean, I won’t be here forever and I’ll need my stuff when I move.” James looked at her for some reaction to this statement.
“Yeah, I guess that’s the best thing. You will need them eventually.” She looked like she was pondering the next move. “Well, I’m hungry. Would you like a snack?”
“Sure, but now that I live here officially, you don’t have to feel like you’re my host.” James hesitated. “So, could you show me around the kitchen a little? I do need to know where to put my groceries.”
“Oh, of course. Listen, I’ll clean out one cabinet. I certainly don’t need all of this stuff now. I’ll put some in a box and you can have a cabinet to yourself. I’m sure you at least have a favorite coffee mug that you need.”
“I do, I do. Let me find it.” James began rummaging around inside one of the boxes. “Ah-ha!” He held up his prize for Sara to see.
“You have got to be kidding me? Mickey Mouse?”
“What’s wrong with the mouse? He’s cute.” James turned the mug around to admire all the sides. “Really, it’s not about what’s on the outside. It’s the weight of the mug, the size of the opening and the way the handle fits in your hand.” James held out the mug to Sara. She took it from him and held it like it had coffee in it. “You see? Good, right?”
Sara smiled. “Yes, it’s great. I just never met someone who had such strong feelings about coffee mugs before.”
“Well, I am very serious about my mug. I’m very serious about my coffee.” He pulled out a bag of coffee from a box. “You can only get this at a certain shop in Atlanta. This is my last box. As soon as I get my first check, I’m going to get them to mail me some more.” He looked at Sara. “After I pay you rent, of course.”
“Well, I should hope the roof over your head comes before good coffee.”
“I don’t know, Sara. A good cup of coffee makes life better.”
Sara was amazed how at ease she felt around this man. William had been her love, but in the beginning she felt self-conscious around him. And even after they had been together for years, there were still moments when she felt like she had to be careful of what she said, like he was criticizing her words and the way she acted around his friends, first in college and then at work. Fitting in had never been her strong suit.
Sara and James set about making the kitchen livable for the two of them. The unneeded boxes were taken out to the shed, and a cabinet was cleared for James to put his food.
James stood back and admired their handiwork. “Now if I just had some food to put in there!”
“Do you want to go shopping now? What if we just drove around for a while and I could show you the sights? We have a few hours before it will be time to come back and work on supper.”
“Sounds great. I’ll go cool off the car and we can go.”
Once the air conditioner had done its job the two of them headed off to find the grocery store. To get there Sara took a round-about way, showing James Daffin Park, the Sand Gnats stadium, Washington Avenue, and several small green spaces that were dotted here and there throughout the subdivision.
“I’ll actually show you two grocery stores, one for when you just want the closest place and one for when you want a more complete shopping trip.”
“Sounds good,” James said, enjoying this time with Sara. “So-o-o-…”
“Yes?” Sara asked.
“Have you told anyone else about the bun in the oven?”
Sara sat for a minute. James wondered if he had just ruined what was turning out to be a great day.
“You don’t have to answer that. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay, really.” Sara took a deep breath. “No, I haven’t told anyone else. I suppose I need to talk to someone about it, and since here you are and you already know, I can talk to you.”
“But I’m not exactly the kind of person you go to for advice about this sort of thing.”
“What? Are you saying you should be female and old?”
“Well, that type of person would certainly have more advice than I do.”
“That’s true, but how many people have you ever known who have been in my exact position, with a dead husband and a baby on the way that no one knows about?” Sara looked at James, her eyebrows up.
“Fair enough. You’ve made your point.” What could he say to her? “Well, for what it’s worth, I don’t mind being your sounding board until you get ready to tell someone else your secret. But I have a feeling that Miss Jane of yours will have it figured out before anyone else, even if she never says anything to you. And she would probably be a very sympathetic ear, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
He was right, of course. Jane would be a perfect confidante.
“I know you’re right, but I’m just waiting for something. I don’t know what.”
They were both silent for a few minutes, each contemplating this big secret. Sara wondering how in the world she was going to handle a baby all by herself and James wondering how in the world he was going to deal with a pregnant woman for the next few months.
“Do you know your due date?”
“Your due date. You know, the day that you think the baby will be born.”
Sara thought for a moment. “You know, I haven’t even been to the doctor yet. I haven’t even made an appointment. I don’t even know where to begin a search for a doctor.”
“Google?” James offered.
“Well, yeah, if you want to do the obvious thing,” Sara said, grinning at the road, and James realized that she was joking with him. This is going to be fun, if it doesn’t get weird, he thought, and settled back into his seat to enjoy the late summer scenery.
By the time they got back to the house, unloaded the groceries, and ate the grocery store sushi that James bought as a snack, it was almost time to get started with dinner. The Newmans and the Mendelsohns were due any minute so Sara decided to do a quick walk-through pick-up so the house wouldn’t be a complete mess. It was something she and William used to do when they were having company and if they had been drinking at all, they would bump into each other as they went from room to room putting items back where they belonged. Sometimes, there was a quick romp as a result of all the “bumping.”
But Sara did this alone now. Even though there was a man in the house, he wasn’t William and when she started to move stuff around, James excused himself to his room and shut the door. Sara sat down on the couch. Was it possible to now have someone here all the time and feel even more alone, even more isolated in her grief?
All right, Sara, no pouting right now. There’s work to be done. Sara could hear Eve’s voice inside her head, urging her on, moving her from moping to action. She got up and finished the chores at hand, then, because the day had been hot, even in the air-conditioned car, she took a long cool shower. The water helped to wash away the grime of the day and to calm her spirit. By the time she got dressed and blew her hair dry it was seven and time for supper.
While the boys helped James heat up the grill, Sara had a chance to talk to Jane and Christine, who were about to bust. Christine was the first to gush.
“Wow, Sara. He is so cute. And tall. And polite. Do you think it’s all an act?”
“He does seem too good to be true, but I don’t get that from him,” Miss Jane observed. “He seems to be quite genuine.”
“And cute,” Christine added.
“Yes. Yes. He is cute, though he doesn’t hold a candle to my Bill.” Sara and Christine smiled at that. Jane and Bill had annoyed everyone in the best way by constantly having to be near each other. And by being consistently pleasant.
Christine turned to Jane. “Have you two always been so in love? I mean, really. My parents divorced when I was twenty and I never knew my grandparents. So I’ll just go ahead and say that it seems odd to me to see two people so in love after so many years together.”
Jane seemed thoughtful, looking up a little and smiling. “You know, it hasn’t always been like this. There have been times when I hated that man. Moments when the kids were little and he was so involved at his job and I was home with them all day. What little brats they could be! And he would come home and I would feel completely ignored except when it was time to go to bed.”
Sara and Christine’s eyebrows shot up at that. Jane noticed.
“What? Your generation talks more about sex than any generation before. Yes, Bill and I had sex. Yes, it wasn’t always wonderful. Sometimes I felt like I was a warm body at night, a vessel to make his babies and hands to cook his supper. But I realized at some point that he didn’t make me feel that way. I let myself be made to feel that way. I decided that I would tell him how I felt. So I did.”
“Did he get mad at you?” Sara asked.
“I suppose he was a little mad. But he was also surprised. He hadn’t known I felt that way. And how could he? I hadn’t told him. I made a vow to myself right then that I would let him know when things were bothering me. And I have. Communication has got to be one of the most important parts of a marriage. When you bury your thoughts and feelings, they fester and grow. But there’s something else, too.”
Sara and Christine were at attention. Christine especially seemed to be wondering what revelation was coming next.
“You may scoff at me, but when we got married we made a vow to be in church together. There have been years when we didn’t make that as much of a priority, but the years that we have…those have been the best years.” Jane smiled. “And I will say, that if you can stick it out together, I know you can’t believe this now, but the sex just gets better and better.”
Sara and Christine’s eyes were wide.
“Really?” Christine asked, incredulously.
“Yes, really. And don’t look so shocked. After forty years that man knows how to please.”
Just then, Bill stepped into the kitchen from the back door. All the women looked up at him. Christine and Sara were looking at Bill as if he had just become Cary Grant incarnate.
“Bill,” Christine said. “Way to go.”
Bill was looking around as if everyone had lost their minds. “What?” he asked, turning to Jane. “What have you said?”
She put her arm around him. “Only that you are the best husband in the whole world, dear,” she said, giving his waist a squeeze.
“Well, thanks, I think,” he replied, kissing the top of her head. He still wasn’t convinced. “You’re sure that’s all?”
Sara and Christine nodded. “Oh, yeah,” they said in unison, smiling.
Now Mark and James were coming in as well. “So the party’s moved in here, huh?” Mark asked, walking over to Christine and putting an arm around her.
James and Sara were next to each other now. Both of them looked at each other awkwardly. The other two couples were having little conversations of their own. “This is weird, huh?” James asked, leaning over to whisper to Sara.
“A little,” she replied. Missing William suddenly, she said out loud, “I’ll just go and toss the salad.” She turned and opened the door to the fridge.
“I’ll help,” Christine said. “What can I do?”
Sara was facing away from the group, trying to hide her now wet eyes. Christine came over to her, using the act of taking vegetables out of her hands to whisper to Sara. “It’s okay, you know. We all know this is new. Everyone’s just trying to keep things light for you.”
“I know and I appreciate it. I just need a minute. Please?”
“Okay.” Christine turned to face the group. “All right, let’s move out of this hot kitchen. Mark wasn’t there some kind of game on that you wanted to watch?”
Mark looked confused. “Yeah, sure, babe.” Then to James, “James, buddy, what’s your poison? Basketball, baseball, football, golf?”
“Sports? I love college football. But I guess baseball will have to do for August. Are the Braves playing tonight?”
The crowd moved out of the kitchen and into the living room. Jane glanced over her shoulder as she was the last one to leave and could see Sara at the counter chopping a green pepper. Her shoulders shaking in silent grief.
After supper was over everyone helped with the clean-up so that by the time the last of the neighbors left it was after midnight and Sara and James said a quick good-night and went straight to their rooms. For her part, Sara fell on the bed and was asleep in an instant, aware of nothing until the smell of coffee woke her from a deep sleep.
For the first time in weeks, Sara did not wake up and feel immediately nauseous. She also realized that, amazingly, she’d slept through the night. She rubbed her eyes and sat up in bed realizing that there was someone else in her house. That someone else had gotten up and made coffee and that she wasn’t alone. She walked into the bathroom, ran a brush through her hair and walked out into the kitchen.
James was standing at the sink, reading the paper and sipping from his Mickey Mouse mug.
“Good morning, Mrs. Carraway,” he said, grinning at her morning look. “I hope you don’t mind, but I found the paper on the porch this morning and thought I’d get familiar with life in Savannah.”
“No, that’s fine.” Sara was eyeing the coffee pot. James noticed the gleam of want in her eyes.
“Would you like some coffee, Sara?”
“Oh, yes, please,” she said, grateful for the thought of the warm liquid.
He walked over to the cupboard and reached for a mug. “Now, you must remember that this is the best coffee on the planet and I will expect you to enjoy and appreciate it as such.” James was pouring her a cup and she reached out for it. She took a sip. She savored the warmth and bitterness of it. He was right. It was delicious. Her reaction must have shown on her face.
She could only nod with her eyes closed. She still felt fuzzy around the edges. James, however, looked like he was ready to face the day.
“Are you always so chipper in the morning? I feel like I need about two hours to become the self that can function in society.”
“Well, I’ve been up for two hours. New house I guess.”
“Really? I didn’t even hear you. I was completely out of it after last night. But I did sleep better than I have in weeks. Maybe we should have a dinner party every night.” She looked at James, who was giving her the “no-way-no-how” look. “What? You didn’t enjoy that?”
“I did. Of course I did. I’m just big on down time.”
“Have you ever had roommates before?”
“Oh, sure. In college. But not when I had my job in Atlanta. It was really great having my own place. No one to worry me about the dishes in the sink, the bathroom floor being dirty, not picking up my socks. Though I must admit, after that first month, when the place got really nasty, I started cleaning it up without even asking myself.”
“Ha-ha. You’re hilarious.”
“Thank you. I like to think so.”
“So, I guess you’re starting your new job today?”
“Yeah, in fact I need to get a move on,” James said, looking at his watch. He gulped the rest of his coffee and started filling up a travel mug. Sara reached into a cabinet and pulled out the toaster.
“This is a little weird but…”
“Yes?” James asked.
“I just…how do you want to…I mean, I’m not your secretary or anything…” Sara was getting more and more flustered.
“You’re wondering, do we tell each other where we’re going to be and what we’re doing?”
“Yes,” Sara said with relief.
“Well, for now how about I’ll let you know if I won’t be spending the night. I mean, I’ll be at work everyday and I don’t know anyone yet to be going and doing anything with. But you shouldn’t have to report to me either, right?”
“Okay, then. I posted my cell number on the fridge, just in case you needed to reach me for something. And I think I have yours.” James walked over to where Sara was standing in the doorway.
“Cool,” Sara said. “Well, have a great first day.” He leaned over and there was an odd moment where he seemed to catch himself before leaning further. Then he straightened up and walked past her. He turned back.
“Thanks, Sara. You have a great day as well.” And he was gone.