Sharon was still feeling the glow of the wine from dinner as she turned the car onto her street. It had been too long since she had seen Nikki. Wasn’t that what she had heard, that life drives even the best of friends away from each other?
Their lives had taken different paths since they graduated high school twelve years ago. Nikki had gone away to college, and then law school. Now she was working, and working like a dog, at a law firm in Manhattan. They barely ever talked or saw each other anymore. And well, texting or facebook was awkward right now. David really didn’t approve of her using them. He was always monitoring her iPhone so Nikki brought her a prepaid phone so they could talk.
It was when she saw or spoke to Nikki that Sharon regretted marrying so young and not going to college. If only David was more open to the idea of going to school. She didn’t know if she wanted to bring it up again, particularly not after the row last time.
Sharon drove slowly down the street, her foot riding lightly on the brake. Although not drunk, she got a sudden fear of being stopped by a cop this close to home. Her fear turned to dread when she saw David’s two seat red sports car in the driveway. It hit her so hard that she involuntary slammed her foot down on the brake. Her aged Volvo shuttered to a stop in the middle of the street.
He was not supposed to be back from his trip until tomorrow, Sunday. He hated Nikki and Sharon was only able to steal away and see her when David was away.
She sat there in her motionless car trying to get her breathing under control. She felt her eyes tear with the rush of emotion. Sharon was crying and didn’t understand why. “It will be Ok,” she told herself, knowing this to be a lie. She took another deep breath and released the brake.
After easing her car next to David’s but before turning it off, Sharon took her prepaid phone out of her bag and slipped it under her seat. Next, she quickly wiped off her lipstick; the wadded tissue also ended up under the seat.
She checked her face in the visor mirror. She never really liked looking at herself. Even now, Sharon still hadn’t gotten used to the blonde hair, but that’s what David liked. Her cheeks were too thin, “hollow” is what Nikki said this evening. But, with the stress in the house it was tough to get enough sleep. Besides, David wanted her thin. Satisfied that all the lipstick was gone, Sharon turned the car off and before her nerve failed, walked to the front door.
Before her keys reached the lock, David had the door open. Just into his middle thirties, David’s hair was still black and curly. He wasn’t very tall, but was very muscular. He spent a least one hour in the gym every night, and it seemed most of the weekend. Those shiny brown eyes which had first attracted her stared at her hard and without any mercy.
“Where have you been?” he asked softly. It was bad when he started soft and reasonable.
Looking down at her bright red toenails peeking from her open top shoes, she answered, “I was bored so I went to the mall.” He had a way of making her feel like a little child caught doing something naughty. She felt ashamed of herself for allowing him to make her feel guilty.
“Your phone was off,” he accused. Again his voice was soft as he expressed his disappointment in her.
She didn’t give him the honest answer that she had turned it off so that he couldn’t track her. “I must have turned it off when I was charging it and forgot to put it back on.”
Still blocking the door, he said, “That was stupid and irresponsible. What if there had been a emergency? Jesus, Sharon, you are such a fucking child sometimes.” Here it comes she thought. Right here, right out in the open when everyone can see it.
“God damn it, you are such a worthless fucking child,” he said disgustedly. “I work and do everything around here, and all you do sit on your Goddamned ass all day doing fucking nothing.”
She couldn’t stop the tears from leaking out of her eyes. She knew he was right, it was wrong for her to sneak out even if he was away, she thought.
“And where the fuck are the children?” he demanded. David’s eyes started to bulge a little, and she knew that this was going to be bad. She was so stupid, why couldn’t she just listen to him. Why did she did listen to Nikki when she did it always ends up bad, she asked herself.
“N-n-next door,” she stuttered in a small voice.
“With that bitch Betty?” David’s voice rose in anger. He started clenching his right fist. He’d never hit her, he didn’t need to.
He roughly grabbed her left arm and squeezed it hard.
“We’re going to get my damned kids, and you’re going to make fucking dinner. No, you’d just burn it, you useless bitch. I’ll go out and get something that won’t poison me.”
David dragged her from the their front door and across the lawn to the next door. The abuting the house was a well kept and had a colorful garden. It seemed the mere sight of it ramped up David’s rage.
He crossed Betty’s front yard, ignoring the neatly dressed stone walkway from the curb which cut through the immaculate lawn. He stomped every step as if trying to erase the grass. As David dragged her, Sharon was barely able to keep her feet under her. This caused David’s anger to redouble.
When he reached the two-step stoop, he half threw Sharon at the brilliantly blue painted door. “Can you least ring the doorbell without fucking that up?”
Sharon ducked her head in a slight nod. She tried to quietly sniffle her nose as she controlled her tears. David hated when she sniffled. With him still squeezing her left arm, she pressed the doorbell with her right index finger.
David waited all of two seconds before pushing her aside. “You even fuck that up,” he said and started pounding on the door.
Shortly the door was slowly opened by a stocky middle aged woman. She was backlit with a soft yellow light, which in the twilight obscured her face. Inside, Sharon could hear the sounds of the television and she could smell the aroma of baking.
The homey peaceful tranquility in the house was a jarring contrast to the turmoil on the doorstep.
“Ah, David,” the woman said, “I’d recognize that tantrum anywhere. Tired of beating up on Sharon and now working on my door?”
“Fuck you, Betty. I want my kids.” He twisted his mouth into an ugly sneer.
She nodded slowly as if considering it. “Funny, you only notice your kids when you want to punish Sharon. I bet you don’t even know their names.”
David raised a clenched right fist, “Shut the fuck up and give me kids.”
Betty sighed, “Or what? You’ll hit me? That didn’t work out well the last time you made that threat. David, you shouldn’t be allowed to even keep a cat let alone be around children. But, unfortunately, and I do mean that, by some freakish cosmic joke you are their father. I’ll go get them. And don’t think of stepping across that threshold. We both know it would go very badly for you.” Unconcernedly, she turned her back on him and slowly walked out of the foyer.
He grabbed Sharon’s left arm again and shook it hard. “You are never to fucking talk to that bitch again. You will keep my kids away from her.”
Sharon ducked her head, her long bleached blonde hair hiding her face and mumbled that she was sorry, and it would not happen again.
“Goddamn right it won’t. You fuck up like this again, I’ll throw your bitch ass out on the street and you’ll never see those kids again. No judge is going to give custody to a lazy, unemployed fuck up like you.”
There is was: the threat. She knew he was right. He was always right. Without him she’d have nothing, not even her children.
The time it took Betty to return with Ryan and Hunter was an eternity. With the light at their backs, Sharon couldn’t see their faces, but from the way they held back behind Betty, she could tell they were nervous.
Although eight years old, they were small for their age. Sharon often wondered if the stress and fear robbed them of the vitality to grow.
When they saw Sharon the twins launched themselves at her and buried their faces in her waist. They were so small and helpless, she thought. I have to protect them. They’re all I have.
With children present Betty said nothing more than “Here they are,” and closed the door. The cutting off of the warm light and homey smells had a sense of finality which filled Sharon with dread as to what would happen next.
Looking at the boys hugging their Mother, David released his hold on her. He then grabbed each boy by the arm and pulled them away from Sharon. “Don’t be goddamned fags. Let her alone, she fucked up, don’t encourage her.”
Ryan, the larger of the two was also the more timid. He shrunk back from his father as if expecting a blow. Hunter looked defiantly at his father but said nothing. He knew better than to say anything.
Sharon stumbled back to the house, following David and the boys.