Sophie awoke with her body jostling up and down like a raft in rough seas.
"Mommy," Annabelle said, bouncing on the bed. "Daddy's here."
Will? Here? Sophie bolted upright and struggled for her bearings. Five seconds later, the previous night's events skittered across the lining of her stomach. Will had seen her with another man—and lost his job.
Annabelle leaped off the bed and ran out of the room. Keely, her fourth-grader, sat cross-legged on the foot of the bed wearing a plastic Mardi Gras mask complete with purple and blue head feathers, hand-painted black eyelashes, and large rhinestone teardrops. She stared at her mother through the gloomy white visage.
"Hey, baby." Sophie's tongue felt fat. "Little early for a party, isn't it?"
Keely pointed to her mask, her lips moving behind the mouth hole. "Mommy, this is the face of sadness. Did you know Daddy slept in the shed last night? His back hurts now."
"It's temporary, sweetie."
"There's bugs out there."
Sophie slid from under the covers and traipsed across the hallway, through her bedroom, and into her bathroom. Upon re-emerging, Keely met her at the door. The mask sat atop her head, elastic string scrunching her tangled hair into a chaotic bouffant over one ear. On seeing her mother, she pulled the sad mask back into place.
"Spiders, Mommy. Scorpions and snakes."
Sophie yawned and brushed past her, sensing Keely on her heels down the staircase.
The strong smell of brewed coffee invited her to the kitchen. Will had made a pot. At least living alone had forced him to learn how to make it.
She stepped out onto the deck, watching her youngest daughter skip downhill, across brick pavers and grass to the far end of the yard, before slipping inside the shed. Sophie followed, preparing herself.
The mid-May morning was already hot, a prelude to summer, yet the air inside the studio-turned-shed felt cool. Two narrow transoms in the cinder blocks near the ceiling leaked sunlight. Fifteen years earlier, when she and Will had bought the property, they'd built this structure to be a music studio. But things hadn't panned out. Will had instead switched to a demanding career in high tech, and the building was relabeled "the shed." The same deterioration could have been said of his musical aspirations.
Will lay on his side in a wrinkled T-shirt and boxers, leaning on one elbow, atop a green sleeping bag he'd stretched across the built-in plywood workbench.
"Good morning," he said from behind the Saturday funnies.
Sophie took in the mess of a room. On the floor along one wall, a ten-speed was pressed into an upright position by a giant ice chest stuffed with faded orange life vests and an anchor that Will had saved from the sale of their old boat. Camping equipment was stored beneath the counter on the concrete floor. Fishing poles, tackle boxes, a pup tent, propane lanterns and a Coleman stove, a cardboard box of tins and utensils. Must have been a decade since any of it had seen a campground.
She drew in her arms. "This place is a disaster. Did you sleep out here? All night?"
Will sat up, folded the paper, and exchanged it for the cup of coffee perched on a box near his dangling legs. "Sleep is a rather strong word."
The whites surrounding his brown irises had turned a veiny scarlet, his scruffy tangle of hair spiked à la weather vane, and the salt-and-pepper sheen of a beard gave him that "Please deposit your spare change in my cup" look. He slurped his coffee. Not quite the Casanova Sophie had described to Mitch.
"What's this?" Keely said, setting a small, wooden trunk onto a lopsided box.
Sophie and Will appraised the trunk and then each other.
"I imagine that's your daddy's old sheet music." Sophie flipped the rusty lever with her thumb and peeked inside at a stack of yellowed papers with Will's longhand scrawls and notes. The lyrics for "Sophie's Kiss" topped the pile. "Yet another reason to clean out this place. Don't you want to put these somewhere safe?"
Will shrugged. "What for? All in the past. Nothing in there I want to brag about."
"Once upon a time, you did."
"That's fairytale-speak for Once upon a time, there was a one-hit wonder. And we all know how that story ends."
Sophie spied the end of a guitar behind the ice chest, metal tuning knobs protruding like Frankenstein spikes from the top of its narrow neck. "You left your guitar out here?"
"Practice guitar. The decent ones are in the guest room."
Sophie looked down her nose. "All of them?"
"You didn't expect me to leave them in this mausoleum for exoskeletons, did you?"
"As if you ever play them anyway."
"Mommy." Sophie looked down as Annabelle tugged on her hand and pointed to webs suspended from the ceiling. "Spiders."
Not only spiders, but bug carcasses and a thick layer of dust—clinging to the webs and doorjambs and powdering the concrete floor.
Will sneezed three times and spilled hot coffee on his thigh. He jumped off the counter as if he could escape the burn, then sneezed three more times. Sophie caught the itch vicariously and followed with her own bout of sneezing. She ran outside and wiped her nose, tasting dust on her tongue and suppressing another violent urge to sneeze.
"Holy crap. That shed is not habitable," she said, followed by a sneeze.
Annabelle and Keely stood behind her, clinging to their father's arms and scowling at their mother like she'd sent him to Sing Sing. All they lacked was a picketer's sign that read Free Willie.
"I heard a death rattle, Mommy," Keely intoned behind her sad mask. "There's snakes out here too."
There was no winning this one. If her kids had to choose a parent to send into a nest of pythons, she'd be paralyzed and digesting in the dark right now.
But we're divorcing!
She couldn't believe what she was about to say. "All right. You can sleep in the guest room."
Annabelle jumped and clapped. Keely held tight to her father and tossed off her sad mask, bounced in place, á la pogo stick, and cheered.
"Hey." Sophie picked the mask off the ground. "The offer is just for the weekend, and it expires the moment I have to raise my voice."
Will nodded compliantly.
Sophie's chest tightened. He looked so downtrodden, she fought a powerful urge to grab him and hug him and tell him things would be all right. But that would send the message that she still cared for him. Which she didn't. Oh no. She had taken great pains to shovel a hole in the deepest, firmest ground of her psyche, dump a ton of emotional dirt in with him, and stake it with the white flag of surrender.
Here lies Sophie and Will. Nevermore.
She turned back toward the house, craving a strong cup of coffee with a triple shot of Cuervo. Will under the same roof with her again? That had combat sport all over it. She huffed her new mantra, I don't care, I don't care, and placed Keely's sad mask over her face. She could handle his proximity for one teensy weensy weekend.
She glanced over her shoulder to call the kids in for breakfast, just in time to see Will and Keely knuckle-bumping each other, their cheeks wide with triumphant grins; and she realized she should have buried him deeper.
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