The radio was tuned to the local NPR station so they didn’t have to talk. Tara was glad because each time she thought of something to say, it began with, “Had I known,” and Pete already explained that if he’d told her he was taking her to his sister’s for his nephew’s birthday, she wouldn’t have come and if he’d told his family he was bringing her, they would have been on their best behavior, and what he wanted was for everyone to be themselves.
Pete pulled up to her house. Peepers serenaded them through the honeysuckle laced muggy air. When he kissed her, Tara barely reacted.
“You’re mad,” he said.
“Too much sun.”
“Shall we go in?”
She sighed. “I’m not up for a house guest tonight.”
Pete traced the outline of her cheek with his finger. “I don’t have to spend the night.”
“I’m not really in the mood.”
“It isn’t you. My doctor put me on a new prescription. One of the side effects is a suppressed libido.”
Pete put his hand on her knee. “Are you all right?”
“Oh yeah.” Tara said. “No. It’s just the pill.” She could see his teeth.
“You don’t need that.”
“It’s to get my period back to normal.”
He leaned over and kissed her again. Tara forced herself to relax, kiss him, accept he was new and did things differently. Differently in intoxicatingly good ways. She pulled away. “I’ll call you, okay?” She fumbled for the handle.
Before she could open it, Pete said, “I really like you, Tara.”
She swallowed hard and got out of the truck. Tara hurried to the porch, unlocked the heavy pecan colored front door and refused to look back at him.
Somewhere along the route of seeing Pete for the first time two months ago and now — having met his family before they’d even slept together — she’d lost a chunk of her rational mind.
Sebastian mewled hello from the kitchen. Tara went to see if he needed food or water or both. Flipping on the overhead light, she found him in the sink, licking the faucet. Tara glanced down at his half-full water bowl.
“You’re being melodramatic,” she said, pulling the cat out of the basin and setting him on the floor. She picked up his bowl, dumped it, and replaced it with fresh water. Sebastian sniffed it then wandered down the hall.
Tara turned off the lights. In bed, she curled up, crushed by the thought of talking to Pete again. He wanted kids and she lived in fear that she’d become pregnant. She hugged herself and cried. What was she going to say? She could barely deal with the truth. Her birth canal wasn’t right. It had killed before.
Her first husband held their baby’s body before she did. Once the obstetrician explained what happened, once the tiny body had been washed off, once Tara demanded to hold her daughter, she was as cold and fragile as a piece of china. Tara had grown to live with that hole in her life. She couldn’t imagine explaining this to Pete. If they broke up now, she wouldn’t have to.
Sebastian jumped up and plodded to the middle of the bed. Tara covered her face and sobbed. When he was tight against her back, Sebastian extended his paw, placed it gently on top of Tara’s shoulder, and purred.
T.L. Sherwood lives by Eighteen Mile Creek in western New York, not far from Buffalo. She is the Assistant Editor at r.kv.r.y. Quarterly Literary Journal and both a reader and interviewer at Literary Orphans. She is the 2015 Gover Prize winner and her blog, Creekside Reflections, can be found here.