“Jesus, what did he burn?” Renee says with an exasperated sigh as she slams the front door behind her.
Pepperoni, garlic, and tomato sauce couldn’t cover the terrible smell of burnt toast that fills the whole front of the house. She hears the oven fan and the floor flan humming in unison in the kitchen, but the constant spinning only spreads the smell from one end of the house to the other. It does no good if the smell doesn’t have a route of escape.
She opens the door again, the security alarm chiming in her ear. She cracks the screen door and props it open using one of Bryan’s boots that can never make it back to the closet. A gust of winter air rushes inside, pierces through her coat and waters her eyes, but she breathes it in like a fresh scent hanging from the rearview mirror in her car.
She inhales deeply, holds her breath and stomps down the carpet in her heels to the kitchen, annoyed that no one’s bothered to come to the door, having heard it open twice now. But her march doesn’t have the desired effect until she steps onto the hardwood floor of the kitchen and nearly buckles at her ankles from the force of her entry. She quickly regains her balance and looks at her daughter and husband sitting at the table, two large open pizza boxes between them. One pizza, a thick crust double pepperoni, is half gone. The other, clearly Melody’s, is missing two slices and has enough cheese to choke a cow.
Her daughter gives her a wide-eyed grin. “Mommy!” she sings in that shrill little voice of hers, on another octave. The whole bottom half of her face is smeared with marinara sauce, her teeth stained red. And were those crumbs in her hair behind her ear? It amazes Renee how children can get food everywhere but in their mouths.
Melody drops her breadstick, seasoning still caked on her palms, and jumps up to hug Renee. Mommy reflexes kicking in, Renee scoops her up under her armpits, and holds her up and out at arm’s length. “Hello, baby.” She brings her in for a quick peck on the cheek, licking her lips of dinner’s residue, then sits Melody back in the chair. Behind her, Bryan wraps his arms around her neck and drags her into his body, but the weight of his arm and her imbalance on the heels sends her toppling, forehead first right into his steel-like collarbone.
“Clumsy girl,” he jokes and kisses the throbbing area at her temple, his lips moist and smooth. She melts under him, briefly distracted from the fact that her kitchen currently looks like a pothead’s fortress.
“How was girl talk with Tash?” he asks.
“Interesting,” Renee says. She watches as her daughter takes a bite into her pizza and laps up the strings of cheese dangling off her chin.
“Can I get a little more than interesting?” Bryan says.
“I’ll tell you in the car.”
“Are we going somewhere?”
“Why are we going there?” The tone in his voice makes him sound like he can’t be bothered, as if he can think of ten better things to do, which is ironic given that before they had kids, Renee had to bribe him with sex just to get him out of the sticky, beer soaked cushions, and away from the wide, flat screen televisions that lined the walls of the bar, showing whatever game that was on in clear HD.
“To pick up Tash’s car,” Renee says, and she laughs when Bryan gives her an even more confused look.
“Why can’t Tash drive?”
“What’s with all the questions?”
Bryan shrugs, turns back to his pizza and swipes up a flimsy slice. He stuffs more than half of it in his mouth, and says in a muffled voice, spitting out bits of pepperoni, “What do you expect when you leave me alone with this one all evening?” He drops the half-eaten pizza on Melody’s plate and sticks out his tongue at her, moving all the food in his mouth to one side so that his left cheek doubles in size.
Melody cocks her head to the side, and Renee quells a laugh behind her hand at how her spunky daughter looks like the opening frame to a clapback meme gone viral on social media. “What happened to the pot pie we were supposed to have for dinner, Daddy?” she says.
“Is that what I smell?” Renee bends over to open the oven, but Bryan is on top of her in two strides, slamming the door shut with his hip. His face winces at the obvious pain from the door handle hitting nothing but bone. Despite all the food he can wolf down in one sitting, Bryan is as skinny as a light pole. Renee pokes out her bottom lip at him and playfully slaps his jaw.
“You know, kids and their imaginations,” he says with that innocent, I-did-nothing-wrong smile. It didn’t work on her in high school, and it won’t work now.
“I’m not imagining that smell,” Renee says.
“I don’t smell anything.”
“You’ve been sitting in it so long, you don’t even smell it!” It’s like Rita and her weed infused clothes. She smokes so much, she steeps in it, the reek escaping through her pores. Her entire body smokes, gets high. It’s unladylike. and she doesn’t seem to care that everyone notices. If Rita isn’t going to enjoy this fast, Renee surely is. Her nose needs the relief, which is why walking into a smoke-filled house adds another layer to her annoyance.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bryan says, his shifting eyes, his lips not knowing if they want to curl up into a full, cheesy grin, or slip down into a side smirk. The facial expressions always give him away.
“God doesn’t like liars, honey.”
“You said I couldn’t curse.”
“He did that too, Mommy,” Melody interjects. “He said the A-word.” That’s twice now Melody has ratted him out. The girl was on a roll.
Renee gives Bryan a side glance. Anything else he wants to fess up to before their six-year-old daughter beats him to it? But he flares up his nostrils, points toward the hall and says, “Melody, go to your room?” Even in his deep commanding voice, they don’t take him seriously. Renee doubles over in a fit of laughter, and Melody gets out of her chair, mockingly marches in place, and with both hands on her hips, she juts out her chin and says, “That’s why you’re in trouble!” Then she spins around and scurries up the stairs to her room.
“Don’t you touch anything before you go in that bathroom and wash your hands!” Renee yells, but she knows she’ll have to go up after her to make sure she doesn’t. Children and their selective hearing.
She kicks off her heels and hooks them up by the backs with her index and middle fingers. She turns for the hall, but Bryan loops his arm through hers.
“So what’s going on with Tash?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “Nothing, just pre-wedding jitters,” she says. More like the wedding can’t get here fast enough, but she stops short of telling Bryan too much, because she knows he’ll just blabber it to Rita and Antonio, the last people who need to know about Natasha and Mitchell’s… indiscretion.
“We should probably call a sitter,” she says to change the subject.
“What for? The kids are fine by themselves.”
“Are you kidding? The last time we left Melody home alone, she called 9-1-1 after clogging the toilet.” There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell she was leaving her to care for two eighteen-month-olds. She could barely keep her father from burning down the house.
“By the time a sitter gets here, we would’ve been to Mother Goose’s and back,” Bryan protests. “Plus, you don’t want to wake the twins.”
As if on cue, a loud bang comes from the ceiling just above their heads, Melody’s low moan drifting down the hall, and a single whine and then its louder echo over the baby monitor sitting on the kitchen counter.
“Damn, looks like we’re taking them with us,” Bryan says, and Renee decides to ignore the slip up as she follows him up the stairs, climbing two at a time to tend to the kids.