Bryan glances in the rearview mirror as he turns the van out of the neighborhood. He watches Melody’s head lean to the right and stay there, hanging over her shoulder, as he straightens and continues down the road. Strapped in their carseats in the back seat, the twins share a similar position, necks hidden behind their chins sunken into their chubby chests. Bryan catches a glistening on the corner of Aiden’s mouth. The boy even has the nerve to be drooling.
Two minutes. They’re not in the car two minutes before the children are knocked out like light bulbs. Bryan cuts his eyes at Renee. “We could’ve left them.”
“It’s just the motion of the car. Trust me.”
She’s probably right. And the sizable knot on Melody’s forehead from running into the bathroom doorknob because Renee told her not to touch anything is all the evidence they need to tell them that another visit from the police department will surely land them both in jail for child endangerment. Last time, they got lucky, snuck in the back while the cops knocked on the front. But Melody’s older now, and the girl doesn’t know how to keep certain things to herself. Like the whole A-word business. What’s the point of paying her to be quiet with pizza if she still snitches? Lord only knows what will happen once the twins start talking. He’ll never be able to hide anything ever again. At least not for the next decade.
Bryan doesn’t know how he ended up with three kids. Well, he knows. Do-good-Christian that she is, Renee is still a freak in the bedroom, and she leaves him spent and drained every time. Had Melody gotten home from school just five minutes earlier, she would’ve caught them in a compromising position in the living room under the naked Christmas tree. They never made it to decorating it. One pinch on the left butt cheek from Renee as he bent over to plug in a string of multicolor lights, and that was it. Their naked bodies were entangled in the wire so fast, Bryan got rope burns on his back, and they broke more mini bulbs than there were replacements in the package.
But they have to be careful, because with Renee still nursing the twins, she can’t take birth control, and Bryan will be damned if she ever asks him to get snipped. The doctors said the chance of the next pregnancy being multiples again jumps fifty percent after twins. That’s enough to scare Bryan into pulling out just before he comes. He only hopes Melody doesn’t ask about the white stain on the carpet on Christmas day, when she’s crawling under the tree looking for hidden presents forgotten. But one can never be too careful, so he’ll make sure to tie the skirt around the base when they get back home, and maybe stop by the convenience store on the way to buy some condoms. Always magnum, the golden ticket. Renee should call herself lucky.
When Bryan turns into Mother Goose’s parking lot, the place is packed. A line of co-eds stand outside the doors, IDs in hand, waiting to be permitted in.
“Memories,” Bryan says and winks. “We should go in, take a shot, for old time’s sake.”
“With the kids in the car?” Renee says shaking her head. She bends over and take Natasha’s car keys out of her purse between her knees.
“Well, if Tash can do it.” Though it’s still hard for him to picture Natasha actually drunk, Mitchell having to carry her out and drive her home. Never had he seen someone do a complete 180 as fast as Natasha did after meeting Mitchell. Before Mitchell, her drinking was almost as bad as Rita’s smoking. Not that he judged her.
He actually admired that she could throw back shot after shot and still be able to hold her liquor, maintaining an essence of class. In the years that he’s known her, she’s never thrown up, never passed out, never slurred her words or made bad decisions. Even while drunk she was a good “church girl,” an honest woman. His grandpa would’ve liked her, probably would’ve convinced him to marry her over Renee, Renee being too “all about Jesus” for a man who never stepped foot inside a church until the day of his funeral.
But despite having the ability the chug down alcohol quickly will little to no effects—at least visually—Natasha truly is boring. She and Mitchell are made for each other. Besides, Bryan and Renee didn’t end up with three kids just sitting around reading the Bible.
Bryan immediately finds Natasha’s Hyundai in a sea of black cars. Maybe it’s true what they say about birds shitting on red cars the most. They’re easier to see, and from an areal view, Bryan imagines they look like moving targets for the birds to practice their aim on.
He climbs in. Temporarily sitting knees to chest, pressed against the steering wheel, until he can slide the seat back as far as it goes. Damn, is Natasha so short that she has to sit that close? Hasn’t she ever heard of people getting killed by the force of the airbags?
He follows Renee in the Sienna out of the parking lot, taking the long way around South Tatum. Apparently she saw a man dressed in a makeshift Frosty the Snowman costume earlier in the evening. And the demographics only get worse as the night wears on.
He turns up the radio, surprised to hear 90’s R&B hits instead of Kirk Franklin or Tamela Mann. “Say what, Tash? Liquor and R. Kelly? Mitchell just might get lucky tonight!”
He’s only kidding himself. When it comes to “living for God,” Mitchell is worse than Renee, always has to do things strictly by the holy book, no room for any mistakes. He probably never even kissed a girl before Natasha. Not that any of that is really a bad thing. In fact you probably should be trying to walk on the straight path if you’re saved. But living a little won’t automatically send you to hell, would it?
Narrow, narrow, narrow. The word rings in his ear. Fine, fine. He’ll stick to the narrow path, stay out of other people’s business, rely on Renee to keep him in check. She hears the Holy Spirit more clearly anyway. Sometimes he’s not sure if it’s God speaking or his own subconscious thinking a little too loudly. Maybe they’re the same. He shakes his head. Too confusing, too many spirits in his head. “One thing at a time, Bryan,” he tells himself. Focus on not cursing for the rest of the year, work you way up to the more spiritual matters.
They turn into Natasha’s apartment complex, and Bryan follows closely behind Renee, driving through the maze of high-rises. Renee pulls off to the side and flashes her blinker, directing Bryan to park in the empty space next to what he recognizes as Mitchell’s car.
As soon as he gets out of the car, Bryan stretches his legs, as if he’s just gotten off a four-hour road trip, when in reality, Natasha only lives five minutes from the bar. He takes long strides around the car to Renee’s window. “Should I leave the keys in her mailbox or something?” he asks.
“Just knock on the door. I’m sure they’re up.”
He really doesn’t want to, in case they invite him in, in case Mitchell needs a witness to whatever long-winded speech he’s currently giving Natasha about being a “kingdom woman” and abstaining from drunkenness.
He lets out a yawn reminiscent of a howling walrus. He really is tired. The second his head hits the pillow, he’s sure he can pass out like the kids. What all has he done today? Carried that heavy ass tree for Renee, which wasn’t so bad since she rewarded him with two rounds on the carpet that definitely needs cleaning now. But then he got stuck with babysitting the kids, having to answer Melody’s 21,000 questions, cleaning the kitchen and airing out the oven before Renee got home—he could have sworn the cooking directions on the box said heat the oven for 425—and she still smelled it anyway. He could’ve saved that elbow grease for later, for something a little more satisfying. Unless Renee has enough energy for a third round before bed.
He should ask if Renee had a little sip of whatever Tash was drinking on. Back in college, she always got a little aggressive when drunk, having her way with him, whether he wanted to or not. Sometimes he would just lie there and let her take it. Those were the times when she was really drunk and would pass out right on top of him. That would be the perfect way to end this night—ride him right on to sleep.
He lightly taps on the door. If no one answers after the second knock, at least he can tell Renee he tried. But just as he’s turning for the mailbox, he hears a jingling on the other side. The door cracks open, and Natasha pokes her head out just into view.
“Hey,” she says in a rushed voice.
“Brought your keys.” He twirls the chain around his index finger, and Natasha reaches out a bare arm to quickly snatch them back behind the door.
“Thanks,” she grunts.
“Everything ok?” Bryan steps closer. It’s dark inside the apartment. Not a single light on, as if she’d just walked in a few minutes prior and hadn’t yet turned everything on. But he and Renee live farther away, and it took them at least twenty minutes to gather all the kids and put them in the car.
And her hair—he has only the moon and the lamps from the parking lot to go by, but if he didn’t know any better he’d think she’d just woken up—all of her thick, wool-like hair matted down and pushed up to the top of her head, like she’s been tossing and turning on the pillow for the last hour. He catches a glimpse of her bare shoulder, the glistening of sweat on her forehead. Maybe she has.
But then it clicks.
“Where’s Mitchell?” he asks, almost teasing, biting his bottom lip, holding his breath, his abdomen flexing and contracting, all to keep from laughing.
She hesitates to answer, then narrows her eyes, says, “Mind your own marriage, Bryan,” and slams the door right in his face.
Mitchell might want to try again. She’s still a little tense.
He skips back to the Sienna. Renee has since moved over to the passenger seat. He can feel her staring as he puts the car in reverse, wondering what’s with the big goofy grin, so he comes out and says it.
“I think Tash and Mitch are in there gettin’ freaky, freaky.”
He gives himself a mental pat on the back for not saying what he really wants to say: fucking. Wouldn’t be a good look to drop the F bomb in front of the kids, although they’re sleep. They might not hear the word, but they’d definitely hear Renee’s clean slap across the back of his head. He waits to receive his commendation for keeping it PG, but when he looks over, Renee has just as wide a smile on her face as his, nothing but dirty secrets behind it, dying to be spilled.
“What? What did I miss?”
“You don’t even know the half of it.” she says.