Letting Life Lead
Christopher’s broad shoulders filled the width of the door forcing him to angle before stepping inside. Without his high work boots, he’d lost inches and the familiar clomping gait.
Because she had no more long hair to twirl around her fingers, Olivia smoothed her bedhead and tugged her earrings. “Chris, I–uh–” she fumbled and retreated to the counter “–you look good. Coffee?”
He shut the door without the expected barbarian bang. His shoulders curved inward and his face melted relieved. “Hells yes. I haven’t had a decent cup since–” He left the sentence dangling, pressing himself into a spindly chair. The cozy kitchen shrunk.
“Becky, doesn’t make coffee?” Olivia presented her ex-husband with his favorite mug emblazoned with a red Swingline stapler. She’d meant to give it to him after she fixed the handle, but had drunk from it every morning for a year before letting it get dusty and forgotten.
“Oh, she makes it and I pretend to drink it. I thought my skills were bad.” He inhaled the brew’s scent, embraced the cup until it disappeared in his hands, and took a big gulp. Sighing and shuddering with delight, Christopher pressed the hot mug to his forehead.
“Need a moment?”
“I’ll be fine. Your hair, it looks good on you.” Christopher leaned back stressing the groaning chair. “This place suits you, too.”
Olivia fiddled with the freshly naked nape of her neck, wishing she had locks to hide behind. “Your gray is filling in like your dad’s.” She hugged herself. “Why’re you here?”
From his back under his waistband he pulled out a children’s book. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Olivia recognized the bright cover before it hit the table. She ran her fingers over the lettering and the fingerprint swirls in the hand painted art. It had taken two years and uncountable rejections to get her mother’s picture book published. “I intended to. But, I couldn’t work out how in my head. Becky, you know?”
“We can’t talk because I’m married? Though, I guess, nothing’s changed; mute as always.” When Olivia flinched, Christopher swore at himself. “I’m an ass; I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
“I really was going to.” Olivia turned each glossy page. “I’m sorry, too. Built it up in my head, I guess. Did the kids tell you?”
“Both of them sent me half a dozen and asked me not to be a dick about it. For the record, I did try.”
“I’ll let them know.” She sighed. “I never thought I’d see my mom’s work like this. I feel bad that I’d forgotten. She read this to me when I was little.”
When Olivia was looking for the rare photo of her camera-shy mother after she died, she came across a fireproof box with filled notebooks and one hand bound book with her mother’s name on the homemade cover. In a bundled pile next to it was a small stack of rejection letters organized by date, which stopped about five years after Olivia’s birth. The discovery didn’t explain all, but so many things became clear.
“I read the forward,” Christopher said, pulling Olivia out of her reverie.
“Oh?” Seeking a moment to collect herself, she refilled their cups. “You know, that was an accident. I wrote that as a letter to my mom for myself, and it got shoved in with the stack submissions I was sending. I feel weird about it, but it was part of the deal. They’ve asked me to do promotions.”
“You should. Run with it.”
Olivia waved her hand. “It’s just–thoughts.”
Christopher balled his fists then ruffled his hair, grunted and let out a steadying breath. “There is more of you and emotion on those four pages than I’ve seen in twenty-years. It’s the heart of the fucking thing! Get out there and sell it.”
“Enough caffeine for you.”
“I’m serious, Liv. Whatever it is you are doing, keep doing it. Don’t lock it all up again.”
“Is that what I did? Is that why we–”
“We both grew up, got stuck, and bailed. I don’t regret us, do you?”
He rubbed the stubble shadowing his jaw. “I heard about the new guy. You’re a cougar now?”
“The kids tell you too much.”
“He’s what? Half your age?”
“Twenty-eight. Good for you.” Christopher smirked, then blurted. “Becky’s pregnant. No one knows yet.”
Olivia choked on coffee and stared.
They laughed together until tears ran.
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