Can’t Buy Me Love by Holly Walter

Jenelle bought another pair of boots that afternoon.  The Gloria Pelori Number Sevens in charcoal were a necessary purchase.  She had worn patent leather sling-backs to work, it couldn’t have been over ten degrees outside, and three inches of snow had to have fallen since she began the commute home.  She had to keep warm somehow, and besides, they would pair well with most of her February outfits.

Jay’s Lexus was parked in the first row on the second floor of the garage—she had driven up there to see if he was home.  She didn’t want the new boots to have salt on them, so she took them off and slipped the heel straps back over her ankles.  She wouldn’t step so much as one suede Pelori toe in the slushy parking garage while wearing the boots, and she didn’t want Jay to know she had bought them.

Jenelle put the boots in her tote and her stomach lurched.  Breathe, she told herself.  She’d been anxious ever since she entered the department store during her lunch break, and her fear had only grown as she purchased the boots, left the office, and drove closer to home.  Now she opened her apartment door, threw her bag on the counter, and slipped off the heels she had just put on in the car.

“Hey, babe” Jay smiled from the stove.  He was stirring a steaming pan with a wooden spoon.  “You wanna try this sauce I’m making for the chicken?  It’s pretty hot.”

“I know you are,” she grinned, “I’ll take my stuff to the room and I’ll be back.”

She grabbed her tote and missed one of the handles.  The bag fell open, spilling pens and receipts like confetti.  One of the boots fell out and thudded on the hardwood.

Jay furrowed his brow.  His eyes wandered and fixed on the boot.

“Really?” he sighed.

“What?”  She knew her voice was too high and pinched.

“We just talked about the shoe thing.”

“What are you talking about?  Shut up and let me try your hot sauce—”

“That’s a new boot.  You just bought another pair of shoes, after we just talked about how out of hand this is getting.”

“They’re not new, I just don’t wear them often.”

Jay narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to the side.

“Okay.  But Jay, it was just so cold this morning.  I was shivering at my desk!”

“Says the genius who left the house in high heels…You have eight pairs of winter boots.  I thought you wanted to go to Key West in March.  You could buy a plane ticket with the money you spent on those.  We won’t be able to go to Tumblers with Jordan and Andrea for like, the next three weekends because you can’t stop wasting money.”

“We have plenty enough to make that flight, Jason.”

“Not if we go to Florence through August, Jenelle.”

Jenelle bit her lip.  “Baby, just picture how good they’ll look.”  She extended her leg and bent over, sliding her hand up over up her thigh and smiling at him.

“Yeah, like that’s gonna work.  Enough’s enough.”  He slammed the sauce pan on the counter, which spewed the red sauce all over the range while he stormed through the living room.

Jenelle followed, nearly jogging to keep up.  Jay stopped in front of her walk-in closet and swung the door open.  Inside, he threw shoe after shoe over his broad shoulder.  They landed on the floor with varying thuds and smacks, and Jenelle thought of the neighbors below.  Her cheeks flushed.

“Stop it!  You’re acting like a psycho.  And you can’t throw them like that, you’ll ruin them!”

Just as she said it, Jay threw down her glittering stilettos with the small bows on the backs.  One hit the floor with a forceful smack and the heel snapped.

“No!” Jenelle gasped.

Jay stopped, breathing heavily.  “You…have fifty pairs…of shoes in here!”

Jenelle held the two pieces of the broken shoe in her hand.  Jay had given them to her last Christmas and she loved them.  She had worn them to Carl and Tanya’s yacht warming party and with her Cinderella costume at the Anderson’s Halloween party.  Warm tears were spilling down her cheeks.

“Jen…”

“Don’t,” she wiped her nose.  “Just don’t.”

“You know I didn’t meant to—”

“To what?  Look at the mess you’ve made!  The neighbors probably already hate us, all we do is fight anymore!  I never bitch about how much you spend when you golf or camp or anything!  I love my shoes!”

“But they’re so expensive, babe” Jay rubbed his neck as he muttered.

Jenelle glared at him.  She wanted so badly to scream and throw the shoes at him.  She wouldn’t, of course.  Unlike her husband, she wasn’ta lunatic.

She dropped the broken heel and snatched an older pair of boots.

“What are you doing?  Jenelle?”

She yanked a chair out from the table and dropped onto it, shoving her feet into the boots and tangling the laces as she tried to tie them.

“Where are you going?  Look, I didn’t mean it.  Jenelle!”  Jay grabbed her hand and pulled her back as she rushed to the door.

Jenelle pulled, and for a moment she dragged him across the floor.  But he turned his foot and she couldn’t budge him.  He began pulling her towards him.

“Stop.  Jay.”

“C’mere.”
“No!  Stop!”

He pulled her into a hug and held her tightly.  Her arms dangled at her sides while he squeezed.

“You’re a mess,” he wiped the mascara under her bottom eyelids.  “Please have dinner with me.”

She looked up into his eyes and could feel her blood boiling over his smug smile.

“Forget it,” she pressed both palms into his chest and pushed out of his grasp.

“Oh, come on.  Jenelle!”

But she had already pocketed her car keys and slammed the door on his bullshit.

 

“Won’t be able to go to Tumblers…You have too many shoes…” Jenelle whined, mimicking Jay.  “Oh, please have dinner with me, babe!  Such.  An.  Asshole!”

She smacked the steering wheel and her horn beeped.  Outside the gray trees clustered on either side of the white road.  It had been snowing even harder since she left the city an hour and a half ago.  She had no intention of going anywhere, but she didn’t want to go home and give Jay the satisfaction.  He’d probably draw her bath in the newly repaired Jacuzzi.  Then he’d pour her a glass of red wine and rub her shoulders.  She unclenched her jaw. He’d apologize now if he could.  But it still wasn’t fair!  He always managed to get his way because she always caved.  Even if she let him apologize it would only be a matter of time before they fought again.  It seemed they were happily married for only a year.  Six months ago she would not have stormed out on Jay.

Maybe he’d finally learn to appreciate her again if she didn’t come home.  To the right, she looked through the thick flakes to see a rest stop and bed and breakfast sign.  Only thirty miles ahead.

“Shit,” she remembered.  She’d left with only her keys.  How could she get a goddamn room anywhere without her MasterCard?

Thinking she kept an emergency check book in the glove box, she fiddled with her key chain.  Her left hand swiveled on the wheel while she hunched forward and looked at her keys in the dark.  That one was her office.  Mom’s house.  The storage unit.  She looked up at the empty road and back down.  Her fingers stung under the nails as she tried to pick the key off the metal ring.

As she looked up again, she saw the sharp curve only feet ahead.  Her foot came off the pedal and her right hand clamped on the wheel like a magnet.  She pumped the break as quick as the pounding in her chest, but the ground was slick.  The car spun out and around until her front end wedged into a firmly packed drift.  Her face smacked into the steering wheel in the abrupt stop.  The car wheezed a sigh of relief.

Jenelle shifted into park and cupped her forehead.  Her chest was fluttering now, and she could feel all of her muscles melting into the seat, the back rest, the floor mat.  The drift was up over the hood and the only three sounds in her head were the engine’s hum, the squawk from the windshield wipers, and her own pulse.

She sighed, gripped the shifter, and pulled into reverse.  Her tires moved back and up over the snow pile, but the car stopped and dipped forward into the hole she’d hollowed.  She pressed her foot into the floor, the engine whirred.  She was stuck.

“Fuck,” she smacked the wheel again and pushed the door open into the snow.  It was up to her knees when she stepped out because the road had been plowed.  A shovel and gloves would have been a luxury, but if she could at least dig out her back tires, maybe the car would ease back onto the road.

As she looked at the job ahead of her, an old Ford bumbled along towards her.  Oh please, oh please, oh pleeaase keep going, she thought, humiliated, but the old truck stopped.  Its passenger window was frosted over and she couldn’t see inside.  The driver door creaked open and slammed.  Two small work boots clomped around the front and Jenelle could see a head and shoulders just above the hood.

“You alright?”  A muffled scarf-face with dark eyes asked.

“Everything’s fine.  My car spun into this drift, so I thought I’d dig it out.”

Snowflakes stuck to the ragged pom-pom on the scarf-face’s hat.  Its eyes squinted and its hands folded on what Jenelle assumed were hips under a formless jacket.

“Oh.  Uh…You got a shovel?”

Jenelle groaned and slipped on a solid ice patch.  “No,” she fell on the trunk, “I do not have a shovel in my Mercedes.”  Christ, why would I?

The scarf-face moved closer.  “I got one back at the house.  It’s only a few minute’s drive from here.  I could probably grab it for you…”

“Oh.  Well, that’s very kind, thank you, but I’ll figure it out.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  The scarf-face hesitated, staring at Jenelle’s face and clamped her hands on the big coat.  The snow-caked pom-pom jiggled.  “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Jenelle looked at the new snow frosting her roof.  “Well, actually…I mean, if it wouldn’t be any trouble…”

“No!  Oh no, it’s fine.  I mean, the way it’s coming down, you aren’t getting that car out without a shovel.  Most people from the city don’t come out in this crap, ya know?  Especially not in such a little car.”  The scarf-face trudged back to her driver’s side door.  She was shorter than Jenelle, but she hoisted herself into the driver’s seat without a problem.

“Yeah, thanks.  Because that was necessary” Jenelle muttered.  She sat in her car and rubbed her fingers.  She put them on her cheeks and under her shirt.   A total stranger was bringing her a shovel.  She felt relieved knowing the sooner she was dug out, the sooner she could find a place to stay.  The snow was thick on the road already, so she knew she couldn’t make it back to the city.  Even if she had wanted to go home to Jay, to let him apologize and serve her dinner and sit with her while the snow fell on the skyline, the weather wouldn’t let her.

 

The big truck rumbled and slowed to a stop behind Jenelle’s car.  The scarf-face hopped out and grabbed two plastic shovels from the bed.

“Here,” she passed Jenelle a red shovel.

“Thank you,” Jenelle yawned.  Her forehead and the slope between her eyes were achy and full.  She pressed her fingers on her sinuses while the scarf-face hunkered below the bumper and knocked down the snow that was lodged under the front of the car.  Jenelle hadn’t expected the woman to help her.

The scarf-face scooped the snow into a bank behind her.  “I’m Amy Harris, by the way.”

“Jenelle Bowen.”

“How far do you have to go tonight?”

“Only thirty miles.”  Jenelle hunched her back and dug into the snow along the berm.

“That’s good.  Heard we’re supposed to get about four more inches tonight.  You should be able to get where you’re going before all that,” Amy wiped her forehead with a glove that was powdered in snow.

Great, Jenelle thought.  She stabbed the shovel into the ground and brought up mud.  She shouldn’t have gone out at all.  First her heel, then the car, and now she’d be stranded at some cheap inn with no clothes and no makeup, and she’d have to pay for everything in checks.

Jenelle stopped.  The checks!  She’d completely forgotten to look in the glove box.  She let the shovel fall and crawled over the front seat with her keys.  When she opened her glove box, she saw the registration, an aluminum flashlight, a travel brush, and a wrinkled road map.  No checkbook.  She clenched her teeth and dug her acrylics into her palms.  Warm tears wet her lower eyelids, but she wiped them away and blinked.

Amy dragged the last of the drift away from the front of the car.  “I think you’re all set…I could wait for you to make sure you get back on the road okay.  If you want.”

“Oh,”  Jenelle swallowed.  “Sure.  Thanks.”

Amy tossed her shovels in the back of the truck.  Jenelle scooted back to the driver’s seat.  She could park at a rest stop and try to sleep in the car.  She’d have to keep warm, though, and she couldn’t sleep with the car running all night.  And if the roads were too bad, she couldn’t get home after she woke up.  She sniffled and propped her forehead on the steering wheel.  How could she leave without money, without a phone?  She hated herself for over-reacting. She watched Amy hop down and trudge over to the door.

“You okay?” Amy tapped on the window.

Jenelle wiped her nose and opened the door.  “I was on the way to the Meadow Bend Inn, but I just realized I don’t have my check book.”  Her stomach lurched again when she thought about how she’d tell Jay about this, but she continued.  “I left without my cell phone, too.  If you have a phone and wouldn’t mind me borrowing it, I could call my husband and get credit card information.”

Amy eyed the empty back seat.  She sighed and her shoulders drooped like sacks of sand had just been dropped on them.  “I ‘spose I could…but I’ve got an extra, I guess… if you’d rather save his money…”

“Oh.  Um…That’s incredibly nice of you.  But I can just call him,” Her chest tightened.  It would be horribly uncomfortable to sleep in some stranger’s house.  But then her mind jumped to Jay.  She pictured herself asking him to read her credit card number and wondered if he’d just hang up.  He was already pissed off about the boots…

Amy’s forehead wrinkled.

Jenelle wondered why she was looking at her like that.

“You know,” Amy sighed, “It’s a small Inn.  Probably ain’t got any rooms left.  Probably a lot of people stopped.  My house is a mess but I have some leftover chili.  It’s just me and my son.  I,” Amy paused and sucked in the cold air.  “I insist.”

Jenelle looked up into the dark eyes, the upturned eyebrows barely visible under the pom-pom hat.  What a stupid mess she’d gotten herself into.  Amy had a son.  At least it was just the two of them.

“I mean,” Jenelle looked at the blurry 10:49 on her middle console, “you’re sure it’d be no trouble?  I really don’t want to inconvenience you –”

“No.  No trouble.  You can follow me and park up by the shed” Amy turned back to her truck.

Jenelle moaned and banged her head against the headrest two times before pulling out into the road.

 

The house sat back in the first clearing to the left.  A gravel lane was open to a circle of ground in front of a shed.  The house itself was big and green, with a gable roof and a wooden porch.

Jenelle parked next to Amy in front of the shed.  A boy about her height walked out of the shed in Carhartts and barreled up the front steps.

“You can leave your boots on the mat when you walk in.  Oh, and take this to the porch.” Amy tossed Jenelle a shovel and went to the shed.

The boy stood on the porch and stared with Amy’s dark eyes.

“Hi, I’m Jenelle,” Jenelle shook her boots on the step.

His eyes fluttered over her for a second before he turned and walked in the house.  The screen door slammed shut, but he left the other door wide open.  Jenelle could see a sliver of dark carpet and a wooden entertainment center with a square TV.

“You can go in,” Amy kicked the snow off her boots and pant legs.

Jenelle stepped through the doorway and unzipped her boots.  The room was…cozy—a wood stove crackled in the corner and the furniture was overstuffed and mismatched.  Framed faces smiled all over the walls and on the shelves around the TV.  There were gray faces and pale ones and crow’s feet around some eyes and missing front teeth in small smiles.  The boy sat on the couch with a spiral book in his lap.

It’s not much,” Amy said.

“True.  But if you ditched the wood paneling, maybe put up dry wall and sponged a creamy color on it…Of course you’d need to find a piece less square to set the Television on…”  Jenelle kept looking at the faces on the wall.  She had never seen so many faces, except for those at her grandmother’s house—how tacky.  But she was struck by the photos of Amy with her infant son. She had to have had him when she was in high school.

“Yeah, well,” Amy pulled off the pom-pom hat and unwound the scarf wrapped around her cheeks, “That’s not exactly a priority, according to my checking account.”  Her face was young, older than Jenelle’s, but not by many years.  Her slender neck poked out of an oversized sweatshirt that had been bunched up under her coat.  Now she threw her coat over a hook on the wall and the shirt fell below her waist.  “Gets lonely out here in the sticks.  Gotta keep all our friends and family around, right Cody?”  She stomped down the hall.

Cody didn’t respond.  He penciled in the spiral book with a steady fist.  Jenelle looked over his drawing, a large man with bulging, ultra-defined muscles beside a shorter but no-less-fit woman with a sword drawn in each hand.  They were detailed with dark shadow lines in pen.

“He does comics,” Amy came back in with a small stack of laundry.  “Here, these are the longest sweats I have.  Probably still be high-water on you.”

“Thank you,” Jenelle held the garments loosely between her fingers.  How clean could things get out in the country?  “Nice drawings, Cody.  You know, there’s a good graphic art program at the university in the city.”

Cody snorted.  He got up and mumbled an inaudible “yeah, right” as he passed Amy.  He went through a door by the wood stove and Jenelle heard the thunk of feet on a staircase.

“Please excuse my son.  He has an attitude problem and I’m about to smack it out of him” Amy rolled her eyes.  “At least his good-for-nothing father never comes around.  Then I’d have a real problem.”

“It’s okay,” Jenelle scratched her neck and laughed nervously, “teenagers, right?”

“Right,” Amy laughed.  “Don’t ever have one.  If you figure out a way to keep them from getting mouthy, let me know.  Here,” she turned, “I’ll show you the spare room.  Used to be Cody’s, but he moved to the basement a few months ago to get away from me.”

The room was empty, except for a twin bed and a bare nightstand.

“I’ll bring you some blankets and a sheet and pillow from my closet.  If you have any laundry you want me to put in, I’m doing a load first thing in the morning.”

It was weird.  Jenelle had felt so uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s bed.  But she was so tired she could pretend she was visiting an old college friend.  Well, an old college friend without an interest in interior design.

When Amy came back with bedding, Jenelle handed her a small handful of her clothes.  “Do you mind if I use your phone to call my husband?”

“Oh…No…”  Amy’s voice trailed off and her arms hung at her side.

“Okay,” Jenelle fidgeted, “so…”

“Right,” Amy snapped into motion, pulling the phone from her pocket.  “Here, I’m going to sleep.  The bathroom is right across the hall.  I’ve got some extra toothbrushes in the white cabinet and towels are under the sink.  You can get some ice from the fridge for that gnarly bruise.  And you can leave the phone in their on the counter when you’re done.”

“Oh,” Jenelle felt her forehead, “it’s fine.”  Amy walked away and Jenelle made up her bed.  It was nearly midnight.  The phone rang three times, and part way through the fourth, Jay picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hey.  It’s me.”

The line was quiet.  “Where are you?”

“Somewhere close to Weston.  My car got stuck in a drift.  A woman stopped to help me back on the road.”

“So you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.  The car is fine.  It’s still snowing a lot, though.  I won’t be able to make it home tonight, but I have a place to stay.”

“Jenelle,” Jay’s voice waivered and softened, “I’m sorry.”

She had wanted him to apologize.  Sincerely, like he cared.  Like the spark still existed and caught them both by surprise when one of them brushed past the couch on the way to the bedroom.  Now she sat on the spare bed in Amy’s house and wanted to feel homesick, lovesick for the man of her carefully calculated plans.  Sitting there on the phone, she silently admitted to herself that she was unhappy—with her ungrateful husband and their perfect apartment.  Everything felt lifeless in comparison to the thick carpet under her toes and the musty smell of the blankets.

“I know you are,” she said after a long silence.

“I wish you were here.  I won’t be able to sleep without you beside me.”

Jenelle knew that was true, if only because Jay was a man of habit and strict routine.  He never slept the nights she stayed with him when they began dating.

“I will try to make it tomorrow.  But it depends on the roads.  I just feel so stupid for leaving without my purse.”

“You’re not stupid,” Jay sighed.  “I called around.  Most places were closed or closing, but I think I found a place where they’ll fix your shoe.  I’m going first thing in the morning.”

Jenelle laughed.  The shoe.  That’s what she had thought this was all about, and now she wasn’t sure.  Maybe it was the shoe, but maybe it was something more.  Maybe it was the way Jay had pulled her to him, as if he could pull her away from her anger.  As if he believed his warmth and his force could solve all of her problems, he could fix everything but himself…

“Thank you…”

“Jenelle?”

“Yeah?”

“I am sorry.  Really.”

“I’m going to bed.  I’ll check the roads tomorrow.”

“Okay… I love you.”

“I love you, too.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

 

Jenelle woke up to the smell of coffee.  When she left the room, the hall was bright and the sun peeked through the mini blinds in the living room.  The washing machine whirred somewhere in the old house.  Cody was outside plowing the lane again.

Amy’s kitchen was a narrow rectangle with a table to match.  The window over the sink had a birdfeeder hanging outside it, and a sparrow dipped his head up and down, hopping from side to side on the platform.

“Coffee?”  Amy put a book down by her mug.

“Is that Oliver Twist?”  Jenelle rose her eyebrows at the book under Amy’s palm.

“Yeah, got it at a yard sale.  It’s alright.”

Jenelle looked at the refrigerator.  It had pictures on it, too, and a crab magnet from Myrtle Beach.  “I can pour my own coffee if you’ve got a mug somewhere.  And I was hoping to go check the roads after a bit.”

“Well, you can check, but Cody said nobody’s come by to plow yet.  The Inn’s probably still booked full.  You can call and check.”

Jenelle paused, cupping the empty mug.  “Why would I call the Inn?”

Amy moved her gaze to the table, slowly twirling her finger around the rim of her mug.  “Because of your husband.”

“But I want to go home to my husband…?” Jenelle fiddled with the mug.

“Right…Well, take it from me, going back’s not going to change anything.  I don’t know what he did to you.  But he’ll apologize and it’ll sound like he’s really sorry.  And soon enough, there he’ll go again.”  Amy got up and went to the window to watch the sparrow.

“How did you know he did something?”

Amy shrugged.  “You didn’t have any stuff in your car, no money.  Looked like you were gonna fall over dead when you realized you’d have to call him.  The roads were complete shit.  Why would anyone leave like that?”

“Well,” Jenelle juggled the mug from palm to palm, “what he did was awful.  I didn’t want his help last night.”

“That’s a good first step.” Amy crossed back to her chair.  “I was fifteen when I had Cody.  His dad was great, got a job right away when I told him I was pregnant.  But he had to quit sports, couldn’t go to college—he was eighteen.  As soon as I was legal we moved to an apartment in Weston.  Cody was getting older and Bradley started drinking a lot, throwing parties, smoking pot in the place.  First time he came home drunk and swinging I was waiting up for him, made him late-night pancakes…He cried all fucking night apologizing, promised he wouldn’t hit me again.  Two weeks later he smacked me in the other eye.  We got kicked out soon after that.  Moved in with my mom.  Never saw him again.”

“God,” Jenelle sank into a chair, “That’s so awful.”

“It’s not so bad now,” Amy sipped from her mug.  “It was hell at first.  I looked for him.  I missed him.  But I learned it’s not worth it to go back to that.”  She hesitated before touching Jenelle’s hand.  “There are places you can get help.  If he loved you he wouldn’t hurt you.”

Jenelle watched Amy’s eyes flutter up to her face and then back down to the table.  The bruise.  She was looking at Jenelle’s bruise.  “Oh.  Oh god, no!  Jay didn’t hit me!”

“What?”  Amy withdrew her hand.  “But, but I thought—”

“This happened when the car spun off the road!  My face hit the wheel!  Jay started throwing my shoes like a maniac and broke my stiletto!”

Amy’s jaw fell open, subtly.  She blinked rapidly and pushed away from the table.  “Well, I am just so sorry.  I didn’t mean to—I am so sorry.”

“No, it’s fine,” Jenelle laughed, “shit.”

“So you’re saying,” Amy’s voice rose, “you left in the middle of a god-awful storm because your husband broke a goddamn shoe?  A goddamn fucking shoe?”

Jenelle flinched.  “Well, yes.  But it wasn’t just that.  He just…it’s not the same anymore.  We’ve been married a year and a half next month and it isn’t like it used to be.  He—well he just doesn’t appreciate me anymore.  And he keeps getting mad when I buy new shoes or new clothes, but he always used to compliment me when I wore something he’d never seen.”

“So last night,” Amy crossed her legs, “when you called him, what did he say?”

“He apologized.  He said he called around and found someone to fix the shoe.”

Amy raised her eyebrows.

“But he isn’t saying it because he feels sorry!  He’s saying it because that’s what he’s supposed to do.  That’s what husbands do.”

“Not my husband,” Amy shook her head.  “Have you ever talked to him about it?”

“No…” Jenelle looked away.

“Well, shit.” Amy laughed.  “Have you ever even considered that the problem might be you?”

 

Amy was right.  The lane was clear, but the road had nearly five inches of fresh snow on it.  Jenelle tried to turn around and nearly slid off the road again.  She’d have to wait until a plow truck came by, and they were busy elsewhere on more traveled roads.

She watched television all morning, something she never did at home.  She and Jay sometimes watched movies together, or football and basketball games, but they never watched daytime or weekend programs.  First she saw an infomercial for a blender, then a game show host in a tacky, out-seasoned suit, and now she watched a movie about a girl who was being stalked by her maniac step-father.

Cody lay on the floor with his drawing book.  Amy sat by Jenelle on the couch, her legs folded under her and Oliver Twist in front of her face.

“How’s your comic going?” Jenelle put the remote down.

“Okay, I guess.”  Cody shaded an arm.

“I live about twenty minutes from the college that has that art program I mentioned.  You really should get into contact with them.  I bet they’d love to have you for a tour.”

“Yeah,” Cody dropped his shading stump, “well I’m sure that’s easy enough for people like you.”

“Cody!” Amy sat straight up.

Cody stood up and folded his book shut.  He had slim legs that looked like dark, denim poles.  His eyes were on the boots Jenelle had left by the door.  “Oh my god, whatever.  Go drive your billion dollar car some more.” He slammed the basement door and stomped down the steps.

Only the TV spoke.  Moments ago, Jenelle had been watching a movie with terrible acting and awful outfits.  Now Amy stared at the floor and Jenelle felt her own feelings stung by Cody’s words.

“A swift kick in the ass, I tell ya…” Amy tossed her book.  “I’m sorry.  You probably think I’m a bad mom, raising a kid like that.”  She huffed and crossed the room, pulling the basement door open so hard the door knob wacked the wall.  “CODY, DO YOU WANT YOUR ASS KICKED?  GIVE ME THE XBOX RIGHT NOW!”

Jenelle felt like someone had knocked her over.  Cody’s words were like daggers.  She was twenty-eight and hadn’t even thought seriously about having kids.  She hadn’t thought seriously about anything but herself, her life and what she wanted it to be.  Here was a woman, close in age, and she spent half of her life doing everything to take care of her son.  Cody was only fifteen and he already took care of a house.

Loud scrapes came and went past the house.  A plow truck went towards the town ahead.

The basement door slammed shut as Amy marched away, triumphant, the game console and controllers bundled in her arms.  “As you can see,” she dropped them onto the sofa, “I am disciplining my son for being a disrespectful brat.”

Jenelle’s eyes widened.

Amy laughed, “trust me.  If you ever have a kid, this’ll seem mild in comparison to the other punishments you’ll have to create.”

Jenelle heard the plow truck again.  “Can I use your phone?  I need to get my credit card info from Jay.”

“Yeah, you sure?”

“Yes.”  Amy stood.  “Clearly I have some thinking to do.  And you’ve already got your hands full enough, I think.”

They both laughed.

 

The kitchen smelled like vanilla when Jenelle walked into her apartment a week later.  The junk mail had been cleared off the table and a new candle flickered in the center.  Jay came around the corner in a cardigan, holding the repaired heel in front of him.

Jenelle didn’t take her boots off.  She crossed the clean floor and squeezed him.  They stood like that, hugging for a minute, only speaking with the pull of their arms.

“Hi, there.”  She squeezed.

“God, I’ve missed you like crazy.”

“I believe you,” Jenelle pulled away, looking into his eyes.  “I needed some time, but I think I know what’s been bothering me so much.”

“What’s that?  Here, let’s sit.”  Jay pulled a chair out for her.

Jenelle smiled, “I guess maybe I’ve been looking for a problem where there wasn’t one…maybe.  I spent a whole week with one pair of underwear, one outfit, eating potato chips and beef jerky from a vending machine.  Missing work.  And you know what?”

“What?” Jay smiled.

“I have too many shoes…too many things in general.  Whenever I’m bored, I can go buy new things.  But when I started feeling like you and I were…well, getting ordinary, getting comfortable…I couldn’t buy a new us.”

“Uh.  Okay.”  Jay scratched his head.

“I’m returning the boots.  It’s too much.  I have too much, and some people…” She sighed.  “Some people don’t have as much as they deserve.  But when they get something nice, I bet they’re really grateful.”  She looked into Jay’s eyes.  “I want to be grateful for you again.  I’m so sorry for how I’ve been.”

Jay shook his head, wiping his eyes discretely.  He grabbed her, pulled her up from the chair and clung to her.  “You are worth more to me any fucking thing in this apartment.  Please don’t leave me again.”

Jenelle smiled, tears in her eyes.  She didn’t intend to.

–Holly Walter

 

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