At 6pm, Mick showed up at and let himself into Fran’s kitchen. Her tiny condo in the venerable Grant Street neighborhood was lit up yellow in the sinking afternoon sun. He hoisted his burden and inhaled the fragrance of cinnamon that clung to Fran’s things.
“Fran?” he called, as he piled crock pot, wine bottle, and accoutrements on the counter.
“Still in the tub!” he heard her call. “I’ll be down soon.”
Oh no. Shit fuck hell. Fran still in the tub. Charles was a motherfucker. Mick began preparing plates as he fantasized about beating the shit out of Fran’s worst ever boyfriend. He banged lids and yanked corks and rattled cutlery as he envisioned kidnapping Charles’s motherfucking dog to lure motherfucking Charles into a dark alley, breaking Charles’s motherfucking nose with a punch that started in his feet, channeling all his contempt and rage into his fist. He imagined blood pouring from Charles’s motherfucking face, imagined the shock and horror in Charles’s eyes as he slammed his fist into his effete, defenseless gut, kneed Charles in his motherfucking –
“Hey.” Fran was leaning at the doorway in her knee-length bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. A towel turbaned her hair, so that only her orange widow’s peak was visible. “What’s wrong? Sounds like you’re remodeling in here, not making dinner.”
“Hey,” he answered. “Sorry. Just… it can’t be good news if you’re taking baths again.”
“You have no idea. Hug.”
He obeyed, pulling the towel from her hair so he could tuck her head under his chin. He wrapped his arms tight across her round shoulders and felt her arms go around his waist. She fit tidily against him, comfortable, warm, and sweet. Then he felt the shuddering little sobs and heard her sniff.
“Oh god.” He held her tighter and kissed her wet hair, smelled her shampoo. “You know I suck at the feelings.”
She chuckled wetly against him. “You don’t have to do or say anything, just listen and nod,” she instructed.
He nodded obediently.
When her muscles had softened and her breathing steadied, she pulled away from him, wiped her face with her sleeve and said, “You also have to feed me.”
“That I can do!” He kissed her on the forehead and handed her a bowl of stew.
It took a full bottle of wine for her to get through the story, from the questionable decision to answer the phone when Charles had called last night, to the worse decision to go over there to “talk this through,” to the inevitable sex (“Truly, it was brain-melting,” Fran said, flushed across her nose from the wine. Dude, he did not need to know that.), to the gut-punch when Charles called her Sarah.
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”
“I know. I know. It’s like the worst possible – no, actually it’s the best thing he could have said. Because it just puts it out there so that even he can’t deny it anymore.”
“He can’t deny it?”
“Yes! Look, I’ve been telling him for months that he’s hung up on Sarah and he’s been insisting that they’re just friends – I’m the one who made him see -”
“All right.” Mick held up a hand. “Well. So what did you do?”
“So I left. I went to the gym. I ran five miles. I listened to you make Squeaky Fromme come in the shower -”
“Sorry about that.”
“Please, it was the highlight of my day. Then I worked with three clients, came home and got in the tub for four hours.” She looked at her shriveled fingertips. “Is there any analogy I can use here other than ‘prune’?”
Mick took her hand in his from across the little kitchen table. “Hey.”
She met his eyes and he saw her chin tremble, though she bunched up her lips over to one side, fighting hard against tears.
“He’s a motherfucker.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“You deserve better.”
“I know. I know.”
“You know I’m not that good with… words. Feelings. You know I’m not the guy who can tell you all the things you are. But I’m here.”
The sat across from each other at the table, holding hands, holding eye contact. At last, Fran inhaled deeply and blew out a slow, steadying breath and sat back.
“I’m gonna be alone forever,” she announced.
“Of course you’re not.”
“I will too,” she riposted, pouting. “Who cares. At least I’ll be rich and old when I die, even if I am alone.”
“You won’t die alone, dumbass, I’ll be there. Hey fuck it, let’s open the second bottle.” He got up and retrieved the zinfandel he’d brought.
“The hell you will – I’ll outlive you by a decade, at least. Your string of children, all with different mothers, they might be there with me. Auntie Fran.” Fran blew her nose in her napkin.
“As long as you leave them some of your millions.”
“Of course! Even if I didn’t want to, you’d rewrite my will.”
“You’ll keep my as your lawyer when you’re a billionaire?”
“Sure, who else would do all that paperwork pro bono?”
Returning to the table, bottle uncorked, he poured and said, “Seriously, what can I do to help?”
Fran shrugged. “Got any chocolate to go with this?”
“Sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Well, come watch a chick flick with me and then go home – taking special care to leave the wine with me.” She picked up her glass and shuffled into the living room, adjusting her bathrobe around her. Mick followed with his own glass and the bottle and glanced around the space. A tragically small screen sat under the windows that fronted the road, and across from that lay Fran, slung across the lumpy Ikea couch, remote pointed at the screen, scrolling through her Netflix queue.
“Got a preference?” she asked.
“Nope. Where do I sit?” She was taking up the whole couch. He could sit on that little chair in the corner. Or on the battered coffee table. Or the flatweave rug. Or the hardwood stairs.
Without looking at him, Fran lifted her legs forty-five degrees off the couch and Mick obediently slid himself into the space below her slippered feet, which promptly dropped themselves into his lap.