House of Blues

I stood in the doorway with my black leather briefcase and my too-tight necktie and just watched her. Susan sat hunched over the dining room table, her eyes vacant. One shaky hand ran through her disheveled blond hair and stopped midway, massaging her scalp as she sighed. I set my briefcase in the corner and went to her, kneeling beside her chair. She didn't see me at first, and she jumped when I touched her shoulder.

"Wyatt?" she asked. "I didn't hear you come in. How was work?"

"Just fine. But it looks like you've had a rough day. Something happen?"

"No, no," she assured me, reaching for my tie and loosening it. "Nothing out of the ordinary anyway. Just kids bickering all day. Jenna found a piece of quartz in the sandbox, and then Zackary got jealous and said he found it first, so the two of them have been fighting over it all day. Over a rock! Can you believe that?"

"I can," I said, getting up and crossing the room. At six years old, our little twins fought about everything from whose bowl had more cereal in it to whose birthday gift came in the bigger box.

"And then there's Emmy," Susan continued with a sigh.

"Emmy?" I asked, pulling my jacket off and slinging it over the back of the armchair. "What's going on with Emmy?"

"She's upset about the move," Susan said. "She's been in her room all day, just hysterical."

I glanced at the white door nestled securely in the crook between the dining room and the kitchen. It was shut tight, a paint-chipped barricade that did little to block out the low drone of tireless sobs. I was surprised I hadn't heard her before now.

Emmy wasn't like our other children. She was more sentimental, and she tended to place great value in anything in which she'd taken comfort. This house was all she'd known for nine years. The carpet was ugly, boring brown, but Emmy learned to walk on it. The dollhouse under the window was half finished (as soon as I started that project I knew I wasn't handy in carpentry), but Emmy played with her first dolls in it anyway. The coffee table was a cheap imitation Susan had picked up at a rummage sale, but Emmy set her cereal on it every morning while she watched her cartoons before school.

I ran my cold hand over my face, hoping to shock myself back to reality. Maybe I was the sentimental one. I exhaled, long and slow, feeling the sting of the impending move for the first time.

"I'll talk to her." I turned to Susan again and looked reassuringly into her soft blue eyes. Her messy hair was falling into them, and her eye makeup had smeared from running sweaty fingers over her face too many times. "And then I'm taking you out tonight."

"But the kids!" She was on her feet at once. I went to her again and took her hand in mine.

"We'll get Adelaide next door to babysit," I suggested. "Trust me, Susie. You deserve it."

She smiled then, the stress melting from her face in an instant, unguarded and beautiful. "I'll give her a call," she said.

"And I'll go talk to Emmy."

That was the hard part, and it was still yet to come.