We have not spoken in two weeks. Helene is just gone. I go over every possible reason, always landing on the probable one; somehow she knows.

Is Danny in love with me? Does Helene think I’m in love with him? Am I? How does she know? Did Danny text her from camp? “Your bat-shit friend is making eyes at me. WTF? Face With Gritted Teeth.”

You told me to go, I say to her even though she is not there. I wonder if I will ever see Tanner again. Will Eli? It is not fair to have done this to him, but what did I do? I’ve refrained from asking my son about Tanner. I know they play at school but there have been no requests for playdates since our trip. Has Helene told her boy to stay away from Eli? Is my baby suffering because of me?

She called last week to cancel Sunday Swim. She left a message on our landline. I would have missed it if not for a sudden desire to delete all the telemarketing messages. I should have said I never got it and shown up at her door with an inflatable toy and a happy six-year-old. I should have demanded she talk to me but the idea that she wouldn’t see me, that she might ask me to leave…I couldn’t.

We didn’t do it, I say aloud, to no one. I won’t call her. One day, soon but not today. Today I am still infatuated with her husband and the guilt is sure to show.

I’m sitting on the floor of my cavernous closet. I’m throwing out all the clothes that I would otherwise be handing over to Helene.

I love seeing what she does with it all. She will take scissors to anything. Levis or a Prada t-shirt. She shreds and ties and sometimes sews until it is fabulous all over again. Until it is Helene-ized. My old clothes are her playground. There is not a single item I have given her that I haven’t wished for back once it has been transformed, physically or simply because she has worn it. Any Helene original is something to be coveted but I would never ask. I love seeing her in them. The joy they bring her makes me love her more.

Tomorrow I will give these to Goodwill or The Mary Magdalene Society or I’ll take them downstairs to the bin and throw them in with a satisfying slam of the plastic lid.

I’m holding a Chanel skirt that would certainly make Helene swoon, when Adam comes into our closet and sighs.

“Shirts,” he demands.

I point to his side without looking at him.

He walks past me and pulls out a crisp, plastic covered button-down. He examines the collar.
 

 

I toss the skirt I’m holding onto the pile and reach behind some jeans for a blush colored pair that I haven’t worn since last year at the preschool graduation.

Thinking of the long summer ahead, with no school to break the tedium, Helene and I had each had one marijuana laced Tic-Tac before heading over to the school. We ate chocolate cake with our hands while our boys laughed and the other mothers watched with disapproval.

I’m remembering this moment when Adam asks, “Have you talked to her?”

I drop my head and silent tears fall onto the zipper of the jeans. I hear him take a deep breath, then he’s beside me. He puts his arms around me and I sob into his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers into my hair, and the gesture is so kind and unexpected that I lose control. Tears and snot soak his designer T-shirt, and I have the stupid thought that Helene would love to get her hands on it once he tosses it. Which will be any minute now. Adam doesn’t like a mess.

I cry for too long and he kisses the top of my head. A period on the sentence that is my grief, but he doesn’t let go. I release him and lift my blotchy face to his.

“You look terrible,” he smiles.

I laugh a little.

“She’ll come around. No one could leave you.” He pushes himself to standing and goes back to his shirts. I sit in the warmth of the moment and remember how much I once loved my husband.
 

 

It is 2 p.m. on Monday. In twelve minutes I will walk to the corner where the bus drops my boy. I look at myself in the mirror. I’m not sure if it was Adam’s kindness or just time. Perhaps I’ve given myself parole. I washed my hair this morning and curled it with the hot rollers I’ve been using since middle school. My best jeans are loose on my waist but I ate lunch today without feeling sick.

I give my Ugg boots a decisive kick and put on my booties with the high heel. I want to be me again.

If Helene sees me she will know I’m ok without her. I’m not sure why I want this but the idea fortifies me.

It is seven blocks to the stop where I wait with the other mothers. I smile. I chit chat. I am not yet resuscitated, but I am breathing.

Eli jumps off the bus. I pick him up and hug him hard.

“You’re pretty again,” he says, like he says, I have an itch.

“Thank you, sir.” I kiss his nose and free him.

I hurl his backpack onto my shoulder and take his hand. We stroll home. We are strollers. We meander and dawdle. It drives Adam mad but he is not here. The exquisite joy of walking Eli home from the bus stop is mine alone.

“What did you eat?”

“Grapes.”

“Just grapes?”

“And sausage.”

“The menu said hotdogs.”

“It was sausage.”

“Did you have library?”

“It’s day six, Mommy. Library is day four.”

“Sorry, love. I may never get that straight.”

“I’ll remind you.”

“Thank you, honey.”

Eli swings my arm in an exaggerated motion, and I have to put my free hand on his to stop it.

“It’s fun,” he says and swings again.

“I only have two arms.”

I stop walking to quiet the wild pendulum but as soon as we begin to move he’s at it again.

“It’s really fun,” he laughs and yanks my arm so hard, it hurts.

“Did you play with Tanner today?” I blurt. There’s no harm in asking, I decide after.

He stops the swinging.

“Baby?”

“I don’t play with Tanner.”

I want to cry but unfortunately I am the grown up. That bitch. How could she have done this? Be angry at me for whatever reason, but really? The boys?

“Did his Mommy say not to play with you.”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

Eli nods hard.

“Are you mad at him, honey?”

“No.”

“Is he mad at you?” I told myself I wouldn’t do this but I can’t seem to do anything else. I want him to release the pain, so I prod.

“Yes.”

“Do you know why he’s mad?”

“Yes.”

At least Eli knows why his best friend is gone. I stop and face my son. He looks at a snail on the sidewalk, without interest. Translucent brown eyes lift up to me. He pulls his hand from mine and presses a fist to his eye. His chest puffs and falls.

“Why?” I ask.

“He’s mad that I won’t sleep in the tent,” he sighs.

“From camping? Still?”

“I don’t know, he’s just mad.” Eli grabs my hand again and stomps forward. I have to run a little to keep his pace. I squeeze his fingers so he doesn’t feel me shaking. My mouth waters as I recall Tanner throwing up in the car. I swallow the saliva, but the memory won’t go down.

“Why?” My voice is dry and sounds foreign to me.

Eli shrugs. “He doesn’t like to be alone with his Dad.”

I stop walking.

“Come on.” Eli pulls my arm and trots forward.
 

 

My knees give and I stumble. My heart is pounding so hard it’s as if it’s trying to kill me but Eli’s hand is in mine. We are walking the route that we take everyday. Past the weeping willows, agapanthus, and roses. Past the house with only gravel. My boy is safe, in this moment he is safe, and we are walking home.

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