The names have been changed.
There are no names.
There are no innocents.
It was ten o’clock in the morning on a misty day in early October. There was a bottle of champagne chilling in a proper ice bucket on the nightstand in a hotel room. There was a phone conversation the night before. A celebration. An outcome uncertain, resolved in a reason to celebrate.
That morning started with very few words at all, past, “Champagne?”
You had driven through the desert for weeks, under every star in the universe, past the salt weeds, into the alpine forests, out of radio contact, and back again. You had driven thousands of miles. You had left me to take care of important things. Important people. And you had come back. You had come back to me with champagne.
The morning was chilly. I was underdressed. For you, of course. A thin skirt that didn’t stay on long. Your kiss on my shoulder. Your skin under my hands, like coming home again. Every time. Every time up to the very last time, was like coming home.
We finished the champagne and went for lunch. The sun blared in my eyes, with no regard for the serenity of the moment. We found a table outside and ordered wine. It would be time to go to work in a few hours.
Over the chilled asparagus, the ceviche, the braised duck, the creme brulee, we finally had a conversation.
“I missed you,” I said.
“I missed you too,” you said, your eyes still flashing at me, still flirting, still winking.
“So you were able to find a way. To take care of what she needs. To take care of the children?”
“So what’s going to happen?”
“They are going to move back here. And…get their own place.”
“Their own place.”
The taste buds in my mouth began to change, and the creme brulée seemed to no longer pair with the sancerre. The texture of food seemed to thicken into something like cement, something that would only become more resistant with more mastication. Something suddenly made of gristle, and shame.
And then there were three.