By Leslie Lindsay
“Steve?” I call out, my voice timid, unsure.
“Hello? Anyone home?” The lights are on, the television blares, the puppy…he’s got to be here.
Numbers bloat out of my Steve?” I call out timidly, my voice squeaking. head, like pop-ups on a computer screen. An orange eight. Sixteen. An aqua-blue twenty-four dances in front of me. His address.
I stiffen as I glance around the house, removing my gloves. I should leave. This is wrong. I wipe my hands down my pants. Wetness develops under my arms. I breathe out and try again, “Steve? Are you here? It’s me…Annie.”
The puppy barks. A sharp squeak. He leads me to the stairs. I twist my head to the dining room as I pass by, noting the color on the wall. Buttered yellow. I like it, looks good with the dark furnishings. A grouping of photos of Steve and Beth. Sepia-tone, like they happened a long time ago. Steve and Beth look good. Happy. I cringe. But maybe it’s all fake.
You never know where they’re at in their marriage. Jackie’s knowing voice. Tsk, tsk. But I don’t care.
At the base of the stairs leading to the second floor, I hear the sound of running water. A shower? The puppy barks again, ushering me up the stairs. It’s a comical thing to watch this puppy climb the stairs, his body not quite in time with his movements. I giggle, partly out of nervousness and partly because it’s so darn cute. I kick off my slippers before stepping foot on the cream colored carpet, out of habit, but wondering, too if Beth would notice additional footsteps on her carpeting. The puppy pauses, panting, beckoning me to follow.
“Hello?” My voice echoes, tinny and faint. I shrug out of my coat, red and thick, leaving heaped on the floor, like a puddle of blood.
The smooth wood and wrought iron banister feels cool to the touch under my hand. I pause, looking down from the open stairwell, taking in the space. What do two people do in a house this big? I can see why Beth wants a baby.
I hear the shower stop. My blood freezes.
The puppy falls into a heap at the top of the stairs, worn from the jaunt. His paws lie flat out in front. He looks to me with curiosity, wriggling his brows, body unmoving, panting pride of effort. I know the feeling; a victory.
Mommy! What are you doing? Don’t bother me now, mommy’s busy. I should go.
I tip-toe back towards the stairs, yet something pulls me closer to the slightly closed door, which I can only imagine is Steve and Beth’s bedroom.
I glance in, spreading my fingers across my breastbone. My scalp tingles, I look away. Steve is toweling off his hair. Naked. A lightening bolt across my field of vision.
I should leave. My mouth fills with cotton. My body goes rigid, a small yelp erupts. Mine, not the puppy’s.
The curve of his shoulders, his muscular back. I can’t help myself. Where did those muscles come from? Quickly, I turn, cover my mouth and pretend I haven’t seen anything. I’ve seen a naked Steve before. I pull my arms close to my body; a thin-veiled attempt, as if protecting Steve from vulnerability.
“Steve?” I attempt again, my voice resonating meekly, regretfully. “It’s Annie.”
The hush of the house encompasses me. My throat is clogged. I clear my voice, an effort to elicit a response.
“Annie?!” his voice hoarse, yet slightly higher-pitched. “Is that you?” Louder, closer “What are you doing here?” His tone curious yet startled as he makes his way to the bedroom door.