It Begins

“Not only am I not kissing you now, but I’m never kissing you again.” She said it mildly, even pleasantly.

I stood very still, my breath trapped in my chest. I wasn’t ready to process my pregnant wife’s response to me wanting to kiss her. We stood facing the same direction, my left arm still around her shoulder. She’d hardly favored me with a sideways glance during her announcement. Now she turned back to munching on the half-eaten wheat cracker, the remaining portion poised before her lips that had just said something deeply hurtful like her words were no more important than her snack. Leaning on the dark Corian kitchen island, the early afternoon sun streaming in, she paid me no mind as I pulled my arm away, stepped back, and exited the room. My heart clenched.

What the fuck? I thought. I felt confused, hurt, and in turmoil. Where did she get off saying something like that to me? I was too outraged, too disbelieving, too unguarded to speak. Like I always did when upset, I withdrew, not speaking, needing to work it out by myself despite feeling that a rational explanation would not be found in the suddenly dark shadows of my mind.

I stepped from the kitchen at the rear of our three-level townhouse into the mocha-painted dining room with its golden ceiling. Our three-and-a-half-year-old son Dave happily and obliviously played with a train set on the brown carpet. We’d never bothered with a dining room set and the room had become his playroom. No wall separated it from the pale green living room beyond, where a dark green, upholstered couch awaited me. I thought back to the reason there’d been no traditional kiss to ring in the new year two days earlier. I’d intended to make up for that just now and had told Sophia so, only to hear that response.

We’d been at her friend Kate’s new house in Northern Virginia, it’s hardwood floors and open plan turning the first level into an echo chamber. Kate’s pasty white skin was a striking contrast against her naturally red hair, which was cut in a long bob. She was tall, thin, and devoid of body curves except her breasts that seemed larger than their average size precisely because they were the only curve on her. I didn’t like her. She was nice enough when she talked to me, which wasn’t often, and she never spoke to me except in a group conversation. It was as if I didn’t possess some qualification for having a conversation with directly.

Was I insecure? Not really. I just felt the indifference for what it was: you’re not my friend. You’re Sophia’s husband. And Sophia’s not really my friend. She’s Amanda’s friend, and Amanda is my friend. I tolerate you, but I wouldn’t even notice if I never saw you again. If you happen to say something of interest, maybe I’ll acknowledge it with my own comment, but otherwise I’d actually prefer you not be here in my house. Never mind that I’ve known you for fifteen years.

I suppose I couldn’t blame her. I had come to feel the same.

The rest of the clique was similar, including the husbands and boyfriends and stray brothers and sisters. Sophia was barely their friend anymore because we lived forty-five minutes away, causing them to mostly ditch us years ago. They had complained about the distance if they came to us, likely never noticing that we did not complain when we went to them. They stopped coming to our parties. Then they stopped inviting us to theirs, which had always been at Amanda’s house. Some people live such sheltered lives that even a short journey like the one to our house seems crazy to them, and Sophia learned that she wasn’t important enough for them to go outside this comfort zone. We had both been offended, a friendship of nearly a decade ending. And then they’d invited us, out of the blue in 2012 when they learned we were expecting our first child, as were several of them, and suddenly they were friends again. I was not, still, and so I never went, but this was New Year’s Eve to ring in 2016, and so there I was.

The only nice one among them was Amanda, who had the same body style, hair (albeit it black), and pasty skin as Kate. But Amanda was the opposite of her. She was friendly, genuine and down-to-earth. Her husband and I had held one conversation in fifteen years, and when I’d told Sophia we’d talked for once, she had laughed and said that all the women always complained about how anti-social their husbands were. Sophia was the lucky one, they’d say, in having me. Part of me had been a little flattered, but I had mostly been surprised. If they thought I was so social, why did most of them avoid talking to me?

I was usually bored at these parties and only came to keep an eye on Dave because I knew Sophia wouldn’t. Sometimes I drank too much wine to help pass the time and because I was trying to make myself feel better about spending four hours with people I’d known for fifteen years but only having four conversations by night’s end. But for this New Year’s Eve, I drank little to make sure I’d drive home sober and avoid a ticket or worse. My son was old enough now to opt for playing with the other kids his age instead of me. I was left in isolation among thirty people all around me. I would have preferred to be anywhere else.

I watched Sophia, no baby bump showing yet. For some reason, she had insisted on not telling them she was two months pregnant with our second child. Since she hadn’t tried to lose the baby weight from Dave, her voluptuous hips were wider, her butt and thighs larger, and at 5’2” to my 6’3”, the weight affected her appearance more than it might have for someone taller. She wore light makeup now, but she put it on quite thick when we went somewhere formal, and I had often wondered if this was influenced by her being Russian. A few streaks of grey were visible in her straight black hair, which hung past her shoulders. Her jaw was square, her cheekbones low. Her dark brown eyes had long since lost whatever warmth I’d once found in them, some crooked teeth seldom seen because she didn’t smile often anymore. Or at least, not with me. She was laughing now, chatting it up with her friends as I sat eyeing the clock and thinking it was nearly time to go.

I turned to see Dave playing ten feet from me, shoeless like everyone at the party. His round head accentuated his happy cherub personality. He had Sophia’s thick hair with my dirty blond coloring, but unlike either of us, his was a little curly. He shared our brown eyes, always twinkling with delight when he looked at me. He already had my height and Sophia’s big bones, a professional football player in waiting. He was a gentle giant, sweet, pleasant, and cooperative unless you were hoping to make him try food. I adored him. As I watched, he suddenly slipped and fell forward fast and hard, slamming his mouth on the edge of a coffee table.

Oh shit! I thought, leaping to my feet.