I discovered my blouse was missing its top button at the same moment my husband honked the horn outside. Swearing under my breath, I grabbed my purse and clattered down the steps in low heels.
The early morning sunshine made me squint as I locked the front door behind me. Warren beeped the horn again, and I raised my head to shoot him a dirty look. It was then that I noticed my daughter sitting in the passenger seat, a smirk marring her beautiful face.
I approached the car and rapped my knuckles against the passenger window. Alice gave me an innocent stare and lowered the glass a few inches. "Why are you in the front seat?" I asked her.
"It's a small car, Mother," she said. "I'm taller than you, and I need the legroom."
"Get in the back."
Alice turned to her father. Warren rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. "For God's sake, Claudia, we're running late as it is. Could you please not make an issue of this?"
My cheeks grew hot, but I managed to swallow a retort. Alice bit her lower lip to hide a triumphant smile. I opened the rear passenger door and found the seat full of Alice's junk: her school bag, purse, laptop, and violin case. "You couldn't have put some of this in the trunk, Alice?" I slammed the door and strode around the car to the other side. Sliding into the seat behind Warren, I picked up Alice's purse and tossed it on the floor.
"Mother." The word was as bitter as a curse on Alice's tongue. She twisted in her seat to glare at me.
Warren's eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. "Really, Claudia, there's no need to throw a tantrum."
"I'm not throwing a goddamn tantrum," I said. "I'm trying to make room back here."
He shook his head but maintained the composure that made him a local legend in the courtroom. "Tell you what," he said as he pulled out of our driveway, "if your car's still in the shop tomorrow, you can sit in the front seat." Warren patted Alice's knee. "You don't mind sitting in the backseat if it will keep your mother happy, do you, sweetheart?"
"Of course not, Daddy," Alice said. "We know how important it is to keep Mother happy."
The two of them exchanged meaningful grins. I drove the toe of my shoe into the back of Warren's seat, and he scowled at me in the mirror. "Be careful," he snapped. "You'll leave a mark on the upholstery."
Warren always did have his priorities, though they had shifted over the years. When we first married almost twenty years ago, I thought I'd always be the most important person in his life. Then Alice was born. And then he made partner at the law firm. Shortly after that, he bought himself this luxury sports car. I was well aware I'd be the loser if he had to choose between me and Alice. Without fail, he took her side during every argument. Now as I looked around the immaculate interior of his BMW, I feared I wouldn't be able to compete with the car, either.
Alice tilted her head as she regarded me. "You're not wearing makeup today."
I raised a hand to my face, feeling naked without my customary rouge and lipstick. "I didn't have time to put on makeup. You two were rushing me all morning," I said through my teeth.
Warren slowed for a stop sign at the end of our street. "Claudia, I told you to be ready by quarter till eight. Alice has to be at the school before eight-thirty, and your office is completely out of my way. Remember I'm due in court at ten."
"I think you look better," Alice said to me. "You always did wear too much makeup." Her gaze slid over my blouse and skirt. "Are you meeting with some important client today, Mother? You're showing a bit of cleavage."
Warren raised an eyebrow and adjusted the rearview mirror so he could take in my outfit. I squirmed and felt for the missing button at the top of my blouse. I always dressed conservatively for my job at the bank, and now I'd spend the day huddled in my office, avoiding the scrutiny of my colleagues.
"That's a different look for you, Claudia," Warren said, his eyes dancing with mirth. "I like it."
I ducked my head, inexplicably shy. When I sneaked another glance at him, he flashed me a grin, and I couldn't help but laugh.
Alice cleared her throat, breaking the spell. "So, Daddy, how's work going?"
Warren never could resist talking about his job, and Alice gave him her full attention. I settled back in the seat and watched my fifteen-year-old daughter cross her long legs. Her designer jeans fit perfectly, and the soft pink sweater she wore flattered her olive complexion. I always marveled that I'd given birth to such a creature. She favored her father in every way, from her height to her slender frame. The girl could wolf down endless slices of pizza and pints of chocolate ice cream, and she never gained an ounce. I often skipped breakfast and ate a bland salad for lunch, weak with hunger by the time I arrived home from work. But with each passing year, a few extra pounds latched onto my midsection.
Alice also had her father's light brown eyes and blonde hair. Her long locks were the color of sunlit wheat just before harvest, while my hair was as dull brown as a wild rabbit's fur. A few years ago, I bought a box of blonde hair dye at the drugstore. I waited until Warren and Alice were out of the house on a Saturday afternoon and then applied the color to my hair, carefully following the directions. But when I washed out the dye, I discovered my hair was a tiger lily orange. Warren and Alice returned home to find me sobbing on the couch. My husband patted my back, assuring me I could conceal the damage with a darker color. Alice merely gaped at me, hand cupped over her mouth to stifle a snicker. "Mother, you've really done it this time," she said. "You'll have to dye your hair black to hide that mess."
I began to sweat in the backseat of the car, and I thought of cracking the window to let in some fresh air.
"What's your schedule like today?" Warren asked Alice.
"I have a Chemistry test this afternoon, but I studied hard, so I think I'll ace it."
"I have no doubt," Warren said.
Alice beamed at him. "And I have violin practice after school. You haven't forgotten about my recital this weekend, have you?"
"Of course not," he replied. "Your mother and I wouldn't miss it for the world."
I pressed a palm to my damp forehead. "It's hot in this car, Warren."
Alice set her full lips in a stubborn line. "I don't think so. I'm cold." Before Warren could speak, she leaned over and straightened his tie. "You look very nice today, Daddy." Her hand lingered at his neck.
Warren kept his eyes on the road, but he smiled and gave her fingers a squeeze.
My breathing grew shallow, and as I fought back a surge of nausea, Alice flipped her golden hair over her shoulder. My stare fixed on the tresses cascading down her back, and my fingers flexed. I closed my eyes and pictured the silver shears in the kitchen drawer at home. I could feel the cold metal in my hand, could hear the satisfying snip snip snip of the blades.
"Mother, are you okay?"
I opened my eyes and saw Alice peering at me. A hint of a frown tugged at her mouth.
I inched forward in the seat and lifted my hand. Taking a strand of her hair between my thumb and forefinger, I delighted in the silky feel of it. "Oh, I'm just fine, darling," I said, my tone breezy. "Don't you worry your pretty little head about me."
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Miranda Stone. All rights reserved.