Dolly thought she smelled the sea. No. It was him. She hated his sexiness. How annoying. There he was smelling clean. Smelling blue. Celeste. Smelling like the sky and six sharp hours of puck-white sun. Kent, her husband Jed's new friend from work. Jed had called on his way, asked if it were okay for Kent to come home with him. She'd heard Kent in the background. It was embarrassing. How could she say no? She'd met him a few times before—quick, meaningless. Like two leashed puppies passing on the sidewalk.
In Dolly's kitchen, Kent held out his hand for her to shake.
“Oh,” she said with a crinkle of disappointment at his formality. She shook it and smiled.
“My wife Vale is coming by a little later after she drops the kids at her sister's,” he said.
Kent reminded her of Jed and that's what was sexy about him. They were both pressed Oxford shirts and dress pants but she preferred to think of them smoking in dirty Carhartts, bending down and stretching up, fixing broken things. She preferred thinking of Jed as the tobacco farm country boy he was, not the man he'd become. They'd been in love since college but that didn't keep her from wondering how Kent touched his wife. Vale. Dolly had never met Vale and tried to picture what kind of woman Kent would be married to. She knew they had three young sons. Just like that. One two three. Dolly and Jed had a ten-year-old girl, a six-year-old boy, one amethyst Betta fish trapped in rounded glass next to the junk mail on the counter.
Dolly loved Jed and thought his friend was sexy, that was all. So what. She'd made a cheesy chicken casserole because that's what she was making anyway and didn't change it when Jed called on his way home. Their kids were at sleepovers. Dolly was a little drunk already, on her second glass of wine. She'd just pulled the casserole out of the oven. Kent leaned against the counter. Jed clinked around in the fridge for beers.
“Your sons...what are their names?” she asked Kent and forgot as soon as he said them. There was an M at the beginning of one of them, a Y at the end of another and one of the names dripped from his mouth and spilled on the floor—never made it to her ears.
The kitchen was torrid. July in the South was ungodly. She fanned herself. The rattle of the amber locusts out back? Apocalyptic. Jed opened Kent's beer and his own and stood next to her, looked over. He pushed away and led Kent to the garage, to show him things.
They were gone. Dolly texted her sister.
What if I left Jed and took the kids and came and stayed with you?
Her sister wrote her back quickly.
I said WHAT IF. Calm down.
Is something going on?!? CALL ME.
I'm fine. I'll call you later. Busy right now.
Dolly deleted the messages and turned her phone off.
Kent came back to the kitchen without Jed. Told her Jed had gone to the bathroom.
“How long have y'all lived here?” he asked, looking around.
“I hate small talk. I asked you your boys' names earlier but to be honest, I didn't even listen. I still don't know them. Even if you put a gun in my mouth and threatened to blow my brains out of the back of my head, I couldn't tell you,” she said, finishing her wine.
“All right. That's all right,” Kent said. A tender cowboy.
“I know it may seem like I'm being rude but it's our house, right?” she said. A tetchy cowgirl.
“Jed's taking a shower?” she asked, knowing it already. She heard the water turn on. It annoyed her that he always took a shower when he came home from work, no matter what. He took one in the morning, he took one in the evening. He had no smell. “I'm being rude. He's being rude. Why did you want to come over here again?”
“You come off like a bitch, but no worries...I think you're interesting,” Kent said, drinking. Dolly poured more wine, hopped up on the counter.
“Okay, so do you think I'm pretty? I think you're sexy...handsome. Isn't this betrayal to tell you that in my husband's home? Isn't this the worst possible thing I can do?” she asked. He stood closer to her and she reached out for his tie. Slipped it between her fingers as she drank. Her nose inside the glass like that made her feel underwater. Like she was in a fishbowl. She blew tiny bubbles into her wine before putting it down.
“Even prettier than you think you are,” he said.
“Fuck off. I think I'm pretty.”
“Sure you do.” And he winked.
“Everyone lies all the time. No one on this Earth wants to tell or hear the truth anymore,” she said. Her eyes filled with tears and she drank again. Finished her glass in a gulp. Drunk drunk drunk. “Don't tell your wife about this. Most people can't handle...anything.” She undid the knots, shoved off a little boat of anger in her heart. Climbed inside, hoisted the sails. Didn't look back.
“Tell her what?” he asked. He was standing so close to her. So close. She spread her legs a bit and he stood in between them. Her stomach, a rabbit. She could feel his breath on her face.
“Any of this,” she whispered.
“Any of what?” he whispered back.
The shower was still running—a storm from another room. Rain behind the door.
“Don't tell him any of this,” he said, nodding to the bathroom.
“Any of what?”
He rubbed his thumb across her bottom lip. Smushed it to one side, then the other. Did it again. Harder. Smeared her lipstick.
“I don't tell anyone anything,” she said, closing her eyes.
“I can be honest,” he said, putting his beer on the counter next to her. The dripping cool of it, wet relief against her thigh.
The shower was still running—a tempest—the shower was still running when Kent slipped his thumb into her mouth.
“Who even are you?” he asked and pulled it out, put his hand on the back of her head. She tilted —a crescent moon. He kissed her neck.
Dolly looked up at the ceiling before closing her eyes again. God will hate me for this she thought. God hates sin but God can't hate me she thought. She wanted Jed to walk out of the bathroom and catch them. She wanted Vale to come to the back door and press her hand against the screen in order to see them better. She wanted Loretta Lynn to sit at her kitchen table with a guitar and write a three chord song about this.
Poor Jed turned the shower off. She heard him step out and head upstairs to get dressed. He was humming something he made up, nothing she recognized. What was happening was so shocking and fresh, it had her craving something to root her again. Something comforting. Familiar. But no. Kent smelled like water and her body was water. There they were being water together. His mouth, a tributary. He kept kissing her. Hummed against her neck. A duet. This buzzing chorus. She was sticky-summer-dizzy and letting herself be awful. Downright lousy.
About the Writer
Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker and the author of Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press) and the editor of WhiskeyPaper. She listens to a lot of country music and lives in Kentucky. Find more @ LeesaCrossSmith.com and WhiskeyPaper.