“Oh, I love it. It’s zestier than the last place I lived.”
“Zestier,” Darius repeated. “It is rather zesty here, isn’t it?” We all laughed.
“And your … what’s his name? Should I not be bringing that up?” he asked, seeing my face. I wiped it clean. I didn’t want to bore them with details of my failed marriage. It was what it was.
“No, it’s fine. I’m just trying to be happy,” I said. Darius nodded like he understood.
“So, you just up and sold your house and bought this one? Needed a change of scenery. A new start.”
“Yup, pretty much. You just throw something at a wall and see if it sticks.” I was getting a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t like to talk about all of that nonsense.
I was startled when Jolene reached over to put her hand on top of mine, squeezing slightly. I felt tears well up in my eyes and tilted my head back to keep them from falling. How long had it been since someone showed me kindness? Without friends there was really only my mother, and she’d send a bouquet of sunflowers to my house when she thought I was sad. The card would always say something ridiculous like: The sun will come out tomorrow. A vast improvement from when I’d lost the baby and she’d said: “It was too small to even be considered a baby, Fig. Chin up, you’ll no doubt have another.”
“Ugh, you’re making me cry,” I said, swiping at my eyes. “It’s all over now. I think, anyway. I’m glad for that.”
“Yes, it is. And I know it’s cliché to say, but you’re much better off without people who bring you down, don’t support you. It’ll be a healing process, but I think you’ll be just fine, whatever you decide.” I nodded at her words. Maybe that’s why Darius liked Jolene, they spoke the same language.
“Change of subject,” Jolene said, swirling her hand in the air. I thought she was a little drunk. “Darius, you’re good at that.”
Darius launched into a story about work, telling us how he caught his secretary eavesdropping on sessions with his clients. In minutes we were all laughing, and my heart felt light as a feather. All this time I’d been missing friends, genuine have-your-best-interest-at-heart friends. Mercy finished her slice and hopped down from my lap, informing all of us that I’d be putting her to bed.
“Three stories,” she said, holding up five fingers.
Jolene adjusted her fingers so there were only three. “Well, we don’t know if Miss Fig has to get home, Mercy. Maybe-”
“No, I’ll do it,” I told her. “I’d love to.”
“Well, look at that, Mercy. Baby whisperer, Fig, has agreed to put you to bed. It feels like Christmas,” he joked.
I was so very excited.
“Let’s go, Mercy,” I said, trying to temper the excitement in my voice. “You get to pick three books,” I said. “But, not long ones.”
“Very long ones,” she said, pulling me down the hall to her bedroom.
I heard Jolene tell Darius that she was going to take a quick shower. Then I heard them giggling in that private way couples do when they’re joking about sex. I glanced over my shoulder to see them disappear into what I supposed was their bedroom.
After Mercy and I were finished reading, she snuggled into bed without complaint and closed her eyes. I kissed her little forehead, marveling at her perfect eyelashes and then quietly put the books back on the bookshelf before tiptoeing out. Darius was seated in the living room with his feet propped on the ottoman, reading a Stephen King book that was larger than all of my books put together. Jolene was nowhere to be seen.
“Wow, that’s a big one,” I said.
“That’s what she said,” Darius retorted.
I laughed a little and stood awkwardly in the doorway not knowing what to do. It was time to leave, I knew that, but something about walking over to my dark house and going to bed alone was making me feel depressed.
“I’ll walk you home, Fig,” he said. Then, as an afterthought he added, “Jolene has a headache, she went ahead and took a shower and went to bed. She said to say goodbye.”
I nodded, thrilled at having him to myself for even a few minutes.
We headed out the door and I felt tight all over. This was nice, this was really nice. Not many men cared quite as much.
“You know if you ever need to talk, I listen for a living,” he said.
“Hey, I’m okay. Got that survivor thing going on.” I sang a little Beyoncé and we both laughed. “Besides, I’m so fucked up I’d break the shrink.”
“Nah. That’s what I used to think about myself. When you live in your own head all the time, things contort. You have to voice your thoughts so you can know you’re not the only one who’s fucked up. It makes a big difference to know that.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I sounded noncommittal to my own ears.
He nodded like he understood. These things took time. I could hear him saying that to his patients.
“Your guy, what’s his name?”
“Ew, he’s not my guy,” I said.
“Fine, that guy you married that one time … Fred?”
“George,” I said.
“Huh?” I looked up, confused.
“Yikes, not a Harry Potter fan. You lose all cool points for that.”
“I’m so confused. What are we even talking about?”