Page 8 of Bad Mommy

“Yes, they are silver,” I said, dropping to my haunches to look her in the eyes. “Aren’t you a clever little girl.”

“Siver,” she said again.

“You can come right through to the kitchen,” Bad Mommy said, turning and walking through the wide arched doorway.

I gave one last fleeting look at the white stone fireplace and followed her, Mercy at my heels.

“Your house gets such wonderful light,” I said.

“Isn’t it lovely?” she said. “It’s why we bought it. Darius always says that if you’re going to live in Seattle, you find the house with the best light, or you’ll get depressed.”

“And do you?” I asked. It was an entirely inappropriate question to ask someone you’d just met an hour ago, but it slipped out before I could stop it.

Bad Mommy paused in her slicing of the cake. Her kitchen was just as charming as her living room—all stainless steel and white with a few emerald green accent pieces.

“I suppose sometimes I do,” she said. “When I’m alone often and I get lonely.” I was struck by her honest answer, and more struck by the fact that I related to her.

“What does your husband do?” I asked. “I’m sorry, am I asking too many questions? I do that.”

She waved me away. “Don’t be silly, that’s what people do when they’re getting to know each other.”

She set a slice of chocolate cake down in front of me, the one she had claimed wasn’t very good, and went to pour the coffee. I could hear Mercy in the other room, her little voice loud and shrill from whatever game she was playing.

“He’s a psychologist,” she said. “He has his own practice in Ballard.”

“Oh!” I said. “How fancy.”

“What do you do, Fig?” she asked. I was startled that she said my name. Most people didn’t say your name when they were speaking to you.

“I build websites,” I said. “Freelance.”

“Cool,” she said, dropping a mug of coffee in front of me, and then heading to the fridge to fetch the cream. “And did you grow up in Washington?”

I shook my head. “Small town in Wisconsin. I moved here with my husband after we got married,” I said.

“Are you still…”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “Complicated. It’s hard to make marriage work.”

“Are you okay?” she asked.

No one had ever asked me that question before. How did you answer something like that?

“I’m trying to be,” I said, honestly.

I thought she’d pry more, but she just set the sugar and cream in front of me and smiled.

The cake was good. Delicious. That’s when I knew she was a liar. No one baked cake that tasted that good and didn’t know it.

Mercy trotted into the kitchen after a few minutes and tugged on Bad Mommy’s shirt.

“Are you tired, or do you want cake?” she asked.

“Cake,” said Mercy. And then added, “Please.”

Bad Mommy praised her for her please and then cut her an extra large slice.

While I was finishing off my coffee, the dregs of sugar rolling around in my mouth, Darius Avery arrived home. I heard the bang of the front door and loud squealing from Mercy as she threw herself at him. He came into the kitchen a minute later with her perched on his hip, a briefcase in his free hand. He was better looking up close. Bad Mommy grew visibly flustered when she saw him, her cheeks flushed with color, and her eyes … dare I say … sparkling? I watched them, remembering my first observation of him in the drive. He’d looked happy. Now they all looked happy, and I suddenly felt like I was intruding on something private I wasn’t supposed to see. I shifted on my stool uncomfortably until she remembered I was there.

“Oh, Darius, this is our new neighbor, Fig,” she said, fussing with her hair. “She moved into the Larrons’ old house. I invited her over for a piece of my terrible cake and coffee.”

Darius set his briefcase down. Mercy turned to look at me like she was just noticing I was here again. I made a face at her and she smiled. My heart almost burst open right there.

“Hello, Fig. Welcome to the hood,” he said, leaning forward to take my hand. I noticed he had a particularly crooked smile that was quite infectious if you zoned in on it. I looked away quickly when I felt myself blushing.

“Hello,” I said, standing up. Cake crumbs sprinkled from my lap to the floor. How embarrassing. I made to pick them up, but Darius stopped me.

“Don’t bother. We have a Roomba.”

“A what?”

He pointed to a little round machine in the corner. “A little robot vacuum.”

“Oh,” I said.

“How did you enjoy my wife’s terrible cake?” he asked, rolling his eyes.

I’d been right about the grey at his temples. I saw it all now, the slight salt in all the pepper. He was not too tall, probably six feet even, with the type of broad shoulders women went on about. I wondered how many female clients he had, and how they were able to concentrate when he was looking at them.

“It was probably the best cake I’ve ever had,” I said, honestly. “And as you can see, I eat a lot of cake.”

I patted the extra weight around my belly. Bad Mommy blushed, turning away so we couldn’t see her face.

“My wife is modest about almost everything she does,” he said, looking at her with affection. “And she does almost everything better than anyone else.”