This story is by Melissa Nichols-Rodriguez and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
There was a fire burning inside that refused to be quenched. It was a constant aching pain in my life, one that I clung to desperately and would not release.
Looking up at my three year old, I smiled and nodded. “Yes, grass is green.”
“But, why?” he asked as he looked down at his electronic tablet. There was a new game on it that had something to do with colored bubbles. I couldn’t keep up with all the new games my children loaded on that thing.
“Because the chlorophyll in the blades of grass make it green.” Why was I explaining it when he would obviously not understand?
“It’s green juice.”
“Connor, please finish your breakfast,” I mumbled as I finished washing the mixing bowl.
It was snowing outside and there were cookies baking in the oven. My two older children were stumbling around upstairs, trying to get their things together for school. There was basketball practice for both of them today unless the ice got too bad on the roads. Maybe I could get Lincoln to pick them up after work?
My husband walked into the kitchen right then, instinctively reaching out to pull the electronic tablet away from our youngest son. He hated the use of electronic devices so early in the morning, but I couldn’t seem to get myself to care enough to take them away. If it was between Connor zoning out with his games or asking me a million questions as I tried to get the family running in the morning, I would always pick the former. My brain was not awake enough for all those questions. I offered up a smile and he pulled me close for a sweet kiss. We had been married for 15 years and this morning ritual of a kiss on the lips and a pat on the back was as ingrained into our routine as chocolate chip pancakes for birthday breakfasts.
But today, the day before New Year’s Eve, there was another set of footsteps making their way to the kitchen. Hearing the shuffle of bare feet against the laminate flooring was enough to cause my stomach to clench. Quickly grasping a wash cloth to busy myself with wiping down the countertops, I mindlessly attended my task while all of my attention focused on our guest. I didn’t need to look back to see his six foot frame, or broad shoulders stretching the material of his crisp t-shirt. A side glance confirmed that he was wearing his favorite plaid pajama pants.
“Morning, love,” the man yawned before pressing a brief kiss to my cheek, leaving a searing white heat imprinted under the flesh. He then moved over to blow raspberries on a very happy three-year-old’s neck.
“Good morning, Rhys,” I whispered, but naturally no one heard me.
Cereal poured into bowls, and my two other children came down in a rush. They cheered excitedly when they saw their uncle; he had come in late last night. He freely showered them in kisses, and even my normally stoic high school freshman smiled and kissed the man back. They all had a soft spot for their favorite uncle. Even the family dog loved that man more than anyone else! Bob, an All-American dog, was happily wagging his tail from his crate as the ruckus continued.
“Is Aunt Carmen here too?” Maycee asked, tucking a stray hair behind her ear.
“No, she’s coming in later. She’ll pick up a flight as soon as she wraps up this project at work.”
I noted the tan skin on Rhys, from years as an ironworker, and made a mental comparison to my husband’s pale skin. They were fraternal twins, and although they shared many similarities they were also different enough to never be confused for each other. Lincoln worked happily in an office as a public relations manager most of the year, but he would annually take our family on an adventure excursion which had included snorkeling, cross-country road trips, rock climbing in National Forests, and racing dune buggies through sand dunes. Those bursts of adventure were good enough to burn off his wanderlust and desire for adrenaline until the next year.
On the other hand, Rhys was a man who was so full of energy that he could never seem to settle down. He was the one in their family who moved out of the house at age 17 so that he could live in a junky pick-up truck hauling around his dirt bike and attending all the BMX tournaments he could physically handle. He picked up side gigs as a stunt rider for circus groups or daredevil events, and only stopped his career rides after a particularly bad crash left him unconscious in the hospital for two days. Just as quickly as he had decided to pursue that career, he shifted gears into endeavors that were likely to bring in a higher return on investment. Iron working allowed a constant adrenaline high and brought in a good amount of money if you could stay injury free. He was always taking spontaneous trips around the world, and building quite the repertoire of extreme sports.
Where Lincoln was a solid rock to stand on, Rhys was a raging fire, all passion and guts. He wasn’t the most sensitive man, a fact that his wife was all too eager to point out to anyone who would listen. In fact, he was prone to be blunt to the point of rudeness and believed his opinion was the absolute best out of all others. But he was also full of affection which he showered on virtually everyone. It didn’t matter if he knew you from childhood or not, he would listen, let you vent, and offer a shoulder for you to cry on. He would even cry with you and for you.
“Do you remember the first time we met?” I asked softly as the door closed behind my husband herding the children off.
“Sure I do,” he chirped. I was surprised that he had even heard me.
“Why did you…I mean, you talked to me.” Sadly, being an adult had not cured me of speaking awkwardly.
We met at a racing event where I was cheering on random contestants. It had been my first solo road trip, and I was so nervously excited. Having just finished a heat, I spotted him pulling off his helmet and caught him smiling directly at me. He hopped off his bike, strutted up to me and took a swig out of my water bottle. I blushed at how brazen this stranger was.
“Yeah, you looked like you were having a good time.”
He humored me and made me feel special. When he won that race, he gave kisses to everyone nearby. A kiss came to me. Years later I met his brother, fell in love, and got engaged. Then I met him again and found that an ember had been embedded in me, one that scorched when he was nearby.
I yearned to live to the fullest and die going a hundred miles an hour, but instead spent my days withering in the daily grind. Granted, it was a beautiful life full of love and established with a man who did care for me. He wanted to please me, but I was a creature that he did not understand. I was caught between the two worlds, and as I leaned against the marble countertop I wondered how long it would be before I fell into one world or the other. There was the desire to throw principles to the wind and pursue this man. Besides my youngest son watching television in the living room, there was no one around. I could seduce this man and turn that emotional passion into a physical one. My hands clenched briefly, then released the white-knuckled grip. There didn’t need to be a choice between a mundane life and a passionate one.
Rhys walked over to deposit his empty cereal bowl in the sink, and I felt the tightening in my throat as I reached out and gently rested my hand on his forearm. My tongue felt like a block of lead sinking in a sea of saliva, but my words came out clearly.
“You should call Carmen before you head out this morning. You know how upset she gets if you don’t call. I’m going to take Connor to the science museum today, so I won’t see you again until tonight. Help yourself to whatever’s in the refrigerator!”
“Oh, yeah! Thanks for the reminder.” He gave me a friendly wink and patted my hand before heading off to his room.
“Connor, did you hear that?” I called out, ignoring my shaking fingers. “Get your coat on! We’re heading out.”
I let the dog out, turned off the oven, put on my coat, and left the house with my son in tow. As for today, I had my answer.