Fight or flight. As humans, we rarely experience it. Fight or flight is usually reserved for animals in the wild, the zebra as it senses a predator. I purposefully try to avoid situations that involve fight or flight.
I am staring blankly in to the icy grey eyes of Peter’s mother and Jamie’s ex-wife. I know nothing about this woman other than she abandoned the most adorable little boy in the world. My heart rate increases and there’s part of me that wants to punch her. But I can’t fight or fly. I need to stay and engage her in polite conversation.
“I said, who the hell are you?”
Her red hair is pulled back into a severe french twist that is so tight, it looks like it might be cutting off circulation to her brain. She has a willowy frame that contrasts the hard lines and angles in her face. I’d guess she’s about forty.
“I’m Dorothy. Jamie’s girlfriend.”
This is a stretch. Jamie and I have not yet had a state of the union type of conversation. I don’t want to risk the wrath that might spring forth from this ginger amazon if I say something along the lines of “Oh, well, I just met Jamie a little less than a week ago, but I’ve already grown quite fond of him and your son and think he’s the one.”
She takes me in as if she’s examining a petri dish of bacteria. After a few moments, she seems convinced that I’m a fairly harmless strain and cautiously extends her right arm.
“I’m Isabelle. I thought I would drop in on the boys and surprise Peter as a pre-Thanksgiving treat. I seems I am the one who is surprised. Jamie hasn’t mentioned you.”
The words ring hollow in my ears. Jamie hasn’t mentioned you. What does that mean? Do they actually talk or is she just trying to bait me.
It feels as have been transported into an Agatha Christie murder mystery. I must not reveal my cards to soon. I need to carry myself with the wit and demeanor of Dorothy Parker.
“How curious,” I say. “He hasn’t talked much about you either.
By this point, we are circling each other like wolves.
I once had a professor who put the question to the class “Do you now why we smile?” Students suggested “to show happiness.” Wrong. “To show whomever we’re talking to that we have teeth with which we could bite them.
Isabelle and I were all toothy smiles.
“Please, won’t you sit down.” I motioned to the dining room table. We had at least an hour to kill before the boys would be back from the theatre.
“Don’t mind if I do.” came the icy reply.
“There’s some spaghetti from dinner, if you’re hungry.” I offer, making it clear that this space is my domain, insinuating that she is trespassing.
“I’m vegan and gluten-free. So that won’t work. I’ll take a scotch. Neat. If you have it.”
She looks me up and down. This is a test. If I know where the liquor is, I have legitimate claim to this space.
“Of course,” I say, and make my way into the kitchen.
I only have one chance to get this right. Jamie had already pulled out the bottle of wine the other night, so I didn’t see where he got it in the kitchen. Quickly, I scan the kitchen for possibilities. It would need to be high to Peter couldn’t have access. My eye is drawn to a cupboard with a small childproof lock on it. Bingo.
I open the cupboard. Success. I am not a big drinker, but the only bottle with brown liquid in it says scotch and I know from characters who drink in novels that neat means without ice. I pour about three fingers worth of scotch for Isabel and pour a 1 and 3/4 fingers for myself.
I deliver our drinks to the dining room table and take my time lowering myself to a seated position.
If we were in a saloon, the bartender would most likely be anticipating a shoot out.
We are not cowboys, and therefore we have no guns. But we are women, and our voices and observations are an artillery all their own.
Isabel takes a long swig of her scotch and almost belts the whole glass down in one femme fatale gulp.
“Listen, Dorothy. I don’t know what Jamie has told you, but I’m still very close to both him and Peter. It’s cute that you’re here attempting to play Suzy homemaker, but Jamie and I have history. And if I want back into his life, I’m going to get there.”
Bitch, please. She is obviously bluffing. Right?
She regards me to see if she’s getting under my skin. I have not flinched and she continues her attack.
“Jamie does this from time to time. Tries to move on with a pretty young thing. But it never works. Because he never really got over me. We had no resolution. Because we were never really over. I just hit pause for a while. That’s why he hasn’t signed the divorce papers.”
Ok, what?! Now this is completely new and surprising information, but I can’t let her get to me. Her goal is to remove my from the premises before Jamie and Peter get back. And there’s no way that that’s going to happen.
I take a sip of my scotch. It’s dreadful, but I don’t let on.
“That’s funny, Isabelle. Because Jamie says that you’re the one who won’t sign the divorce papers.”
I am completely talking out of my ass at this point, but I have to admit I’m having fun. I am channelling Joan from Mad Men and have my best bitch game face on.
“Listen. This is what I think happened. Your psycho spidey sense picked up on the fact that Jamie was actually happy. So you decided to swoop in and rain on his parade. Well, I’m not going to let that happen. I have no proof that you are who you say you are, and as far as I know, you’re trespassing on private property. So I’m kindly going to ask you to leave this house and find a place to stay at one of Lanesboro’s many fine bed and breakfasts, leave a message on Jamie’s voicemail and we’ll sort out and schedule this ‘heartfelt’ family reunion tomorrow. If this does not sound amenable, I’d be happy to call the police and have them escort you out of our home.”
Wow. Our home. Big talk for someone who has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about.
Isabel recoils a bit. Purses her lips. Considers her options. Drinks the remaining contents of her scotch.
“Fair enough, Dorothy. Fair enough. I’ll be seeing you. Thanks for the scotch.”
We both rise from the table together. She exits slowly and memorably.
I lock the door behind her and lean my head against it for a moment. I am both exhausted and triumphant. I pour myself more scotch and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
When Jamie and Pete come home, there are freshly-baked cookies, and classes of milk poured to accompany them.
Peter is all about the cookies and dives in right away. Jamie and I leave him at the table and wordlessly go into his bedroom to pow wow about Isabelle.
“Dorothy, I am so sorry. I had no idea she was coming. I haven’t talked to her in months.”
“It’s ok. I handled it. I don’t know what kind of message she left, but I kind of kicked her out of the house. I’ve never seen a picture of her or anything, and she was such a bitch–”
“No, that was totally fine. She’s not supposed to appear unannounced. It’s not good for Peter. I’ve talked to her about his several times. Why don’t you go have some cookies and I’ll call her back.”
“What are you going to say to her?”
“I’m going to remind her about the agreement we have that visits with Peter have to have at least 48 hours lead time and, I guess schedule a time for her to see him.”
“I told her I was your girlfriend. I’m sorry, I didn’t know what else to say to her. She made me feel so territorial.”
Jamie leans in and kisses me, gently.
“Well, do you want to be my girlfriend? I’d like to be your boyfriend.”
We both smile.
“See, you just told her something that was prematurely true.”
I kiss him back.
“Why don’t all four of us have dinner together tomorrow night?” I offer.
“Sure. I have Friday off as well. I’d like to make a better impression on Isabelle. As your girlfriend, I’m sure I’ll have to endure further negotiations in the future and it would be a nice peace offering, right?”
“What did I do to deserve you?”
I giggle and leave him to join Peter and the cookies.
“These are so good, Dorothy!”
Regarding the cookie plate and doing some quick math, it appears that he has eaten at least five cookies.
“I’m glad you like them, Pete. Maybe you should slow down, though. Save some for tomorrow?”
He looks up at me.
“I guess so.”
I munch on a warm cookie.
“So, how was the show tonight?”
“It was good,” he says, eyeing the rest of the cookies.
“Ok, Pete,” I say. “One more cookie, but that’s it.”
He smiles and and greedily takes another cookie.
“So, where are we going on the field trip tomorrow.”
“That’s why you needed to come on the field trip. Because you’re a real librarian.”
“Well, I’m honored you invited me, Pete. That sounds like a lot of fun. Thank you.”
He beams, stuffs the rest of his cookie into his mouth and walks over to my chair and crawls into my lap.
I am taken aback by this gesture of affection for a moment, and then I wrap my arms around him.
“I’m really glad you came back,” he whispers.
“Me, too, Pete. Me, too.” I whisper back.
Jamie comes out of his bedroom. He pauses a minute to take in the tableau of me cuddling Peter on my lap. He smiles, and it looks like he could be getting a little teary as well.
“Guess what, buddy?”
Peter whips around on my lap.
“Mommy was able to visit this weekend. We’re going to have dinner with her tomorrow and then she’s going to take you on a surprise trip this weekend.”
“Really?” Peter sounds a little unsure as to whether or not this is a good thing.
“Really. Come on, buddy, it will be fun.”
Peter turns this over in his brain for a while.
“Ok. I think it will be fun. As long as we have real Thanksgiving with Dorothy.”
Jamie looks at me and raises his eyebrows as an invitation to answer.
“Yes. Of couse, I wouldn’t miss real Thanksgiving with you two.”
“Sure is awesome, buddy. And now, it is time for bed.”
“Awww. Can Dorothy tuck me in again?”
Before Jamie can answer, I pick Peter up and say, “Sure thing, kiddo.”
We go through the teeth-brushing, pajama selection and tucking-in rituals.
Peter is all ears for the next installment in Dorothy’s bedtime stories.
“What kind of story do you want tonight, Pete?”
“A funny one.”
“Ok, a funny bedtime story. Let’s see…Once upon a time, there was a dragon who was a king. He was green with purple spots. But all of his subjects were afraid of him because he blew fire every time that he sneezed. So the court wizard worked day and night and invented nostril covers for the king. So any time he felt the urge to sneeze, he could his nose with these magic flaps that kept the fire from hurting any of his subjects. And everyone was so happy, that they had a big party and roasted marshmallows on the king’s nose. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.”
Peter’s eyes were at half-mast. I went in for a good night hug and thought I heard him whisper “Love you, Dorothy.” But it would be way too soon for that, right?
I turned off the light in Pete’s bedroom and quietly closed the door.
Jamie was waiting for me on the couch. With the bottle of scotch.
“I see you’ve made a dent in the scotch.”
“I had a sip. Isabelle made the dent.”
“Typical Izzy.” He rolls his eyes. Again, I’m sorry you had to deal with her. She’s–a good person, but not so great with the people skills. She’s great with Peter, though, and I’m glad that he’ll get to see her. And that means…”
He raises an eyebrow mischievously.
“That means I get you all to myself this weekend.”
He leans in and kisses me, putting his hands in my hair. I kiss him back and surrender. Before I know it, he throws me over his shoulder and heads to the bedroom.
I giggle quietly. I guess this answers the question of if I’m sleeping on the couch again tonight.