“It feels like rain,” my grandmother says as she sits on the glider on the porch, staring up at the star-speckled sky. The sky is clear, and a gentle wind lifts my hair. Gran hugs her arms around her skinny body and shivers, like someone just walked over her grave. The temperature is eighty degrees outside. A storm isn’t in the forecast. It seems like a gentle fall night.
“I don’t think so,” I say. “The weatherman said to expect clear skies today and tomorrow.”
Gran makes a rude noise in her throat, the kind she would slap me for if I did it. Then she gets up and goes inside the house. I stand up and follow her, the screen door clanging loudly behind me as it slams shut.
“Take an umbrella when you leave,” Gran says, and then she kisses me on the forehead and goes to sit on the couch. She turns on the TV and finds “her stories” that had been recorded during the day.
“I thought I might spend the night tonight,” I call to her as I clean the kitchen.
She makes another absurd noise. It’s a cross between a grunt and a snort. “I don’t need a babysitter,” she says. “Take yourself home to that husband of yours.” She nearly spits the words that husband at me. She doesn’t like Charles. She hates him, in fact. Some days I do too. The rest, I just don’t care.
“I told Charles I was staying over.” I wash the last of the dishes and go to sit with her.
“And what did Charles have to say to that?” she asks. She doesn’t look away from the TV.
He looked relieved, honestly. “Nothing.”
Gran grunts. “A wife’s place is at home,” she says. She clicks the TV off, pulls an afghan from the back of the couch, and covers herself with it. “Go home, Abigail. I’ll be fine.”
“I don’t like leaving you,” I say. Gran is getting older and it shows. And I enjoy spending time with her.
“Go home, Abigail,” she says more firmly. Then she rolls over and pulls the afghan close under her chin.
“You should go to bed,” I tell her.
“I’ll go to bed when I’m ready,” she says quietly. “Go on home, now.” She snuggles deeper into her cocoon. “Take the umbrella by the back door,” she murmurs.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I lay my hand on her arm and give it a squeeze. She smiles softly and I get up to leave.
I look up at the clear night sky as I walk out the back door. The gentle wind still blows, but I don’t need the umbrella. It’s not going to rain.
I drive across town to the house I share with my husband and I let myself in the back door. The scent of Italian food meets my nose and I inhale deeply. Then I see the take-out bags on the kitchen counter. Charles has gotten us take-out when he knew I wasn’t coming home? Maybe he forgot. I toss my keys onto the counter and stop when I see the candles flickering in the dark dining room, the room we never use. There are two places set at the table, and Charles has used our best china. The plates are empty. The food rests in the bags on the kitchen counter, if the smell emanating from them is any indication.
My heart lurches. Have I forgotten an important date? Our anniversary isn’t until January. I run through our history in my mind. I can’t think of anything we would have been celebrating.
I hear a noise from the bedroom. “Charles,” I call out. “Are you here?” I walk in that direction.
The bedroom door slams shut in my face, the whoosh of air halting my stride, and I brace myself in the doorframe to keep from walking straight into the door.
“Charles,” I call out. I listen at the crack in the door and jiggle the knob. It’s locked.
“I thought you said you were staying at your grandmother’s tonight,” Charles calls back, his voice overly loud.
“Gran said she didn’t need me.” I press my ear to the door again. “Charles,” I say, “what’s going on?”
“Um… Nothing, Abby, just hang on.”
I jiggle the doorknob a little harder. “Charles,” I say again, and trepidation floods me.
“Oh, God, Abby,” Charles calls back, his voice frantic. “You weren’t supposed to be here tonight.”
“I know, but Gran…” I suddenly stop. “Is someone in there with you?”
“Abby.” He heaves out a sigh. “It’s not what it looks like.”
“It looks like you have me locked out of our bedroom.” I jiggle the knob again. “Open the door.”
Charles opens the door and stands in the threshold, blocking my view. “It’s not what it looks like,” he says again.
I look beyond him and find my friend and coworker Sandra standing there, as she bends over to pull on her high heels. She looks up, but her eyes won’t meet mine.
“Sandra?” I say. Then it hits me, like one of those waves at the beach that knocks you off your feet, and then it spins you around and you get sand in the butt of your swimsuit and grit in your eyes. “Oh, God.” I take a step back.
“I should go,” Sandra says, her voice small. She walks toward us, still not able to look me in the eye. We’ve been friends for two years. She got me the job I have at the hospital where I work.
“Sandra,” I say, and I follow her to the front door. She stops and presses herself against the door, hugging it tightly as she clutches the knob.
“Why did you have to come home tonight?” she says, I suspect more to herself than to me.
Because I live here. “Did you…sleep with…my husband?” I jerk my thumb toward the bedroom.
“I didn’t—” she starts. But then she stops and shakes her head. “Charles should tell you. Not me.” She opens the door and steps out into the night, closing it softly behind her.
I turn around to find Charles standing in a pair of running shorts and nothing else. He drags a hand through his hair, which is standing on end. “I didn’t want you to find out like this,” he says on a heavy breath.
I suck in some air. “So, you did…?” I leave the question floating in the air, like a grenade with the pin pulled.
He winces and nods.
I suddenly can’t breathe.
“How long?” I choke out.
“Not long,” he replies. “Abby.” He walks to me and tries to touch me, but I shrink away. “Abs,” he says, shortening my name in the way I’ve always hated.
“You should pack your things,” I tell him. I pour myself a glass of water from the fridge.
He stares at me. “Where am I going to go?”
I tip my glass up and take a long swallow. “I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe you could ask Sandra.” I set my empty glass in the sink and go to my bedroom. But my bedroom smells like Sandra’s perfume and sex. “I want you out by tomorrow,” I say.
I turn and leave. As I walk out onto the front porch, a clap of thunder breaks the silence of the night and a flash of lightning lights up the sky. The heavens open up and the rain comes down. I stand there and let it pound on me.
I probably look like an idiot, but I stand there while the storm rages all around me, and then finally, when the wind slows, and the rain becomes steady, I get in my car and drive to Gran’s house.
I let myself in. She sits at the kitchen table playing a game of solitaire, the old-fashioned kind with actual cards. She doesn’t look up when I let myself in.
“Can I stay here tonight?” I ask.
“You should have taken the umbrella,” she says.
“Yeah,” I reply. “I should have listened.”