I step quietly into the family room. I come around to the other side of Lily to face her. Lily isn’t asleep like I thought. Her eyes are open but her expression is blank. Her skin looks gray, washed-out like the room, and I blame the poor lighting.
Lily’s head turns. She looks up at me as if in slow motion.
“Hey,” I say again, gently, smiling. “You okay? Did I wake you?”
I flip on a side table light, and she winces from the bright- ness of it, her eyes taking time to adjust. I apologize for it, realizing that her pale face had nothing to do with the lack of light.
In the warmth of the lamp’s glow, I see that Lily’s hair is wet. She wears maroon-colored joggers and a sweatshirt. She’s showered and changed since coming home, which is more than she usually does. Usually she falls flat on the couch and doesn’t leave until it’s time to go to bed.
I drop to my knees in front of her. I reach forward and run a hand the length of her hair. “You look exhausted, babe. Do you want to just go to bed? I can help you up. Takeout should be here soon. I’ll bring it up to the room for you when it gets here.”
Lily blinks three times, as if to clear the fog. She finds her voice. It’s husky at first, dry, like after a day of shouting at a football game, which is not that different than a day of teach- ing rowdy high school kids math. “No,” she says, shaking her head, “I’m fine. Just tired. It was a long day.”
“You sure? I wouldn’t mind dinner in bed myself.” I had a long day too, but it doesn’t seem right to compare them when only one of us has another human growing inside of them.
“That sounds messy,” she says.
“I promise I’ll be neat.”
Lily smiles and my heart melts. I love it when she smiles at me. “When are you ever neat?”
“Never,” I say, feeling better if she can still poke fun at me.
I’ve done my research on pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve read that the fatigue women feel during the first trimester is maybe the most tired they’ll feel in their whole lives. Growing a human is exhausting. Caring for one is too, but we’re not there yet.
“You need anything?” I ask, and she shakes her head.
Takeout comes. I convince Lily to come sit on the couch with me, where we both fit. We watch TV and, as we do, I ask her about her day and she asks me about mine. She’s quieter than usual tonight. I do most of the talking. I’m a market research analyst, while Lily teaches high school algebra. We met in college over of our shared love of math. When we tell people that, it makes them laugh. We’re math nerds.
When it’s time for bed, Lily goes up to the room before me. From downstairs, I hear the sink run as she washes up. I clean up from dinner. I throw the takeout containers in the trash. There is a package waiting on the front porch. I step outside to get it, where the night is dark, though the sky is clear. It must be a new moon.
Lily is standing at the top of the stairs when I come back in. She’s there in the upstairs hall, standing in the dark, backlit by the bedroom light. Gone are the maroon sweats she wore ear- lier. She has on my flannel shirt now. Her legs are bare, one foot balanced on the other. Her hair is pulled back, her face still wet from washing it.
“Don’t forget to lock the door,” she says down over the rail- ing, patting her face dry with a towel.
I wouldn’t have forgotten to lock the door. I never do. It’s not like Lily to remind me. I turn away from her, making sure the storm door is shut and locked, and then I push the front door closed and lock the dead bolt too.
Our house sits on a large lot. It’s old on the outside, but has a completely revamped, modern interior. It boasts things like a wraparound porch, beamed ceilings, a brick fireplace—which Lily fell in love with the first time she laid eyes on the house, and so I knew I couldn’t say no despite the price—as well as the more modern amenities of a subzero fridge, stainless steel appliances, heated floors and a large soaker tub that I was more enthusiastic about. The house is aesthetically pleasing to say the least, with an enormous amount of curb appeal. It practically broke the bank to buy, but felt worth it at the time, even if it meant being poor for a while.
In the backyard, the river runs along the far edge of the prop- erty, bound by a public hiking and biking trail. We were worried about a lack of privacy when we first moved in, because of the trail. The trail brought pedestrians to us. Strangers. People just passing by. For most of the year, it’s not a problem. The leaves on the trees provide plenty of privacy. It’s only when they fall that we’re more exposed, but the views of the river are worth it for that small sacrifice.
“Done,” I tell her about the locks, and she asks then if I set the alarm. We’ve lived here years and hardly ever set the alarm. I’m taken aback that she would ask.
“Is everything okay?” I ask.
Lily says, “Yes, fine.” She says that we have an alarm. We pay for it. We might as well use it. She isn’t wrong—it’s just that she’s never wanted to before.
I set the alarm. I make my way around the first floor, turning off lights. It takes a minute. When I’m done, I climb the stairs for the bedroom. Lily has the lights off in the room now. She stands at the window in the dark, with her back to the door.
She’s splitting the blinds apart with her fingers and is looking out into the dark night.
I come quietly into the room. I sidle up behind Lily, setting my hand on the small of her back and asking, “What are you looking at?” as I lean forward to set my chin on her shoulder, to see what she sees.
Suddenly Lily reels back, away from the window. She drops the blinds. They clamor shut. I’ve scared her. Instinctively, her hands rise up in self-defense, as if to strike me.
I pull back, ducking before I get hit. “Whoa there, Rocky,” I say, reaching for her arms.
Lily’s hands and arms remain motionless, suspended in air.
“Shit, sorry,” she says, knowing how close she came to im- pact. The realization startles us both.
“What was that?” I ask as I gently lower Lily’s arms. Lily isn’t usually so jumpy. I’ve never seen that kind of reaction from her.
She says, “I didn’t know it was you.”
“Who did you think it was?” I ask, as a joke. She and I are the only ones here.
Lily doesn’t answer directly. Instead she says, “I didn’t hear you come up the stairs. I thought you were still downstairs.”
That doesn’t explain it.
“What are you looking at?” I ask again, gazing past her for the window.
“I thought I heard something outside,” she says.
She says that she doesn’t know. Just something. We stand, quiet, listening. It’s silent at first, but then I hear the voices of kids rising up from somewhere outside. They’re laughing, and I know there are teenagers clowning around on the trail again. It wouldn’t be the first time. They never do anything too bad, though we’ve found cigarette butts and empty bottles of booze. I don’t get mad about it. I was a stupid teenager once. I did worse.
I go to the bed. I pull the blankets back. “It’s just dumb kids,
Lily. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Come to bed,” I say, but, even as she turns away from the window and slips under the sheets with me, I sense Lily’s hesitation. She’s not so sure.