( SEVEN )
Two days later, as afternoon almost became evening, Emma was hand-washing dishes at the kitchen sink while also glaring at a pan on the stove, wondering why the sauce she was making wasn’t reducing the way the recipe said it ought to, when her phone beeped to tell her there was a new message.
She picked up the phone and looked at it, and saw the message was from Izzy. “I’m warning you this time,” it said.
Emma looked at the phone, wondering what that meant, and as she did, the doorbell chimed.
Then, Emma understood. She pulled off her rubber gloves, and left them balanced on the edge of the sink. She dried her hands, and went down the hall to the front door, and opened it.
Izzy was standing there.
“Thank you,” Emma said.
“I’m trying to be polite.”
“You were. Very.”
“I’ve been at home all day, and got a bit stir-crazy, so I went for a walk to get out the house. And well, I came past here, and saw the lights were on, so I thought I’d see if you were home.”
“I am home.”
Izzy grinned. “Yes, I can see.”
“You should have just knocked.”
“Except how you didn’t seem to like me doing that, last time.”
“Oh,” Emma said. “No, I suppose I didn’t.”
“This,” Izzy held up her phone. “Seemed safer.”
Emma nodded. “Fair enough. It probably was. Do you want to come in?”
Emma pushed the door further open, to let Izzy in, and then went back down the hall, leaving Izzy to close the door and follow her, which Izzy did.
“Wine?” Emma said, as she walked into the kitchen.
“Actually yes,” Izzy said. “If there is some, and you’re having it, and don’t mind…”
Emma got a bottle out of the pantry, and opened it. She took two glasses from the dish-rack that had already air-dried, poured wine into both, and held one out towards Izzy, which Izzy took. Emma left her own on the bench, and went over to stir the sauce on the stove, before she forgot to, wondering as she did whether she ought to just give up. Not yet, she thought, but soon. The sauce was really still quite runny.
She went back to the sink, where Izzy was standing, watching and sipping wine, and pulled her rubber gloves back on.
“You can dry,” she said impulsively to Izzy, and held out a teatowel.
Izzy took the towel without comment.
“Oh,” Emma said, slightly surprised. She had expected Izzy to refuse. “Sorry, give that back. You don’t have to dry if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Are you sure? I was just…” Being silly, she supposed. Teasing.
“It’s fine. I really don’t mind.”
“Okay. Then thank you.”
Emma washed a plate, and put it in the rack in front of Izzy. Izzy picked it up it, and wiped it dry, and then said, “Where does it go?”
Emma reached up and opened a cupboard above them. “There.”
Izzy put the plate away.
They washed two more plates. Then a bowl.
“You know there’s a dishwasher right there, don’t you?” Izzy said, after a moment.
“I mean, I assume that’s what it is, and that it came as part of the kitchen. Since it’s exactly the same as mine.”
“Yep, I assume. It’s the same oven, too.”
Izzy looked over. “Oh, yeah, so it is.”
Emma grinned, and held out another bowl.
“What I meant,” Izzy said. “Is hey look, there’s a dishwasher right here, but yet we’re washing dishes by hand.”
“Yes we are.”
“You don’t use the dishwasher?” Izzy said.
Emma shook her head. “Not always, no.”
“Should I ask why?”
Emma thought. Why was quite complicated, and she wasn’t actually sure she knew how to explain it properly. “You could ask,” she said slowly.
“I could, but should I?”
Emma hesitated. She was wondering that, too. “I’m not sure.”
“Do you not want me to?” Izzy said, sounding concerned.
Emma shrugged. This was suddenly getting complicated, she thought. More complicated than it really ought to be. “I don’t know,” she said. “Ask if you want, I suppose.”
“But do you mind?”
“Then I think I have to,” Izzy said.
“Yes,” Emma said. She ought to have expected that. “Yes, I suppose you do.”
“And also, there’s the honesty thing….”
“Yes there is.”
“Meaning you really do have to explain, now. No matter how complicated it is.”
Emma sighed. “Yes I suppose I do.”
“So, well… why?”
Emma considered, trying to put it into words. She had started hand-washing dishes months ago, at first just for something to do, to fill in her days. Then, once she started, she’d found, to her surprise, that she actually quite liked doing it. It gave her an odd sense of accomplishment to bother, and do everything by hand, when there was a dishwasher right next to her which she could have used instead. It gave her a sense of satisfaction to do it, and feel that she was making more effort, and taking more care, than she would have otherwise.
“It gives me something to do,” she said after a moment. It was the truth, mostly, or as much as she thought Izzy needed to know.
“And it feels good to finish too?” Izzy said. “It feels good to do something, no matter what it is, and doing dishes is easier than actually cleaning the floors or whatever?”
Emma looked at Izzy for a moment, surprised. “Yeah,” she said. “I suppose so.”
“I get it,” Izzy said.
Izzy nodded. “I’m home all day too, remember?”
“Ah,” Emma said. “Yeah, I suppose you are.”
“I get it,” Izzy said. “I don’t think it’s odd at all.”
Emma kept looking at her. “Odd?”
“You think it’s odd?” Emma said, uncertainly.
“No, not really. Why, do you?”
“Well, no,” Emma said. “Not odd. Not until right then, anyway. When you said it was.”
Izzy grinned, and picked up another plate to dry. “Sorry.”
“No you aren’t.”
Izzy kept grinning. “Not really.”
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Well, anyway. That’s why.”
Izzy nodded. “I do get it,” she said again.
Emma washed a saucepan, and then a large salad bowl. Izzy dried both, standing at the sink beside Emma, close enough that their elbows touched, and occasionally their hips as well. Izzy was sipping wine as she dried, and reaching up and around Emma to put things away, asking, every so often, “Where does this go?” and “What about this?”, until Emma took off her rubber gloves, took the tea-towel away from Izzy, dried her hands, and handed Izzy the gloves and the dish-brush.
“This way around might actually make more sense,” she said.
“Probably,” Izzy said, grinning, and pulled the gloves on.
Izzy washed several plates, which Emma dried and put away, and somehow, as Izzy washed, she still managed to bump up against Emma every now and then. She was bumping carelessly, grinning while she did, and each time it happened Emma felt something, a tingle, or a spark, something she wasn’t used to and couldn’t quite identify.
Emma looked at Izzy a few times, quizzically, but Izzy just smiled innocently back.
“What’s going on?” Emma said quietly, after a several more bumps.
“How do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I really don’t,” Izzy said, and bumped Emma again.
“That,” Emma said, and put another plate away.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Izzy said, firmly.
Emma decided not to bother arguing, and picked up another plate to dry. Izzy kept washing, sloshing crockery around in the soapy water. She didn’t stop bumping, though, and Emma wasn’t entirely sure she wanted her to.
Suddenly, Emma heard the rumble of the garage door opening. It carried through the house in a particular, very recognisable way.
She stopped washing dishes, and looked at Izzy.
“What’s wrong?” Izzy said.
“Um,” Emma said. “Hear that? So Mark just got home…”
Emma listened. The garage door had stopped rumbling. It would be open, now, while Mark drove in.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “It was the garage door opening, but that doesn’t really matter.”
Izzy nodded. “Okay.”
“So Mark’s about to walk in.”
“Oh,” Izzy said.
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Should I maybe have warned you he was about to turn up?”
Izzy shrugged. “You didn’t need to especially.”
“I think maybe I should have,” Emma said.
“There’s really no reason you should.”
Emma nodded, distractedly. She put another cup away slowly. “So ah, Mark just got home and is about to walk in here.”
Izzy looked puzzled. “Yeah, I know. You said. And I said okay.”
“And I heard you. But all the same… um…. just… behave.”
Izzy seemed surprised. “I’m behaving.”
“Really do,” Emma said, slightly desperately. “Please.”
“I am,” Izzy said, smiling. “I will.”
Emma wasn’t sure what Izzy’s smile meant. She looked at Izzy, wondering, but Izzy just grinned back, unhelpfully. Emma thought for a moment, then pushed Izzy, very deliberately and fairly hard, so that Izzy took a step sideways, and was suddenly a little further away.
“Hey,” Izzy said, when Emma pushed her.
“Behave,” Emma said. “And behave over there.”
“Yeah,” Izzy said. She looked at Emma for a moment, then said, “Um, maybe I should go.”
Emma was surprised. “You don’t have to,” she said.
“Maybe I should,” Izzy said. “Actually, I think I probably should.”
Emma hesitated. She didn’t want to agree, and admit she knew exactly why Izzy thought she ought to go. She didn’t want to disagree, either, and pretend she didn’t know, in case Izzy took her seriously and explained, which would just be awkward, and at an awful moment for such a conversation, too.
“You don’t need to go,” Emma said, weakly.
“Nah, I will.”
For a moment, Emma considered just letting Izzy go. She considered it, but she didn’t want to. It seemed dishonest, to let Izzy leave under such circumstances, assuming the things she would assume about why she was leaving. And it seemed silly, as well, like a silly overreaction, since she didn’t actually want Izzy to go just yet.
“No,” Emma said, deciding. “Don’t go yet. Stay and finish your drink.”
Izzy looked down at her glass. It was still half-full of wine, but she looked as if she was seriously considering tipping it back, and drinking it all in one go, just to finish it.
“Don’t be stupid,” Emma said. “Just finish it normally, and then go when you’re ready.”
“Okay,” Izzy said, doubtfully. She didn’t seem convinced, but she sipped her wine and stayed where she was anyway.
“Thank you,” Emma said quietly.
Izzy shrugged, but still looked slightly uncomfortable.
Emma heard the internal garage door open. It was around the corner, through a doorway, opening into the laundry. She heard Mark come through, and close it behind him. He always seemed to take a little longer than Emma expected to organize himself and get out of the car.
“I’m home,” Mark called.
“Hey,” Emma called back, then lowered her voice as Mark came into the kitchen. “Izzy’s here too,” she added quickly, in case Mark somehow didn’t notice. “Don’t say anything awful.”
“Like what?” Mark said to Emma, then, to Izzy, “Hi.”
“Like anything,” Emma said, uncertainly. “I don’t know.”
“Hi,” Izzy said back to Mark.
Mark came over, and kissed Emma. Emma kissed back, slightly awkwardly, uncomfortably aware of Izzy watching, almost staring, as Mark did so. She wasn’t sure why being watched made her uncomfortable, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to think about why too much, either. She kissed him quickly, determinedly, hoping she wasn’t giving any obvious sign of her discomfort. Hoping she wasn’t flinching, or looking slightly guilty or reluctant. She hoped not, and didn’t think she was. Mark didn’t seem to notice anything different, anyway. He didn’t react as if he had. He just kissed her, and then stepped back slightly, and smiled at Izzy, so that was probably all right.
“Wine?” Emma said to him, and picked up the bottle and held it out.
He shook his head. “I have more work to do.”
“Oh,” Emma said. “Yeah, okay.”
Mark was looking past her, she noticed, staring slightly. He was surprised how Izzy looked, perhaps, Emma thought. Or just that she was there.
Emma turned around. “This is Izzy,” she said, “And this is Mark. Obviously.”
“You already said that,” Mark told her.
Emma thought. “No I didn’t,” she said. “I said she was here. That’s all. Now I’m saying this is her.”
Mark just looked at her, like she was being silly, and too pedantic. Emma didn’t really think she was. Saying someone was there, and introducing them, those were two different things. She almost said so, pointing that out, but then decided not to.
It would be stupid to have a fight about nothing, while Izzy was there. And pointing something like that out to Mark was fairly certain to start a fight.
It would be stupid to have a fight at all, actually, and especially in front of anyone else, no matter who is was. But for some reason it seemed especially stupid to have one in front of Izzy.
Emma didn’t think she wanted to spend too much time thinking about exactly why.
Instead, she just stood where she was, watching quietly, not arguing, and hoping nothing awful was about to happen.
Izzy stood where she was too, looking from Emma to Mark. She didn’t seem to know what to do. Emma didn’t know either, and was desperately trying to think of something to say. She couldn’t think of anything sensible, hard as she thought, and the silence was beginning to get slightly awkward. It was beginning to drag on a little too long.
Emma opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again. She still had no idea what to say.
She kept thinking, getting nowhere, and starting to feel frantic. In the end, though, fortunately, she didn’t need to say anything.
Mark stepped forwards, towards Izzy, holding out his hand. Izzy understood, and took it, and shook quickly. Mark shook back, looking at her. Studying her, almost, Emma thought. In fact, she suddenly noticed, they were both studying each other. They both seemed uncertain, and thoughtful, and also a little wary, too. What was happening here felt odd, to Emma. It felt like Izzy and Mark were sizing each other up, as if they were about to fight. Or disagree. Or something.
Emma looked from Izzy to Mark and back to Izzy. She hoped they wouldn’t fight. She hoped they’d both get over themselves and calm down.
Emma took a slow breath, thinking. She looked at Mark and Izzy’s faces, at their expressions, and suddenly began to wonder if she was being unfair. She might be judging them too harshly, she thought, by expecting them to fight. She might well be assuming the worst in a way that neither of them deserved. Neither Izzy nor Mark actually seemed hostile to the other, not as far as Emma could tell. Rather, they both just seemed slightly uncomfortable. It suddenly occurred to Emma that she might be making too much of the awkwardness in the room, and that, perhaps with a slightly guilty conscience, she could be assuming it was something worse than it was. She might be imaging all sorts of hostility that wasn’t actually there, she realized, when actually the faint tension in the room was just because both Mark and Izzy felt ill at ease with one another, and didn’t know what to say next.
They didn’t know each other, Emma thought. Not except through her. They didn’t know each other, and were both suddenly face to face, unexpectedly. They were probably just at a loss for words, and wondering what to do now. They both probably wanted to be friendly, and polite, but didn’t know exactly how.
That was all it was, Emma decided. That was what she wanted it to be, anyway. She was assuming the worst, and she ought not do that.
Not when she could just fix this situation instead.
“Okay,” Emma said suddenly, deciding, after all, that by speaking she might be able to get rid of the odd tension between Mark and Izzy. She hoped she could, anyway, and she had no idea how else she might be able to do it, so it was say something, anything, and hope it helped, or stay silent and let this awkwardness drag on and on.
“Well…” she said, and then swallowed and stopped, helplessly. She still had no idea what to actually say.
She opened her mouth and then closed it again.
Mark and Izzy looked at her anyway. They had both seemed relieved, momentarily, when Emma had spoken, and now seemed slightly confused that she had stopped again. They looked at her, uncertainly, as if waiting for her to continue.
“Well, what?” Mark said, after a moment.
“Well there you go,” Emma said, thinking quickly. “You’ve met. Wasn’t that fun?”
Mark kept looking at Emma for a moment, confused. Then he grinned.
Suddenly Emma felt better. Suddenly it felt like this wasn’t the enormous problem she was imagining it to be.
She glanced at Izzy, and grinned, and Izzy grinned back.
“All right,” Emma said, relieved that everyone seemed to be smiling again. Even though she still had no idea what to do next.
She took a breath, and looked at the other two, and saw they were both still looking at her. Because she had just spoken, she supposed.
She almost panicked.
“Okay,” she said quickly. Then, “Right.” Then, to Mark, “So you go and do work, if that was what you were going to do…?”
“So you go do that, and I’ll finish cooking, and then I’ll call you in a bit, when it’s ready. Soon.”
Mark nodded. “Okay,” he said. He started towards the hallway, then stopped and looked back. “Are you staying?” he said to Izzy.
He was just asking, Emma thought. He was just being polite. It didn’t mean anything that he’d asked. Especially, it didn’t mean that everything was about to get awkward again.
Even though it probably would, if Izzy stayed.
It almost certainly would.
“No,” Emma said quickly, before Izzy could answer. “She can’t. She has a thing. She was about to go.”
“Oh,” Mark said. “Okay then. Well, it was nice to meet you.”
“Same,” Izzy said.
Mark left the room. He was going upstairs, to the spare bedroom, Emma assumed. That was where he usually worked, when he worked at home. She was fairly sure he’d end up there, sure enough that she didn’t feel the need to go and make sure.
Why she might need to be sure, and what she imagined she would be doing downstairs that needed hiding from Mark, she didn’t want to think too much about.
She took a slow breath, and felt better, suddenly, now that Mark and Izzy weren’t in the same room. It felt as though some awful potential for problems had just disappeared. It hadn’t gone too badly, she thought, relieved. It didn’t seem to have, anyway. She still wasn’t completely quite sure what to think, though.
She took a slow breath, and looked around. And suddenly realized that Izzy was looking at her.
Izzy had stayed where she was, leaning backwards against the kitchen bench, as Mark left the room. Once he had, she must have looked over at Emma.
And then kept looking.
She was staring at Emma, and seemed to have been for several seconds by the time Emma realized.
Emma was startled. She wasn’t sure why Izzy was staring.
Flustered, she looked away. She avoided Izzy’s gaze, without quite knowing why she was. She went back to the stove, without looking at Izzy, and stirred the sauce. It was finally starting to thicken, she noticed. She stood there, watching the sauce bubble for a moment, wondering what to do next.
She wasn’t sure.
She had absolutely no idea.
She had no idea, so obviously, she went back over to Izzy. Carefully, deliberately, she went back over to the sink, to Izzy’s side, and picked up another plate to dry.