Everything fell apart when the doorbell rang.
Up until then, she was “keeping it together.” That’s what she was telling herself anyway. Deep breaths and pinching the layer of fat along her hip bones, as hard as she could, just to distract her brain. So she wouldn’t think about the pain. When she did, she squeezed harder.
It was the day before the party. The prep day. Grocery store, and coffee shop and bakery and then cleaning and chopping and making sure everything was just. Perfect.
The man at the coffee shop was new, he was leaning up against the light switch and kept turning it on and off with his back. He didn’t notice. How could he not notice? Everyone else in the coffee shop noticed. He was on the phone. He wasn’t paying any attention. The flicker of the lights was almost more than she could stand.
She pinched herself harder.
At home, with the groceries and the cake and the cheese and the impulse buys, the bone broth — why was she buying bone broth — she closed her eyes. She pet the dog. The dog was getting old, he didn’t bother to get up and greet her anymore when she got home. But he still had a shine in his eyes. He wagged his tail and she pet him in appreciation.
At home she unpacked her purchases, one by one. She didn’t know where to put the cake. Should she refrigerate it, until tomorrow? Or should she leave it at room temperature? If she put it in the fridge it might get cold. She’d have to rearrange everything else. She’d leave it out. But what if it got stale? What if the cake wasn’t any good. The cake had to be good. It had to be perfect.
The doorbell rang. The dog yelped, half-heartedly. He was too tired to care about anyone at the door anymore, really.
She looked up, distractedly. No one ever rang the doorbell. The doorbell was for strangers. Strangers, and children sometimes. The ones who didn’t realize, or were too young too understand. Mostly the neighbors left her alone now.
The doorbell rang, and she leaned over to look out the window. He stood there, anxiously, eyes moving from the front door to the window, where he could see her unpacking her groceries.
Their eyes met, and she sighed. He’d seen her. If she hadn’t been in the kitchen at that time, unpacking her things, she would never have opened the door. She’d have pretended she wasn’t home, and waited out the stranger at the door.
Except he wasn’t a stranger, was he?