Four sample-size cans of paint lay scattered around her, but Cat could only focus on the letter in her hand. She’d memorized it by the time Ben found her on the floor of their sunroom, but she scanned it one more time before handing it over to him. Truth be told, she shoved it toward his chest. His confused expression shifted toward concern at the tears in her eyes.
“They say I have to paint it,” she said.
He didn’t have to ask more than that — or read the letter already creased into softness by her warm palms. The first request to re-paint their front door had come in the form of a quick note, hand delivered to their mailbox. Three beers into Tailgate Saturday meant Ben crumpled the handwritten note and tossed it into the charcoal grill. Painting their front door sunflower yellow was less of a crime than shoving a note into someone’s mailbox without the express permission offered by a postage stamp, no matter what the homeowner’s association might believe.
“You don’t have to paint anything,” he said.
He loosened his tie before sinking to the floor next to Cat. She imagined the tightly buttoned shirt made the drive home feel closer to summer than fall. Cat never understood why he didn’t pull it off the second he got into his car, why he waited until he kissed her hello before shedding that small column of silk.
“I think it’s the fourth notice,” Cat said. She reached for the letter as though she hadn’t carved its words into her consciousness. “It talks about the neighborhood association’s lawyers.”
She could see him casting his memory back. It was crisper than hers most days, but now it teemed with case studies and obscure laws he needed to commit to memory before taking the bar exam in a state that refused reciprocity seemingly on the basis of principle.
“The one you threw in the fire. The postcard that referenced the specific by-law my paint broke.” Cat ticked them off on her fingers. “The first letter asking us to paint it an acceptable color. Now this one.”
“No proof of the first one,” he reminded her, as though she could forget that day.
Their two favorite couples had flown down for the weekend, long before the house felt ready for guests. The memory felt like a life preserver: beer and laughter, a Michigan football win, and an admonishment from their next door neighbor, who apparently worked nights. She would never forget that night, though now the six weeks felt like another lifetime.
The first note had turned to ash moments after they laughed about it with their college friends. The next two sat in the slim secretary desk in their office, nestled into the nook she’d made hers after Ben’s desk and bookcases failed to fill the space completely. Neither of them had realized how much square footage they’d actually gained until their move left them with barely enough furniture to eat and sleep.
They’d moved south knowing everything would be different. Ben’s job offer contained numbers she never truly thought she would see after years of law school bills supplemented by her job at the preschool. In Michigan, she’d juggled bills and decisions with ease. This new world felt foreign, though they’d only shifted south and west a single time zone.
Ben turned the paint sample cans over in his hands, holding them up to the early evening sunlight pouring through their sunroom windows. Even enveloped in worry, Cat admired those hands: nails neat and skin tanned just a little, large enough to easily grasp a football, though she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him pick up a ball. She pictured it now, tossing it across the yard that still needed so much work to make it their own.
“They’re all black,” he said.
His incredulity should have made her laugh, but it didn’t.
“Shades of charcoal. I checked. Grays are acceptable.”
“The whole damn house is gray,” he said. “That’s why you painted the door in the first place.”
“What if we hate it here?” she whispered the question, afraid to give voice to the fear.
“What are you talking about, Kit Cat? We conjured this neighborhood out of our dreams,” he said.
“I just miss our old house,” she said.
They hadn’t had a four-season room in the bungalow in Ann Arbor, or an attached garage. When they cooked together, one of them inevitably ended up splashing sauce on the floor of the galley kitchen. She’d wanted this house, this life, longer than she could remember.
His eyes caught hers, and she felt the heat rise in her cheeks.
“I mean, I don’t miss everything. It’s just so quiet! I don’t know. I want a shot of tequila and an unfiltered cigarette and a neighbor that won’t ask us to stop cheering about a football game at two in the afternoon.”
“In Bob’s defense, two of our friends were contemplating whether or not they could make a successful leap from our roof to a pool that hasn’t even been constructed yet,” Ben said.
A smile pushed at her cheeks against her wishes. “It wasn’t a quiet Tailgate Saturday.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
She slid across the floor into his open arms, unsure when he’d rolled up the sleeves of the white shirt. She’d once thought she’d iron them for him, but she knew better now. Instead, she sent them out to a cleaner who did them with enough efficiency she never worried about him looking rumpled.
Tonight, though, he was a little rumpled. The sun must have been beating down through the windows during his drive home. She traced figure eights onto the soft skin of his inner forearm, her restlessness looking for a home. The conversation looped around her biggest worries, unable to settle in their center.
“I want a shot of tequila,” she said.
His lips pressed into her hair, muffling his response.
“I can’t even remember the last time I’ve seen a shot glass in your hand,” he said.
She didn’t think that was true. They’d done shots at Marco’s wedding over Labor Day weekend, heat shimmering their buzzes into something reckless, something that made them feel like they were twenty again.
“Still,” she said. “I want one just the same.”
“Pour them out, love. It is Friday night, after all,” he said.
The laughter rumbling through his chest comforted her more than anything his words ever could. She pressed closer to him, searching for that feeling of home.
“I can’t,” she said. Her negation meant nothing without the pause, without the words she’d thought she’d say in a more photography-worthy way.
All of her worry rested between them — the move, the decision to start a family, the bright marigold color of the front door that made her smile each time she drove up to the house — and she couldn’t bring herself to search for the words for her tumble of emotions.
He heard them anyway.
She could feel excitement in his skin as he pulled her to her feet and swung her around and around until they fell back onto one of the battered chairs facing the sunset.
“We’re having a baby,” he said, breathless in a way she hadn’t heard in years.
“Well, technically, I’m the one doing the having,” she said.
She couldn’t remember how to feel unsure in the halo of his certainty.
“We’re having a baby,” he repeated.
She could see both dimples deepening his smile as he pulled her to her feet again, lacing her fingers in his and pulling her to the front of the house. He flung open the front door. The bright paint shined even brighter in the setting sun, burnishing his skin.
“Throw out the gray,” he said.
She’d forgotten the letter, and it came crashing back, unbidden, the idea that she had so much to learn about this new life.
“Throw it out,” he said again. “We’re having a baby, and you want a yellow door, and we’re going to have a yellow door.”
“But the neighborhood’s lawyers,” she said, the words sounding silly as she voiced them, trailing into nothingness against his smile.
“I’m a neighborhood lawyer, Cat,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”
She kissed him then, not caring about the couple walking their pug down the street, not caring that she couldn’t remember their names. She kissed Ben and thought she might always remember the way he tasted that night, warmth and sunlight, and a little like stale coffee. The pug’s name floated into her grasp.
“Gary,” she whispered.
“Ben,” he whispered back, eyebrows raised.
“The dog’s name is Gary,” she said.
“I think Gary likes the door,” Ben said, this time pulling her even closer.
“I love the door,” she said, meaning it even more when she felt it against her back, welcoming her home.