“We’re leaving? Tomorrow?” Jamie kicked at the bottom of the door to the room he had been sharing with Noreen.
“We have to go back,” Joellen said as evenly as she could. “You have school. You’re already missing the first day back after Thanksgiving.”
“But the guys and I were going to play in their schoolyard today,” he pouted. “We had it all planned.”
“You mean the boys you met at Thanksgiving dinner? At Alva’s Café?” Joellen asked. She didn’t realize he’d already made friends. Some things were so easy for boys. Give them a ball to throw and someone to catch it and they were set. Even as this thought surfaced another one pushed it away and she knew he was worried about what was going on between his parents. He just didn’t show it in the open.
“I want to go home,” Noreen said. “I miss Daddy.”
“Jamie,” she said, “you can play with them until it gets dark today. Then you have to come back here. I’ve already made the train reservations. It’s all set.”
“Can I take Bugs out?” Jamie asked, tying his shoelaces, already in a hurry to get out of the house.
“You’ll have to ask Mr. Marv that,” she answered. “Come on, Norey. You can help Mommy pack our things up.”
Joellen was trying to keep busy, stay on task, not think about how she would handle getting the restraining order, locking Brent out of the house, dealing with his anger. She had considered not going back at all. But with the children and school and all their activities that would have been impossible. In twelve years they had built a honeycomb of interlocking structures that tied the family together. Now she had taken one of those cells – the church one – and split it off from the others. But not before Brent had ruptured the faithfulness cell. The other cells would collapse one by one, or maybe in batches, like a wall that has a crack and begins falling apart one stone at a time until a whole section crumbles away and the wall neither contains nor protects anymore. Joellen could not consider, at this time, her own part in this breakdown, her hungering after North Karlson, her lack of control over her own passion. Yet she knew without voicing it, that she too had long ago failed, in some fundamental way, to build her marriage vows into some permanent structure with more than the outward appearance of unity. The bonds of matrimony. Funny word, she thought now, bonds. And here was Noreen, bringing to her mother articles of clothing, shoes, a stuffed animal, a handbag and the toys purchased on this trip. Joellen’s hands shook as she thought about what was to come, that she could possibly lose her own children in the looming battle.
“Mommy,” Noreen stood next to her. “Can we take Bugs home with us, too?”
Joellen sat down on the end of the bed and pulled Noreen to her, hugging her little daughter, stroking her fine hair.
“Oh, no, Norey,” she said. “Bugs lives here with Mr. Marv. He has to stay.”
“Can we come back to see him again?” she asked her mother.
“Maybe,” Joellen said. “Maybe we’ll come back to visit Bugs and Mr. Marv. Do you like it here”
Noreen nodded. “I like Miss Alva and Mr. Marv. And I like Bugs. It’s nice here. Can Daddy come to stay here, too, when we come back?”
“We’ll see,” said Joellen. “Well see.” She repeated it under her breath, as a caution to herself.