Everyone told them that they had such a good marriage. Emma was thinking about this as she stirred, her hand drawing empty circles in the air, dragging the wooden spoon through the bowl. Her thoughts were wandering as Jared talked, though her eyes were fixed. She was staring at the picture of the two of them that sat on the table near the door. In it, they were clasping one another close and beaming at the camera, bright against the dappled grey background. That felt like so long ago, even though it was only a year. It was a lovely picture, though.
“Are you even listening to me?” Jared’s voice snapped her back to him.
She shook her head as if to loosen it. “Sorry, honey, what was that?”
His mouth tightened. “Nothing. I was just telling you about my day, was all. Nothing important.”
“No,” Emma protested. “I’m sorry, I was drifting. Tell me, darling.”
He folded his arms across his chest, dark eyes smoldering. “I went to work. I came home.”
She bit back a sigh, holding the breath locked in her chest so she wouldn’t puff into his irritation and blow it bigger. He hated when she did that. “Sweetheart, please. I really want to know, I didn’t mean to get distracted.”
Jared crooked his eyebrows at her, almost appeased. “You got distracted from me by a cake?”
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She frowned at him. “It’s a soufflé.” His shoulders sagged and she cursed at herself. Now he was annoyed again.
Emma stirred in silence, listening to the sound of her breath rustle in and out. She mixed, poured, and moved while Jared leaned against the wall, watching wordlessly.
They ate quietly. Jared told her about his day again, and she heard most of it. They would just have time – she had calculated the baking time so that it would be done ten minutes before they had to leave. They were going to Janet’s, and she’d promised to bring dessert. It was going to be a wonderful evening, she was sure. Their conversation meandered around the party, loitering at the subject of the guest list and skipping over Janet’s mother’s new illness.
Emma got up twice to check on the soufflé. It looked gorgeous, she thought. It was puffing up ever so gently, just peeking over the rim of the pan. The smell of it, delicate and sweet, spread through the kitchen. When she and Jared were more or less finished eating she swept the plates up and into the sink, sliding the food into the trash and leaving all the dishes in a neat stack. Jared came up behind her.
“I wasn’t done with dinner.”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry, dear, I thought you were. It looked like you were just picking at what was left – ”
“Emma, you always do that.” His voice rose and bellowed at her, and she flinched. “You always just decide what you want to be true and then pretend it is. I wasn’t done eating!”
She shrank away. “Sweetie, it’s just dinner. There’s some left in the pot, I’ll get you more. It’s not such a big deal.”
“Of course not.” His voice was flat now, controlled. “It’s never a big deal when it’s something I’m upset about.”
“Really,” she persisted. “It’s just food. It actually doesn’t matter much.”
“No,” he said. “But if it were the other way around you’d glare at me like I’d betrayed you.”
She pounced on that. “I wouldn’t yell and make a fuss though.”
“You wouldn’t,” he agreed. “You wouldn’t make a scene, but you’d make me feel awful. As though I’d done something unforgivable. It’s always like that, like you have to have things exactly as you think they ought to be and if they’re not it’s my fault either way. You have this picture in your head of what I am and what you are and what this goddamn marriage is and you can’t stand anything that smudges the picture.”
She stared at him. “Jared. It’s just dinner. I just threw out your leftovers that I wasn’t supposed to. Goodness.”
“Stop it!” He was shouting again. “Stop acting like nothing is wrong. The dinner isn’t the problem. The problem is that you always do this and it’s driving me nuts. We have to eat dinner over polite conversation and be done when you say and arrive all stylish at Janet’s with a beautiful goddamn cake. You don’t even pay attention to me.”
She shook her head against his words, clinging to her, but they wouldn’t shake off. “No.” She looked at him, fuming, his face close to hers. She said, “soufflé.”
“Soufflé. Not cake.” Her voice was level, sensible.
Jared’s hands sprung up and quivered in the air in front of him, and then he spun. He snatched his coat from the hook and turned to the oven, where the screen was counting down seconds; 39, 38, 37. He shot a vindictive look at the fuzzy shape inside and stamped his foot down, hard. Emma felt it send a quake through the whole house, a soft dull crash, but she stood frozen and still. As the door slammed behind Jared, she buried her face in her hands and cried.