Catarina squawked as the door opened. Amber felt the warmth of the small room reach out as she walked up the steps. Josie moved aside to let her in, and immediately she was wrapped in the nearly-uncomfortable heat generated by the fire.
“She doesn’t like the cold,” Josie said. “Being tropical and all.”
Amber knew Josie well enough to know that this fire was lit for his guests, her and the bird—mostly the bird. A frugal man, he would have kept the knit hat and leather gloves on rather than indulge in the heat. But he wasn’t stingy. He gave whatever he could to the people he cared about, and Josie cared about Amber, and because of his affection for Lorraine, he cared about the bird too.
“When’s Lorraine back?” Amber asked.
“Next week. Visiting a sick cousin, or aunt, or niece, or something in Florida,” he said.
It was starting to get too hot in the room for Amber, so she took off her gloves, her scarf, her hat, her wool coat. Because of her discomfort, she had not thought what removing her coat would reveal. She hadn’t planned how to explain or prepare Josie for this. He saw her belly. He caught her eye and looked down again.
It was the first thing, the only thing, he said in that moment. Of course it would be, she thought, though the math on that was impossible and soon he would run the numbers, count the days since finding Jimmy’s body, and know some of what she knew. This baby was not Jimmy’s. How could she make him understand that the father of this child had hands that reminded her of Jimmy? Not that his hands were the same as Jimmy’s. No. Jimmy’s were rough. They worked. They helped out building and fixing things around the park. The baby’s father’s hands were those of a part time math professor at the college; his hands held pencils and cheated at card games in the casino. His hands were soft and delicate, his fingers thinner than her own. Whenever he took her hand, she felt how vulnerable they were, thought that if she wanted to, she could squeeze and the bones would break. How could she tell Josie this in a way he could understand?
**This is some work I did today on the first draft of the novella, Deciduous, that I am working on for Spout Hill Press.