I looked up at Michelle, who had tears in her eyes, and winked at her. “It’s okay,” I mouthed.
She nodded, but I knew she was rattled.
I cut the lasagna and scooped squares onto everyone’s plates as Michelle cut a section into microscopic pieces for Maura, who was squealing for food.
“At least we have one fan so far.” I nodded toward Maura.
Michelle scraped pieces of the lasagna off of her plate and onto Maura’s tray as she laughed. “Well, she eats dirt off the floor and chews on shoes, so don’t get too excited.”
Dinner was fantastic. Matthew had not one but two huge pieces of lasagna and ate the salad like he thought someone was going to take it away from him.
“I’ve never seen him eat this good—ever,” Michelle whispered as he kept shoveling it in.
“Good.” I nodded. “What do you think?”
“I think if we continue these lessons, I’m gonna have to start going to the gym.” She giggled.
I scooped up another piece of lasagna and without thinking, said, “Oh, please. You have the most perfect body I’ve ever seen.”
Her eyes flashed up to me for a quick second and I cringed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I mean, it’s true, but I shouldn’t have said it. I’m gonna stop talking now.” I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead, suddenly wishing I were anywhere else.
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I appreciate it. I don’t get too many compliments hanging around here all day. It was nice to hear, actually.”
Thankfully, we finished dinner without any other fuckups from me. Michelle wiped down Maura’s face and put her in the playpen in the family room while Matthew took off down the hall toward his playroom. She took a plastic container out of the cabinet and started scooping the leftover lasagna into it. I was stacking the dirty dishes on the counter when a few dots of something hit the side of my face. I wiped it off with the back of my hand and stared down at it. Sauce.
Michelle’s eyes were huge as she covered her mouth with her hands, stifling a laugh. “I’m so sorry,” she mumbled from behind them. “I was scooping the lasagna into the container and the spoon caught the edge and when it flicked, sauce went everywhere.”
“No problem.” I shrugged, grinning innocently at her. As soon as she turned back toward what she was doing, I picked up the wooden spoon, which also had sauce on it, and flung it her way. Drops of tomato sauce peppered her hair and the side of her face as she gasped.
With her mouth hanging open, she spun to face me. “Mine was an accident!” She reached into the salad bowl and grabbed a handful of lettuce, launching it in my direction. Using one of the extra plates on the counter as a shield, I grabbed a handful of the mushrooms we didn’t use and threw them at her, laughing hard as they bounced off of her head.
“That’s it!” she growled as she took the spoon out of the bowl and snapped it toward me again. Huge globs of sauce splattered all over the cabinets, the counter, and me.
It. Was. On.
I took a huge spoonful of sauce out of the pan and launched it at her. She ducked behind the island for most of it, but one big blob landed on the top of her head.
“Okay, okay!” Both of her hands stuck up from behind the island. “Truce! You win. I concede.”
“Deal.” I set the bowl down with a smug grin on my face.
She stood up slowly and I couldn’t contain my laugh. Her whole front—her face, her shirt, and her pink apron—was dotted with red sauce and the big blob that had landed on her head was now dripping off loose flyaway pieces of her hair from her ponytail.
“We’re not gonna do that every time, right?” she pouted playfully as she walked over, grabbing a dish towel off the counter. I had the sudden urge to pull her to me and lick the sauce off that pout, but I blinked hard to force the thought out of my mind.
“Hey, you started it,” I teased, bumping her with my elbow as I wiped my hands on another towel.
“Yeah, but I also got the worst of it,” she whined, turning to face me.
She wasn’t kidding. Little spots of sauce were on her forehead, cheeks, even in her eyebrows.
I reached out and gently swiped at a tiny dot on the end of her nose as she blinked up at me. “That’ll teach you not to start something you can’t finish.”
As her blue eyes bore into mine, something shifted between us. I had no idea what the fuck it was, but I couldn’t look away if I wanted to, which I didn’t. As we stood there and stared at each other, not talking, that familiar feeling of guilt tugged at my heart again. But it wasn’t the guilt from hurting Mike; it was different. I liked this. I liked being in the kitchen with her. I liked being with her, period.
“Momma!” Matthew called out from down the hall. “My movie is over. Can you get the Legos down for me?”
Michelle blinked and looked away, wiping her face with the dish towel before leaving the kitchen.
Fuck. Leave the house now.
I turned toward the sink and gripped the edge of the counter.
“Calm the fuck down,” I said to myself quietly. “It was just a food fight.”
Yeah? Then why is your heart racing, asshole?
While Michelle was down the hall with Matthew, my phone beeped. I frowned at the screen, not recognizing the number. I hit the button anyway and opened it.
Hey, Viper! It’s Anna… Portland. Listen, I can’t stop thinking about the other night and how sweet you were when you were in here with the kids. I’m off tonight and was wondering if you were free? Let me know! XOXO
I stared down at that message for about ten seconds and deleted it.
“Ahhh, Legos to the rescue,” Michelle joked as she came back into the kitchen. She noticed my phone in my hand and motioned toward it. “Who’s that? Do you need to go?”
“Nope. No one important.” I set my phone down on the counter and turned back to Michelle. “Let me help you clean up this mess before the sauce dries onto your cabinets.”
THE MORNING AFTER Lasagnagate 2015, I sat at the kitchen table, zoning out while Maura and Matthew slept in. Technically, they weren’t sleeping in, but I was up earlier than normal. I hadn’t slept much the night before, not in a while, actually.
I stared out into the backyard, replaying the night before over and over in my head. The way Viper’s arms had flexed when he stirred the onions and mushrooms in the pan. The way he’d smelled when he leaned in close and put those same arms around me to show me how to layer the noodles just perfectly. The playful grin on his face as he’d flicked red sauce all over me. The way he’d looked at me when he wiped the sauce off the end of my nose. All those memories made the butterflies in my stomach, which were still there from last night, wake up and start fluttering again.
We’d had a moment. A definite moment where I’d stared up at him, begging for something, but I wasn’t sure if it was for him to kiss me or leave and never come back.
My phone beeped, and it scared me so bad I nearly fell out of my chair.
My daily Viper text.
V: Good morning.
I took a deep breath, silently begging the butterflies to not only calm down, but to go away altogether. This couldn’t happen. We couldn’t happen.