I tasted trouble coming. It coated my tongue like a month old graham cracker found behind the car seat. I opened the door and entered our house.
Annie rushed from the hallway, hurdled a Little Tikes riding bus, and stood opposite me, hands on her hips, feet apart.
In the center of the living room, partially hidden beneath a soiled spit-up rag, the remote.
The clock on the wall began a lingering chime. High noon.
For a contracted moment neither of us spoke.
The muscle above my right eye begin to pulse. “So?”
“You gotta lot of nerve showin’ up just now.” She edged into the room.
An arid breeze swirled through the open window, lifting the yellowed drapes in a slow rustle, like soaked crib sheets drying on the clothesline after a nighttime Huggies blow-out. A dirty Kleenex tumbled across shag the color of strained peas; a spinning whirl of Cheerio dust followed near behind.
“Come on, Annie.” I moved from the entryway, my boots slowly inching onto the carpet. “You know when I get home and what I want.” The stubble on my chin prickled as I wiped my mouth.
The fingers at her side twitched, a smirk thinned her cocky lips. “Don’t be thinkin’ you’ll be gettin’ it.” She reached into the bottle holster slung around her waist. Her movements quickened as if searching, eyes glancing down then about the room.
“Lose something?” My voice was mocking.
Her gaze darted to our coffee table covered with baby powder, drool stains, and used diaper wipes… settling on the lumpy rag.
“It ain’t big enough for the both of us.” Stepping sideways, I began to circle along the wall, spiraling toward the center.
She countered, mirroring my actions, slinking with the coiled motion of an over-wound jack-in-the-box. “Touch that and you’ll regret it.”
“Really?” I lifted an eyebrow. “I’d say time’s come for a little Law and Order ‘round here.”
The wild green of her irises was narrowed by a menacing glare. “Nope. I’ll be takin’ you to General Hospital.”
I stopped, my eyes locked onto hers in a long, cold stare. “I reckon we best settle this.”
In that instant I darted between the rocking chair and baby swing.
Annie dove over the back of the sofa and through a pile of stained onesies, hand stretched, reaching. She snatched the remote and held it up with an exclamatory whoop.
I fell prone across the walker, knocking a mobile to the ground, and grasped her celebrating wrist as I crashed down. “You’re supposed to be…” I wrestled, pulling her to the floor. “…submissive to your husband!”
Her grip tightened. The TV clicked on.
Struggling, she yanked her captured hand, but not hard enough. “Well, where’s my sacrificial love?” She grunted and tried to spin away. “You’re supposed to give up everything for me. Otherwise I gotta take it myself.” Her nails pinched my side like baby teeth on a teething ring.
“Hey!” The remote pounded against the floor as I arched and twisted from her claws. The stations flipped wildly, filling the room with a strobing cacophony.
“Let go! Give it!”
Grabbing her hips with my knees, I rolled. “Jesus never gave a remote to nobody.” We tumbled over Duplos and Mr. Floppy Bunny, rolling together until a slimy pacifier smudged into her ear. She flailed, sending the control skittering away. I scampered from her, crawled past a dried carrot, and grabbed it.
“No!” Her voice sounded hurt.
“Mine! All mine!” I pointed toward the TV. “Yes, sweet victory.”
“Not fair!” Annie sulked onto the couch and slumped next to the spilled diaper bag, face in her hands. “You cheated.” A muffled cry slipped between her fingers.
“Ah, come on.” My stomach knotted. I sat and stroked her back. “It’s only one episode.”
“You know my show’s important to me—.” Her words became lost in a wrenching sob.
I dropped the remote and lifted her face with my palms, wiping the tears from stained cheeks. “I’m sorry, honey.”
She leaned against me, eyes round and glistening. Tilting her head, she pressed her lips to mine as her arms encircled my neck.
Mindless, I reclined into the stuffed animals as she caressed my temples. I felt her breath on my skin. Hot. Close.
A groan of satisfaction rippled through me.
Her fingers began to play with the buttons... both on my shirt and the remote.
She changed the channel.
I didn’t care.
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