Kathy was scrubbing the final streaks of fingerpaint from the kitchen table when a hissing from the stove made her domestic senses tingle. She turned just in time to see a glob of half-cooked rice lurch over the rim of the boiling pot and escape under the glowing burner.
"Darn you," she scolded the offending appliance. "I wanted everything to be perfect."
With a grace born from experience, she sailed across the kitchen floor, snatched a potholder from the countertop as she passed and slid the surviving rice to safety.
In seven years of marriage, she had never attempted to cook Caribbean Chicken. For years Jim raved how his mother would cook it for him on special occasions. It was always perfect—at least that's how he remembered it.
Fighting back an urge to panic, Kathy jerked open the oven to check on the rest of Jim's surprise. As long as the chicken was okay, everything else was salvageable. To her relief, her anxious sniffs were rewarded by a tangy and mouthwatering aroma.
"Smells perfect to me," she reassured herself.
There was a familiar rapping at the back door and JoAnne’s stylized perm and mascara-laden eyes peered over the kitchen’s cafe curtains. Good, Kathy thought. She would still have plenty of time before Jim came home to give Josh a bath, change her clothes, and put on a fresh pot of rice.
JoAnne swept into the kitchen. "Sorry if I'm late, but I’ve had a day you wouldn’t believe."
Kathy smiled a greeting, then shot a furtive glace at the clock on the microwave. "Well, I suppose you’ll want to collect Tristan and head right home, then." She stepped into the living room. “Tristan!," she called. "Your mother is here!"
JoAnne looked annoyed. "Aren't you going to ask me about my day?" she pouted.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Kathy apologized, pulling Tristan's coat from the hall closet. "Today was the day you gave your presentation, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was," JoAnne replied, clearly miffed. "And everything went just splendidly. Unless I miss my guess, I should be using the executive washroom in no time."
“Oh, that reminds me...” Kathy disappeared into the laundry room and came out with a neatly-folded bundle. “Tristan almost went potty by himself today.” She offered the bundle to JoAnne, who recoiled as if it was a dead rat. “Don’t worry,” Kathy giggled, “I washed them for you.”
"I should think so." She accepted the package with two fingers. "The sooner he starts using the toilet the better. Between diapers and my regular sitter, I'll never be able to afford my vacation this year."
“Uh-oh,” Kathy sighed under her breath. “Here it comes...”
"Have I mentioned that I've decided to try Barbados this year? Maui has become so commercialized, you know. From what I've heard, a girl like me can hardly wiggle into her bikini before every Bajan man on the beach..."
Kathy didn’t tune her out on purpose, but she had heard it all before. It wouldn’t be so bad if she could contribute something to the conversation, but JoAnne never seemed very impressed by stories of her yearly camping trips to Yosemite with her family.
“...so I told him, ‘Listen, after working all year I deserve those two weeks so don’t even try to shirk your responsibilities as Tristan’s father.’ That shut him up real quick, y'know?”
“Oh, which reminds me, would you mind watching Tristan again next Saturday night? I finally landed a date with that cutie I’ve been telling you about from the accounting department. Ordinarily I wouldn’t ask, but my usual sitter charges an arm and a leg for overnighters.”
Kathy hesitated for a moment. “Well, I teach my regular children's Bible study class that evening, but I'm sure Josh would love to bring him along.”
“It’s all set then.” JoAnne inched towards the door. “Now, if you don’t mind, could you go collect that son of mine? I picked up a rather expensive bottle of Chardonnay to celebrate my presentation and the sooner he is in bed the sooner I can pop the cork.”
* * *
Kathy placed the storybook she had just read to Josh for the zillionth time on the nightstand and slid into bed next to Jim, who was blissfully sleeping off three helpings of Caribbean Chicken.
Life was good.
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