What bothers me, though, is the creeping sense that whenever I’m around Margot, I’m out of control.
Excerpted from chapter 22 of THE HUNTING WIVES by May Cobb, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by May Cobb.
THE CHURCH IS freezing after the blast of sun at the lake. I wrench my cover-up around me and pad down the hallway, my flip-flops slapping the linoleum floors as I make my way to Jack’s classroom.
It’s not a second past two thirty but he’s the last one here, and Ms. Marcie, his sweet but overly zealous Christian teacher, is antsy. She’s coating the surface of a little round table with a mist of Lysol and wiping it clean in agitated circles with a wad of paper towels.
Ugh. I’m becoming my mother. Something I promised myself I’d never do to Jack. Nikki arriving perpetually late to collect me from school, her waist-length hair shaggy and wild, excuses to the teacher spewing from her coral-lipsticked mouth. I can remember my face reddening when Nikki would interact with the other adults in my childhood sphere, and that peculiar, twisty feeling of being embarrassed for her.
I keep my distance. I don’t want Ms. Marcie to smell the booze or sin on me.
Jack clocks me, drops a gnawed-on book to the floor, and toddles over, leaping into my arms. Hugging him tightly, I ask Ms. Marcie over his shoulder, “How was his day?”
“Fine! He got really into painting today. With a brush, not just finger painting. And he ate all of his lunch! No nap, though, just so you’re warned.” She smiles and returns to the can of Lysol.
I sling his backpack over my shoulder and we head for the car. After I’ve buckled him in his seat, my phone dings.
Graham: I’m picking up Pizza King tonight! And also, a surprise!
My face slouches into a frown; my shoulders sag with guilt. I am a truly terrible person. I feel sunstroked and icky. How could I have done that to him? And, also, I completely abandoned making the chicken potpie, which makes me feel even worse about myself. If that’s possible.
I text him back:
I look in the rearview and Jack’s eyes are sealed shut, his cherub mouth slung open with the tip of his tongue hanging out.
I drive around the wooded neighborhood near the church for a few minutes, cruising slowly through the wide streets, so Jack can have a full nap before heading home.
AS I’M WAITING for our garage door to trundle open, I check my cell. There is a text from Margot.
Margot: I swear I didn’t know they were coming out! Please don’t be mad!
I’m not sure I believe her. My hand is still slimed with sunblock and I clutch the phone, trying to figure out how to respond. I begin typing but see that she’s working on a fresh text.
Margot: But it looks like you were having fun anyway. ;)
My neck burns with shame. She continues typing.
Margot: See you Friday?
Me: No worries!
I’m not admitting to anything. I quickly add:
Me: And yeah, I’ll be there!
Friday. Yikes. I’ll have to cancel on Erin. Again. I hate to do it, but she’s reasonable and understanding. She’ll let me make it up to her, I hope.
I THINK ABOUT deleting the text. But Graham isn’t the type who looks at my phone, so I leave it.
Anxiety pools in my stomach and chest. What have I done? I breathe. Remind myself that I didn’t even really kiss him. But still. I can still feel his hot chest against mine; I can still picture myself standing there, half-naked in front of him. I wince at the image. I can’t believe I did that.
I promise myself I’ll never do it again. What bothers me, though, is the creeping sense that whenever I’m around Margot, I’m out of control.
Excerpted from chapter 22 of THE HUNTING WIVES by May Cobb, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by May Cobb
May Cobb earned her MA in literature from San Francisco State University, and her essays and interviews have appeared in the Washington Post, the Rumpus, Edible Austin, and Austin Monthly. Her previous novel is Big Woods. A Texas native, she lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.