“Nice of you to come back,” Julia said in the corner of the sun room with her arms crossed. “Where were you?”
“Seeing what was left of my kitchen,” Christian said, dragging a chair behind him. The day had worn him down and bags hung under his eyes.
“Oh? You weren’t asking him his side of the story first,” Julia snapped.
“Does it matter,” Christian asked lazily.
“To me it does.” Julia corrected her posture and fixed her crossed arms again. “He’s manipulative.”
Anita entered the space, rubbing exhaustion off. She placed the chair carefully down and waited for Julia to speak. “We’ll see about that,” Christian said finally. “Well? We’re waiting.”
“You’ve already made up your minds,” Julia said after a moment, shrugging her shoulders. “You know what? Let me just go.”
“You think you can just walk out of here after you destroyed my kitchen,” Christian asked, rolling his eyes back to Julia.
“That had nothing to do with me,” Julia responded defensively as she placed her hand on her chest. “I was outside when it exploded.”
“And you were inside before it happened,” Anita said calmly.
“So do us a favor and tell us what happened to our kitchen,” Christian finished.
Julia stood upright, bunching her lips together fighting back tears.
“Julia,” Anita said softly as Julia held her breath.
“You have no idea how mean he is to me when you are not around,” Julia said as her voice finally broke.
“We don’t,” Anita said. “Why don’t you tell us.”
“You know, he got me to break up with my ex, Hugo,” Julia said as she began to relax. “I should’ve known then.”
“Ehh,” Christian said in a long tone, closing one eye. “Hugo wasn’t the best choice of the bunch.”
“I thought I was telling my side of the story,” Julia said as her shoulders slouched.
Christian raised his palms in surrender and regressed back against the wall for her to continue.
“It’s not always bad,” Julia continued. “He’s great. But when he gets in a mood, that’s when things get really bad. Since the stock market crash, I’ve been trying my best to find work and here comes Christian, the hero, saying he’s going to take care of the both of us. You know I hate being taken care of.
“I do,” Anita replied. Christian turned to his side and yawned in his closed fist.
“Am I boring you,” Julia asked.
“It’s been a long day,” Christian answered lazily. “I want to get to the point.”
“Ignore him,” Anita said. “Go ahead.”
Julia huffed to herself and continued. “I come home one night after losing a sale on an apartment. Client said it wasn’t the right time. I was counting on that commission to carry me through till… It doesn’t matter. I come home and before I can open the door, I can hear him chatting with his assistant from work.
“Stephanie? Still,” Anita asked.
“Yes,” Julia exclaimed. “I sneak in and Josh already is in the bedroom closing the door behind him. At this point, I’ve lost my patience. So I force my way in, and now he’s successfully covered his tracks and is talking with Ashley. By the time I get to the phone, I can see she has no idea why Josh called.
“So then what happened,” Christian asked.
“I grabbed the phone from him and brought up that I was going to see her for Christmas,” Julia blurted out.
Anita sank in her chair and placed her forehead in her palm.
“Anita, you know that little girl is my everything.” Julia reached out with her hand as she explained.
“Did Ashley ask you for anything,” Christian asked.
Julia sneered. “Why do you ask?”
“Because it’s our daughter,” Anita said with her eyes closed. “Answer the question.”
Julia huffed again. “No,” she answered, shaking her head. “Not explicitly. But I can read between the lines.”
“Okay, what does that mean,” Christian asked.
“When I was on the phone with her, she wanted to tell me a joke,” Julia explained.
“And the joke was,” Christian’s voice hung in the air, waiting for the answer.
“What’s something you can carry around with you wherever you go, but doesn’t get heavy,” Julia quoted Ashley. “But before she could tell me, Josh reached for his phone back and then you two came in and ended the call.”
“What did you think it was,” Anita asked.
“Clearly it’s a purse,” Julia answered with confidence.
“Of course! Why didn’t I think of that, “Christian said, rolling his eyes.
“It’s not a beach bag,” Anita said. “No, it’s a trendy purse that has a very expensive name attached to it. Something we don’t want her to have, Julia. We talked about this.”
“I know,” Julia said with a slight smile. “This is why I didn’t get her a purse.”
“Ha,” Christian snorted. “This should be good. What did you get her?”
“Josh and her talk all the time about boy stuff, so I got her a ring.”
“A ring,” Anita repeated to Christian. “That’s not so bad.”
“Not a real one,” Julia said, biting her lip. “One of those collectible ones from that movie that’s like four hours long.”
Christian closed his eyes in shame. “Got it. Memorabilia. Very expensive memorabilia. Very expensive movie memorabilia.”
“How much,” Anita asked with a frown.
“A down payment on a car,” Christian rushed to answer.
Anita opened her mouth ajar.
“An exaggeration,” she said shaking her head. “He’s exaggerating.”
“You’re struggling to make ends meet and you’re buying movie memorabilia on an eight year old. Ashley has no concept of what these gifts mean,” Anita yelled.
“And all that doesn’t matter because that purchase doesn’t tell me how you two destroyed the kitchen,” Christian joined in.
“Excuse me,” Julia piped up. “He destroyed,” she corrected.
“Julia, you better get to the point,” Anita warned.
“You want to know more about how Josh is cruel,” Julia asked. “After our conversation with Ashley, we had lunch. His great idea. Then he pops the tire on the car.”
“I thought you were swearing off the car for sucking up gas,” Christian asked.
“Missing the point, Christian,” Anita screamed.
“You saw him do it,” he asked.
“Who else would pop the tire,” Julia asked.
“I don’t know,” Christian said with a shrug. “Some vindictive kid you didn’t give candy to on Halloween.”
“Get real, Christian!”
“The point, Julia,” Anita said.
“Sounds like you two have made up your minds,” Julia said as she crossed her arms.
“If you decide to give up now,” Christian said, raising his eyebrows.
Julia mulled over her choice as she studied Christian and Anita at opposite ends of the room. “Josh decides he going to run north,” Julia continued. “He must’ve had another shop in mind. I know I can get to my destination faster.”
“Where,” Anita asked.
“Are you nuts,” Christian asked with heavy exaggeration.
“Why is he here,” Julia asked Anita, pointing at him.
“He’s asking legitimate questions,” Anita answered. “Not in the best way,” she said, shooting a glare over her shoulder at Christian.
“Times Square had what I was looking for,” Julia said finally.
“I’m sorry. Please continue,” Christian said humbly.
“After an hour of climbing over people and then paying for the ring, I start making my way to your place and then I bump into some assistant with a tray of coffee. She lost four coffees. I lost my blouse.
“Which one,” Anita asked worriedly.
“You know the one.”
“I like that shirt on you.”
“What did you do with it?”
“I threw it out.”
“Oh… Julia,” Anita’s voice trailed.
Christian studied the women’s detour and frowned in disbelief. “How’d you get the one you have now?”
“I paid the assistant for hers,” Julia said forcefully. “Christian, I need you to stop —”
“Thinking,” Christian finished her question. “No, I’m not going to do that.”
“Julia, please continue,” Anita urged Julia along.
“Christian is being a real jerk,” Julia pointed.
“Christian is mad that he has to pay for a new kitchen,” Anita responded.
“I’ll pay you back for that,” Julia said as her face became overwhelmed with sadness.
“No,” Christian answered plainly. “Because you need Josh for that and I know you don’t want Josh to help you.”
“Don’t do that,” Julia cried! “Don’t assume. I don’t come over here and assume. You’re being rude.”
“Guys, please,” Anita said peacefully. “The story.”
Christian retreated to his seat and sat down, crossing his legs.
“Josh and I arrived at the same time. Probably stopped at Stephanie’s because he had different pants on,” Julia continued.
“And that’s when you opened the door,” Julia said back to Anita.
“Josh looked like he had his hand raised in a threatening way,” Anita said.
“Oh you saw that,” Julia said, fighting emotion. “I brought up the pants I knew weren’t his and then he proceeded to say I was getting fat.”
“He said that as he rose his hand,” Christian asked.
“We were arguing,” Julia answered simply.
“As I had said, Christian and I didn’t invite you.”
“Ashley did,” Julia said with a shrug.
“And you two ruined her Christmas,” Anita shot back.
Julia lowered her eyes and blinked away the welling of tears in her eyes. “I take responsibility for that.”
“No. No,” Christian said, waving his hand and interrupting the end of Julia’s account. “Rewind. Anita opens the door and then what?”
“Josh spends the next fifteen minutes embarrassing me in front of your guests. Said I looked like a stripper. As soon as he said that, Brutus stripped down to his boxers and started singing.”
Anita sighed and buried her face in her hands. “My God…”
“I ran to the kitchen with my stuff, praying he wouldn’t follow me,” Julia explained as she rubbed her arm. “But Josh did. Started accusing me of stealing his gift. He said I wanted to give my gift first. That’s when we got into a shouting match—”
“I never heard anything,” Anita said to Christian.
“I’m gonna give that one to Brutus’ singing,” Christian replied.
“One thing led to another and,” Julia continued.
“And what? And what,” Anita pled.
“I hit the spice rack,” she said finally, throwing her hands down. “It was my fault,” Julia said with a deep sigh. “I tried to scoop it out. The fire got bigger. I scrambled to see if I could recreate it.”
“That soup took a week to make,” Anita said, swimming through her memories of crafting the soup.
“Josh said he wanted to take over. The rest was a blur. I just remembered smelling gas. I told him that’s what I smelled. He waved me off. I hate it when he does that,” Julia said with a scowl. “I left the kitchen and asked everyone to leave. And that’s when the explosion happened.”
Silence trailed Julia’s story.
“This is on me,” Julia said after an uncomfortable pause. “Please guys. I don’t want to lose you. Ashley… She’s the only thing that makes sense to me these days.”
“Did you get all that,” Anita asked.
Christian rested his head against the wall he leaned against. “Uh huh,” he replied in exhaustion, looking at the ceiling.
“What are you guys going to do,” Julia asked as her eyes bounced between the couple.
“What do you mean, nothing,” Julia said as she wept. She could feel a tightness growing in her throat. “I can’t deal with nothing.”
“You can go home,” Anita said. “The both of you. We’ve heard what we needed to hear.”
Julia nodded weakly. She shuffled to the hallway where Josh stood, waiting for her to leave. She told her story the best way she could and she would have to live with that decision and the results of her actions. Josh would have to do the same. They would miss Christian and Anita. But they would miss Ashley the most.