He lifted the mug to his mouth with a sigh bordering on desperation. From somewhere behind him, he picked up on the familiar cadence of his infant’s soft footsteps padding down on the tiled floors of the kitchen. He took a sip from his morning coffee before setting it down and staring into it as he awaited the usual greeting.
He didn’t look at the woman across from him.
“Daddy?” came the three year old’s voice, now beside her father, chubby arms outstretched and grin broad. Her footy pajamas were bright yellow and her short blonde curls were a mess. Absently, he told himself that he’d have to fix it before he took her out for the day.
He forced a smile of his own in response to hers, reaching down to pick the girl up and placing a firm kiss on her forehead. “Hi baby,” he said, his voice just a little hoarse. He drank a long gulp of his coffee to soothe it.
She reached for the juice left for her and drank a long gulp before smiling across the table. “Hi momma.”
The woman didn’t answer. Instead, she stood up, pacing, dying to move but having no where to go.
Unbothered by her mother’s restlessness, the child took a piece of bacon from her father’s untouched plate and munched happily. It was a comfortable routine; the way that the girl had expected her mother to behave, the way she’d always behaved.
“I think I’m going to leave,” the woman announced. She said the words detachedly, but he knew her well- and her death-grip on the back of her chair told all.
She didn’t have to elaborate, he knew. He’d been expecting it, had prepared himself for it, had almost been praying for it, but he wouldn’t – couldn’t – look her in the eye. He stared past her and nodded in an offhand way.
“I know,” he said, his voice carefully masked to conceal his thoughts. “It’s probably for the best.”
“Where you goin’, momma?” the little girl asked, perking up at the thought of a drive. “Can I come?”
“Someplace new,” the mother said airily, smiling at her daughter; a tight smile with chapped lips, the only kind she’d been able to give recently. “Don’t you fret, baby girl. I’ll come back.”
“It’s probably better if you don’t,” the man said evenly. For the first time in weeks, he looked at her–really looked at her. He soaked in the crows feet and her lack of sleep. There was an unhappiness that weighed down her shoulders. Guilt showed from behind his eyes. “Don’t come back, I mean.”
The smile she’d plastered on faltered just a bit. Her daughter sensed the change. Her lower lip trembled, but she didn’t quite know why she felt sad.
“You’re probably right,” she said, her voice feather-light. She cleared her throat and let go of the back of the chair. “You’re right.”
Thank you to Sir Liam and my Mells, for forcing me to post, and Sarah, La Stranezza, and Jess for helping me edit.