They heard a car drive up. Lily jumped up and pulled Adam out of his
chair. "That must be Mercy. We've got to get the
"I'll get the door," Diana said.
As Mercy and the boys got out of the car, Diana was startled at how pale and flat she seemed, despite her generous curves. She didn't just sound depressed, she looked it. They stood on the lawn while the boys stampeded the bushes in search of who knows what and did their best to break their necks clambering all over the porch railing. Diana entertained Mercy with her escapades with the bands the night before and got a weak grin for her efforts.
"Men," Mercy said fatalistically. "You can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em." There was a slight tick in the corner of her right eye.
"Who says you can't live without 'em?" Diana asked with an aggressive edge to her voice.
"Well, you certainly don't," Mercy pointed out, one mocking eyebrow putting dents in her otherwise smooth forehead. She obviously had that from George.
"I don't live with them either."
"But you have."
"I don't live with any now, and I don't intend to again in the near future."
"Don't speak too soon."
"Why is it married people always want others to join them in their misery?"
"There's safety in numbers," Mercy said, herding her children into the house. "Does it seem that bad?" she added.
"I don't know, is it?"
"I don't know either," Mercy admitted. "I keep thinking about the boys."
"So you've been thinking about leaving George?" Diana murmured so the boys wouldn't hear.
"No, not seriously at least," Mercy replied as they entered the kitchen. She greeted the crew setting the table and fighting about whether the waffle had been in long enough.
"Christ, Mercy, we have friends who are lawyers. Why don't you at least go see Virginia and Richard?" Diana asked impatiently.
"Let up, Di," Lily said, laughing to keep the peace. "We haven't even had breakfast yet!" The comment excluded Bruce and Bennie, who had discovered the plate of waffles on the counter and were busy pinching pieces.
"Get away from the waffles, you two," Mercy scolded.
"Where's the syrup?" Adam asked.
"In the cupboard with the tea," Myrine replied. "Probably behind the honey or something."
"Then at least do something for yourself," Diana said to Mercy. "Buy yourself some new clothes, I don't know."
"Maybe I will," Mercy answered, smiling a smile obviously for Diana's benefit.
Myrine brought the stack of waffles to the table. "Oh, Mercy," she said and shook her head. Mercy buttered waffles for Bruce and Bennie as the rest of them sat down.
"Don't let it get to you, Mercy," Matt said with his airy laugh. "Men aren't worth it. Take my word for it--I'm one of them."
"Are you sure?" Myrine asked. Her tone was so dry it was hard to tell if she was joking.
Matt laughed uncertainly. "Myrine, that was below the belt," he complained.
"I thought that was where you liked me," Myrine said, grinning.
Mercy laughed along with the rest of them. "Oh, Myrine, you crazy." Her eyes met Adam's and she was reminded that she had slept with both men at the table in wilder days. The realization provided irrational relief from the fear of leading a staid domestic life; there had been other times and other tenderness -- or perhaps she should say any kind of tenderness at all. But that wasn't fair. There had been tenderness with George, she just couldn't remember it any more. Now they had arguments. Adam and Lilith had been together almost as long as she and George, but they didn't have marital squabbles, they had lover's quarrels.
"I have my comforts," Mercy said, shrugging. "There are the boys. And there's my work." She grimaced.
"Don't forget waffles," Diana said, helping herself to one.
"Pass the butter?" Adam asked. As he looked at Mercy, he too was remembering their short fling years ago, during one of the many split-ups he and Lily had gone through. It was funny how the memory left him with a warmth around the edges of the heart; when he tried to see her without the bias of affection, he realized with a shock that she hadn't just spread out, she had become drab. Even her copper curls seemed dull. Adam knew Mercy saw herself as weak and easy to push around, but there still had to be something of the old energy there for her to have accomplished everything she had. He was the same age, didn't have any children, and still hadn't finished his dissertation--even if it was in theoretical physics.
"Men certainly do have their uses, though," Myrine said, her head bent forward as Matt massaged the back of her neck.
"There are some things only sex and chocolate can provide you with," Lily contributed, giggling.
"German chocolate, maybe," Mercy said, "but definitely not Hershey's." She prevented Bennie from pouring out half a bottle of syrup and helped him cut up his waffle.
"And music," Diana added.
"Why chocolate?" Adam asked.
"Somebody got chocolate?" Bruce asked, a fork full of waffle clenched in his fist and his face smeared with syrup.
"No dear," Mercy said.
"I read somewhere once that chocolate initiates a chemical reaction you usually only get from sex," Lily informed them.
"Maybe that's why I'm getting fatter all the time," Mercy said, and everyone laughed in relief. They had done their good deed for the day.