Katori Hinton: Joe & Patricia

When they met, Joe had only been divorced, officially, for a year and six days. He’d been living alone in a small apartment about thirty minutes outside of the city of Atlanta. In that time, he hadn’t seen, heard from, nor spoken to his ex-wife and their two kids. He didn’t have much to say to them and neither did they. To be fair, his son was only five when he left, and his daughter just turned eight. His wife—ex-wife—and he agreed to let their kids decide whether they wanted a relationship with him or not. If they didn’t want him, he wouldn’t push it. After everything that happened, he wouldn’t blame them if they never spoke to him again.

Joe had gotten used to living alone at this point. He went to work at the restaurant up the street and came home with leftovers. He would sit in front of the TV and stay there until his eyelids covered his view. The thought of getting married again never once crossed his mind until he met Patricia Jones.

She was everything his ex-wife was not. She was taller, louder, and could handle anything he threw at her. He would dare say she was better to look at too. Unlike Rachael, Patricia was not a pushover. That was the one thing about their marriage, Rachel was much younger than him when they met. A sweet woman trying to pursue a career in education, who would do anything for anyone before doing it for herself first.

Maybe Joe admired that about Rachael in the beginning. Her submissive attitude. Her kind nature and small voice, her small frame he could wrap his arm around, and the way she always, no matter what, made sure she looked her best. Rachael’s willingness to please. Her eagerness to produce two kids for him. Her being okay with him picking their names, even though she hated each suggestion, but if he was happy, she was too. The sex was average, he always thought. It got the job done, but never really satisfied him. Satisfied. That was it. Joe was never satisfied with Rachael. He just liked the idea of her.

Patricia was a breath of fresh air for him. She was everything he wanted in a woman and then some. She was slightly little older than him, had never been married, and no kids. She knew exactly what she wanted, how she wanted it, and where she wanted it. The best part: she never, never brought up his past. He told her what she needed to know (past marriage, two kids), but nothing more, and she never questioned it or cared to ask. That’s what he liked the most, and all his uncertainty about getting married again changed rather quickly. Joe fell head over heels for her and wanted to be wrapped up in her love more than anything he’d ever wanted before. Some days, he wished she had been the woman he met first instead of Rachael. He wouldn’t have wasted his time in the first place, and he would have had a different mother for his kids. And just a short time after getting divorced, Joe found himself married yet again. This time he got the right one.

But the thing about Patricia, she was beyond curious. Sometimes to a fault. He had two children. TWO! And she never met them. That had been the part of his life she now wanted to know the most. She knew nothing about them, and they had been married ten years! The universe, though, had a funny way of working itself out. Lately she’d been thinking heavily about kids—having her own kids, and about the fact that Joe already had his own. On her way home from work one day, she thought perhaps she’d bring it up at dinner. See where his head was at on talking about it now.

Patricia stepped into the kitchen, leaning against the archway of the room. She watched as her husband paraded around, pulling items from the fridge and cabinets. She crossed her arms over her chest while watching him prepare a meal. This was the best part of the day, watching her husband in his element, doing what he loved the most, cooking. When he noticed that she was standing there, he came over and kissed her cheek, giving her a toothy grin before returning to the chopping board.

“What’s on the menu tonight?” she asked.

“Flank steak,” he said, giving her a wink.

“Sounds good to me,” Patricia said. She stepped in the room, moving closer to him and leaning her hip against the counter.

“How was work?” he asked her.

“Nothing special,” Patricia told him. She watched as the knife in his hand sliced through the red meat. There was something delicate about the way he did it that she was attracted to. “The shop was pretty quiet today.” She owned her own hair salon, one of many in Georgia. “I was ready to see you though.”

Joe smiled at her, leaning in and kissing her, when the faint buzzing noise of the doorbell sounded. They ignored it, deepening their kiss when it sounded again.

“I’ll get it,” Patricia said, pushing him away. She wiped the corners of her lips while walking to the front door. She pulled it open to see a thin girl standing before her with unnaturally blonde hair and dark brown eyes and skin.

“Hi,” Patricia greeted her with a smile. “What can I do for you?”

“Oh, I . . . I was just . . .” the girl stammered. “I’m looking for Joe . . . Joseph Miller. I’m his daughter.”

“Oh, oh,” Patricia blinked at her, then turned over her shoulder, calling for her husband. While she waited for him, she scanned the girl. She looked nothing like Joe. Maybe her nose—the way it turned up at the tip. Perhaps her almond-shaped eyes and dark brown skin, but she couldn’t see him in her. She knew Joe had kids, a daughter and a son, but she had never met them. Never even saw a photo. He didn’t have any.

When her husband appeared by her side, she stepped back as he went outside. She almost wanted to invite her in, but he seemed determined to keep the girl away from her. She had the strong desire to meet his kids. That was the one thing she now wanted most of all—kids—but at her age, the chances were unlikely.

Patricia paced back and forth while her husband spoke to his daughter. She tried to fight the desire to eavesdrop, but she couldn’t help herself. She went over to the window, peeking through, seeing the two of them sitting on the bench on the porch. She was able to catch the tail end of something being said by his daughter:

“This is a really nice house. I love the flowers.”

Patricia took pride in those flowers. She smiled at herself, feeling pleased, then moved away from the window, wanting her husband to have his chance with his daughter. She wondered about his ex-wife. She hadn’t a clue what caused their relationship to end, and the only thing Joe would tell her was that they didn’t see eye-to-eye on how to raise the kids. She wondered if that would have been the case with their marriage if they would have had kids. With that thought, she was kind of glad it never came to be. Although the reality was hard to accept, Patricia always felt a certain jealously toward his ex-wife. She got the kids, but at least Patricia got the man.

She continued pacing back and forth behind the door when Joe came back in. She was expecting his daughter to be following behind him, but he was alone. He shut the door behind him and caught her curious eyes.

“What?” he asked, walking past her. Patricia followed closely behind as they headed back into the kitchen.

“What? I’m sorry, should I just ignore your daughter showing up?”

“Yeah, actually. She came for me, not you.”

“Excuse me.” She reached out, grabbing his shoulder, pulling him around. She folded her arms across her chest. “Let’s try that again.”

“Don’t start.”

“Why didn’t you invite her in?”

“Why would I?”

“She’s your daughter. Let’s start there.”

Joe rolled his eyes, turning away and going back to the kitchen. He stayed quiet and went back to fixing dinner. Patricia found herself standing in the doorway of the kitchen. Her arms still crossed, and her face twisted. He was really about to ignore this? Of course he was. Why did this suddenly shock her? He’d been pretending his other family didn’t exist since the night he told her about them. She always wondered why. That part of his life was so foreign, some days she forgot it was there. Living and breathing miles away. She thought of his daughter, then. She looked nothing like him, but there was something about her in that short time that had stuck with her. His daughter was a piece of him, a piece she’d never get to have.

Throughout dinner they didn’t bring up his daughter, though the topic was burning on her lips. While they cleaned up, she noticed how distracted her husband had become. She had only caught pieces of their conversation. She wondered what exactly happened out there. What they spoke about. After ten years and a conversation that lasted less than ten minutes, she couldn’t begin to imagine.

Later that night she found Joe in their bathroom. When she heard the faucet creak and the water splash around the sink, she knew it was the right moment. Patricia slowly stepped in the bathroom, leaning her shoulder against the door, catching the eyes of her husband in the mirror. His hands were immersed in warm water before he reached for the razor. She continued to watch him lather his face with white shaving cream. It was not long until he looked back at her through the mirror.

“You need something?” he asked.

“Are you going to continue to ignore this?” He smirked at her, grabbing the razor and bringing it up, and gently sliding it down his face. “Hello?”

“Hold on,” he muttered. He placed the blade aside, grabbing the edges of the sink with both hands. He caught her eyes again. “You aren’t going to let this go, are you?”

“Why would I? Ten years of marriage—and not once a mention of your kids. And suddenly one of them shows up at my house.”

Joe found the blade again, sliding it along his face before placing it back down. “So what? I told you I had kids.”

“You did, but as far as I’m concerned, they don’t exist based on the way you treat them. You know how I feel about having a family, and here you are ignoring yours,” she said. “How did she even find you?”

“How would I know?”

“You still talk to your ex?”

“No, Patricia.”

“Then how did she find us?”

“I said, I don’t know.” Joe leaned in closer to the mirror, getting a better view as he continued to shave his face. His vision of her got blurry, but he could see the folding of her arms and the way her hip stuck out of the bottom of her oversized shirt. It rose just slightly, exposing the best part of her body. He pulled back, allowing the view of her to become clear again.

“Don’t give me that face,” he commented, seeing the turned-up corners of her mouth.

“Then start talking.”

Joe wiped his face clean and turned around to face her. Her eyebrow cocked almost to her hairline. He looked her up and down before speaking again.

“You really want to talk about my daughter right now?” he asked, his voice low.

“Yes, obviously.”

“Really?” He pushed himself off the sink, walked over to her, and looked down his nose at her. “Really?”

“That’s not going to work. Not again. You do this all the time, but not tonight,” she said, pushing her hand against his chest. He grabbed it, pulling her close. She felt her face break into a smile, every part of her tried to resist it, but she couldn’t help herself. He always got her like this. She felt his hands curl around her waist and move lower.

“Joe, we need to . . .” she started to say, but was stopped by the kiss he planted on her lips. “Talk about this,” she said through each kiss.

“I don’t want to be thinking about my daughter right now.” He pushed her backwards until they fell onto the bed, laughing and ignoring everything that was just said and getting wrapped up in each other.

This was how it always was for them. Always. Patricia couldn’t understand how they managed after ten years of marriage, to go without having an honest conversation about certain things. The unknown of his life, though, that’s what she loved and hated at the same time. It kept her coming back, no matter how much she hated herself afterwards. Out of everything she wouldn’t let him get away with, this, this was the one thing she could never get a hold on.

Damn, she thought, watching him sleep next to him, how can you make me so damn weak, yet strong at the same time?

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Katori Hinton is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago Creative Writing department. She's worked on Hair Trigger 42 as an editor. This is her most recent publication.