BY CHELSEA RESNICK
Copyright is held by the author.
“THE HOUSE is very clean.” Sabrina’s gaze slides across the living room.
Annie looks too, seeing her home through Sabrina-shaped eyes. She and Dalton dusted and vacuumed last night, so it should look tidy but — oh no. The blankets on the couch are folded lumpily, lumpily, lumpily . . . Life is not a dream.
Sabrina’s trip is ruined.
Annie feels crestfallen and then . . . relieved? Well, perhaps it’s fine to abandon the “tidy house” illusion.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asks. “Water? Soda? I can make coffee or tea . . .”
Sabrina shivers. “I hate coffee and tea. I’d take a Coke, though.”
“Sure! Er, is Coke Zero okay? That’s what we’ve got.”
“Never mind. Water’s fine.”
Annie’s easy smile goes brittle. “Right.”
So! Sabrina has been in the house for approximately 90 seconds. According to Annie’s quick calculations, that leaves only four days, 14 hours, and 33 minutes left in her sister-in-law’s trip!
Sabrina temporarily deposits her luggage in the front hall and steps farther into the main room. Annie strolls past her and into the kitchen to get that glass of water. “Dalton will be home in the next few minutes!” she says as she comes back around the corner, glass of ice water in hand. “He was gonna try ducking out of the office five or 10 minutes early.”
Sabrina purses her lips and tilts her head at the drink. “I forgot to say no ice.”
She motions more pointedly at the glass. “I like my water room temp.”
“Oh.” A wave of self-disgust hits Annie. Why is she straining for Sabrina’s unreachable approval? At this point with most guests, she’d hand them the glass, point them in the direction of the kitchen faucet, and cheerfully tell them to help themselves.
Dalton’s family never comes to visit. They usually bemoan the cost of airfare from Dallas to Seattle or drone on about how Dalton and Annie have Hans McSnickerdoodle and you know his mom is allergic to all animals and especially dogs. Somehow the woman is completely fine around her own Labradoodle (hypoallergenic) and her daughter’s two ferrets, Pogo and Jimmy.
Annie fetches a new glass of water and papers up a friendly face. “One new no-ice water!”
“Seriously, how do you keep your house so clean?” Sabrina clicks her fingernails across the spines of Dalton’s sci-fi hardbacks on a bookshelf.
“We just . . . clean it now and then? And we cleaned in particular yesterday, knowing you’d be here.”
“This is ALL your influence. My brother’s room was a pigsty when we were kids. You’d just open the door and — boom. The smell of feet would knock you over.”
“Sounds about right. I was messy as a kid t —”
“I just wish I had the time to keep my place this put-together.”
“Is it not . . . ?” Annie and Dalton went to Dallas the Thanksgiving before last, but they stayed with his parents. They never scored an invite to Sabrina’s. She hasn’t the faintest idea how her sister-in-law’s apartment looks.
“Nah. My place has more ‘lived-in’ vibes. I like the authentic, homey feel.”
Okaaay. Surely Sabrina doesn’t mean to imply that Annie has constructed an “inauthentic, cold feel.” She flicks a glance at a clock on the wall. Dalton, where are you?
Sabrina swings around, donning a big calf-eyed smile. “It’s just different values, I guess.”
“You know, I volunteer so much. I’m so active with my church, and I’m on the volunteer board at work . . .” She twirls her wrist in a circle to say etcetera.
“You do? That’s great! . . . Doing what?”
“Doing . . .” Blood jets to Annie’s face. Feelings of defensiveness clog her neural pathways, and suddenly the only thing that springs to mind is how she took Hans McSnickerdoodle to a local high school’s dog wash in support of their marching band fundraiser.
She hadn’t volunteered there. She’d been a customer.
“Lots of things! We don’t like to talk about it. You know . . .it can sound kinda braggy.”
“It’s not bragging. It’s spreading positive energy! And I’ve never heard you or Dalton talk about volunteering. I’m very curious.”
“We care about so many causes in our local community. And the global community. And the . . .” The what? Intergalactic community? She didn’t plan out that sentence.
Sabrina lifts her eyebrows, waiting.
Annie’s blood turns to lava.
“I’m not trying to offend you. It’s just conversation. Tell me what you do.”
The front door knob clicks, and Annie’s muscles melt in relief. “Ooh! Sounds like Dalton’s home! I’ll let him show you the guest room and help you get settled. I know he’s so excited to visit with you!”
Chelsea Resnick is a writer, editor, and mint-chip enthusiast who lives in sunshiny Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in The Lascaux Review, The Sierra Nevada Review, Kakalak, and elsewhere. Learn more at ChelseaResnick.com.