“Honey, do you have to keep playing with those little things?”
“No, but we’re not getting out of this house until I finish.”
George Yeager tapped his polished shoes impatiently on the newly laid bathroom tile. “You can fix your earrings after we get back from the dinner. Come on, I already told Morrison we’d be there before it started, and we’re only just going to arrive when the first stockholders start their introductions.”
“Like we need to hear all of that again,” Tamara Yeager retorted, a derisive chuckle echoing out of the spacious bedroom as she finally abandoned her jewelry on the top of their carved dresser. “You’re right, I won’t be getting these to cooperate. Let me just grab my other pair like this.”
“All right, but the clock’s ticking.” He jabbed a finger at his gleaming watch.
“I’m sure it is,” Tamara said, disappearing into their walk-in closet. “Are the boys sticking around tonight?”
“Not that I’m aware. Josh got a ride to some back-to-school-something. And Brett is already gone. Some party or other.”
“Are there going to be parents there? There have to be parents there,” Tamara protested, popping her head out of the closet.
“Like I’d know. And even if I thought I did know, you think he’d tell us that there were going to be parents? He drove there. He knows not to drink before he drives.”
“He knows not to drink period, he’s only seventeen!” Tamara barked.
“Right, right,” George assured, unable to hide a proud grin. “The boy knows his whiskey, though. You saw that bottle he bought me last Christmas, right?”
“I did, and believe me, I was not as big a fan as you. I want to know who he got to sell it to him without an ID.”
“You’re just jealous,” the man teased. “Josh is the sensitive one you always wanted, anyway. You can’t keep both our boys from exploring their manhood.”
“I don’t need anybody exploring anything until they’re both adults, and the drinking age,” Tamara snapped, though a snicker trailed out of her closet. “Josh is the sensitive one, though, in case you haven’t taken time to appreciate it. He wrote me a poem last week. A poem! I almost died.” Clothing hangers clattered along the poles, followed by the clunk of multiple high heels hitting the lavishly carpeted floor.
“I thought you were just getting earrings, dear.”
“I am, but I have to make sure they match the dress.” Tamara tossed another unusable outfit into a pile on the floor. “And the shoes.”
“I guarantee you, no one will-”
“You’re really going to tell me that no one will care? Trust me, they’re all going to be looking us up and down. Every little detail is going to matter.”
George chuckled again in the ensuing silence.
“You sound just like my brother when you say that word.”
Tamara slipped back out of the closet with two dresses slung over her narrow shoulders, one green and one crimson. She stood on her bare tiptoes, planting a kiss on each of her husband’s accented cheekbones as she caressed his bearded jawline.
“I’m sure I do,” she repeated, lovingly this time. “Kevin always did know the importance of appearances, didn’t he? So did Helen.”
“He taught me everything he knows about it,” George said proudly. “Sure, he used to put me in headlocks on the playground when we were kids, but when we hit our twenties? My God, that man knew how to close a deal. And he didn’t even stay in the work, he went to law school! And he was good at that, too!”
“He absolutely was,” Tamara soothed. “A man of many talents. And Helen’s taste in design is half the reason why this house looks like it does now.”
“It’s…” George began, but let his words devolve into an aggrieved sigh. “It’s good to remember sometimes.”
The flutter of dresses continued for another couple of minutes as George lowered himself onto the end of their four-poster bed, giving his wife her time as he dug through his wallet for his ream of glossy photos. Past the pictures of his wedding day, his parents, and his teenage boys’ school pictures was a family photo of his brother Kevin, his wife Helen, and their daughter Ashley: the family that had vanished into thin air on that anonymous, hateful night eighteen months before. The beautiful, beaming faces of whom George had been unable to wrench from his sleepless nights of rolling between the hot sheets, trying to force an answer into a puzzle that had zero leads and even less rationality.
So deeply moment had the man fallen into his enigmatic strife, in fact, he missed the crackle of low volume sound in the closet. He fought the urge to roll his eyes.
“I knew it might be a problem buying that TV for the closet, hon. It’s really overkill, you know. We have eight screens in the house now. At this rate, we’ll never get to any dinner functions. We’ll just be sitting in there on piles of clothes, watching the-”
“George,” Tamara interrupted, her voice a frigid stalactite in comparison to its previous comfort. “It’s… not April Fool’s Day, is it?”
“Not the last time I checked. We’re hardly into January, dear, in case you didn’t notice the snow.”
“I… know, it’s just that…”
“What is it?”
“Is someone hurt? Someone we know?”
“No, no… at least not that I can… think of. It’s just what they’re…”
“Why don’t you just come and… and look yourself…” Tamara uttered, the words clustered like marbles in her throat.
“What, what am I looking at?” George muttered as he poked his head in. He tapped at the glass face of his watch, only casting a token glance toward the TV. “Am I supposed to recognize these people? Who are “Carly and Jack Arton,” anyway, and what does it have to do with me? We’re going to be late, you know.”