The next day, Tipsy woke Little Ayers and the twins for soccer camp and art camp, respectively. She hustled them through their usual routine. Get dressed, brush teeth, fix the girls’ pigtails and flatten Little Ayers’s hair with water, tramp to the kitchen for breakfast. All three sat around the table with bowls of cereal and sliced bananas. The smell of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she’d tucked into their lunchboxes permeated the room. The magenta kitchen clashed with the girls’ red polo dresses and Ayers’s red tee shirt.
“Did y’all all plan on red today?” she asked.
Mary Pratt’s grin revealed a few pastel marshmallows between the spaces left by her lost teeth. “It’s a rosy day!”
“An apple day!” said Olivia Grace.
Ayers growled at them and held up his hands in claws. “It’s a zombie day!”
“Good lord,” said Tipsy. “Ayers Lee, that’s unpleasant. And what is it with zombies lately? Everyone loves zombies.”
“Zombies are gross,” said Mary Pratt.
“That’s why I love them,” said Ayers.
Tipsy dropped O-liv’s empty cereal bowl. By some miracle it didn’t shatter, but both girls jumped.
“You okay, Mama?” Ayers asked.
“Yes—I’m fine. I just slipped—”
“If I could throttle you now, I would, I swear to all that is holy!”
Tipsy grabbed for the cereal bowl. Jane’s shrill voice joined Henry’s as Tipsy clunked the bowl into the sink.
“So you’re admitting it?” Jane asked. “Finally? You did it! You did it! You did it!”
Tipsy spun around and gripped the edge of the counter behind her. She stared past her children’s wide-eyed faces.
Jane and Henry stood at opposite ends of the kitchen. Henry’s face had contorted in rage, while Jane looked as if she were watching some hilarious stand-up comedy routine.
“No. I’m not admitting it!” yelled Henry. “I’ll never admit it because I didn’t do it!”
“Mama—you sure you’re all right?” asked Ayers.
Tipsy grinned at him, and hoped her expression conveyed more sanity than Jane’s did. “Yes, of course baby. I’m—”
“You did!” Jane spoke around hysterical laughter. “You did! Mama said you did—”
“Your mother was an idiot!” Henry screamed, and the faucet behind Tipsy blasted water into the sink.
“The water!” Olivia Grace shouted. “Water, Mama!”
Tipsy spun around as Henry and Jane continued to berate each other. She spoke in a voice that seemed to come from outside her own head. “Oh, it’s okay. Just old pipes!” She yanked the faucet’s handle into place, and the water shut off. “Time to get going!”
“I’m not finished with my cereal,” said Ayers.
“Let’s take a granola bar—we have to—”
“Damnit!” Henry shouted, and the bookshelf Tipsy had set up in the corner of the kitchen crashed to the ground. The kids screamed as cookbooks, family pictures and knick-knacks scattered across the tile.
“It’s okay! It’s okay!” Tipsy herded the sobbing girls into the hallway. “Don’t be scared, buddies. Mama must not have put that thing together correctly—”
Mary Pratt gripped Tipsy’s hand. “But it was so loud—”
“And my plate broke!” Olivia Grace looked up at her with tearstained cheeks. “My Christmas plate with my handprints on it from when I was little!”
“I’ll glue it together, baby, I promise,” Tipsy said.
She grabbed their little summer camp backpacks. Ayers patted his sisters’ shoulders. “Don’t worry, y’all. I knew that bookshelf was cheap anyway.”
If she had any ability to calm her thoughts as well as she’d calmed her voice, Tipsy would have laughed at his typical Little Ayers man-of-the-house response. She hurried them outside. The whack of the front door slamming behind them cut off the sound of Jane and Henry’s battle.
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