A week after move-in day, the house was still in complete disarray.
Moving boxes were strewn about in every room, and packing peanuts littered the floor like engorged confetti. Balls of crinkled packing paper roosted in corners of cluttered rooms with the grace of avant-garde sculptures. The television was still in the box, much to Connor and Maggie's chagrin, while the basement—which Nina hoped to convert into a kids' cave of sorts—needed a dehumidifier running twenty-four-seven before she could even consider laying down the carpet the movers had left rolled up down there. Simon, who was more obsessed than anyone in the Garrity clan with neatness and order, had assured Nina he was fine with the mess. But she knew that if she was feeling frazzled, he must have been in a total tizzy.
As the school's robotics instructor, Simon was good with technology, and had already gotten the wireless internet up and running. The Bluetooth Sonos speakers he had configured continuously pumped out high-energy classic rock music, but the boxes full of stuff were Nina's main job, and she desperately wanted to feel settled. Most nights she worked with Simon at her side, unpacking essentials, cleaning and scrubbing bathrooms, replacing the batteries in all the smoke detectors.
Despite these efforts, the place still felt like someone else's home, with Nina as a temporary guest. Maybe when she added plants, or had pictures hanging in the hallway, maybe when all her things were in place, it would feel like home. Or maybe she should buy new furniture, new everything, because the old stuff might serve only as a reminder of all she had lost.
With so much to do, Nina focused on tackling the laundry, because at least it was a task she could manage to completion. She was folding a basket of clothes while her endless to-do list tumbled disjointedly through her mind, just like the dryer itself.
Dog food...shopping...Maggie's dentist appointment...mend the hole in Connor's jersey...forms for fall lacrosse...order team sweatshirts...pick up prescriptions at CVS...enroll Maggie in CCD classes at St. Francis...the kids' physicals...nut-free ingredients for the football team bake sale (Maggie was deathly allergic)...and on...and on.
Moving didn't erase Nina's responsibilities, but rather added to them.
From down the hall, Nina heard an echoing "Hello?" and rose on achy knees to greet Ginny and Susanna, who had let themselves in. They were carrying two bottles of red wine, a foil-covered baking dish, and a cake box with whole foods printed on the side. "Happy birthday!" they shouted in unison, beaming at Nina as she approached.
"It's not my birthday," Nina said with a crooked smile.
"Well, the cake was on sale, so it's somebody's birthday—and it might as well be yours," said Ginny as she sauntered inside, delicately balancing the bottles as she stooped to give Daisy a scratch hello. Ginny dressed like a J.Crew model, but despite the coastal palette of her cardigans and pleated pants, she still looked like a tired mom of three who lived in woodsy New Hampshire. She had a tousled nest of blond hair cut well above her shoulders, and a round, friendly face that was always quick with a smile.
"Where are the kids?" Susanna asked.
"Out," said Nina. "With friends. They can't take the chaos. Neither can I."
"And Simon?" Nina caught the slight hesitation in Ginny's voice, though she wasn't surprised. Not long ago both her friends had been trying to talk Nina out of making this move. They didn't have anything against Simon, per se, but each had reservations about the speed at which the relationship had evolved. They weren't the only ones.
Nina's parents hadn't embraced her choice to move in with Simon either. Her mother liked Simon well enough, but thought Nina was setting a bad example for the children to be living with him before they were married. It was an argument that didn't quite adhere to her mother's views on personal choice, but Nina saw it for what it was—a poorly disguised way of masking her hope that her only daughter would move back home to live with them. Her father, who had loved Glen like the son he'd never had, worried Simon was taking advantage of a vulnerable woman in a very tricky situation, concerns that Nina herself understood.
Before her life had taken a U-turn, Nina had scoffed at those dolled-up reality show contestants who professed their undying love for each other after a few staged dates. Now she knew there were more than a few kernels of truth to their mawkish sentiments—and that a TV show wasn't the only way to accelerate romance. Trauma, true bone-jarring trauma, did the job just as well, if not better.
"Love what you've done with the place..." Ginny said, spinning around in a circle as she surveyed the disordered kitchen. Susanna sent Nina a sympathetic look. This was the third time since move-in day they'd showed up to help unpack, and the place still looked like it had been ransacked by raccoons. Nina had wondered if her lack of progress was a subconscious reaction from a part of her that wasn't wholly embracing the move. It wasn't only her daughter she worried about. As much as she loved Simon, Nina harbored a mostly unspoken fear of opening herself up to being hurt again.
After uncorking the wine, Nina cut three big pieces of vanilla buttercream cake. The lasagna could wait. Susanna went to the fridge after announcing her intention to whip up a quick salad, took one look inside, and had to think again.
"Someone's vying for the Mother Hubbard of the Year Award," she said.
Nina laughed. She might have lost her mind in the mess, but not her sense of humor.