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Unicorn

By Mollie Player


Copyright © 2017 by Mollie Player


Smashwords edition

ISBN: 9781370429585

All rights reserved


To contact the author, subscribe to her blog or discover your next great read, visit mollieplayer.com.



Also by Mollie Player:


You’re Getting Closer: One Year of Finding God and a Few Good Friends

The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation

The Emergency Diet: The Somewhat Hard, Very Controversial, Totally Unheard of and Fastest Possible Way to Lose Weight

The Naked House: Five Principles for a More Peaceful Home

What I Learned from Jane

Unicorn

Being Good

Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby


Act One


The parking lot of an old grange hall-style building. Early June. Night.

Alex, an intelligent-looking thirty-something woman wearing a long, loose dress and sandals and her husband, Sam, were sitting in a car, staring out the front window. Sam was also thirty-something. Lean, excellent posture. He was wearing a polo shirt and jeans.

They stared at the building: Overgrown weeds. Chipped paint.

“That was a long drive,” Sam said.

“Yeah. Pretty, though,” Alex said. She flipped down her visor mirror and looked into it. Then she flipped it up again.

Sam looked around doubtfully. “This is … interesting. You sure about this, Hon?”

“Sure I’m sure. I mean, we don’t have to be sure about everything, do we?”

“No. But we could be a little sure.”

“Don’t make me talk you into this. This was your idea, you know.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“All right. Let’s just go inside.”

They got out of the car and walked toward the building. When they got to the door, Sam held it open.

“This is it.”

Alex smiled. “It’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They entered the foyer, then passed into the main hallway. A large woman wearing a flowered dress, was sitting behind a table at the entrance to the gymnasium.

“Hello! Welcome! Are you two on the list?”

“The list?” Sam asked. “I don’t think so.”

“Okay, no problem, dear. Is this your first time?”

“It is.”

“Oh, well, that’s just great. You’re very welcome. I’m Maryann.”

Sam gestured to himself and Alex. “Sam, and Alex. Nice to meet you, Maryann.”

“I’ll just check you in and then you can join the orientation. Here, do up some name tags for yourselves. And it’ll be twenty-five dollars.”

Sam got out his wallet and handed Maryann a few bills. Alex made two name tags, and they put them on. Then Maryann pointed toward a table with a water pitcher, some glasses and a stack of papers. Joe, a middle-aged man wearing a white button-up shirt and black jeans was standing nearby. Cigarettes lined his shirt pockets.

“Gentleman in the white,” said Maryann. “You two have fun.”

Sam and Alex entered the gymnasium and looked around. The only other people in it were the DJ, another worker wearing a hoodie and setting up a food table, and Joe. The room was lined with cafeteria tables decorated with fake flowers and blue and purple crepe paper.

Joe looked at Alex and Sam and smiled widely, revealing a shortage of teeth. “Hello there. My name’s Joe. We’ll get started as soon as the others get here.”

Alex and Sam sat at the table. They poured some water and looked over the forms—the rules of conduct and a legal waiver. Fifteen minutes later, two other couples arrived and joined them: Rachel and Tom and John and Sweetie. Tom had an old-fashioned professorial look, and Rachel was a pretty, plump suburbanite. John was a Billy Bob Thornton look-alike, and Sweetie was a cross between a scary high school English teacher (tight bun, pursed lips) and back country bad girl (black fishnet stockings and a well-worn red nightie-inspired dress).

After introductions Joe joined them, standing at the head of the table.

“Hi, all. Welcome to Puget Sound Swing. You can call me Joe, or you can call me Two Grey Teeth, ‘cause that is what I have.”

Sam and Alex glanced at each other briefly then looked away. Alex was smiling; Sam was not.

“They pay me—albeit only in alcohol—to give you the rules, so that’s what I’m going to do. Rule number one—here and at any other lifestyle event you’ll ever go to—is what?”

“No means no,” John said.

“No means no. Very good. Guess what else that implies? It implies that maybe means maybe. So use your no’s where no’s are how you feel.

“Rule number two is: You can only be naked from the waist up. This is not our facility and the facility owners’ rules apply. Also, we are not a sex club. We’re a lifestyle club. We do not put ‘sex club’ on any of our forms that we send to the IRS. If we did, they’d charge us more. Also, we have alcohol here, and according to the state, you can have sex and you can have alcohol but you can’t have both at the Same time.

“So, don’t have sex here. Don’t have sex in the parking lot, or anywhere else on the premises. As with any of our rules, you will get one warning and one warning only, and after that we will have to regretfully never see you here again.

“There are a few more rules, too, on this sheet of paper here, but I am assuming you all can read.”

Sweetie and John nodded.

“Okay, then. Read through these papers and sign the last one at the bottom, then hand them in to me. Then we’ll party. Sound good?”

Everyone nodded and did as instructed.

“All right. Go have yourselves a good time,” said Joe.

Alex and Sam got up and went to the bar. They ordered two weak martinis. Then Sam left to use the bathroom. Soon afterward, John approached Alex, standing uncomfortably close.

“Hello,” said John.

Alex leaned back slightly. “Hello, there, friendly man.”

John stared for a moment. “First time here, then?”

“Yup. You?”

“No. We’ve been to a few events here.”

“Oh. But you went to the orientation?”

“Yes. Thought we might as well.”

“Oh.”

John leaned in further and smiled, revealing his large teeth. He looked like the Big Bad Wolf, only nicer.

“Think we’ll get a good turnout tonight?”

“I don’t see why not,” Alex said. No one else had arrived.

“By the way, you are looking very pretty tonight. I like your hair,” said John.

“Why, thank you, John. That is very nice of you.”

Alex took a small step backward, and John followed, taking a step toward her. Alex took another step back, and again, John stepped forward. Then Alex stepped to one side, but this time, John just watched, smiling.

“You stopped. I thought we were dancing,” Alex said.

John stared again. “Maybe we were. Well, Sweetie and I are sitting right over there.” He pointed to the only occupied table.

“I see that.”

“You and Sam are welcome to join us.”

“Sounds great.”

They walked over to the table and sat with the others. Soon, Sam returned and joined them and polite conversation ensued.

Tom turned to Alex. “So. What brings you two here? Such a young couple. I thought this was an old folks thing.”

“Oh, you know. Sometimes, you just need an adventure,” said Alex.

“Absolutely. Can’t do the same thing all the time. We’ve never been here before, but we’ve been in the lifestyle for a number of years now. Maybe since we were about your age. It’s definitely been an adventure. Although things are different now.”

“How so?”

“Oh, you know. Used to be such hippies. We’d try anything. Everyone’s a bit more conservative these days, of course. Probably not a bad thing.”

“But you miss it?”

“I do. Sort of. I like where we’re at now, too. Suburbs. Mowing the lawn. I do woodworking in the garage, Rachel gardens. It’s actually pretty beautiful.”

“And normal.”

“And I suppose there’s a reason it’s normal.”

“I agree. And yet, I know what you mean about the hippie thing. I think of myself as a bit of a hippie. Even though that makes no sense.”

“Do you? Interesting. And that’s sort of what I mean. A bit of a hippie. That’s what we have left these days.”

“So I’m normal too, is what you’re saying?”

“Hope you don’t mind.”

“I don’t.”

There was a brief silence at the table. Then Rachel turned to face Alex and Sam.

“It’s so nice to see a young couple like you on a date. Reminds me of how we used to be,” she said.

“Thank you,” said Sam. “And it’s nice to see a slightly older couple like you two on a date, too.”

“Reminds you of how you want to be someday, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Hey, we’re older than them,” Sweetie said. “What do we remind you of? Or should I ask?”

“You remind me of how we want to be someday,” said Rachel.

“Perfect,” said Sweetie. “Glad to be inspiring.”

“How long have you been together?” asked Alex.

“John and I? Oh, we’re new. Met at a place like this in another town.” She turned to John. “What’s it been? Sixteen years?”

“That’s right. The best sixteen, if I do say.”

“How about you two?” Sweetie asked Rachel.

“Twenty, actually. Anniversary last month.”

“So. Any babies in the picture for you two?” Rachel asked.

“Actually, yes. We have a ten-month-old,” Sam said.

“Awww. Ten months. I remember that age.”

“Yeah. It’s awesome. Our little dreamboat baby boy. It’s really weird to be here without him.”

“Well, it’s probably good that you are. You two planning to have more?”

“Absolutely,” said Sam.

“Ah, so it’s in the works.”

“Well, they say it takes longer for the second.”

Rachel and Sweetie looked at Alex. She said nothing.

“Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that,” said Tom.

“Anyway, I’m sure you two are having enough fun with just one,” said Rachel.

“We are,” said Alex. “Well, you know. Most of the time. It’s been a wonderful but hard year for us—er, for me.”

Sam looked at her. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I just mean … Gees. It’s been so busy. Never enough sleep. Never enough time. I have just given up on certain things altogether at this point.”

“Yeah, I know that. I meant what do you mean, hard for you?”

“Uh …”

“Manuel is my baby, too, you know.”

“Oh, I know, Hon. I just meant—with breastfeeding all the time and everything. You know. I didn’t mean anything.”

“At least you two are here together,” said Rachel. “That’s a good sign, right?”

“It is. It’s really nice to be here. I’m glad you thought of it, Sam.”

Sam laughed. “How did I think of it, again?”

“I told you we needed to get out more and meet some new people. Then you told me your friend at work just started dating a swinger, and you asked me if I’d like to try it.”

“Ah, yes. Well, it was kind of a joke.”

“And let’s face it. Maybe it still is.”

“We’ll see what happens.”

“Well, if you ever are interested, I know a slightly older couple that’s available. I’ll set you up.”

“Thanks for that.”

As the couples continued to talk, a few more attendees arrived. An hour later, there were six more couples in all. Several other couples started dancing.

Rachel took Tom by the arm. “Hey Tom, it’s dancing time.”

He stood up and smoothed out his shirt sleeves. “All right, all right. This is what I get for marrying a younger woman.”

They started dancing. Then Sweetie stood up and took John’s hand. John stood, too.

“You two coming?” asked Sweetie.

“I think we’ll hang back a sec,” said Alex.

Sam and Alex watched the dancers for a few minutes. Then Sam took Alex’s hand and rubbed it.

“So. What do you think? You enjoying yourself, Hon?” he asked.

“Actually, yeah, I am. And you?”

“Definitely. I mean, what would we be doing if we weren’t here, right?”

“Watching a movie that gets interrupted every fifteen minutes by crying.”

“Or computer stuff.”

“Or eating dinner in the backyard.”

“With friends.”

“Playing Jenga.”

“Drinking.”

“Sounds great actually.”

“It does.”

Sam smiled. “So really though, Hon—how are you? I know things haven’t been easy for you lately.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think I’m just tired. Working too much and everything.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

“I need to have some fun. Like I told them: I just sort of need … an adventure.”

“And that’s why we’re here.”

“Well, things aren’t looking very good on the wild half-stranger sex front today, are they?”

“Well, you never know. Hey, I thought you said you were going to join a moms’ group or something.”

“Yeah, I went once. It’s … meh. Definitely not an adventure.”

“Okay. So go SCUBA diving. Or, I know! Take up a political cause.”

“Funny.”

“Oh, yeah. I guess you’ve got that one covered. Well, that’s pretty much all I got. SCUBA diving and doing more of what you’re doing now.”

Alex sighed and let go of Sam’s hand.

“You know, I had a good talk with Melanie the other day. Kind of about the same thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I told her we were coming here to spice things up a bit and she had a great idea for us. She said we should get a second wife.”

“Melanie said that?”

“Yeah. Are you surprised?”

“No. I mean—yes. I mean, what did you say?”

“I said I’d ask you what you thought. So what do you think?”

“What do I think? Why would you even have to ask?”

“Well, it’s a reasonable question.”

“Yes, I guess it is. And you know what? I’ve actually been wondering if you were ever going to ask it.”

“You’ve been waiting for me to ask about getting a second wife? Why didn’t you just ask me first?”

“Um, I have. Lots of times.”

“No you haven’t. Never.”

“What marriage are you in?”

“Are you talking about the harem and sixteen children comments?”

“I don’t think I ever said harem.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Harem? That’s not the way I remember it.”

“Whatever. It was a house full of wives. That’s a harem.”

“I know, but … It’s not actually called that anymore.”

“Admit it. You want a harem.”

“Okay, sure. Why not? If some people are right, you only have one life to mess up. If the rest are right, you have so many that it doesn’t matter anyway.”

“That’s true. That’s very, very true. And it’s kinda what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, too.”

“Good. I mean, what are we all so afraid of anyway? We’re all so afraid of living life.”

Alex paused. “And I thought it was my idea. I’m the hippie in this marriage, aren’t I?”

“Your idea? I thought you said it was Mel’s idea.”

“Well, it might have been mine. I don’t really remember.”

“Anyway, I may not have your messy-hair activist thing going on, but I’m a hippie in my own way, too.”

“You are, aren’t you? I do believe you are. Wanting to live on a farm with a ton of kids running around all crazy-like. You’re a jog-every-morning-drink-expensive-coffee kind of hippie.”

“Exactly.”

“And you have always known how to win me over, my dear, in your subtle, subtle ways, haven’t you? Maybe complaining about me working too much and not having time to cook is part of your master plan to get me to think of this?”

“I don’t know. Would that be good strategy or bad communication?”

“Maybe … good strategy. Maybe both.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Maybe it would be okay.”

“Okay.”

As Alex and Sam fell silent, the song “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles came on. And that’s when it happened: Sweetie took the stage. She approached the stripper pole, then wrapped her legs around it and began a classic stripper dance. Soon, all nine couples in the room were watching the performance.

“She’s really graceful,” Alex said.

“I have never in my life seen something as awesome as this,” Sam said.

Sweetie did a back bend, placing one hand on the floor. Then she kicked her legs out and over her head in a cartwheel-like motion.

The song ended and everyone clapped. Head held high, Sweetie rejoined John and the others.

“That was awesome, Sweetie,” said Tom.

“We loved it,” said Alex.

“I’ll be sure to get your phone number before the night is over,” said Rachel.

“Me, too,” said Sam.

Sweetie raised her eyebrows. “Hey, I’m okay with that.”

A slow song came on, and Sam looked at Alex affectionately.

“They’re playing our song, my sweet.”

“What song is it?”

“I have no idea.”

He offered his hand and Alex took it. They walked to the dance floor and began to dance. Most of the other couples did the same.

“This is actually pretty fun being here, isn’t it?” Alex said.

“It really, really is. We should do this more often, Hon. And hey, it’s nice to have the hottest girl in the room … for a change.”

“Sam! So bad!”

Alex watched as a beer-bellied man dancing nearby grabbed his partner’s ample behind. Alex pulled her head back to look at Sam. She nodded at the grabber, and she and Sam laughed. Then Sam put both his hands around Alex’s waist and kissed her hard.

“I love you, Alex.”

“I know.”

The following morning. Sam and Alex’s house.

Alex placed one-year-old Manuel on the kitchen floor, then walked through the living room and up the stairs, collecting rumpled clothing items along the way. She stopped at her bedroom door and opened it. Inside, Sam lay sideways on the bed.

“I’m going to whine at you now,” Alex said, throwing the clothes in a basket.

Sam opened his eyes. “No bra. Nice.”

“Sam.”

“Ugh. More whining?”

“Hey, that sounded like a whine. You beat me to it. Your usual strategy.”

“You didn’t call dibs.”

“I now call dibs. I officially call dibs on whining for the rest of the day.”

Alex walked over to the bed. She pulled the sleeping mask off Sam’s eyes, then snapped it. Sam rolled over.

“Get your ass out of bed, you hunk of lump. You said you would. I’m already late.”

“Hunk of what?”

“Never mind. Shut up and get up. I’m serious. I’m eating and then I’m leaving, and when I do, our child will be without parental supervision for as long as it takes your eyes to get to the kitchen.”

“Bring him here?”

“I am not bringing him in here so you can try to nap while he crawls on your face. It’s not nice.”

Alex left the room, then called out from the hallway. “I may leave the water on in the kitchen when I leave, too.”

“Grrrr …”

Alex walked downstairs, picking up more clothing and toys. When she got to the kitchen, she placed them on the table. Then she looked at Manuel, who was now unraveling a roll of toilet paper.

Alex took a bagel from the counter and began to eat. Soon, Sam joined them and began collecting ingredients on the counter: banana, berries, flax seed, milk.

“Good morning, my lovely,” Sam said. “You are looking particularly beautiful today.”

“Not too disheveled for you?”

“Not at all. You are a sight.”

“Thank you. I will let you kiss me now.”

Alex walked over to him and leaned toward him. Sam gave her a peck on the cheek. He placed his ingredients in the blender and turned it on.

Alex glanced around the kitchen. “Where are my flip flops?” she asked.

Sam pointed to the blender. “I can’t hear you.”

“You’re weird.”

“I know.” He turned off the blender. “They’re right there.” He pointed to the floor near Manuel.

Alex picked them up, then kissed Manuel.

“Mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah! I love you.”

“Why do you let him do that?” asked Sam.

Alex moved toward the front door. “What’s the big deal? It’s a cheap babysitter.”

“It’s wasteful.”

“Let’s see … a dollar a roll, twenty minutes per roll … that’s only three dollars per hour of awesome entertainment.”

“And how much for the housekeeper to clean it up?”

“He’s free.”

“Not free. I could be doing something else right now. Something very lucrative.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno. When I think of it, I’ll let you know.”

“That would be great.”

“Or maybe I could just be sexing you up?”

“Your argument is not getting stronger.”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

“I’m sorry, Hon. Tonight, okay? I love you.”

“Bye.”

On the floor, Manuel began stuffing pieces of toilet paper into the core of the roll.


Half an hour later, Alex and Melanie were sitting in a cafe.

Also thirty-something but with short, dark hair, Melanie was wearing a stylish black summer dress.

“So, I got hit on yesterday.”

“Nice. Who?”

“Just some guy. Young.”

“Cute?”

“Yeah, actually.”

“Nice?”

“Very nice. Sweet.”

“Oh. So, not your type at all.”

“Not at all.”

“Story?”

“It was just at the grocery store. This guy—he was like, twenty-two or something—came up to me and started chatting about the eggs or something. After a while it dawned on me that he was flirting.

“He said, ‘So, you look like you’re having a lot of fun here at the grocery store.’ And I said, ‘I am, actually.’ He said that I must enjoy being by myself. I told him I did. I said the grocery store was where I came for excitement. He said, ‘You can do better than that.’ I asked him where he goes by himself and he said, ‘I go to the mountains. To meditate.’ I asked him if he takes off his shoes and he said he does. I said it reminded me of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life and he asked me if I wanted to walk barefoot with him sometime. It was cute. Real flirting. Been a while.”

“Very cute,” said Alex.

“So, how are things with you, my dear? It’s been too long. How’s baby boy? How’s Sam? How’s life?”

“Life is actually good. But not perfect. Still working on that perfection thing.”

“Gotta give that up eventually, my friend. Things going okay?”

Alex sighed. “Yeah, they’re fine but … I don’t know. Manuel is totally perfect, totally great. Sam and I … You know how we are. We’re good. But.”

“The work thing still?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Sam’s working a lot, too. Not as much as I am, of course, but a lot. And he doesn’t want to do as much with the baby and the house because he feels like he’s already doing so much more than usual. Especially more of the house. And I can’t, because of work, and that’s something I can’t slow down on right now. I guess a lot of it’s my fault, but … I don’t know. I love him as much as ever, but something’s different. We fought a few times lately. Not fun.”

“That sucks, Alex. I’m sorry. Do you have a plan?”

“Ha. You know me so well.”

“I do.”

“Yeah, I have a plan. We actually went on that date last night.”

“Well, there you go. You’re on the case.”

“Yeah.”

“So how was it?”

“It was fun. It was not what we expected. But in some ways it was better. It was easy.”

“Aw, that’s very cool.”

“And then I went back to being annoyed this morning when he slept in and made me late.”

“Why? It’s just me. I read.”

“I know. I know. Anyway, last night, we talked about the sister wife thing. That thing you were joking about the other day?”

“Joking? I don’t quite remember that. I remember being totally serious about it.”

“Well, I guess I knew that. Anyway, we were sitting there at the dance watching all these cute old couples dancing. (Like I said: not what we expected.) And then I told him what you said.”

“And?”

“He said he was wondering when I was going to ask him that question. Whether or not we should get a sister wife.”

“That’s what I said he’d say.”

“I know. You’re a genius.”

“I know. But that’s crazy.”

“I know. Is it? It’s crazy.”

“It is. For you guys, it is. So what else did he say? And what did you say?”

“He said … Well, he said we should try it.”

“And you?”

“I guess I agreed. Mostly. Sort of.”

“Nice.”

“I know. Is it? It’s crazy.”

Mel smiled. “It is. And, you know, it doesn’t have to be.”

“That’s true.”

There was a pause. Then Alex spoke again. “I never told you this since it wasn’t a real thing. And really, it’s still not a real thing. But … the thought had crossed my mind before. Before you ever brought it up.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“When?”

“Just recently. Just the past few months—I mean, a few months ago—when things started getting pretty hard. I started thinking I needed help.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t think that’s how this works, Alex. I was just kidding about the baby and the cleaning.”

“I know, I know. That’s not really what I mean. I mean, that’s part of it, but it’s more than that. I am just feeling really lonely.”

“You? You’re always busy doing stuff. Seeing people.”

“I know. I see work people, and all that. But besides you and Sam and Manuel, I don’t have that many friends. No family nearby. It’s hard. I need more.”

“Yeah. I hear you there.”

“I mean, when I was twenty-two, I was like that guy from the grocery store saying he wanted to go to the mountains and all that. I would’ve related completely. But now, with a family, it’s different. I want to be alone sometimes. But I really want people.”

“I do, too. Welcome to adulthood, I guess.”

“Yeah. We’re so unromantic, aren’t we?”

“Yeah. We’re so boring. And so practical.”

“So practical. And so right, too.”

“Maybe.”

Alex paused, then continued. “This is embarrassing, sort of, to admit that I remember this. But one time when I was in college I was at a park with a guy I was dating and we were just walking along the beach together and we passed this guy just sitting by himself on a large rock, looking out at the water, eating a sandwich. And for whatever reason, for the rest of that day, I couldn’t get the image of him out of my head. My boyfriend was chatting about something but I wasn’t paying attention. All I could think was, I wish I had the guts to dump this guy and just be alone. Just go on dates by myself, sit alone on a rock on the beach.

“And I was right to think that. But I’m also right not to think that anymore. I got married, and I like being married. And now I want more. More intimacy, more connection.

“And I think I really do want a second wife.”

“Wow. So, let me get this straight: Do you want to find someone for you, too? Not a sister wife, but a third? I thought you said “sister wife” before.”

“Uh … Maybe I’m a bit unclear on the terminology.”

“Oh, wow. That’s … big.”

“I know. What do you think? Really. Tell me the truth.”

“Oh, Hon. I’m happy for you. Of course. And who knows what will happen. It might, it might not. You’re just figuring it out.”

“And if we did figure it out, and something happened? It would be a huge change. For you, too.”

“That’s true. I might get a bit jealous. Another best friend for my best friend. And someone I used to—well, we don’t have to get into that.”

“All right. We won’t.”

Melanie sighed. “You have your priorities. So what’s the next step, anyway? How are you going to find this unicorn?”

Alex smiled. “Well, we’re going to go out again this Friday night, and then every single Friday night after that until we’re, like, totally successful.”

“Amazing. I think it will be really good for you guys.”

“It’ll be fun.”

“I hope so.”

“Won’t be easy.”

“They call them unicorns for a reason.”

When they were ready to leave, Alex smiled at Mel.

“Hey, Melanie—you’ll find someone, you know. It’ll happen.”

“Hey. How do you know I even want someone?” Mel asked.

“Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.”

“Yeah, well. I’m only human. I know I don’t meditate in the mountains or anything, but I really do like being alone, you know.”

“I know. I didn’t mean—everyone’s not me. I didn’t mean it was never a choice people would make.”

“Don’t worry about it.” She looked at her watch. “All right. Probably about that time.”

Melanie stood up and Alex did the same. They hugged.

“Love you,” said Melanie.

“Love you, too. Soldier on, then.”


One week later. Melanie’s front door. Alex and Sam handed Melanie the baby and a large bag.

“Thank you, Mel,” said Sam. “You know he likes you better than us. Well, better than me, anyway.”

“Not a chance. Impossible. You’re wonderful.”

“You are, too, Mel. You know I love you.”

“I do. We’d make such a great couple, wouldn’t we, Sam? So why aren’t the three of us going on your date instead?”

“Yes. I love it,” said Alex. “Oh—we can look for a fourth!”

“Perfect! Four wives. It’s settled. Oh, my. I really have to stop leading you on, don’t I, Sam?

“It’s terrible. It’s really terrible. You know how I like crazy women.”

“Sam!” said Alex.

“Sorry, Hon. It’s my weakness.”

“Well, tonight will be a great night to find another one,” said Mel.

“Oh, please don’t say that,” said Alex.

“So. You’re really doing it, you two,” said Mel.

“We really are,” said Alex.

Mel looked at Sam. “Didn’t think you were really going to go through with it.”

“Yeah, you did. You get me.”

“I suppose so.”


Half an hour later. A small Mexican restaurant near the freeway. Sam and Alex stood near the end of a long line made up mostly of men.

“Hey, there,” said Alex to the stranger in front of her.

He smiled. “Hi, how are you?”

“Outnumbered,” said Alex.

“No, I’m outnumbered. You’re great,” said the man.

“How’s this gonna work?” said Alex.

“We’ll see,” said Sam.

When Sam and Alex got to the front of the line, they were greeted by Shereen, a blonde Southern woman.

“Five dollars each,” said Shereen. “And this is where you’ll do up your name tag.”

While Sam paid, Alex chose a tag and a pen and started to write her name.

“Hold on there, hold on,” Shereen said. “There are rules to this, now.”

“Oh. Did I do something wrong?”

“No, Honey. Things can just get a bit complicated with the whole poly thing, so here’s what we’re doing: If you want to meet women, you write your name with the pink marker. If you want to meet men, you write your name with the blue marker. If you’re open to either, you write your name with the black marker.”

“Makes sense,” said Sam.

“Well, then,” said Alex. She picked up the pink pen. The man in line behind her pretended not to be disappointed.

Sam and Alex found an empty booth and sat. Soon, Shereen stood up and walked to the center of the room.

“Okay, everyone, it’s time to begin. We’re a little short on women tonight but that’s okay, we’ll figure it out. Ladies, and men who are wanting to meet men, I’ll have you each take a seat at one of the numbered tables. Men, and women wanting to meet women, you line up at Table One.”

Three women and one man sat at the tables. Shereen joined them, and Alex and Sam joined the long line of men. Alex was the only woman in it.

“This could take a while,” Sam said.

“Do any of the women have a pink or black nametag, or all they all blue?” Alex asked.

“I don’t know,” said Sam. They looked at the women at the tables.

“Hers is black,” said Sam. He pointed to a sixty-five-year-old woman with dyed red hair.

“Hmmm. That’s cool,” said Alex.

“This may be harder than we expected,” Sam said.

“Maybe.”

“But we got it, right?”

“Absolutely.”

Act Two


Downtown nightclub. Night. Sam and Alex were sipping sodas, looking over the well-dressed people on the dance floor. They were both wearing jeans and T-shirts.

“I haven’t been here in forever,” Sam said.

“Me, neither,” said Alex.

“Well, you wanna dance?”

“Sure.”


BDSM sex club. Night. Sam and Alex were sitting on a couch watching various scenes being enacted, including flogging, cutting and group sex. A man in leather approached Sam and Alex and introduced himself.

“So, you two new?” he asked. “Haven’t seen you here before.”

“We are,” said Sam.

“What do you think?”

“It’s … cool,” said Sam.

“Really, really … nice,” said Alex.


Crowded pub. Night. Loud music. Sam and Alex were yelling directly into each other’s ears, making hand motions.


Downtown nightclub. Same time as previous. Sam and Alex were dancing self-consciously. After a while, Alex raised her arms and started a sexy, goofy Indian-style dance. Sam smiled and joined in.


BDSM sex club. Night. Same time as previous. Dressed in just panties and a bra, Alex lay tied down on a flogging rack. Sam stood in front of her holding a whip. He very slowly brought it down onto her belly, and Alex flinched.

“Oh! I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?”

“No, no, uh-uh. I’m okay,” said Alex.


House party. Night. Sam was chatting with an attractive blonde.

“So, we should really hang out sometime,” said Sam.

“Yeah, sounds good,” said the woman.

Alex walked up to them and put her arm around Sam.

“Hey!” said Alex.

“Hi,” said Sam.

“Hi,” said the woman.

“Having fun?” Alex asked.

“Yeah.”

“Me, too.”

“I’m gonna get something to drink,” said the woman.

She walked away.


Crowded pub. Same time as previous. Sam and Alex were sitting quietly watching the band. After several minutes, Alex made a walking motion with her fingers and Sam nodded. They got up to leave.


BDSM sex club. Same time as previous. Sam and Alex were sitting on the couch again with the man in leather.

“So, what are you two into?” asked the man.

Alex turned to Sam. “Hmmm. What are we into?”

“Hmmm. You mean this kind of stuff?”

The man nodded.

Sam nodded. “We’re … none of it.”


Downtown nightclub. Same time as previous. Sam and Alex were on the dance floor, copying each other’s goofy moves. Several people were giving them strange looks and moving away.

After a while, a man smiled at them, then attempted several difficult break dancing moves, with only partial success.

Sam and Alex laughed and the three started dancing together.


The office of Sam and Alex’s house. Evening. Alex was typing rapidly on her computer. Sam was also at his computer, playing a game and holding Manuel in his lap.

Suddenly, Alex stopped typing.

“Hey,” she said.

“Yeah?” said Sam.

“It’s Friday.”

“Yeah. What time is it.”

“Look at your computer.”

“Can’t.”

“It’s five.”

“Okay, so date night soon.”

“Whaddya wanna do?”

“What are the options?”

“Nightclub again?”

“Not sure I’m in the mood.”

“Yeah. Me neither.”

“That bar downtown? The one that does trivia night?”

“Meh.”

“Nothing sounds fun right now, does it?”

“Not really.”

“This dating thing is hard work, isn’t it?”

“It’d be a lot easier if we were looking for a man.”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“You know what I really want to do? I wanna go buy some new lawn chairs.”

“We have lawn chairs.”

“I know. But they’re all worn out.”

“They’re fine.”

“They’re going to fall apart at any moment.”

“Okay. Whatever.”

“You’ll thank me. So let’s go get some together. Brown ones.”

“Since when do you care about the color of your lawn chairs?”

“I don’t know. What’s happening to me?”

“I think you’re getting … old.”

“Maybe a bit.”

“Remind me to check you for grays.”

“Okay.”

Later that evening. Sam and Alex were in their car.

“I can’t believe we’re buying lawn chairs on our date night,” said Alex.

“Oh, c’mon. It’s fun,” said Sam. “And the baby isn’t here. It counts.”

“How are we ever going to find our second wife this way?”

“I dunno. It’s just … how long have we been looking now?”

“Not that long. Only a few months.”

“I know, but … it’s already feeling like work.”

“Yeah, but it’s still fun.”

“Hey, I have an idea. You know what we should do? We should say that we each have to hit on one girl tonight. After that we can go home and watch a movie.”

“At the sporting goods store?”

“Yeah.”

“And what qualifies as hitting on someone?”

“You have to get a phone number. Or give out your number.”

“No problem. I got this.”

“Okay, then.”

They pulled up to the store and Sam parked the car.

“Not nervous?” asked Sam.

“Meh. Only to an expected degree. You?”

“I dunno. Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Hey, we’ll never see these people again, right?”

“Right. And anyway, we’ll be doing the girls a favor. First, we’re giving them a compliment. Second, we’ll give them a great story to tell their friends later.”

“Totally.”

They walked into the store. A tall, lean twenty-something woman wearing glasses was standing behind the counter.

“Hello. Can I help you find something?” asked the woman.

“Do you guys have lawn chairs? Brown ones?”

“Sure. I mean, we have lawn chairs. Aisle six, I think.”

“Thanks,” said Sam. “Hey, you want my phone number?”

“Okay,” said the woman.

Sam gave her his card, then walked away. Alex followed him down the aisle.

“Cheater!” she said.

“What?” said Sam.

“You gave her your number, just like that! Cheater!”

An old couple walked past them in the aisle, and Alex waited for them to pass.

“Answer me!” she said.

“What? What are you talking about? You said I had to give someone my number, and that’s what I did.”

“Here they are,” said Alex. She motioned to the lawn chairs, then sat in one. “And there are drink holders.”

Sam sat in another. “It’s everything I ever wanted. Except it’s not brown,” he said.

“Over there,” said Alex.

They found the rest of the chairs and started looking them over.

“Black. Blue. Green,” said Alex.

“Nothing,” said Sam.

“No, wait. Here are some brown ones. Just two left, in the back.”

Sam took one of the chairs and looked it over. Then he unfolded it and tried it out.

“Looks good on you,” said Alex. “I think it’s meant to be.”

“I’m sold.”

They each took a chair to the front counter. The girl with the glasses smiled at them, and Alex handed her the chairs.

“So. How’s your night going?” Alex asked.

“I’m so tired. I could fall asleep right now,” said the girl.

“Aw, that sucks,” said Alex. “Spoils all the fun when you’re tired.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Cancel the party at the sporting goods store.”

“Yeah. $21 even.”

Alex swiped her card in the machine.

“Well, anyway, we’re glad you were here today. We found the perfect lawn chairs, and it was you that showed us the way.”

The girl handed Alex the receipt. “Glad to help.”

“So, I know you probably get hit on a lot working in a place like this—at the center of all the action. But you seem pretty cool and we’re looking for someone, so … how about I give you my number?”

The girl’s smile froze. She took the card.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” said Alex. “Later.”

Sam took the chairs and followed Alex out of the store.

“Cheater!” he said when they got to the parking lot.

“Me?” said Alex.

“That was the same girl! Cheater! I already got her!”

“You warmed her up for me. I think we make a great team. Anyway, I did better than you.”

“You did. Think she’s gonna call?”

“Not a chance.”

“Let’s go watch a movie.”

Sam held out his hand, and Alex took it. They walked to the car.


Melanie’s house. An evening in late summer. Alex handed Manuel to Melanie, then put the diaper bag on the coffee table.

“Thank you, my dear.”

“My pleasure,” said Melanie. “I’m glad you guys are still doing this, even though it’s so far been … slightly unsuccessful.”

“Hey. Go with us tonight? Be our wing woman?”

“Tonight? What about Manuel?”

“There will be other kids there.”

“On your date?”

“It’s dinner at someone’s house. A poly party. Some woman we met.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Okay.”


Later that evening. Shereen’s house. Sam, Alex, Melanie and Manuel were standing at the front door. Sam held flowers and a cheese plate, and Alex held Manuel in a sling.

Shereen opened the door.

“Alex. Good to see you, darling. Thanks for calling me and for coming.” She showed them into the house.

“This is the crew,” said Alex. She made introductions.

“Hello, hello, and welcome!” said Shereen. “And let me introduce you to my crazy zoo.”

“I love a good zoo,” said Sam.

“Well, you’ll love this place, then.”

Shereen led the group through the living room, where several people were chatting and eating, to the backyard, where a barbeque dinner was partly set up on two picnic tables. Nearly a dozen children, plus a cat and a dog, were playing in the yard. A ten-year-old was dragging a bean bag up to the picnic table. A toddler was sitting in a baby stroller and crying loudly as an older child pushed her. A boy was peeing in the bushes, and a baby was crawling after the cat.

Art, Bobby and Carla were watching the kids and chatting. Art wore a shirt the same pale yellow that Shereen wore. Bobby, wearing a sports jersey, had his arm around Carla, a Hispanic woman with a sweet, open face.

Sam smiled approvingly at the scene.

“And here they are,” said Shereen. “Everyone, this is Sam, Alex and Melanie. And Manuel. Alex and I had a nice chat after the speed dating event.”

“So this is the adult portion of your family?” asked Sam.

“Yes, this is all of us. And our kids are Grace, Kaylie, Jonathan, Alexis, Shawnie and Hope, the baby. Say hi, kids.”

“Hello,” said Shawnie and Grace.

“Meow,” said Hope.

Kaylie and Alexis started to argue over whose turn it was to push the stroller, and Bobby got up from the picnic table to mediate. Shereen began discussing the food plan with Art, and Sam handed the cheese plate and flowers to Carla. Alex and Melanie went back inside the house.

“They’re all having so much fun,” said Sam to Carla.

“Yeah. They love it. Most of the time.”

“You all live in this one house?”

“Yup, we do! It gets a little crazy, but we enjoy it.”

“You’d have to.”

“So I take it you three are together?”

“No. Melanie’s a friend. Alex and I are … poly hopefuls.”

“Okay.”

“Unicorn hunting, I guess.”

“I see.”

“I mean, we’re just looking. We’ll see what happens.”

“Not interested in another couple?”

“It’s always an option. Would have to be the right people. Also, I’d really like to have more of my own kids.”

“Just your own? Why?”

“I don’t know. Always have wanted a lot.”

“How many?”

“Just … all of them.”

“You won’t regret it.”

In the kitchen, Alex and Melanie were mixing drinks.

“By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you: Is that eye liner?” asked Alex.

“Maybe,” said Melanie. “Why? Can’t I wear eye liner?”

“I don’t know. I suppose it’s all right.”

“How does it look?”

“Okay.”

“Oh, good. Just the look I was going for.”

“Are you looking for a date here, too?”

“Naw. I have my date. You and Sam.”

“I knew it. You want to be my sister wife.”

“But do I qualify?”

“Well, why don’t I check the list?”

Alex pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and pretended to read.

“Are you attractive in a natural way?”

“I mean, I’m wearing eyeliner. But yes, I’m attractive. Obviously.”

“Okay. Are you single?”

“Quite.”

“Are you fertile?”

“Never tried it.”

“Okay. I’ll just make a note of that … Are you rich?”

“That is not on your list.”

“We’ll call you.”

Just then, Cassidy entered the room.

The first thing Alex noticed was her long dark hair, and right after that, her glasses and her deep voice. She was laughing and chatting with a tall, eager-looking man. They made drinks, then left the kitchen.

Sam entered the kitchen, noticing Cassidy as she and the man joined a woman just outside the door. The woman took one of the drinks, then put her arm around the man.

Sam grabbed a beer from the bar.

“Did you see her?” asked Melanie.

“See who?” said Sam.

“The dark hair? C’mon. You saw her. She’s really into that guy and now she’s flirting with his girlfriend.”

“Mel, are you putting me to work?”

“It’s Friday night. It’s a work night, Hon. Go.”

Sam looked at Alex, who nodded and smiled. He went to the next room and approached Cassidy, who had just walked away from the couple.

“Hey,” said Sam.

“Hey,” said Cassidy.

“I’m Sam.”

“Cassidy.”

“My friend told me to come talk to you.”

“Oh, yeah? Which one?”

“The taller one. In the red shirt.” Sam pointed through the kitchen door to Melanie, who was now holding Manuel and talking to two men and Alex.

“Your … friend?”

“Yeah. Well, I’m slightly in love with her, but …”

“So not your baby?”

“Oh, yeah, that is my baby.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“Oh no, not complicated. Just your average Seattle couplehood, really. Alex and I actually wouldn’t mind a few complications.”

“I know what you mean. Complicated is underrated.”

“Totally. Kind of.”

“Sometimes.”

“Yeah.”

“Hey. Are we doing that thing where everything we say has some hidden meaning?”

“I mean, is that such a bad thing?”

“No. I’m good with it. Kind of. Sometimes.”

“Yeah. Or you know, I could just be more direct?”

“That could be fun, too.”

“Okay. Well, are you poly?”

“I have been at times.”

“Couples?”

“Sometimes. It’s a little more convenient that way. Kind of. Sometimes. With the right people involved.”

“Wow. How did she know?”

“Who, your friend?”

“Yeah. Melanie.”

“I don’t know. But she’s been checking me out since she got here. Wing woman, then?”

“Sort of.”

“Well, she looks pretty capable. Good choice. You have good taste in friends.”

“So, do you like babies?”

“I do in fact like babies.”

“Well, you wanna meet the best one ever?”

“Yeah. Why not?”

“Are you sure? He might spoil all other babies for you for all time. Do you want to take that risk?”

“It’s cool. I’m cool with the occasional risk.”

“Okay, then.”

Sam led Cassidy over to Melanie, Alex and Manuel. They talked for a few minutes. Then Melanie looked at her watch.

“Hey, I’m taking off soon, you guys.”

“No, don’t go. We’re having fun.”

“Naw, it’s time. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“All right,” said Alex. “Go.”


Later that night. Shereen’s backyard, sun low in the sky. Shereen was gathering up empty plates and cups while the other adults sat and talked as before. The children were still playing in the yard. Manuel was sitting on the grass in the midst of the action, giggling wildly. Jonathan grabbed a stick of butter off the picnic table and carried it around, licking it periodically.

“So. Been looking much?” Shereen asked Sam and Alex.

“Oh, I dunno. We’re trying a bunch of things,” said Sam.

“We’re having fun,” said Alex.

“Well, good for you.”

“Yeah, good for you,” said Art.

Alex sighed. “The truth is we sort of suck at this whole poly thing.”

“Oh, yeah? How long’s it been?”

“Oh, like … almost three months?”

“Well, that’s not too bad,” said Bobby.

“It’s just … Why are we such failures at being poly? I mean, what’s the big deal, anyway? Instead of having sex with one person, you have sex with two or more. Possibly at the same time.”

“It sounds easy enough to me,” said Carla.

Shawnie approached Bobby and asked for a ride. He picked her up and held her upside down. She squealed.

“Well, don’t worry about it too much,” said Bobby. “You’re just getting started, you know?”

“Wheelbarrow!” said Shawnie.

“Okay.” Bobby took Shawnie by the ankles and she started walking around the yard on her hands.

“At first we were just thinking it’d be fun to try something different. Maybe just swing, hook up. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Wade in a bit, see how things go. Maybe be with a couple, or just a man.”

“But we talked about this, Alex,” said Sam. “Not while we’re trying to get pregnant.”

“Yeah, I remember. But … I don’t know. It doesn’t sound too bad. We could be careful.”

“No way.”

“Okay, Hon. Let’s just talk about this later.”

Sam turned to Shereen. “How did you all know you really wanted to do this? I mean, how did you decide?”

“Well, that’s a good question and I actually have an answer for you,” said Shereen.

Just then, Cassidy wandered into the backyard.

“Hey! You’re still here,” said Alex.

“No reason to leave this rad place,” said Cassidy.

“I know, right?” said Alex. “Sit down.”

Cassidy pulled a chair over to Alex and Sam.

“So, when I was twenty-five, I was married to a man I didn’t love,” said Shereen. “But I didn’t want to get a divorce because I didn’t believe in it—Catholic, and all that, and besides, it just didn’t seem right.”

Sam adjusted his position in his chair to face Cassidy and put his hand on top of hers. She lifted up her fingers, interlacing them with his.

Shereen went on. “Anyway, that summer, about five years into our marriage—right after our fifth anniversary, actually—we rented a cabin in the woods with some friends. There were three other couples, so eight people in all (none of us had kids yet). We spent all that Saturday together, eating together, relaxing. It was great.

“Then came Saturday night. Now, don’t worry, this is still G-rated. We just played cards for a while and then a couple of people went swimming. Then I got tired and went to bed first. Since there were only two bedrooms, I said I’d sleep on the couch in the family room, next to the living room where everyone else was.

“So I’m lying there sort of trying to sleep but also just enjoying being there, listening to the voices coming from the next room—just the usual talking and laughing and all that. The sounds were so comforting and familiar. And suddenly, it hit me: I missed living with more than one other person. Really, really missed it. My husband didn’t want kids, and until then I wasn’t sure whether or not I did, either. But as I lay there, I realized I did, and that maybe, I always had.

“I really, really wanted a family.”

Alex looked over at Sam and Cassidy. Then she pulled her chair a bit closer to Cassidy’s.

“It wasn’t long after that that I divorced my husband and met a man who was poly. And the rest is … what you see here.”

“Awww, Shereen. That’s beautiful,” said Alex.

“You now what?” said Sam. “That reminds me of something.”

He glanced at Alex.

“I don’t think I ever told you this, Alex. When I was a kid I lived in the country for a while where there wasn’t a whole lot going on. There was a school there, though—a small elementary school—so every Saturday night everyone in town would get together and have a dance in the gym. We would take the bleachers down and store our stuff under there and people would bring food and we’d all hang out until really late. I was pretty little still, so my mom would bring my pajamas with me and around nine o’clock me and the other smaller kids would put our pajamas on and crawl under the bleachers and lie down.

“This was the economical way to babysit.

“The kids all loved it. We would curl up there in our little covered fort and watch the legs of the adults as they danced, and listen to the music playing and all the people talking and having a good time. And then we’d fall asleep.

“And to this day, that’s my favorite memory from childhood.

“It’s primal, you know? It’s instinctive. Some people say being poly is instinctive, and I don’t know about that. But this—”

Sam gestured toward the children on the floor. “This definitely is.”

The adults fell silent for a moment, watching the kids play. Then Shereen stood up. “Well, I think it’s time for cake.”

She nodded at Art and he stood, too, and followed her to the picnic table.

Alex, Sam and Cassidy looked at each other.

“This is nice, isn’t it?” said Alex.

“It really is,” said Cassidy.

“Who knows? Our house could be like this someday. This could be what we have to look forward to,” said Sam.

“Could be,” said Alex.

“Sometimes it’s good to consider the options, anyway, then just see what happens,” said Cassidy.

Sam looked at her. “So can we consider the options with you?”

“I think I’d like that. If Alex is okay with it, of course.”

“Me? I am altogether okay with it.”

Cassidy let go of Sam’s hand. “Can I?”

Cassidy leaned toward Alex and they kissed. Then Sam kissed Cassidy.

He laughed. “Somehow this seems so inappropriate around kids.”

“Naw,” said Cassidy.

“Well, in that case, let’s go for it … PG-style.”

Sam stood up and swept Alex out of her chair. He looked at her for a moment, then kissed her.

“Hey, that was pretty good,” said Cassidy. “And totally PG.”

Cassidy touched Alex’s arm but Alex didn’t respond.

“You know what we should do?” Alex said. “We should eat some cake.”

Just then, Jonathan approached Sam from behind and slipped a fork into the back of his shirt.

“That’s a great idea, Alex,” Sam said. “Also there’s a fork in my shirt.”

Sam pulled the fork out of his shirt and held it up.

“Perfect timing,” said Cassidy.

They joined the others standing around the picnic table. Hope crawled after them.

“Meow.”


The following day. Sam and Alex’s house. Alex was sitting in the garden with Manuel, who was playing in the dirt. Melanie was sitting in one of their new lawn chairs in a summer dress drinking iced tea.

“So. We did it,” said Alex.

“Well, you didn’t actually do it. Right?”

“No. But Sam—well, I told him I’m okay with it if he wants to. Even soon. And I know he wants to, so we’ll see … Anyway, we did it. We found someone who is interested.”

“Were you planning on giving me the story?”

“Well, it was a long night.”

“How long?”

“Maybe three o’clock or something.”

“Wow. Did you do anything … physical?”

“Yeah. I mean, the talking was the best part.”

“Yeah, yeah, the talking. But you made out?”

“We did. Some. At a park we went to after we left.”

“And what did you think?”

“It was cool.”

“All three of you involved?”

“Yeah. More us two girls.”

“And how was it, really?”

“It was … I mean, it was actually only okay for me. Sam liked it. Though he asked me this morning if I thought she was into him. But I really, really like her—you know, as a person.”

“She your type?”

“Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t really have a type yet. But she’s really cool.”

“Well, I thought so, too. I hope it works out.”

“Thanks.”

Melanie sighed. “Damn it. The bi chicks have all the fun.”

“Don’t worry, you’re still in the running, Sister Wife.”

“Really? Even though I’m not rich?”

“You squeaked through.”

“I’m glad.”

“So you really like her?”

“I do. So far, you know. It’s funny: when Sam and I first started looking, I don’t think either of us actually knew what we were looking for. I mean, the whole thing was very theoretical. She’d be this perfect woman who matched both of us equally well somehow. An equilateral triangle.”

“Yeah.”

“But then part of me thought we wouldn’t ever find it, that we’d have to compromise some things. But Cassidy—if she’s what she seems to be, she could be exactly that great. It’s pretty—well, it’s really surprising.”

Just then, there was a ringtone. Melanie looked at the phone on the table next to her.

“It’s yours.”

“Read it for me?”

Melanie did so. “Hey. It’s her.”

“Okay, wow. That was fast.”

“She says she’d like to hang out tomorrow night if you’re free. Are you free?”

“I don’t know. Text Sam.”

Melanie texted Sam. Soon, the reply came.

“He says tomorrow is fine but wants to know if you’re all three going.”

“Maybe he should just go?”

“I’ll ask her.”

She texted again and waited for the response.

“She says you should all go.”

“All right then. We’ll all go.”

Melanie texted Cassidy again while Alex tried to wipe the dirt off her hands.

“Oh, shit. Melanie! Oh, shit.”

She jumped up and looked down at her clothes and at Manuel. Then she knelt down, scooped some dirt out of Manuel’s mouth and picked him up.

“I’m writing of course,” said Melanie.

“Just write sure.”

“Exclamation point or no?”

“Yes. None looks so … blah.”

“Changed my mind. I’m leaving off the exclamation point.”

“Melanie.”

Melanie looked up.

“What if she comes here?” asked Alex.

They stared at each other for a moment. Then Melanie stood up and they both began grabbing toys, food and dishes from around the yard and bringing them inside.

In the kitchen, Alex set Manuel down on the floor.

“Pile first, then wash,” said Melanie.

The women started going throughout the house room by room making piles of like items: laundry, dishes, books, toys. As they worked, Manuel reached his hand in the vacuum and removed the bag, spilling its contents all over the floor. Then he opened the cabinet under the sink and peered inside.

After a time, the women turned to phase two of their project: sorting and cleaning. They did several loads of laundry and dishes, then organized the shelves in the family room. Meanwhile, Manuel placed the contents of the compost container in a straight line along the floor and scattered a bag of chips next to it.

Alex looked at him.

“I’m hungry,” she said.

“Are you going to cook and clean?” asked Melanie.

“I’m hungry. We can do it.”

Two hours later, Sam walked in the door.

“This place is a mess,” he said.

Alex looked at Melanie.

“Want some tacos?” Melanie asked Sam.

Act Three