“Have you been taking your pills?” Nathaniel asked.
Anita leaned back on the bed on one hand, still clinging to her wine glass with the other. She was more laid back than usual. In the moment, she seemed amused by something, but there was nothing humorous here. Towering over his wife, he folded his arms against his chest.
“Why are you being so serious, Nathan?”
“Because I need to know you’ve been doing what the doctor said.”
“The doctor said I need to take care of myself. And I have been. I exercise every morning, you know.”
Nathaniel watched his wife finish her glass of wine. “And you take the lithium, too, right?”
Anita stood and placed her hands on his hips. “Why do you always ask about my pills when I’m happy? When I’m mad and yell, you and Chloe hate me and beg me to get better. But when I’m happy, I’m off my meds.” Looking up beneath her lashes, she added, “I can’t win, can I?”
Nathan looked away. “I worry about you. You and Chloe have a better relationship when you’re following through and taking care of yourself.”
“And I am!” Anita pried his hands from his chest, holding them tight. “I am doing my best, Nathan. I love you. I know you want the best for me—for all of us. But even the doctor said I would have…symptoms. The medication won’t stop it all.”
Nathan didn’t answer for a moment. He searched her eyes for something—anything—that would put his worries to rest. He nodded. “Yeah…I guess you’re right.”
When their relationship got serious, Anita told him everything he needed to know about her. When she was just a sophomore in high school, her doctor diagnosed Anita with bi-polar disorder. Times were dark back then. Having Chloe so young hurt, and Chloe’s father made everything worse.
But since they got together, she’d been working so hard on being the person she always wanted to be. She developed a strong work ethic; she hadn’t missed a day of work, hadn’t been late, and hadn’t left without finishing her work in years. From what they had told Nathaniel, she’d gone from almost losing her job to being one of the most reliable employees in the company.
Anita stood on the tips of her toes to kiss his lips. “I know you worry, and I love you for it. But please don’t let my occasional symptom make you think I’d stop taking the very medication keeping me…me. Okay?”
“I don’t think that. But…well, I need you to understand that there are just certain things you say or do that set off red flags to us. It’s nothing personal. It’s just something we notice because we’ve had to notice it, you know?”
“I understand; I wasn’t a good person before. But I’m working hard on being the mom Chloe needs; the one she always wanted. I still have a long way to go, but I’m getting there.”
Nathaniel kissed Anita deep, letting himself get lost in the moment. With Anita, it was so easy. “I love you, honey. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, sweetie. I love you, too. And speaking of my medications, I need my last dose tonight and I’ll refill it tomorrow, too.”
“Close. Another week, I believe. But I’d rather get it while I have the chance.”
Nathaniel nodded. “Has the dosage been okay for you? Seems like you haven’t been too sick lately.”
“Some days I get really sick, but others I don’t; it’s strange.”
“At your next appointment, we’ll let him know.” Nathaniel stared at the closet for a moment. Anita’s hands unbuttoning his shirt took his thoughts away.
“Why don’t you get more comfortable while I go take my last dose for the night? And when I come back…” Anita giggled and kissed his neck.
Nathaniel moaned soft before chuckling. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Just in a good mood. Do you need anything from downstairs?”
“Not a thing.”
Chloe sat on the couch with The Devil Wears Prada playing in the background. It was a movie she’d seen dozens of times; it was a guilty pleasure. At the moment, her focus wasn’t on the movie itself.
“I honestly thought classes would be a lot harder,” she said into the receiver of her phone, “but I’m grateful for that. Were things easy your first term, too?”
“Only because, like most other newbs, I took all easy classes,” David said.
When Chloe was in high school, just after Nathaniel came into their lives, Chloe and David became friends. She hadn’t been too confident in her ability to make friends without his advice and gentle prodding. But being a grade ahead, David graduated first and started college. And as soon as Chloe graduated, he confessed his feelings for her. They’d been dating—to the dismay of her mother—ever since.
“Hey now, I was technically a newb this past term,” Chloe laughed. “At least it was a nice way to start out.”
“You did great; I was teasing. Just don’t get in your own way and you’ll be fine.”
Movement in Chloe’s peripheral vision made her glance down the hall. Her mother went into the kitchen to take her meds. Chloe didn‘t like talking to David when her mother could overhear; a product of her distrust.
“So, how’re your classes going?” Chloe made her way to the kitchen for some juice. Her steps must have been a lot lighter than she thought.
When she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she watched her mother pull one of the beige pills apart. The powder fluttered into the sink. Without hesitation, her mother found the bleach cleaner and sprinkled some after. She put the pill back together, popped into her mouth, and washed down with a glass of water.
Chloe raced back to the couch forgetting the juice. “Oh, that sounds interesting,” Chloe turned her attention back to the conversation at hand, trying to put what she saw out of her mind.
“Chloe,” her mother poked her head into the living room. “I’m gonna just be upstairs. Long day.”
Chloe nodded. “Oh. What was that, David? Sorry.”
Nathan was laying in bed reading on his phone when Anita came back to their room.
“Took my pill. Sounds like Chloe will be up for a while yet if you’re staying up.” She said. There was a small vanity she liked to sit in front of to clean the makeup from her face and brush out her hair.
“You heading to bed soon?” He asked. “Or…?”
Anita chuckled. “I don’t think I’ll be ready for bed for a while.”
For a woman just shy of forty years old, Anita had the beauty she did in her twenties. Long dark brown hair fell to her lower back and she spent a lot of time each evening brushing it out. From time-to-time she would braid it. Other days she would pull it back into a bun or a ponytail. At night she would just let it hang down to frame her face and trail her curves. Some would have called Anita chubby. Many called her curvy.
Nathaniel always called her beautiful. And every night when they relaxed together, he would stop looking at his phone and just stare while she preened. Then it would hit him that this woman who, in his eyes, was gorgeous chose him to spend her life with. He liked that. He liked it a lot.
“Good. Teasing me like that then sleeping just wouldn’t be nice. Plus, I missed you today.”
Anita chuckled, “I missed you, too.” She slid into bed, laying down on her side facing him. Nathaniel set his phone aside holding his wife close. These were the best times. It never mattered how crappy work was because, at the end, the steady beating of her heart against his chest reminded him how real this was.
When Anita kissed him, when she held him close and let her hands caress his skin, Nathaniel could wont for nothing else.