The day was crisp and breezy. Most people were either at home finishing their late celebrations or preparing for the Black Friday outing taking place the next day. The few people out walking looked in good spirits and wore jackets and scarves to shield them from the elements.
On his stoop, Bob Belcher sat, dark bags under his eyes, messy white tee hanging over his rounded belly, and the scraggly unkempt beginnings of a beard dotting the lower half of his head. The restaurants had all closed for the day and the boardwalk was mostly empty from what Bob could see. He breathed in deeply, taking in the traces of various thanksgiving meals dancing on the wind.
“Mmm cinnamon... and cumin” he muttered to himself.
“Cumin? Well don’t mind me ‘cause I’m cumin outside. Ehh ehhh?” Linda’s voice came from directly behind him.
Bob startled slightly, not having heard her approach until she was practically telling jokes inside his ear. Linda looked to be in a great mood, a bit tired, understandably from the day’s drama, but happy nonetheless.
“...Nothin’? Tough crowd. Scooch over a bit.” She closed their apartment door behind them and sat beside her husband on the stoop where he had made space for her.
“Whatcha doin out here Bobby?”
Linda stared at the profile of Bob’s face while he looked off into the middle distance, clearly distracted.
“It’s nice out here,” Linda offered.
“The kids are asleep in bed.”
“I’m sorry all of your turkeys didn’t work out.”
“Yunno, I love Gayle and Teddy and Mort but I’m glad the party is over and it’s just us.”
“Mm yeah me too.”
The wind picked up suddenly; Linda held her dark hair down with both hands, struggling to remain at least a little coiffed in the whirlwind. Squinting through her red cat eyed lenses she glimpsed Bob, eyes closed, all of his wrinkles smoothed out slightly on his relaxed face. It was the most relaxed she’d seen him in a while. It was gone as soon as the wind stopped and he opened his eyes, leaving behind the harsh reminders of their stressful life. Bills, kids, a not particularly successful business, the toilet turkeys, and several sleepless nights were definitely not doing him any favours.
He sighed deeply and Linda’s eyes trailed down, taking in all the details of her sweetheart’s form. His bald spot peaking out from his thick dark hair, his stubbled cheeks, and the dark moustache above his lip. Linda stared admiringly but the longer she stared the more things she saw that maybe she hadn’t noticed earlier in the day. His shoulders swooped down in a hard line, his elbows leaning heavily on his thighs, hands hanging lax between his knees, eyebrows furrowed.
Linda lay her palm on his hairy forearm, “Bobby, what’sa matter?”
Bob continued to stare out across the empty street hoping for quiet. Needing the quiet. The Belcher family was anything but quiet on a good day and it had been a far from great Thanksgiving that year.
“Lin... I-“ He sighed slightly, “...I love you, you know that right?”
“Aww, I love you too Bob but uh oh you said that all weird. Ok, what happened?” Linda turned herself so she could give the man she loved her undivided attention, not that there was anything else out on the deserted street that could draw her attention but Linda had a knack for that sort of thing.
“I-Something happened when I was at the supermarket getting the turkey.”
“Which time? You’ve been there like what, 4 times this week?”
A discarded old plastic shopping bag rolled down their street as Bob thought of what to say.
“All of them except the first.”
Linda nodded in understanding, motioning with her free hand for him to continue.
“There was a guy at the meat counter, not at the meat counter like me but behind the counter like selling the meat. Maybe he was a butcher, I dunno, this isn’t going well...”
Linda ran the hand that she had on Bob’s forearm down to lay over his knuckles in a soothing gesture.
He took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself, “He thought I wasn’t a real chef when I went to get the second turkey. But when-“
“Aw Bobby is that what’s got you like this? Of course you’re a real chef, just ignore what people say.”
Bob startled, “People? What people? Are there other people saying I’m not a real chef? I mean I’m a real chef, right? I cook every day and people pay me...not much but... Oh god, I’m not a real chef, am I?” His eyes darted this way and that, and sweat ran down his temple as he talked himself into a sharp downward spiral. One of his damp palms pulled at the hem of his shirt.
“Oh boy, here we go. Okay. Bobby? Focus on my voice. Can you hear me?”
“Okay good. Take a deep breath for me.”
A high pitched wheeze of a deep breath.
“Let’s do the senses thing we read about. What do you feel with your fingers?
“Mm yeah you are kinda sweaty, it’s gross but it’s okay let’s focus on somethin’ else. What about somethin’ you hear?”
“Alright! Great job, okay now what about something you see?”
“Jimmy Pesto’s restaurant.”
“Oo I wonder what they’re having for dinner tonight?”
“Oh! Right, sorry sorry. What about taste?”
“Leftovers I guess.”
“Spices. I smell cinnamon... and cumin.”
“Cinnamon! That’s what that is! God, it was drivin’ me nuts. Okay good, there we go. You feelin’ better?”
“Yeah. Sorry about that.”
Linda gently ran her hand through Bob’s sweaty dark hair while she rubbed the pad of her thumb along the back of his hand. It seemed to be grounding him quickly.
“My poor Bobby, the only guy I know who can give himself a panic attack over something while he’s worried about something else. Okay so it’s not the fact that you’re a very real and professional chef that no one is gossiping about behind his back. What was the rest of your story?”
Bob thought back to the supermarket. The squeaky wheels and lopsided gaits of the grocery carts, the dozens of glossy pale turkeys huddled amongst each other in the cold display case, the soft inoffensive musak coming from the speakers, and the too bright lights illuminating the butcher’s rustled brown hair and kind eyes.
“The second time I saw him he called me a ‘sloppy bear’ and thought I came back because I was interested in him so he gave me his friend’s number instead. But the last time I was there he tried leaving his boyfriend to go out with me.“
The wind whipped up briefly, drying the sweat on the back of his neck, and taking with it some of the tension and crisp fallen leaves.
“What happened then?” She listened intently while her hands continued their ministrations.
“I grabbed the turkey and I ran. He was so out of my league...” he said wistfully. “And I’m married obviously.”
“I think I’m bisexual,” Bob blurted out.
A sharp breath left his lips.
“No. I am bisexual,” he corrected. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
Linda brushed the smaller curled hairs at his temple, “Yunno, I can’t say I’m not a little surprised but there were a few times over the years I thought you might not be straight.”
She nodded, “Some mumbles and looks. If you ever wanna explore that part of yourself more we can talk about you having a few no-strings-attached date nights or... maybe even bringing someone else into some of our date nights.”
Bob stared stunned at his surprisingly openminded wife as she continued brushing at his temple hairs, her other hand grasped tightly in his.
“But I’m glad you feel comfortable telling me. Thank you for telling me Bobby.”
“You’re not upset? I’m not the same man you married.”
Linda looked her husband dead in the eyes. Unflinching and without a shred of hesitation she asked, “Do you still love me?”
“Yes, sometimes I love you so much it hurts my chest.” He leaned his cheek into the soft comforting fingers, eye contact unbroken.
“Aw Bobby, you’re gonna make me cry. In a good way, it’s a good way.” She smiled warmly at him. “Then you’re still the same man I married.”
Bob pulled her to him tightly, “This is one of those times when it hurts.”
Linda laughed her nasal laugh, “Maybe it’s because we’re hugging so tight?”
“No, it’s you. It’s always you.”