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“I shouldn’t have said that,” Liv says, but the statement is no salve to the gaping wound she just inflicted on her family. Their reaction is like watching an explosion in slow motion: the emotions hitting them in small increments, each building off one another.

Across from her, her brother Jess’s mouth is as wide open as the ventriloquist dummy he left abandoned in the attic after childhood. His eyes flick back and forth from their mom to their dad to Liv, and back again for another round. Her dad only has eyes for her mom, and Liv doesn’t know if he is even breathing, his chest completely still beneath his lucky four-leaf clover t-shirt, the entire scene loaded with irony. Her mom is staring down, directly at her half-eaten dinner plate, although Liv doubts her mom will return to the kernels of corn or pork chop tonight. Red has flooded her face, first blooming in the tips of her ears just like it does on Liv’s. So much blood has rushed to her own tonight that Liv feels like there’s a fever concentrated in them.

The front door opens, the whip of the wind from the snowstorm outside whistling through it before it slams shut.

Beka, Liv’s older sister, struts into the doorway, black boots speckled with slush. “Hey, sorry I’m late. Roads weren’t good.” Beka unwinds the red crochet scarf from around her neck but stops before she makes it one full loop. Her smile slips off as the end of the scarf does out of her hands. “What’s going on?”

“Something I don’t understand if it’s true,” Dad murmurs. Under the lights, Liv can see his eyes have become like glass. Inside her chest, Liv feels like tiny shards of it have perforated her heart.

I shouldn’t have said it. I shouldn’t have said it.

“What?” Beka crosses the threshold and yanks the chair out beside Liv, but doesn’t sit, just holds tight to its back, nails digging into the rose carved into the wood. “Someone needs to tell me something that isn’t in code.”

Jess’s eyes are still on Liv, shellshocked and pleading, begging her for an answer different than the one she has already given. “Liv said that Mom is cheating on Dad,” he says.

Liv hadn’t wanted this to happen. If she was going to air the dirty laundry, she hadn’t planned for it to be at the table. But as they ate their meal, and her mom picked at her dad for working late, questioning why and asking if it had anything to do with his co-worker, Diana, implying what her mom had no ground to imply, Liv burst.

“What?” Beka’s voice comes shrill, perplexed, and angry. “Liv, why the fuck would you say that?”

If anyone needed a barometer to gauge how the family was doing at this moment, they could use this: neither parent reprimanding Beka for using her favorite and their least favorite curse word (at least when it came out of their child’s mouth) as they usually would.

They’re both silent, but their faces say it all.

Mom: Don’t tell the truth.

Dad: Please tell me it’s not true. 

Liv can do neither. She is making no one happy tonight, not even herself. Now that she’s made it this far, the rest of the secret is not hers to keep. Holding it inside will do more damage—particularly to her dad.

Every organ in her body twists into a complicated braid as Liv raises her chin from her chest. “Because she is.”

The room itself might as well be gasping for the volume of the collective breath of Jess, Beka, and her mom. It’s the latter Liv looks towards, because her gasp is not one of shock of the accusation, but that someone had caught her in it.

“I know,” Liv says, sticking her ground just like her mom had taught her. “I saw you with him.”

Her mom hadn’t done a good job of hiding it.

Liv saw it as she left her shift at the TJ Maxx a half an hour late, the bag of discount purchases slung on her elbow the cause of her delay. She remembers clicking the unlock button on her key fob, the Taurus’ lights flashing next to a light pole, but she didn’t walk towards it. She had stopped, feet submerged in a puddle of melting snow, water seeping into her Adidas sneakers.

Across the parking lot in front of Fratellos, a hole-in-the-wall Italian place her family despised, Liv spotted her mom. Only, no, it couldn’t be her mom, Liv thought. Because her mom wouldn’t have been pressed up against the door of a Suburban, kissing a guy who was not her father with such ferocity you would’ve thought they were in a back seat.

Liv blinked, and blinked again, hoping—nay, praying—that the blue LED parking lot lights were messing with her vision. But when she opened her eyes, the scene and the woman in it were the same. Waves of caramel hair, gold rimmed glasses, gray North Face jacket she didn’t go anywhere without. Her mom. Her mom kissing a ginger-haired man in a wool coat and dress shoes. Not one with the blonde hair, softshell red jacket, and canvas shoes of Liv’s dad.

Liv was planted there, watching the couple get into their cars, the University of Michigan bumper sticker glaring at her as her mom drove away. Liv could only find the ability to unroot herself once they were out of sight, or maybe it was minutes later.

It was hard to tell time when everything you’ve measured your life by no longer tracks.

As soon as Liv made it to her car, she vomited into an empty TJ Maxx bag on the floor, heaving as if that could purge the moment from her memory. It couldn’t.

By the time Liv returned home, her mom was at the kitchen table, jacket exchanged for a robe. Calm, composed, no remorse, no guilty eyes, no trace that she was living a double life.

Liar, you liar, Liv wanted to scream, but only the voice in her head bellowed.

“What are you talking about?” Her mom asks at dinner, her tone dangerously low. “I don’t know what you think you saw—”

“I saw you with Davis making out,” Liv says, and the fear flashing across her mom’s face doesn’t go unnoticed. “That’s his name, right? That’s what is in your phone.”

Despite her mom’s near-perfect emotional cover up, she wasn’t good at covering her technological tracks. Her texts were in her phone plain as day—flirty, and playful, and conspiratorial, like, When can you meet up? Wish you here! XOXO

She didn’t bother to even hide them with a passcode, not that she had a reason to. Liv’s dad wasn’t the type to snoop—at least not that Liv had ever seen.

“Davis?” Her mom scoffs. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She shoots Liv a glare that translates to keep your mouth shut and we’ll talk later.

The audacity.  

Pissed and pained, Liv slams her hand on the table, the cutlery ratting against the burnt orange plates. “Bullshit.”

“Mom, I think you do know a Davis,” Jess says, looking at their mom out of the corner of his eye, wheels turning, puzzle pieces connecting. “I’ve heard that name before.”

“That’s because she’s said it. Because she knows one.” Her dad’s words come out as a croak of raspy devastation. “That’s her friend from high school. We saw him at the reunion a few years months ago.” Dad turns squarely to their mom, jaw set. He spits his speech. “You’ve been seeing him since then, haven’t you? Here you are, interrogating me when I’m doing nothing wrong, and you’ve been going behind my back.”

Tears well in her mom’s eyes, her words starting and stopping, before a fragment emerges. “Mike, baby, I—”

“Don’t you dare ‘baby’ me.” Her dad’s finger aims at her mom like a dagger. “Don’t you dare.”

With his palm to the table edge, Dad shoves his chair away and throws his napkin down with the force of a fastball. He disappears from the room in seconds, and the door bangs shut only a few more after.

Mom bolts up from her spot and towards the door.

When she looks at Liv, it’s with a stare so sharp, Liv feels it cut. She’s never seen her mom pulsing with so much hate. “Do you realize what you’ve done? You just ruined our marriage, our family. Do you understand that?”

Liv does know what she’s done, but she also knows that she’s not the unfaithful one. Not that she gets a chance to say it. The door is opened and closed before she can even try.

Outside, the argument of her parents bleeds through the brick walls as she and her siblings remain at the table. The three of them are the product of a relationship that may no longer exist, she thinks. Their combination—with Dad’s green eyes, and Mom’s nose and cheekbones—are proof of a union so easily broken.

Liv sits tall, pressing her spine painfully into the chestnut wood, and flips her fork between her fingers like a baton, needing to expend her nervous energy on something, anything. Her eyes jump, once again watching the reactions. Jess pushes his plate to the center of the table, tears slipping down his cheeks, while Beka collapses into her chair, head buried in her hands.

“I’m sorry, guys,” she says to them—for what’s going on, for what she did—but Beka shakes her head.

“What were you supposed to do? She wasn’t saying anything clearly,” Beka says, waving towards the door.

“No, he had to know,” Jess adds, although she bets they both wish they didn’t. Liv herself didn’t want to know. Finding out felt like learning Santa wasn’t real—trust lost, innocence stolen, no longer knowing who or what to believe. Only this was a hundred times worse, because Santa wasn’t her mom—the woman who tucked her into bed as a child, and washed her knees when she scraped them, and taught her how to swim, and drive, and defend, and love.

She didn’t know what to make of that person anymore, or how much of her Liv even knew.

In a flare of anger, Liv lets the fork spin out of her hand, sticking the landing right in the center of her plate, the impact chipping the ceramic, a white patch in an orange sea. It’s a small symbol of tonight, she figures. She’s the fork, her parents are a plate. Only the plate already had fault lines running through it, and when she landed, she didn’t leave just a chip.

She was a sledgehammer and no matter how much it isn’t her fault Liv hates herself for it.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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