Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

The Children

Fielding arrived at the lake house ahead of his wife, to find a rusted Volvo station wagon parked in the driveway. He knew the car, knew the cracked, sun-bleached upholstery and the embroidered Chinese good luck charm hanging from the rearview mirror. His wife would be out after work, to meet him for dinner, but her car wasn't there. It was summer, the sun still bright on the water, and no lights were on in the house. Fielding watched the blank windows, waiting for a clue, and then he carried the groceries inside.

Jennie Taylor sat at the kitchen table with her legs crossed, in jeans and a sweater. Her dark hair was brushed straight and smooth. Fresh air and her mother's looks had served her well. The boxy station wagon had been her parents' car before it was hers, and Fielding was amazed it still ran.

"I let myself in," she said.

"Good." He set the paper grocery bag on the counter and thought that nothing needed to go in the fridge. Jennie had spent so much time at the house that she knew where the key was hidden. It was the second time he had been alone with her in there, and the first time still filled him with regret. She had been staying with his family, flirting with him all weekend, and it had caught him off guard. She wasn't the pigtailed child of his friends anymore; she had come back from college transformed, a self-assured young woman, sun??ning herself in a bikini on the deck. At the end of the week??end, she had stayed behind while he locked up—he wasn't trying to diminish his own part in the thing, but she had stayed behind—and she had stepped into his arms, so agree??ably sun-warm and strong. He had kissed her at some length before stopping. It paled now, as a transgression, but at the time he had suffered the tortures of the damned.

"You're meeting Meg?" he asked. It was a bluff; he knew his daughter was staying in town. His son, Gavin, had been vague, as usual.

"No," Jennie said.

"My wife will be out, too."

"I guessed," she said.

"Is anyone else coming?"

Jennie shrugged.

He turned on a kitchen light, in case the others arrived, but the pale bulb was overwhelmed by the slanting sun??light. He opened the pantry closet and started the hot water heater. He wondered how many more times he would do that, and what would happen to the lake house—a winter??ized shack when they bought it, now a maze of additions—once he got up the nerve to tell his wife. She was a lawyer and would have the upper hand.

"You're leaving Raye," Jennie said. He felt a surge of adrenaline, and steadied himself on the closet door. "Does it show?" he asked.

Jennie smiled. "I've known you since I was born," she said. "You think that means you know me inside out, but really it means I know you."

He thought of correcting her: he had known her before she was born. He'd watched her mother, hugely pregnant and happy, floating in the lake with her belly at the surface. Her father so proud you'd think no one had ever knocked up a pretty girl before. The two families had done every??thing together, before Jennie's began to disintegrate. Jennie was his daughter's age, two years younger than his son, and he remembered her at six in just a bikini bottom, dart??ing in and out of the water. Or bundled in a snowsuit in winter, riding a plastic sled on her stomach across the ice. She was twelve when the marriage finally ended, and her father had sung drunkenly, here in the lake-house kitchen, "If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, don't make a pret-ty woman your wife," and then cried over what the divorce might do to Jennie.

"Does my family know I'm leaving?" he asked her now.

"I don't think so," she said. "It was my mother who saw you. In a car, with a girl. She asked me if she should tell Raye. I told her not to." "Thank you," he said.

"My mom kept telling me it was my swimming teacher. That really upset her."

"She hasn't been that for years."

"Is that what you tell yourself?" she asked. "Does it help?"

"I'm not doing this lightly," he said.

He knew what he was getting into. He had thought of taking his mistress away from the town he'd lived in all his life, rather than face the collective disapproval. Eleanor had taught everyone's kids to swim; she had a gift for it, even as a teenager. They had all watched from the park benches outside the chain-link fence at the pool, while Eleanor coaxed their children to swim toward her, to reach and pull, breathe and blow. The chlorine gave her hair an angelic sparkle, and she had lovely breasts in her red swimsuit; she exuded encouragement and warmth. Now she had moved home, and those parents who had watched N were going to judge him, when he had known them all in the wild old days, getting high while the kids slept on the floor, wandering off with someone else's wife.

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