Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson



“I hate this stupid shirt,” I told him. I wanted the comfort of tucking in close to his bare skin, wrapping my arms around the warm, strong bulk of him.

He pulled me closer. Close enough for me to know he wasn’t thinking about witches. “I could ditch the shirt. We are up early.”

I glanced back at the clock. “The alarm goes off in twenty minutes. You think you can make it worth my while?” I said it flirty, like a challenge, cocking my eyebrow at him.

His teeth flashed in the dimness. “I can damn sure try.”

He kissed my neck, my shoulder. To my surprise I felt a twinge of something good starting. My sex drive had flatlined in my third trimester. I’d assumed it would resurrect in a few months, when Robert started solid food. That’s how it had worked after the girls. But here was our familiar magic, already sparking up between us.

Maybe it was the dream. That witch had genuinely spooked me, dumping a ton of adrenaline into my blood. As my husband kissed me, my body arched into him, electric, as if to say, We could all die! Quick, make more people! It apparently hadn’t gotten the memo about Trey’s vasectomy. I kissed him back, serious about it.

“Yeah?” Trey said, surprised.

“Yeah,” I said, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the window. Of course there was not a witch in the yard. Or anyone. But I added, “Close the drapes all the way and you’re on, mister.”

He hurried to yank them shut while I started peeling my nightgown off over my head.

That, of course, was the exact moment a soft gurgle came through the baby monitor.

We both froze, our eyes meeting.

“Oh, Bumper, no!” Trey said.

“Oh, Robert, no,” I corrected automatically. I wasn’t going to bend on this. When I was pregnant, we’d all called him Bumper, as in “the bumper crop.” That had been cute back when it meant my swelling belly. Trey, who’d grown up in Buckhead with Scooters and Biffs and Muffys, still thought it was cute.

The sound faded. We waited, holding our breath. It could go either way. After ten silent seconds, I lifted a victory fist and Trey started toward me.

Robert started babbling then. He was awake and pleased about it, but if I didn’t go get him, he’d start fussing.

“So close!”

“Rain check for tonight?” I asked, pulling my nightgown back on.

Trey shook his head, rueful. “I wish. I fly to Chicago today.”

“Ugh, that’s right. I must have repressed it.” I got up.

He’d be there through the weekend and most of next week, too, thanks to Spencer Shaw. Spence was less than a bosom friend but more than just his partner at the law firm. Their mothers were cousins, so they’d gone to the same schools from the time they were three, even pledging the same frat at UVA. They hadn’t gone their separate ways until law school.

Spence had opted out of this Chicago trip because tonight was the firm’s annual Spring Gala, and he wasn’t one to miss a party. He loved himself a top-shelf open bar and pretty women in cocktail dresses.

Trey wanted me to go to the gala, too. To represent. But I always felt a little out of place at firm events without him. I’d said I would, unless Robert had a cranky afternoon. I had a strong premonition that he would.

“Spence is having a rough time, Bree,” Trey said.

Spence was in the middle of an ugly divorce, his second. My husband would carry him through it, just as he’d carried him during his first ugly divorce.

“So are you. You’re working crazy hours,” I said, shrugging into my robe. “Mostly because of Spence.”

“No. It’s this client.” He and Spence were working with a large Atlanta-based company that was absorbing a family-owned chain of grocery stores. “This is not a marriage of equals we’re officiating.” He leaned close, as if telling me a dirty little secret. “Our groom is a cannibal.”

I let it go. Trey was an equity partner, but Spencer’s name was third on the firm’s letterhead. His father’s name had been first before he died. Also, Robert’s babble was getting whiny around the edges.

“I’ll plan us a date for next weekend. Dinner, wine, kissing,” I promised, then went next door into the nursery.

This room used to be my office, before Robert surprised us. Now the heather-gray walls were covered over in giraffe wallpaper and my desk nook had a changing table in it.

I didn’t mind. I didn’t need an office now; I’d rolled off the boards of the Alliance Theatre and a statewide literacy nonprofit, promising to roll back on in a year or so. The girls had taught me how brief Robert’s babyhood would be. I didn’t want to miss it. I’d blinked, and here he was, already ten weeks old.