I looked up from the typewriter as Claire entered the room. She smiled and said, “Knock knock,” a moment too late for it to have mattered. Still, I couldn’t help but return her smile. It was, in a word, enchanting.

 

I looked at the clock on my desk.

 

5:30.

 

I’d worked late again. Claire must have realized I was in the zone, and she didn’t want to interrupt the creative process. That was one thing I loved about her.

 

“How’s it going?” she asked.

 

I checked my progress. “Five thousand words today,” I said. “Not terrible. Two or three of them might even make the final cut.”

 

“Did you finish the vampire scene?” she asked, walking over to my side.

 

“Yeah,” I answered. “But you may not want to read it.”

 

“I can’t read any of your stories,” she said before leaning in to give me a kiss. “They’re too weird for me.”

 

“Fair.”

 

“Let’s pack it up for tonight though. I need help in the kitchen.”

 

I left the story of Bedside Manor open in a Word document, even though I knew I probably wouldn’t be returning to it for another few months. That was fine, though. My publisher already told me in no uncertain terms that the concept had absolutely no merit whatsoever. My time would be better spent writing the scripts for car insurance commercials. “That’s where the big money is,” he always said.

 

We passed through the living room where the twins were sitting in front of a cartoon on Disney Channel, completely transfixed by whatever it was that the talking crow and kangaroo-deer had to say to them.

 

Claire stepped between them and the TV to get their attention. “It’s time to get ready for dinner,” she explained in her mom voice. “Your Aunt Loren and Uncle Jerry are coming over.”

 

Our kids cheered like lunatics, as if they didn’t see Loren and Jerry on a nearly weekly basis. As they raced into the bathroom, a thought occurred to me.

 

A dark, sour thought.

 

A feeling like a scab being ripped off my brain.

 

Claire looked at me. Her piercing blue eyes registered the same thought at the same time. We both knew that we both knew.

 

We talked over one another, stopped, then tried again. She laughed and insisted, “No, you go first.”

 

I shrugged. “None of this feels right.”

 

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I know.”

 

I sighed. “This has got to be the weirdest one yet. I mean, no offense! It’s not you. I think you’re cute and all.”

 

She smiled, “Oh, I get it. You’re ace as hell.”

 

She held out her hand. I took it in mine and shook it. Her grip was firm, professional, and totally platonic.

 

I looked around for the emergency exit but couldn’t find it. Instead, I saw my “children” staring up at me with sad, dead eyes. “Daddy?” they said in unison.

 

“Sorry, kids. It’s nothing personal.”