Sheila padded down the hallway in her fuzzy orange slippers, terry cloth housecoat billowing out behind her like the robe of some long-ago queen. The Apple watch on her wrist read 3:13 a.m., and she needed a Reese’s peanut butter cup like nobody’s business. She’d tossed and turned for hours. She’d tried listening to music. She’d tried lavender essential oil in her over-priced diffuser. Hell, she’d even tried counting sheep like she’d always suggested to her kids when they were small. Yet sleep eluded her, and Simon’s snores had been the only thing keeping her company as she’d lain awake, staring up at the ceiling.
Many years ago, Sheila had learned that peanut butter and chocolate couldn’t fix her problems, but that they usually didn’t make her problems any worse. I’ll just have one. Maybe I’ll make a chamomile tea. Add some honey. That’ll help me to relax.
Relaxation. Sheila fondly turned the word over in her mind as she headed towards the stairwell. Relaxation sounded awfully nice. It had been ages since Sheila had last felt relaxed. Her mind was always a blur of deadlines and troubles. This week, Austin was misbehaving in Mrs. Lawson’s class. Tanner was having problems keeping his curfew, always rolling in around midnight with his jacket suspiciously zipped all the way up to rest under his chin and smelling of cheap beer. And Sierra was struggling with older girls saying mean things about her latest tik-tok dance. Mr. Bell, her boss, kept piling more files on her desk, and she was too nice to say no, smiling stupidly and assuring him that she didn’t mind – that she’d get everything done like she usually did. And where was Simon in sharing this load? With his feet up staring at the TV, engrossed in yet another game of Premier League soccer, that’s where. Just the thought of it made Sheila’s blood boil, and her soft steps morphed into angry stomps.
Turning to go down the stairs, Sheila’s right foot caught on something. What the hell? She shook her leg and tried to step forward, but whatever it was held fast, impeded her forward progress, then sent her falling forward at a frightening clip. Arms flailing wildly, Sheila tumbled downwards, ass-over-teakettle, hollering loudly enough to wake up the entire block. In a slow-motion blur she felt an elbow smack the oak banister, her head crack against a stair. The world momentarily turned upside down.
Landing in a crumpled heap on the linoleum at the bottom, the bathrobe flipped over her face, Sheila could just make out the soft glow of lights being flicked on. Shouts of confusion filtered down from above. She pushed the robe out of the way, and willed herself to stay conscious. Looking down, she saw Tanner’s backpack tangled around her ankles. Are you freaking kidding me? How many times have I told him to put it on the hook?!
But before she could react, four worried voices gathered around her.
“Oh my gosh!”
“Sheila, sweetie, are you alright?”
“Are you okay Mom?”
Sheila took a deep breath and let out a long groan. “Just help me to the couch.”
The bruise on Sheila’s elbow thumped with a new surge of pain each time she tried to hold a mug in her left hand, her knees smarted endlessly from rug burn, and the nurse who made a house call the next morning said she probably had a mild concussion, so for the next week, Sheila spent her days languishing on the couch, mindlessly watching HGTV and shoving Reese’s peanut butter cups into her mouth. She took luxuriously long naps, and thoroughly enjoyed being waited on hand and foot, but not nearly as much as she enjoyed forwarding all of her calls and emails to Simon. For the sake of my recovery, she’d said, shaking her head sadly. What she didn’t say was that it was the best damn vacation she’d had in years.