Katherine stood in the open doorway, her mouth agape.
“What?” was the only word she could think of.
Actually, that part wasn’t entirely true. She could think of many things to say – including a slew of curse words – but couldn’t possibly organize them in a manner fast enough for her mouth to compose.
Hunter stood on the other side of the door, a big grin on his face. “So?”
She was standing on the threshold of the upstairs room they had decided to convert into the new nursery. So far they had done little more than remove most of the furniture; still in their first trimester, the nursery hadn’t been a particularly pressing concern to Katherine. That was, until now. Katherine remained in the hallway, Hunter in the room.
“Why?” Again, one word answers were all she could offer.
Hunter’s smile faltered slightly, and he shifted his weight on his feet. “Well, do you like it?”
Hunter had tried to surprise her. Though the ‘surprise’ was far less effective when one only needed to step one foot inside the front door to know someone had been painting. The scent was unmistakable. Still, there had been a small part of her that had refused to believe it until she was staring straight at the evidence.
Hunter had painted the nursery all right, and it looked horrible.
“Hunter? What did you do?” There was a pleading tone in her voice that she tried to mask, but it filtered through regardless.
Hunter’s shoulders slumped the slightest. “What? I mean, I painted. See?”
Katherine moved passed him into the room. She looked around, trying to take it all in, inspecting his work. “Honey…”
Hunter stepped back as if he’d been pushed. “What’s wrong? You don’t like it?”
“Like it? What colour is this even?”
Her back was turned to him, but she thought she heard him murmur something.
“Pardon?” she asked.
He cleared his throat. “Green.”
She rolled her eyes. “I can see that. I meant what type of green is this?”
“Um, it’s… Chartreuse. Right. Chartreuse.”
She could only repeat the word. “Chartreuse.”
He shrugged. “Yeah. You said you wanted something neutral, right? So I picked green, because, y’know?”
She blinked. “No, I don’t know.”
The room looked both literally and metaphorically like someone had puked all over it. The green paint – pardon, chartreuse – was that blindness-inducing shade that was hard to look at for more than a second or two. Frankly, it reminded her that faded wash used inside a third-rate diner, or even infirmary. Scratch that. A goddamned mental institution.
Moreover, Hunter had done a terrible job. Patches of wall still showed through in spots, the lines between the wall and floorboards were uneven, and…
She pointed to the ceiling. “Geez, Hunter. Look. There are roller-marks all over the ceiling! God.”
He seemed either not to notice or care. “Yeah, I know. I slipped a couple of times. But don’t worry. I can fix that later.”
She stood aghast, still staring at all the marks on the ceiling. “Fix it later? How are you going to do that, Hunter?”
She could hear the confused tone in his voice. “What do you mean? I’ll paint over it. No biggie.”
“Paint over it?” she said, whirling to face him. Her fatigue was setting in at an order of magnitude she didn’t previously think was possible. How could she be this tired? How could Hunter not realize what he’d done?
“Paint over it?” she asked again, frustrated. “How? It’s stucco, Hunter. You can’t just ‘paint over it’. Not to mention it will be impossible to match the colour. Unless you were planning on repainting the entire ceiling? Hmmm? Was that the plan?”
He gave a look that suggested he hadn’t any idea how to answer the question. “I mean. Well. Yeah?”
The room – the nursery – was empty of furniture, sure, but still a disaster. Rags and cloths lay strewn haphazardly on the hardwood flooring. There were several open cans of paint in the corner, green paint spilling over their lips. Empty, they almost appeared to have voluntarily ejected their contents, by their own admission conceding that the paint they had contained was too grotesque even for them.
“Jesus, Hunter. Look at the floor! There’s paint all over the wood!” She pointed to a spot below the middle of the largest wall, although her eyes were already finding half a dozen other examples of this.
Hunter followed her gaze, but seemed nonplussed. “Yeah. Oops. That was an accident. I’ll clean it up after.”
Despite only being a few months pregnant, Katherine suddenly felt as though a large leaden weight had been placed in her stomach. How could he be this stupid? “Hunter… Oh God. Hunter, you’re not going to be able to get that paint out. It’s in the grains of the wood. You’d need to… Goddammit Hunter. You’d need to, to… I don’t know. Re-stain the wood or something.”
He shrugged. “Okay. So that was my mistake. I’m sorry.”
Katherine brought a hand to her temple, the beginning of a migraine coming on. “Seriously, Hunter? How could you be this careless? It’s like you’ve never painted before or something.”
He ran a hand through his hair, speckled with green paint. He exhaled slowly. “I mean, I haven’t. Really.”
She squeezed her eyes tight. “What. Are. You. Talking. About.”
The fumes were giving her nausea, and from somewhere his voice floated to her. “I mean, I’ve never painted before, you know. There was my old apartment… That other place with my roommate. Yeah, I’ve never had to paint walls before.”
“So you decided now was a good time to start? Why didn’t you tell me? You could have called.”
“It was supposed to be a surprise. I thought… I mean with your work and all that, and the baby, I thought I was. I didn’t mean to, whatever. Make you angry. You don’t like it?”
She opened her eyes and stared at him blankly, too exhausted for any emotion. This was the last straw.
“Hunter. I hate it.”
Later that evening, Katherine sat downstairs, working on a glass of wine, the small lamp on the end-table the only light in the shadowed living room. She stared at the glass in her hand, smudged with fingerprints, the liquid inside warm from the holding of it. She swirled the wine around, watching the redness cling to the sides of the glass before pooling down again. She had been doing this for five minutes straight, barely blinking, only watching the movement within the glass. She knew she was allowed a glass of wine once in a while during pregnancy, but as soon as she’d poured it, she’d hardly wanted to touch it.
Hunter was upstairs somewhere. She didn’t know where, but judging by the sounds, he was back in the nursery either cleaning up or hiding away. The house still smelled of paint, although the worst of it had abated.
After she had said what she had said, Hunter had only been able to look at the floor a moment before taking up a handful of rags and leaving the room. Not a word had been said between them since. None needed to be said. Katherine had said what she’d been thinking, and that was that.
A tear rolled down her cheek and she absently wiped it away, still watching the swirling wine as it tumbled back and forth along the glass, undulating left and right, left and right. She bit her lip, tasting the salt there, and in one large gulp she finished the wine. She was glad to have it out of her sight. She placed the empty glass on the table next to her and sat silently.
She’d never seen Hunter so hurt before. Not angry, nor defensive, not even surprised. Just hurt, hurt in a way that made her want to hold him and stroke his hair and tell him it was nothing, there was nothing wrong, things would be okay. But she hadn’t done that.
She’d been the one who’d thrown all the cards on the table, and thrust into defeat, he had walked away.
She got up from the sofa, brought the glass to the kitchen and set it on the counter. She didn’t bother turning on the lights, and traced her hand along the wall in the dark, following the familiar hallway to the stairs. There she stood a moment, looking up at the equally dark hallway, only a sliver of light escaping from the nursery room, the door slightly ajar.
She quietly ascended the stairs, lightly moving to the open door, and pausing just outside. She couldn’t see him through the small space in the door, and placed her hand against the doorframe. She leaned there a moment, her eyes closed. It was the nursery. The room that was meant for her unborn child. Their unborn child. And Hunter, as an expecting father, had decided to paint it.
Not because he’d wanted to, at least on a relative level. And certainly not because he knew how to, which was painfully obvious.
But because he wanted to surprise her. Surprise his wife. The mother of his child.
Because he loved her.
Despite all else – or perhaps in spite of all else – he’d done it because he loved her.
Why had she said what she had said? She didn’t hate the room. How could she?
One word, which had so much meaning and power behind it, causing a small rift between them. And for what? A room. That was all. A room was all that was at stake, and now this.
She pressed the door open slowly, and it creaked the slightest. Hunter, who’d been sitting cross-legged on the bare floor, turned to her. He’d been looking through his phone at something, but she couldn’t tell what from where she stood. Pictures, it seemed like. Pictures of them, if she had to guess.
Neither of them moved.
“Hunter,” she said.
He only looked at her, not answering.
She stepped forward. “Hunter, listen.” She bit her lip. “Look. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say what I said. I didn’t…”
Hunter dropped his eyes, waving a hand to encompass the room. “No. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have done it without talking to you first. It was stupid, and I did a crap job, and now the whole thing’s ruined. I mean, just look at the mess. I dunno, I thought I could just watch a few Youtube videos and have the whole thing figured out. Like I had any clue. And now our baby’s room looks like someone crapped wasabi all over it. I… I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s terrible, and it’s my fault. I pretty much just ruined it.”
Even now, she couldn’t help but smile at him. “Hunter.”
He didn’t look up. “You were right. It…”
“Hunter,” she said again, sternly.
He looked up hesitantly.
“Hunter. Stop. I’m the one who should be apologizing.” She stepped closer to him, feeling a little awkward staring down at him. “It’s… I mean, I shouldn’t have said any of that stuff. I lashed out, I was… It’s been a long week. A long few months, actually, and I’m just as caught up in this whole baby thing as you are. And maybe I was just having a bad day or something, and I got home, and I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have gotten upset at you like that.”
She sat down on the floor in front of him. They stayed that way a moment, looking across at each other.
“I don’t hate it,” she said, finally. And she really didn't.
He rolled his eyes. “It’s pretty terrible. It doesn’t look anything like the way the professionals do it. You have every right to hate it.”
“I don’t hate it,” she said again. “Hunter, it’s just a room. I mean, for Christ’s sake it’s not like the baby is going to have any scathing opinions on it anytime soon. And by then we can always change it to something else if we want.” Timidly, she reached her hand out and took his in hers. “Hunter, I love it. Okay?”
He frowned. “You’re lying.”
“No, no I’m not. I love it. And you want to know why?”
He only blinked.
“Because you did it. You went out of your way and did it all by yourself, and you just wanted to surprise me, and I got upset at you and that wasn’t fair. But you were trying, right? And yeah, maybe you didn’t exactly know what you were doing. But you went out and did it. Nobody’s perfect. Look at me…” She sighed, trailing off.
She nodded mostly to herself. “I won’t lie, I’ve been going through a lot lately. I mean, this whole pregnancy thing… It gets you thinking about a lot of things, and I’ve been stressed lately and worrying about so many things that, like, I don’t even know why I’m thinking about them. Like what school our kid’s going to attend, and what I’m supposed to say to them the first time they get their hearts broken, and how we’re ever going to be able afford to take them to Disney World or buy them the best clothes all the time or, or make sure they’re always safe, and… And all of these stupid things that I probably shouldn’t even be worrying about right now anyway. And this…”
Katherine waved her free hand around, encompassing the room. “This here? It doesn’t matter, not really. And even if I’m worried about all these other things, I don’t have to be worried about one thing.”
“What?” Hunter asked.
She smiled. “I don’t have to worry about you. You’re my everything, Hunter. And even when I’m being a bit of a bitch you still put up with it and do things like this. I don’t have to worry about you, Hunter. You’ll be an amazing father, and all of this just proves it to me. And I love this room because of that. And I’m sorry.”
He leaned in and hugged her, and they stayed that way a while, sitting cross-legged on the floor leaning over. After a while they sat touching heads, not saying anything.
Finally Hunter pulled back. “But it is kind of a crap job.”
He chuckled and she smiled. “It’s perfect. I just want you to know I don’t hate anything about it, or you. And I promise I’ll never use that word again.”
She sighed. “But yeah. Maybe our kid will actually love it, you know? Kids are weird like that, aren’t they? Boogers and stuff. Maybe we'll tell them it's actually all just Ninja Turtle poop. Or like alien blood or something.”
He shrugged, and they laughed.