“Kids, come downstairs please. Family meeting,” Elyse called from under the landing of the stairs.
“Must we do this now?” Steven asked from his place near the hearth.
“Yes, Steven. You’ve put it off long enough.” Steven thrust his hands into his pockets and stared down at the fireplace.
“Where’s Jennifer?” Elyse asked as Alex and Mallory came down the staircase.
“She’ll be along in a sec, Mom,” Mallory replied.
Alex sat down in his armchair opposite the fire and put his hands behind his head. “What’s this about, Mom?” he asked casually, watching Steven poke the ashes in the fireplace with a poker.
“Okay, I’m here,” Jennifer said as she rushed down the stairs. Steven turned around with his sullen expression and looked at Jennifer. “Uh, and sorry I took so long?”
“No, no Jen, I wasn’t looking at you,” Steven replied, throwing his hand in her direction. Jennifer looked behind her quickly and followed Mallory to the sofa. “Well?” she asked, after a moment’s silence from Elyse and Steven.
“Alex, Mallory, Jennifer, your father has something he needs to tell you.” Elyse looked at Steven expectantly as she rested one leg on the arm of the sofa. Steven swallowed hard and looked at each person before him in turn.
“Well Dad?” Alex asked quietly.
“Go on,” Elyse said in a dangerously low voice.
“I- I’m having an affair. I don’t have feelings for your mother any more and after today you won’t see me living in this house again.” The room stayed silent for a few moments before a small sob escaped from Mallory and Alex moved forwards to rest on his knees, the sound of his jacket moving across his shirt the only thing filling the tense room.
“Will we see you again?” Jennifer asked quietly, her cheeks going pink. Steven glanced at Elyse as he spoke.
“I love you kids just the same, don’t ever forget that, and I want to still see you, all of you, if I can.”
Elyse jumped up and shouted with a faltering voice: “All this, Steven! Over twenty years and three children, a home, a wife…! You threw it all away! Tell them, tell them who for!”
“Edith! My chemistry partner Edith? My God, Dad, I tried to go out with her!” Alex stood up and paced in small circles, his hands running through his hair. From the sofa, Mallory’s sobs grew louder and she too stood up. There was a tense moment when Steven looked into his daughter’s eyes before she ran upstairs, followed closely by Jennifer. “This is just like Uncle Rob-”
“This is nothing like Robert, Alex. Don’t compare me to him, not now.”
“It is!” Alex yelled back. “It’s just like him! Uncle Rob was married for twenty-five years, he had two kids!” Alex’s cheeks became red as he turned away from his father, tears welling in his eyes. “Even for a liberal… I didn’t expect this from you, Dad.” With one last look at his father, Alex began walking up the stairs slowly, not looking back down from the landing as he went.
“Go upstairs, Steven, and pack a bag. Take everything, because I don’t want you back here tomorrow.” Elyse stood up and walked to the kitchen. Steven followed her silently through the door.
“Steven?” She turned at the bench, looking at him with soft, stained eyes.
“I never wanted to do this-”
“Then why did you?” she choked.
“I couldn’t help it. I was weak, I gave in.” Elyse looked at Steven for a few moments more before dropping her head and pointing out the door.
“Suitcase is under the bed. Don’t take the floral one.” Steven’s hand danced above his wife's as it rested on the bench, and she felt as he almost touched her, then thought the better of it and went upstairs.