Home ~ A Short Story

Home (1)

Home

A Prequel to A New Life 

1997

Staring out the window above the kitchen sink, I absentmindedly swirl a pale yellow sponge around one of the heavy saucepans my husband, Zach, and I had received from my sister as a wedding gift. Outside our next door neighbor, Joey, is dismantling his motorcycle, his warm breath smoky puffs in the cold, dusky air. His grease streaked hands move quickly under the cycle’s silver belly.

That’s how close our walls are to his—I can see the grease on his hands and his left cheek, making a river through the stubble. Hell, I can even see the flash of turquoise underwear through the shredded seat of his Levi’s. “Spitting distance,” as my grandmother would say, shaking her head, whenever she spoke of the tenements in Brooklyn. “Spitting distance,” my mother said as she stood in this very spot helping me dry dishes when she and my father visited last month.

“You didn’t grow up in a place like this,” she sniffed. “Why would you move here?”

I didn’t really have an answer for her, but to be fair we were not discussing a bad neighborhood. Working class, yes—but very close knit. People watch out for each other. Vans line the street with names like Charlie’s Handyman Service detailed on the side. Just kissing Boston, the gentle waves of the bay spill up on the sand at the end of our block, and the only looting our neighborhood ever sees is summer sea shell hunting. On warm nights the heavy seaweed and salt air wraps around everything; a scent I miss terribly the moment it leaves.

When my parents came to visit us, I tried to picture how my mother felt the first time my grandparents took the Ford Tempest out for a ride to the suburbs. Marrying a dentist was the biggest coup ever accomplished on my mother’s side of the family. The Kleins talked about it for years. “Can you believe Naomi married such a catch?” they whispered at Passover when I was a little girl. “So handsome, he looks like Gregory Peck.”

My mother simply smiled and drank it all in. She didn’t need a good job. All she really needed to do was keep a nice house. And, she did. I don’t think I realized at the time, though I wish I had, that this was a huge job in itself—harder than most others. Every Friday when I swung through the door from school, the floors shined and the furniture gleamed. The smell of challah baking and chicken soup simmering layered over Lemon Fresh Pine Sol assaulted my senses. My mouth watered and my stomach grumbled.

For years, I thought that was what moms did. They were there when you walked in, waiting with a plate of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches cut in neat quarters. I learned the reality when I started going to my friend’s houses, the latch-key kids, as they were called. We sat on the floor in their family rooms and ate popcorn, kernels flying all over, getting stuck in the shag carpet. We played tug of war with Barbie dolls, their heads popping off and rolling under the couch.

One day, riding home from my friend’s house in our shiny black, state-of-the-art, Cadillac, I asked my mother, “Why are you there when I get home from school? None of my friends’ moms are home.”

“And, a lot of your friends’ fathers aren’t home—ever. Do you think that has something to do with it, Grace? Their mothers have to work. I don’t. Be grateful.”

I stared out the window at the streaking Christmas lights, while I played with the electric buttons on the side of the seat. It slid back and forth, up and down; still a novelty to me. Her answer had seemed good enough at the time, but my mother kept talking.

“You and your sisters are my priority. My job is being there for you at all times.  Understand?”

“What do you do while we’re at school?” I asked, hoping that she’d admit to a glamorous secret lifestyle—private investigator solving crimes between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. or maybe fashion designer, clothing the world’s most fabulous women in her free time. I waited for her answer, chewing lightly on my thumbnail.

“Well,” she began slowly. The streetlights and full moon cast an ethereal glow on my mother’s face. Her frosted baby pink lipstick twinkled like crushed diamonds as she spoke. With her perfectly feathered honey blonde hair just skimming her shoulders and creamy skin, her beauty shone through the banality of her words. “I clean. I don’t want our house to be a pigsty, and sometimes you kids leave it that way. I iron. I even iron your pajamas and your father’s underwear. Did you ever notice the perfect creases in your Barbie clothes? I iron those too. Things just have to be taken care of.”

 To be sure, every time I got sick in school, my mother picked me up within ten minutes, and it took seven to get there. She always brought cakes shaped like bunny rabbits and teddy bears into class for my birthday. And the house was sparkling clean—maybe not neat with three girls strewing our stuff about—but white glove, not a speck of dust clean. Dinner was always waiting on the table, and I was bathed and ready for bed before sitting down to watch the Brady Bunch or Happy Days.

Once I entered high school my fantasies of my mother’s secret life became more pedestrian. I pictured her kicking off her wedge heeled slippers, and settling in with a trashy novel and a box of Mallomars as soon as the door shut behind us. She always maintained that the most indulgent she ever got though, was coffee with our next door neighbor, Barb, who moved out from Brooklyn only two months after my parents.

My mother simply focused on us, with her projects growing ever grander, from ironing our Barbie clothes to planning our weddings. I never imagined myself planning an elaborate wedding. And the closer I got to thirty years old, the more ridiculous the idea of a huge wedding seemed. Why spend thousands of dollars on one night, when you could go to Europe, buy tons of camera equipment, open a studio, buy a house?

 I couldn’t really come up with a good answer for that question, but once engaged, I was swept away with the current. My mother barely came up for air when I told her.            “Grace, we have so much to talk about,” she practically yelled into the phone. “I can’t wait to hear all the details. And dresses—we’ll start looking right away. We’ll have to go into Brooklyn to Kleinfeld’s. We can go to Great Neck. There are tons of bridal boutiques there.”

“Sounds good, Mom,”

“I can’t wait to see you in an elegant gown. You were born for that. You know I named you for Grace Kelly, right?”

“Yes, I know, Mom. And I’m always grateful for that…”

“I knew you would grow up to be a princess just like she was. Now, you get to be a princess for a day,” she sighed. “Your grandmother was so upset with me when I told her your name. She said, ‘What kind of a Jewish baby is named Grace?’ But, one look at your face, and I knew if fit you—those already intelligent, crystal blue eyes staring up at me. Even your hair was a corn silk blonde when you were born. It didn’t turn that rich chestnut you have until you were older.”

“Thanks, Mom.” My mother always told me that with my “rich chestnut curls” and blue eyes, I should be a model. I tried to explain that I was a bit height challenged—at five feet. She wouldn’t hear of it. “So, you’ll be a petite model. What, do all models have to be giraffes? You’re gorgeous.” She even submitted photos of me to a local modeling agency when I was seventeen, though I tried to talk her out of it. They invited me to come for an in-person meeting and were a bit surprised to see a much smaller girl than my mother had led them to believe. I asked her why in the world she said I was five foot seven inches on the form. She explained she just wanted to get me in the door—then they’d see how pretty I was and not care about my height. Needless to say, I didn’t get any jobs.

“You know, I also named you Grace because you were my miracle baby, coming so long after your sisters. It was God’s grace that brought you to me,” I know we were only on the phone, but I was pretty sure my mom teared up a little, before she composed herself. “Ooh, I almost forgot, we’ll go to Fortunoff’s to look at china. So, when are you coming in? This week maybe?”

“Mom,” I said as gently as possible. “You know I have to work.  Maybe next weekend.”

“You know, Grace,” my mother began. “You said that when you got engaged you would move from Boston back to New York to plan the wedding. Your sisters and I had a great time planning their weddings—almost every night we sat at the kitchen table working on all the details. Plus, you’re only working at a temp job.”

She was right, my sisters did sit around the kitchen table for hours brainstorming on the perfect appetizer and whether to use lace tablecloths or damask. But they were twenty-three and twenty-four years old when they married.  It didn’t matter to my mother that I was twenty-nine years old, almost thirty.  In my family, you lived at home until marriage. You woke up each morning in a safe haven, your towels nicely folded in ice cream layers of pistachio, peach and vanilla.

Though I had roots attaching me to New York, my heart pulled me away and at twenty-three years old, I packed my car with toiletries and clothes, stuffed animals and photo albums, as my sisters watched, babies balanced on their hips, their eyes sad. “Here take this with you for the ride,” my sister, Paula, said as she pressed a bag with a Yodel and chips, a juice box, and a package of stationary into my hands. “Make sure you keep in touch. There are some stamps in there too. And you need to put on some weight, so make sure you eat the snacks.”

“Thank you. But, I promise my weight is fine,” I answered, and five hours later I was moving into my own apartment in Boston. The relationship that lured me there—with my college boyfriend, Michael—ended only a few months after I arrived, when we realized that distance wasn’t as great a threat to our relationship as proximity. Or rather he realized and dumped me over the phone.

My mother assumed that I would move back as soon as Michael and I ended, but I had already fallen in love with the city and with living on my own. I did try to return, though. I came home for two weeks when I was in between jobs—sort of a trial run. I tried to ease the tug of war between roots and independence that tormented me. I visited with my nieces, played Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. I sat on the floor with my sisters dressing Barbie dolls in capri-pants and sweater sets from the sixties (my sisters’ childhood doll clothes), and psychedelic striped caftans (my seventies contribution to Barbie’s wardrobe). Rather than cleaning up the mess my nieces made, we matched handbags to tiny shoes and perched miniature pillbox hats on perfectly sculpted blond heads.

That night I folded laundry with my mother, the two of us coming together like some sort of dance to match the ends of a sheet. The scent of Mountain Meadow dryer sheets rose between us in a puff. “Is it so bad being home?” she asked quietly.

“No, it’s not,” I answered, because it really wasn’t. But, I didn’t tell my mother about all the summers I spent sitting underneath the big maple tree in our backyard, drinking sticky sweet lemonade, reading romance novels. At fifteen, the future unfolded in my mind as limitless as the cool green world above me. Staring at the lush canopy of leaves, sunset colors filtering through, anything seemed possible—even leaving home. I felt bigger than the suburb we lived in. Something called me away—and it wasn’t just a doomed relationship.

On my last night I stopped for a moment on my way to the kitchen for a snack, sinking onto the window seat in the living room. In the backyard the big old maple, stark against the sky, cast a shadowy tangle of branches reaching out across the moonlit snow. A chill whispered down my spine as I remained mesmerized, my snack forgotten.

Walking up the stairs after, I gingerly skipped the third step, knowing it would creak. I moved through the darkness into my childhood bedroom. Glancing around one last time at the dolls and books lining the shelves, I knew my decision was made. I was filled with a momentary sadness, until I realized that a part of me would always be in that room, in that house, even if I never returned for good.

My mother sighed audibly over the phone. “Well? You did say you would move back here. We really miss you. Once you get married, you’ll probably never come back.” Another sigh.

“I promise, I’ll come back regularly.”

“I hope so, Barb’s son moved away and they see him maybe every few months. But remember, they always say, ‘A son is a son until he takes a wife. A daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life.’ No matter what, this will always be your home.”

“I know that, believe me. And I miss you all too. But, I said I would move home over five years ago when I was dating Michael. I could stand to be away from him for a whole year—Zach I can’t. Don’t worry, I’ll come home a lot to plan things,” I assured her. And I did.

It seemed every other weekend there was another detail to be tended to. Even with the typical stresses and my initial hesitancy to simply embrace all things bridal, the year flew by in whirl of silk and lace, roses and crystal. Days melted into days, and before I knew it, it was September, and I was on a plane bound for the Caribbean, a diamond band winking back at me.

And then, before I knew it, I was a wife—four months into it and not at all sure if I’m doing it right. Sometimes, I even longed to be a fiancée again with flower girl dresses and canapés to distract me. I had listened with disdain when my friends talked about the post honeymoon letdown. “You’re not special anymore,” they explained. “Before you’re the bride—the center of attention. Everyone wants to know about the plans. After you’re just a wife—just like everybody else.”

Not me, I thought. I don’t care about getting married; I just care about being married. You obviously married the wrong guy. But, I was wrong; you didn’t have to marry the wrong person to feel disoriented. In fact, feeling like you’re letting down the right person is even worse than being let down yourself.

I look down at my fingers, prunelike, still clutching the saucepan. Lost in my thoughts and anxieties, I finish rinsing it and pull a soft celery green and white dish cloth from the narrow drawer beneath the sink. I look back up through the window. Joey waves at me and winks. I smile weakly as I finish drying the pot and turn around to inspect my kitchen.

Aside from our wedding and shower gifts—the nice dishes and stemware in the glass front cabinets and fancy appliances on the counter top, some still with plastic wrap on them—my kitchen looks disheveled. Unpacked boxes are still beneath the breakfast nook months after we moved in. A slight smear of mayo glosses the counter. It doesn’t look like the kitchens in Modern Bride—all white and shiny, the happy couple peering contentedly into a bowl of colorful pasta, and it kind of breaks my heart.

I put the pot in the cabinet below the chipped white stove and walk into the dining room. I’ve never really been domestic—when I lived on my own, I dined on soup or tuna fish sandwiches for dinner—but I thought marriage would somehow magically transform me. I’d suddenly become one of those women in the magazines at the dentist’s office—spotless house, dinner on the table. Instead, the dining room table groans under a mountain of mail and the laundry basket overflows.

Now that I’ve conjured the ghosts of my mother’s accomplishments during my childhood, my failure to get our apartment just right looms even more real and painful. Maybe that was what my mother meant by, “You didn’t grow up in a place like this.”

My sisters somehow managed to get it right. They married young, had babies young. They stayed home and whipped up gourmet meals and baked artfully frosted cakes. Perfectly placed baskets of potpourri dotted the landscape of their homes. I felt as if they belonged to some secret society, that they kept me out of—like the WWB club they formed, We Wear Bras. I was banished to be the sole member of the IBTC—Itty Bitty Titty Committee, a name my sisters gleefully discovered, then scrawled in red marker on a sheet of paper they taped to my bedroom door.

Even my friends seem to know secrets that I don’t. Real artwork hangs on their walls; their couches match and the crystal dishes on their coffee tables always hold a tempting assortment of candies. They all work, but whenever I call, they’re taking dinner off the stove or putting the baby to sleep. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe Zach would have been happier with one of them. I’m not afraid of my husband leaving me for a younger, prettier or sexier woman, only a neater one.

Zach does his share. He sometimes does my share too—folding my laundry, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me to take for lunch. And each time he does something like that, I feel a wave of guilt wash over me, thinking, What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I take care of him or even myself? Then, I chastise myself for such retro thinking—why is it my job? I have a job, too.

The temp agency called me with the job two weeks after we returned from our honeymoon. “We’ve got a great position for you, Grace,” the rep said in between cracks of gum. “It’s even in your field. You’re the photographer, right?”

“It’s a photography job?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah, at Sure Shot over in the mall.”

“Isn’t that the one where they do boudoir photo?” I asked hesitantly.

 “Yeah, have you tried it? It’s so cool. My boyfriend gave me a sitting for my birthday. He has one of me in a pink nightie, with my hair all fancy, hanging right over his bed.”

“That’s too much information,” I wanted to say, but I just took down the start time and promised to show up for work the next morning. When I arrived, I was promptly shown to the reception area. It was a paycheck, I reasoned each time I answered the phone—a paycheck that was about a quarter of the one Zach received as an engineer.

After about a week, I got up the nerve to tell my boss, Mr. Richards, that I majored in photography and actually had quite a good eye, at least according to my professors. I told him that I had even worked as a photojournalist. I didn’t tell him that it was only for a few months for a local shoppers’ guide. It wasn’t entirely a lie—I did have freelance photos in some other local publications.

“You got a good eye?” he asked gruffly.

“I’d like to think so,” I answered as calmly as I could.

“Great! I have a project for you, but you’ll have to do it at home. Someone needs to answer the phones and greet the customers.”

“That would be wonderful,” I gushed and eagerly took home a disc with the day’s pictures on it. I spent most nights in front of the computer in our small guest room using a photography program to mutate scanned images with the click of a mouse. I made brown eyes green and wrinkles disappear on Sure Shot’s saggiest clients.

“Are they ever going to pay you for doing this extra work at home?” Zach had asked me the night before. “Are you ever going to take care of Grace?”

“Maybe they’ll like my work and move me up from receptionist—maybe they’ll even hire me permanently,” I argued. Of course Zach was right, I should have gotten paid for all the projects I tackled. When Mr. Richards offered me the extra work I assumed it meant extra pay. After getting my next paycheck and finding it was the same measly amount, I vowed to ask him about it, but I never got up the nerve.

“Is that what you want? What happened to galleries? The cover of Life magazine?” Zach challenged.

“Well, that’s not at all practical, now is it? Not when we’re trying to save money for a house. And no, this isn’t what I want, but maybe it will pay a little more than temping. And then at least I’d be doing something somewhat creative.” I swallowed hard. My art welled up in me so strongly at times that I felt like I might crack wide open if I didn’t start interpreting life through a camera lens again.

“You could find a better opportunity, if you looked a little harder—if you had more faith in yourself,” Zach insisted. “Call up some local newspapers. Put together a portfolio of your best work. I just don’t want to see you wasting your talent on giving old ladies high tech face lifts.”

I couldn’t argue with him, one of the reasons I fell in love with Zach was because he believed in me. He understood that I saw beauty where others did not. I saw it in crumpled potato chip bags, bright turquoise and yellow, contrasted with deep, inky black pavement. I saw it in a dead leaf curled on the grass. I knew that he was right. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry. It’s not for me, it’s for you,” Zach shook his head, and walked out, leaving me to tighten the double chin of Mary Hendricks, a matronly woman draped in leopard print silk.

“Tell them to make me look beautiful,” Mrs. Hendricks had said, as she lowered herself onto a red molded plastic chair in our small waiting area. “It’s for my husband—an anniversary gift, thirty-eight years. I wanted to do something special.”

I promised I would do my best as I buzzed one of our Glamour Enhancers. That was the first term I learned on the job. “Never call them beauticians or cosmetologists,” Mr. Richards explained. “We have an image.”

Mrs. Hendricks waved to me as she headed behind the curtain for her transformation. In thirty-eight years will I be trying to make myself beautiful for Zach? I wondered. We hadn’t even made it to thirty-eight weeks and last night when Zach confronted me I was in my tattered pink sweatshirt and faded flowered pajama pants by 8:30, just like I am every night, my hair in a loose ponytail, strands falling around my face. I had rubbed my eyes, saved the image and sunk onto the bed behind me for a quick nap. The flowered quilt from my childhood bedroom was so soft and smelled like a summer night. I instantly fell into a dreamless sleep.

Now, I keep replaying the argument that seemingly innocuous nap sparked, a constant loop in my head as I move out of the kitchen and into the dining room. It changed the climate of our home less than twenty-four hours ago. Picking up a pile of mail to sort through, I still feel like a failure.

 “I’m sick of being your maid,” Zach had announced, dropping the green laundry basket on the floor with a thud. The sound jolted me awake. I rubbed my eyes, still groggy, as he continued, “Here’s your underwear and bras and stuff. I took them off the drying rack in the bathtub.” Zach shook his head angrily. “You just keep moving the rack out of the tub so you can shower, and then putting it back in. The stuff has been dry for two days.”

  “I’ll put it away. I promise.”

 “That’s what you said last night. You know, I can’t do everything. Pay the bills, do the laundry. I washed both the kitchen and bathroom floors tonight.”

“Did I ask you to wash the floors? No, you chose to do that, so don’t blame me,” I countered. “I cooked dinner tonight. I make the bed every day. It wouldn’t get made if it weren’t for me.” I paused, anger and shame welling up in me in equal measure. “It’s not like I sit around on my ass eating bon bons, watching soap operas all day. You’ve already criticized my job, now this. What’s next?”

 “I did not criticize your job. I just said that you should have faith in yourself to pursue your goals. And I offered to help with dinner, but you said, ‘No, I hardly ever cook dinner for you, let me do this.’ So, I didn’t help.” Zach breathed out angrily. “I had no idea that chicken and pasta was such an exhausting thing to prepare. You fell asleep for over an hour with the computer on. I thought you had work to do.” Zach’s disgust hung heavy in the air, almost pressing down on me.

“I fell asleep, oh the horror. Look, I know you somehow have this endless supply of energy. You come home whirl around doing everything without even giving me a chance. I was exhausted. I needed a nap before working some more. I’ll fold the laundry right now.” I picked up the basket and carried it into the bedroom. Dumped on our bed it was simply a silky tangle of cream, white and blush.

Zach followed me in and stood with his arms crossed, silent, as I began folding. I looked up at him; then quickly back down, carefully folding my bras the way my mother had taught me, cup to cup, straps tucked under. Usually I just put them in the drawer unfolded, but it seemed important to get it right at that moment.

“Maybe you should have married someone else, someone less domestically challenged,” I bit my words off sharply, never looking up.

“When are you going to stop worrying you’re not good enough,” Zach asked, his voice flat.

“When are you going to stop making me feel like I’m not good enough?” There, I threw out the question.

Zach slid out of the room in silence. I folded six pairs of underwear and two bras, before his answer drifted from the other room, “I’m not going to lie.”

I inspected our white comforter, smoothing it down with my hand. I never noticed the yellow stitching circling the center of the tufts. Why yellow for a white comforter? I wondered. What do you say when you find out that the person you have vowed your life to thinks you’re not good enough? I didn’t know the answer to that question, so I simply remained silent the rest of the night.

I finish flipping through the mail and simply throw it all into the recycle bin, tearing off the addresses first. Credit card offers, magazine offers, flyers, glossy catalogs filled with things I don’t need and can’t afford—I didn’t even read any of it. I move into the laundry nook in the kitchen and load the washing machine, layering Zach’s Levi’s over my sweatpants, over his sweatshirt, over my flannel pajamas in a loose circle, clear blue zig zags of detergent in between all, the Mountain Meadow scent wafting up, reminding me of my childhood. Warm / cold. Heavy duty. I pull the knob out and listen to the water rush into the tub. I glance at my watch. 5:36 pm. I’ve been home from work for less than an hour, yet I still feel I should have done more.

I decide to make a list of all the things I’ve done during off-work hours since returning from our honeymoon. Fed all of the hungry neighborhood cats—every day. Listened to the twelve year old girl upstairs whenever she came to my door with problems in school or with her parents. Took care of our pet hamster, Hamlet—fed and held him every day. Talked to the lonely elderly woman up the street, even when there were other things to be done. Still temping. Haven’t thrown out old papers and magazines. Haven’t cooked anything from gift subscription of Bon Apetit. Grown distant from husband I love very much.

I looked over the list and continued writing, What if I my best qualities turn out to be that I feed stray animals and nurture wayward souls? What if I never make any money, never figure out how to keep the house right—cook meals. Or, what if trying to be all things leaves me a blubbering idiot or a total bitch or a psycho or just a mess of stress illnesses? What of it then???

I put the pen down and step out onto our front stoop, breathing in the sharp, cold air. It feels like cut glass in my lungs. I inhale and exhale slowly, watching the tiny clouds of breath dissipate before glancing at the street. The sound of a car door closing shatters the silence. I see the lavender cone of floral paper wrapping Zach’s apology before I even see him moving through the darkness. He climbs the steps slowly, looking up at me.

“I just stepped out here for some air,” I say quietly, crossing my arms in front of me and rubbing my shoulders to keep warm. “I didn’t know you were home.”

Without a word, Zach leans into me and kisses me—slowly, tentatively at first, then hungrier, almost crushing the flowers between us. My hands fall to my sides. He steps back and starts to speak, then stops and hands me the flowers.

I peer over the paper. “Osiana roses. How’d you know which ones to get? Didn’t you tell me you can never remember my favorite flower?” My voice is laced with skepticism, when it should be heavy with gratitude.

“I knew what they looked like from our wedding, from the pictures, and I wanted to get your favorites. I went to three different florists before I found these.” He shakes his head slowly. “I am so sorry, Grace.  I had no right to say the things I said…no right.”

“You told me I’m not good enough for you. How could you say that? How could you think that and still spend the rest of your life with me? Still face me every day? How?”

“I didn’t mean that. I should’ve said, I’ve been keeping my feelings bottled up, and I can’t do it anymore.  I don’t want you to feel inferior, I just want us to share the load.” The guilt I feel right now knowing that Zach thinks I don’t share the load is crushing me, but I stay silent. “My intention was to figure out a way to change things, and the conversation just deteriorated. What can I say to show you how sorry I am?”

What can I say to show how hurt I am?  How stunned? How ashamed? What would the good wife say? “I forgive you,” I whisper, a stone in my throat choking me.

“No, I won’t accept your forgiveness yet,” Zach says softly. “Be a little harder on me.”

I turn to the door and open it. The warmth hits my face, and makes me want to weep. Somehow, it was easier freezing my emotions in the bitter January night than in the warmth of our apartment. I step inside and Zach is right behind me, turning me around to face him. “Let it go,” he whispers. “Tell me.”

I let my head fall to his shoulder, his starched collar scratching my cheek. I don’t want to cry, but the stone rolls around my throat, down into my chest, then back up again.  The tears spill over my lashes. “You’re right. You hurt me. You made me question myself, when I should have been questioning you. Wondering why you would say something so hurtful. Why you would doubt me when you just pledged your unconditional love four short months ago.” I sigh. “Do you even remember our wedding ceremony? You were wrong last night, and I’m glad you know it.”

“I do know it,” Zach says quietly. “I do know it,” louder and more urgently.

“Good,” I pull away from him and walk into the kitchen, not bothering to turn and see if he follows. I reach up into the cabinet and take down one of the cut crystal vases that stand like sparkly soldiers on the shelf. As I carefully unwrap the roses and spread them out on the paper, Zach comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist, kissing my neck. “I love you,” he says into my hair.

“Can you hand me the scissors? They’re right in the drawer,” my tone is flat, belying the jubilation dancing in my stomach. As the stone slowly dissolves in my throat, I kick out the perfect wife lurking in the corners of my mind. “Adios,” I whisper under my breath.

“Are we good now?” Zach asks as he hands me the scissors.

I snip the stems of a few roses and arrange them in the vase before answering him. I turn to Zach as he stares at me expectantly, hope and a tinge of sadness reflected in his soulful dark chocolate eyes. “Yeah, we’re good,” I answer, and finally I believe it.

~ The End ~

Read A New Life for Kindle, out now from The Wild Rose Press.

Here’s another free short story: Girls’ Night Out

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