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Ferris Wheel Vacation

By Charmayne Hafen, a short story about marriage

My legs are sticking to the seat again.  I squeeze my eyes shut and peel my thighs off the black vinyl.  They make a sucking sound and I think of the algae eater on the side of our fish tank at home.  I see its large, fleshy mouth cover a round portion of the glass.  It moves along from one side to the other, cleaning and polishing its distorted picture window.

Michael stares out the windshield, miles away from here, miles away from me.  His mouth is clamped shut, locked against anything conversational or intimate.  The algae eater is more intimate.   Does the world look as perverse to him as it does to me?  How is it the sun can burst through thick white clouds? How can it color the day with that brilliance dripping over every tree, oozing over every car, and shining the casement of every building we pass?

This time together in our vehicle is dark, dreary, and foreboding.  We’re on a weekend trip to save our marriage.  The sky should be in silent mourning, holding back its cool breeze, waiting for the end to come.

I release the pent up air in my lungs and glance sideways.

Michael has a piece of Juicy Fruit between his teeth.  His mouth moves up and down as he chews.  The movement is comforting.  It looks similar to the motion a mouth makes while talking.   Perhaps he will speak to me and feed me a few morsels of his soul.  My soul continues to starve.

My stomach rumbles and tells me the Cheerios I fed it two hours ago have dissolved and made their journey through my bloodstream.

“Let’s get something to eat,” I suggest, suddenly buoyant with the sound of my own voice.  Silence can become so thick and heavy.  Michael continues to stare at the highway ahead.  I follow the direction of his eyes and squint to see if there’s something out there  I’m missing.  Sun, trees, shiny, expensive cars, a hint of smog against the blue sky….a typical weekend day in Southern California.

“Where?”

The question comes unexpectedly.  My dazed gaze slams against it.   My eyes refocus on Michael.  “Where what?”

Deep furrows stack up across his forehead.  “You said you wanted to get something to eat.  Where do you want to go?”

I shrug.  “I don’t know.”  I can tell without looking that Michael is rolling his eyes.  Michael doesn’t know our marriage is coming to an end.  He doesn’t realize how important this trip is.  His annoying little wife is going to leave him if something doesn’t change. “Sushi.”

The furrows dig deeper into Michael’s forehead.  “Sushi what?”

“I want sushi for lunch.”

“Oh yes.  Of course, you would want sushi; especially since I hate it.  Why do you always do this?”

“Do what?!”

“Oh, now comes the puzzled look.  That’s all part of it, isn’t it?”

I enunciate each word. “A part of what, Michael?”

“This game you play.  You announce you’re hungry.  I ask where you would like to go and you pick something that you know I hate.”

I prop my bared foot up on the dashboard and wiggle back into my seat.  I’ve assumed the battle position and I’m going in for the kill.  “No,” I shake my head.  “I don’t know, because you don’t talk to me.  You don’t tell me anything; not even what you like to eat for lunch.”

“I’m not participating in this discussion.”  Michael’s knuckles turn white as he grips the steering wheel.  “I already know the outcome and I refuse to make excuses for who I am, Sam.  You knew I wasn’t much of a  talker before you  married me.”

My eyes are rolling.  I wiggle my head back and forth.  “That’s such a lie.  You did talk to me when we were dating.  The first year we were married you told me what you were thinking and how you were feeling a lot.”

“It’s easy to talk when life is sweet.”

Michael continues to stare straight ahead.  I wish he would look at me. “What are you saying, Michael?” I almost hope he’ll ignore my question.  He does sort of.

“You see that man on the side of the highway?”

I turn my head and look out the window in the direction Michael is pointing.  A guy who looks like he could be Michael’s age carries a large, orange trash bag.   He walks and stoops down, picking up pieces of trash that lay scattered along the highway.  I shrug. “What about him?”

“I’m just like him.”

Now I’m wondering why I ever wanted him to speak.  He’s not making sense and I’m starting to feel depressed.   I let out another sigh.  “The air is getting stale in here,” I reason while rolling down my window.

Michael slams the air conditioner switch off.  There’s another mark against my name today.  First sushi, now rolling the window down while the air is on.  “You’re not like that man at all.”  I’m hoping to divert his attention from my most recent offense.  “That man is doing community service for some crime he’s committed.  He’s probably on his way to jail.”

“I’m already there.”

I can’t read him.

The side of Michael’s face is a blank. “What’s that supposed to mean?”  I prop both feet on the dash, hoping to appear unshaken.  I feel a quiver start at the center of my stomach and ripple against my ribs.  I really need to eat.

“My life is a prison, Samantha. I may not have committed any crime but I’m still in jail just the same. ”

He pauses. Nothing more is said. That’s it?!  That’s all he’s going to say?!

“You see why I don’t talk, Sam?”  This time he looks at me with a smug little grin scribbled on his face.  I wish the algae eater were here to suck it off.

“Forget lunch,” I say, turning my head towards the window.  “I’m not hungry.”

“Are you kidding me?!!” Michael starts to yell. The car is slowing down and he pulls over on the side of the highway. The tank is sitting on empty. “We’re out of gas! I thought you got some this morning!”

Gas. The one thing I forgot. Great! “I’m sorry, Michael. I forgot.”

“Well, this is just wonderful!”

He won’t talk to me after he calls the Uber ride. He tells the driver he has to get a container of gas from the nearest gas station which he’s already located on his cellphone.  It’s only a few miles away. I wander around the embankment on the side of the road for awhile and then sit in the car with the passenger door open, waiting.

He is silent after he returns with enough gas to get us to the station. I notice his jaw clenching for miles.

Our gas tank isn’t the only thing on empty.

By the time we reached our hotel on the beach, our relationship is dry as a southern wind.

The world looks so small from the fifteenth floor of this Holiday Inn.  I am right now, standing carefully on the balcony of our hotel room.  This must be how the world looks to God.  We’re a bunch of ants fighting over the crumbs of life.  Maybe if I threw all my problems off this balcony, they would become as small as the dotted people and cars below me. Maybe they would just disintegrate from the force of the fall.

Michael is in the shower. He’s trying to cool off. Things got pretty heated after we passed the man with the orange trash bag.  Then, of course, the car ran out of gas.

That was my fault.  At least in Michael’s eyes. I think he sees one version of me all the time-a screwed up. I was supposed to get gas yesterday.  I didn’t.  Lisa called, and I got distracted from my errands. Michael could care less that Lisa was in a crisis.  All he knows is that we have now missed our cruise to Catalina Island.

I still say it’s partly his fault. He didn’t check the gas gauge when we got in the car this morning. I know he was tired and grumpy.  I know we were running late and that I should have gotten out of bed sooner. Still, I wasn’t the one who kept him from checking.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway. 

I’ve decided I’m going to leave Michael.  I don’t really have any other choice. If I don’t leave, I’ll go crazy.  Life is just hell when we’re together.  He works at the bank all day. I talk for eight hours to cranky people who won’t pay their bills.  We come home, eat dinner and stare at the T.V. until it’s time to go to bed. Then we get up and do it all over again.  Nothing is fun anymore.  See what I mean . . . hell?

We used to like each other.  We even loved each other, I suppose.  It’s hard to believe with the way things are now.  We’ve joined the rest of the world and we’re fighting each other for the crumbs.

Michael used to write “I want you” on the bathroom mirror with toothpaste. We took some long showers then.  Some mornings he would sit straight up in bed and grab my arm. “You!” he would say. “It’s really you. I thought you were just a dream!” I would laugh and smile at how good those words felt.

I can see the ocean from where I’m standing.  It’s so grand.  So is the sunset.  It makes me sick to think of how this beauty is being wasted.  How can I watch the sky burst into flames and feel cool, ocean air on my skin when my marriage is ending?  I won’t look at the ocean.  I’ll just watch cars and people from this isolated perch.

My eyes follow a stream of cars into a large parking lot.  

To the right of the parking lot, the red and yellow neon lights of a Tilt-O-Whirl blink on. Then I notice the flashing white lights of a roller coaster and the bright green and purple sign for The Zipper.  A carnival!

I don’t think about what I’m doing.  I grab my purse just as Michael shuts the water off.  “I’m going to a carnival,” I yell at the bathroom door.

“What!?  What carnival?”

I don’t answer. I slam the hotel door shut and keep walking down the carpeted hallway.  I smile.  It feels good to leave him hanging.  He deserves it after saying that nonsense about being in jail and then claming up for the rest of the trip.

I’m breathing heavily, partly because I’m walking so fast and partly because I feel so free. Exhilaration claims me like I’ve just been let out of a dark, musty closet.  Maybe Michael and I are both in prison.

The air is cool and salty.  My skin tingles and I walk even faster.  I’m smiling at everyone I pass. Little girls, little boys hopping and skipping. Teen flocks. Young lovers. Older couples hand-in-hand. I’m still a few blocks from the carnival, but I can already smell the salty-sweet mixture of hot dogs and cotton candy.  My stomach cramps and growls.  We never did eat lunch today.

There crowd grows-the little kids now with sticky, cotton candy mouths and wild eyes, tired parents clutching balloons and stuffed animals, couples with hands locked together or arms around shoulders and waists.

I stop at a hot dog stand and take my place in line.

Plump, juicy links rotate slowly on a wheel at the left side of the metallic counter.  Ten people wait in front of me.  I feel impatient so I look around, trying to take my mind off my hunger.  My eye catches a glimpse of a giant Ferris wheel off to my right.  Bright red, blue, and yellow lights wink on and off, outlining the spokes of the wheel.  I step out of the line and walk towards it.  The hot dog can wait.  I love Ferris wheels.  They’ve always been my favorite ride at carnivals.  When I’m at the very top, for an instant, I feel like I’m flying unleashed.

There’s another line, not as long as the hot dog truck’s, for the Ferris wheel. Dinner time is the perfect time to catch a ride. I step up.

“Can I ride with you?”

Michael is standing beside me.  His hair is still wet from the shower and his face is flushed.  He must have run all the way from the hotel.  His light blue eyes seem even paler against his red skin.  I  smell the spicy musk of his aftershave.   Surprisingly, every inch of me is glad he’s here.  He remembered to check my favorite ride to find me.

“Yeah, I think that would work.”

“Good.”

We don’t look at each other.   It’s like we just met and we’re both feeling shy and awkward.  It’s kind of exciting.   Out of the corner of my eye, I  see him looking at his hands or his shoes-anywhere but at me.  I feel a chuckle rising in my throat.  “So what made you come?  I didn’t think you liked carnival’s anymore.”

Michael clears his throat.  “Well, I don’t but I couldn’t see any point in sitting alone in that stuffy hotel room all night.   I mean, we drove all this way.   It would be stupid and a waste of time.”

Why can’t he say he wanted to be with me?  Why does it have to be about wasting time or not wasting time?

The Ferris wheel stops.  We climb into a bright blue carriage with a little umbrella swinging overhead.   I slide to the middle of the seat and wish I could slide over a little further.  I don’t want to be next to him but I don’t want to look like a child. Michael slides in next to me and rests his hands on his lap.  At least he isn’t putting his arm around me.  Somehow, this makes me even angrier.  “Don’t forget, Sam,” I coach myself, “he’s only here so he can avoid wasting time.”  The carriage lurches forward and we’re off the ground.

The cool, evening breeze is stronger and colder above the beach, the waves of the Pacific. I try to focus on the bright lights of the carnival below, on the moonlight bobbing in ripples on the waves of the ocean.  I can’t distract my mind from the fact that I’m a bundle of nerves, and freezing.  Goosebumps give texture to my arms and legs.  I should have put something warmer on before I left.  These shorts and tank top aren’t made for an evening out by the ocean, what was I thinking?  Michael notices my bumps and asks if I’m cold.

No, your presence just thrills me so.  Another unspoken thought. “Maybe a little. I’m all right though.”  Michael’s tan arm slides across my shoulders. I’m tempted to wiggle a little closer. The warmth of his body feels uncomfortably good but my anger still feels too right to let go of just yet.

“I’m not in prison because of you, Sam.”

This catches me off guard.  I lose focus of my anger.   “You’re not?  I thought that’s what you meant, that our marriage is like a prison.”

“No.  It’s just life.  There’s so much pressure.”

Our carriage is moving backward, descending to the ground.  The pull of gravity, along with Michael’s words, makes me heady.  My anger evaporates with the sea spray.  I see myself tossing a few problems off the balcony at the hotel though I remain silent, almost holding my breath.  Maybe he’ll keep talking.  He does.

“I don’t like who I am anymore, Sam.   All I do is work and complain about how awful everything is.  And, I hate what’s happening to us.  All we do is fight.”  I slide closer to him and press against his side.  His hand squeezes my shoulder.

“I swore things would never be this way when we first got married.  I made a promise to myself that I would not live a mediocre life like my family and friends. So far, this weekend places us square in their camp.”

“We’re just living like a couple of algae eaters,” I say looking up at him.

Michael smiles.  I’m wishing I had my camera so I could take a picture of his face.  His smile is so beautiful and so rare anymore.  “What do you mean by that?”

“We’re viewing life through our four algae-covered windows, like our fish tank. And it’s always distorted.”

He nods his head.  “So how do we change the view?”

We’re at the top of the wheel again.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Michael smiles, remembering the self-help book we read together months ago.

“We are products of our past but we don’t have to be prisoners of it tomorrow.”

I nod in agreement. “We change tomorrow’s view by what we’re doing right now,” I answer.  “Wow. The world looks a lot different from up here, doesn’t it?”

“True.”

“If we threw our problems off the side of this carriage at the top, they would seem a lot smaller.”

“You’re a strange one, Sam.”  Michael is smiling again.  I love his smile even more than Ferris wheels.

“I know.  That’s why you’re so madly in love with me.”

Michael scratches his forehead.  “Yeah, I’ll buy that.”

We ride the bumper cars and eat greasy hot dogs.  Michael kisses me in the funhouse in front of a mirror that made our heads look like bloated ticks.

It’s after midnight before we make it back to the hotel room.  Michael is wide awake.  Hanging the tiny stuffed bear he won for me from his ear, he dances a strange male dance and manages to peel his clothes off, somewhat awkwardly, at the same time.

The only thing I can say for the rest of our little trip is that we didn’t quite make it to Catalina.  Missing our cruise turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

We’re on our way back to the real world today. 

I’m driving. I’ve decided not to leave Michael. Tomorrow is Monday but I don’t think it will be the same as every other Monday.  In fact, I don’t think our life will be the same. We’ve made a new vow to change our view at least once a week.

I’ve got a strong craving for sushi and Michael has agreed to try it again. He’s talking about the things pressuring him. I’m listening. Together, we’ll break down the pressures of life with a new perspective from a higher viewpoint. Things have definitely changed.  We’re entering a new age, a fresh season and this time, our gas tank is full.

Charmayne Hafen is a contemporary issues author with Capture Books. Typically writing on faith issues for teens, her youth books and children’s books are clean reads, full of adventures, compassion, and mystery. Hafen’s writing displays empathy and redirection for marital health and the welfare of children. She holds an MA in group counseling and obtained her B.A. in Journalism from John Brown University. She is currently working on her first adult novel.

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Excerpt from a Shotgun Proposal

ISBN 13: 9780999635339
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The Elephant in the Room

Contemporary fiction

Tammy

A quick glance in the mirror said the two cups of coffee had done nothing to remove the dark circles that swelled below my eyes.  “It’s hopeless,” I thought, now staring at my blonde hair hanging in frazzled clumps around sallow skin, an outcropping of my weary soul.

Dragging myself into the bedroom of my six-year-old son, I was startled, as always, at seeing row upon row of breasts peeking out of sequined halter tops on the calendar hanging beside Henry’s bed.  Long legs extending from tight shorts became a line of slithering snakes, injecting poisonous venom into my withering self-confidence.

Anger pounded against my temples the way it had on the day my husband, Jack, gave our son the calendar of these famous cheerleaders.

At six, Henry still thought girls were gross.  No matter how much Jack insisted this calendar was for Henry, it wasn’t.  That’s what made it worse.  How could I argue with a gift from a father to his son and interfere with their “male-bonding”?

“It certainly is interfering with our marital bonding,” I said, yanking at Henry’s crumpled bed sheets the same way I wanted to yank the shimmering, blonde hair from the head of the cheerleader in the front row.  My face grew hot and flushed, a stark contrast to my marriage bed that had remained cool and distant for some time now.  I smiled.  Jack could have his calendar, but he couldn’t have me with it.

“Why don’t you want it anymore?”  I could hear Jack’s ongoing question that never got answered as I folded a load of laundry or while we shopped together, even on a date night, I could hear Jack’s accusation.

I thought about last night when I lay on my side of the bed, facing the wall, wishing he would just leave me alone.  The kids were finally asleep, and I was exhausted as usual.  I just wanted to meld with the bed.  Jack kept kissing my neck, so I finally turned over and looked at him in the dark.  All I could see was the silhouette of his tousled hair outlined against the moonlight streaming in through the bedroom window.  His face, a shadow and, for a moment, I tried to pretend he was someone I didn’t know.  Maybe then I would want him.  His hand reached out and slid across my hip, moving upwards under my breast.

I grabbed his hand before it reached its destination and told him I didn’t feel like it.

Jack couldn’t understand what had changed from when we first got married when I wanted sex all the time.

“Me,” I said, collapsing against the pillow.  “I’m different.”  That’s when Jack rolled over and said with disgust, “That’s for sure.”

I was too tired to care that he was angry.  Besides, I was angry most of the time, so why should I care?

The ice storm that had begun in bed the night before fell in full force this morning.  Even my youngest child noticed the invisible glacier that stood between Mommy and Daddy.

“Mommy, is Daddy mad?” Molly asked, rubbing the sleep from her big, brown eyes as she dragged her blanket across the kitchen floor.

“No baby.  Daddy’s not mad.”  Jack dropped his briefcase and scooped her up into his arms.  “But he is hungry.  You look like a tasty treat.”

Molly giggled as Jack pretended to nibble on her ear and then her tummy.

The smile that eased its way across my face while watching Daddy and his little girl faded as soon as he looked at me.

“I’ll be home late tonight Tam.  I’m going to stop and have a drink with Rick.”

I knew what he was doing.  This was my punishment for being the ice-maiden in bed.

“That’s fine,” I said, trying to sound like I didn’t care.  “I’m taking the kids over to Sandy’s house after dinner so I can shop for a new dress for your company Christmas Party.”

Jack was already headed for the door before I finished my sentence.  “See ya,” he called without looking back.

“Just go to hell,” I muttered under my breath and then yelled, “Tell Rick I said hi,” before he slammed the door.

Jack

Rubbing my eyes, I looked at the clock on my desk and couldn’t believe it was already ten to six.  I was supposed to meet Rick in ten minutes.  I didn’t really feel like going for a drink.  What I really wanted was to go home and lay down.  I’d been processing loans all day, eating lunch at my desk, and could hardly see straight.  I stared at Tammy’s smiling face in the family photo on my desk and felt angry once again at the thought of her rejection the night before.

How could she treat me this way?  I was a great provider.  We had a beautiful home and nice cars.  I coached my son’s soccer team and went to all of Molly’s ballet recitals.  It wasn’t like I was a dead-beat dad or a husband that was never there.  What was so hard about saying “yes” once-in-a-while, about giving me what I wanted for a change?  She was lucky I didn’t have an affair.  Half the guys in this office already had.  Tammy didn’t know how lucky she was.

I looked at the clock again.  Five minutes to six.  Grabbing my coat and briefcase, I rushed out the door to meet Rick.  Maybe Tammy would appreciate me more if I wasn’t around so much.

Rick was already sitting at the bar when I walked through the door of the local pub ten minutes late.  I hadn’t seen him in over a year.  Ever since he’d gotten a job with another mortgage company, we’d lost touch.

Surprised when he called me last Friday, we chatted hellos, and then he invited me for a beer after work.  I had turned him down because Tammy already had plans for us to go Christmas shopping.  So, today I was glad Rick was willing to meet when I called him on my way to work.  I needed an excuse to stay away from home, especially after telling Tammy I would be home late, I needed to find a quick solution to the empty hours that awaited.  She needed to learn a lesson.

Rick waved from where he sat at the bar and motioned me over to join him.  Shaking his hand, I was shocked to see how much he had aged in a year.  There were large swathes of gray in his hair, and above his eyes carried a deep furrow I didn’t remember.  Rick was my age, thirty-two, but he looked like he was pushing mid-forties.

“So how’ ya been buddy?” Rick asked as I took a swig of beer and handed the bartender a tip.

“Oh, you know, I can’t complain.  Work is crazy right now, but it keeps the bills paid so what can I say?” I shrugged.  “How’s your job at Loan Builder?”

“Same ol’, same ol’ except the pay is better than what I was getting at Myrons.  There’s a new secretary; short skirts, tight sweaters.  She keeps work interesting.”

“Still making the rounds huh?” I said, smiling and touching Rick’s glass with my own.  “Here’s to the ladies man.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Rick said, grabbing a peanut out of the bowl on the bar.  “I can snag them but I can’t seem to keep them.”

“You and Carla are doing okay, aren’t you?”

“Carla left six months ago,” Rick said looking off into the distance.  “She took the kids and they’re all living with her parents right now.  She served me with divorce papers last week.”

“What? Er, wow! I had no idea.”  I gulped down half my beer, wishing I could drown the words that had opened this can of worms.  “I’m sorry to bring it up, man.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it, buddy,” Rick said, forcing a smile.  “No big deal.  Things were going sour long before she left.  We were fighting all the time and things were ice cold in the bedroom if you know what I mean.”

I know exactly what you mean, I thought, nodding at Rick.

“I don’t understand women.  They’re red hot for you in the beginning and then one day you’re their worst enemy.”

“I know.  Before Tammy and I got married, some of the guys at work warned me that women change.  I never believed them about her, but it turns out they were right.”

“Carla told me she was tired of feeling second best.  She said I made her feel like she was never enough by the way I treated other women.  Now, okay, I’ve done my share of flirting and I’ve had my subscription to Playboy, but I never fooled around on her, honest!  I always made sure we had a nice lifestyle.  So, what the   ̶  I just don’t think she knew what she wanted.”

Tammy’s cold eyes flew to my mind’s eye as if bringing home Henry’s calendar was yesterday.  Tammy had been furious, and when I told her she was being ridiculous, her furry popped a cork.  It wasn’t like I gave our six-year-old a calendar of naked women, for crying out loud.

“I miss my kids,” Rick said, bringing back to focus. He took another gulp of his beer. “That’s the hardest part.  I guess I miss Carla too, but it’s too late now.  She’s made up her mind and I can’t reason with her.  So, I’m a wild and free bachelor again,” Rick said, smiling and raising his glass.  The smile didn’t reach Rick’s sad, lonely eyes.

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Tammy

I stared at my reflection in the dressing room mirror.  Turning from side to side, I pushed up on my breasts to see if a pushup bra would make the top of the dress fit better.  Dresses lay in piles around my ankles.

“Arghh!” I cried, pulling at the zipper in the back and wiggling out of the little black number as if it were a straight jacket.  “This is impossible!”

“Is everything all right in there?”  It was the sales lady who had given me a key to the room.  I looked down at the floor covered in satin and sequenced fabric and knew I was way over the six-item limit.

“I’m fine; just trying to decide what to get.”

“If you need any help, let me know,” she soothed.

“I’m beyond help, lady,” I muttered hearing the clicking of the lady’s high heels as she walked away from the fitting rooms.  Wiggling into my jeans and sweater, I opened the door, looked both ways, and then practically ran toward the front door of the store.

“Forget the party,” I cried, jamming the car key into the ignition.  “It’s just the same crap year after year.  I have to act friendly with Jack’s co-workers and pretend I don’t notice the exotic, bimbo receptionist in her high strappy shoes and slinky dress. Last year, the slit up the slide of her outfit nearly collided with every eye in the office, man or woman!  I sit and wonder whether Jack is having an affair with her, but I can’t act jealous or Jack will say I’m being ridiculous.  That’s it.  I’m not going.”  The decision made, I was relieved to re-center my head and see the parking lot was mostly empty.  Thankfully, no one saw me ranting and raving inside my otherwise empty car.

I backed out and headed towards the babysitters’, then the kids and I limped home.

Shocked to see Jack’s car already parked as I pulled the minivan into the garage, the older kids ran ahead.

“Daddy! Daddy!” Molly cried from the back seat.  “Daddy’s home!” Everyone else was already inside by the time I reached the door with Molly in my arms.

“Hi Tam,” Jack said, taking Molly as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“You’re home early,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant.  “I thought you’d be late. Weren’t you meeting Rick?”

“I decided to cut it short,” Jack said, setting Molly on the floor and watching her as she ran to join her brother in front of the T.V.  Was he avoiding my eyes? “It’s been a long day and I’m tired.  I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

Was he really tired or just trying to make me feel guilty?  I decided to ignore the comment.  “Are you hungry?”  I asked, hoping he would say no.  I was bone-tired too.

“No, I’m fine,” he said, jamming his hands into his pockets.  It was strange how awkward it felt to be with him sometimes, even after ten years of marriage.

“I saved us some mon-”

“I’m sorry about this morning, Tam.”

I frowned, wondering what was going on.  Jack never apologized.  “I’m sorry too,” I said, glancing down at my watch, so I wouldn’t have to look at him.  I could handle the angry husband that left the house this morning.  That was easy.  How could I be the angry, bitter wife when he was apologizing?

“I’ve got to get the kids to bed,” I mumbled, walking towards the living room where the kids sat glued to the T.V. “They had chicken strips on the way home.”

Jack tucked Molly in while I put Henry to bed.  As I folded the covers down over his chest, I noticed something different.

“What happened to your calendar, Henry?”  The heaving bosoms and microscopic shorts were gone.

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I didn’t do anything with it.”  For a moment I had the strange sensation that I was in the wrong house with the wrong family.

Jack was already in bed, staring up at the ceiling when I walked into the bedroom.

“Are you all right?”  I had never seen him act so strange.

“Yeah, I’m fine.  Why?”

“Well, you’re acting weird.”

“I’m just thinking.”

“About what?”  I was almost afraid to ask.  Was this the calm before the storm, before some earth-shattering news was delivered?

“About my life and the way I’ve been insulting to you. I realized this as Rick was telling me about how he and Carla got a divorce.”

“You’re kidding?!” I said, sitting on the bed beside him.

“I know.  I was shocked too.  I guess she got tired of the way Rick was sexually about other females, and she up and left him.  He hardly ever gets to see his kids.”

“That’s awful.”

“It made me start thinking about us.  Are we okay, Tammy?  I mean, are you glad you married me?”

I lay back on the bed beside him and stared up at the ceiling.  “Did you take the calendar down in Henry’s room?”

Jack looked over at me.  “I don’t think Henry needs a calendar like that.”

I smiled, feeling some invisible burden suddenly lift from my shoulders.  “Yeah, I’m glad I married you,” I said.

“Wow!  That was easy.”

“I’m not cheap but I am easy,” I said, laughing.

“Easy on the eyes,” Jack said, pulling me against him as he kissed the top of my head.

“Thank you, Jack,” I whispered, trying not to sound like I was about to cry.

“For what?”

“For doing that.  For understanding.” And, then I couldn’t keep back the tears.

“I want you to know you’re number one, Tam.  I don’t want you to ever feel like you’re second best.”

I closed my tired eyes and, for the first time in a long time, rested in my husband’s arms.

“I went shopping for a party dress tonight,” I murmured against his chest. “I felt so awful in everything I tried on that I was going to tell you earlier how I’d saved us some money for Christmas by not buying a thing, and I wasn’t going to go to your party this year. You aren’t having an affair with that voluptuous receptionist, are you?”

“Heck, no!”

“I’ll save you some more money then.  Taking down that cheerleader calendar was the best Christmas gift you could give me.”

Jack kissed me and I didn’t turn away this time. The calendar that had made our marriage bed so cold now ignited a flame. This day of snow and ice was transformed and we surrendered to the fire.

Charmayne Hafen
Charmayne Hafen is a Capture Books author concerned with marital health and the welfare of children. She facilitates art workshops for groups and grief therapy through art and photography. She holds a B.A. in journalism from John Brown University and an M.A. in counseling from Denver Seminary. Her youth books and children’s books are clean reads, full of adventures, compassion, and mystery.

ISBN 13: 9780999635339Princess Wren feels like a lost bird wandering a huge castle where her mother has disappeared and now even her father, King Belodawn, has abandoned her.
But, things are about to change as the princess matures.With the aid of the cook and the cook’s son, Wren discovers her unknown dexterity and honing it, believes it will open up new paths for her.

Little does the young woman know that a step to the right or to the left will plunge her into a life of horror.

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