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.
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.
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.”
“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 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?”
“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 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.
Princess 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.