This is a scene from my novel In The Shadow Of The Dragonfly that had to be sacrificed for the sake of word count. I thought it was fun, too good to just toss out, so I reworked it into a mini short story. I’d love to hear your thoughts…
He’d thought she was asleep when he got into bed a half hour before, and was surprised when her words spilled out of the darkness.
“I wonder if it’s too late to rent a room at the Lodge.”
He rolled over to face her. “For what?”
“Hope’s birthday party.”
“I thought we were having it here.”
She sighed. “That was before she revised the guest list. It’s up to thirty-three now.”
“Oh, Lord.” Visions of thirty-three giggling teenaged girls invaded Ted’s brain. Check that. Knowing his daughter, half of the gigglers would be male.
“I’ll talk to her.”
“And what possible good would that do?”
He caught the gentle note of teasing in her voice and smiled. “Absolutely none.”
“Oh well. She’ll only be thirteen once.”
“Thank God.” He reached over and massaged her shoulders. “Will it be an awful lot of work for you?”
“Not if the weather holds and we can do it outside. I can’t remember a nicer March.”
They were quiet for a moment.
“I suppose she’ll want triple chocolate cake.”
“I don’t know about her, but I certainly do.”
She groaned. “I’ll gain a hundred pounds.”
He ran his hand along her thigh. “Please don’t. I kind of like you this way.” He slid his hand to her abdomen, still amazed at how tight and supple she’d become. “You’re not going to lose any more weight, are you?”
“Maybe just a pound or two.”
“I think you should quit right here. You’re just about perfect.”
She propped herself on an elbow and stared at him. “Just about?”
He bent and kissed her lips. “Perfectly. You’re perfectly perfect.”
His kiss deepened as his hand crept to her breast.
“Aunt Flo is due for a visit.”
“Oh.” He removed his hand, barely able to conceal his disappointment. Giving her a peck on the cheek, he rolled onto his side and let himself begin to drift.
“I’ve been thinking about going back to work.”
With eight words his hazy contentment was shattered.
“I said I’ve been thinking about go–”
“I heard you.”
“Then why did you say what?”
“I guess why would have been more appropriate. You don’t have to work, Dana.”
“I know I don’t have to work, Ted. Not from a financial standpoint. But I’d like to broaden my horizons a little bit.”
“I thought you were happy.”
“I am happy. I’m perfectly happy.”
“If you’re perfectly happy, then why–”
“I guess I feel like I’m stagnating. I need some mental stimulation beyond cookbooks and garden planners.”
His mind began to work on this unexpected dilemma. He’d thought when they married fourteen years before it was understood. Ted Hanwell’s wife would not go out to work. Period.
“I’d really rather you didn’t.”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re being Victorian.”
“I am not being Victorian.”
“And I’m not being intellectually stimulated!” She immediately softened her harsh words with a touch. “You work hard, Ted. You put in a month’s worth of hours in a week and I wouldn’t ask you to give that up because I know how much you love it. Jared is eleven now, and Hope will be thirteen. None of you are ever here and I need more than an empty house to fill my time.”
He sighed, trying to find a compromise. “My mother worked two jobs. She killed herself trying to give my brothers and me all the things she never had. She smoked like a house on fire because it was the only thing that ever brought her any relaxation.” His voice softened. “She died at forty of hard work and lung cancer and we never even got a chance to know her. I wanted more for my family.”
She was quiet for a long moment. “All right, Ted. If you really feel that strongly about it.”
“I do. I really do.”
He heard the resignation in her voice and knew she wouldn’t challenge him. Relieved, he rolled back over and waited for sleep.
“Why don’t we have another baby?”
This time her words hit him like a bucket of ice water in the face. He shot up and groped for the lamp, his earlier relief turning to dismay when he saw she was serious.
“Dana, you can’t mean it.”
“Well, sweetheart, we’re not exactly teenagers. I’ll be forty this year. And so will you.”
“Women are having babies in their forties now. Why not me?”
“Oh, God.” He covered his eyes with his hands as if to block out visions of dirty diapers and croup. Ear-shattering wails in the middle of the night that a hibernating bear couldn’t sleep through.
“If I’m willing to stay home, then you should be willing to give me something worthwhile to stay home for. It seems to me that you should be willing to give a little, too.”
“A little, she says,” he muttered.
The comment was met with stony silence.
“Maybe we’d better not talk about this right now.”
“I didn’t know I was going to have to think about this again. I wasn’t prepared–”
“Fine, Ted. It’s fine.”
She turned off the lamp, and he lay beside her, feeling the weight of her silence. Carefully, mathematically, his mind began to work on a solution. There had to be a compromise somewhere. She was right, of course. He would have to meet her half way, but sweet Jesus… a baby? The thought alone aged him twenty years.
After a full half hour of brainstorming he realized he’d hit a thick brick wall. There was no way out. None.
He’d known she would be awake, waiting. “What sort of work were you thinking of?”
She sat up and turned on the lamp, her voice rising with excitement. “I thought I might try real estate…”
He listened to her plans and realized how well and how carefully they had been thought out. He smiled to himself and grudgingly tipped his hat, also realizing just how skillfully he’d been played.