While I take a bit of a break from Beelzebub and Lucifer (I know how it will end and I think I have two episodes left — plan on completing the thing next week), I started a writing exercise over at Writers Supprting Writers. A seven day prompt where I post a word each day that the writer has to include in a story, in the next few hundred words of the story. Other than that, there are no rules. No genre requirement. No length requirement. Just write and incorporate those words as they come along each day.
Here’s my piece. I’m calling it Facilitation. The bolded words are the prompt words for each day.
“How was your weekend, babe?”
I took a breath. Or two. “It was okay,” I replied.
John leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Just okay? Because I wasn’t there with you?”
I pushed him away and looked out the office door. “Stop it. Somebody might see.”
“Oh, come on. Nobody is here yet. You know that. We’ve got a few minutes. It’s not 9:00 yet.”
He wasn’t wrong. One of the things that always amazed me about my job. A place where the work hours were supposed to be 8:00 to 5:00, but most of the staff didn’t show up until 9:00. All while still taking their lunch break and smoke breaks and walk breaks and coffee breaks and there ‘oh, I just need a minute’ breaks. And then having to leave early for a kid’s game or a doctor appointment or … hell, a manicure.
“Yeah, but I told you. Never here. We have to be careful.” I looked at him, a couple of feet away from me with that look in his eyes. The one that told me how eager he was for me. “My husband … I can’t. Not yet.”
John sat down in one of the chairs in front of my desk, right as Sylvia, the front desk receptionist walked by my open doorway. I motioned towards her with my hand and whispered, “See …”
“Fine. What happened this weekend, Chloe?”
“It’s nothing really. It’s just that my daughter’s team was eliminated from the tournament. She’s heartbroken, and I am for her as well.”
“No, John,” I sighed. “Not soccer. That’s my son. Clarice plays softball. If they had won, her team would have gone to the regional tournament in Reno next week.”
“She’ll get over it.”
“Well, she hasn’t yet. She’s been in tears since Saturday when they lost.”
“It’s just a game.” John shrugged. “Maybe she shouldn’t take it so seriously.”
I sat back in my chair and looked at this man who had filled a hole in me that I didn’t know existed until he came along. I’d taken a chance, dipped a toe in the deep end, and then just jumped. Here we were now, talking about one of my girls like it was nothing, and what I really wanted to do was run away from it all. My husband, who never seemed to care about where I was going or what I was feeling. My job, which sucked the soul out of me on a daily basis. And the girls. I loved them so, so much. But sometimes I wondered whether I could finish the job of raising them without irrepairably harming them.
The softball tournament and Clarice’s response was a perfect example. If I had been a better mom, would she have reacted as though it was the end of the world. No, correct that … she was still reacting that way. She had begged me to allow her to stay home from school.
I finally relented, with an admonition, “Only today.” I leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Take a break. Relax. But tomorrow, you’re back in school. Right?”
“Yes, Mom,” she said with her traditional eye roll, which told me she just might be okay. Even as I worried about the long run. How all of this would be in the years ahead.
“John,” I leaned forward, “you don’t have kids. You can’t possibly …” He held up his hands to stop me. Something Mike did all the time. Something that drove me absolutely crazy. “Don’t you dare do that!”
“Don’t shush me. Don’t interrupt me. Don’t.”
“Chloe, what is going on with you today?”
I settled back in the chair, looked at my computer screen and saw that there was an email from Mike. I clicked on it. He wanted to know what was going to be for dinner that night. I … just … couldn’t. Not anymore.
I turned my attention back to John. “I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I’m just sad for my little girl right now. Even if she isn’t that little anymore.” He opened his mouth and this time I held up my hand to shush him. “I’m sad about a lot of things, John. A lot of things. Can I just be sad? Without having to explain myself? Please?”
John stood and looked at me. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Just know that I love you.” He turned and walked out of my office.
I turned back to my computer screen and Mike’s email. What do you want? I typed and clicked on send.
I went and closed my office door and sat back down at my desk, leaning back in my chair. I thought about where I was. With Mike. With John. With my kids.
But back to Mike. And John. I began to feel like the whole thing was just … well, redundant. When Mike entered my life, he lit a fire in me. Sure the embers had kind of died down as we settled into married life and kids and work and bills and days and weeks and months would go by with barely an intimate thought or touch passing between us. Then John came along and he rekindled that fire in me. But … did that make it right? Did … oh hell, I was so fucked up. I put my head on my desk and tried to resist the tears, grateful that the door was closed, the blinds were drawn and nobody would see.
I eventually got myself together, opened the door, and went back to my desk to get some work done. Emails, phone calls, a brief meeting with the big, big boss. She wanted some answers to some questions a reporter had asked her. The comms director was there. We spent a few minutes noodling over the questions, trying to massage some answers that would appear harmless. It’s what happens when the big, big boss is accused of sexual harassment.
Mike finally responded to my email and said he wanted tacos. Tacos. Because tacos every week for years was just one of those things we did. One of those things he always wanted. So … tacos it would be. Chicken or beef? I asked in reply.
Before I could do anything else, he answered back, Adobada!
Nope. Not gonna happen. Unless you do it. That takes hours to marinade. I don’t get home in time. He knew that, too.
Fine. Beef then.
I let out a big sigh as I walked out of my office and headed towards the kitchen. I needed some coffee, preferably an infusion straight into my veins. Since that wasn’t possible, I poured myself a cup and went back to my desk. My phone, which I had left behind for the meeting with the big, big boss, was vibrating there.
A text from Clarice. Mommy can you come home?
I sat down and looked at the words. She was fourteen. I couldn’t remember the last time she had called me Mommy. I sent a text back. What’s wrong? Can it wait until I get home?
My phone was silent for a moment. I took a sip of coffee. Looked at my computer. There was an email from John. I could see a few words in the window that showed the beginning of the email. It wasn’t work-related. I wished for not the first time that he would stop emailing and before I knew what I was doing, I picked up my phone and texted to my sad daughter what I meant to email to John. Stop it!
Seconds later. What!! She even added a crying emoji.
Shit. I looked at the text string, saw what I had done. That wasn’t meant for you, honey.
What did Dad do now? Came her rapid response.
Damn, it was amazing how perceptive she was sometimes. I shouldn’t have been shocked, even if the text wasn’t meant for her father. Clarice had started asking questions that hinted at a bit of knowledge about the state of her parents’ marriage. But I couldn’t tell her who the text was really meant for. I ignored her question. Tell you what. I’ll come home in a little bit. What do you want for lunch?
I got a happy face emoji and a taco emoji. Tacos for dinner tonight. Come up with something else.
Meanwhile, I emailed Mike and told him I was headed home because our daughter wasn’t doing good and I’d get the adobada started. I got another happy face emoji and wanted to scream. But I didn’t. I held it in, like I’d been doing for years.
On my way out the door, I stopped by John’s office. I didn’t go further than the doorway. “Hey. Just letting you know I’m headed home.” He stood up and took a step towards me. “No. Clarice needs me. But … we need to talk. Lunch tomorrow.” I turned and fled before he could say anything. I wasn’t interested in another emoji, or John’s in-person version of same. I just needed to get home.
Driving home, I started to think things through. By the time I hit the driveway, I knew it was time to facilitate a few things. I took Clarice the meatball sandwich she had requested when tacos were a no. “How you doing, honey?” I asked when I went into her room.
She sniffled and took the sandwich. “I’m okay.”
“I guess so. I mean … it’s just a game, right?”
“Yes, it is.” I sat down on her bed next to her and brushed her hair from her face. “It’s just a game and you’ll have a lot more games to play … and win … in the years ahead.”
“I really wanted to win on Saturday, though.”
“I know, and that’s okay, too. Just realize you won’t win every game.” She took a bite of her sandwich and smiled up at me. “You’ll go back to school tomorrow, right?”
Clarice sighed dramatically. “If I must.”
I rose and went into the kitchen and unpacked the groceries I had purchased to make the adobada tacos. I got everything together, marinated the pork and then went looking for Mike. He was able to work from home, but he took it seriously. He wouldn’t have taken a break to get the adobada going. No, he stayed in his basement office all day long no matter what. Doing who knows what. I knew my husband was a consultant. I knew it had something to do with emergency preparedness and business continuity, but beyond that, what exactly he did all day was beyond me.
John was looking at his computer when I walked in. There was a spreadsheet on the screen and he was squinting at the numbers. I sat in the recliner he kept down there for his afternoon siesta — the only break he allowed himself during the work day. The squish of the leather alerted him to my presence and he turned his chair to face me.
“Hey. What’s going on?” he asked.
“Nothing. I brought lunch for Clarice. Have you talked to her?”
“No. I’ve been …”
“Of course. You’ve been working. You couldn’t bother to notice that your daughter is heartbroken, could you?” I stood up and leaned against his desk. “What is it you actually do down here all day, any way?” I had asked the question before and never really got a satisfactory answer.
“Work. You know that.”
“Sure, but what exactly? I want to know what keeps you so focused down here you don’t even notice what’s going on in your family. With your … our … daughter.” I started re-arranging the papers on his desk, shuffling them here and there, generally just making a mess of them.
“Stop that,” he grunted, moving to protect his desktop from my interfering hands.
“Do you even realize what’s going on with me? With us?”
“What are you talking about?” Mike got all his papers away from me and was starting to leaf through them, re-organizing them, not looking at me.
“You must know by now.” I sat back down in the recliner, moved the foot rest out and kicked back. I rested my hands on my stomach and looked at my husband.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Mike! We need to talk.”
“I have to work.” He turned back to his computer screen. “Can this wait until tonight?”
“Fine.” I slammed the foot rest closed and stormed up the stairs.
That night, after a dinner of tacos that Mike asked for and I made, I went to talk to him after cleaning up, but he was back in his basement again.
So much for facilitating a conversation that might change the dynamic of our marriage. I gave up.
I texted John and suggested we take a long lunch the next day. Maybe at his place. In response, I got another smiley face emoji.
I had made a decision. It involved a swan song for my marriage. I was going to put all my marbles in another basket. That night, I slept on the sofa. When John tried to talk to me in the morning, I had three words for him. Not the ones one might think in a marriage. No. I just told him, “It’s too late.” I walked out the door without looking back. I was going to have a great day, spend a little time with John, and then move on.