“Come on,” I muttered, staring at my computer screen, “just need to –“ I was cut off by wailing coming from the baby monitor. I ended my livestream and went to the nursery. Loralee was generally not a fussy baby, so she was either hungry or in need of changing.
“Come here, sweetheart, what’s the matter?” I murmured to her soothingly. I fed and changed her, then I just cuddled her for a while, talking to her.
Of many things I may have been unsure, but my love for my daughter was definitely not one of them. She was so beautiful and precious. I almost couldn’t believe she was really mine. After the horrible pregnancy, I’d been a little worried she would be a fussy child, but she couldn’t have been more the opposite. The mothering routine was a breeze, especially compared to the nightmare of my pregnancy.
I was humming to her when I heard a voice behind me, “Hey, there you are.”
I settled Loralee in her crib and turned to smile at Huy. “Yeah, here I am. How was work?”
Huy said a brief hello to Loralee and kissed me on the cheek. “The usual. What’s for dinner, babe?”
I left the nursery and went back into my office. “Leftovers or you could make something. I need to work on my game.”
Huy sighed and I knew it was a precursor for a fight to come. “I was really hoping you’d cook tonight.”
“I cooked last night. We’ve got plenty of leftovers.”
“I don’t want to come home to leftovers. Maybe if you were a full-time mother – “
“Okay, stop right there.” I rounded on him. “Are you a part-time father, Huy?”
He looked at me in confusion. “What? No.”
“Funny, because you just accused me of being a part-time parent because I work. How many times are we going to have this conversation? I’m not quitting my job. I am not throwing on an apron and being your housewife.”
“You are her mother! One of us needs to be home with her.”
I stared at him flatly. “So you quit. I make seven times more than you and I work fewer hours. We couldn’t even pay the bills on your salary alone. So you go and be Mr. Mom if it’s so important to you that one of us is here at all times.”
He looked like I had just slapped him. “I can’t quit! I’m a manager.”
My eyes rolled back in my head. “Oh yeah. You’re a big man because you’re a manager. You’ve been a manager for five years, Huy. With no prospects for promotion.”
“People depend on me!”
“Whatever, Huy. Whatever. I’m not having this fight. The answer is no and it will always be no.”
Huy glared at me before storming out of the office, slamming the door behind him. I sighed, knowing it was going to wake up Loralee. As expected, the familiar wailing quickly came from the monitor.
After I had finally soothed Loralee and put her down, I dropped onto the couch in my study. It was an ugly thing, really, but it had been my favorite spot when it was in the company lounge. When they did a remodel, I saved it from the scrap heap. Now, it’s part of my sanctuary, as I had come to see my office.
I shut my eyes and leaned my head against the back of the couch. How had I allowed this to happen? This was exactly the thing I had wanted to avoid when I got married. This just…this wasn’t supposed to be my life. This wasn’t the plan.
Of its own volition, my hand went to my cellphone and brought up a contact that I had never quite been able to bring myself to delete. Shirley. A few months ago, we had run into each other in the park. It had brought up so many feelings that I’d thought were long gone. On impulse, I hit the call button and put the phone to my ear.
After a few rings, I heard, “Hello?”
“H-hey.” It came out pretty weak, so I cleared my throat. “Hey, Shirley. It’s, ah, it’s Camille. I know you probably never wanted to talk to me again…I guess this was stupid.” What in Watcher’s name was I doing? “Yeah…stupid. I’ll just hang up now.”
“No – no. Wait. Why did you call?”
I fidgeted on the couch, picking at a loose thread. “I was just wondering if you had any time to talk.”
Shirley was silent for a long moment and I was sure she was about to hang up when she said, “Yeah. Yeah, I can talk.”
We didn’t hang up for hours.
I smiled as I opened the front door and Shirley stepped inside. “Hey, Shirl.” This was the first time she had been over since the remodel. I wondered what she thought of the place. Was she going to tell me how awful it was too?
Shirley looked around, her eyes wide. “Watcher, Camille. This place is amazing.” She walked through the living room, running her hand along the back of the sectional. “Like, really gorgeous. You always told me you had big dreams, but I never imagined this place. It’s spectacular.”
I grinned and flushed a little under her praise. “Thank you. I didn’t exactly make the plans myself, but I strongly helped.” I lead her around the kitchen and into the nursery. “And here is the person you really came to see. This is Loralee.”
Shirley smiled and cooed at her. “She’s precious. Have I mentioned that I love that name?”
“I think you might’ve. You want something to eat? I’ve got one of those fancy ice cream makers.”
“Ice cream, you say?” We both grinned and went into the kitchen. While I started a batch of gelato, Shirley hopped up on a bar stool.
I smiled quietly to myself, watching the ice cream churn. I’d been talking to Shirley regularly for months now. Sometimes we went to the park or a museum, but it was all purely platonic. Talking to her made me realize just how little effort I had gone through to get to know her before. I knew her better now than when I had when we were actually dating.
And, I had come to realize, I was happier now. I looked forward to our almost-nightly conversations. Sometimes, I did have to remind myself that this really was purely a friendly relationship. Not only was I married, I was positive she had no interest in me romantically anymore. She had very graciously forgiven me, but some wounds just didn’t heal. And, if I wasn’t okay with that, I was going to pretend to both of us that I was.
“So when does Huy get home?” Shirley asked as we sat down at the bar to eat.
“Five.” I had come to dread when he would come home. He was never, ever violent, but I never knew when he would decide to pick a fight. My life was so much easier when he was at work.
Shirley studied me. “How have things been?”
“Everything is fine.” I hadn’t actually told her how much Huy and I were fighting, though she was probably able to surmise it was frequent. “How about we not talk about him today? I still need to give you a tour of the house.”
“Yeah, I do definitely want a tour. And maybe a chance to play on that gaming mat you’ve told me about.”
I laughed. “Deal.”
A/N: So this chapter also turned out pretty long, but just not quite long enough that I could split it into two. I hope everyone is enjoying the story so far, because I am loving the telling of it.