In a routine that felt far too familiar, I grabbed my bag and got out of the cab. I felt tired—so very fucking tired—and it wasn’t just because my internal clock was set to Germany.
As I went up the walkway, I saw the part-time nanny, Stephanie, watching TV in the living room. A muscle in my jaw ticked. Sure, her presence was necessary so that Loralee could keep working nights at Tomalee. But it wouldn’t be if we were living in Windenburg now.
I went inside and dropped my bag next to the door. “Hey, Stephanie.”
She started and twisted to look at me. “Oh, Mr. Smithson,” she said with relief. “I wasn’t expecting you. Wasn’t your flight supposed to be in a few hours ago?”
I let out an irritated sigh. “Delayed.”
She got up and walked over to me. “Oh, I’m sorry. Ms. Thoreau just called a few minutes ago and said she’s on her way home.”
“That’s great. Thanks, Stephanie. You can go on home now.”
The young woman nodded and gathered up her things. “Good night, Mr. Smithson.”
I shut the door behind her and went into the living room to collapse into a chair. She was a nice woman, but I hated her just a little. I wanted to take care of my own kids. And my own mother. I rubbed my face vigorously, trying to quell the rising irritation. Some of it was directed at the situation. Some at the nanny. A lot, more than I’d like to admit, at Loralee.
A soft, feminine voice drew me from my thoughts. “Another delayed flight?”
Speak of the devil.
I nodded. My eyes fell to her stomach. Every time I saw her, our baby had grown even more. I’m missing everything.
I could still remember the joy I’d felt the first time I’d felt Logan move. Jasper, too. But I could barely even remember feeling the kicks of our new little one.
I cleared my throat. “How’re you doing? And Little Spawn?”
She laughed a little and sat down, rubbing one hand over her rounded belly. “We’re okay. Heartburn from hell again today, but, otherwise, okay.”
Silence stretched between us. Our silences used to be easy, comfortable. Not anymore.
I opened my mouth to speak—I needed to just start, no use putting it off—but she stood up again.
“Let’s just go to bed.” She turned away from me and went into the bedroom.
Evidently, she knew I had something to say that she wasn’t going to like. After a minute, I got up and followed her. It could wait until morning.
When the bedroom door opened, I shut the kitchen sink off and turned to face my wife. I smiled at her, almost feeling the way I did four months ago. “Just in time for breakfast. You want an omelet?”
She nodded and sat down at the bar while I turned on the skillet again and started beating eggs. When it was done, I set it in front of her and took the stool next to her. I took a slow, deep breath. “So. We both know the current arrangement couldn’t last.” I just couldn’t keep flying back and forth every few days to a week.
She turned to me, but I couldn’t read whatever emotion was on her face. “Yeah.”
“We need to move, Lor,” I said, almost begging. “Mom—she’s not doing well. I had to move her bed to the living room because she can’t do stairs anymore.”
My wife squeezed her eyes shut, rubbed them, and then shook her head. “No. My heart breaks for her, but there are people who can help her. I know you want to be there for her but—“
“Just stop, Loralee.” I’d known it would go this way, for all that I’d hoped otherwise. My heart clenched in my chest. Part of me couldn’t believe what I was about to say. “I’ve got to take care of her. So I’m moving to Windenburg. I’ll—I’ll come visit every month or so.” Please, Loralee, please change your mind.
She didn’t recoil with anger or sigh in resignation. She just said hollowly, “What about the force?”
“Today I’m going to the station. To officially resign.” The construction job I had in Windenburg wasn’t my dream, but it was managing to pay for all the flights.
“So that’s it, then.” Loralee clenched her fists on the countertop. “You know what? That’s just fine. That’s where you want to be, right?”
She got up, glaring coldly at me. “You go and be there, then. I’ll take care of Logan and Jasper, and, while I’m at it, I’ll keep on growing this kid, too. So, yeah, go! Just fucking go!” She turned on her heel and went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.