Chapter 10

Brad’s tirades didn’t end with the laundry. “Calleigh should’ve been in bed a long time ago,” he ranted a couple days later. Dropping his briefcase just inside the front door entry, he slung his keys over a hook by the front door.

I glanced at the clock, then back at Brad, mentally noting his late arrival from work. “It’s barely eight o’clock. That’s only thirty minutes past her normal bedtime,” I countered. “Don’t you want to see your daughter and tell her ‘good night’? She’s been waiting to give Daddy hugs for almost two hours.”

“Of course, I want to see her, but it doesn’t matter what I want,” Brad’s indignation flared. “Calleigh needs to be getting to bed at a consistent time each night. Kids need routines,” he insisted. Wincing at the parenting insult, I prevented myself from saying something I knew I would regret.

A few nights later, dishes became the confrontational issue.

Walking into the kitchen, I let out a deep sigh. My spirits slumped at the sight in front of me. Pots and pans from the evening meal overflowed the sink. Gravy dripped from a ladle. Caked and burnt on food clung to each dish. Nothing had been touched—not a single item rinsed. I sucked in a controlled breath and let it out slowly. Brad could’ve been doing these while I was giving Calleigh her bath, I internalized. Instead, he’s been glued to that stupid television screen, ignoring the real world. I felt my blood pressure rise.

Brad wandered into the kitchen about that time and outwardly groaned, the distain in his voice almost palpable. “I thought these would’ve been done by now,” he deprecated.

I reached under the sink and pulled out a scouring pad and sponge, streaming the water until it ran hot. “You could’ve done them while I was putting Calleigh to bed,” I answered, “but, it’s not too late to make yourself useful.” I tossed him a kitchen towel and smiled, trying to change the tone of the evening. “Mind drying while I wash?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” he snapped, tossing the towel on the counter next to me. “I’m not in the mood.”

I closed my eyes and focused on blocking out the negativity while releasing a slow sigh. “Well, it’s not exactly the thing I wish to be doing, either,” I replied, pulling a mug out of the heap in front of me, “but I can’t sit down and enjoy the rest of the evening until these dishes get done.” I ran a sudsy sponge around the rim of the cup and wiped down the ceramic edges before running clean water over it to remove the slippery soap. Setting it on the counter, I reached for a nearby plate.

“Don’t blame me for your work not being done,” Brad retorted. “It’s not my job to clean up after you.”

My eyes raised into my eyebrows, the plate in my hand nearly slipping from my grasp. “Excuse me? This mess isn’t all mine. You helped make it, too,” I rebutted. Rinsing the plate, I ran running water over the suds on my hands and forcefully set the plate down next to the mug. “If you’re not willing to help clean up after a meal, then don’t complain about the dishes not being done,” I ordered, fighting back tears.

Brad stepped up behind me and pressed into my backside, pinning me against the sink, whispering sharply into my left ear. “This is my house—my castle—and I will say and do whatever I please. Do you hear me, Woman? You will not be telling me what to do.”

My breath caught in my throat, fear and anger twisting my insides into an instant knot. Swallowing down Brad’s intimidation, I briskly turned off the water and pushed back against him, causing him to stumble backward. I spun around, squaring my shoulders and grounding my feet. “And I am not your maid! It wouldn’t hurt for you to help out a little around here.”

Surprise registered on Brad’s face. His arms began to tremble, and he sucked in a deep breath. Marching himself to the front door, he grabbed his keys off a nearby hook and stormed from the house, slamming the door in his wake. Windows rattled and a picture frame on the front hall credenza toppled over. A few seconds later, a car engine roared and tires squealed as Brad peeled out of the driveway.

With knees ready to buckle, I sank onto one of the barstools lining the kitchen counter and prayed. “Lord, forgive me. I couldn’t help myself, but how else was I supposed to stop his bullying?” Tears spilled from my eyes, heavy sobs heaving my shoulders. “What did I do to deserve such hate, and when did I stop being his wife?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Back in Greg’s office, I felt more at home than in my own house. I plopped my purse on the floor next to my feet and reclined against the couch. Someone who gets me. I relished the moment.

Greg shuffled through some papers on his desk then paged his receptionist to hold all calls. “Not a problem,” the cheerful, female voice responded.

“It’s nice having good help,” Greg smiled, gesturing to the phone.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had assistance doing anything, much less the kind that didn’t come with complaining, rude remarks, and a sour attitude. I grinned and shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I’ll have to take your word for it.”

Greg tilted his head, noting the hesitancy in my voice. “Wanna talk about it?”

I shook my head, biting the inside of my lip. “Not really.”

“OK. Maybe later then.” He scanned his notepad, perusing the notations. “So, where did we leave off?” He flipped through several handwritten pages while I sat silent. “Oh, right. Colleen was giving you problems at school, and you had a young gentleman interested in you.” His recollection sharpened as he skimmed the page. “Ms. Hardwood wasn’t the cold, calloused person you thought she was, either,” he added, peering over his glasses. “Am I on track?”

I chuckled. “That’s it in a nutshell.”

“So, how did life progress for you at that point?” Greg asked, ready for more details.

I searched the recesses of my mind, mentally traveling back to the late 1980s.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

My attempt to trill the piccolo during band practice failed in epic proportions. Half of the trumpet players sitting behind me groaned in agony. “Please…make it stop,” a kid named Byron loudly protested. “You’re not even close to hitting the right notes.”

“You’re hurting my ears,” a female clarinet player chimed in.

“Yeah. Did you even practice before coming to class today?” Another male voice mocked me from the percussion section. Several band members chuckled in unison, causing heat to rise up my neck and into my cheeks.

My head and shoulders sagged as I lowered my eyes and dropped the tiny woodwind onto my lap. The floor can open up now, I summoned God.

“Hey, guys! Cut it out. Haven’t you ever had a bad day?” Gavin piped in, lowering his sax. “Give the girl a break. You wouldn’t want someone pickin’ on you, now, would ya?” I glanced up, surprised by the kind words. Gavin met my gaze, his eyes reflecting genuine sympathy. Embarrassed, I forced a weak smile then lowered my eyes again, praying someone else would take the spotlight.

Mr. Oakley rapped on his podium, redirecting our attention. “That’ll be enough, students. Let’s pull out our next piece. Turn to page two, please. We’ll start on measure seventeen.”

I disassembled the piccolo, laid it in its case, and replaced it with my flute.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Surviving what I deemed to be the worst band rehearsal ever, I stood and picked up a large stack of textbooks from under my chair, hefting them onto my hip. Bending a second time, I retrieved my flute case, hooking my fingers around its handle. “This is gonna be a fun day,” I muttered to no one in particular. Easing myself around several band members blocking the door’s exit, I started down the hall toward my next class. “Hope! Wait up!” Gavin’s eager voice captured my attention, causing me to pause and turn. Sprinting to close the gap between us, Gavin came to a halt a few feet in front of me, nearly out of breath.

“Ye-e-e-s? What’s up?” Suspicion guarded my words.

“Here. I have something for you.” Gavin extended his hand, holding in it a rather substantial-sized box wrapped in red foil. “This is for you,” he smiled.

I placed my books and flute on the floor, receiving the package with hesitation. “Did I miss something? Today’s not my birthday; and, last I checked, it’s not a holiday, either.”

Gavin continued to grin. “Nope. Just open it. It won’t bite. I promise.” He watched intently as I peeled back the wrapping, unveiling the largest Hershey’s Kiss I had ever seen. “I saw it and thought of you,” he burst with enthusiasm. “It’s nothing, really. Just something I thought might make you smile.”

Getting past an initial moment of shock, I swooned. “Awww. My first kiss.”

Blood rushed to Gavin’s cheeks as he fumbled his words. “I…uh…well….”

I gently touched the side of his arm. “It’s OK. I think it’s really sweet.”

It took a few seconds for Gavin to regain his wits before he answered with, “Well, chocolate is known for its sugar content.” The literal context made me laugh. “Hey! I just call it as I see it.”

We both stared down at the huge hunk of chocolate in my hands, a little lost in the moment. “Yeah, that’s a lot of sugar,” I agreed.

“True, but you can’t go through Hershey, Pennsylvania, during spring break and not visit the chocolate factory,” Gavin justified.

“It appears not,” I grinned, still amazed at the enormity of the confection in my hands.

“Seriously, what girl doesn’t like chocolate?” Gavin joshed. His eyes flirted, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.

Remorse contorted my face as I answered. “Uh…me?”

Gavin’s voice took on utter dismay, his eyebrows raising. “Are you kidding me? I’ve never heard of a woman not liking chocolate.” For a brief moment, his exuberance dimmed. Tilting his head, he looked me deep in the eyes then questioned my sincerity. “Are you for real?”

I couldn’t hold back the giggles. “Nope, but that expression on your face is priceless.”

Relief visibly rushed over Gavin, relaxing the tension in his shoulders and wilting his height about two inches. “Oh, my word! I thought you were serious,” he chuckled. “Who knew you had a comical side?”

I grinned. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

“Well, I know you’ve been sad a lot recently,” he acknowledged. “I just thought this might cheer you up.” He studied my face, satisfied with his actions.

My heart melted. “It couldn’t have come at a better time,” I praised his attentiveness. “And what you did for me back there in the band room…” My words trailed off.

Gavin blushed. “It was my pleasure. You can always count on me to have your back.”

I met his gaze and returned his smile. “I believe you. Thanks.” Glancing at my watch, I let out a deep sigh. The bell would be ringing any moment. “I have more to share with you,” I disclosed, “but you’ll have to catch me later. I really need to be getting to class.”

Gavin bent down and scooped up my books and flute, tucking them under his arm, along with his own. “OK. Where to?” he instructed. “Point the way.”

I laughed, considering how to object, but a large Hershey Kiss brought me back to reality. “Why thank you, Kind Sir. Seems my hands are full, so I will accept your kind gesture,” I obliged. “Thank you for helping me get back to homeroom.” I turned toward the classrooms and took the lead.

“Ms. Hardwood’s class it is,” he replied, tagging at my heels. He followed me down the corridor, into the classroom, then neatly stacked my books on top of my desk.

“Thanks, again,” I grinned, feeling unworthy of his assistance.

“Any time,” he beamed. “Any time.” Giving a definitive nod, he winked then disappeared around the corner and down the hall.

My smile widened. Well, that was unexpected.

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