Chapter 9

“So, did it help? Did talkin’ about your problems make ya feel any better?” Sarcasm dripped from Brad’s words, brash and unrefined. I internally cringed at the mockery in his voice, but pasted on a smile and hooked my purse on the back of our dining room chair while heading into the kitchen to begin supper.

Home from my first appointment with Greg, I felt empowered, liberated, and free from past judgment or ridicule. I summoned courage and softly replied, “It’s a start.”

“You mean you have to go back?” Annoyance peaked in Brad’s voice. Tagging at my heels, he snagged a beer from the top shelf of the fridge. Popping open the tab, he took a long swig, pounding on his chest to produce a burp. “I’m not made out of money, ya know?” Negativity wrapped itself tightly around his words, harsh and condescending. I grimaced at his tone.

I’m not an idiot, but I’m guessing you would argue that, too, I thought, holding my tongue.

Brad leaned against the kitchen counter and chugged down two more gulps while I fished for a pot in the drawer next to the oven. A loud belch echoed off the ceiling as he scratched at his belly and laughed. “Greetings from the interior,” he snickered, a cocky grin taunting my proper upbringing.

“An ‘excuse me’ would be nice,” I responded, filling the metal pot with water. Placing it on the front burner, I turned the knob on the stove to high heat. “If money’s so tight, then why are you out there buying alcohol?” I gestured to the can in Brad’s hand.

“There’s nothing wrong with me having a few brewskies now and then,” he countered. “I’m not some alchie like my pops used to be. They help me relax, and Lord knows how much I could use less stress in my life right now.” He released an exaggerated sigh at the end of another swig. “There’s a lot of stress at work—having to impress the new boss and all. I just need something to help me unwind when I get home.” He chugged down more beer, resting the can on his bulging stomach. “I’m entitled to a good drink on occasion—doesn’t make me an addict.” He tipped his can toward me, recognizing his penchant.

I cocked an eyebrow and frowned. “I didn’t say you were, but they still cost money. Wasn’t that what we were talking about?” Again, I eyed the can. I’m no dummy. Alcohol isn’t cheap.

“Oh, go talk to your shrink,” he fumed, stepping out of the room.

“I’m glad you don’t object to me seeing him again,” I segued back to our original topic. I modified my voice to be heard in the other room. “I have another appointment scheduled for next week.”

“Next week? Next week?” Brad’s voice raised an octave as he retraced his steps into the kitchen. “I just got done telling you, we don’t have money for that in our budget,” he snarled. “How do you think you’re going to pay for another session?”

Rummaging through the pantry for veggies, I ignored Brad’s yelling. “I have some money left over from a Christmas gift my sister gave me a few months ago,” I calmly defended myself. “I’ll use that. It’s only a copay, really. Insurance covers most of the visit, and you won’t have to worry about Calleigh. My mom says she’ll be glad to watch her.” I shuffled through some drawers until I found our can opener.

“I shouldn’t have had to watch her this time,” Brad spouted. “Work doesn’t like it when I take off early. I have responsibilities, ya know? I’m not your babysitter,” he fumed.

No. You’re her father, and this is part of being a dad. That means more than just going to work and bringing home a paycheck. Frustration simmered inside, but I kept quiet, hoping to prevent Brad’s rage from escalating.

Setting the can opener on the counter next to a can of green beans, I poured a box of angel hair pasta into the boiling pot of water then gently pressed the proper numbers on the stove’s timer and hit start. “I’m sure they understood. It was only ten minutes,” I reasoned. “They know you have a family. Life happens. You’ll make up the time later. You’re good at that, and your history at the firm is solid. Everything will be fine.” I looked at Brad, praying his attitude would improve. Instead, he took another swig of beer, owning his sour expression.

Ever since changing careers and taking a position as a law clerk at a local firm, Brad had obsessed over the possibility of being fired. Long hours and late nights had distanced him from his responsibilities at home, and he thrived on finding opportunities that would keep him from having to return to his family each night. “You’re a good worker,” I added. “You’re always the first to put in overtime or fill in for your coworkers. Stuff like that doesn’t go unnoticed,” I stroked his ego. Forcing a smile, I pulled out a stack of plates from the cupboard and laid them on the counter.

“In this economy, nobody cares. They’ll find any good reason to fire ya!” Brad’s paranoia flashed a pretty grin.

“You know that’s not true,” I dissuaded. Pushing the noodles to the back burner, I turned off the timer and cut open the can of green beans while Brad stood there and moped. Dumping the beans into a microwaveable dish, I slid the bowl into the microwave and set them to nuke for three minutes. I handed Brad the can opener as I carried the plates to the dining room table. “Please put that in the drawer behind you,” I called over my shoulder. “Thanks for your help.” Brad grunted at the inconvenience.

“This work situation’s a real one,” he continued. “My boss would just love to give me the boot. She wouldn’t give it a second thought, either,” he whined. “I’m a threat to her because I have way more experience managing that office than she does, and she knows it,” he gloated, dumbing down his superior.

“Like I said, they can’t live without you.” I breezed into the kitchen, planting a kiss on Brad’s cheek. Picking up some napkins from inside the drawer next to him, I returned to the dining room and distributed a napkin beside each plate. I left a few extras in the middle of the table, just in case. “You really shouldn’t worry so much. You do your job well.” I tried focusing on Brad’s positive attributes instead of his disdain for women in charge.

“I’m not being a pessimist,” Brad insisted. “I’m just being real.”

“Call it what you will. It doesn’t sound very optimistic to me,” I answered. Returning to the kitchen, I motioned to the drawer behind Brad. “Excuse me, please. The silverware’s behind you.” As I reached for the drawer’s handle, Brad crunched the aluminum can in his hand then tossed it into an open wastebasket at the opposite end of the counter, stepping out of my way. I slid the drawer open and pulled out three sets of utensils. Returning to the dining room, I arranged each knife, fork, and spoon by its plate. “Please tell Calleigh to wash her hands for supper. We’re almost ready,” I announced, stepping back into the kitchen. After draining the water from the pot, I ran an oversized cooking spoon through the noodles and stirred in some store-bought sauce. Slipping on some oven mitts, I then pulled the heated beans from the microwave and placed them on the stove.

“You don’t need to be ordering me around,” Brad protested. “I’m not a child.”

“I didn’t say you were. I simply asked if you would help round up our daughter so we can eat.” I sloughed off the mitts and laid them next to the beans, looking at Brad in disbelief. How do you get bossiness out of that? I shook my head, trying to counter my confusion. “I’m sorry. Would you mind calling her to supper, please?” I offered an apologetic grin. “Thank you.”

“Fine,” Brad huffed, rolling his eyes and grunting more of his displeasure. “Calleigh, your mother wants you to wash up for supper!” he hollered into the house. His voice echoed off the walls.

“I could’ve done that,” I muttered under my breath.

“What was that?” Brad snipped.

“Nothing, Dear,” I renounced another argument. Carrying our food to the table, I placed each hot dish on an iron trivet. You are not going to ruin my evening—no matter how bad your attitude is, I determined.

“Mommy!” Calleigh came flying into the dining room, plowing into my backside. She wrapped her right arm around my left leg, her left arm wrapped around the neck of her prized doll. “You’re home! I didn’t hear you come in,” she gushed. Bouncing up and down, her blonde bob swung above her shoulders, curving around her chubby pink cheeks and genuine, bright smile. “Look what I’ve been doing!” She lifted her doll for inspection: oversized lace bonnet, pink baby onesie hanging down past its feet, and mismatched purple and yellow booties.

“She’s beautiful! You’ve done a wonderful job being her mommy today,” I verbally applauded. Giving Calleigh a big hug, I kissed her forehead and tousled her bangs. “What else did you do while I was gone?”

“Nothin’. Daddy watched some TV, but I don’t think it made him very happy. He was yellin’ pretty loud at the football players. He even called some of them names,” she casually shared. Stretching on her tippy toes, she peeked over the edge of the table, sniffing the air. “Something smells yummy. What are we eatin’?”

I tapped the tip of her nose with my pointer finger and grinned. “How does spaghetti sound?”

Calleigh squealed. “Sketti is my favorite!”

“How did I know that?” I answered. “You sure you didn’t spoil your supper with any snacks this afternoon?” I teased as she jumped some more.

“What? You don’t think I can care for our daughter as well as you can?” Brad’s boisterous voice preceded him into the dining room.

“Huh?” I turned and watched Brad saunter to his chair, cocky and presuming.

“Why else would you be interrogating a four-year-old about her afternoon?” he twisted my words. “Don’t you think I’m a good enough father? I can take care of her just as well as you can,” he jibed, adding an air of arrogance.

Deep grooves formed in my forehead. “Where is this coming from? We were just discussing Calleigh’s day and what she’s been up to. How does that pertain to you?” I stared at Brad, watching his posture morph into domination.

“I heard your conversation,” he demeaned my intentions. “I know what you’re doing—fishing for dirt to use against me.” He nodded with exaggerated confidence. “You’re the better parent, right? So let’s concoct a story to make Brad out to be an imbecile in front of the therapist.” He glared at my presence.

My eyes widened. “Are you kidding me? That doesn’t even make sense.” I fought against his craziness, shaking my head. “Sometimes, I just don’t get you.”

Pulling out the chair closest to me, I scooped Calleigh off the ground and plopped her onto the seat. “You can place your baby over there,” I said, motioning to the empty chair beside her. “She can watch while you eat.” I tried maintaining a pleasant tone.

Calleigh readily obeyed, placing a napkin from the table over her dolly’s tummy. “This is so she doesn’t get messy,” she announced. Her brown eyes sparkled.

“Good thinking,” I praised her foresight. I scooted Calleigh’s chair closer to the table. “And this is so more of your food gets in your mouth and less on the floor,” I smiled. Calleigh giggled. “Did you wash your hands before coming to the table?”

“Yep.” She eagerly held up both hands for inspection. “See? They’re still wet.”

I touched her damp fingers and chuckled. “Why, yes they are.” Taking a napkin from the table, I patted her hands dry.

Brad rolled his eyes and drug out a heavy sigh. “Are you done with the third degree or are we going to be eating cold food tonight?” His eyes held an icy glare.

“We’re ready to have prayers for our food,” I somehow managed a calm answer. “Would you like to say it for us?”

Brad pursed his lips, shooting daggers at me with his eyes. “How about you do us the honor?” he redirected the responsibility to Calleigh, morphing his mouth into a counterfeit smile.

“Sure!” she bubbled. “Close your eyes.”

Forgetting his reason for scowling, Brad voice softened. “Thank you, Sweet Pea.”

Calleigh took a moment to fold the hands of her dolly then folded her own over her plate. Bowing her head, she peeked one eye open to make sure everyone followed her example. “Dear Jesus,” she began, “thank you for Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa—and Aunt Julia, too. Thank you for the rain that makes the grass grow, and thank you for my food. Amen.”

“Amen!” I echoed. “Wow! That’s a lot to be thankful for. Did it rain here today? The sidewalks didn’t look wet when I got home.” I glanced across the table at Brad, but he remained silent.

“No, Silly. It didn’t rain today,” Calleigh laughed.

“Then why did you just thank God for the rain?” I asked, twirling spaghetti around my fork.

“Because the grass and flowers don’t grow if they don’t have water, and I don’t want my flowers to die, so I was thanking Jesus ahead of time, because He’s the one who sends the rain, ya know—like he did for Noah.” Calleigh laid out her reason like that of a great philosopher. My heart warmed at her innocence.

“Well, that was a very nice prayer,” I responded. If only I could trust that easily!

“Hey, Mommy! Did you know that Herbie is a snail?” Calleigh inquired. “I saw him outside today,” she staged her story.

“Really?” I answered between bites of food.

“He’s like the one in that song you sing to me.” She beamed with deep insight. “He was moving ver-r-r-y slow.” She lifted her fork to her mouth and stuffed several green beans into her cheeks.

“I believe his name is Herbert,” I corrected her, smiling at the abundance of energy spilling from her tiny body, “but I know what song you’re referring to. It’s one I learned from a friend many years ago when we were working together during summer youth meetings. We were teaching kids about Jesus. Many were about your age,” I reminisced, smiling fondly.

Calleigh wiggled onto her knees, giving herself better access to her food. “Well, I had to have patience with him,” she stated matter-of-factly. “He was not cooperating with me. He was getting on my last nerve!” She dropped her fork onto the table and planted her hands on her hips, asserting her position over the matter.

I laughed hysterically, tears forming in my eyes. Brad’s face showed humor, as well, kind of like the previous hour of walking on eggshells had never taken place. Maybe it was just my imagination, or maybe he was just having a bad moment, I questioned my discernment. It’s not like he’s used to caring for Calleigh. She can be quite a handful with all her energy, I tried excusing his behavior. Whatever it was, he’s in a good mood now. That’s enough, right? I let out a controlled sigh.

“What? Did I say something funny?” Calleigh looked first at me, then at Brad, puzzled by our reactions. “What? I’m serious,” she emphasized.

“I’m sure you are,” Brad laughed, clearing his throat then dabbing spaghetti sauce from the corners of his mouth. “Mommy just understands about nerves. That’s all,” he replied, giving me intentional recognition. No animosity. No ill will. Just facts.

I internally winced, fighting to disguise the brutal impact of Brad’s flippant words. He thinks I’m broken. He thinks something’s wrong with me. Why else would he make a comment like that?

I watched as Brad disheveled Calleigh’s hair. He smiled at her inside jokes and warmed with their goofy banter. I melted a little inside as he played Super Dad, coaxing her into finishing her green beans and pretending to feed a few to her dolly. To the casual observer, everything probably looked normal; but, inwardly, my thoughts brewed. I can’t put my finger on it, but something isn’t right, and I don’t know how to fix it.

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

Each day felt like an eternity, following the day before it. Never-ending mounds of laundry made their way daily from washer to dryer to being folded, each item being put in its respective drawer or hung in the proper closets. “I thought the dark load was going to be run today. Now I’m not going to have slacks for tomorrow,” Brad thundered one evening standing by the washer with black slacks in hand.

“That’s the only load I didn’t get around to doing today,” I apologized. “All of your other pants are clean and hanging nicely in the closet, ready for wear. You can use one of them.” I maintained a calm voice and produced a cheerful smile, trying to subdue his irritation.

“That’s not going to do me any good tomorrow,” he fumed. “I’m needing to wear my green shirt to work, and it only goes with my black slacks. Do I have to do everything myself around here?” He slammed down the lid of the washer and cranked the timer to Permanent Press, popping the start button.

I stared at him, dumbfounded, my mind flooding with a thousand questions and comebacks. “I just spent the entire day cleaning the house and washing several loads of laundry, and you’re upset because one pair of pants didn’t make it through the wash? Seriously?” I didn’t even try to hide my aggravation. “Did you even ask me to wash them today before you left for work? I seem to have missed that conversation.” I eyed him with disbelief.

“Don’t worry your pretty little head over what I need,” he tried instigating a fight. “I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself—just like I’ve always done. I obviously can’t rely on you.” He breezed past Calleigh, flipping off the laundry room light as he exited the room.

“Why is Daddy so upset?” Calleigh fretted. Her big brown eyes searched my face in the aftermath of his verbal explosion.

“I don’t know, Sweetie,” I shrugged and sighed. “I don’t know.”

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