October 10, 2016
His wife, Lilah, was so much better at this shit than he was. She was something akin to a human calculator with the way she’d always intuitively known just how much this was, that was and where that left their bank balance. It was effortless for her and that’s why she had done it for the first part of their marriage.
Then Lucas Anthony Bongiovi – graced with his mother’s maiden name and his daddy’s first name – arrived on the scene two days after his sister, Micah Jane's, first birthday.
That boy had been creating chaos ever since, and Lilah’s hands were understandably full with two babies who refused to sleep, eat or poop on the same schedule. On a bad day, she had kept them fed and in clean diapers. On a good day, she also got them – and herself – bathed. She’d told him at the time that she knew her life had drastically changed when showering became a luxury.
Seeing her so frazzled and exhausted, Tony had done the only thing he could, stepping in to take over some of the household duties. Now that his children were three and four year old hellions – and he used the term affectionately – things hadn’t improved by much. Most days, Lilah’s only lifeline was their new infatuation with Disney movies. He’d often seen her take advantage of it by parking them in front of the TV while she pulled out her laptop, presumably to shop online for sanity.
So he continued to pay the bills.
And that was okay. As much as he hated the chore, Tony definitively understood why Fate had once again waved her hand over their house, causing him to voluntarily pick up his dirty socks and take over the bills. In fact, he was grateful for it, because there was no way in hell he wanted Lilah knowing how far in the toilet their finances were. After all, he’d told her that it wouldn’t be any problem at all to quit her job and stay at home with the little ones. The pasta sauce business would be thriving in no time, and he promised that she would never want for anything.
He pushed his fingers beneath the nosepiece of his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, craving the cigarettes he’d pretty much given up in the last four years.
The whole pasta sauce thing was doing okay, but it was slow going and had eaten up more of their personal finances than he had anticipated. First there was all the travel to any and every place he thought he could get his foot in the door, then that goddamned RV that was currently sitting in storage and, most recently, the redesign and branding of the sauce itself. It all added up, and Lilah had no idea how many times he’d been forced to hit up their savings account just to cover the astronomical mortgage payment that they were saddled with for the next twenty-five years.
If we don’t go bankrupt first.
Damned if he could remember why this six bedroom monstrosity had seemed like a good idea when they bought it. They had very little company in their two guest rooms and Lilah’s son, Andrew, was now twenty-four. He sure as hell didn’t need a room in their house, particularly since he’d only stepped foot in the place maybe a dozen times? That seemed like a waste of thirty-seven hundred a month, in his opinion.
Then there was the second mortgage, which they’d used to do some remodeling two years ago. That was another five hundred a month. Another five for the housekeeping service that came in twice a month because Lilah couldn't find time to clean their bathrooms. Oh, and let's not forget those fucking winter heating bills.
If he had his way, he’d sell it to get out from under the smothering debt. Well, except for the small fact that he was pretty sure they were upside down on the mortgage. That was a fancy term his real estate friend had taught him. Loosely translated, it meant he was fucked and that there was no way in hell he’d get enough out of the place to pay off the bank loans.
Lilah wouldn’t let you sell it anyway. She loves the goddamn place.
It was true. His Kentucky born and bred spouse loved the semi-country setting of their home and the privacy it afforded them. She and the kids spent so much time down by the private pond that they’d decided to stock the thing with fish for the kids to catch. Sure, his pre-schoolers were cute as hell with their little Disney fishing poles, but did they really need to stock the pond? Couldn’t they have just tossed a few goldfish in?
He twisted his head from left to right, half-hoping to break his own neck.
Stop. It’s not like Lilah makes a habit of squandering money.
In fact, she had very simple tastes. She didn’t like a bunch of knick-knacks around, and most of their décor consisted of family pictures scattered around in their colorful frames. The furniture was modest, but comfortable and she sure as hell didn’t wear designer clothes or diamonds. Honestly, the most expensive thing she’d ever allowed him to buy her was the Harley that sat next to his in the garage.
Only another three years to pay on that one.
In addition to the “family car” payment on their Chevy Tahoe, which they’d just recently bought. The last car had gotten rear-ended when Lilah was on her way to pick up the kids from Kindermusik. At the time, he hadn’t cared about the car, just the fact that the kids hadn’t been with her. Now, however, the payment was just another pain in the ass.
At least his truck and the Camaros were paid for.
That’s what he should do. He should sell the Camaros. With his classic, the 2011 pace car and her black one, plus his Chevy Avalanche and the Tahoe… They had more cars than they could ever drive.
But the Camaros have sentimental value.
So Lilah said. He’d been driving the pace car back to Los Angeles when Fate intervened and directed him to Lexington, which was where they discovered that the two of them had essentially the same car. Without his Camaro, they supposedly never would’ve been reunited or some such shit.
The only bright spot on the financial horizon was that the AmEx and Visa cards were pretty well paid off.
A quick flick of his wrist had the laptop lid closed before she got a look at the bank balance and accompanying spreadsheets. Twirling the chair around to face her, he offered an inquisitive look while simultaneously taking survey of his flustered wife.
If pressed, he would have to say her last haircut had come about 2012. She had begun their marriage with chocolate locks that brushed her shoulders. Now that chocolate was streaked with gray and the locks were nothing more than a mop of a ponytail that reached to her waist. Occasionally, she would braid it, but not often. It was almost always in the damned ponytail that gave center stage to the scars on her neck.
Blue-green eyes shielded by corrective lenses had a few more lines than they once did and were devoid of makeup. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d worn it, in fact. Or her contact lenses for that matter. She just didn’t give a damn about herself anymore. Even when he'd suggested cosmetic surgery to minimize the scars on her neck, she'd said it wasn't worth the trouble.
And the leggings. God, the damn leggings. He didn’t know if she favored them because it was easy or because she’d gained weight, but those were the only things she ever wore and she topped them with a collection of huge, baggy t-shirts. The style of the day was a dingy blue tee from the Circle Tour, with a faded heart and dagger on the front, to match the flying pigs on her leggings.
Flying pigs. It marked yet another occasion that he was torn between finding her quirkiness endearing and wondering what the hell she was thinking, because flying pigs definitely weren’t a turn-on. Then again, he supposed that was a good thing, since she hadn’t been offering lately. It had been at least two months since they’d had sex.
No wonder he stayed in such a piss-poor mood.
Maybe you’ll get a pity fuck for your birthday.
That could be another reason he was in such a snit. He was going to be fifty years old tomorrow, and what did he have to show for it? A wife who didn’t like herself or him, and a pile of bills.
Livin’ the dream…
“What is it, Lilah?”
“Andrew is short on his rent this month and I told him we’d send him some money. Can you do that, please?” She cocked her head expectantly, anticipating nothing other than his instant agreement.
Too bad for her that he wasn’t immediately inclined to follow along like a well-trained sheep. In fact, he didn’t even bother to present his first reaction in a diplomatic way, opting for a blunt, “Again?”
It was the fourth time in six months. He loved the kid like one of his own nephews, but he was twenty-four-fucking years old. Why is it that he couldn’t keep a damn job?
“Please don’t give me shit about this,” she sighed. “He swears it will be the last time and that he’s gonna to finish his degree, finally.”
Excuse him for being skeptical, but he’d heard that story before.
The music gig hadn’t panned out for the kid – mostly because he didn’t have the necessary work ethic, in Tony’s opinion – and he’d been bouncing around from one dead end job to another ever since, often not making enough to pay his own living expenses. Either that or he wasted his money, knowing Mom would cover his ass. Whatever the case, if he came up short on rent, Drew invariably assured Lilah of his higher education aspirations.
It wasn’t even so much that Tony really cared whether or not the kid went to college. Hell, if anyone knew school wasn’t for everybody, it was Tony. As long as Drew could pay his own damn bills, he would have full Bongiovi support in whatever he chose to do. In the meantime, Tony reserved the right to be judgmental.
There was always the possibility it wouldn’t bug him as much if they weren’t already struggling with money, but they were. And it did.
“Lilah, don’t you think it’s time to cut the apron strings?”
She threw her hands up in the air, agitated. “I just asked you not to give me shit about this. We decided that we were going to relocate here, to the ends of the earth as far as my family and friends are concerned. We then decided that I wasn’t going to work, so I could stay home with the babies. That means I have no friends or family here, nor do I have my own money to send him. I’m completely dependent on you, and you know how I feel about that.”
Yes, he did. She fucking hated it, because as much as she’d come into herself during the last few years, there were certain fundamental basics to his wife that were impossible to change. Her damned independence was one of them.
No matter how much she knew – and agreed – that her staying home was best for the kids, he was still the one who paid for the joint decision to quit her community college job. It got thrown up in his face every time they had a difference of opinion on financial matters, along with her “stranger in a strange land” shtick. That was another mutual decision, but he was the ogre in that story too. It didn’t seem to matter that he’d given up life as he knew it to come back to Jersey.
“Feel free to move back to Kentucky,” he offered spitefully. “Or to get a job, if it’ll keep me from having this conversation one more goddamn time.”
She regarded him through narrowed eyes, probably trying to gauge the level of sincerity behind his snarky retort. “Just remember that if I move back to Kentucky, your kids are going with me, smartass. But that’s about the only way I could get a job. At least in Kentucky I’d have someone to watch M.J. and Lucas while I work.”
“Millions of kids survive daycare every day,” he popped off belligerently, just to be argumentative.
It wouldn’t kill them, even though he’d rather them be home with their mother, who usually acted as though she loved them. Only rarely did her frustration over life choices bubble to the surface and – coincidentally enough – it was usually during a discussion about Drew’s rent.
He was tired of it. His blood pressure was up, his cholesterol was up, he was wound tighter than an eight day clock, and Tony just generally felt like shit. For once, he’d really like for something to be light and easy. To not tax his brain and his frayed nerves any more than they already were.
Too bad his occasionally psychic wife wasn’t in mind-reading mode. Or, more likely, this was another one of those days when she didn’t give a rat’s ass what he wanted.
“Not that I wouldn’t love to be a productive member of society and talk to adults all day long, but seriously. How stupid would that be?” she demanded. “Daycare is outrageous for two children and would eat up most of the money I earn. Then I’m still in the same boat, depending on you for everything.”
He growled in the back of his throat and just barely bit back a string of curse words that would even embarrass Bon Jovi’s road crew. After one deep breath in and out, he spoke slowly, as though she were a kindergartener instead of a college graduate.
“You do realize that sometimes happens when people get married, right? They depend on each other? That’s kind of the fucking point!”
Okay, so he hadn’t quite maintained his calm the way he’d wanted to. Tough shit.
Annnnnd all it took was Lilah’s mouth flattening into a tight line for him to backpedal that attitude and wish he’d kept things on an even keel. That particular move was a sure sign that his wife was now finished with him and retreating inside that goddamn head of hers. He could see it as plainly as the ugly ass leggings she was wearing and it annoyed the hell out of him. It always had.
“The garbage disposal was broken,” she informed him coldly. In classic Lilah style, she was diverting from a topic she no longer wanted to talk about to something completely unrelated. “I put two thousand dollars on the credit card today to fix it.”
Tony had to give it to her. She would’ve been hard pressed to find a more effective way of redirecting his attention.
“You heard me,” she snapped, turning on her heel to leave the office. “I’m depending on you to pay for it.”
“How in the hell does a garbage disposal cost two grand?!?” he demanded incredulously. “Is it motherfucking gold plated?”
“I’m just a stay at home mom. What do I know about garbage disposals? But…. Maybe he said something about septic tanks, too? Hmmm…. Oh well. I can’t remember.” She shrugged with a fake-apologetic smile and proceeded to slam the door, leaving Tony stewing in his own anger.
“I hate it when you play stupid!!” he shouted after her. He knew very fucking well that she probably could’ve Googled it and fixed the disposal herself. She was some kind of mechanic savant when she chose to be, and could recite any damn conversation she’d had in the last two years. Verbatim. There was no way in hell she didn’t remember what the plumber said!
You are not going to have a stroke. You are not going to have a stroke.