Friday, February 17, 2017

14. Working It Out

Tony was cold again.

Seeing as it hadn’t gotten him anywhere the previous two mornings, today he didn’t even bother reaching for her side of the bed.  He instinctively knew she wasn’t there and skipped directly to, “Lilah!”

There was, naturally, no answer. 

“Why can’t she ever stay in bed?” he grumped to the empty room.  Logically, he knew the reason had something to do with the time difference between Las Vegas and New Jersey, but still.  Was it too much for her to keep him warm past six in the morning?

Sighing, he reached for his phone and discovered that’s where his Groundhog Day rerun ended.  There was no need to fire out a demanding text this morning, because she’d left him a note right between his phone and his glasses. 

Doing some professional development for my new career.
I’ll bring coffee in a while.

His head fell back to the pillow with a rueful laugh as he considered staging an intervention.  At the rate she was going, she could easily be a gambling addict by the time they got home, and they lived way too close to Atlantic City for that shit.

In another Groundhog Day moment, his phone rang, and a glance at the screen had him wondering if he should expect to hear from his big brother every morning of this trip.


“Well at least you don’t sound as pissed as you did last time I called,” Jon greeted.  “You must’ve got something good at the porn shop.”

Tony snorted quietly.  Sometimes his brothers were like little old ladies keeping up on the neighborhood gossip. 

“I might have,” was all he would admit to.  “What’s up?”

“Just checkin’ in.  How many pussy promises have you gotten?  She talk you out of going yet?”

She actually hadn’t mentioned it since the talk in the porn shop parking lot.  There was always the off chance she was going to take him at his word and never question it again, but this was Lilah they were talking about.  Who knew?

“Nah.  We had a come to Jesus moment yesterday.  I think she’s gonna be okay.”

“Halle-friggin-lujah,” his brother praised with a sigh of relief.  “That makes me almost as happy as you saying yes in the first place.”

“Careful there.  You might make me believe you care or something.”

“Don’t start ugly rumors,” Jon drawled.  “I got no news on your house.  Some damn thing at the bank has it tied up, and we can’t get a closing date until they distinguish the difference between their asses and a hole in the ground.”

The damn house.  The one that was going to give him an ulcer  before he got the thing paid off.

Yesterday had been a significant day in marriage reconstruction and, as far as he was concerned, there was no further question about the status of their marriage.  He was in for the long haul. but the house situation hung in thhe periphery of his mind, reminding him that it might not be his choice.

It’s not too late.

“I, uh…”  Tony cleared his throat and impulsive confessed, “I’m having second thoughts about this thing.”

Jon’s denial was immediate and emphatic.  “Oh, hell no!  Not an option little brother.  You said yes, and I’m holding you to it.”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” he placated.  “I’m not talkin’ about backing out of the job, I’m talking about the house.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake.  You and your marital strife,” Jon sighed.  “If I was you, I’d tell her this is what we’re doing.  Period.  Give her all the positive aspects, and maybe a little bauble to soften it all, but man up to your decision.”

Well if that didn’t sound as easy as taking candy from a baby.  Not. 

“As if there’s a bauble big enough to soften that.  The only thing that would even come close is her own Slippery pendant.  You gonna hook me up with one of those?”

Tony damn well knew the answer to that one.  They were treasured because they weren’t handed out to just anybody.  Those pendants had to be earned and, as a result, they were worn with pride.  He never took his off.

“No,” was the flat refusal, as expected.  “You don’t like that idea, here’s another.  Ever think of just asking her opinion on the matter?  It’s possible she might climb right on board.”

Jon the marriage counselor wasn’t someone Tony was used to and wasn’t sure that he liked.  These sage platitudes sounded great on the surface, but how would they pan out when it came to execution?  There was always the chance it could result in his execution.

“Maybe,” he was all he would concede to.  “Go ahead with the bank, and let me know what happens.  I’m gonna take a shower.”

“Alright.  You know where I am if you need anything.  Tell Lilah…” He cleared his throat.  “Ah, hell.  Tell her I asked about her.  Later, man.”

Tony put his phone aside, knowing the line was already dead. 

He was just reaching for the shower faucet some time later, when he heard the door open.  “Hey,” he greeted over his shoulder.  “How’s the new career?”

The woman that appeared in the bathroom doorway did not look happy, despite the oversized coffee cups in her hand.  Her features were drawn and her eyes dull.  “Sucky.”

“How much did you lose?” he laughed, with just a twinge of concern that she might be making trips to the ATM to fund her new hobby.  If so, it would be a short lived one. 

“Not a lot,” she assured him, setting one of the Starbucks cups on the counter.  “The fifty I won yesterday, plus another twenty.  I would’ve hit it big if it wasn’t for the man who swooped in front of me and stole my machine.  The asshole ended up winning a thousand dollars, and gave me a headache with his cigar smoke.  Needless to say, I’m just bitchy all the way around.”

“Tell ya what,” he said, silently crediting and thanking Jon for the idea that had just popped into his head.  “Take something for your headache and rest while I shower.  Then we'll out for breakfast and shopping.”

She treated him to a distrustful frown and dourly reminded, “You hate shopping.”

Don’t engage while she isn’t feeling well.  Just keep it light. 

“Take some Tylenol, baby.  I’ll be out in a few.”

Fifteen minutes later, he was showered, shaved and dressed.  Ready to face the world, he stepped into the bedroom to see if his wife was anywhere close to that.  

“How’s the headache?” he inquired, coming to stand at the bedside.

“Better,” she admitted, putting her phone and, no doubt, Facebook aside to talk to him.  “I think I can eat without wantin’ to throw up.”

His eyes flicked over her jeans, sandals and hot pink t-shirt.  No makeup, but her hair was hanging freely and looked fixed.  “So you’re ready to go then?”

“Yeah.”  She sat up and swung her feet to the floor.  “Morgan says you should be buying me diamonds as a reconciliation gift.”

He’d been right about Facebook. 

Morgan was the friend who lived in Oregon, and tended to be pretty liberal with her opinions.  From the information Lilah conveyed, he had found Morgan to be a typical woman in the sense that she believed diamonds could cure a host of evils.  Lilah wasn’t, and had never been, typical.

Tony’s eyebrow flicked up.  “Morgan is the one who likes diamonds, not you.”

“Yes, but the idea isn’t a bad one.”

He waved her toward the door so they could at least get out of the room 

“No, it’s not a bad idea,” he picked the conversation back up at the elevator.  “In fact, that’s what I’d planned to go shopping for.”

Her head snapped around, and her eyes went as round as baseballs.  With the amount of shock she was displaying, his last romantic gesture must have been longer ago than he thought. 

Try your wedding. 

Planning a surprise wedding that his bride wanted, but didn’t want to deal with was definitely his grandest gesture to date.  Still, he didn’t think it was the last time he’d been romantic.  Probably.

“What?” he laughed, shepherding her into the elevator.  “Is it totally outside the realm of possibility that I’d want you to have a token of my sincerity?”

Lilah twirled toward him as soon as she was inside the car, her smile filled with utter delight.  Snaking her arms around him for a tight hug, she amended, “Not totally outside the realm, just partway.”

If it made her that happy, he should consider doing this gesture thing a little more often. 

He tucked her into his side as the floors ticked away.  “Yeah, well, I’m just a man, but I don’t want you having any doubts that I’m fully committed to this marriage.  That means I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.”

“That’s very sweet comin’ from a tough Jersey guy.”  She touched her lips to his cheek.  “What did you have in mind?”

“Anything you want.”

A sweet smile tipped the corners of her mouth, beckoning that he return it, while a gentle hand cupped his jaw.  “Feeling generous I see.”

Tony shrugged as the elevator doors parted, amazed by how quickly a genuine response surfaced.  One that he hadn’t necessarily put words to until this moment. 

“I got my wife back.  Everything else seems small by comparison.  But,” he tacked on with a tone of caution.  “Let’s not go fucking crazy expecting a Maserati or something like that.”

She slipped her hand into his with a laugh, and they strolled toward the café.  “Maserati’s not my style.  You should know I’m more of a Camaro girl.”

“You better be since there are three of the damn things sitting in our garage.”

“Yeah.  I’ve been thinking about that,” she admitted.  “It seems kind of silly to have all the cars we do.  I was wondering if we should consider selling.”

His eyes darted toward her in surprise.  Had he heard that correctly?  She wanted to sell the Camaros?

“I thought you said they had sentimental value.”

“They do,” Lilah conceded with a shrug.  “And I love Lilah J.  She’s my favorite car ever, but she’s not exactly a mommy-mobile.”

Lilah J was the black Camaro dubbed as such by her “LILAHJ” vanity plates, and he knew his Lilah adored the car.  Once in a while she’d leave him and the kids for no other reason than to take it for a drive.  She was never gone very long, but she always looked gratified when she got back.  Revived.

They arrived at Avenue Café and Tony held up two fingers to the hostess.  The young lady smiled and led them to a table, promising that a server would be with them shortly. 

“How about we keep yours and sell the pace car?” he suggested casually and picked up the menu, not wanting to let this topic drop since it had been on his mind for a while.  If she was open to discussion, it would be nice to have one of those albatrosses off the payroll. 

“Sure you wouldn’t rather get rid of mine, so you can keep the matching set?”

She was referring to the 1969 Camaro SS that he’d had restored, which had been the original Indy pace car model.   When the Camaro SS had been selected for the 2010 pace car, and had same paint job as the original… Well, it was why he wanted the car for his bonus from his last tour.  They matched. 

“The classic stays,” he confirmed, skimming down the list of omelets.  “But you’re more attached to Lilah J than I am the newer one.  And since Jon is the one who actually bought it, I can sell it as ‘his’ car and get a better price.”

She gave him a quick glance over the top of her menu and nodded.  “Good point.  If that’s what you think is best, then go ahead.  We can always reconsider Lilah J later.”

Honest, direct, and with no drama. 

This is what it used to be like with them.  It had always been his favorite thing about them, in fact, and he was pleased they could do that again.

You should try Jon’s suggestion about floating the house plans by her.  She might surprise you.

She might, at that, but he wasn’t confident about how that would pan out.  It wouldn’t hurt to get her that “bauble” first, at any rate.  It couldn’t do anything but tip the odds in his favor if he decided to come clean.


Having decided on the Spanish egg white omelet, he set the menu aside to find her looking at him.  “What?”

“Since we’re gettin’ along and bein’ so reasonable, can I talk to you about somethin’ else?”

His stomach interpreted that as “we need to talk” in disguise, and tied in a knot.  Damn he hated those words. 


Lilah set her own menu aside and chewed at her bottom lip.  “I got an email from the community college a couple days ago askin’ if I’d be interested in comin’ back for the spring semester.” 

“Which one?” he asked uneasily.  She’d worked for two different community colleges since they’d been together.  “The one in Kentucky or the one in Jersey?”

“Jersey,” she was quick to assure him. 

Snippets of things she’d said recently flitted through his mind like confetti while the waitress took their orders.  She hated being a stay at home mom.  She didn’t have her own money.  It wasn’t practical to put the kids in daycare. 

As soon as the waitress had gone, he casually probed, “I guess since you brought it up, you want to do it?”

She nodded, her eyes fixed on him to gauge any shred of reaction he let slip.  So far, he thought he’d been very neutral in his words and his facial expression. 

“What about the kids?”

“They actually have child care available at the college,” she explained.  “It’s reasonable, payroll deducted and I’d be close by if they need me.  The school also provides health insurance, so we wouldn’t have to pay for our private policy anymore.”

Healthcare premiums that ate up a fair chunk of money.  Even with the cost of the daycare, they’d still be coming out ahead.

“Tell me why you want to do it,” he petitioned.  “Is it just so you can say you have your own money?”

“It’s nice to feel like I’ll be contributing,” she acknowledged after a thoughtful moment.  “But it’s not the main reason.”

“Then what is?”

His wife was a bit slow to respond, obviously choosing her words with care. 

“Staying home with the kids isn’t servin’ a substantial purpose anymore,” she began slowly.  “Leaving them with somebody outside the family was different when they were babies and couldn’t talk.  They communicate quite well now, and will tell you every damn thing that happened during the day.  They’ll also get more social integration at daycare than with me, since I hate play dates with mommies half my age.  I limit them as much as my guilty conscience will let me.”

All of those were valid, reasonable points.  Tony could find no fault in her logic and his gut didn’t tell him it was a bad thing.  It’s not what he would’ve chosen if he were ruler of the world, but the pros seemed to outweigh the cons.  And if Lilah was going to be happier...  Well, chances were that they would all be happier.

And since you accepted a job without even consulting her, you’d be a dick extraordinaire to complain about this.

“So are you asking my permission?”

Lilah squared her jaw, but her voice was gentle when clarifying, “I’m askin’ your opinion.”

Perfect answer.

“In that case…” The corners of Tony’s mouth curled slowly upward.  “My opinion is that it would be a good move for all of us.”

The way her eyes sparkled over a wide, beaming smile was priceless.

Damn.  Will there ever be a day when her smile doesn’t light me up like the sun? 

Lilah scooted around the horseshoe booth until her hip bumped up against his.  “I love you.”  Hand on his thigh, she leaned in for a kiss, whispering, “Now about that token of commitment…”

No comments:

Post a Comment