Wendy tripped over a block castle, fell against the counter, knocked the coffee maker askew, and apologized. “Whoops, sorry ‘bout that!” Grabbing a sponge, she quickly mopped up the spill and darted a worried glance at the wrecked castle.
Ginny, her six-year-old daughter, skipped into the room. “Who you talking to?”
Before Wendy could answer, Ginny’s gaze swept across the devastation of her former block-castle glory. Her eyes widened in fitful rage. “What’da do that for, Mom?”
“It was an accident, honey. You shouldn’t leave —”
“Hey!” A large, heavily built man with a close-cropped, brown beard sauntered into the kitchen. “You remember me?”
Wendy blinked as wrinkles spread across her forehead. Something on the edge of her frazzled memory sounded a weak alarm. “My husband — right?”
“Very funny.” Mitch tapped his watch. “We’re going out tonight — anniversary? Ring any bells?”
After swallowing back a gasp, Wendy clasped her hands together. “Yeah, I remember, but earlier — I forgot. I, sort of, invited Deirdre over for a cup of tea.” Wendy’s hands flew out imploringly. “Her life’s falling apart. I thought tea might help — somehow.”
Mitch pulled a cup from the shelf and poured out the coffee dregs. “It’ll take more than tea to fix that woman.” He took a sip and winced. “’Sides, I asked for tonight first — about twenty years ago.”
Wendy nodded. “Of course. I’ve been looking forward to it. Did you get Keith off to his game?”
Mitch leaned against the counter and rubbed his jaw. “Like a happy gladiator going into battle. Scary actually.” He peered down at his daughter’s pensive face. Reconstruction was well underway. “Who’s watching —?”
Wendy froze. “Oh, my gosh!”
Heaving himself into a chair, Mitch sighed. “And I don’t suppose you have anything ready for dinner?”
Wendy peered at the ceiling. “The part of my brain in charge of dinner remembered about going out. The rest of my brain forgot.” She rubbed her eyes. “What do you think — early dementia?”
“Well, I did notice that you put Patrick’s jeans in my drawer. Wasn’t till I got stuck somewhere around the knees that I figured it out.” Mitch pursed his lips. “How does that kid stay so dang thin? I pay enough for the meal plan.”
Wendy slumped into the chair opposite her husband. “He’s not coming home like he used to — preoccupied. I think it’s a girlfriend, or —”
“He’ll never make it through college.” Mitch rubbed his forehead. “I should’ve just had him take up a trade.”
Wendy shrugged. “He’s used to having his own way. Perhaps if he fails —”
“Fails with my money!” Mitch glanced at his watch and stood. “I’ll order pizza, and we’ll make it an easy night. Maybe watch a movie or something.”
Wendy’s heart sank as she offered a brave smile. After her husband clumped out of the room, she peered at her daughter. “Time to clean up, honey. Daddy’s going to —”
“Can’t I leave it here — please? It took me so long to fix — after you messed it up.” Gina’s large brown eyes implored with every fiber of her being.
“Well, okay. I guess —”
A large, heavy-set woman bundled into the kitchen. “Lord, where’s that tea? I’m about done-in.”
Wendy’s eyes flashed from her friend to the kitchen door.
“Mitch let me in the front. There’s a ton of mud in your driveway — it’s not safe.” Deirdre plunked down onto a kitchen chair and dropped her head onto her hands. “I can’t take it anymore. Life is pure hell these days.” She peered up at Wendy who stood frozen in the middle of the room. “I’m thinking of ending it all.”
A rumble scoured across the heavens.
Wendy strolled to the window and peered at the dark, threatening sky. She bit her lip and glanced at Deirdre. “I hate to tell you, but tonight’s Mitch’s and my anniversary and —”
Deirdre dragged her limp body off the chair and staggered to a standing position. “I tell you I want to kill myself, and you toss me aside. Sure — I understand. Loving hubby needs you. Priorities.” With a shaky hand, she patted Gina on the head.
Lightning flashed, lighting up the descending gloom.
Deirdre shrugged. “Sweet kid.” She started toward the kitchen door, her foot knocking part of the block castle across the floor.
Deirdre clasped the door handle and looked back at Wendy, her eyes half-lidded. “You got it all. Lucky woman.”
Mitch’s voice called from the living room. “Hey, honey, you want sausage, pepperoni, or meat-lovers?”
Rain pelted the window.
When the phone rang, Wendy wasn’t the least surprised. In an automatic motion, she pressed the receiver to her ear. “Yes?”
Patrick’s voice whined across two state lines. “Mom, I’m sick. Can you come get me?”
Wendy’s gaze swept from Deirdre — still gripping the door handle — to her sniffling, miserable daughter, to her husband’s frowning face peering through the doorway.
Wendy didn’t hear anything break, but she felt a snapping deep within. Her gaze darted to a crucifix on the wall. Standing completely motionless, only her eyes widened.
She gripped the phone more tightly. “Patrick, the college has a clinic open twenty-four-seven. Go there and see if they can help. Then call back and let me know.” She pressed the end button.
With a nod, she waved goodbye to Deirdre and watched her friend harrumph her way out the door.
Turning her attention to the block-strewn floor, Wendy pointed at her daughter. “Pick it all up — now — and not a word, or you’ll go straight to bed.” Her gaze swung to her husband.
Mitch started to back away.
“Let’s try something new — the Hawaiian or Taco — surprise me.”
As ragged clouds drifted across a waxing moon, Mitch wound his arms around his wife in the privacy of their bedroom. He peered through the dim light and grinned. “What got into you this afternoon — I hardly knew you.” He chuckled. “Scared everyone — even me.”
Wendy slid her fingers down her husband’s bare, muscular arm, her eyes radiating a serious glow. “When I looked at the crucifix — I heard a voice inside my head.”
With a startled jerk, Mitch fixed his gaze on his wife. “What did it say?”
Wendy sucked in a deep breath and enunciated each word carefully. “‘I said meek — not weak.’”
Mitch loosened his hold over his wife and swallowed. “Am I in for it now?”
Wendy giggled, leaned forward, and kissed her husband. “My love is strong.”
Grinning, Mitch pulled his wife into a tight embrace. “Lord, have mercy.”
Copyright 2018 Ann K. Frailey