“It’s supposed to be a work dinner,” Hailey said.
“Mr. Cross will be there, but there will be other people there too.” Hannah added.
“I see?” Troy said keeping his eyes on his cards.
“Do we know where they’re going?”
“We don’t know,” Hailey answered.
“We’re going to Spencer’s,” Gabriella said fastening her earring in place as she looked from the twins to Troy. Troy had come right from work. He was fit and attractive, with sandy brown hair, well chiseled features, and an infuriating sense humor. He looked tired, but he had ever since she’d known him.
They’d met when she was still in college in Albuquerque, her home town. They’d been set up by mutual friends, and hit it off and married within the year. Soon they were setting roots in Georgia where Troy had been raised. Troy had started his business and she’d been a happy, quiet little housewife.
At first she’d tried really hard not to begrudge him. He’d lived in the area for most of his life, expect the few years he’ been working in Albuquerque, and he’d grown up with most of the men on his crew. Naturally when they were looking for work they all gravitated toward him.
Then things began to change after the twins. She kept hoping things would change when his work slowed down. His work as a contractor was stressful and consuming, no doubt about that, but it had slowly become the priority in his life. She found herself night after night thinking, maybe after the next project, maybe after he finished with the next job. But nothing ever seemed go back to the way things had been.
His career had been more important than anything she and the twins seemed to need form him. He make jokes, become fun dad when she was trying to discipline the girls. And worst of all he’d refused to acknowledge she might even have a reason to be upset.
“You girls be good for your daddy,” she said before shifting her attention to Troy. “Bed time is eight thirty.”
“No problem,” Troy smirked as he pulled out a card from his hand and placed it on the table.
“I fold,” Hannah sighed as she put her cards down.
Gabriella eyes widen, “Are you playing poker?”
“Relax, we’re playing for Lego pieces,” Troy murmured.
Gabriella rolled her eyes as she walked towards the kitchen in tiny apartment. The separation had been bitter since Troy had refused to accept it or even understand why Gabriella wanted it at all. Part of her had been absolutely convinced that divorce was the only option left for them. But she’d also been reluctant to give up on the marriage completely, so she’d agreed to wait a year before making any decisions.
However, six months into their agreement they also agreed that it might be better to take a break so they could rest and recover from the emotion exhaustion that went along with working on their marriage.
Her eyes paused when she glimpsed a picture of them on the refrigerator. It was taking at party right after the announcement of her pregnancy. Troy had been a little skinner then, not yet fully filled out with the muscles and callus hands that come from the job, but he mostly looked the same. Her eyes lingered on his familiar face and the affectionate, almost protective look in his eyes.
She wanted him to look at her that way again. She wanted to feel the way she had that day, believing she could trust him completely, give herself to him completely, know that he would never let her down. Back then she’d been so convinced that there was no other man in the world as brilliant and funny and wonderful as he was.
She still believed it. Now if only they could live together.
She walked back into the living room, “I shouldn’t be too late.” She smiled at him then looked back at her twins. “They have really good French silk pie at Spencer’s, so maybe I’ll bring home some dessert for tomorrow.”
Both girls celebrated.
Gabriella looked back towards Troy. He’d never wanted her to take this job to begin with. He hadn’t even wanted her to work outside the home, although he’d said he wouldn’t stand in her way. He hadn’t seem to resent it so much lately though.
“How was work?” Gabriella asked trying to study his face this time. He looked more tired than normal. He’d hurt himself a few years back on the job when he’d and some of his crew had fallen through the second floor of one of his restoration jobs. His back sometimes gave him trouble because of it, but he’d always put up a strong front. Despite everything They’d gone through, she still couldn’t help but want to take care of him.
“It was okay.”
When she peered at him closely, after a moment he seemed to understand and his expression softened. “Really Brie, I’m fine.”
“Well, thank you again for coming over last minute. The sitter canceled and I didn’t know what else to do.” She shifted through her clutch making sure she had everything. Her brow winkled as she thought over all her possessions.
“Do you have your keys?” Troy murmured.
“Shit,” she whispered as she turned to see him motion to her keys laying on the coffee table.
“No problem.” Troy watched her carefully as she fluttered about making sure everything was in place. The green fabric of her dress fitted to her curves. She was beautiful. Breathtakingly so and his hands itched to pulled her to him.
This stupid break was seriously beginning to make him dizzy. He wanted his wife back. He wanted her back at home where she belonged. In their bed. His eyes darted over his cards towards his two daughters who were carefully looking at Hailey’s hand of cards and collaborating together to run him out of the pink Lego collection he’d managed to acquire during his last game.
“One moment girls,” he got up from his seat on the couch and followed Gabriella as she made her way towards the front door.
“I put the number of the restaurant on the fridge if you need me.”
“You know, I was there when you delivered them right?” he said with a playful smirk. “I’ve been there for the scratched knees, late night tummy aches and even a few really bad school plays.”
Gabriella rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m aware.”
“So I can handle one Tuesday night,” he said with a smile as he reached out his hand to gentle slide a finger over her right shoulder. “You look nice.”
Gabriella nodded, “I have to go.”
“Me too, I’m about to lose the shirt off my back to your two little hustlers.”
“Is it too much to ask to just play something age appropriate for once like… I don’t know …Go Fish?”
“There is nothing wrong with poker.”
“There’s also nothing wrong with Go Fish, Old Maid, Uno or Candy Land… they’re ten years old Troy.”
“Hey,” he said lifting a finger. “Don’t talk about Candy Land, one day I will rule that land with an iron fist.”
Gabriella rolled her eyes, “Right, I forget. Everything’s a joke to you.” She pulled the door the open and stepped outside. “Just make sure they’re asleep by eight thirty.”
Troy nodded as he chewed on the inside of his cheek to keep from frowning. “You bet.”
When the door closed Troy let out a small slur of curse words under his breath. He felt a familiar swell of guilt and defensiveness, both at the same time. He’d felt like that way every time he and Gabriella argued. It started off small enough, first it was it about small chores, then about the garage, then the girls.
It all just seemed to snowball until all they could do was argue. Troy made his way back into the small open floor living room/kitchen. Hailey and Hannah were giggling to themselves as they sat on the floor in front of the coffee table. He forced himself to smile. He didn’t get to spend as much time as he wanted to with his girls and when he did have the opportunity he didn’t want to brood over his lost.
“Who wants to watch the Little Mermaid?”
“Is this because you’re losing?” Hannah asked with a small frown.
“Hey,” Troy winced. “What kind of poker face it that?” he hurried to his seat. “I’m not losing.”
“Yes you are daddy,” Hannah smiled with excitement. Hailey smiled as she placed her cards on the table revealing a full house.
Troy let out his a breath as he looked down at his hand. “I got to start playing with people my own age.” Leaning back in his chair he let out a long breath.