Making it last a novel.., p.10

Making It Last - A Novella (Camelot Series), page 10

 

Making It Last - A Novella (Camelot Series)
 


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  And Tony interrupted, because it was too awful. “Shh, buddy, shh, that’s not going to happen.” He couldn’t take hearing his son’s worst fear and knowing it was the same as his. That they were the same, and he still wasn’t sure he could stop his marriage from sliding off the edge of the cliff.

  Even after last night, he wasn’t sure.

  He soothed his son and pulled up flight times on Amber’s phone.

  When Jacob was calm again, he said, “Put Grandma back on, okay? I’m going to have her help me get the plane tickets changed, and we’ll see if we can get Mommy home to you tonight before you go to bed.”

  “You, too, Daddy?”

  “Me, too, bud.”

  He spoke to Janet for a minute, asked her to take a look online for availability, and then got the customer service number from her. After they hung up, he booked the first flight home with open seats. It left early in the afternoon and would get them home right around Jake’s bedtime.

  They’d have to leave for the airport in a few hours. Too soon.

  Last night, he’d felt close to her. So sure of her, in a way that he hadn’t been since Jake was born.

  Because it was Jake who had started the shift between them. Amber had been afraid to have a third baby—afraid, she’d said, that she would be consumed by another kid, that she would run out of energy, they would run out of love. And he’d been positive she was wrong. He was one of half a dozen Mazzara kids, used to thinking children ran in packs, that love would stretch as far as it had to.

  More than that, Tony had thought seven years ago that between him and Amber, they could do anything. Business was good. They had plenty of money—enough for him to build her a house as big as she deserved, as nice as she ought to have—and they’d had these two awesome kids who were amazing, smart, making fatherhood so much more fun than he’d thought it was going to be.

  He’d wanted to keep doing it. Turn great into better into fantastic.

  And he’d been daring himself, too. Go all in. Dig yourself in deeper, because you’re not going to fuck this up. You’re not hopeless, you’re not nothing, you’re not doomed to fail.

  Amber had given him faith that all those lessons of his early life were bullshit. He’d seen her with their sons and known that their boys weren’t going to grow up feeling like he had. He wasn’t going to be the kind of father his own dad had been. Even if he slipped, Amber would never let it happen.

  So he’d pushed her. He’d campaigned, buying frilly baby girl dresses and talking up how cute newborn babies were, how hot she looked when she was pregnant, how the boys would be happier with another sibling and they’d all entertain themselves. How much fun they could have trying for a baby.

  Amber had caved. Then Jake had come along and steamrolled over her at exactly the same time the economy was steamrolling over Tony.

  And he didn’t regret it. He couldn’t. He loved Jake so goddamn much it hurt. They’d made the best of it. But it had been a hell of a grind, these last six years. Three kids wasn’t fifty percent more than two. It was this whole other stratosphere of parenthood. Outnumbered. Outgunned.

  In those early months after Jake was born, when he was puking up everything he ate, not holding on to enough weight, never sleeping more than ninety minutes—usually more like forty-five—Amber had developed dark purple circles under her eyes and a steely sort of optimism that she wore like armor.

  Everything will be fine, hon. Don’t worry about us today. I’ll try to grab a nap when Jake goes down—I can put a cartoon on for Ant and Clark. I’ll see you later, okay? Have a good day.

  She would hand him his lunch when he walked out to the garage, and she would kiss him goodbye, but her mind would be elsewhere, on the battle that was her day. Holding her shit together. Keeping the house clean, the kids alive and fed and bathed and rested.

  He’d been so grateful for her—so grateful, because he’d had so much worry of his own. Enough to give him bad dreams, wake him up in a cold sweat thinking about what college and braces were going to cost and how many more times Patrick could drop the ball at work before Tony had to say something. What he would say.

  The housing economy had gone from bad to worse to nightmarishly awful. His mother had died, and he’d hired somebody to do the accounts at the office, and in six months she’d created a ruinous mess—or revealed a ruinous mess that had already been there, Tony wasn’t sure. Depended on who you believed.

  In the middle of all that, it was a relief to know he could count on Amber to cope. He’d thought they would both do this for a while, as long as they had to, and then he’d get her back again.

  But he hadn’t gotten her back. Until last night, she’d been drifting farther away.

  Now he felt like he could reach her, if he did the right things. Said the right things.

  Only they had so little time.

  The bedside clock said 7:15. She’d been in the shower for half an hour.

  Tony opened the bathroom door and took a towel off the rack.

  He stuck his head inside the tiled enclosure and put his arm under the spray. Still hot. Her skin was pink all over, her eyes closed.

  He turned off the tap and took her hand.

  “Come on out, bun.”

  She came meekly, like a child.

  Well, not the kind of children they had. Their kids either refused to come out or vaulted from the tub like demons, running naked through the house and getting water everywhere.

  Amber stood still and watched, bemused, while he toweled off her hair. Then he dropped to his knees and dried her thighs, her calves, the tops of her feet. Behind her knees, and on to her hamstrings and thighs and butt.

  “Turn around.”

  She did, and he dried her back.

  He thought of how happy Jacob would be when she walked in the door. How he would put his face right up against her stomach and breathe in the smell of his mother.

  How Ant used to wind his fist around and around her hair when he nursed.

  How for Clark, it had been her pinky fingers, and then her hands and her wrists.

  They needed her in a way they had never needed him. Her body. Her being.

  He needed her, too. Her breasts and her pussy and her smell and her mouth and her arms. Her eyes. Her hips. Pregnant or not, thirty pounds heavier or skinny as a rail, short hair or long.

  They all wanted the same thing from her. Be here for me to talk to. Be here for me to grab and fill my hands with when I need you. Be here to feed me and listen to me and help me solve my problems. Make it possible for me to feel content.

  It had to be fucking exhausting being the person whose presence put everyone else at ease. Janet had sounded weary and fed-up on the phone after one night of it.

  Amber had been doing it for a decade.

  He dried the back of her hair and kissed her, right where her shoulders met her neck. She twisted to look at him, and her face was so solemn.

  He put the towel around her and went out and found her some clothes to wear. Underwear, bra, some shorts, and a T-shirt.

  “What happened?” She dropped the towel and started to dress.

  “How do you know something happened?”

  “It’s in your eyes.”

  “Your mom called. Jake’s got a fever.”

  “When are we going back?”

  “We have a couple hours to kill. First flight’s at one.”

  “You already booked it?”

  He nodded.

  “Is he okay?” she asked.

  “Yeah, I talked to him. He misses you.”

  She hooked her bra, then stepped closer and rose up on her tiptoes, fingers skimming the back of his neck, and kissed him like she was about to go on a long trip, and she had to fit all her goodbyes into this one moment.

  He put his arms around her, tugging her close with his hands on her ass. Her skin felt too warm. Her kiss was too mournful, and he knew she was taking pieces of herself back again. Big pieces. He could feel it.

>   He could hardly blame her. She needed those pieces to survive the life he’d pushed her into—this life she maybe didn’t even want. The kids. The husband who never took a weekend off, never whisked her away for a break, never made it easy on her or even thanked her except in the most routine, unimportant ways.

  When she broke the kiss, she was breathing hard, and she wouldn’t look at him.

  There was a pause as he skimmed his hands down her spine. Her flanks.

  Stay here with me, he thought. Just stay.

  But that wasn’t possible, even if she’d wanted to.

  “What else?” she asked.

  “Clark thinks we’re getting a divorce.”

  “Who told him that?”

  “I don’t know. I think he’s just putting two and two together and getting eight. But he must have told Ant and Jake, because Ant said we’re not coming home, and Jake thinks he’s going to have to pick who he goes to live with.”

  Amber rested her forehead against his shoulder. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”

  “It’s not.” He pulled her closer. Covered her skin with as much of himself as he could. “It’s mine.”

  They held each other, unmoving except for the rise and fall of their chests, and Amber drifted away.

  He thought that if he were her, he’d drift, too. He’d take any excuse he could find to cut and run.

  Even if she didn’t leave him, she was gone.

  There was nothing he could do to fix it.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  They ordered breakfast in the room. One of the perks of the suite was that a personal butler took their order, delivered their food on silver trays, and waited on them at the table.

  It was supposed to be luxurious, but mostly Amber found it uncomfortable. They hadn’t made the bed. Even though the window was open, she was paranoid about sex-smells and the half-empty wine bottle on the dresser.

  She thought maybe she wasn’t cut out for pampering, since she felt guilty for not enjoying herself more. The spa had been kind of the same thing—all these supposed luxuries that felt either ridiculously privileged or flat-out odd. Paying people—and no, it was not insignificant that they were black people—to rub scented oils into her skin or find all her hidden zits and squeeze them.

  Or the fact that there were combs in the locker room—a jar of combs in that blue disinfectant stuff, like at a barbershop, except come on. Surely no one ever used the combs. No one ever lotioned up with the spa-dispensed lotion or swabbed their ears with the spa Q-tips.

  But someone must. Someone had defined this whole experience as luxurious. Lots of someones. So even though Amber couldn’t really believe that anyone could enjoy eating breakfast ten feet from a bed while attended to by a strange man who kept his face carefully blank, she felt as though there must be something wrong with her for not loving it.

  The waiter piled up all the dishes on a cart, and Amber and Tony sat awkwardly, watching him go.

  After he’d wheeled the cart out of the room, Tony rubbed his forehead and said, “That was fucking horrible. Let’s never do it again.”

  She smiled, because at least she wasn’t the only one. And because he was trying to shake her out of her funk.

  Tony smiled back. “What do you want to do for the next hour or two?”

  “Can we go up the beach? There’s an artists’ colony that’s about twenty minutes’ walk. The aesthetician told me about it.”

  “Sure you don’t want to lay by the pool? Your last day in the lap of luxury.”

  “I’d rather move, if you’re game.”

  “Sounds good to me.”

  She threw some water and sunscreen into her purse, and they went down to the beach and took their shoes off, leaving them next to several other pairs by the resort’s steps so they could walk on the hard-packed sand by the surf.

  “Nice morning,” Tony said.

  “It is.”

  It was beautiful. Seventy degrees, sunny, with a breeze off the water. Paradise.

  “We should take another vacation sometime,” he said. “Maybe leave the kids with my sisters or your mom and dad and drive up to Canada. Take that second honeymoon you wanted, just the two of us.”

  “That would be fun.”

  She tried for a cheery smile.

  Tony took her hand and squeezed it.

  What she would have given a month ago, even a week ago, to be here in the sand with her husband beside her, telling her that.

  This is what you wanted. Everything you wanted.

  Amber looked out over the water, frustrated because she didn’t feel the way she was supposed to, and pretending she did made her feel plasticized and vaguely ill.

  “Are you worried about Jake?” Tony asked.

  “Not really. I feel bad that he’s sick, but you said he sounded okay.”

  “He did, yeah.”

  “And my mom will spoil him, I’m sure.”

  “So what’s the problem, bun?”

  The sound of the surf rang in her ears, and the question struck her in the heart, a quivering arrow.

  What’s the problem?

  The same question he’d asked her all those years ago when he took her apartment door off its hinges and flushed her out of her burrow.

  The same words he’d said when he walked into the house and found her weeping at the kitchen table, a positive pregnancy test in front of her and two feral toddlers clamoring for her attention.

  What’s the problem?

  You can tell me. Let me do something. Let me help.

  She looked down at Tony’s bare feet crusted with sand, his hairy calves and the khaki cargo shorts she’d bought him ages ago.

  What was the problem?

  He was here. He was trying to fix their marriage, because he believed it was fixable, and he believed it was worth fixing.

  He was doing everything he could think of, and she was doing nothing.

  She was the problem. Her.

  “I’m afraid,” she said.

  That was it. That was all. She was afraid.

  “What are you afraid of?”

  “Everything.”

  She walked closer to the water, close enough so the wavelets would run over her feet as they chased each other up the beach. Because her hand was clasped in Tony’s, her vector toward the ocean pulled their arms taut between them.

  He drew closer, and their line went slack.

  Then he came closer still and halted completely, but she didn’t. Not until she had to stop walking or let go of his hand.

  She stopped.

  He pulled her back.

  Reeled her into his arms.

  “Tell me.”

  Her nose pressed into his clavicle. Her heart pressed into her throat.

  She didn’t know what to say. She’d started this, but she didn’t know how to finish it.

  I’m a mess.

  I’m alone.

  He would hear an accusation in anything she confessed. He would think it was his fault, and she didn’t want to add anything to his burden, or anyone else’s. She wanted to be strong enough all by herself.

  But she knew that if she said nothing, then nothing could change. Something had to change. It had to, because she couldn’t do this anymore, and part of that was his fault. Tony had long since stopped asking if it was okay for him to work a fourteen- or fifteen-hour day. Tony didn’t want to talk about their other options, didn’t ask her to contribute, get a job, find ways to economize. He brushed her off when she made those kinds of suggestions.

  When life got hard, he bore up, and he didn’t ask if she could stand to bear up, too. He just assumed she could, and she would.

  She wanted to be able to be as strong as Tony, but she wasn’t. She just wasn’t.

  “I miss you,” she said.

  She paused. Took a breath. Tony didn’t reply.

  “I miss you, and I hate that you’re never home.”

  She tucked her head so she wouldn’t have to see his reaction. His brea
th came slow and calm, more regular than the waves, and the evenness of it gave her the courage to say, “I think sometimes that you wouldn’t come home at all, if it weren’t for the kids. That you come home to see them, and we talk about them, and that’s all I am to you anymore. Some kind of annex to the boys, like the nanny, except we share a bed.”

  “That’s not true.”

  His voice was soothing. Not offended. Just direct.

  “I know it’s not. You told me last night, and I guess I knew already, but Tony? I think maybe it should be true. I think … I look in the mirror sometimes, and I can’t even see myself. I sat down at the table last week to make a list of errands I had to run in town, and I flipped over the page and tried to make myself write down ten things I wanted, and I couldn’t think of ten. I couldn’t think of three. I wrote down ‘A shower’ and then ‘Time to run in the morning’ and then I sat there and stared at it for half an hour, and I couldn’t come up with anything.

  “And you know how on take-out night we all get a turn to choose what we want to order, and you always get meatball subs from Contino’s in Mount Pleasant, and Ant always gets pizza with green olives? I dread my turn. I dread it. Because I don’t even know. I don’t know what I want to eat. I don’t know what I want to wear or look like, and that’s why I cut my hair and had that evil woman at the spa wax me and paint my fingernails—because I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m afraid I’m not anybody. That I’m only your wife and the kids’ mom and that’s it.”

  He kept his arms tight around her. Rubbed his cheek over the top of her head, pressed his fingers against her ribs. He didn’t say anything, and that was good, because his silence gave her space to catch her breath.

  She hadn’t intended to say so much. She’d opened her mouth, and the words had been piled up behind her tongue, waiting to come out. Impatient.

  When she closed her eyes, there were more.

  “You remember when we met?” she asked.

  She felt him nod.

  “You remember that I told you I was afraid I was going to live my whole life and then be on my deathbed and realize I hadn’t done anything? That I hadn’t really lived? And you made fun of me because I was too young, you thought. Well, I’m thirty-five now. I’m thirty-five, and I haven’t been anywhere. I haven’t done anything. I quit my job and had three babies. I think if the person I was when I met you saw who I am now, she wouldn’t even recognize me. And I know what I have done is important, too. I know that. It’s not like I want to go become the first woman to climb K2 backwards or whatever. It’s just … the house is so big. It’s so empty when there’s nobody home but me, and I don’t have anything. I want to have something so that when you don’t come home until nine or ten, and the kids are sleeping, I’m not just waiting for you.” The last word came out too dramatic, too accusatory, because her voice was breaking.

 
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