Reba spooned scrambled eggs into Todd's plate for the third time and then glanced at her daughter.
“Hurry up, Alyssa. You've hardly touched your eggs. Fourth grade is difficult enough when you eat a good breakfast.”
Alyssa tucked an unruly lock of curly blond hair behind her ear and threw her brother a sour look.
“I don't eat baby chicks.”
Todd rolled his eyes and slammed his palm against his forehead. “It's not a chick. It's just a stupid egg.” He turned imploring blue eyes on Reba. “You tell her, Mom. She thinks the yolk is a chick, just because it's yellow.”
“Like you would know,” Alyssa shot back. “Just because you're in the sixth grade don't mean you know everything.”
“It isn't a chick, Alyssa,” Reba interrupted gently. “Now finish your breakfast before you miss the bus.” She glanced at her husband - or what she could see of him over the morning paper.
“Would you like some more coffee, Allan?”
A shock of thick brown hair wagged above the newspaper. “No, I'm trying to cut back,” he answered in a tone that indicated she was interrupting something important.
Reba replaced the coffee pot and glanced at the counter-top full of dishes. Why did she always wind up spending her vacation time cleaning house? Last night it seemed like a good idea to leave the dishes for today, but last night she was tired from working all day. Last night, having Friday off sounded like a long weekend to catch up on housework. This morning it sounded like a good way to waste a balmy May day. Of course, that wasn't all that was bothering her. Sunday was Mother's Day, and everyone seemed to have forgotten. As usual, she had purchased the gift for Allan's mom, as well as her own. Todd and Alyssa would give her the usual Mother's Day card they made in school - only Alyssa would have to remind Todd to present his. Allan? Well, Reba wasn't his mother, so that let him off the hook. To be fair, he saw Father's Day the same way, expecting nothing from her. All the same, she always cooked him a special dinner and tried to make Father's Day a special occasion.
The whine of granny gear down the road signaled the approaching school bus. Alyssa leaped from her chair.
“Here comes the bus!” She grabbed her books off the telephone table and darted for the door.
Todd shoveled the last of his scrambled eggs into his mouth and barely chewed twice before he washed them down with the rest of his orange juice.
“Bye Mom. Bye Dad,” he called as he grabbed a book and darted after Alyssa. “Last one to the bus is a rotten egg,” he yelled as he pushed past her in the doorway.
The screen door squealed on its hinges and hissed back to the door frame. The bus paused while they boarded and then whined away from the curb. The clock on the kitchen wall ticked off time, but Allan never looked up.
Reba sighed heavily. “Honestly, Allan. You didn't get home from work until ten. Do you have to read the paper until it's time to go?”
“Huh?” He peered blankly over the paper. “What did you say?”
She glared at him. “What's the use? You never hear a word I say anymore. I'm wasting my breath.”
Clear blue eyes studied her from a sun darkened face that bordered on handsome. He lowered the paper and methodically folded it, placing it on the edge of the table before he responded.
“You've been melancholy every since your sister announced she was getting a divorce.” He tested the cold coffee in his cup and made a face. “Maybe freedom is looking good to you now.”
She looked away and gnawed on her lower lip. “I haven't been melancholy, and the way I've been feeling lately has nothing to do with Cindy's divorce.” She picked up Alyssa’s plate and started for the sink. “But don't you ever wonder what makes a marriage fail? I mean, do people gradually fall out of love or do they just get tired of the same old thing?”
Allan unfolded his long lean frame from the chair and scowled down at her.
“She was cheating on him, for crying out loud.” His voice raised an octave.
Reba met his gaze defiantly. “But why?”
He smiled without humor. “Let me guess. Because Tom wasn't man enough to hold her?” He asked dryly.
Reba scraped the scrambled eggs off a plate into the disposal. “I mean, why would she want someone else? They loved each other. They were the perfect couple. Even you said that once. What happened?”
His expression softened, and he even looked confused for a moment. Finally he shrugged. “Maybe she took the easy way out. It takes a lot more courage and sacrifice to stay and work things out.”
Reba nodded, forcing the stopper into the sink drain. “It takes two, you know. And nobody is immune. Especially people who take their spouse for granted.”
He shifted uneasily. “Is there supposed to be a message in there for me?”
She glanced up and met his troubled gaze. Didn't he see any problem in their marriage? She shrugged. “I worry about us sometimes. I remember how it used to be.” She turned on the water and squirted liquid soap into the sink. “I mean, things aren't so bad between us now. It's just....” She hesitated, trying to think of a word to describe the uneasy feeling she had been experiencing lately.
“Boring?” he supplied in an injured tone.
She shook her head. “No, but our marriage has lost some of the excitement. I suppose that's natural, but...well, I just wonder if maybe Cindy felt this way. I know it doesn't excuse what she did, but...” She shrugged again. “I just wonder if their problems started this way.”
She could feel his intent gaze, but she kept her attention on the rising mound of bubbles in the sink. They had to discuss this problem, didn't they? If they let it go, would they wind up like Cindy and Tom?
He was silent for a long time, and finally she glanced up at his face. What was it? Hurt? Anger? Shock? It was hard to tell. Finally he shook his head.
“Who knows?” He leaned over and gave her the usual peck on the cheek. “I've got to go, or I'm going to be late.” At the kitchen doorway he turned, an unreadable expression lurking in those striking blue eyes. “Maybe we could get a sitter tonight.”
Her heart skipped a beat, and she smiled. “That would be nice. It's been a long time since we watched a movie on anything but the living room TV, or ate a meal that I or one of our family members didn't cook.”
His gaze drifted to the window, and he stared absently into the back yard. “I need to get rid of that old boat. I never have time to work on it, and it's hard to mow around. Besides, it's an eyesore.”
She followed his gaze and knew the subject was already closed. Did he ever think of anything but work any more? Couldn't he see what it was doing to their marriage? Didn't he care? Her eyes burned with threatening tears. Feeling sorry for herself wasn't going to solve anything. Neither was ignoring their problems. So what could she do?
That question accompanied her through the dishes and several hours of house cleaning. All that thinking brought her no closer to an answer, but it did bring her to a conclusion. Allan was too good a man to lose and she wasn't going to let him go without a fight. If there wasn't enough fire in their romance, maybe she should throw on a little fuel. Maybe he was feeling taken for granted as well. She glanced down at her faded jeans and sneakers. The T-shirt was stained and stretched out of shape. A quick look in the mirror was all it took to realize she had let her red hair grow to unruly lengths.
She sorted through the closet and pulled out a black dress with pearl buttons. Allan had liked that dress, but there hadn't been much opportunity to wear it lately. She threw the dress in with a load of laundry and searched through her jewelry box. Yes, there they were - the pearls her mother had given her when she graduated from school - and there were the matching earrings Allan had given her five years ago for Christmas. She made an appointment at the beauty shop and sat down to plan a special supper. A quick call to the sitter assured they were going to have the evening to themselves. If he was expecting to go out this evening, he would leave work at four - which meant he would be home by four thirty.
At four-thirty she checked on the roast. Yes, everything was ready. Five o'clock found her nervously pacing the floor. Did he have an accident? And then the phone rang.
“Reba? It's Allan. They asked for volunteers to work overtime tonight, so I won't be home until about seven thirty. Sorry things didn't work out. Maybe we can go out tomorrow.”
She stared at the receiver. Volunteered? How could he do this after all her efforts? Hadn't anything she said this morning sunk through his thick skull? Didn't he care if their marriage was falling apart?
“Reba? Are you still there? Are you mad? It's close-out, you know, and they needed help. Nobody else wanted to work.”
“No,” she ground out. “Everybody else wanted to go home to their wives.”
Silence. Then, “I never hear you complaining when I bring that fat paycheck home.”
She caught her breath. “You're not the only one who brings a paycheck home, you know. How would you like it if I started working overtime and you were stuck at home with the kids every night after a full day's work?”
Again silence. Finally, “Look, this isn't the time or place to discuss this. We'll talk about it when I get home. OK?”
“If I'm here,” she answered crisply. “Good-bye.”
He sighed his exasperation. “Good-bye.”
She replaced the receiver with undue force and buried her face in her hands. Unmindful of the fact that her make-up was merging with the tears, she sobbed her frustration to the four walls. What was the use? What could one person do? Were they doomed to a lifeless marriage, or would they wind up like Cindy and Tom?
She was absently flipping through the channels on the TV when he came through the door. For an embarrassing moment, she avoided his gaze. He must have known her angry response had been an empty threat.
“I like your hair.” His voice was controlled.
She glanced up at him in surprise. She had forgotten about it. “Thanks.”
He strode across the room and gazed down at her, obviously concerned by something he read in her face.
“You've been crying,” he said.
“No I haven't,” she lied glibly. How did he know?
He moistened a thumb and reached down, running the thumb across her cheek. He drew away a blackened thumb and held it up to her. “Then what's this?”
Heat surged painfully up her neck and warmed her cheeks. “It's nothing.” Nothing he would care about, anyway. She pushed up from the couch. “I have some cold roast for you in the kitchen.”
“Sorry about that,” he commented as he followed her into the kitchen. “I can fix myself something. You don't need to....” He hesitated when he spotted the pie. “Peach?”
She nodded. “Sit down. I'll warm up some food in the microwave.”
“You haven't eaten yet?” He tipped his head to the side and listened. “Are the kids in bed already?”
“They're at the babysitters until ten tonight.”
His regard became wary. “You figure it's going to be that bad? Look, I got your point. I guess I have been a little neglectful lately. Maybe I've been taking you for granted. Maybe we've been taking each other for granted. We can work this thing out.”
“Are you sure you want to?” she asked as she sliced the pie.
“What's that supposed to mean?” He leaned forward in his chair and met her gaze. “Of course I do. That's why I've been working so much overtime.”
She stared at him. “Come again?”
“Remember how much fun we used to have picnicking on the lake? I've been putting all my overtime into a savings account and now we have enough money to make a good down payment on a pontoon boat.”
She gasped. “A boat? So that's what you've been up to. You've been so distant lately, and then this thing with Cindy and Tom. I thought maybe you were tired of me.”
He moved to her side and placed his hands on her shoulders, gazing solemnly into her eyes. “Sometimes I get riled at you, and there have even been times I questioned the wisdom of marriage, but I've always loved you.” He shook his head. “This thing with Cindy and Tom has got us both to thinking. And maybe it's a good thing. We can't sit back and expect our marriage to succeed on its own. It's like a luxurious lawn. You have to nurture it, shape it and constantly keep it fed or it'll eventually become unmanageable. Maybe Cindy was looking for something new - something different. I thought our marriage could use something new right now.” He touched her hair and his warm fingers dropped to the thin strap on her shoulder. He smiled tenderly.
“Apparently you thought so too.”
He leaned down and kissed her shoulder. Then he drew her into his arms, his warm lips seeking hers eagerly.
She melted in his embrace. This was how it had once been. After ten years of marriage, had she mistaken familiarity for disinterest? She slipped her arms around his neck and welcomed the warm glow of desire. No longer trapped in an endless circular current, their relationship was free. Plunging over obstacles and racing headlong into the unknown, the excitement had returned to their marriage. It didn't have to die - not as long as they were brave enough to keep it alive.