Summer 2011: Marie Heredon are 27, Gabriella Valdez is 26, A.J Heredon is 4 and Sarah Heredon is 3. Last update: Fall 2010

Soundtrack: “Are We Really Through” by Ray LaMontagne

They used to do this together. She would wait patiently at the nursery door, watching Sarah dream her sweet little girl dreams and listening for the familiar creak of the old spiral staircase that signaled his arrival home. There was harmony to their movements. He would stand behind her, one arm around her waist and the other raised high to rest on the door frame. She would lean against him and breathe deeply, inhaling the unique mix of ocean salt and rich soil that so often clung to his clothes and skin. She would bring his hand up to place a kiss on his palm, fascinated by the layer of dirt that would cover him from elbow to wrist yet his hands were always meticulously clean.

Marie had expected things to change after their fight last October but not this. They argued; Arthur would stare silently, she would scream and cry but they always returned to this. She’d waited at the door for a half hour before realizing he wasn’t going to come but the tears didn’t start to fall until Sarah called out for him. Now she doesn’t wait and they have a new ritual. She enters the nursery humming and picks out Sarah’s afternoon clothes, something bright and pleasing to the eye. Arthur used to sing, his voice raspy and off key, but she can’t bear to do the same. Leaning over the crib Marie brushes Sarah’s still baby fine hair back from her face and gently wakes her.

“Pretty baby, wakey wakey.”

“Mama, I not a baby anymore.” Yawning, Sarah lifts her arms to be picked up. “I’m a big girl.”

She settles her onto her hips, attempting to ignore the ever changing weight and height of her youngest. “Are you sure? I think you’re still Mama’s little baby.”

“Nuh uh.” The pout is instantaneous and Sarah wiggles out her arms, shaking her head. “I’m a big girl. I get dressed all by myself.”

Marie doesn’t laugh, not even a chuckle when Sarah gets her head stuck in one of the shirt sleeves and struggles to get out. She learned her lesson the first time her daughter insisted on dressing herself; A simple giggle and she was left with a sassy three year old all afternoon.

“Mama, I’m ready.”

She does her best to ignore the backwards shirt, the mismatched shoes and focuses on the smile of satisfaction on Sarah’s face. “Perfect.”

They bide their time playing. Marie throws herself into a of game of peek – a – book with Sarah and occasionally congratulates A.J on whatever bubble he considers impressive enough to share with her.

The front door opens after a single knock and for a second she thinks it’s him standing in the door way, his face in shadows yet his hair blazing bright. Marie can almost see the smile on his face, one of the rare big ones that only shows up when their little family is all together. It’s only when he steps further into the doorway that she realizes it’s only Jacob. The hand that reached to smooth down her messy hair drops. She’s deflated.

“Hey Mrs. H, Big A sent me to bring the kids to the store. Are they ready?”

Marie’s smile is strained and she leans over to kiss Sarah’s forehead so he doesn’t see her eyes tear up with bitter disappointment. “Mmmhm, have fun with Daddy, Jacob and Mr. Quinn kids.”

The house always feels empty when she’s home alone now. She used to enjoy the quiet moments when Arthur would take their children to the store and she could spend time reading a frilly romance novel about busty heroines and their arrogant lovers. It was all great fun when her marriage was solid and she could work off all those heightened feelings on her husband and some light flirtation with her brother-in-law but that’s what got her in this mess.

Marie’s not even aware she’s on the phone and dialing until the accented hello answers from the other end.

“Are you busy? I really need someone to talk to right now.”

They sit in companionable silence for a few minutes, sipping their tea and picking at the strawberry filled pastry. She’s embarrassed now and can’t figure out how to broach the topic despite it being one that they’ve discussed numerous times before. Anticipation hangs in the air and she can feel the weight of Gabriela’s expectation.

“I picked some strawberries for you yesterday. I may have gone a little overboard but they’re from our personal garden and we can only eat so many. I made the pastries with them.”

“Oh, gracias. I’m sure Joaquin and the girls will enjoy them.”

They lapse back into the silence and she tries to ignore the repetitive way Gabriela is stirring her spoon around the mug. Marie can tell her friend is getting annoyed with the production of the whole thing.

“He’s trying to punish me and it’s not fair.”

Gabriela cocks her head to the side and simply stares. They’ve gotten close enough over the past year with work and the girls’ many play-dates that Marie knows just by looking at her that Gabriela is searching for the right words for something that she considers indelicate.

“Mi mama would often say this to her friends when they came crying to her over some mess they made. I used to think it was harsh but Marie aquellos polvos traen estos lodos.”

“Um,” She stares at the ceiling, attempting to parse through what little high school Spanish she remembers. “Something about mud-”

“Your chickens have come home to roost.”

Her face flushes at the thought of being criticized and she shakes her head in anger. “Gabi, that’s not fair; it was a harmless flirtation. He spends so much time at the store he barely remembers he has children let alone a wife.”

“It’s his brother Marie, what did you expect to happen?”

They’re silent again. The typical summer sounds of crickets chirping outside, the distant screams of children playing flare up and they simply look at each other. Marie looks down into her cup of tea watching the few tea leaves settled at the bottom, hoping they would send her an answer.

She knew what would happen but she did it anyway. She’s just tired of it all. She wanted what she read in her books and John was just so romantic while Arthur could be sweet but didn’t get the point of it all. He wanted her. Marie was sure he loved her but he never put any effort into the gestures. She’d given up everything for him, simply to be with him and he could never be bothered with the simplest things.

Gabriela speaks softly, reaching across the table to take her hand. “Marie, miel, it’s ok to make a mistake-”

“I didn’t make a mistake and even if I did, why can’t he just forgive me? We’ve been doing this dance for months and I’ve been trying everything. I love him not John, not anyone else so why can’t he forgive me?”

“Marie-”

“I have done everything. You said make our marriage new again, so I try to spend as much time with him as possible. He hates that. The self-help books say give him space, so I go to the gym or take the kids out but then he looks at me with suspicion. He won’t budge at all. I thought he wasn’t around before but unless I’m forcing myself on him – that’s how he makes me feel – I just feel him sneak into bed and in the morning he disappears again. I didn’t actually have an affair. I never kissed him or touched him but Arthur’s antics makes me wish I did.”

“I hope you didn’t tell him that.” Gabriela retorts.

“Of course not but he won’t fight for me. He just gave up.”

“Do you want to save your marriage? You say you do but there is so much anger, Marie.”

Marie wraps her arms around herself, suddenly cold despite the August heat. She watches as Gabriela plays with the rosary around her neck and can feel the weight of every accusation she ever flung at him, every heated word sharpened to cause the most damage. Why does she do things like that? She never used to. All she wants is to capture that lightness they had when they were younger, the happiness she remembers in some distant way every time she sees Joaquin and Gabriela interact. Sometimes they get so close but then the silence creeps in, the feeling of abandonment bubbles up and she hates herself for doing what she promised she would never do: waiting for a man to grace her with his presence.

Gabriela continues, “Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s fighting for anymore.”

The tears well up now and Marie is holding herself so tightly her scalp is starting to ache from the tugging on her hair. All the brashness from earlier is gone, leaving her deflated and she barely speaks over a whisper. “I’ve tried. Sometimes I want more and sometimes I just want him. Some days he’s all I can see and I realize that that’s stupid. I’m a grown woman with children and a career and all I can worry about is if my man is going to come home and look at me, just look at me.”

“Marie-”  She stops then shakes her head before starting again. “You have to figure it out. Hang on desperately if he’s really what you want but let him go if you don’t. I know what you say and I remember what we talk about but you are the one in control. Miel, he’s waiting for you. He needs you or he would have left months ago.”

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A.N: Yea, I know. It’s been a very long time but hopefully I’ve gotten over my intense writer’s block and a six months drought won’t happen again. I did learn some interesting things while I was away though. Part two should be up on Monday.

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