Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Making Ends Meet (01/16/14)
TITLE: Caught In The Middle
By Catherine Craig
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In spite of herself, Sarah’s voice ended in a petulant whine. She caught sight of her expression in the mirror, and cringed.
Oops, she thought.
Feeling sheepish, Sarah unclenched her fists. Taking a breath she back-stepped mentally from her anger. Her eyes, normally a translucent blue, had turned brilliant green, the color of a stormy sea.
Sarah was not at peace.
“Two years, Sarah. Two years it’s been that I’ve been supporting two households. What do you expect from me – you can’t get blood from a rock!” The man across from Sarah countered her outburst, then unfolded himself from his seated position on the couch and stood up. “I can’t do anymore to make ends meet.”
She stared back at him in frustration, and then calming herself, purposely settled back into the overstuffed chair across from him. “Yes, you can,” Sarah said gently. “You can draw a line with your son. Tell him to get a job, Bruce. It’s time.”
“Mom!” A feminine voice broke into their conversation, calling from somewhere in the back of the apartment. “Are you keeping track of time? It’s time to take me to work…” The words trailed off, and before Bruce could answer, their speaker bounced into the room. “Oh, I’m sorry Dad. I didn’t know you were still here,” the petite brunette apologized, and then added as she finished wrapping her waist-length unruly dark hair into its customary bun, “Am I interrupting something?”
“No, honey. I was just leaving for work myself,” Bruce explained. Sarah watched as he reached for the sturdy baseball cap he usually wore when out and about. “Would you like to catch a ride with me, Zoey? I’m going your way, or that is – I can be.”
Sarah caught Zoey’s almost imperceptible sideways glance her way, and schooled her face to reveal nothing. She’d almost slipped.
“Mom, aren’t you planning on taking me?”
Relieved, but feeling slightly guilty, Sarah hedged, “I was, but…”
“It’s settled then,” Zoey hurried into the kitchen to scoop up the brown bag lunch Sarah had packed earlier. “Dad, maybe another day, okay?” She grabbed the black hoodie sweatshirt carelessly thrown on the couch the day before, and pulled it carefully over the hair she’d just pinned into place. “Dad, will you be over for breakfast tomorrow morning, or will you be driving Trevor to school? We could grab a mocha down at Starbucks if you aren’t,” she suggested, nervously looking back and forth between the two of them.
“Bruce,” Sarah began, but swallowed her words. Bruce had that shuttered expression. He wouldn’t listen to anything; he’d closed himself off – again.
“Gotta go,” Bruce tossed the words over his shoulder as he abruptly donned his coat. Pausing with his hand on the entryway door handle, he added, “Bye you two. Have a good day at school Zoey; you have a good day too, Sarah.” Then he was gone.
Not good, Sarah thought. No kiss.
“Mom, I didn’t mean to…” began Zoey.
“Don’t worry about it honey,” interrupted Sarah, gathering her daughter into her arms for a comforting hug. What can I say, she thought? My husband, your step- father, is facing a common problem that many divorced parents face: trying to overcompensate for a split family situation by being too lenient. He hasn’t gotten past his first divorce, and here we are – separated and living next door to each other – he and his boys and I and our daughter, trying to prevent another one.
“You guys were arguing money again, weren’t you?” Zoey asked, breaking into her mother’s agitated thoughts. She pulled away and looked into Sarah’s eyes. “No Mom, I can’t read your mind,” she added grimly. “I heard you.”
“Let’s go, Zoey. You’ll be late for work,” was Sarah’s curt response. “I’m sorry you overheard that, but I don’t want to discuss it with you. Let’s go. Now.”
Two hours later, Sarah stood at the counter pouring steaming hot water over a tea bag into her favorite ceramic cup when her cell phone chirped. Punching buttons, she pulled up a text.
It was from Bruce.
'Am with Trevor. He’s agreed. Needs to get a job. No more loafing. I heard you, Sarah. You’re right; it’s time. I love you. Bruce.'
Tears welled up and spilled down her cheeks, unchecked. “Lord, thank you for speaking to Bruce,” she whispered. “Where would we be without you?
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