Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Control (01/30/06)
TITLE: All I Need to Do is Follow
By Jeffrey Snell
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"No!" Her husband's brusque reply made Jennifer stiffen. She pushed the boys ahead of her into the misty Saturday afternoon sun and left quietly. The previous month's storms appeared to be fading, but she knew it wouldn't last.
Brian Dinsmore glared at the hole in their main bathroom floor. An old leaky toilet rested in the tub. He'd strained with mounting frustration to remove two mounting bolts by hand for ten minutes (a one-minute task), but the boltheads were wet, rusted and stuck fast to the flange on which the toilet mounted. Saturdays were priceless, and his was all planned--except for this stupid job!
Brian sighed, sinking back against the wall. Why did he yell at her? Increasing overtime recently at his factory seemed to have pulled a harsh shroud over their home. Visions of his exhaustion-fueled outbursts and her painful tears rushed over his heart, and it began to break.
He couldn't let this go on. "I love her, God. But how can I start showing her?" Brief prayer was followed by two surprises: a firm mallet hit popped the bolts loose, along with an idea. A crazy, expensive idea--and she'd love it. He'd been making enough extra, but... it would mean no season baseball tickets. A groan escaped his lips.
Corroded bolts in hand, he eyed the floor. If poking through the vinyl revealed moisture damage underneath, he'd have to replace some or all of the underlaiment, and the one-hour project would turn into all weekend. He'd never have time to finish <I>and</I> make arrangements. But the "Yes!" in his spirit was undeniable. Holding his breath, he tossed the bolts aside and grabbed an awl.
Jennifer pushed the yellow kids' cart through the produce section. The boys, five and seven, steered inside, pretending to avoid obstacles on an imaginary racetrack. She perused the squash, but her thoughts drifted to Brian. <I>Lord, his attitude's getting worse. Does he even remember Monday's our eighth anniversary?</I>
Monday morning, Jen woke to find Brian off to work earlier than usual. After church yesterday, he'd left for a couple of hours (doing Lord knows what) then continued working in the bathroom until late.
<I>Happy Anniversary.</I> Despondent, she put on her robe and shuffled downstairs, passing the main bathroom on her way to the working one. Peeking in, she stopped. The floor was spotless and a bright new toilet installed. Wow.
Coming out, she noticed the boys dressed and playing with lightsabers in the living room. "You guys are up early." In the kitchen, warm morning sun and fresh, cool air streamed through an open window. Dirty bowls and spoons lay in the sink, but the pile from the night before (which she'd not had the heart to wash) was washed and in the cupboard. She questioned the boys, but they merely giggled and resumed battle.
Later, with vacuuming and lunchtime behind her, Jen tried to relax with a magazine. When the doorbell rang, she was grateful the boys raced to answer it but puzzled at their exclamation, "It's number three!"
"Mrs. Dinsmore?" Groaning, she stood and went to the door prepared to shoo away the salesman or political candidate. The man wore a wide smile and a dark suit and hat, like the kind drivers in the movies wear. Jen noticed Lisa, their sixteen-year-old neighbor grinning behind him.
"Yes? Um...what can I do for you?"
The man laughed. "Ma'am, my understanding is that this young lady will be watching your boys this afternoon and evening. Your husband is waiting for you--"
"Waiting for me?" she interrupted, confused. "No, my husband's at--"
He continued, motioning to the driveway--"to join him for a ride along the waterfront, shopping and dinner."
Jen's gaze crept right and her hand covered her mouth. A glossy black limousine idled in the driveway. Breath caught in her throat as her eyes were drawn to Brian's smile beaming from the back window as he lifted a glass of champagne to her. He mouthed the words "Happy Anniversary," with tears that matched her own.
"Oh my... Lisa are you sure... oh...."
Lisa nodded and greeted the boys, whom Jen suddenly realized were ecstatically hopping about in laughter. Glancing down at the worn jeans and sweatshirt she wore, Jen let out a little squeal and raced upstairs to their bedroom.
The driver raised a hand and laughed again. "If you'd care to change, I'll be happy to wait."
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