Mallory turned the key impatiently. Friday, always a long day, had been worse than usual.
Putting down her purse, she switched on the answering machine. She heard Rand’s voice and braced for his message.
“Hi, Mal. I tried to text you. Is your phone off? Honey, I’m sorry but I’ll be late again. Something came up. I will probably be home around seven.”
Mallory choked back tears of disappointment. Rand really had forgotten her birthday. They had talked about it when Dylan and Keri were home from college last week-end. How could he have forgotten?
She felt a little guilty, realizing she’d had numerous opportunities to mention it, or at least give him a hint. Yet, after all, it was his job to remember.
If he couldn’t, at least, do that, well…
Maybe it was just stubbornness on her part, but she was sick of being taken for granted, being alone, and ignored.
Let him forget and be embarrassed. He deserves it.
Smoldering thoughts brought little relief to her hurt feelings. Consoling herself, she knew both kids would probably call tonight. They would remember her birthday.
“Randall Jenkins will regret such insensitivity.” Mallory fumed—aloud this time.
It was a climax of months of strain between Rand and herself. He wore a weary look all the time, refusing to say if something was bothering him. At her complaints and resentment, he retreated further. She knew he had a stressful job, but so what? So did she.
To make it worse, the pastor’s message on Sunday had centered on gentleness, understanding, trust, and forgiveness in families.
Yeah, right, I wonder how he would handle juggling a home, a job, two kids in college, bills piling up, and a husband who couldn’t even remember your birthday.
Even as these thoughts boiled up in her mind, Mallory felt emptiness, even guilt, knowing she should stop to pray. Yet her emotions were too near the edge.
Morosely Mallory started rinsing breakfast dishes, placing them in the dishwasher. It was almost full. It still surprised her they could go several days without having to run the once overworked machine. Of course, she noticed, Rand had put cups on the bottom rack, instead of the top. In fact, they were almost covered by the plates.
Retrieving the two blue cups, she was puzzled. These were from her special set, mostly reserved for guests. When had they had been used? Suddenly Mallory spotted an obvious stain on one of them. Lipstick! Curiosity, then mounting suspicion, caused her to hold the cup to the light, turning it slowly to be sure.
Her mind running rampant, she explored the possibilities. Rand wouldn’t … He couldn’t… He was a men’s leader in the church, had a responsible job, and a respectable family. In their own home…? Who had been here?
She finally carried the cup and slammed it on the dining table, in a straight line from the entrance door. Randall Jenkins had explaining to do. It was time for a confrontation. Mallory’s anger overruled the lump in her throat and pain in her heart.
Though it seemed hours as she frantically paced the floor, the door rattled within a few minutes. It took a long time to open. Maybe Rand knew she was getting suspicious.
“Surprise!” multiple voices rang out.
Mallory stood wide-eyed, looking into the faces of twenty-five friends and family. She hoped she had applied make-up to cover her tearstained cheeks. Rand emerged from the back, along with a beaming Keri and Dylan. Beside them stood Claire, her dearest friend.
“Happy Birthday, Honey. I hope we’ve surprised you,” Rand smiled broadly. “I have been so busy lately that I know I’ve made life miserable. You’ve looked a little down, and I thought you could use a lift.”
Claire stepped up to finish the greeting, as Dylan and Keri hung shiny streamers, and others began bringing in punch and cake.
“Rand worked hard on this, taking off early from work one day and having me come over to help finalize the plans. He served me several cups of coffee in exchange for my advice,” Claire laughed.
Reaching behind her, Mallory grabbed the blue cup and fled.
In the kitchen, she whispered a rapid prayer.“Lord, we have some catching up to do. I need a real attitude adjustment.”
Rand found her there. With a quick kiss, he led her back to the party
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