“I’ve been thinking and I think you need to get a job.” Nicky announced over supper one night at his parent’s house.
“What a splendid idea Nicky! What are you good at dear?” Fannie smiled directly at me; her enthusiasm over Nicky’s idea was confusing to me.
“Honestly mother, I don’t know what she will do. It seems Tessa is only good at changing diapers.” Nicky smirked as he took a big bite his mother’s mashed potatoes.
“Now, now, Nicky, be fair. Tessa is a creative person. I am sure she has many talents. She is just young. Hasn’t had time to get out there and test the waters,” Kip defended me. He was always on my side.
“Well, I suppose I could get a part-time job somewhere. But I would have to be able to take Addison with me.” I watched Addison who was sitting in her highchair play with some peas.
“Nonsense, Tessa, I can watch Addison while you are at work.” Fannie offered right away. Now I understood her eagerness to agree with Nicky’s idea.
“Maybe you could get a job at a daycare.” Nicky suggested.
“So you want me to get a job at a daycare and leave Addison with your mother?” I laughed, “Take care of other people’s children while someone else takes care of mine? That’s kind of silly don’t you think?”
“That is silly Nicky.” Fannie agreed. I almost choked on my bite of peas, “She will be around all of those snotty, sick children. What if she brings something home to the baby? Or lice? Oh dear God, could you imagine that? Those dirty little children with lice? The thought just makes me itch all over!”
I couldn’t believe how incredibly stuck up this woman was. I shook my head at her shallowness.
“Maybe I could see if they are hiring at the doctor’s office?” I suggested, “Answering phones, making appointments.” It would be a good chance to talk to Nancy alone and in the safety of the doctor’s office.
“No. I will talk to Pete Sanders over at the grocery store. I heard they need a cashier,” Nicky stated, “If all goes well, maybe you can start next week.
“That’s a splendid idea Nicky, what would Tessa do without you dear? Well now that is settled, on to other business. Your anniversary is coming up next month. Any special plans, will you need me to watch Addison for you?” Fannie anxiously asked.
“No, actually we thought we would have a cookout at the house.” I replied, giving Addison a bite of baby food, “Have the family over, serve cake and ice cream.”
“Well, that just sounds lovely,” she responded. I wasn’t convinced that this was her idea of a nice anniversary, but I honestly had no plans of spending my anniversary alone with her son.
Two weeks later I reported to work at Sander’s Grocery. Before I left Nicky had laid the clothes out that he wanted me to wear. He sat in the bathroom while I washed and dried my hair.
“Put it in a ponytail.” He said.
“What? Why can’t I leave it down?” I liked my hair. It was the one thing I had left. He had taken away my makeup and since the baby I still felt frumpy. The extra pounds just weren’t coming off, no matter how much I cut back on eating or how much I exercised and he reminded me of this fact daily.
“Because I want you to pull it back, damn Tessa, don’t start with me today.” He walked in the bedroom and checked on the baby who was in her car seat ready to go to Grandma and Grandpa Bloom’s, “What’s up Sugar Plum, you ready to visit Grandmother and Pops?” She smiled and waved her arms at her daddy, not understanding anything he was saying, but thoroughly enjoying the attention.
I came out of the bathroom sans make-up, hair pulled back in a ponytail, Khaki slacks and brown pull over shirt. He was apparently pleased that I looked like a Plain Jane.
“Let’s go,” He said picking up the carrier and I followed him to the garage. The store was approximately five miles from our house. Nicky’s dad, Kip and Peter Sanders played golf together at the same country club where we had our wedding, so it didn’t surprise me that I gotten a job that I hadn’t even applied for. I overheard Nicky tell his friend Todd that Kip helped Peter out financially once when the store was going through some rough times. But Nicky me told me different story one drunken night and let it slip that his dad actually had to pay off some of Peter’s gambling debts. Peter apparently put his store up as collateral for a loan of two hundred fifty thousand dollars. He lost the whole amount in just five games at the Black Jack table. Kip swooped in and saved the day.
We pulled up in front of the store and he let me out. I leaned into the back seat and kissed Addison goodbye, “I will see you in a few hours Sweet Pea. Mommy loves you.” Addison kicked her legs and waved her arms, giggling.
“Either Dad or I will pick you up at noon,” he stated. When I stepped back from the car, he backed up without looking at me or saying goodbye. I watched as he pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway. I turned and went into the store.
The morning went by quickly. Florence, a cashier who had been with the store for fifteen years trained me. She was patient, kind and sassy. I liked her right away. I caught on to the registers quickly and she felt comfortable enough to put me on my own register the last hour while she worked on the one next to me.
It was nice to be out of the house and away from Nicky’s watchful, untrusting eye. I missed the baby horribly and felt embarrassed when I asked Florence if I could excuse myself for a while to change the pads I tucked in my bra. I was weaning myself from breast feeding Addison because I wasn’t making enough milk to satisfy her and I was getting sore since she had cut a tooth recently. I was allergic to the drugs that were prescribed to dry up the milk, so I was forced to endure the pain of swollen milk-filled breasts until they dried up on their own. By the time I started at the store, I was only leaking occasionally, but if a baby came through my line and was crying or cooing the leaking would start up again. I wore pads to be on the safe side.
A week went by in no time; I was doing so well that Florence felt comfortable enough to leave me on my own register while she took her lunch break. I had also began counting out my own drawer by that Thursday and was so doing that when Peter came into the office.
“So, how do you like the job Tessa?” Peter sat down at his desk and I continued to count the dimes.
“I really like it. I think I am doing pretty well. You should probably ask Flo her opinion though” I laughed, “She might say differently.”
“No, she is really pleased with you. Said you are a fast learner. She complimented you, saying most don’t get their own register for two weeks, she let you lose in less than a week.” He seemed truly impressed, “She only mentioned one area that you might need improvement on.” My heart skipped a beat, I was trying so hard and it worried me that I was doing something wrong.
“What’s that? I want to do a good job, I will do whatever she asks” I stopped counting the coins in the tray to give Peter my full attention.
“She said you are such a pretty girl. She doesn’t understand why you dress yourself down so much. She said maybe you could try wearing some color in your clothes, maybe a little makeup.” Peter seemed embarrassed for repeating Flo’s suggestions.
“You want me to wear makeup?” My excitement over her original compliments about me faded fast. Nicky would never approve of me wearing makeup.
“I can’t ask you to wear makeup Tessa. Flo just thinks that it would make you look a little more professional. She said she remembered you coming in when you were in high school and you always looked so fresh and pretty. You were always dressed in latest fashions, always had your hair done up pretty. But I can’t make you change for the job.”
“I will have to talk to Nicky about the makeup Mr. Sanders. He is really particular about that.” I could feel the blood draining from my face.
“That’s fine. If you decide you would rather not, Flo will understand. You know Flo; she is kind of a force to be reckoned with. She does what she wants, when she wants. You know how many times I fired that woman the first year she was here over her sassy mouth? Well, she was so stubborn; she just kept coming back and putting on that damn smock. I just gave up and let her stay.” He laughed like the memory was a century old, “Best thing I ever did. She’s the best cashier we’ve ever had. Beats the hell outta me why she has stayed here for so long.”
With that, he smacked his knees with both hands and pushed himself to a standing position. He nodded his head at me, smiled and left the office. I watched him walk down the frozen food and stop to talk to a stock boy who was straightening some shelves.
The next morning I stood in front of the bathroom mirror looking at my reflection. Where did I go? This was not Tessa Irene Childress. This was Tessa Irene Bloom. I didn’t know who she was.
I pulled open the bottom drawer of the bathroom cabinet, reached to the back and pulled out a pencil of brown eyeliner and a tube of lip gloss. I leaned into the mirror and tried to apply the liner as naturally as I possibly could. I lightly applied the lip gloss that gave my lips a hint of pink color. I searched through my jewelry box and found a small pair of pink butterfly studs that I hadn’t worn since junior high. Not bad, I thought. Better than before, but not great either. Now all I had to do was get past the Nick-tator without being noticed.
We made the drive to the store without him saying a word about the makeup or earrings, so I thought I was in the clear. When we got to the store and I was opening the door to get out and say goodbye to the baby, Nicky grabbed my arm.
“Don’t I get a goodbye kiss before you get out?” This was a first; he never so much as looked at me when I left for work.
“Sure.” I replied and leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the lips. I started to back away and he grabbed me by the back of my ponytail.
“You call that a kiss? Can’t you do better than that?” He pulled me forwarded and pressed his lips to mine. I felt him try to pry my lips apart with his tongue. I pulled back trying to look out the corner of my eye to make sure no one was watching his pathetic attempt at a goodbye kiss, “Come on Tess. Kiss your husband goodbye. I mean you put on that shiny lip gloss for a reason right? To get kissed?” Crap.
“No, that isn’t why.” I felt like a child that had been caught drawing on the living room walls. He took his thumb and rubbed it under my left eye.
“And this eye liner…you want someone to look you in the eyes and kiss your shiny pink lips.” His tone was frighteningly calm and eerie, “Who besides your husband would you want to look into your eyes and kiss your pink shiny lips?”
“No one Nicky. I swear.” I whispered. I started to tremble all over.
“Never swear!” He yelled so suddenly that I jumped; it startled Addison and she started to cry. I tried to look into the back seat at her but he grabbed my face and squeezed, “Don’t look away from me when I am talking to you!” I looked back at his wild eyes.
“Now give me a kiss like I told you to. A real kiss, not some lame, limp kiss. Kiss me like you’re supposed to kiss your husband.” With that he pulled me back to his mouth and forced his tongue into my mouth. This time I let him. He pulled back for a moment then came back at me and bit down hard on my bottom lip. I felt the skin break and knew that his teeth had gone right through my lip. I was afraid to pull away from him, fearing that my lip would detach in his mouth. He let go and set back in his seat and laughed a deep guttural laugh.
My hand instinctively went up to my mouth, when I pulled it away my fingers were covered in blood. My eyes widened at the fear of what he had done. He stopped laughing and said with a very serious tone in his voice.
“Get the fuck out of my car,” I quickly opened the door and started to open the back door to get the baby out of her car seat. She was screaming at this point. He quickly turned to the back seat and grabbed the car seat, using his arms to shield me from releasing Addison from the safety straps, “Get the fuck out of my car!” He yelled.
“Not without the baby!” I yelled back. He took one of his arms and pushed me out the car door. Two men emerged from the store and looked over at the excitement. I ran over to them and begged them to help me. They looked over at Nicky’s car but continued walking. I thought I saw one stop to come back but the other grabbed his sleeve and encouraged him to keep walking. My face and top where covered in blood and Nicky was yelling out the door, calling me a ‘crazy bitch’. That’s when I saw Peter watching from the store’s large display window. He looked so helpless. Nicky reached over and slammed the passenger side door shut and backed out of the parking spot. I watched as he drove away with my daughter still crying in the back seat.
“Are you okay sugar?” Flo asked as she put an ice pack on my mouth. She had brought me a t-shirt from the stock room that said “Smart Shoppers Shop Sanders” and I changed out of my bloody pull over. I gratefully took the ice pack from her and held it to my swollen lip. I nodded that I was fine. I wasn’t, but what was the point of complaining? I just lost my daughter. I had no idea if I would ever see her again.
“What exactly happened?” Flo was not going to let this go.
“Flo, my husband just has a jealous streak about him. You don’t understand. He just loves me so much he doesn’t want other men looking at me.” I could only wish that was the reason for his jealousy. I honestly had no idea where the jealousy came from. Why was I defending him?
Flo wasn’t buying it, but didn’t question it further. She picked up the speaker phone, “Mr. Sanders to the office, Mr. Sanders to the office” and hung it back on its cradle. Mr. Sanders opened and closed the door quickly. Flo suggested that they take me to the hospital; it looked like I would need stitches. Peter hesitated. I could only assume it was because he didn’t want to upset the Bloom family by outing their son as a woman beater. Flo sensed the hesitation and suggested that they say I slipped in the stock room and busted my lip. That way they could turn it into Worker’s Comp and the Bloom’s wouldn’t have to know anything. Peter seemed more at ease with that idea.
“You can afford a Worker’s Comp claim this time can’t you Pete?” It was more of a statement than a question. She made it sound like it would happen regardless of what the owner of the store had to say. You had to admit, Flo had guts, enough for five women.
It required four stitches to sew up my lip. The ER nurse raised her eyebrows at Flo as she told the story of my slipping on a rotten piece of lettuce in the stock room. Nurses are very intuitive people; they knew we were covering something up.
“And all she hit was her lip?” the other attending nurse asked suspiciously. I remembered that I had a fresh mark on my back made by Nicky’s foot from the night before. I was checking his jeans pockets for loose change when several coins fell out and rolled under the dryer. I got down on my hands and knees and leaned under to reach for a couple of quarters. All of a sudden I felt a kick to my left side. I crumpled to the floor unable to move. All of the air had been kicked out of me and I gasped for a breath. Nicky stood over me laughing.
“Ha! Ha! You should see your face! Ha! Ha! I couldn’t help myself. Your fat ass up in the air like that, all you needed was a bulleye’s mark printed on it!” Once I got my breath the tears poured from my eyes and I sobbed at the heated pain, “Stop over reacting, I can’t help it you moved. I was aiming for your massive ass!” He kept laughing as he walked away leaving me sobbing on the laundry room floor.
I shook my head at the nurse and lifted the t-shirt to show her the red mark. I honestly had enough bruises to show, but most were obviously older than just that morning, so showing her the one from the night before was more believable.
“No. I hit my backside too, when I went down.” The nurse didn’t seem convinced. She left the room and came back with a prescription for pain killers, instructions on how to treat my lip and when to return to have the stitches removed.
“You can come back here, or your family doctor can do it.” She handed me a paper to sign.
“I’ll come back here.” I answered quickly. No need to alert Dr. Brown, he had been the Bloom’s family doctor since Nicky was eight. I folded the papers up and stuck them in my purse. Flo drove me home, where my mom was waiting in the driveway.
“Mr. Sanders called Paul.” She explained before I asked. Before she could say another word I burst into tears and clung to my mother.
“Do you want out sweetie?” my mom handed me a cup of warm tea and I flinched when I tried to take a drink. My lip was so sore and it was hard to move it much.
“I don’t know.” I sat the tea down and sighed, “I never wanted to get a divorce.”
“Who does?” my mom rinsed the tea pot and put it back on the stove, “Do you think I really wanted to find out that your dad had a woman in every state?
“I think Nicky has a girlfriend.” This was the first time I had said this out loud since I asked him about it six months ago.
“Really? Why?” She sat across from me ready to listen to anything I needed to say.
I told her about the comments he made about the woman named Hope, and the time I saw them kissing in the parking lot and how he denied it was him. I told her about all the times he got home way past the time it should take him to drive home from work. About my suspicions of when he goes out to run a “quick errand”, but showers, shaves and drenches his self in that horrible cologne he loves. The mere smell of it makes me want to puke. She heard about the nights he had come home drunk, passed out and talked about Hope in his sleep. I showed her the pictures that I took and stuck in the family Bible.
“Well, that right there is enough grounds to leave him. If he has been carrying on a relationship with another woman this whole time, you have grounds to leave him.” I knew she was right, but I kept imagining Addison waiting on her dad to pick her up for visitation. I didn’t have good memories of that and I didn’t want to put her through that either.
Nicky came home just after 5 p.m. with Addison. He brought her in and handed her to me.
“Mom said she would need to be changed. What’s for supper?” He put the diaper bag on the counter and checked the pot that was simmering on the stovetop.
“A roast,” I said pulling a diaper and the wipes out of the bag. I laid the baby across the kitchen table and changed her, then sat her in her highchair with some toys.
“Smells good,” He didn’t look at me or say anything about what happened this morning in front of the store. During dinner he made no mention of the stitches on my mouth or the fact that I was being extra careful putting the food in my mouth and chewing. He talked on about his day at work like it was any other day and went over a list of items he thought we should get for the cookout.
“Are you making a cake or ordering one?” He finally looked up at me when he asked me this.
“Uhm, I hadn’t thought about it much. I guess I could make it.” I pushed my food around on the plate.
“I think you should make it. By the taste of this roast, it seems that maybe your cooking skills are really improving.” Well that was a nice back handed compliment. I could never figure out what his obsession was with my cooking. I had been cooking since I was twelve years old; my mom and I cooked together all of the time and I was always in charge of making supper every Thursday evening growing up.
“Okay,” No need arguing now, “what kind?”
“Just make it white, everyone likes white cake with white frosting.” White cake, white frosting, got it.
For the next few weeks, Nicky kept his distance. We went to bed in silence and he stayed on his side. He didn’t go out of his way to insult me or bully me. He went to work each day, kissing my forehead before he left and snuggling the baby. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I wasn’t about to rock the boat. Silence was golden in the household.
He was on his best behavior; maybe he was feeling guilty over the incident outside of the store. I mentioned the recent kindness with excitement to Flo one morning when we had some downtime.
“Don’t trust it sweetie. I say, ‘once a bully always a bully!’” Flo pulled out a compact and checked her makeup, snapped it shut and tossed it back in her drawer.
“Maybe, maybe not. Maybe he really is sorry for what he did.” I reached up an absently touched the still sore scar on my bottom lip. I wanted to believe this. “Maybe we can make this work. I still love him in a weird way, like I don’t want anything bad to happen to him or anything. He is Addison’s dad; without him I wouldn’t have her at all.”
I could tell Flo understood my wanting to make the marriage work, but could also sense that she thought I was a little crazy for staying with him. She suggested counseling, a couple’s getaway, getting a babysitter and preparing a romantic candlelit dinner. I did want the marriage to work, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the couple’s getaway or the candlelit dinner just yet. Those ideas promised intimacy and my skin still crawled at the thought of his touch. I was also afraid of getting pregnant again; one child with this man was enough. If and only if things started looking like they were going downhill again, I would suggest the marriage counseling to him. Until then, the silence was a welcome relief.
The morning was slow so Peter let both Flo and I off early. Flo offered to give me a ride home and I told her that I would have to give Kip a call to make sure that Nicky didn’t pick me up at the regular time. I tried contacting the construction office but no one answered; I tried calling the analog in Nicky’s work truck and still no answer. I left a message with his mom asking that if she heard from either Kip or Nicky tell them that Flo was giving me a ride home.
It was two days before the anniversary cookout and Flo helped me carry the groceries for the party into the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator door when I heard a low, moaning noise down the hall. Flo must have heard it to, because she stopped unloading the grocery bag and looked in the same direction.
“Merciful cats and dogs what the heck was that?” She asked.
“I have no idea.” I closed the refrigerator door and walked to the top of the hallway and listened. This time we both heard two voices followed by a woman’s laughter. I turned to Flo with my mouth gaped open.
“Oh shit,” was all she could muster. I walked towards the Master Bedroom door. It was closed and I slowly turned the handle and stopped when the voices stopped. My heart was beating so hard I could swear that even Flo could hear it. I swallowed hard and when the voices resumed I started to turn the handle again. The door opened silently and I swung it open.
I couldn’t take back what I saw and I knew that I was going to take my mother’s offers to help me get out of this marriage.
Touching Trees by T L Lady is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://touchingtrees.wordpress.com.wouldn’t have her. So I stayed, I would make it to the year if it killed me. And it just might.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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