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Authors: Dianne Venetta,Jaxadora Design

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BOOK: Condemn Me Not
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Teresa
angled her head with a shake to the contrary.  Manicured brows rose
indifferently as she replied, “Whatever.  Two weeks is two weeks, and I for one
resent having to pick up the slack for my fellow female when she decides she’s
entitled to special treatment, expecting me to work two jobs for the price of
one.”


Special
treatment
?” Simone discharged the question like it was toxic waste.  “You
try delivering a nine-pound baby and see how long it takes you to recover!”

“Ladies,
please
.”  Claire scanned the vicinity for spectators.  “We need to finish
up the shopping.  Speaking of duties that need attention, I have laundry at
home, a kitchen to clean...”

Teresa
ignored her plea and said to Simone, her voice devoid of emotion, “Like you
told Claire—that was
her
choice.  You decided to have a kid, not me. 
I’m simply pointing out the reality of your decision and that I think it’s
unfair for a woman to feel entitled to walk off the job for six weeks, have her
baby, pay someone to care for it, and then waltz back in and expect to pick up
where she left off.”  She shook her head.  “Not good with me.  You don’t see
men demanding flexible work schedules.  Why is that?” she asked to no one in
particular, then muttered under her breath.

It
took every ounce of willpower Simone had not to rip Teresa’s head from her
shoulders.  “Because men don’t have babies,” Simone informed her coolly.

Teresa
shook her head again.  “Whatever.  You and I both know that what I said is
true.  People pick up the slack for you at work.  They help make it happen for
you to have babies
and
keep your job.  The least you can do is pick up
the slack and help your daughter when she shows a little initiative.”  With
that, Teresa strolled off to the bakery, leaving a trail of barbs in her wake.

Simone
stared after her sister, gripped by an overwhelming desire to set her
straight.  What did she know about children?  About kids?  About juggling the
demands between work and family, husband and child?

Nothing. 
Teresa didn’t know a damn thing.  Yet it didn’t seem to stop her from sticking
her opinion where it didn’t belong.  Simone marched after her.  Well she would
shove that opinion—

“Simone.” 
The urgency in Claire’s voice as she hurried to her side was not missed.  She
swiped a glance over her shoulder at her friend, but said nothing.  Teresa was
the current target.

 

 

 

 

 

CLAIRE
AND SIMONE

 

During
the car ride home, Simone continued to brood, staring out the windshield of
Claire’s minivan without a word.  Traffic was light, the drive from the grocery
warehouse a mere twenty minutes from her house.  Thank God they decided to
drive separately, Claire thought, stealing a peek to her side.  She wasn’t enthused
by Teresa’s commentary either, but the woman’s sword had clearly been aimed for
Simone, and straight into the heart, no less.  Claire ventured another peek
through the corner of her eye, the tension so thick, she could scarcely breathe.

“Don’t
let her get to you,” Claire said, unable to stand the silence a moment longer. 
“You’re an amazing manager.  Your team relies on you and you didn’t let them
down.  You worked your tail off—two weeks—my God!”  Tightening her grip on the
hard rubber steering wheel, she glanced sideways.  “What other mother can claim
a two-week maternity leave?  It’s insane.”  Claire continued to ramble, trying
to focus on the cars ahead and her friend at the same time.  “You have nothing
to apologize for.”

Continuing
her blind stare out the front, Simone replied, “You don’t have to make excuses
for her.”

Excuses? 
Did Simone think she was trying to fill air, here?

Far
from it.  Claire calmed the sudden flutter of her pulse.  She meant every word,
but Simone seemed hell bent on festering.  If they hadn’t been in public,
Claire knew she would have ground Teresa into the floor with her pointed heel. 
Crammed her into the frozen food section and held the door closed.  But Teresa
was clever that way.  She’d never strike battle in private.  If she did, there
would only be one Richmond sister standing and Claire would put money on Simone
walking away the victor.

Flipping
the lever for her blinker, she continued, “Listen, I’m trying to be objective. 
Teresa is single.  She has no idea of the demands of juggling family and
career.”

“Then
she should keep her mouth shut.”

“She’s
just trying to help,” Claire replied, navigating the right hand turn into slow
moving traffic, the wheel sliding within her palms.

“Help?” 
Simone raked Claire with a blistering glance.  “She might as well have called
me a freeloader at the office!”

“She
did not.”

“Or
insinuated I have no business having children.”

“Simone. 
Don’t you think you may be overreacting?  Teresa expressed her feelings over a
simple point of fact—”

“Simple
point of fact?”  Simone turned fully in her seat to face Claire.  “You mean to
tell me you agree with her?”

Claire
stumbled in reply and slowed as the light above turned yellow.  “No, of course
I don’t.  You know that.  Not necessarily.”  She faced Simone and was met by
stony eyes.  The grim set to her friend’s jaw should have prevented the
question, but she plunged ahead.  “But it’s true, isn’t it?”

“What’s
true?”

“That
women who take the full six weeks are relying on others to carry their load at
the office in their absence.”  Whether Simone wanted to admit it or not, Teresa
was right.

“No
one carried my load.”

“Maybe
not yours, but in general they do.”  Claire alternated focus between Simone and
the light above.  “They have to.  Not everyone can work from home and manage to
keep on top of their position.  You could, but other jobs require women to be
there.  Like a secretary.”  Claire twisted her palms around the steering wheel,
sliding them back and forth over the curved top as she waited for the light to
change.  “It’s her job to answer the phone, take notes.  A teacher, a...” 
Claire dropped the last job from her lips.  She’d almost said ‘manager.’

“Teresa
is a selfish bitch,” Simone declared flatly.  “It’s a good thing she didn’t
have any children, because she would have ruined their lives.”

“At
least she knew that about herself,” Claire reluctantly agreed.  But many women
didn’t, she thought.  Many women had kids because it was expected of them, then
tried to hang onto their careers, only to find out later that they weren’t very
good at managing both.  Kids were a full-time commitment and so was a job.  It
was something Claire had accepted going in.  Superwoman was a cartoon character. 
She wasn’t real.

The
light turned green.  Claire stole one last glance at her friend and thought,
Simone
included
.  There was no way she could be good at motherhood and money
management—not without help.  Not without someone there to pick up the “slack”
for her.  With a steady push of her foot, Claire accelerated, keeping pace with
the stream of cars around her.  Simone’s someone was Mitchell.  He was her
saving grace when it came to family.  Though considering Mariah’s recent
decision, it didn’t seem like he was doing too well in the child-rearing
department either.  He should have been more clear with Mariah about what it
took to start a business—like a plan, a contract—neither of which the girl had
bothered to secure.  Mitchell also neglected to be frank with her regarding the
downside, the risk.

Teresa
mentioned allowing the girl to fail, but would Simone and Mitchell be there to
help her move on?  Get back into college and on track with her studies?  Claire
certainly hoped so.

“Teresa
doesn’t know anything,” Simone grumbled, hugging arms close to her body. 
“She’s not married because no one would have her.”

“C’mon
now, you don’t mean that, you’re just mad.”  Claire turned onto her street, an
instantaneous relief discharging inside her.  They were almost home.

“I
do, too.”  Simone flipped her gaze to Claire.  “And why are you taking up for
her?  Do you think it’s true what she said?  Do you actually agree with her?”

“No,”
Claire hesitated, startled by the hostility boring into her from across the center
console.  The temperature rose by several degrees within the confines of her
vehicle.  Despite the time that had passed, obviously Simone remained hot over
the argument, madder than a wet cat in a dog kennel.  But Claire wasn’t willing
to back down either, and braced herself for the inevitable attack as she
asserted, “But you have to agree with her in the sense that working women can’t
do it all by themselves.  They do need a support network to accomplish it all.”

“I
don’t.”

“What
do you call Mitchell?”

“I
call him my husband, my
partner
.  He doesn’t help me at work.  He has
nothing to do with my job.”

Claire
nearly slammed her foot on the brake pedal.  “
Nothing to do with your job
?”

“Yes,
nothing to do with my job,” she repeated.

“Simone,”
Claire said, unable to let the statement stand.  “You couldn’t manage your
workload at the office if he didn’t help you manage the load at home.”  Simone couldn’t
have family and career without Mitchell, the same as Jim couldn’t have it
without her.

Simone
balked.  “Manage the load at home?  Since when is that solely my
responsibility?  It’s his house, too.”

“You
know what I mean.”

“No,
I don’t believe I do.”  Simone slid a hand along the passenger door frame,
resting her arm along the window as she fastened on Claire.  “Why don’t you
explain exactly what you mean?”

At
Simone’s brittle tone, Claire held steady.  She would not be intimidated from
speaking her truth.  “Mitchell keeps the house running so you can work the long
hours it takes to be a success.  He’s there every day and without him, you
wouldn’t be where you are today.”

“And
I pay my nanny for what—watching television while my dear husband takes care of
the child?  Cleans the house?”  Simone scoffed, turning her face toward the
windshield.  “Someone better fire the housekeeper.  Apparently she’s been
robbing me blind.”

Claire
braked fully for the final stop before they arrived at her house.  She centered
on Simone and decided enough was enough.  She was tired of Simone’s
self-righteous sarcasm.  Simone acted as though she alone carried the family
and Mitchell didn’t lift a finger to help.  But he deserved credit.  A lot.  “Look,
you couldn’t do everything you do without Mitchell and I’m not talking about
the dishes.  I’m talking Mariah.  He’s your lifeline to her and you know it.”

She
turned on Claire.  “
My what
?”

“You
heard me.  He’s the reason you two have a relationship to speak of, and he’s
the reason Mariah’s as smart and well-adjusted as she is—because he was there
when you weren’t able to be.”

Simone
barked out a laugh.  “Then Mitchell should be fired!  His daughter has turned
into a disrespectful brat who runs to him when Mommy Dearest says no to her
childish whims.  Not to mention that dropping out of college doesn’t speak very
highly of her intelligence.”

Claire
pushed back into her seat and said quietly, “You never did appreciate what it
means to stay home for your child.”

“I
still don’t.”

Damn
her

Simone had grated on her last nerve and Claire refused to tolerate another
second.  “At least
my
child is going to college.”

“Halfway
around the world.”  Simone grunted in retort.  “Looks like staying home didn’t
endear her to you any more than my working did for Mariah.”

 

# # #

 

Claire
slammed the plastic grocery bags down onto the Formica, the corner of one
splitting open.  Damn Simone.  Nothing drove a wedge between them quicker than
a disagreement on how to raise their children, but damn her for being so
hateful.  She always considered herself superior because she worked.  She had never
approved of Claire’s choice to stay home.  And Mitchell.  Claire slung the
purse from her shoulder and smacked it down alongside the groceries.  The man
deserved a lot of credit, yet his wife refused to give him any.  As though his
job was to see that
her
job was made possible.  Because it was her right
to pursue her career and have children.

And
Mariah?  Why did Simone bother to have the child if she wasn’t going to stay
home and raise her?  Why bring her into this world, only to have someone else
raise her?  Why did either of them?  Locked rigid in place, Claire stared
across her kitchen.  The matte yellow walls, the maple cabinets, the
countertops honey brown and host to a variety of small appliances, knickknacks,
and a stack of mail she’d piled to one end, revealing her procrastination day
by day.  This was her domain.  This was her job.

Mitchell
was by no means a stay-at-home dad, but his contribution around the house, his willingness
to take the reins with Mariah deserved respect.  But it was their nanny of more
than a decade who spent the bulk of time with Mariah.  She toted Mariah to
school and back, prepared her lunch in the morning, sat with her during sports
activities, birthday parties and the like.  It was the nanny who remained glued
to Mariah’s side—when the child wasn’t at their home, that is.  Mariah and
Rebecca spent a lot of time together and through the years, Claire had come to
feel like she had two daughters.  Two girls joined at the hip, and she was
proud of them both, regardless of their recent bombshell.

BOOK: Condemn Me Not
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