Authors: Sherryl Woods
there is a payoff,” she said direly. “What if there isn’t?”
Elliott felt his temper begin to fray. “Do you have no faith in me? You’re my wife. Shouldn’t you believe in me at least as much as Cal, Ronnie, Erik and the others do?”
“It’s not a matter of not believing in you,” she insisted. “It’s our savings, Elliott. What about having a baby? I thought that mattered to you.”
“We’ll still have a baby, and we’ll have more money than ever to support it,” he insisted.
“Only if this works out the way you envision it,” she said, looking as if she were near tears.
“It’s going to work out,” he insisted. “Have a little faith.”
“I want to,” she said, her expression miserable.
“Just think about it,” he pleaded. “Talk to Maddie or Dana Sue. Ask Erik. You trust him, right? They all have confidence in this.”
“I suppose I could do that much,” she conceded with obvious reluctance. The wheels in her mind were clearly still turning. “What if it goes belly-up, Elliott? Are you protected then?”
“I’ll have to check with Helen, but I think so.”
“Make sure of it, Elliott. What if there’s some humongous lawsuit or something?”
“We’ll have liability insurance,” he assured her. “Stop worrying. Helen will protect us. You can count on that.”
“You know I’d trust her with my life,” she said. “After all, she took in my kids when I couldn’t take care of them a few years ago. There’s nobody I trust more.”
“Then hash all of this out with her. If you’re not reassured that it’s all good, we’ll keep discussing it until you are. I don’t want you panicking, Karen. But you also need to understand that this is our big chance to get ahead.”
“I get that,” she said, sounding resigned but not yet convinced.
He searched her faced. “You and me, we’re okay?”
She met his gaze. “We’re okay,” she said, though slowly.
“You don’t sound very convincing. What’s that about?”
“The issue is bigger than the gym, Elliott. We haven’t been communicating, not the way real partners should. And I know you try, but I don’t think you really understand how panicked I get about money.”
“Didn’t I just say that I get it?” he asked in frustration.
“But then you ignore it,” she argued. “Promise me when it comes to things that are important, we’ll do a better job of communicating.”
“We were communicating very well through most of the night,” he replied, trying to spark a smile.
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. You never told me you were seeing Frances at those classes for seniors. You know how much she matters to me. It just makes me wonder how many other things you’ve kept from me. Your father—”
“My father has nothing to do with this,” he said curtly, bristling at the unfair comparison. “As for me keeping anything from you, that’s a bit of an overstatement, don’t you think? We hardly ever spend any time together. Sometimes days go by before we have a real conversation. By then, I’ve forgotten things I meant to tell you. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
She looked so hurt by his dismissive tone that he relented at once. And deep down he understood her point. “I’ll try to do better,” he promised. “I know that communication is almost as touchy a subject with you as finances. I shouldn’t have kept the whole gym thing from you, even to protect you from worry. And, believe me, I do get the money thing. I may not have lived through anything so drastic, but I saw for myself the toll it took on you.”
“Thank you. And, as I told you last night, Frances has promised to help us find more alone time. If we can manage these breakfasts occasionally, too, maybe things will get better.”
“Of course they will,” he said. He would see to it, because no one had ever mattered more to him than this woman who’d been through such terrible times when they’d met and now had blossomed into a formidable companion, lover and wife. She was his heart, and he’d do whatever it took to see that she always knew that. If only he could be sure it would ever be enough.
* * *
When Karen arrived at Sullivan’s, she found Dana Sue in a frenzy.
“What’s going on?” she asked at once. “Where’s Erik?”
“Sara Beth’s sick and Helen’s in court, so he has to stay home with Sara Beth,” she answered from inside their walk-in freezer. “I tried to reach Tina to see if she could come in early, because he’s taught her most of the dessert recipes by now, but she’s not available until this afternoon.”
She walked back into the kitchen, her cheeks pink from the icy freezer. “Can you believe there’s not even a stupid pie left in there? I guess we’re just going to have ice cream on the menu, at least for lunch.”
“What about brownies?” Karen asked. “Those are easy enough. You used to make them all the time until Erik got all territorial about desserts. If you can make those, I’ll get started on the specials. We’ll keep them simple for lunch. How about those ham-and-cheese panini Annie convinced you to put on the menu? Calling them glorified grilled-cheese sandwiches was pure genius. And maybe the walnut-and-cranberry chicken salad? I made that pot of navy bean soup yesterday, so it’s all set to go.”
Dana Sue sighed, her relief evident. “Thank you for bringing me back down to earth. I have no idea why I panicked there for a minute.”
“Because you’re addicted to that schedule you keep posted on your office wall,” Karen teased. “Deviations make you a little crazy.”
“Are you suggesting I’m a control freak?” Dana Sue asked, though her eyes were twinkling.
“I know you are,” Karen replied, just as Ronnie walked into the kitchen.
“I hear there’s a crisis,” he said, pausing to give his wife a thorough kiss. “You don’t look as crazed as you sounded on the phone. Are things better?”
“Definitely better,” Dana Sue said, “but it was Karen, not you, who made me sane.”
“Then you don’t need me to pitch in, after all?” Ronnie asked, looking relieved.
Dana Sue grinned. “Given that we don’t serve pancakes at Sullivan’s except for Sunday brunch and they’re your only specialty, I have no idea why I called you in the first place.”
“Because just the sight of me calms you down,” he suggested.
Dana Sue laughed. “Yes, I’m sure that’s it.”
“I could go over and sit with Sara Beth, if you really need Erik in here,” he offered. “I’ve got help at the hardware store till mid-afternoon.”
“No, we’re going to be fine. Karen came up with a plan.”
“Then I’ll go back and run my own business,” he said, winking at Karen. “Call if you sense she’s falling apart again.”
After he’d gone, Karen regarded Dana Sue with envy. “I love that he was willing to drop everything to run to your rescue.”
“Elliott would do the same for you,” Dana Sue insisted as she began to assemble the ingredients for the brownies. “How’d things go last night, by the way? Did you two work out your differences about the gym?”
“I’m not entirely reassured that we’re not getting in over our heads financially,” Karen said. “We’re not in the same place the rest of you are, so to me his share of the initial investment seems huge. When I said that, though, he got all defensive and implied I don’t have any faith in him.” She regarded Dana Sue in frustration. “It’s not that at all.”
“No, it’s your past history talking,” Dana Sue said. “I’m sure he gets that.”
“He says he does,” she said, then shrugged. “We’ll see. And I’m still not crazy about him not talking to me about it. He knows that, though, so I guess we’ll have to see if he leaves me out of the loop again.”
“I doubt he did it intentionally,” Dana Sue said. “Men just don’t think like we do. They like to work out all the details, consider all the angles, anticipate our objections, then present us with what they consider to be a foolproof fait accompli.”
“Are you okay with that?” Karen asked.
Dana Sue laughed. “Hardly. Control freak, remember? Only Helen has me beat on that front. And maybe Maddie.”
“But you and Ronnie found a way to work through that, right?”
“Ronnie and I have been together—and apart—and together again for a lot of years now. It has not been all smooth sailing, Karen. You know that.”
She paused while stirring the brownie batter, her expression sad. “When I found out about him cheating on me, even though he swore it was only once and a moment of total stupidity, I hated him. I didn’t trust him from here to the corner. I wanted him gone, and Helen, bless her heart, saw to it that he went. In retrospect that might not have been the best thing, especially for Annie.”
She shrugged. “But we found our way back to each other in the end. I knew when we were kids that he was the guy for me and even when I was the most furious, a part of me couldn’t stop loving him. I guess that’s what people mean when they talk about soul mates. Nothing really tears them apart, at least not for long.”
Karen nodded. “Is it possible to find your soul mate the second time around? I sure didn’t find him in Ray.”
“I think we all saw something special between you and Elliott right from the beginning,” Dana Sue said. “So, yeah, if I had to guess, I’d say he’s your soul mate. Doesn’t mean he’s perfect.” She gave Karen a pointed look. “Or that you are.”
Karen laughed. “Believe me, I get that. You know what’s amazing, though? Elliott seems to think I am.”
“Oh, boy!” Dana Sue said, laughing. “Then the man is definitely a keeper. Cut him all kinds of slack, you hear me.”
Karen heard what she was saying. She even knew Dana Sue was probably right. But she also knew if Elliott continued to leave her out of the important decision-making, especially if there were financial consequences involved, there was no way she’d be able to let it slide.
* * *
Elliott finished up with his last client of the day in late afternoon. He was anxious to pick the kids up from his mother’s, where they went after school, get them home and fed and then hang out and maybe have a nightcap with his wife. He already knew about the crisis at Sullivan’s, knew she’d be running late and would need something to unwind. After last night and their talk this morning, he’d resolved that instead of crashing as usual, he’d be there for her at the end of a long day. It was one more attempt to fix what was wrong between them.
When he arrived at his mother’s, though, he found his older sister sitting on the front stoop, her expression despondent as the kids—hers and his—ran around in the yard.
“Everything okay?” he asked Adelia, trying to gauge her mood.
“She went out, thank goodness. She was asking too many questions.” She said it with a pointed look at him.
“Ah, so no one’s supposed to notice that you look as if you just lost your best friend?” he suggested.