Her heart fluttered as she approached the door. She knew he would be home, and it was their anniversary. What surprises awaited her?
As she opened the door, the warm smell of banana bread drifted down the hallway. She could almost taste it. He knew banana bread was her favourite and made her feel at home. In the kitchen, there were flowers on the dresser and a note to say there was a present for her in the lounge. Her hand on the doorknob, she was filled with excitement. A loud ‘Hooray’ as she entered betrayed the presence of their friends. How touching, no one had every thrown her a surprise party before. By now the lights were on, the music playing and the wine was starting to flow. Her friends came over to hug and congratulate her. The crowd parted and she could see him, standing by their freestanding bar. A glass raised in a silent toast and she knew he was proud of the woman before him.
Later that night as she drifted off to sleep, she reminisced on what a lovely evening it had been and how loved she had felt.
She awoke. It was a saturday. The spring sunlight streamed through the window. She could hear Josh in the kitchen, busying himself with the breakfast. She snuggled down into the duvet, knowing that soon there would be a steaming mug of coffee by the bedside. Today was different though. The coffee arrived soon enough but rather than coming back to bed for a cuddle and a snooze, Josh seemed worried, anxious. “What’s the matter, love?” she asked.
“I have a suggestion that I’d like to put to you, but I don’t think you’re going to like it. I think you’re going to get up on your feminist high-horse and it’s going to get your back up. The thing is, I’ve been thinking about it for some time and it really means a lot to me.” She was intrigued. This was different. Sure, he had put suggestions to her before but not with the same vigour and conviction. It had to be worth listening to at least.
“I’d like you to quit your job. I know, I know, you want to stay financially independent-I’ve thought about that too. I earn enough for you quit work, pursue your hobbies and throw yourself into the house here. You always said about how you loved your mum being at home when you were little and I just thought how wonderful it would be, when the baby comes, if you were to be home with him rather than leaving him at a daycare centre. I know i’m a traditionalist and I’m asking a lot, but would you at least consider it- for the sake of the baby?”
It was a valid request. She did want their child to grow up with the same nurturing atmosphere she had had. Perhaps she was being too stuck in her ways with the whole financial independence thing. After all, he had said that it was ‘their’ money and they did make enough to be comfortable. She could sell the business at a good rate and enjoy the preschool years with her little one. Yes, it was a good idea and it could definitely work.
“I’m thrilled. Thank you, thank you so much. And don’t worry about the money, I’ll sort it out so you won’t be dependent on me, don’t worry about that at all.” Josh was over the moon. It was lovely to see him like this. He’d struggled since they had found out about the baby, she was sure the responsibility of fatherhood was getting to him. He was obviously taking it as a serious burden to bear.
Saturday afternoon brought pilates and coffee with the girls. She told them about the new plan Josh had come up with. Sarah thought it was wonderful-”You have such a supportive man there, he really is such a catch. You’re so lucky to have a man like that.” The group nodded their heads in a consensus of agreement. “He’s always wanted to really take care of you, he’s so protective. I wish David was like that”, Emily grumbled.
It was true, he was protective of her. Always had been. Even when they started dating, he had wanted to make it clear that ‘she was his girl’. At first she felt like she was being paraded around but she came to realise it’s because he was so proud of her. His previous relationships hadn’t worked out, of course he was thrilled to be able to show the world what a beautiful, successful woman she was.
Of course, that success was probably one of the things that attracted him to her. They say opposites attract and that was certainly true in this case. He was a musician and an artist, living in a tiny one bedroom flat by the sea. She was the manager of an international analysis company and enjoyed her freedom and ability to travel the world. They met through mutual friends, the chemistry instant and by the end of the night, it was as though they had known each other for years. He was so intense, she had never met a man so charming and devoted to her. During those heady, early days, he was on the phone constantly, it was like he couldn’t bear to have her out of his sight. She was wooed with flowers, songs and poetry written just for her. He would turn up at midday to whisk her out of the office for an alfresco lunch by the sea. She was swept off her feet. She fell in love with him. Obviously, there had been dalliances and romances in the past but none with this intensity and fervour.
Her friends had watched jealously as they had their whirlwind romance and married within a year. “The perfect couple”, there had been two hundred people at their wedding and their guest book was overflowing with messages about how well suited they were.
She reminisced on those early day often, whether they had rushed through them too quickly and should have savoured the glow a little longer. He was ten years older than her, of course he wanted to be married and settled. He’d met the love of his life, what was the point in waiting around? She smiled as she remembered their conversation, ten days into the relationship. “Would you like a big wedding or a small wedding?”. A whirlwind romance, swept off her feet.
Those feet were starting to ache now. Five months into the pregnancy and she was starting to feel the weight of this little cherub. They say the second trimester is the best time of pregnancy but she wasn’t finding it so. She’d been horribly ill for the first four months and had lost a lot of weight, even ending up in hospital due to dehydration. All through it, Josh had been there holding her hand. She had wanted her mum to come and visit but they weren’t on the best of terms these days. Her mum was a bit of a firecracker and tended to speak without thinking. Unfortunately, she had upset Josh one too many times. They were on a break at the moment, it was best for all concerned.
Still, despite the hyperemesis and the achy joints and muscles, she often rubbed her belly and marvelled at this new life growing inside of her. She had had so many body image issues growing up, but seeing her body take a new shape as the child grew made her feel like Gaia, the goddess of the Earth, bringing forth life. She knew she was carrying a son, and she was so excited to see how he would grow, how this little lad would view the world and the opinions he would own, the man he would become.
It didn’t take long for the business to be sold and wrapped up, the papers signed and the legalities sorted within just a few weeks. The first few days of her ‘retirement’ ,as she referred to it in her head, were spent frantically cleaning and rearranging the house before she realised that it was possible for her to slow things down a bit and smell the roses.
She started ordering organic vegetables. She had always wanted a veg box delivery, but had never had the time with late hours in the office and trips across time zones. Now she was able to make a fresh meal every day, using all the seasonal produce she could find and pestering the butchers for new cuts of meat and ideas every week. Her pinterest boards had changed from one “How to pack for a week in just a carry-on” board to multiple ideas for food, the house and the garden. She might even get chickens! That would be lovely for her little boy, to go with her every morning to collect the eggs.
Josh was loving all these home-cooked meals, he was so proud of her for making this choice for their family. He shouldn’t have doubted her- she was a very giving woman, she always thought of others. Sure, she had her bad points but on the whole, she was a good woman and definitely worked hard in their relationship. He was glad that he was in a position to support her staying at home, it was the ideal set up, something he had always dreamed of. His friends had mocked him for being such a traditionalist but they weren’t laughing now when he came home to a cooked meal every day, a beautifully clean house and had plenty of time to spend with his lovely young wife.
His work had improved in recent months and he had had some brilliant installations. He had another one coming up next month and it would mean he would be away for a few weeks. He was worried about leaving her alone for such a long time, he was very protective of her, but at least she would be home and safe. No risk of anything going wrong on an aeroplane or in a foreign country.
As it happened, the first few days were actually very enjoyable for her. She finished the nursery and put all the baby clothes through a warm wash. That’s what she’d read on the internet, she wasn’t sure why but she didn’t mind as the house smelt beautiful, that lovely fresh laundry smell.
By the fourth day, she was starting to get a little stir crazy and decided she needed a project. She got down the massive box of photos from her wardrobe and the empty albums she had always intended to fill but never got round to it. As she sorted through them, she thought about how different the young girl in the photos was. She hardly recognised herself. She had been a plump brunette with very limited dress sense. Glasses and frizzy hair. She was grateful that Josh had suggested a new look- it definitely gave her more gravitas in the board meetings. What a transformation from the converse and band t-shirt wearing geek to the sleek woman in kitten heels and pencil skirts. It was amazing how much difference hair straighteners and contact lenses could make too!
She felt sad. As though she had lost a little bit of herself. She had quite liked that free spirit, the kickass attitude. She didn’t feel quite so confident these days. Her depression had returned in the last couple of years and she had terrible anxiety these days. She assumed it was down to her hormones changing as she got older, and being so far away from her family. They had moved to be closer to London for Josh’s work and she missed her old network of friends. She couldn’t complain though, they had made new friends here- many of them from Josh’s work. They understood how she felt when he was shut away in his studio, a hermit for days or week until the masterpiece was completed. No, she couldn’t complain. She had chosen this life, they had a baby on the way and she was going to make it work. Sure, they had their problems but who didn’t? She knew she had a temper and was too quick to share her opinions, she’d worked on that. The anxiety was making her feel paranoid and suspicious about every little thing. It was taking a toll on their relationship. She was so glad the Josh was standing by her while she got the help she needed. Sarah had been right; she was lucky to have him. She needed to sort herself out, especially before the baby came.
A breath of fresh air was needed, she decided to wander to the local country pub. It was about a fifteen minute walk away and they made a mean hot chocolate. At three in the afternoon, it would be quiet. She would take a book and ensconce herself in a corner. She mustn’t forget the credit card- Josh was still trying to sort out the bank account. There was some issue with adding joint card holders so she had his credit card for now and he would settle it at the end of the month. Maybe only two hot chocolates this afternoon then, she didn’t want to be extravagant.
She passed a lovely afternoon by a roaring fire. It was probably too late in the spring for log fires but as the landlady said “old bones feel the cold”. The hot chocolate had been worth it too.
On the way home, she passed their neighbour. They had said hello before in passing but not really had a proper chat. He was trying to herd two small and fractious children into the house but still waved a quick hello and made a gesture that she was blooming. She laughed and informed him she only had eight weeks to go now. They got into a conversation and she learnt that his wife was in hospital at the moment so he was taking care of the children until his mother came over and he could for his daily visit to see how she was recovering. He spoke of Ellie a lot, how happy they were together and how much he missed her. The conversation went on for some time and it was lovely to think that this couple could have two children, a mortgage, an illness in the family and yet still be a happy, cohesive unit. Fairytales to come true!
The phone was ringing when she finally got in. “Where were you? I called five times!” Josh sounded exasperated. He never slept enough or ate well when he was on these projects. “Sorry love, I was just out for a walk and got chatting to a neighbour. How are you feeling?” Josh didn’t really want to talk about it but had been so concerned and worried that something had happened to her. It really would be more considerate of her to keep her mobile phone on her so he could make sure she was alright. She apologised and tried to make the peace. He sounded really cross this time.
He arrived home the next day, with flowers and her favourite muffin from the bakery in the village. “I’m sorry I was so grumpy, I just really worry about you. Especially with the baby on the way” She understood. He was so caring and protective. She told him about her few day and what she’d got up to. He seemed distracted, but then again, she thought it was pretty boring herself. Not an international jetsetter anymore! She rustled up some food and Josh came to help her with the washing up. He mentioned a lady he had been working with. It’s a name that had come up before. She stiffened and waited. She tried to make her voice sounds light as she asked “Was she there the whole time?”.
She could feel the anger emanating from Josh as he stopped washing up and gripped the edge of the sink. “Must we go through this every time? I wish you would get off my back about it. Did you take your pills today? I hope you did. I can’t carry on like this. It’s oppressive, I feel like you are suffocating me. How could you possible think I would cheat on you? I adore you!”
He was right she was being unreasonable. Yet still, the comment about the pills had really got her back up. She started defending herself, the suspicions and accusations spilling out of her. She got carried away but was brought back to reality with a short, sharp shock.
She winced as she felt where his fist had struck her, the lower back this time. Not the face, never the face, he didn’t want to embarrass her by leaving marks. He avoided the baby too, it was his child after all and he stopped hitting her in the stomach when they’d got the positive test result. She couldn’t’ tell anyone, what would be the point? They had the perfect marriage. Her family and friends were too far away and her work mates would have long forgotten her by now. She was alone. It was her fault anyway, she’d made him do it. She should have thought on, and stopped before she let it all out. She should keep her mouth shut for a quiet life.
Josh stalked out of the kitchen,suds dripping as he absented himself from the sink. She put her hands into the warm, soapy water and silently wept.