“Hey, Mark? Mind if I take an extended break? Bout an hour?”
Looking up from the testing console, Mark grinned.
“Hold your horses, Dale. I’ll call for lunch in an hour.”
“And I plan to be here to eat it.”
“So, what do you need an hour break for?”
“I wanna to go down to Russo Construction and Meacham Contractors and punch the shit of the son-of-a-bitch who thought this was proper wiring.”
He yanked part of the melted generator from its housing frame and plopped it onto the workbench. “That’s damn near criminal.”
“Calm down, man. You’d only find empty buildings. They ceased operations and locked their doors ahead of the court filings.”
“Well, damn. I was looking forward to knocking some heads.”
“Chill, Dale, chill. It’ll all get sorted and we will be well paid for fixing the mistakes of idiots.”
His crew foreman didn’t respond and Mark glanced in his direction.
“Dammit it all to hell!” He kicked the workbench.
“No, no, no! Do not give me any more bad news, man.”
“Sorry, chief, but this shit is shot. It’s nothing more than an expensive doorstop now.”
“Damn. Every time I give Bailey a damage report, the total climbs higher.”
“Not our fault. We don’t have bullshit for brains.”
Mark chuckled as Dale considered the damaged generator.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, nothing. It just reminded me of a rack of lamb my wife made once. Dry and crusty on the outside dry and crusty on the inside. It was like eating ashes covered in mint jelly.”
Turning his head, Mark covered his mouth to hide his grin.
“I don’t care if you laugh. I survived. Just like I survived the boiled brisket, under-cooked fried chicken, overcooked flounder, and tostadas served on homemade tortillas hard enough to be used in an Olympic discus throw.”
Dropping his arms to his sides, Mark bellowed with laughter. “No disrespect, Dale, but sounds like your wife’s cooking skills are lacking.”
Dale smirked. “Aren’t you kind?” “Sounds like your wife’s cooking skills are lacking,” he mimicked. “My Susan is a horrible cook and all the recipes, online videos and cooking classes have been no help.”
“What do you do? Eat before you go home? Hide food in the garage?”
Dale’s face fell. “I eat every bite.”
“I don’t get it. If the food is that bad, why would-”
“Every single meal my Susan makes for me takes great effort on her part and is done out of love.” He laid his hand over his heart.
“I’m lost, man, and wasn’t trying to be mean-”
“She taught math at Cal State for fourteen years. Her cooking wasn’t a big deal in those days. She was busy, I was busy, the boys had lots of activities in and out of school, so we ate a lot of takeout. Both our moms were still living, and they always kept a casserole in the freezer for us.”
His demeanor changed and Mark could see the sadness in his eyes from across the room.
“Then my Susan got hit with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. What a nightmare. Doctors, misdiagnoses, medication… it was too much for her and sent her into severe depression. She had to quit teaching, and withdrew from life, including the boys and me. And if that wasn’t enough to make us all loony, we lost both our moms during that time, within a year of each other. And I thought I would lose her too.”
“Dale, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get in your business or dredge-”
“But we found a doctor up in Pasadena who gave us the right diagnosis and understood CFS. There’s no cure, but new medications and therapies, and a wealth of information made a big difference in Susan’s health. It’s been nine years and we manage. Some days she can barely hold her head up and other days I get home and find her gardening.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, dude. This is life… our lives.”
“You speak in plural…’we’…’our’…”
“Hell yes, I do! Her fight is my fight. We’re in this together.”
He approached his supervisor.
“I can’t feel her pain. I can’t take away her fatigue. But, I took vows “for better or for worse, through sickness and in health” to be at her side.”
“Too many don’t take those words to heart… or say them from the heart. They’re caught up in the feel-good moment of getting married and looking forward to the honeymoon. They haven’t been tested, and not everyone will pass.”
“I worked with this guy years back, Gill Fonner, who divorced his wife of seventeen years because she lost her breasts to cancer. You hear me? She had pieces of her body cut away so she could continue living… and he bailed. Said it was too much for him to deal with.”
“Another idiot, Sid Broome, had only been married four years when his wife had a massive stroke at thirty-six. She couldn’t speak or walk. He left.”
“I know, right? But this story has a happy ending. She spent her forty-first birthday in a bikini on a beach in Cancun… with her new husband. She married one of the doctors who consulted on her case. Even at her worst, unable to do anything for herself, he saw her beautiful soul and stayed by her side.”
“What happened to Sid?”
“Miserable bastard lives down in San Pedro, working around the docks and drinking too much to numb his regrets.”
“He got exactly what he deserves.”
“No, he and Gill both deserve an ass-kicking. I tried to tell them both that marriage doesn’t work that way. Real love takes real sacrifice. You can’t have one without the other. You don’t get to walk away when it gets hard. That’s when you’re tested. That’s when you find out what kind of human being you are. And they suck.”
“Agreed. Now I want to beat the crap out of them.”
“I started all this to say I know what Susan’s been through and how far she’s come. I sat her down one day and told her she didn’t have to cook or clean a thing. The boys and I would do more, and if needed, I’d hire someone to come in two or three times a week.”
“You’re a good husband, Dale.”
“Yeah? I regret ever bringing it up. I hurt my wife that day.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’d lost her good health, career, professional contacts and even her friends stopped coming around because they didn’t understand why Susan was always so tired or always in bed. I’m not angry, though. In the beginning, we didn’t understand either. But by offering to do more and hire help, I was taking away her family… saying she was useless.” He hung his head. “She cried for so long it scared me. I got down on my knees and begged her to forgive me.”
“Of course, she did, because she loves me as much as I love her. So, yes, I sit down to meals I sometimes cannot identify, but there’s no way I’ll ever criticize or refuse any of them.”
Mark could only smile and shake his head, the lump in his throat making speech difficult.
He cleared his throat. “That’s the kind of love my parents share… and the kind that eludes my brother and me.”
“Trust it will come and be patient. I was thirty when I met Susan.”
“If you say so, man.”
“I do, and I also say we need to end this Hallmark movie. I’m feeling way too sensitive.” He shuddered. “Sure I can’t find one of those lame assholes and beat the shit of them?”
“And Dale’s back!”
They shared a chuckle.
“Hey, how does Susan put up with your potty-mouth?”
“Potty-mouth?” Are we twelve? I swear, cuss and have been known to pitch a bitch, but never around my wife. That would be disrespectful.”
Mark’s eyes widened. “But you come to work and subject us to it?”
“You’re a guy. Get over it.”
“Hello? We work with women.”
“And have you heard what comes out of Trina’s mouth? She makes me blush.”
Dale cackled to himself as he worked a chisel around the housing frame.
Mark grabbed his cell and updated Bailey by text.
While he waited for a response, Dale’s words weighed on his mind.
Real love takes real sacrifice. You can’t have one without the other.
Had he sacrificed enough for Yvonne?
It had been three weeks since he closed his condo door in her face, but she still invaded his thoughts.
He hadn’t reached out but neither had she, and she was the one who issued the ultimatum.
Still, the icy fingers of guilt crept up the back of his neck.
Have I put money and material things ahead of our relationship?
He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
Yvonne never asked me for anything. I offered.
Stop being a schmuck.
He frowned, glancing to his left and right. Dale was across the room and the rest of his crew was one level down.
What has Yvonne ever done for you? Name one thing she’s done from her heart. Better still name one time she’s told you she loves you and it wasn’t in a sing-songy voice like she was talking to a pet.
Bowing his head, Mark rubbed his eyes.
He was losing his mind.
Not only was he getting a smack-down by his subconscious… it was right.
Intending to run in and change, Mark parked in the guest lot of his condo instead of underground.
Bailey said things were beyond ugly with the contractors and told Mark to lock the site down and give his crew the rest of the week off at straight pay.
He hadn’t had five straight days off since the holidays and sent a text to his brother inviting him to dinner.
Mark hoped Prentiss could get the time off too and ride with him up to Fresno to see their parents.
He stopped and emptied his mailbox then took the walkway to his place.
Looking over his shoulder, he saw Yvonne standing under a tree in the courtyard. His chest tightened.
She was breath-taking in a burgundy and crème jumpsuit that hugged her full hips. Her hair fell in tiny ringlets around her face, but the hard expression she wore ruined the vision and sent him into defensive mode.
“What are you doing here, Yvonne?”
“We need to talk about us.”
“I don’t want to rehash this-“
“I don’t give a damn what you want. I’m pregnant and you’re going to marry me.”
Mark was just getting used to being single, now he and Yvonne are going to be parents. His dream girl is becoming a nightmare. Still, he wonders if marriage would be what they need to stabilize their lives.