(sorry it took so long… BUSY weeks with graduations and such…)
When Jacob arrived at home the following evening–early at that– he found Kaye leaning against the counter barking orders at the boys. “I said put the controllers down and finish your homework!”
“After this level, Mom, I promise. We’ve never made it this far before!”
“Miles Daniel Harper–”
Before Kaye could continue her futile attempts at order, Jacob interrupted–”Put down the controller now or I’m pulling the plug.”
The controllers dropped in frightening unison. Had Jacob not seen the difference in how the boys responded to him versus his wife, he wouldn’t have believed it. Kaye had told him for years that they didn’t respect her, but they seemed to obey well enough when he was around. Clearly there was a reason for the disconnect, but he didn’t have time to figure it out. There were more pressing matters to consider.
“What are you doing off the couch?”
“Trying to get your sons to do their homework.” She followed his eyes to her foot and moved it up and down just a tad. “See, it’s off the ground. I made sure I didn’t put any pressure on it.”
“But you did jostle it getting over here, didn’t you?”
“She said ouch a lot, and she was trying not to cry,” Trent interjected helpfully.
He didn’t say a word; he couldn’t. Instead, he shoved the boys’ homework back into their backpacks, pointed to the hallway where they were clearly expected to go to their room, and took a deep breath. It’d been a lot of years and a few less pounds for both of them since he’d lifted her, but it was time to do it now. Her eyes widened, her jaw dropped, and then fresh tears fell as he struggled to carry her through the house to their bedroom. “I’m sorry–”
“Don’t. Not now. One of these days you’re going to realize that even adults have to do what they’re told sometimes. Trying to be helpful usually isn’t if you’re ignoring reasonable orders by people with more knowledge and experience than you have.” His words were gasped through gritted teeth as he grunted his way to the bedroom. He could see she thought he was over acting the effort he expended and that was fine with Jacob. No reason to enlighten her now. She’d probably take it as some commentary on the extra ten pounds she carried around since Sophie’s birth. Whatever. Women were always getting over-sensitive about stuff like that. He never did understand why and now wasn’t the time to ponder it. Not noticing the stricken look on her face as he laid her gently on the bed, Jacob continued his rebuke–mild as it was. “It’s like having Sophie decide to “help” you by making breakfast, but you arrive in the kitchen to find it covered in eggs, flour, and milk.”
Kaye couldn’t even look at him. “I’ll stay here. I get it.”
That tone. He knew it, but in his exhaustion, Jacob couldn’t place it. He’d worry about that once he got the boys to his mother’s house. It was time to force rest if it killed both of them in the process. “I’ll be back in a little while. Just be in bed, ok?”
Without an answer but an air of defeat, Kaye rolled over, punched the pillow until it fit around her head and neck just right, and pulled the covers up to her chin.
Though Kaye heard Jacob come in, she didn’t move. Intuitively, she knew that one wrong sound, movement, sigh, or even Jacob taking too long to do anything would set her off. She’d sobbed for forty minutes after she heard the van pull out of the driveway. How she’d kept her wits about her that long was a mystery. As it was, her nerves were on the edge of unraveling. One more lecture and she thought she’d scream. She hated it when Jacob did that. Granted, she nearly always, if not always, deserved it, but that didn’t take away the humiliation of being verbally chastised like a small child. She’d always intended to talk to him about it–weeks after an episode or something so he couldn’t get the idea that she was just nursing injured pride, but it had never happened. By the time the weeks passed, she’d always felt as if he was right.
“So what if he is,” she muttered under her breath as the water came on in the bathroom sink. “Being right doesn’t give you the right to treat someone like an idiot. I can’t let myself forget about this.”
As that thought entered her mind, she realized that she didn’t hear the boys. “Jacob, where are the boys?”
“At Mom and Dad’s.”
“They need to be in bed. There’s school tomorrow.”
“They are in bed.”
To her amazement, he dried his hands on a towel, dumped it on the counter, and then strolled from their room. What was his problem? She’d tried to do her job. She’d followed orders to the best of her ability and had not put even a hint of pressure on her stupid foot. Why did he have to be so melodramatic? What, was he going to just leave her in their room indefinitely? If he thought she was going to–
Her thoughts were interrupted midstream as Jacob arrived with plates of piping hot Chinese. “Hungry?”
“Starving.” Kaye shook her head. “I can’t believe this.”
“I’m mad at you and you just waltz in with the one thing I’ve been wanting all day and act like everything is fine.”
Jacob grabbed a towel from the linen closet and laid it over her lap. “Everything isn’t fine, Kaye. Dad just chewed me out royally.”
“What for?” She thought she understood. “If he doesn’t want the boys there, then we’ll just bring them home.”
“It’s not the boys. I told Dad what happened with the boys not doing their homework, with you getting off the couch– the organization, them not respecting you, and instead of the sympathy I expected, he gave it to me with both barrels.”
“I don’t get it. Why?”
Jacob took a huge bite of chicken lo mein and nearly swallowed it whole. “Dad said the boys don’t respect you because I don’t. He said that I treat you like a child when things like this happen and the boys pick up on that. He told me that you’re an adult and if I wouldn’t talk to him or Mom like that, I certainly shouldn’t with you.”
Kaye’s intention to say some of those same things fizzled as she saw her husband struggle to apologize. Pride ran high in the Harper family– even more than in Kaye’s family– and hearing his father say those things about him must have hurt. Instead, she shook her head. “But you were right. I didn’t like hearing it– and no, I didn’t like how you said it– but you were right. I’d already decided that before you came–” Laughter erupted. Jacob’s stunned face sent her into fresh gales before she could control the first burst. Each time she thought she’d managed a smidgeon of control, it started all over again.
“What’s wrong with you? I think you’re a bit hysterical.”
“I am,” she choked between guffaws. “But– think– about it. Your dad– just did to you– what– he– what– well– he ripped into you– about ripping into me– and so he did–”
“Exactly what he told me not to do. You’re right.” Smiling, Jacob shook his head and took another bite. Talking around his food in that way that she hated so much, Jacob added, “It’s not that funny though. I think you’re going a little stir crazy.”
“You think? It’s been what, four days? FOUR DAYS? Dr. Beckman wants me stuck like this for two weeks. I don’t know how I’ll survive!”
“One day at a time, Kaye. Just one day at a time. Maybe one hour. I’ll go to the library and get you books on how to organize dental floss and a thousand and one ways to use baby wipe boxes.”
“Get me one on how to organize a disaster of a basement without moving an inch, and in fourteen days. That’s the one I want.”
Several bites disappeared before Jacob spoke again. “Man this is good– ok, so what about the basement?”
“What about it?”
“Yeah…” Kaye didn’t quite know where Jacob was going with this.
“Well, how did all that stuff get down there?”
“I took it down there. It was that or the thrift store.”
Jacob piled a fresh mound of fried rice on his plate. “Maybe you should have. There’s so much junk down there you can’t even walk.”
“I took as much or more to the thrift store than I kept.”
“No way!” He fumbled for the soy sauce. Kaye counted the seconds until he asked the million dollar question. “What’d I do with the soy sauce?”
“It’s under your knee where you stash it every time.”
Looking sheepish, Jacob pulled out the packet and began squirting it all over the pile of rice. “So where’d all this stuff come from?”
“Birthdays, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Sales, Grandparents, garage sales, hand-me-downs from just about everyone. You think I’m nuts, but really, I don’t know how this house didn’t look like an episode of Hoarders or something.”
As if finally understanding something he’d struggled with for years, Jacob set his plate aside and stared at his hands. “You thought I’d get upset if you got rid of all you wanted to, didn’t you?”
“Well… partly. Part of it was just me not wanting to admit that half the junk was my fault in one way or another. Down there, I could at least pretend it was valuable.”
Again he was silent as Jacob processed her words. When she thought she couldn’t take any more and opened her mouth to ask him what was bothering him, he grabbed his plate again and started eating. Between bites, he started talking. “Ok, so I’ll carry you downstairs and you’ll tell me what to do. We have less than two weeks of nights to get it done. I think we can do it.”
“Organize that basement. Anything you say that should go, I’ll try to agree to. I’ll try. If you say it goes and I say no, we’ll put it in the corner and revisit after the rest is done. We’ll get it done.”
Kaye’s mind whirled as she tried to process his words. “What do you mean we have two weeks–”
“Less than two weeks. Nine– maybe ten days. Then the doctor will let you walk on your foot again. Until then, the boys stay with Mom and Sophie stays with your Mom.”
She was stunned. Sure, the words shouldn’t have surprised her. He hadn’t been as angry about anything since the day his cousin’s boy had clocked Trent upside the head with a metal Tonka truck and Gilbert had barely been admonished to “play more nicely next time.” The scar still bugged Jacob every time he saw it. He’s been angry enough with her to bring their mothers into it without even talking to her. The idea stunned her.
Before she could speak, he preempted her. “I know I should have talked to you about it, but I knew you’d resist, and you have to rest.” He swallowed hard but the choke in his voice told her everything. Jacob was worried.
“I know. I’m sorry. I hate being told what to do when it ruins my plans. I’ve been that way–”
“Since before I ever met you. According to your mother…”
Kaye reached for a fortune cookie, absently removing the cellophane from around it and cracking it in half. As she wrestled with the little piece of paper in it, she took up the rest of the saying. “I wouldn’t even let myself be induced until I was good and ready to come. If the OR hadn’t been busy for several days straight, I would have been a C-section.”
The little strip of paper unfolded as she finished. Then, hardly able to control herself, she handed it to Jacob, stifling as many chuckles as possible but not nearly enough to hide what was coming.
You have a large project looming. Eat this elephant in small bites or it will choke you.