As usual, everyone was silent around the dinner table. Scotty sighed inwardly, wishing his parents would talk. He didn't know which he wanted more; for them to engage him in a conversation about his day, or for them to just talk to each other without screaming. He preferred the silence to the fighting, but sometimes the silence was almost unbearable.
The dull clink of his father's fork against the earthenware plate brought his mothers head up. She always sulked when he was near her. Scotty braced himself.
"Careful. We finally get a decent set of plates and you try to chip them."
"You could have got Corning Ware. It never breaks."
"I got what I wanted. I suppose in addition to everything else, I'm not allowed to have that either."
"I didn't start it, you did. If you'd just made a little leeway with your own precious schedule, I'd have the job I wanted. But no, you couldn't be here for me to go to the interview."
Scotty was waiting for that to be brought up. Here we go, he thought.
"Who interviews in Boston when you live in New Hampshire?" Scott said, his words full of fire. "Why do you have to drive over sixty miles to an interview for a job you could work in town?"
"That's where their offices were." Sue's voice rose to meet his. "Scotty needed to be taken to his baseball game. And someone needed to stay and watch him play."
"I had a meeting with a mall developer that day and you know it. For a man who builds homes, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I could not have put it off. If it were me trying to get a job, I would have re-scheduled."
"You're not me! And furthermore--"
"Mom, Dad." They snapped their heads toward their son, their stern faces melting into apologetic smiles. Scotty had formed his hands in the shape of a time out sign.
"Sorry sport," Scott said.
Sue gave her son an embarrassed smile.
"Uh, Sue, could you call Fleet Bank for me tomorrow and set up an appointment?" Scott asked carefully.
"Oh, the expansion plans?" she asked, trying hard to sound neutral.
Scott nodded. "Whether it's a new building or adding more space to our offices, I'll take it. We're going to need the room when we start on that mall."
"You're building a mall?" Scotty asked, eyes wide.
"Yes, I am son. Pretty cool, huh?"
"Way cool." He smiled hugely.
"I'd appreciate it if you could take care of that in the morning," Scott said to Sue.
She nodded. "My pleasure," she said, but it was cool and slightly sarcastic.
Scotty shook his head. It wasn't going well. They were trying. It seemed like the only time they got along was when they were working on something together--
Inspiration hit Scotty like a brick. "Mom! Dad! I got it! Why don't you hire Mom to work in the office?"
Sue and Scott stared at one another with open mouths.
"No, no, son, that wouldn't work at all."
Sue was nodding. "I agree, Scotty. It's not a good idea."
"Why not? Mom is always making calls for you and doing stuff. You work late trying to get things done. Sometimes you miss my games cause you have to be at work. If you had a secretary, all that stuff could get done for ya." He looked at each of his parents hopefully. "She could be your secretary, Dad. You wouldn't have to train her or anything cause she already knows what to do."
Both wanted to object, but at the time they couldnt come up with a single reason why they should.
* * *
Sue floated to bed in a pale pink nightgown. Scott held a spell binding book about expanding a business in his hands, but he couldn't concentrate. Thirteen years of marriage had been kind to her. He'd thought she was the most beautiful woman he'd laid eyes on when they first met in college, and he still thought the same. Despite the last eight years of steadily building tension, he wanted her. There would be no relief for him tonight, a point brought home by her scathing stare. Scott realized he was looking lustfully at her. She tightened her mouth. He turned away.
She climbed into bed in her usual way. Within moments, she was perched at the end of the bed, as far away from him as possible. Scott slammed down his book, his face red.
"Why don't you just say it, Sue?"
"Say what?" she questioned angelically.
"Stop playing games. We almost lost it tonight. It's been building for years. Just admit that you want out."
"I'm staying for Scotty. He needs two parents."
"Oh. So in the meantime you're going to torture with see-through nightgowns? Cruel, Sue. Very cruel."
"We all have problems to bear, Scott."
He shook his head.
"The nightgowns make me feel beautiful. I haven't felt that way in a long time, since you stopped--"
"I stopped trying because it was clear you want no part of my body near yours. Forget your stupid plan. I'll call my lawyer tomorrow and we can be out of this stupid marriage within a few months. I'll be generous. Let's agree not to fight and that will be it."
She turned toward him, her ivory face soft and inviting. Scott felt his anger build. "What about Scotty's suggestion? He's the one thing we did right. He's pretty amazing."
"Yes, he is. I figured you wouldn't want to have anything to do with his plan."
"We may not care for one another, but he's right. You need help in the office. I think we can manage it. Tell you what. I'll work for you, and what you pay me will be in lieu of child support or alimony."
Scott studied her. "You want Scotty, don't you?"
"His mother should be the one to raise him."
"I propose this, then. I'll pay you and you can use the money to make a life for yourself, but we get joint custody. You can't move more than a hundred miles away so I can see him."
"I'll even pay your taxes. How's twenty dollars an hour sound?"
"That's too much," she started with a nice tone. "Or are you just trying to get me out of your life as soon as possible?"
"That's what a secretary makes. Besides, I'm going to work you hard, Sue. Is it a deal?"
She flinched. "Deal."
* * *
When the staff learned that Sue would be working with them, the hoots and innuendoes started immediately.
"It's not like that," Sue interjected. "I'm just here to work. Not to make it with the boss." She tried to control her tone, but it oozed disgust.
Their faces fell. "Really?"
"Really, guys." Scott's face and voice were cold.
Nobody at Siler Construction Company had seen the Silers together in a while so they couldn't have guessed before today that they weren't exactly close. But Randy and Greg had known the Silers for the thirteen years the company had been in business. Scott started the business six months before he and Sue got married. She hadn't come into the office much since Scott Junior was born.
Sue elected to be a stay-at-home mom. When Scotty started kindergarten, Sue spent her days enjoying an idyllic lifestyle. Five years ago, she decided that she wanted more. Financially, the Silers were more than comfortable; Sue's need was not for money, but it translated that way when the tension escalated into fights.
Sue could never seem to tell Scott what it was that she needed. He gave her many chances to do so; he asked her almost every time they fought. As her frustrations mounted, she withdrew. First, there were no more civil conversations, then never spending time together anymore together, then no more intimacy. There were no more no movie outings, no shopping together. Scott had always put in an extraordinary amount of hours each week, but for the last five years, it had become fodder for her complaining. Now Sue could not speak to Scott without despising him, and she did not know why.
It was more than evident to anyone who shared a room with them. The tension between them existed as a dense, morose fog hovering above them, a perfectly matched set of thunderstorm clouds ready to burst forth with cold rains and drench anyone near them.
Randy and Greg sobered up immediately as they took in the somber expressions on both Sue and Scott's faces. Their discomfort with each other permeated the room.
"Glad you could join us, Mrs. Siler. We'll have lots of fun," they said, leaving the silent room.
She looked at Scott, her gaze a challenging one, and for one second she wanted to call the whole thing off. He was standing near her new desk, his dark, handsome features in deep thought. Scotty looked just like him. He'll be a lady killer, she thought absently, like Scott was before they got married.
She waited. Then he looked at the desk with a sigh, and asked her to follow him. He showed her a few machines, the location of items she'd need, and how to work the phone, then his anxiousness to get away from her was noticeable and he left. Sue sighed, then dove in.
The next day, Sue handed Scott a lunch box just as they arrived at the office.
"What's this for?" Scott looked at the lunch pail as if it were made of explosives.
"I had lunch at the deli around the corner yesterday. It cost me almost six dollars for a sandwich and coffee. You eat out everyday. Thats sixty dollars a week for us. That's ridiculous. So I made us lunch." She interpreted his expression. "Is that okay?" she asked, slightly defensive.
"Yeah," he stammered. "It's more than all right."
"Then what is it?"
He shrugged. "You've just never done anything like this for me before."
She turned cold. "I'm working for you until I have enough money saved to live on my own. When I do, we get a divorce. If we can save money, that time will go faster."
They went inside, into their separate corners.
A week later, Scott walked into the kitchen after dinner and found Sue busy at the counter. He almost didn't say anything because they tended to fight over nothing.
"Smells good," he said carefully.
She whirled around. "Oh, you startled me." She put a oven mitt covered hand on her chest. "I'm making some cookies."
"Scotty got a school party or something?"
"No, these are for the guys at work," she said, pulling cut a fragrant batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Scott automatically inhaled. "They'll love it. I don't know when they've ever had a homemade batch of anything."
"Everybody down there works so hard. Including you."
Scott stared at her for a moment. Carefully, he said, "And you."
Sue blushed. "No, I don't work like you guys do. My job is easy compared to what you all have to do. These aren't much, but I thought it would brighten things up. There's so much pressure." She scraped a spatula under a hot cookie and lifted it to Scott's face. "Go ahead."
He took it with a smile and bit into it. "Martha Stewart would be proud," he said, prompting a small chuckle from Sue.
* * *
A month later, Sue made each Friday Dessert Day. Her baking was so popular that the staff of twenty begged her for more goodies. A couple of the men's wives asked for her recipes.
She'd also decided that the office needed a bit more cheering up and used some of her pay to purchase paintings, dried flower arrangements, a lead crystal candy bowl, and a few new pieces of furniture. With Scott's permission, she also ordered fresh flower arrangements every week.
He was shocked that she'd asked. She was deferring to him at the office. She hadn't done that at home in a long time.
A bouquet arrived two weeks later. It was not her usual order. She took one look at it and called the florist. Halfway into her questions, the clerk interrupted her. "Didn't you look at the card?"
"I don't put cards on the office bouquets."
"Exactly. This one isn't from you, Mrs. Siler. It's for you," he said pleasantly.
She hung up, embarrassed, then promptly noticed the card. It read, "Thanks for making coming to work fun. The Gang." Sue felt tears build. For the first time in months, they weren't tears of frustration.
Later that day, a single long stemmed red rose arrived for her. The card read, "We did one thing right: Scotty. If it weren't for him, this place wouldn't be as bright as it has become."
This time, Sue wept.
* * *
Six months passed. Shed never mentioned the flower during that time, but they weren't arguing at home anymore. They were having brief, cordial conversations at dinner. When Sue got into bed, she wasn't rigid anymore. She said goodnight to Scott and sometimes gave him a warm smile.
Two weeks later, a man entered the office looking for Scott.
"I'm sorry but hes not available. Can I help you?" Sue said.
"No, I need to speak with him. We had an appointment."
Sue looked at her watch. "I can page him."
"No, my schedule is packed. I need to get going." He took a manila envelope out of his briefcase. "Please ask him to look these over and give me a call."
"Is this in regards to a contract?"
"No ma'am, I'm his attorney."
Sue stood, although she didn't mean to. "His attorney?" She sounded panicky. "What's this about?"
He gave her a strange look, but remained calm. "It's a personal matter. I'm sure you understand."
"But I'm his wife," she stammered.
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Siler, but I still have to let Mr. Siler reveal the nature of our business."
Sue rounded her desk. "Are they divorce papers?"
Now he was taken aback. "I cannot discuss this with you, Mrs. Siler."
She was embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Mr.?"
"Ricks. Tom Ricks. Please have him get back to me as soon as possible."
"Why the urgency?"
"I cannot discuss that with you, Mrs. Siler. Good day."
She almost called him back when she realized that she'd already made enough of a fool of herself. Sue stared at the thin envelope, biting her lip. Would he forgive her if she looked? She reached for them with trembling hands then drew them back. Finally she picked up the phone, paging Scott.
An eternity seemed to pass when at last he called. In actuality it was only half an hour. "Sue? What's up?"
"Why don't you have a cell phone?"
"It's too hard to hear on a building site. Doesn't do me any good."
"Oh. Your lawyer was here. He wouldn't wait, but he says you need to come down here and take a look at these papers he brought in."
"Oh yeah. I forgot we were supposed to meet. Thanks for covering for me.
"No problem for me, but is there another problem, Scott?"
"What do you mean?"
She was silent, unable to air her thoughts.
"Are you divorcing me, Scott? I asked him, but he wouldn't tell me."
He heard the fear in her question. "You asked him if I was divorcing you?"
"Yes, I did."
"And he wouldn't say?"
"I didn't mean to ask but the way he was acting got to me."
"If it is a divorce, isn't that what you want, Sue?"
She felt herself shaking. Her voice trembled too. "No, it isn't what I want. I thought I did, but now I don't."
"Then what do you want?"
She looked up at the office walls, savored the warm, safe feeling inside her, and smiled. "I think I've got it, Scott. I think it's what I really wanted."
"To be part of a team. With you. I've learned so much about you and your work, Scott. The demands on you, the unreasonable people you have to deal with, the way things don't always work. It's hard on you, isn't it? But you do such a great job. And . . . I like being a part of it." She heard Scott sigh. "I resented you, Scott, because it was easy to blame you for something that was my problem. The more I pulled away, the more I hurt."
Scott was silent. "I had no idea . . . Sue, for the past six months I've been thinking about this, about us, ever since you made me lunch that first day. I kind of felt like you still cared about me, but I wasn't sure. I've liked having you around too, to be a part of my life. Something's been missing for years."
She laughed. "Yes, it has. Scott, I love you. I never stopped, really. I just thought I did."
"I've never stopped either. I just thought that if you hated me, then I had to hate you back."
"Are you divorcing me, Scott?"
"No. The papers you saw are my will." She inhaled sharply. "Don't worry. I just had an accident on the job a few weeks ago that could have been more serious than it was. It got me thinking. I should have all the legalities wrapped up."
"Good thinking, but please don't go anywhere. Not yet. I need you. Scotty needs you."
"Sue, why did you start to hate me?"
She spoke slowly after taking a moment to think through her thoughts. "I love Scotty, but he came so fast I never had time with you. You were always gone. I felt empty. I didn't know that it was you I was missing. I needed to be here with you. I realized it today when I thought you were divorcing me."
She listened to the sound of cars driving by as both of them absorbed her words. It surprised her when she said, "I wanted another child once Scotty went to school, but I was afraid of being tied down while you were out having fun."
Scott exploded into disbelieving laughter. "Fun? You thought I was having fun, sweating, getting dirty, yelled at, falling behind deadlines--"
"No, I really didn't. But I convinced myself that you were having all the fun, and that I was getting nothing from you. I saw how tired you were, but I resented it even more because you had a purpose. I had nothing to do for myself."
The line crackled. "Sue, do you still want another baby?"
She sighed. "Yes. As long as I can work with you when he or she is older, Scott."
"She. I want a girl. Why don't I come home and well get right to work on this project?"
She giggled. "I'll meet you in our bedroom in an hour."
His voice was husky. "Half an hour."
"Scott, I've missed you."
"Not as much as I've missed you. Welcome back, Sue Siler."
Shed always felt self-conscious about her name. Now it didn't bother her because she was truly a part of Scott once more. She had Scott's love, and that was all she really needed.