Chapter Three: I Am, I Feel
A/N: I have many reasons for the long delay, not all of them believable. Suffice to say that it is now, in the time where I should be doing college work, supporting my family and working for the summer, that I've set pen to paper again. Whoops. I was going to pull this story because I'm working on two others, but I'm trying not to leave any more fanfics unfinished.
The rest of the day passed in some dreamy haze. For the first time in what felt to Trini like an age she had hope; hope that finally, there could be a way out.
She had never really dared to believe that there could be an escape from her seemingly loveless marriage before.
Of course, she realised that there was such a thing as divorce, and she was perfectly aware that, while difficult, it was possible to avoid telling your husband you were leaving before you actually left.
But the fact remained that things changed when your children were involved.
And despite all his faults - inconsiderate, stubborn, closed-minded - Robert was a good father to Evan and Charlotte. Two parents could provide a better life for their children than a single parent, surely that was true? It wasn't just a financial problem; the emotional effects of divorce would stay with a child forever.
There was no more time left to think of her problems and opportunities. Even the escape route offered by old friends went out of her mind as the yellow school bus drew into her line of viewing from out of the window. It was time to put away her demons away for another time, and look after the people who mattered most in her life, her children...
Although Richard had once taken pride in his job as an accountant, in the last few months this had deteriorated somewhat. Something to do, perhaps, with being passed over as manager of the office in which he worked.
It wasn't a job that involved ten times more work, or even five times. His office was a quiet one, with six employees including himself. When the old manager, a quiet middle-aged man called Mr. Collins had been moved to the Stamford office, Richard had considered himself the favourite to take over his old superior's job. He hadn't counted on the position being closed to current employees of Browne and Wilson.
According to the CEO of the company, they were losing clients to newer firms, and consequently needed fresh blood to give them a newer outlook. Richard Williamson, as an employee of seven years, did not count as 'fresh blood', and they gave a man five years his junior, Steven Kenton, the job.
Often his bad mood travelled home with him, and manifested itself on his wife and children. Admittedly, this had happened before the work situation, but it became rarer for him to return home in a good mood.
So, of course, why would today be any different?
His sullen face and gloomy demeanour made sure Trini knew that he had not made friends with Mr. Kenton quite yet. As the family sat around the kitchen table eating lasagna and salad, the conversation was limited to "Can you pass me the salt, please?" Although Evan and Charlotte were too young to fully understand what was going on, they sensed that something was wrong and kept their chatter to a minimum.
The eerie silence was finally broken by the man who caused it. Richard, in between mouthfuls of pasta, mumbled, "So, what did you do today, Trini? It must have been nice to have a weekday off of work every once in a while."
She could, of course, say, "Actually, I called my best friend and she said if I ever wanted to divorce you, I could stay with her and her husband. In face, she damn near encouraged me."
The safer option, and the one she settled for, was "I did the laundry, ironed, caught up on some of my paperwork. Nothing overly exciting."
"Mommy, did you iron my fairy dress? Erica's having a birthday party on Sunday, and she said I could go," Charlotted said excitedly.
"And Mom, did you iron my soccer jersey? Me and Dad are going to practise on Sunday," Evan chimed in.
It had been some months since Evan and Richard had gone to father and son soccer practise together, so Trini was more than a little confused. "Are you now? And when exactly were either of you planning on telling me I have to dig out your soccer clothes?"
"Evan and I always go to soccer practice, don't we, son?" Richard asked, leaning over the table to ruffle his son's hair affectionately.
"Did you iron it?" Evan asked persistently. And could his mother really blame him? It had been so long since her son and his father had done any of the normal childhood activities together, it was onyl natural that he should be excited.
"I ironed your soccer jersey about two months ago Evan, and Charlotte's fairy dress was definitely in the pile I pressed today," Trini confirmed. "I filled my day off with the household tasks that needed to be done, and fairy dresses being unwrinkled sure made the list."
"Did ringing back whoever it was that called yesterday make the list of things that needed to be done today?" Richard asked tightly, suddenly losing his hearty appetite and pushing his half full plate away from him and nearer to the centre of the table.
"You wrote her name down on the piece of paper you left me, you should know who it was. It was Kim."
"Auntie Kim!! Did she say if she was sending me presents?" Charlotte asked excitedly, bouncing on her seat so violently she grabbed the table, almost sending her meal into her lap.
"Why would Auntie Kim and Uncle Tommy send you presents, you doofus? They're going to send me a present, because it's my birthday soon, stupid!" Evan told his sister irritably.
"But it's my birthday soon, too!" Charlotte retorted.
"Is not, it was months ago!"
"You guys, why don't you take your plates to the sink and go to watch cartoons? If you're still hungry, there are Popsicles in the freezer," Trini quickly interjected. She had witnessed enough of Evan and Charlotte's sibling arguments to realise that they hardly ever burned out without a little parental aid.
"Yeah!" they both cried, and almost tripped over each other in their haste to get away from the table and into the exclusively children's world of Johnny Bravo and grape popsicles.
Richard waited until he heard his children retreat down the stairs into the basement TV room, before saying, "That's real smart, bribing them to stop fighting with refined sugar and mindless animation. I thought you and I wanted Evan and Charlotte to grow up as refined citizens?"
"I do, but I hardly think sending a seven year old boy and a five year old girl to their bedrooms to read Tolstoy and eat granola bars is appropriate. They have to be proper children in order to grow into proper adults," Trini replied quietly, getting up from her seat to clear the table. As she did so, she silently noticed that her homemade lasagna had gone to waste. No-one had cleared more than half their plate.
"Whatever you say. After all, you are their mother," Richard mumbled. "What did Kimberly have to say for herself?"
Trini didn't answer at first, methodically loading the dishwasher as she pondered how to bring up the subject of the reunion. If she avoided it, she was weak, yet if she was too insistent, he might make some excuse to keep her in Connecticut, and cause even more trouble. Time off work that she couldn't afford, the issue of who would look after the kids, the price of accommodation while they were in California... There were certainly enough reasons for him to decline the invitation, and possibly her invitation as well.
She must have paused a moment too long for his liking, as he said loudly, "I asked you a question, Trini."
"I know you did," she said hastily, wiping her hands on a discarded dishtowel and returning to her seat at the table.
"Are you planning on answering it any time soon, or dither a little time longer?"
"She told me they've been trying to track us down. We've been invited to a reunion at my old high school, or we would have been if the school administration could have found our new address."
Richard didn't make eye contact, or even look in her general direction as he rose from his chair and moved to flick the switch on the kettle. "Coffee?"
"Yes, please. Are you going to ask me when this reunion is, so we can arrange childcare, or get Charlotte and Evan out of school?" Trini twisted in her chair to look at Richard, who had his back to her.
Funny, when you couldn't see his face, she could kind of remembered why she married him. Tall form, good posture, broad shoulders. Signs of a strong character, maybe too strong now she had come to know and understand him.
"Or alternatively, you could just pretend that the phone call never happened, and I'll be left trying to explain to my best friend why exactly it is that we can't go."
Richard had picked up his cup to put Jamaican coffee grouns into it, but now he slammed it down so hard on the kitchen surfacing that the handle snapped off. "Damn it Trini, do I have to give up hope of you ever understanding me? Your friends don't like me. I sure as hell don't like them. I'm not exactly enthusiastic about dragging my family across the continent so I can eat stale canapes and put up with all the gossip and rumours that seem to fly about whenever I'm around."
"Richard, I do understand you..." In a way. Not completely, but, kind of. "But they're my friends! I can't stand the way your friends come here every weekend to drink beer and yell at the television whilst ignoring me and terrorising Evan and Charlotte, but have you ever heard me complain about them to you?"
"Excuse me for believing that what you're doing now is complaining. And I'm not going to this reunion. Neither are Evan and Charlotte. I wouldn't dare to presume that I mean enough to you that you'd stay here if I asked you to."
Why did he always do this, turn around an argument so it alays seemed like the blame lay with her? Maybe it was truly her fault, but problems that have lasted since she was nineteen years old - a decade now - can heardly be laid at the feet of one person alone.
She would have to choose her words carefully to acoid committing herself to something she didn't want to do, a solid decision about the state of her marriage. To say no, she wouldn't attend the reunion, would be increasing the power she felt he held over her. To say she would attend no matter what would send him into an even deeper discontent. An indeterminate decision may not be the gutsiest way out, but it was the safest. There was still time to talk to Kim again, and find out more about the housing prices, the job market, the schooling...
"I'll think about it."
"That'd better be all you do," he warned. "Why does this mean so much to you, anyway? Is it that the kids and I aren't enough for you any more?"
Trini rolled her eyes, wondering whether the concept of friendship outside the scope of beer and Sony had ever occured to Richard. "Because they're my friends, Richard, and I'd be returning to my hometown for the first time in so long. In case its escaped your notice, hardly a week goes by where we don't see your parents, or relatives, and the last time I saw my parents was two years ago because you're too stubborn to fly that far. They're missing their grandchildren growing up, and I never wanted that to happen."
Trini's normally quiet voice had almost risen to a scream. This rare occurence seemed to shock Richard into submission, and he threw up his hands in a manner representing the worst kind of melodrama.
"I don't see what difference it would make if you just e-mailed these precious friends of yours once in a while, but fine. If it will stop your incessant whining then I'm not going to stand in your way."
It wouldn't do at all to show any kind of emotion whilst receiving this judgement. Not showing appreciation risked being told she wasn't worthy of the priviledged flight to California, but voicing her happiness would only rub salt into Richard's very open, very sore wounds. "I'll book a flight tomorrow morning, and ring Kim to let her know I'm - "
There was no use continuing her voiced plans. Richard strode out of the kitchen, and followed the path his children had taken to the basement just minutes earlier. Soon enough, Trini could hear sounds of playtime ensuing, and peace was at least partially restored.
Secure in the knowledge that her family would not return from the basement for at least another hour, Trini retrieved her address book from her purse, found Kim's number and dialled it for the second time that day. There was no time left to waste; if she told someone she would be attending the reunion as soon as possible, she would always have the fact that people were expecting her to be there in her favour, should any disagreements arise.
The phone rang five times before Tommy picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello stranger, it's Trini."
Not surprisingly, Tommy sounded as shocked as his wife had almost twelve hours earlier. "This is a surprise. I take it you got Kim's message she left yesterday with no problems, then?"
The hint that Richard was not the most reliable courier of messages did not go unnoticed by Trini. "Yes, I called Kim earlier. I guess she didn't tell you?"
"She hasn't seen me since to tell me, she's not back from work yet. So how are you? How are the god-children?"
Trini smiled, something she did often whenever her children were mentioned. Whatever the problems she and Richard had, it could never be said that they were bad parents. "Evan and Charlotte are fine, thanks for asking. Looking forward to birthdays, whether fictional ornot."
A noise travelled across the telephone line which, to Trini's sharp ears, sounded suspiciously like palm hitting forehead. "Oh, you're kidding me. Evan's birthday?"
"Well, at least you remembered it was Evan, and not Charlotte," she teased. "Don't worry. Luckily for you, it's not til March 13, and Kim has yet to contract your hopeless memory."
"I was not worried!" Tommy denied hastily. "Just...well, okay. I had a feeling it was last month, and we'd forgotten."
"It's good to hear that some things never change," Trini said affectionately. "As for me, I'm bearing up. Just about."
"How's Richard treating you?" Tommy asked suspiciously. "Is he okay about this reunion? Not causing any problems?"
"Does that suggest you don't want him there?" Trini asked, not jokingly, but not in a protective way, either. Curious was the word that she'd use to describe her feelings.
Tommy snorted. "Oh no. We'd love to have him come along, and saty silent for the entire gathering, except for barbed comments like 'If it was my high-school reunion this wouldn't be the way it is. It would be much classier,' and 'My wedding was much more sophisticated than this'."
Trini sighed, finding herself in the unenviable and frequent position of having to apologize for her husband. Yet again. "I'm sorry for the way he behaved at your wedding. I've never been so embarrassed in my entire life."
"We told you at the time, there's no need for you to worry about it. It's him that should feel ashamed, and it didn't spoil the day at all," he said placatingly. "I can't say I wouldn't be relieved if you came to the reunion without him, but I'm sure there must be some good in him. Somewhere."
"You won't have to be tolerant of him, I'm going out to California on my own. Evan and Charlotte are staying at home with him."
"Do you want us to arrange somewhere to stay for you? I was going to book ours pretty soon, I can do yours at the same time if it will save you the trouble."
Freinds who support you in times of need are truly worth their weight in gold. "That would be great Tommy, thank you. I'll call you in a week or so to find out the details and then I can book a flight."
"If you want to come and stay with us for a while after the reunion..." he hinted, "You're more than welcome to."
Despite herself, Trini found herself growing tearful at the offer echoed from Kim's earlier on. "That means a lot to me, you know that, but... I don't know. We'll have to see."
"The offer's there for as long as you want it. Unless Rocky also takes up our offer, in which case we wouldn't be able to afford two houseguests at the same time. The last time he came to stay with us it was for nine days, and he ate more than Kim and I eat in a month put together."
Trini laughed at the thought. "How could I even begin to forget Rocky's insatiable appetite? He'll be at the reunion, then?"
"Everyone who we've talked to recently is coming. No news from Katherine, Aisha or Billy, though"
"Even a part-gathering is better than nothing," Trini decided. "How far away is it, time-wise?"
"Four weeks. So, get Evan's birthday out of the way, and then start packing!" Tommy told her, in a voice oddly reminiscent of his fabled 'leader' voice of old.
"Is that an order?" Trini laughed.
"Of course, would it be anything else?"
It was a very exhausted Kimberly who returned home at nine-thirty local time after a 12-hour shift to find her husband sitting on the settee in the living room, staring into space. "What's the matter, honey? I didn't know it had rained today, if that's what's got you down, and we'll be back in California before you know it."
Tommy blinked, startled out of his reverie. "No, it wasn't that. I was just thinking."
Kim hung her coat on the hook by the door and dropped her keys into the pocket before sitting next to her husband. "Oh, well if you weren't lamenting about the weather, then I'll have to presume you were tormented by the choice of presents to buy me for my birthday."
Tommy put his arm around her and smiled. "I may have forgotten Evan's birthday until I was reminded, but I'm hardly likely to forget yours. Not with the hints you've been dropping every five minutes, anyway."
"If you've remembered Evan's birthday, then you must have talked to Trini. You'd never remember on your own, and I haven't mentioned it."
He rolled his eyes. "Is my memory's reputation really that bad?"
"Uh-huh. It's a good thing your memory's as bad as its reputation. What did Trini have to say?"
"She's coming to the reunion, Richard isn't, for which we should be grateful for the rest of our lives."
Kim buried her face in Tommy's shirt. "Thank goodness. If we corner her, get her to find a place to live near either us or her family, and bring Charlotte and Evan as well, things might finally begin to look up for Trini."
"And how likely is that to happen?" Tommy asked, idly running his fingers through his wife's hair. "She must still love Richard, otherwise she wouldn't have stayed with him for ten years or however long it is that they've been together."
"If I know Trini, values and her children will come before Richard now. At least now that Evan and Charlotte are getting old enough to understand that things aren't good bteween their parents." Kim pointed out before yawning deeply. "Did you start dinner?"
Tommy reluctantly stood up, and pulled Kim along with him. "I did. And I'll let you off setting the table duty if you promise not to mention your birthday!"
"I resent that!" Kim said, as they walked into the kitchen. "It isn't every day that a girl turns 29, you know."
"Yeah, but believe me, it's every day that a girl's husband hears about it."