An 18 to Life Fluff Piece

"Today is a momentous day Carter," Tom announced.

Carter passed his basketball from one hand to the other and replied with his usual snarky quip, "Aww, is today the day you finally become a woman?"

Tom made a face. "We can still hope. But no. Today is pay day."

Carter was nonplussed. "Have you never before experienced the sweet joy of receiving monetary compensation in return for work completed?"

Tom jumped up the front steps of his parents' home. Carter leaned against the railing and asked, "So a paycheck is why you're giddy as a schoolgirl?"

Tom triumphantly pulled a stack of envelopes from the box. "With this check, we finally have enough to move out of the attic."

"That's it?"

Carter dribbled the ball on the flagstones. "That's it," Tom repeated Carter's less than impressed comment and wrinkled his nose.

"Hey, this isn't my check," Tom said and slid his finger through the slide and siphoned out the letter.

His eyebrows knitted and the mail went flying. Tom stole the basketball and held it over his head. Carter dived for it, but Tom nimbly stepped aside. With one hand he playfully held back Carter and with the other he held the ball away.

"Who's the man Carter?"

Carter scowled and took another swipe at the ball. "I thought it was clear. You're the woman."

Tom held the ball in both his hands. "Not today. I got the fellowship."

Tom shot the ball at Carter, who only just caught it.

"They accepted you?"

"I know. I'm shocked too."

Tom gazed lovingly at the letter he had flung to the ground, and bent down to pick up the other envelopes, one of which contained a check from Tom's fry cook job at a diner.

"So I guess you and the Mrs. will be celebrating tonight. No poker?"

Tom just looked sheepish. "I haven't exactly told Jessie about France yet. I didn't think I'd get in!" Tom protested.

Carter grinned and said, "you mean you want to go to France for a semester and you didn't tell Jessie?"

Tom nodded and Carter's voice got high pitched and sing-song to better rub it in.

"Somebody's in trouble."

Then, back in his normal voice, Carter continued, "How are you going to pay for it anyways?"

Tom glanced at the check in his left hand. Carter grinned even wider, giving him the look of a hyena with a juicy fat steak on his plate, and capped off his satisfaction with one final statement.

"Oh, this just gets better and better."

"Ugh!" Jessie screeched, pelting through the door and scooping up a pile of fabric samples and her color wheel.

"Late, so late!" she fumed to herself.

The attic was empty except for the whirl and flash of Jessie, gathering up supplies for her midterm presentation. A midterm presentation for which she was very, very late. Jessie piled everything up in her arms and nudged the handle of the window with her knuckle.

Tom was at the base of the stairs, hands in his pockets.

"Oh, hey Jess," he started, beginning to pull the letter and check out of his pockets.

"Can't talk, I'm late!" Jessie thundered past him on the stairs and stopped just long enough to plant a kiss on Tom's cheek before completing her mad dash down to the car. Tom turned and watched his wife of two years throw her books and supplies in the backseat of Putzie.

"Okay, I'll just tell you later, I guess," Tom said to no one before turning to trudge up the stairs.

There was a hockey game on that Tom had been planning to watch, but his eyes kept straying to the two letters on the counter. He'd never wanted anything so much as that fellowship. He'd get to be a real chef, not some lousy fry cook at a diner. But they'd been saving for two years to move out of the attic. Tom lapsed back onto their bed and stared at the ceiling.

"Oh boy," he whispered.

Jessie dumped her supplies on the display table, already far behind her classmates, who had moved on to finishing touches. She erratically arranged her pile of samples and lit one of the ensconced candles in a hurricane jar. She had a few tchotchkes and a carpet square, but it was already too late for those.

The tsk, tsk, tsk of disapproval and a fake British accent sounded behind her. Jessie spun around and tried to more successfully arrange her table behind her back. Something tipped and Jessie could only just barely hold on to it and didn't dare turn around. One eyebrow on her professor's face arched and the professor sneered.

"This is it then?" the professor asked in clipped and cultured tones that dripped with the threat of a C or worse.

"A few minutes and I'll have it all together," Jessie gritted her teeth and hoped her project wasn't in flames.

The professor had a look on her face that clearly was disgust, but when Jessie sniffed, she smelt it too.

"Change perfumes dear," the professor said in one final shot before moving on to supervise other victims.

Jessie spun around and righted the hurricane glass she had tipped over. Nothing was on fire, except for the odd smell in the air. She looked down at her finger and jumped. The blue plastic ring on her left ring finger was crinkled around the edges and sticking to her skin. The act of tearing it off broke the flimsy plastic. There it sat on the table, un-wearable. The midterm was forgotten. Jessie had melted her wedding ring.

"What am I going to do?" Jessie whined, laying prone on her bed where Tom had been a few hours before.

Ava held up the twisted length of plastic that Jessie had pried from her finger.

"Move out of the country?" Ava replied in that comforting way she had.

"Tom is going to kill me. Remember when he just thought I lost it?" Jessie groaned and burrowed into her pillow.

"Sweetie. Replace it," was Ava's advice.

Ava dropped the thing form her fingertips onto the counter and picked up her shiny new bag. "Let me know how Tom reacts," was Ava's final attempt at helping.

Ava's heels clicked in time with the wide door window. Jessie continued to mope around the attic, waiting for Tom to come home. Jessie eventually moped her way to the downstairs kitchen where the good sodas were kept.

Jessie reached into the cool fridge and popped the tab of her soda. There was a pile of mail tossed carelessly onto the counter, where Judy was sure to harass everyone about the proper place for the mail if she found it as it was. Jessie grimaced at the thought and swept up the pile.

The first letter of the pile was already opened and postmarked from France. Jessie pulled apart the envelope, but the letter was already gone. The return address was clearly a French cooking school and it was addressed to Tom. But when had he applied to a cooking school in France?

Jessie paused, staring at the envelope as if it could supply answers to the questions filtering through her brain. Was Tom planning to go to France? Why hadn't he told her?

Jessie stomped back upstairs. Tom was in so much trouble, even if she had melted her ring. This was worse.

When Tom came in through the open door-window, he felt like he had been here before. His wife was standing square in the middle of the floor with a look on her face that said she clearly meant business.

"Hey Jess," Tom muttered, knowing what was about to happen.

Jessie didn't do what Tom expected though. He had expected a blow up. She deflated before him.

"France, Tom?" she asked.

"I was gonna tell you before I did anything," Tom jumped into defending himself, not quite sure where this situation was heading.

"You already did something. You were going to live in France without telling me. Were you just going to disappear one day?" Jessie picked up steam with her questions.

"It's only for four months Jess."

"So you want to live apart from me for four whole months?"

"Well, no," sputtered Tom, "I want to be a chef, Jess, not at a diner. I didn't even think I'd get into the program."

Tom reached for Jessie's hands, only just noticing that something familiar wasn't there.

"Where's your ring?" Tom asked, wishing he could keep that accusatory tone out of it, but failing entirely.

Jessie pulled out of his embrace and took a few steps back, suddenly as awkward and defensive as Tom was being.

"It kind of got…melted?" she answered, digging into her pocket for the twisted remains.

Tom stared at the bent plastic junk in her palm.

"Why didn't you tell me you melted your ring?"

"Why didn't you tell me you're going to live in France?" Jessie countered, stuffing the ring back in her pocket.

"Because I'm not going!" Tom exploded.

"Why not?" Jessie asked.

"I can't go Jess. I married you," Tom said in his coldest voice.

"So now I'm holding you back. That's great Tom," Jessie cried.

There was a pause. No one wanted to say what could be next. No one wanted to say the words that could spell the end, even after three years.

Jessie looked at her bare finger, the one that had a slight tan line now. She held up her hand.

"Maybe it's a sign Tom. It couldn't last forever. So you go to France. I'll go to Spain," Jessie couldn't hardly believe she was saying the words.

"I'll be at my parents," she added on her way out the door, leaving a stunned and silent Tom seething behind her.

Tom leaned against the fence on his side of the backyards. He'd sat at this fence many times and he knew it well. But he hadn't been here often in the past few years. Why would he, when the girl of his dreams was somewhere else?

But now she was gone again and this time it seemed like it was for good. Tom sighed and banged his head slightly against the wooden boards. He couldn't signal in the old way, but he had hoped, maybe, she'd come out and they could talk.

Tom already felt sorry. He didn't know what had made him fill out the application, but now it was out there. He wanted to go to France. It was an incredible opportunity to be a real chef. But not without Jessie.

So he sat in the grass and waited for her, thinking about all he would say.

At the same time, Jessie tossed and turned in her old, now unfamiliar bed, and finally gave up. She scooped up the old bathrobe and fiddled with the tie as she padded downstairs to the tv.

"Hey punkin," Phil looked up, surprised.

"Late night movie marathon?" Jessie asked.

She cuddled up next to her dad on the couch.

"What's troubling you sweetie?" Phil asked.

Phil took a quick look around and then, with the stealthy air of a super spy, eased the processed and mostly chemical bag of chips out from under the couch. He offered them to Jessie, who just shook her head.

"More for me," shrugged Phil.

"You know, I want to go to France. And Spain! He's not the only one who wants to travel. In fact, I wanted to before he even knew how to find Europe on the map. He thought it was Africa on the map in the 2nd grade," Jessie muttered and then exponentially jumped into a full-bodied rant.

Phil was unconcerned and kept his eyes trained on the fake fighting filling the screen. He took another handful of chips and crunched down contentedly on them.

"You know, Tara wanted to go to France for a painting class once."

"She didn't go?" Jessie asked.

"No she did – well to the airport at least. But she came back."


"Honey, sometimes you sacrifice something because your relationship is more important. You choose to do things together at a time when you're both ready for them. That's just how it works."

Jessie grumbled a little under her breath.

"I'm just saying, it's not about holding each other back. It's about moving forward together."

Jessie groaned and grabbed the bag of chips from Phil.

"Our Man Flint?" she asked, when a man in a tuxedo entered the screen, "really dad?"

"Be cool now," Phil answered back and hugged the remote.

The next morning Jessie trooped back up to the apartment. The bed was messy and the TV was all static. Tom was still sleeping on the couch. She smiled at her goofy husband, who clearly had as awful a night as she had.

Jessie leaned over and kissed his cheek. He jerked back.

"Whos-a-what-now?" he asked, trying to get his bearings.

"I'm sorry," Jessie started in, "if you want to go to France, we'll figure out how to do it."

"I'm sorry," Tom answered, "it's not that important. I don't want to be away from you for four months anyway."

Jessie beamed but still asked, "Are you sure?"

Tom wrapped his arms around his girl. "Yeah, I'm sure. There'll be other fellowships. We'll go to Europe someday. And in the meantime," Tom grimaced as the familiar sounds of his family going about their business on the lower floors filtered up, "at least we have enough money to move out now."

Jessie leaned into his arms and looked at her bare hand. "I really wish my ring hadn't melted."

"It was an accident."

"But still…" Jessie trailed off before getting up to go take a shower.

Tom got that look in his eye that spelled equal parts brilliance and impending disaster.

He knocked on the door of the bathroom and shouted through it, "Make sure you're home tonight okay? I have a surprise."

Then Tom leapt down the stairs, on a mission to find the surprise.

"Tom, what is this?" Jessie asked and beamed by the open window-door.

Some delicious mouthwatering scent wafted through the room. Tom expertly placed a simmering dish on the eclectically decorated dinner table. He smiled, still amazed she was here. What a miracle it was that Jessie had chosen him and still continued to choose him.

He walked toward her and she expected him to kiss her, but instead he knelt down on one knee.

Jessie's laugh was sweet when she admonished, "Eventually you won't be able to end every fight by proposing to me again."

But she delighted and Tom knew it.

"Jess, we might miss out on a few things in life, but I can't imagine going anywhere without you. We're together in everything. Just like we've done from the beginning."

And Tom held out the small velvet box. The top was open and inside, wedged into the cushion, was a small circlet of blue stones.

"So we can always remember how we started," Tom said and carefully slipped the ring out of the box.

Jessie held out her hand and Tom smoothly slipped on the ring. A real ring for a relationship that was moving forward.

"I love you," Jessie whispered, "but does this mean we don't be moving out for a while?"

Tom stood up and held Jessie's hand in his own, the sapphire circlet hard against his skin.

"Probably not for a while," he admitted, "but when we do…"

"Together," Jessie finished the sentence and leaned in to kiss her husband.

A/N: Thanks for reading this cute little story. Now it would be even more wonderful if you could also give it a bit of a review.