Chapter 1 (of 6)

The sky in Philadelphia wasn't like the small town Texas sky; it was never so open, so expansive, but tonight was somehow different. A symphony of light punctuated the black canopy above, and from this distance the sounds of the city were a fairly steady murmur, with the occasional high-pitch of a horn breaking out, a pattern not terribly unlike the chirping of the crickets back home. Eric, who stood behind Tami on the back porch with his arms wrapped around her from behind, kissed her hair and drew in a relaxed breath. She crossed her arms over his. "I love you, babe," she said. "I'm so glad your mine." He was basking in the glow of her words when her cell phone rang.

"Ignore it," he said.

"Sugar, you know I can't."

She took the call and disappeared inside. He resented the interruption. Moments like these, moments of real connection with his wife, seemed few and far between these days. Tami had been busy all summer reviewing the final transcripts of applicants that had been accepted in the spring, juggling financial aid issues, and revising the rolling admissions policies, and she was often on the computer late into the evenings. It had felt good to be holding her out here on the porch, to be sharing in the beauty of the instant. It had felt peaceful.

[***]

Later that night, after Tami had made a "quick run to the office" which had ended up taking longer than anticipated, she returned to a quiet, darkened house. Eric was still awake when she crawled into bed. She kissed his forehead.

"I love you," he said, turning on his side to face her and dig a hand in her hair. He toyed absently with the strands. "Can we talk about something?" he asked.

"What?"

"You've been working a lot lately. This job…it's become a lot of work. A lot more than either of us thought it would be. From dinner until bedtime you're on that damn computer."

Her eyes flickered with a hint of irritation, and she turned them downward.

"And this is summer," he continued. "This is the light season for you. Last winter and spring, you missed dinner three nights a week. You were at some meeting almost every Saturday."

She looked him in the eye. "I'm the Dean of Admissions, babe. It's a big position."

"I know."

"And you've pulled plenty of late nights as a coach over the years, running around trying to line up boosters, calling special practices, dealing with the problems of your players…Really late nights. And you've got the away games, and - "

" - I know. But it's just during the season. It's rare I've worked as much as you've been working this past year. I feel…" He sighed. "Never mind."

If he dropped it right now, she wouldn't have to feel guilty about working so much this past year, and, frankly, Tami did think her husband had a sort of double standard when it came to time spent on their respective careers. On the other hand, she recalled how difficult it had been for her when he was in Austin. She was working far more than he was accustomed to having her work, and he had moved to a new place for her. The first year after the move had actually gone pretty well. Eric liked his assistant coaches, had settled comfortably into his job, and enjoyed training up his team from scratch. He had even made a good friend outside the world of football. The past several months, however, had admittedly been rough for Eric and Tami as a couple, and she knew he was still far from in love with Philadelphia.

"Don't just stop like that," she said, shaking her head. "You know this thing," she pointed a finger back in forth between him and herself, "works better when you talk to me."

He sighed. "I don't know. I've been feeling a little disconnected from you lately. Standing out there on the porch with you reminded me what it feels like to be really close to you..." He bit his lip. "I know you love your job. And I'm proud of you, I am. It's just…" He sighed and rolled away from her, onto his back. "Forget it. I know you've gotta do what you've gotta do. You can't do this job half assed."

She rose up over him and looked down at him. "No, I can't," she said. "But you've quit a job for me before, Eric. You quit TMU. If it comes to that…if it comes to a choice between our marriage and my job, you know what I'm going to choose."

"I'm not asking you to make that choice. Our marriage isn't going anywhere. It's stayin' put."

She stroked his cheek. "I know you're not asking. Just like I didn't ask you to quit that Austin job. And I never would have asked you, probably. I was too proud. But you quit anyway, thank God, because I don't know what would have happened to our family if you hadn't." She kissed him. "I'll tell you what," she said when she lifted her head back up. "Part of the problem is I'm doing almost all of the work because my current Assistant Dean has gotten lazy. Just plain lazy. I think his time is going to some book he's been working on. You've heard me complaining about him."

Eric nodded.

"I'm pushing for a replacement. I expect to have one by mid to late fall. Three to four more months of crazy hours tops. If things don't improve after I get a new assistant, we'll talk about a change. Okay? I can always look for a high school counseling position if I have to. I'd rather try to make this job work for us, but if it doesn't, there are other options."

She could see the relief in his eyes. He barely nodded. She kissed him again and then lay her head down on his shoulder and draped her left leg over both of his. He rubbed her back for awhile and then whispered, "Thank you, Tami."

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

If you enjoy my fanfiction, please check out my novels at Amazon. They are available in both paperback and Kindle editions.

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