Author's Note: I wrote this piece with SurlyCoach. Don't forget to check out the novels I write under my penname, MOLLY TAGGART, at Amazon: Off Target, Roots that Clutch, etc.

Chapter 1: Job Hunt

When Julie asked for help with a math problem, Tami raised a finger in her direction and circled a job in the help wanted section: Women's Center Counselor. B.A. in Psychology, Counseling, or related field required. M.A. Preferred. Maybe they'd take her without the master's. She put down her pen and came around the dining room table to lean over Julie's shoulder. "Jules, honey, that looks like algebra."

Julie sighed. "Because it is algebra, mom."

"But you just started seventh grade." Today, to be exact.

"Yeah, and I'm on the advanced math track, remember? Like you wanted me to be."

Tami pulled up a chair next to her. "But I didn't take algebra until 10th grade."

"That's because you were on the dummy track," came Eric's voice from behind her. His hands came down on her shoulders. He squeezed them and lowered his head to kiss her, but she wasn't very receptive, given his comment. "I took algebra in 9th grade." He smirked.

"What are you doing home so early?" Tami asked her husband.

"Practice finished up early. That Jason Street is something else. When that kid makes it to the NFL, and word gets around I was his coach…" He nodded his head as he rubbed Tami's shoulders. "That's gonna be good for me." Tami craned her neck back to look at him as he continued to muse aloud, "The Streets are moving back to Dillon. Probably at the end of this school year. I'll see if I can get on as a QB coach over there. "

Julie threw her pencil with force on her math book. "Great! So we'll have to move again? Three schools in three years! Yay, me!"

"Hey, calm down." Eric took his hands off of Tami's shoulders. "There's no guarantee I'll get a job there. And if I do, we wouldn't move until June, and we wouldn't be moving that far. We'd be going back to Dillon." Julie had spent most of her elementary school years in Dillon, though they'd moved to Lamesa before she was quite done, and then again to Midland. "We'd still be in Texas."

"That's no consolation, Dad. The only thing that would make moving worthwhile is if we finally got out of Texas."

Eric took of his burnt orange Tigers cap and smacked Julie lightly with it. She grabbed it from his hand and smacked him back. He raised a warning eyebrow but smiled. He ripped the cap back out of her hand and put it on her head. Julie smiled too. She seemed temporarily appeased, but her mother let out a sigh.

"What?" Eric asked her.

"I was just about to apply for a job here. Women's Center Counselor. I don't know why I bother to check the want ads. We never stay in one town long enough. But it's time for me to get back to work, hon."

He headed toward the kitchen for a beer, his voice dying away as he went: "I thought we agreed you were gonna wait 'til Jules was in high school."

Tami followed him into the kitchen. "I knowyou like having me at home, that it makes your job less stressful."

"It's not just that." He popped off his bottle cap. "Julie's home all summer."

"You're home in the summer."

"Until training starts! And I have meetings. And conferences. And the personal coaching doesn't wait for August. That keeps going all summer. "

"She's old enough to be home – "

Eric set his bottle down on the counter. "You want our Julie to be a latchkey kid in 7th grade? Our daughter, whose just now starting to get really interested in boys? You want her home alone?"

Tami put a hand on her hip. "Eric, I quit my job three weeks before she was born. I haven't worked full-time in over twelve years. If I'm ever going to pursue my goals, I have to start sometime. I don't want to be going back to work when I'm 50."

"But you said you liked staying home with Julie. You said – "

"I did! I made that decision because it was the best decision for us at the time. But now I want to do something for me. Even if it isn't convenient for you."

He grabbed his bottle up again and shook his head. "We can get by on what I make. I have three jobs – coaching, teaching, and the personal training." He took a long swig.

"It's not about the money. But a real second income would be nice. We could get a house with more space. Maybe I could finally have a closet that would actually fit all my clothes."

"Or you could just exhibit a more Christian attitude and give some of your clothes to charity," he suggested. "How many shoes do you need anyway?"

"I exhibit a Christian attitude, Eric. I volunteer at the women's shelter once a week. And I need precisely as many shoes as I have!" Her hair was shaking like the stands themselves were angry when she walked out of the kitchen.

"I'm glad you're home, sweetheart," he called after her. "How was your day? Thanks for working so hard to support your family."

She popped her head back into the kitchen. "That's what you want to hear? You know what I want to hear? 'Thanks for dedicating twelve years of your life to caring for me and our daughter. That was a selfless commitment, and now you deserve to pursue your own career goals. I support you. I'm behind you one hundred percent.' That's what I'd like to hear." Her head disappeared, followed by the sound of clomping feet.

/FNL/

Tami was sitting up in bed. Waiting. Like a female praying mantis poised to bite the head off its mate. She heard Eric turn off the water in the hall bath. They hadn't been able to afford a house with a master bath in Midland. They'd been renting out their old house in Dillon, thinking they might be back one day, but the rent didn't quite cover the mortgage.

When he walked in, Eric was running his tongue under his teeth to wipe off the last spot of toothpaste.

"I want to go back to work," she said. "Not in two years when Julie's in high school. Not next year. Now."

He crawled under the covers. "Who's gonna cook my dinner and have it waiting for me on the table when I walk through the door?"

"The dog."

"Speaking of that," he complained, "who's gonna walk the dog in the afternoon if you're at work?"

"The dog can hold it until I get home. And you'll eat. Just not right when you get home. "

"But I'm hungry when I walk through the door after practice," he grumbled. "I'm a working man. I work up an appetite."

"I don't know how I ended up married to you. How did I end up married to such a chauvinist? I'm a strong, intelligent, independent woman!"

He rolled towards her. "Because I was the only man strong enough for you, baby. You needed someone as strong and stubborn as you are, or you'd have gotten bored. "

"I don't know about that."

"That and because I make you feel like a woman." He smiled. "You need a man who makes you feel like a woman."

She laughed. Then she made herself scowl.

"Listen, babe." His eyes weren't that annoyed-but-joking hard twinkle anymore. They had softened, the way they did when he was about to say something sincere. "I appreciate everything you've done for me – for this family - for the past twelve years." Oh, damn, here he went. She was going to have to work to stay angry. "You've made it possible for me to pursue my career," he continued. "You've brought my life peace. You've been there to give Julie the values and the roots she needs. You've worked hard and selflessly to make sure this family is taken care of, and I appreciate that, Tami."

Stay angry. You can do it, Tami. Stay angry. "You could have fooled me!" She didn't sound as angry as she wanted to. "Because you've never said that after all that work, I deserve to pursue my career goals."

"I value you and all the work you've done at home. That's a gift you've given me and Julie. Don't think I don't know that. "

Those eyes. Those tender, expressive eyes. When he turned them on her like he was doing now, when he looked straight into her own eyes, no wavering…it was hard. It was really hard to stay angry.

"It's only because I value that gift that I'm not all gung ho about you going back to work," he continued. "How would you like it if I were to just say, 'Fine, go back to work – it's not like you've been doing anything important around here anyway. I could care less about what you've been doing the past twelve years. I haven't even noticed it. I could have done it all on my own. ' But I can't say that. Because I do know. I know that whatever success and peace I've had in my life, I owe to you."

Damnit. She hated it when he did that. Acted like a jerk and then turned it around on her like that. Made her feel like she couldn't possibly be mad at him. Reminded her that he really did love her. Reminded her how irresistibly charming he could be, right when she most wanted to resist him.

"I'm applying for that job at the Women's Center," she said, "and if I get it, I hope you'll be supportive of me the way I've been supportive of you. Supporting me means not grumbling about the fact that I won't be able to do as much for you. It means taking on some more of the chores yourself. And maybe – if you can go so far – it means telling me that you're proud of the job I do at work."

"Does it mean administering you stress relief through sexual favors after a long day at work?"

She burst out laughing. Damn him! She tried to stop the laugh and frown instead. She was able to stop the laugh, but she couldn't frown. She was smiling. "Yes," she said. "Yes, if backrubs count as sexual favors."

"Well I'll give you a back rub any day, baby. I'll give you a back rub right now. Just slide off that shirt and roll on over on your stomach." He reached over to the nightstand, opened the drawer, and pulled out a circular container of lotion. "Coconut," he said. "Relaxing and fragrant."

"Not tonight, hon."

"It's just a backrub," he insisted.

"It's never just a backrub with you." She rolled over. "Can you get that light?"

"Could I at least have a good night kiss?"

She rolled back over and kissed him. She wasn't particularly stingy about it either, but when he tried to make it a little more than a kiss, she pulled away. She wasn't mad at him anymore, but damn if she was going to let him think he'd done enough. He hadn't said he was okay with her applying for the job, and he hadn't said she deserved to pursue her own goals.

She knew she couldn't demand too much of Eric at one time. He could be poked, maybe even prodded lightly, to get him ambling in the right direction, but he couldn't be whipped into a gallop. Try that and he'd dig in his heels. And frankly she wouldn't have wanted it any other way. He was right. She'd have been bored with a man who bended too easily.

"G'night, babe," he said as he clicked the light off. "I love you."