Ketchup Popsicle - A Love Story


Chapter 1
Somebody has their knee in my back. I can't believe that not one person would offer to give their seat up for a pregnant woman. Sandra looked up from where she was sitting on step inside the multi-level train car and into the blank faces of the commuters. I'm pretty friggin' humungous, it's not like they can't tell just by looking at me. She wasn't sure how much longer she could bare the ride back and forth everyday. The worst part was that if Mike would just get up a few hours earlier, instead of sleeping in until nine every morning, he could drive her to work. A tear ran down her cheek as she reflected on her current living situation. She was so much happier living on her own, but with the baby coming, she didn't know what to expect and thought that accepting Mike's offer to move into his house would be helpful.
Mike was not thrilled about having her there either. He was a bachelor and always would be. Fathering a child wouldn't change a man like him. Sandra didn't want to change Mike, she didn't want him as a husband, but she couldn't change the fact that in their short stint as a couple she had wound up pregnant at the age of twenty-two. She reminded herself often that it could be worse, she could have been a statistic from the small town she grew up in and have been pregnant at age fifteen. At least all of her fun and wild days were already behind her and she felt ready to be a Mother. That was the only thing that was right about the mess she'd gotten herself into. She always knew she wanted to have children some day, but she never thought it would be like this. The baby began to wiggle around in Sandra's belly as though confirming her thoughts. If anyone was enjoying the train ride it was the baby. He liked the motion of the fast-moving train as it gently hummed and rocked passed the little towns on the outskirts of the city.

At the train station Mike didn't even bother to get out of the car as Sandra waddled slowly toward it, impatient travelers pushing past her to get their connecting buses. She wrapped her arms protectively around her belly as she made her way slowly to the black sedan. It was hard to hold her head up to see where she was going.
Sandra greeted Mike with a little kiss after awkwardly sliding into the very low passenger seat. "How was your day?" She asked.
"Alright." Mike answered in an uninterested tone. His worked at a car dealership and sweet talked people out of their money all day long. He was the type of guy that women couldn't resist; tall and lean, with tanned skin and green eyes. He was a major sports and car enthusiast and therefore men loved him too. Mike wasn't modest either, bragging that he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves. Sandra thought that was funny before she realized how true it was. He didn't bother asking how her day was in return and they drove to his house in silence. There was a big elephant in the car with them. It was Sandra's belly.

It changed everything. They were just having fun before, dating casually, Mike wasn't even her type really. She preferred more rugged men with character but his slick tongue and his shifty eyes drew her in. They didn't even make a nice looking couple, her pale skin and average looks made her seem like a ghost at his side. It was tough dating in the city and Sandra was beginning to get lonely when she met him. She wouldn't have given a guy like Mike the time of day otherwise. It was just her luck that he would be the one to knock her up. And she knew he felt the same way about her. He probably thought that she had gotten pregnant on purpose. The truth was that life had become so exciting and so spontaneous, that some nights Mike didn't take her home at all to where her little pack of pills always sat on the top of her dresser. A little too late she realized that she should have been keeping them in her purse instead.

"I made dinner." Mike mumbled as they entered the house and the smell of spaghetti sauce wafted to the front door. Maybe he's coming around, she thought.
"Great," She said aloud although she absolutely despised spaghetti and was sure she had mentioned that to him before at some point. She was ravishingly hungry though and would eat a salted boot if that's all that was presented to her at that point.
They ate in front of the television. The Lakers were playing and Sandra didn't mind watching Cobe Bryant do his thing. She cuddled up to Mike who made no attempt to cuddle back. In fact he was as stiff as a board. After about a half an hour, Sandra drifted off to the bedroom to cry herself to sleep.
The baby nudged and wiggled inside her as she cried, his way of telling her she wasn't as alone as she felt.

The following weeks were dull and boring and hot. Sandra had taken her last month of the pregnancy off work to relax and prepare for the baby's arrival. Every morning the baby woke her up early by pressing on her bladder. She would navigate the stairs down to the main floor and sit quietly at the kitchen table drinking orange juice and popping vitamins before heading out to explore the neighborhood. The block of houses where they lived was in a new development and she liked to spy on the neighbors who were just moving in to see if they had children. There was a park across the street where Sandra would sit and imagine her and her baby spending their days playing in the water area that looked like a sunken pirate ship, or pushing him on the swings. The water looked so refreshing that sometimes she would slip her shoes off and wade around near the mast. The sun would just begin to become uncomfortable when she would watch Mike pull out of the driveway and head to work. This was her cue to go back to the house and relax. Lugging around forty extra pounds of baby and fat wasn't an easy task and so she would nap on the couch in between Jerry Springer and Oprha. By the end of the day the heat inside the house was almost as unbearable as it was outside.

Mike would get home most days around seven o'clock from the city. The city that she used to live in before moving in with him in the Burbs. The city she loved to float around in on a Saturday afternoons, popping in and out of the shops on Queen Street, latte in hand. She would try to make dinner, but until she got pregnant her dinners usually consisted of a bag of popcorn and a coke. Chicken was easy enough to cook and so that's what they had most nights.

"It was really hot today." She said to Mike once they settled down on the couch after dinner.
"Yeah," he replied, turning on the TV. The heat really didn't seem to bother him.
"I mean," she continued, "it's still really hot in here." Sandra was so fat and so uncomfortable in the heat that she could barely move. She felt like a beached whale. Mike needed to Free Willy and get her some air conditioning. He stood up and turned on the ceiling fan.
"I don't know if I can go on much longer in this heat. Mike, look at me. I'm dying here."
"You do look kinda swollen." Mr. Sensitive replied.
"It's the heat, it's not good for me...and it's probably not good for the baby that I'm feeling this way."
"I'll call somebody tomorrow about getting some AC." Mike said, reluctantly.
Halleluiah! Thought Sandra. "Thank you," she said and kissed his cheek. She pulled herself closer to him and was happy when he leaned back and let her rest her belly against his side. The baby kicked at him and Sandra giggled. "Baby says thank you, too." She said.

The days wore on while Sandra and Mike waited for the arrival of their baby. They both knew that the relationship had run its course and that they were together for no other reason, save the baby. It was a strange predicament to be in. Sandra used to dream about having a baby one day when she was all grown up. She imagined that her husband would lovingly rub her belly with oils and make sure that she was drinking enough orange juice so the baby would be healthy. Mike never touched her belly unless she took his hand and placed it there. It was amazing feeling the baby wiggle around inside her and she thought that Mike should at least get to feel it from the outside. Mike was always amazed at first but then would quickly go back to treating her like a regular person. She didn't feel like a regular person, the baby made her feel special, like she should be celebrated and have roses thrown at her feet for having such a miracle occurring inside of her. She knew she wasn't the first woman to ever have carried a baby, but it was a first for her and it felt like God himself had blessed her with a child. Especially since she didn't even remember ever having sex with Mike, it seemed so long ago.
In her eighth month of pregnancy Mike dropped Sandra off at the doctor's office for yet another ultrasound and blood pressure reading. The doctor concluded, quite to her dismay, that based on her increasing blood pressure it was time to go ahead and have the baby.
"What, like right now?" She asked.
"Yes." He replied. "Go on over to the hospital and they will induce you."
It was such a bummer. Nothing seemed to be going right. Sandra sat in the waiting area at the hospital and sobbed. She didn't get to be in love, she didn't get to decide to have a baby, or get married or any of it. She didn't even get to go into labor like all the woman in the movies who have their little bags packed by the door and their loving husbands in a panic rushing them to the hospital. She waddled over to the pay phone to call Mike. He didn't answer his cell phone so she tried the home number.
"Hi Mike, what are you doing home?"
"The AC guy is coming today." He said.
"Oh. I didn't realize." Sandra said. "Well, I guess that's good timing. Sort of."
"What do you mean?" Mike asked.
"I'm at the hospital and they're inducing me today - are you ready to be a Daddy?" There was silence on the other end of the line. "Mike?"
He sounded annoyed when he replied, "The air conditioning is being installed today." He said.
Sandra didn't know how to respond. "OK well, I'm sure this will take a while anyway, why don't you come down to the hospital when he's done?"
"OK." Mike said. "I'll see you in a little while." And he hung up the phone.
"Hello?" Sandra said into the receiver. "Hello?" She looked around to see if anybody had overheard the conversation. There was an elderly woman slumped against the wall in a chair to her left. The old lady appeared to be sleeping. Her face was full of deep lines and her complexion was grayish, like her hair. Did she have children? Eve wondered. Did she have a husband who loved her? Or was she alone like Sandra. The woman opened her eyes and Sandra quickly walked away back toward the reception counter.
"Hello." She said to the woman seated there. "I was sent here by Dr. Mills to have my be induced."
"OK," replied the woman. "Is your husband here with you?"
Sandra sighed, "No, not yet." She pulled out her health card and the slip her doctor gave her and handed it over the counter. As she did, a little noise escaped her throat and she fell to the floor with a soft thump.
Sandra slowly opened her eyes feeling a slight throbbing in the back of her head. She knew she had fainted. She figured it had something to do with her high blood pressure. She felt fine though, just like she felt fine before going into the doctor's that morning. It didn't make sense to her, but she wasn't a doctor or a nurse or anything really. Just an administrative assistant, which was a fancy way of saying secretary.

Looking around she saw that she was in a hospital room, in a hospital bed and thankfully her belly was still enormous. She hadn't missed her own labor. It would have been just her luck to have woken up and been handed a baby that she didn't recall giving birth to. She noticed Mike sleeping in a rocking chair to her left, his long legs stretched out in front of him, arms crossed over his chest, head tilted to one side. He was wearing a gray track suit and white running shoes.

Beep... Beep... Beep, chimed a machine to her right that she quickly realized was attached to the cuff around her arm as it began to fill with air. It was reading her blood pressure. Something she had gotten very used to doctors doing to her over the last eight months. She absolutely hated the feeling of her arm being squeezed so tightly by that little plastic torture device. This machine driven cuff was a first for her though, it proceeded to happily cut off her circulation, beeping it's little beep, making her hand tingle uncomfortably. The machine stopped beeping and held the cuff tight around her arm until she almost couldn't take it any longer. Then it finally let out the air in a long mocking hiss. There was a note on the monitor that said 'every fifteen minutes'. "Urgh." she sighed. She gave the machine a dirty look and laid her head back down on the pillow. Mike shifted in his seat and opened his eyes. They smiled at each other briefly. His smile seemed to have some pity behind it.

'Sympathetic?', she thought. 'I must really be in a state for Mike to finally be taking pity on me'. He went to her side and put his hand gently on her shoulder. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
"I don't know...scared I guess." She replied honestly, and then the tears came and this time she let them. She had made it a point never to cry in front of him, but she didn't have the strength to hold it in any longer. "I'm scared and I want my Mom." She wept. Mike, in all his sensitive glory, sat back down in the rocking chair not saying a word; seemingly waiting for her to pull herself together. With all the courage she could muster, Sandra forced herself to stop crying wasted tears. Tears that didn't make a difference anyway.
Staring up at the ceiling she asked, "Did the air conditioning get installed?" The corners of her mouth pulled down tight to control her speech.

Mike lowered his head, "Yeah, the guy finished up hours ago. Then I came here. I didn't know that you fell, nobody called me." He sighed. "I tried calling your room but nobody would let me talk to you..." He faded off as though caught up in some internal struggle. "I'm sorry Sandra."

She didn't know what he was sorry for. It wasn't his fault that she collapsed. She wanted to ask him what exactly he was sorry for...for getting her pregnant or for treating her like a third class citizen since then? But she was distracted by something. The tone of his voice when he said her name, it was - nice. Mike moved to her side again, "Sandra, how do you feel?" he asked, and then grimaced slightly probably hoping she wouldn't start crying again. Sandra realized that the first time he had asked how she felt, he wasn't actually talking about her feelings, but her physical state.
"I'm alright I guess. Did the doctors tell you anything? Is the baby OK? I mean, he feels OK. He's OK right?" She looked up into Mike's eyes for reassurance.

"You're both fine they said. I don't know what's going on now that you're awake." Mike glanced at Sandra's big belly, covered in hospital linens. "I guess we're going to have a baby now." It was an unusually innocent thing for him to say as though he was just given the news that day that there was a baby inside of her that was inevitably going to come out. Sandra shook her head slightly, the man was an anomaly. Mike turned to leave the room. "I'll go tell somebody that you're awake."
The room fell silent once he was gone. Sandra could hear the soft thudding of nurse's shoes busying themselves with paperwork and patients, phones ringing, wheelchairs rolling, and to her amazement, a baby crying. It sounded like the first cry that a baby makes when it's born...just like the cries she heard on every episode of The Learning Chanel's 'A Baby Story". Somebody nearby just gave birth to a baby....and she was next.

"Hello Ms. Beech," said the doctor, entering the room, sweeping up her chart and looking it over. "I'm Dr. Lam. How are you feeling?"

"I'm...I feel fine. What's going on?"

The Doctor chuckled amiably, "What's going on is that we're going to induce you now and get this show on the road." His tone of voice was very comforting. He looked to be Chinese and in his forties. Sandra noticed that he smelled slightly of cigarette smoke. A Doctor that smoked cigarettes. That just didn't seem right to her.

Mike was back at her side, talking to the Doctor, "So how long is this going to take?" Sandra was sure he didn't mean it the way it sounded. At least that's what she told herself.

The Doctor replied, "Well, it's not an exact science. Anywhere between four to eight hours." He seemed as surprised by the question as Sandra was.

Mike looked at his watch. "It's already eight o'clock." Then looking at Sandra, "Are you up for an all-nighter?"

She grinned, "It's been awhile, but I guess so."

"Great," Dr. Lam said clapping his hands together once. "The nurse will be right in to get you started."

Exactly seven hours and roughly 28 blood pressure monitoring attacks later, it was baby time. The room filled up with a couple of nurses and Dr. Lam stolled in behind them.

"Where's Mike?" Sandra asked one of the nurses.

"He's on his way love," said the short black nurse, "he was sleeping in the lounge." She took Sandra's hand and handed it to Mike as he entered the room. "Now this is how it's going to go," she said to him. "You hold her hand, you make her happy, and you hold her left leg below the knee." With that she shoved Sandra's legs apart, pulled her left knee up and placed Mike's hand under it for support. Mike and Sandra looked at each other, both slightly horrified. It had been months since they had come into physical contact and now he was holding her legs ajar getting ready for her to give birth. His hand was warm and slightly moist under her knee. It was too intimate for them to handle and they both began to blush.

The nurse noticed the exchange and shook her head slightly. She then went about her business at the more important end of the bed with the Doctor where the baby was getting ready to come into a world with paren'ts who didn't love each other. Sandra was exhausted half way through the labor and found herself asking the Doctor if he couldn't just pull the baby out himself. The pushing was like nothing she had ever experienced before. She felt like she might turn inside out if she pushed any harder. And with some more sweat and tears and cursing, their baby came into being with that exhilarating newborn cry of life. Sandra was yet to see her little boy when the nurse handed a pair of scissors to Mike who was slightly pale and sweating as well.

"Cut the cord." She ordered. Mike leaned over out of site and then a moment later stood triumphant by her side. He had not let go of her hand, or her leg, throughout the entire ordeal. With a magnificently enormous smile on his face, he announced to Sandra as the nurses carried her baby past her and onto a small table in the corner, "That's a good looking kid."

Finally, the nurse appeared again and placed the baby in Sandra's arms and life seemed to make sense for the first time in ages. He was the definition of perfection. Her heart swelled and so did her eyes. She wiped away her tears, this time of joy, not wanting them to blur the vision that was before her. She looked up at Mike who to her surprise also had a tear streaming down his face.
"Good job, Mommy." He said and leaned over and kissed her head, just like she had seen all the Daddies do on 'A Baby Story'. Today, although nothing close to the fairy tale she imagined growing up, it was their baby story.

Chapter 2
Sandra and Mike named their baby boy Daniel. They took him home together and the following months graduated into a routine of nursing, napping, and bum changing. Mike went back to work as usual but started doing something new that was a pleasant surprise for Sandra. Just as he was getting ready to leave the house every morning he would lean down and kiss the baby on his fluffy little head and then also kiss Sandra good-bye. Most of the time both she and the baby were still lying in bed.

Daniel had a constant stream of visitors from Mike's family, none of whom paid much attention to Sandra. Mike's mother came by every day to see her first grandchild. Her name was Marta and she was aggressive to say the least. She would take up the baby weather he was sleeping or nursing in Sandra's arms when she arrived. Grandma, understandably could not keep her hands off the little guy, but she made Sandra feel like an incubation machine, that with her work done, she was no longer needed. It was unbearable. But it did give her an opportunity to actually shower and nap while Marta proceeded smother the poor child.

Marta criticized everything that Sandra did, from wearing her pre-pregnancy clothes which were too tight, to deciding on nursing the baby instead of bottle feeding him. It drove Mike's mother insane to have to hand the baby back to Sandra for feeding. It secretly pleased Sandra to deny Marta the bonding that comes with feeding a baby. Feeling that way surprised her but it was one thing that she could control in the whirlwind her life had become. Until that fatal morning. Sandra had come down from her shower to find Marta on the sofa with Daniel crutched in her arm, feeding him with a bottle!
"What are you doing?" Sandra demanded, all patience with the old terror now completely dissolved by the acid in the back of her throat at the sight of her bottle feeding Daniel.

"I'm feeding my grandchild, do you mind?" Marta replied flatly.

"Do I mind?" Sandra practically screamed. "Yes I mind and you know I do! You are going to completely throw his stomach into a fit. He's not used to formula - he is breast fed and you damn well know it lady." There it was, the small town girl came out of her with fists a blazin'. Sandra was embarrassed for her outburst, but firm on her resolve that Mike's mother had gone too far this time.

Marta lifted the bottle to show Sandra the contents. "It's water." She jiggled the bottle for emphasis. "You see." She said, "I'm not even going to comment on how completely out of line you were just now. Speaking to me in that tone." Her chin went up in the air along with her long pointy nose. Her perfectly coifed bright orange hair did not move in its place. She glared at Sandra with her glacial blue eyes as though trying to will an apology out of her. "I don't think that Mike would appreciate you speaking to me that way," she said.

Sandra turned crimson red with embarrassment and anger combined. Tears welled in her eyes. She managed to cross the living room and retrieve her innocent little Daniel from Marta's clutches. She made a point in not saying a word as she settled into the rocking chair, covered them both with a receiving blanket and began nursing him. She had no words for Marta. Why should she apologize? Marta was a cold, rude woman and Sandra didn't deserve the treatment she received from her almost daily.

Marta stood, collected her purse and headed for the door without another word. Sandra heard the door close and removed the receiving blanket to look down at Daniel.

"It's okay baby, the mean old witch is gone." she whispered. Daniel opened one eye and then closed it again, content on his mid-day snack.
When Mike arrived home just after six Sandra immediately handed him the baby who had been crying non-stop since four. The doctor said it was colic and would go away eventually. Sandra solemnly understood the cause of shaken baby syndrome about one and a half hours into Daniel's crying rage each and every day. Nothing she could do would appease the little guy. She tried everything from changing to feeding to singing to walking outdoors with him in the stroller. He just wouldn't stop crying - there were a few times when he wailed so fiercely that she thought his head might pop off. Nothing could have prepared her for what Daniel had begun to put her through for two hours every day just before Mike would get home. The few times when she thought she was sure she would absolutely lose her mind she would put screaming Daniel into his crib and hide in the washroom to cry for ten minutes or so before retrieving the little monkey and trying to soothe him all over again. The rest of the time, he was a complete angel full of coos and gurgles and poop. She loved him so dearly, so much so that she swore that nobody could even begin to fathom what love is until they have a child. She couldn't get enough of his smell, his silky skin, his gray eyes, and his tiny little toes that would curl around her top lip when she kissed the bottom of his feet.
Mike took the crying baby without a word and Sandra went upstairs for a cry herself - not because she was sad - she just had to release the frustration of the afternoon's wailing session. It was so stressful. She hopped in the shower to further de-stress. The steam and heat helped release the tension in her neck, arms, legs, and back. Half way through her shower she heard Daniel begin to wind down and knew that he would need to be fed as soon as she was through.

Mike and Daniel were sitting on the bed when she came out of the shower. Mike was leaning back on his elbow making faces at Daniel who was happily kicking his legs and waving his arms in every direction. Sandra smiled at the sight; it did something to her every time she saw them together that way. It softened her a little each time, and the cold hard loveless months she endured during her pregnancy slowly began to fade from her memory.
"My mom called me today at work." Mike began as Sandra scooped up Daniel to feed him. Mike always stared on with wide eyed wonder when Sandra fed Daniel. She didn't blame him, it was a miraculous thing. "She said that you yelled at her today." Mike said, not moving his eyes from the suckling baby.

Sandra flushed slightly, "About that..." She was expecting Mike to be upset with her.
"It's OK, I know how she is. I lived with her for nineteen years." He said.
"It's just that she's such a pushy bitch." Sandra blurted out.

"Whoa, she's still my mother Sandra."

Sandra blushed slightly, "I know, I'm sorry. It's just a lot for me to deal with."

He stroked the baby's head and then got up to change his clothes. But instead of putting on jogging pants to lounge around the house in, he pulled on a pair of jeans. New jeans.

"You went shopping?" She asked. Why did he get to leave the house and do whatever he wanted and she had to stay at home and never go anywhere or do anything? Because she had a baby - she whined internally.
"Huh? Yeah I guess." Mike replied pulling on a tight fitting navy blue t-shirt.

"Where are you going?" Sandra asked starting to get annoyed by his flagrant freedom.

"It's Friday - I'm meeting the guys for a drink." He said.
"Are you kidding me?" Sandra couldn't help herself. "Hello? Haven't you noticed that your life has changed? My life has changed. You don't see me hooking up with the girls once a week for cocktails." Her voice had become high pitched and the baby began to cry a little.
"You're being dramatic." Mike said teasingly, "I'll see you later tonight." He leaned over and kissed the baby and tousled Sandra's hair like you would do to a toddler. Then he disappeared through the doorway and down the stairs.

"What just happened?" Sandra asked Daniel who had fallen asleep in her arms. Sandra looked at the phone but had nobody to call. All of her friends lived so far away - cocktails with the girls was a joke. She popped Bridget Jones' Diary into the DVD player perched on top of the dresser and fell asleep, with Daniel safely in the middle of the king size bed, about half way through the movie.

Sandra woke up a few hours later, shuffled down the hall and sleepily tucked Daniel into his crib. The time on the clock beside her bed read 2:00 AM as she drifted back to sleep feeling numb inside. Mike was not home yet.

The next morning Sandra was greeted by the sound of Daniel's pleading cries over the baby monitor. Mike had materialized beside her at some point during the night but it was clear that even though it was Saturday he was not going to be roused from bed to retrieve his son. Mike only seemed to think about Mike.

"Good morning baby." Sandra said as she entered the room and peered into the crib. Daniel raised his hands to her immediately, wiggling his body in anticipation of being held by his Mommy.

"Come here little one. Let's change your bum-bum." Although she was tired, it was easy being Daniel's Mom. Every atom in her body wanted to be close to him at all times. When she wasn't in the same room with him she was thinking of him and even when she was holding him she was still thinking of him. He had become her entire world, her entire being, her reason for walking the earth. No matter how anybody treated her, Daniel's chubby little hands on her face made the rest of the world melt away.
Mike staggered down the stairs at around noon. Sandra, sitting on the floor with Daniel, noted with a heavy heart that he had his gym bag in hand. Even though Mike wasn't much company, she hadn't anticipated another day alone.

"Heading out?" She asked.
"Yeah, there's a pickup game starting today - it'll be every Saturday." He said as he grabbed an apple and an orange form the fruit bowl in the kitchen and then strolled back into the living room heading for stairs leading to the door. She didn't even know what a pickup game was and assumed it had somthing to do with soccer.

"Don't you want to spend some time with Daniel?" She asked trying to sound casual although she was beside herself in disbelief.

"I will later." He said. Mike looked down at the baby who was rolling around on a blanket on the living room floor. "He can roll over now?"
Sandra rolled her eyes, "You missed it. He did it last night and hasn't stopped since."

Mike picked him up and sat on the rocking chair with Daniel. "Are you rolling over?" He asked in a soft voice. "What a big boy. You'll be kicking a ball in no time."

Sandra smiled sweetly at them and rolled her eyes again. She was starting to resent the fact that Mike did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and then melted her heart every time he held their baby. It shouldn't have been enough to make up for his shortcomings, but in the moment it always was. And for the moment, Sandra didn't have a lot of options but to grin and bear it.

Her mind drifted to her childhood. She was swinging on a swing feeling the wind through her hair and on her face. Her friend Bobby was pushing her with all his might so she could go as high as the swing would allow. "We're going to get married some day you know." She told him as a matter of factly.
"I know," Bobby replied, "You tell me all the time."

"We'll live in a castle and we'll be so happy and we'll have lots of maids and servants and babies." She told him.
"Anything you want Sandy. I'd do anything for you." He said valiantly.

With that she jumped off the swing and rolled on the grass. Bobby was at her side in an instant collecting her up onto her feet. He took her by the hand to run over to the monkey bars just as they heard her mother calling her for lunch from overtop the houses across the street.

Mike handed Daniel, who had begun to cry, to Sandra snapping her out of her daze. "You hungry baby?" She asked.

"I'll see you guys later." Mike said as he headed for the door. Sandra chose to ignore him. She could see him standing there out of the corner of her eye waiting for her response. She felt suddenly indignant and continued to ignore him.
"Why don't we go out for dinner tonight?" He asked obviously trying to sound positive, maybe feeling bad for leaving her on her own again with the baby.
She softened slightly. "That sounds nice." She replied, "Can we go to a Steak House? I haven't had a good steak in such a long time." Her stomach was doing the talking.
"What? Yeah, sure. We'll have my mom come over and look after Daniel." He said.

I'm not leaving Daniel with that sociopath, Sandra thought. "I think he's fine to take him with us. As long as it's after six. He doesn't stop being colicky just because it's the weekend." she said again feeling slightly bitter.

"My mom can watch him." Mike insisted.

"I'd really much rather take him along." Sandra too insisted.

"OK, whatever, fine." Mike conceded. "I'll see you guys later." he said again.

"See ya." Sandra replied coolly. Remembering that she was on her own again for the day with no vehicle and nothing to do. Her patience was beginning to wear thin but it was comforting to know that she'd be going out for a nice dinner that night and bringing Daniel too. She couldn't bear the thought of being away from him even if it were just for a few hours. He needed her and she would never let him down.

Holding Daniel up over her head making him giggle she asked, "What are we going to do today Buddy?"

"Ahhhhbllllrrrrp" he replied and Sandra agreed that would likely be the extent of it.

They had just returned from the park for the third time that day - Sandra discovered that Daniel was big enough to be pushed in a baby swing and it was so much fun for both of them and so they kept going back. Besides, there was nothing else to do really. The phone rang as Sandra was putting Daniel down for a nap.


"Sandra! It's Marta, how are you dear?" They hadn't spoken since Marta walked out the morning before. There was something different in her tone. She was being nice.
"I'm alright." Sandra replied, not falling for the act.

"Listen, I was wondering if you wouldn't like to go to the gym with me a few days a week. We can bring Daniel - they have babysitters."
Sandra was taken off guard by the proposal. She knew that Marta did frequent the gym as she had once asked Mike how his mother looked so good for her age. Could she see herself in a gym working out and sweating? Did she have the energy? Common sense told her that working out would actually give her energy and as a bonus she could lose all her baby fat. And it would get her out of the house...but it also meant spending a lot of extra time with Marta. It was a tough decision.

"Sandra? Are you there?" Marta asked.

"Yes, sorry. Thank you Marta, I think I'll take you up on that. It sounds great." Sandra cringed again at the thought of spending all that time with her.

"Wonderful Dear. I'll pick you up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning. You'll fit into your clothes again in no time." She added just to get a jab in, Sandra figured.

"Great. Can't wait." Sandra lied.

"So what are you kids up to now, can I come over for a little visit?"

Sandra looked at the clock and it was getting to be four in the afternoon - colic time. "Sure Marta, come on over. If you don't mind, I'll get ready while you're here. Mike and I are going out tonight." Then she added quickly, "We're taking Daniel with us." You can come and deal with the colic between now and then, she thought wickedly. She wanted to start chuckling like an evil villain.

"Oh." Marta mumbled. And then in a faux cheery voice sang, "I'm on my way!" Marta was clearly not pleased that she wasn't asked to babysit and Sandra hung up the phone smiling. Then she lay down on the couch for a nap before Marta arrived.

Mike finally came home at around five and Sandra pretended to be getting ready in the bathroom while he and his mother did everything to settle little Daniel through his scheduled crying bought. She didn't know why she couldn't just flat out ask them to give her a break. She didn't want them to think she couldn't handle her own baby. But she truly dreaded the arrival of 4:00 pm every single day. At around 6:15 she strolled into the living room where Mike and Marta were looking exhausted and frustrated. Sandra marched over and took Daniel in her arms who very quickly settled back down to his regular self, squeeling and laughing and inadvertently pulling on her hair. She smiled at them feigning apology at the fact that the baby clearly preferred her to them. These games amused her and made her not like herself very much at the same time. But Sandra was so bored that she had to create these intrigues just to stay sane. Or had she already lost her mind, she wondered?

Sandra was feeling pretty good about her appearance as they left for dinner that evening. She even slung on a pair of black heels with her jeans making her feel much less sloppy than she felt every other day of the week. She tucked Daniel into his car seat, gurgling and drooling. Sandra had dressed him in a pair of little yellow overalls that had a giraffe on the front pocket. His soft brown hair swirled above his forehead like the Gerber Baby and she thought that Daniel was just as cute if not cuter than that little marketing jackpot of a child. When Mike turned on the car, the stereo blasted into life so loud that Sandra couldn't even make out what was being played. She hit the power button and gave Mike a dirty look as Daniel began to scream.

The rest of the evening was awkward but pleasant. Having Daniel with them at the restaurant was perhaps not her brightest idea, but Mike didn't seem to mind. He held him through most of the meal and only passed him off to Sandra when he began to fuss or cry. Sandra fed the baby in the large stall in the bathroom as not to offend anyone. She dug into her own dinner with animal ferocity when she got back to the table and saw the steaming hunk of meat awaiting her with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. It had been so long since she had a decent meal. This was of course due mostly to the fact that she had been the one doing the cooking for the last six months. She was beginning to wonder if they made a Cooking for Dummies book that she could purchase.

Back at home later that night, Daniel was snuggled into his crib after his exciting evening on the town. Sandra and Mike settled onto the couch, but instead of watching a movie or something they could enjoy together, Mike turned it to the Sports Network. They watched highlight after highlight from the days many sporting events before Sandra yawned, kissed Mike on the cheek and headed for bed without saying another word. She wondered if they'd ever have sex again or, if in Mike's eyes, she was only there to look after Daniel. Her self-esteem was at a record low given that her midsection jiggled every time she moved and her butt was a whole other issue. She felt like a troll next to Mike who took off every weeknight, except for Fridays, to hit the gym for two hours. It just didn't seem fair. She was suddenly very thankful for Marta's offer to bring her along to the gym. Maybe if she got back into shape Mike would look at her like he once did so very long ago before she got pregnant.

Six months later and thirty-five pounds lighter Sandra could not be more thankful for Marta. They had begun to warm up to each other, somewhat anyway. Maybe Sandra was just easier to get along with because she was feeling better, more energetic and at times, when running on the treadmill at the gym watching Oprah on the Television bolted to the ceiling above her, euphoric. Time in the car on the way to the gym and back with Marta was spent mostly talking about Daniel. Sandra realized just how much her little baby meant to the woman. She had been selfish to be annoyed with her before for Marta's wanting to be around him. Daniel was Marta's only grandchild even though Mike had two older brothers. The second oldest, John, was engaged to his girlfriend and the eldest, Dave, Sandra suspected to be gay.
Marta still drove Sandra mad with her forcefulness when it came to Daniel, but she tried to reel in her temper and let Grandma enjoy being a Grandma. It was a much better feeling than the mind games she had reduced herself to in the past. She decided that she would choose her battles and only fight for the things that really meant a lot to her, and let Marta off easier with the rest. Marta seemed to appreciate Sandra's new approach and in turn often treated her to a day at the mall or a nice lunch in the city, always with Daniel happily within arms reach of them both.

One sunny Wednesday afternoon the two sat on a bistro patio looking over the lake, both lost in their own thoughts as Daniel slept in his stroller. Marta, looking pensive, turned to Sandra and asked a question that took her completely by surprise.

"Sandra Dear, can I ask you a personal question?" Marta asked.

Taking a sip of her tea and feeling very relaxed Sandra said, "Sure, why not."

"Why hasn't your mother been to visit you and Daniel?" Sandra must have turned white because Marta added, "You don't have to tell me if it's too personal."
Sandra collected herself and repeated the same phrase that she had learned to say without feeling the impact of the actual words over the last ten years. "She's dead." Sandra said, taking another sip of her tea, trying not to look into Marta's eyes where she would surely find the pity that came when you made such a statement. When she did look back into Marta's face, the woman looked confused.

Her features softened, "I'm sorry, I just didn't know. I can't believe Mike didn't tell me. I'm sorry Sandra." Marta sounded - sincere. It was a first. She seamed to put a lot of energy into being insincere the rest of the time. Marta's actions were much kinder than her words Sandra had come to learn. Marta's features softened even further and Sandra thought for the first time she looked somewhat old. She said very softly putting her hand over Sandra's, "My husband passed away eight years ago now." Then quickly as though something had just bit her in the bottom, Marta half rose from her chair and summoned over the waiter to prepare their bill. "What poor service." She said coldly, completely transforming her temperament and sentiment within seconds. It was clear to Sandra that Marta did not like people to see her soft side and the woman behind the hard, cold, beautiful mask.

Sandra was seventeen when her mother died of cancer. Her father turned to the church and Sandra turned to Bobby who held her hand at the funeral services. Sandra would sit on the curb outside her house everyday after school with her head hung low as Bobby rode up and down the street on his bicycle never letting her out of his sight. Seven months later Bobby's family moved three city blocks away, but he would show up on his bike every day, just the same, to watch over her. She was, after all, going to be his wife someday. One more year after that, Bobby's family moved across the country.
Summer had appeared out of nowhere and it was soon the anniversary date of the air conditioning being installed. In other words, Daniel's first birthday! Sandra's Father, Bill, who had nearly disowned her for getting pregnant out of wedlock, was the first to arrive at the party. He refused to support her in any way when she told him she was pregnant, which was how she ended up living with Mike. Her father said that if you lie down with dogs you will wake up with fleas. She could understand him referring to Mike as dog but was offended to say the least that he would refer to her then unborn child as a flea. She had gotten herself into trouble and he was not going to bail her out, that was the bottom line. Bill, nevertheless, arrived with an extra large gift in his hand for his grandson's first birthday. He loved the little guy just as much as everyone else who's life Daniel seemed to make better.
Marta, John and his fiancé Lynn, and Dave showed up as well and they had a barbeque in the backyard to celebrate. For no other reason in the world would this particular group of people ever have come together. Daniel charged around in his inflatable swimming pool squealing and laughing while everyone snapped pictures.

Chapter 3
Lynn, John's fiance, had the sweetest temperament that Sandra had ever seen in a woman. She was soft spoken almost to the point of being obnoxiously so. It made Sandra wish she had a softer tone of voice and was as quiet and demure as Lynn. But where would the fun be in that?

"I really envy you." Lynn said as they prepared coffee and cut up the cake for everyone in the kitchen.

Sandra was bemused by this comment. "Why on earth would you envy me?" She asked.
"You seem to have it all, a house, a baby...Mike." Clearly Lynn had no idea what life was like for Sandra, but for fun she allowed herself to pretend that her life was worth envying, that she was in deed happy. For the most part she was, she supposed.
"Thank you Lynn." Sandra said modestly. "That's nice of you to say."

"I can't wait until John and I start our family. For now I'll just have to live through you and Daniel." Lynn smiled warmly.
"OK then, let's get this food out to everyone shall we?" Sandra had enough of playing pretend. Lynn and John were truly happy together and would make excellent parents and raise a family together, all after their perfect marriage of course. They planned to get married in the Bahamas. It made Sandra more than envious. It made her green with jealousy. It also made her very resentful of her own situation. She wished that she could have made her father proud and fallen in love and gotten married and then had Daniel. But if all those things would have fallen into place, it would not have been with Mike, and Daniel would not exist. She was torn on this matter and decided that it wasn't worth focusing on what could have been and with whom.

Sandra and Daniel had both begun to take life in stride. Literally. Sandra had become a champion treadmill runner, running for an hour at a time, three days a week. It was so freeing and exhilarating to push herself to levels that she never thought she could physically handle before. The adrenoline rush was addicting and Sandra found herself waiting on the outside stoop with Daniel every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning for Marta to bring them to the gym. Daniel had begun and quickly mastered walking and then running as well. Sandra's heart was in her throat in the beginning every time he tumbled and fell, but he would always collect himself up and carry on before she had a chance to pick him up. Daniel was a boy on the go, seeing the world through a new perspective and treating every single day as a new adventure in things he could reach, grab or pull down from the counters and shelves. He especially loved it when Sandra would chase him around the house when he got his hands on a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of ketchup from the fridge.

Thankfully, he still napped, and while Daniel napped Sandra discovered and explored the internet. She looked for possible part-time jobs knowing that she would eventually have to go back to work. She played around on Facebook adding pictures of Daniel and chatting with a few friends from grade school who she looked up for fun. She typed in Bobby's name everyday but never hit the search button for fear of actually finding him. What would she say after all these years? Would he even remember her?

One fateful day Sandra decided to open Mike's email account to see who he kept in touch with, knowing that he had a multitude of people that he called friends. It came with the territory of being a salesman, she figured. But she did not prepare herself for the email she read from him to a woman named Kate asking her to 'hook up' sometime. Hook up? The last time Sandra checked, that meant a date? Was Mike dating? Cheating on her? Sandra didn't know how to feel about the email other than outraged. She sat at home all day looking after their child while he's out hooking up with people. She stared to cry and she didn't stop until Daniel woke from his nap.
Sandra pulled herself together and took Daniel across the street to the park. She sat on the bench while Daniel motored around the toddler section of the park, climbing up and down the ramps and playing with the different levers provided for the amusement of little hands. "Of course he's cheating on me." She thought. "How did I not see it? I practically have to force myself on him to get any kind of physical attention. I'm in the best shape of my life and he doesn't even notice." Daniel put a chubby hand on her knee and looked up at Sandra. "Mumumum," He said. He patted her knee and went back to the playground. This was his way of asking her to watch what he can do. Sandra watched him climb the ramp and go down the tiny little slide, landing with a soft thump on his diapered bottom and squealing in delight while clapping his hands together.

"Good job bum-bum!" Sandra clapped and smiled at the rug-rat as he proceeded to repeat the act over and over and over again every time waiting at the bottom of the slide for her applause. Sandra decided to brood later when she confronted Mike, and to enjoy her time with Daniel instead. Everyone was always warning her to enjoy every second of Daniel's childhood because 'they grow up so fast' and Sandra swore to him that she would do just that, enjoy him and make sure he enjoyed his childhood as well. She would deal with Mike later.

When Mike arrived home at six thirty that evening Daniel went running into his arms. "Dadadada." And then pointing up to the ceiling fan as they entered the living room, "Faaaaaan, Dadadada, faaaaan."

"Yes, fan." Mike repeated. "Hey Sandra." Mike looked in her direction expecting her usual greeting. She normally would pop up off the sofa, walk across the room to kiss him hello. Today she had no desire to be that close to him. Mike put Daniel down in front of his toy blocks on the floor and headed upstairs to get ready for the gym. Sandra scooped up Daniel and his blocks and followed Mike up the stairs.

"I’d like to speak to you, Mike." She said to his back.
"About what?" He asked.

She put Daniel on the floor of the master bedroom and sat in the upholstered chair in the corner. It was an old hand-me-down from his mother. "Mike. Are you dating people?" It sounded odd when she said it, but she lifted her chin and waited for his response.

Mike took off his dress shirt and sighed loudly. "What?"
"Are you hooking up with other women?" She pronounced the words hooking up in a mocking, disgusted tone.
"Uh, no." He replied dumbly and not very convincingly.

"Mike I read your email to Kate asking her if she wanted to hook up. I’m not stupid, I know what that means." Sandra folded her arms across her chest and held her breath.

"You read my email?" His voice was angry. "What the hell are you doing reading my email?"

"I don’t know." She said defensively. "That’s not the point. Answer my question. Who is she? Are you screwing her?.... I’m the one who’s supposed to be angry here." She said pointedly and then realized that she really wasn’t as upset as she thought she would be. She looked Mike up and down as he continued to change into jogging shorts and a t-shirt. She wasn’t feeling much of anything at that moment, not love, not hate, just plain nothing. "Listen, just tell me what’s going on, that’s the least you could do."
Mike stood and stared at Sandra with both hands on his hips. He seemed to be taking her in the same way that she had just done to him. She assumed that he came to the same conclusion: nothing. "She’s a friend. We meet up for lunch sometimes, she works at the bar across the street from the dealership" he confessed.
"So you meet up with a waitress for lunch and I’m not supposed to find that insulting? How long have you known her? Have you slept with her?"

"She’s just a friend!" He yelled, startling Daniel who dropped the block he had in his mouth and looked up at his father and then instinctively at his mother for reassurance.

Sandra forced a smile reaching out to brush his chubby cheek with the back of her hand. "It's okay baby". She whispered. Sandra glared at Mike, "Do not yell at me in front of Daniel. Ever," She warned. "Ok so she’s your friend and she’s a waitress at a bar. Is she a new friend? Why don’t we all meet for lunch one day and you can introduce her to me….and Daniel." Sandra thought that this was a perfectly reasonable request given that any friend of Mike’s would surely be a friend of hers. She knew that Kate was not just a friend, however, she knew it in the pit of her stomach. She was insulted and offended by the situation. It made her look like a fool to be living with a man who she knew didn’t love her and raising his baby while he was out with Kate. It occurred to her that Kate’s bar was probably where he went every Friday night with his buddies, or maybe he just went alone. Who knows how many lies he had told her by not telling her anything at all.

"You’re being ridiculous." Mike blurted out. He grabbed his gym bag and stormed out of the room and down the stairs. Sandra sat observing Daniel who was still looking in the direction that his father had gone when she heard the door slam and the sound of his car pulling out of the drive. Daniel swung his head back to look at Sandra questioningly.

"It’s alright boo-boo. Daddy’s gone to the gym….or to Kate’s bar, who knows?" She tickled Daniel who squealed in delight. Nothing had changed in the altercation between her and Mike. There was no resolve, no apologies, no admittal of infidelity. The conversation started with them both feeling nothing for each other and ended in the same regard. Sandra was disturbed and relieved. She didn’t have to do anything. She didn’t have to find a new place to live just yet, she didn’t have to beat on Mike’s chest and beg him to love her, she didn’t have to anything more than she had been doing. All she really had to do was take care of her and take care of Daniel until she could figure out what it was that she needed to do. What was best for Daniel for now was staying put.

She had no money saved up , no job, no insight into her future. There was something that kept her chained to Mike and the security of the home she had built there with Daniel. It was fear. Fear of going out on her own and trying to make that good for Daniel. How could she alone provide for him what he had where they were? A comfortable, safe place to live with air conditioning and a fridge full of healthy food. How could she provide all of that on her own? She couldn’t turn to her father for help; he made that clear when she got pregnant in the first place. She was stuck. Stuck in a place that she resented and yet took comfort in for the sake of Daniel. Was she a gold-digger? Was she using Mike? She didn’t mean to be, but maybe, given the fact that she didn’t actually love him, she was. And that wasn’t fair for any of them.

Sandra and Daniel's days continued on as usual full of kisses and hugs and tickles. Long walks in the stroller, visits with Marta and trips to the gym and the mall kept them busy and kept Sandra from making any hard decisions. Sandra never mentioned Kate's name to Mike again. She tried very hard to refrained herself from checking Mike's email account again as well. When she did finally break down one day and opened up his mailbox she was not surprised to find that a little box requesting a password popped up on the screen.

Most nights Mike would come home, have dinner, play with Daniel, and then go back out again to the gym. He would go out with his friends on Friday nights and then play soccer on Saturday mornings. Once a month they would go out for a nice steak dinner and bring Daniel along to fill the silence. On the way back to the car they would sometimes hold hands. It was like they were living in some sort of limbo between strangers and a couple that had been married for so long that they had nothing left to say to one another.

The first time that Sandra met Mike they were at a bar. It was the type of bar that Sandra didn't usually go to. It was full of beautiful people who were full of self importance and alcohol. The ambiance there only seemed to feed their vanity with its sleek lines and throbbing lights. She was ordering a drink at the bar for her and her friend Jen, whom she met while working as a cashier at Quick Rent Video. Mike leaned in beside her and quickly and easily got the female bartenders attention. She was annoyed at first until he asked what she was having.

He paid for her drink, asked her to dance and they were inseparable for the rest of the evening. She was flattered that such an attractive guy would be interested in her in the midst of all the beauties in the room. But for some reason he was. He was aggressive and confident which came off as arrogant to Sandra but he was tall and well built and had attractive green eyes. Jen didn't care for Mike at all and sort of dropped out of Sandra's life as she spent more and more time with him.

Mike had a good job and was always on the go, dragging Sandra around with him like an accessory. She figured that the women he usually dated didn't mind, but she felt like there were other things she could be doing with her time other than picking up his dry cleaning and visiting his friends all around the city. She would be stuck sitting in a corner waiting for him and his buddies to get bored of playing video games before they would all go out to a club for the night, most nights of the week.

The nights were what kept Sandra coming back for more. She never knew where they would end up and it was fun and exciting to enjoy a side of the city's nightlife that she hadn't experienced before. Mike was a young, sexy, and successful guy. He hung out with people of the same caliber as him at some of the nicest clubs in town. Some nights they would end up at a hotel afterwards, some nights at his apartment, and other nights it would be at hers. It didn't matter where they were; once the door was closed she was in paradise. He knew his way around a woman's body and taught her things that she didn't even know about herself. All those exciting and passionate nights made the monotonous daytime hours spent with Mike more bearable.

The excitement was more than long gone for Sandra as another winter rolled around. Mike was still the same carefree guy, hanging out with his friends and going to the bar on the weekends. He hadn't changed except that he had no interest in Sandra any longer. He never took her along like he used.

Sandra liked to ski but Mike was not a fan and so Sandra didn't ski anymore. Instead she walked in the snow pulling Daniel on his sled. She found a good sized hill behind a local school and they spent every evening after dinner going up and down that hill again and again and again. As good as her life was with Daniel, there was a nagging voice in Sandra's mind that was becoming more and more persistent every day. She knew that what she was doing wasn't right. She should give Mike back his house and his old life. She would talk to her father, she decided. But even if he did say yes, the thought of living under his roof again was nauseating. It would be like when she was a teenager, he was so strict after her mother passed away that she could barely breathe for his interrogations and judgment. That's why she moved out after she graduated high school. Her father lived in fear of life and devoted most of his time to the church where he felt safe. She didn't blame him for that, but she couldn't live with it either.
First I need to get a job. Sandra thought to herself early one morning as she punched the word secretary into a job search engine on Mike's computer. She erased the word secretary and replaced it with office administrator. She had worked part-time in an office for a few summers throughout high school and figured that experience might get her in the door somewhere. The search came up with 1,348 jobs that matched the description. She opened the first listing. "University Degree required." She read aloud. "To answer phones?"

"Phone!" Daniel echoed and waddled over to his toy box and pulled out a Sesame Street phone that Marta had given him. He pressed the button with Big Bird on it and listened to the voice say "Hello Friend."

Sandra opened another job posting and read, "Must have a minimum of 5 years experience." She let out a sigh and took a sip of her tea. Daniel put his hands on her knees and then up in the air wanting to be picked up into her lap to tap on the keyboard. Instead Sandra put Barney on the TV to keep him busy while she buckled down and tried to find a job that didn't require, well, much.

196 postings later Sandra had come across a few potential job options. There was a welding shop looking for somebody to answer phones and do invoicing, a lawyers office looking for a lackey to answer phones and run errands, and a computer warehouse looking for somebody to do inventory. Sandra rubbed her eyes and was about to power off the computer and call it a day when she came across a very interesting posting. 'Executive Assistant - Neason Advertising. Besides the actor, Sandra only knew of one other person with the last name Neason.

Knowing the odds were slim, she clicked on the posting to open it up and found that it was a small company looking for an assistant to the president, Robert Neason. Could it be Bobby Neasen's father, Sandra wondered? She scrambled for a pen and paper and wrote down the address and phone number to the Advertising Agency. With shaking hands she folded the piece of paper and held it to her chest for a moment before tucking it into the pocket of her robe.

Trying not to get her hopes up, Sandra decided that she would drop her resume of in person to Mr Neason. If it was Bobby's father, he might remember her from the old neighborhood and give her the job, even despite her terrible resume. It was a shot in the dark, but it's who you know not what you know her father told her when she got her first jobs working for one of their neighbours as a teenager. Sandra's heart dropped as something occurred to her at that moment. If Mr. Neason was living in the area, then his son must surely visit him from time to time. Why had Bobby never looked her up? Her father had never moved; it wouldn't have been very difficult to find her. The thought made her feel unloved, even more than she already did. It was irrational, she knew, since Bobby didn't owe her anything, not even a phone call since so much time had passed. They might as well have never have known each other at all. They might as well be complete strangers.

Marta dropped Sandra off in front of the entrance to the building that the Agency was in exactly two weeks later. Sandra had purchased a pair of heels and a stylish light blue suit that hugged her now firm body in all the right places. She would have not have been able to purchase the shoes without the generosity of Marta. When she told Marta that she wanted to find a job, she knew the old-school woman would be hesitant. So Sandra said the words that she knew would gain her full cooperation. "You will babysit Daniel while I'm at work won't you? I wouldn't be able to leave every day unless I knew he would be with somebody who loves him as much as I do." Marta visibly melted in front of Sandra's eyes at the thought of so much alone time with her grandchild.
"Of course I will!" She shouted, causing the patrons in their favorite cafe to look in her direction. "Of course I will," Marta said more calmly this time.
Sandra waved bye-bye to Daniel through the car window and walked into the tall gray building with a heart full of hope and a stomach full of unruly butterflies.

The elevator was mirrored. Sandra looked into her own eyes as she was being lifted to the 12th floor of the building. They were her mother's eyes. Bluish gray - and scared. Scared of life, scared of love and scared of death. There was a serious lack of confidence hiding deep in her eyes, something that had been hiding there her whole life. The only time she ever felt brave or sure was when Bobby used to hold her hand. These days the only time she felt that way was when Daniel had his chubby little hand wrapped around her finger pulling her forward through life.

Before the elevator doors opened Sandra looked herself over. Her hair had grown like a weed since having Daniel and she had it tied back in a sleek pony tail. She looked like a young professional woman in her new suit. Looks can be very deceiving she thought and smiled at herself, happy for the first time in a long time with her appearance.

The doors opened to a bright and modern office. Surprised to see that the agency took up the entire 12th floor; Sandra strode over to the pretty young Indian woman at the reception desk. "How may I help you?" the receptionist asked.

"Hi, I'd like to see Mr. Neason if he's in please." She steadied her shaking voice, "I'm a friend of the family," she added.

The receptionist looked Sandra over for a moment and smiled politely, picking up the phone. "May I have your name?" she asked.
"Sandra," she replied trying to sound confident.

"Mr. Neason," The receptionist spoke into the phone, "there's a Sandra here to see you, says she's a friend of the family." She paused to listen, "She didn't say." Another pause and then, "Yes, sir, I'll let her know." Sandra was sure she was about to be kicked out on her rear end, but the receptionist just said, "He'll be right with you. Please have a seat."

Sandra didn't want to sit, she was too nervous so she just stood there at the desk trying to act casual. Knowing how odd she must appear to the girl, she thought she should say something, "Can I ask you your name?" Sandra asked. "It's Indira." She replied. Sandra reached her hand over the desk and Indira took it reluctantly for a quick shake. "Nice to meet you," Sandra continued. "I haven't seen Mr. Neason since I was a kid, I don't know if he'll remember me." I don't even know if he is who I think he is, she thought to herself, preparing for an embarrassing episode where Mr. Neason would arrive in the foyer and he is not the Mr. Neason from her childhood and call security to escort her out. Then Sandra had a moment of clarity, she only needed to ask Indira a few questions to confirm whether he was the right Mr. Neason and if he wasn't the right Mr. Neason, she still had time to make a run for it and save herself from the security escorting scenario.

"Do you know Mr. Neason's son?" she asked Indira casually.

"Robert?" Indira asked.

"You mean Bobby?" Sandra replied.
"He doesn't like to be called that." Indira whispered. "He absolutely hates to be called Bobby." She seemed to be telling this to Sandra in confidence as though she may have once made the mistake of doing so and suffered some sort of consequence as a result. It didn't make any sense to Sandra that Bobby wouldn't want to be called Bobby. That was his name. But it would appear that she was in the right office, with the right Mr. Neason, and would possibly be able to convince him to hire her if she explained her circumstances.

"Hello." Mr. Neason said as he turned the corner from the hallway to the left of the reception desk. Sandra looked up to see a very nice looking man in his fifties, tall with a slim build and a kind face. It was the man she remembered, although slightly grayed and slightly wrinkled around his mouth and eyes, surely from years of smiling and laughing the boisterous laugh that she remembered clearly now. The man who used to make her and Bobby peanut butter and banana sandwiches when they'd get home from school. The man who used to let her and Bobby sit on his motorbike and pretend to ride off to foreign lands together. Bobby's Dad.

"Hello Mr. Neason," Sandra replied not being able to stop herself from grinning ear to ear. Mr. Neason, being a red-blooded male, looked Sandra up and down and then looked into her smiling face. His expression became quizzical, recognizing her but not being able to place her.
"It's Sandra, from Chester Heights. I used to be friends with your son Bobby." Sandra said.

"Sandy?" Mr. Neason asked. "Bobby's Sandy?" Mr. Neason's face went pale; he looked like he was seeing a ghost. He strode over to her and took up her hands into his. "Sandy. We thought you were dead!" He exclaimed. "How is this possible? How is it that you are standing here in front of me?" His eyes were welling up and Sandra didn't know how to react to the situation.

She looked over at Indira whose mouth was wide open in surprise at Mr. Neason's behavior. Confused she turned back to Mr. Neason, "I'm very much alive the last time I checked." She said smiling up at him. She was pretty sure that she'd be getting the job. "Why would you think otherwise?"

Mr. Neason threw his hands up in the air exasperated. He looked over at Indira. "Hold my calls." he told her. "Come with me to my office, I'll explain." he said, leading Sandra into the office's interior. They walked through a hallway of open doors with well dressed professional looking people behind expensive looking desks and arrived at a large corner office with floor to ceiling windows. Waiving her to a mohogany table with four chairs around it, Mr. Neason said, "Have a seat." He sat down across from her and grinned. "Robert is going to..." he began and then paused seemingly changing the course of his thought, "be very excited to know that you are back." He laughed at the prospect of her being back from the dead and continued on. "When we moved back here six years ago, Robert was beside himself trying to decide whether to call you or not - this is just between us - he thought that you must hate him for not keeping in touch with you. He felt like he abandoned you."

"He did. But it wasn't his fault. We were just kids." Sandra tried not to let the memory of the day that Bobby left return, but it did. Bobby kissed her teary cheek before getting into his father's truck. She sat crying on the street curb as they drove away. She didn't stop crying for days. She stopped eating and stopped playing with her other friends. She turned into a bit of a social freak, not wanting to be friends with anyone ever again in case they decided to up and leave like Bobby did. She realized at that moment, that was why she never allowed anybody to love her, including Mike. He may have been trying all along, but she didn't want to see it. She didn't want to be loved because she didn't want to be left behind.

"Sandy, Bobby did call your house once he worked up the nerve but your father told him that you had died in an accident. He said that you were hit by a drunk driver." A flash of anger crossed his face, obviously directed at her father for telling such a lie.

"My father, HE said I was dead?" She was dumbfounded and furious at her father.

"I can understand why your father might have done such a thing. It was to protect you from being hurt again. You must have been a mess when we left and no father - trust me - likes to see their kid in that kind of shape. Robert was a mess when your father gave him that news. Changed his life forever. He became, well, angry. He's a right miserable jerk actually even to me, his own father. He never forgave himself for not staying in touch with you."

Sandra tried desperately to regain her composure - she had gone there for an interview not an intervention. She thought for a split second that Bobby should be mad at himself for ditching her. But she knew that with all the years between them it would have destroyed her too, if she heard that he was gone.

"Mr. Neason, I came here to ask you for a job." She blurted the words out. It wasn't the most opportune moment, but she couldn't stand the pain of thinking about Bobby anymore. Somebody who she knew inside and out, who she loved with all of her little girl heart and somebody who broke that heart into a million little pieces that she has yet been able to collect.

"A job? Oh, the ad in the paper," he said suddenly cheerful. "What a wonderful idea." His voice was smooth and calm now as though they had been only chatting about the weather before. "Why don't you come by next Monday and we'll get started? My current assistant is leaving next Friday and that will give her enough time to show you the ropes. What perfect timing - I haven't even interviewed anybody yet. Sandy, this is what is called fate." He patted her hand and stood up from the table to open the office door.

"Are you sure Mr. Neason?" She asked. "You haven't even seen my resume."

"Of course I'm sure. I have a meeting coming in shortly so have a great day and tell you father I say hello." He patted her on the shoulder and reached out his arm to direct her down the hall toward the foyer. Sandra began walking. When she turned to say thank you to Mr. Neason he had already closed the door to his office and she could see him through the small window beside it, behind his desk reaching for the phone. Was he calling Bobby she wondered?

Chapter 4

"Dad! Why in the world would you tell Bobby Neason that I was dead?" Sandra was doing a sort of quiet scream into the phone. She had put Daniel down for his mid-day nap when she got home from meeting with Mr. Neason.

There was silence for a moment on the other end, " were a wreck when he moved away. I didn't want to see that happen to you again. His father seemed to move around a lot....I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Sandra was beginning to hyperventilate. Her father had been cold and emotionally absent since her mother's death and she learned to live with that when she was growing up, but this was the absolute limit. "You have no idea what you've done. Do you? I probably would have married him, Dad. I would have married him because that was the way it would have gone. And I wouldn't be stuck here in this prison with no husband and a baby and no future. Thanks Dad, that was REALLY helpful!" she slammed down the phone and fell to her knees sobbing. "I hate my life," she whispered to herself.
Once she was finished with her pity party, Sandra decided that it was time to sort things out in her life. Starting with Mike. To figure out if Mike loved her or not, or wanted to love her, she decided to she would watch him more closely and look for signs. If it was a 'loves me not' situation, she would save her money from her new job and move out with Daniel and start a new life just for them. As for Bobby, she couldn't even bring herself to think about him. She was terrified about seeing him again. The worst part is that she had no idea if and when she would see him again. Did he work for his father? Did he still live in the city? She hadn't asked and she had to wait until the following Monday to find out.

She didn't know what kind of signs she was looking for from Mike. Something that would tell her not to leave him. Something that would tell her that he really did care about her. Letting her live there wasn't enough, he was doing that out of obligation not choice. She had resorted to ignoring Mike most of the time over the last year out of resentment for his freedom to go anywhere and do anything at any time of the day while she was stuck at home. The only time she did get out was with his mother. She had become frigid and tried to defrost herself to see if that would make a difference with Mike. "Would you like to take a walk with us after dinner tonight?" Sandra asked as they sat eating dinner at the little table in the kitchen. She made pork chops in cream of mushroom soup. It was something her mother used to make and each bite brought with it a warm peaceful feeling along with a heartbreaking longing for her mother.

"Walk!" Daniel repeated throwing a pea at Mike for emphasis. Sandra giggled and looked to Mike for his reaction. Mike was smiling too.

"Sure." Mike said.

Sandra almost fell off her chair in shock. "No gym tonight?" she asked.

"Guess not." Mike replied a little grumpily and Sandra decided to drop it and not push her luck.

Daniel climbed into his red wagon and they all headed out of the driveway for the first time together as a family. It was an odd feeling having Mike along. Sandra was so used to walking alone and chatting with Daniel, pointing things out and stopping every few minutes to put him back into the wagon. It was even odder to be pulling the empty stroller when Mike gave up on Daniel staying put in the wagon and walked with him in his arms.

Daniel was thrilled to be up so high and have a different view of their neighborhood. "Dada! Dada! Dada!" he kept saying in between squeals of joy. Sandra had to take deep breaths of the fresh spring air to stop herself from crying with happiness for her son. It was working. She was letting Mike in. She was scared to death about the prospect, but it was benefiting Daniel to the max.
They walked together every night that week after dinner. Mike, however, decided that he could still make it to the gym after their walks and didn't usually come back until after they were both fast asleep. Baby steps, Sandra told herself.

Sandra got up Monday morning, fed Daniel a banana and toast with a side of dry Cheerio's then showered and dressed for her first day of work. Mike was playing with Daniel when she came down in black pants and a dark pink pleated dress shirt.

"You look - nice," he said. "I didn't notice before, but you've really got your figure back and then some."

Sandra actually blushed. "Thanks."

Marta arrived to watch Daniel and Mike drove Sandra to the train station. She leaned over to give him a quick kiss good-bye and to her surprise he pulled her in for a longer more meaningful kiss. "See you later." He said, cool as a cucumber. That was the Mike she used to know. Confident and aggressive. So different from the distant, cold, and boring Mike she had been living with for the last two years. She practically skipped to the train.

Once at the office building, however, her mood changed from light and carefree to nervous and scared stiff. In the elevator she looked herself over again and pulled on the black dress jacket that went with her pants. "Good morning Indira." She said smiling as she walked over to the desk. "Is Mr. Neason in?"

"No, he's at a meeting this morning. But his assistant is here." She held up a finger as she picked up the phone pressing in an extension. "Jennifer, hi. Sandra is here. Yep - thanks." Indira hung up the phone, "She'll be right out. Welcome, by the way." Something in her tone made Sandra feel like she wasn't very welcome there at all.

A tall slender blonde woman immerged, "Hello Sandra." She extender her arm and they shook hands. "I'm Jennifer. Come on back and I'll show you around." Jennifer seemed nice enough. She had big blue eyes and a round face that reminded Sandra of a doll she had when she was young. The doll whose eyes closed when you laid her down and who peed when you gave her water from a little pink bottle.

The entire morning passed without a sign of Mr. Neason. Jennifer showed Sandra the lay of the land and introduced her to the other employees who were mostly account executives. There was an older man in his fifties with a fake tan and suspicious English accent named Geoffrey who was particularly amusing. "You're the new girl then," he said stating the obvious. "Welcome aboard and hang on tight cause it gets a crazy around here." He laughed at his own joke, hiked up his pants and shuffled off toward the kitchen area.

"Guess it's lunchtime," Jennifer said looking at her watch. That's the only time that Geoffrey comes out of his office. Jennifer took Sandra to a nearby Japanese restaurant called Fumi for lunch. "I'm sorry to do this to you," she said "but I'm going to miss this place so much that I have vowed to eat here every day this week."

"Are you moving away?" Sandra asked.

"No, no. We're going to Europe for a few months, my husband and I. It's sort of like a second honeymoon before we start having children." Jennifer was beaming and Sandra forced a smile. Getting married and then having children. What a novel idea, Sandra thought to herself begrudgingly. "How long have you been married?" She asked.
"Coming up on a year now." Jennifer gloated.
Sandra proceeded to shove a piece of deep-fried broccoli in her mouth. "So what's your husband's name?" She asked.
"Robert," Jennifer replied. "He's Mr. Neason's son," she added casually. A bullet struck Sandra in the chest, forced its way through her rib cage and lodged itself into her heart. The bullet was wrapped in Jennifer's words. Too stunned to speak, Sandra waived over the waitress and demanded that something full of sugar be placed in front of her immediately. All they had was green tea ice cream and she tapped her foot looking around to avoid Jennifer's eyes until it arrived. "Should we be getting back?" She asked. "Lot's to learn in just a week." Her heart sank - urgh, this beautiful blonde was leaving for Europe with her Bobby in just one week's time. Sandra felt the ice cream coming back up.

Sandra kept quiet for the rest of the day, observing Jennifer. But not because Jennifer was teaching her how to enter the rate cards for billboard marketing into the system, but because she was sizing her up. So this is the type of woman that Bobby goes and marries, she thought as Jennifer went over Faxing 101. Blonde and perky. As nice as she was, Sandra couldn't help thinking that there was something a little 'off' about Jennifer, but she figured it was just her jealousy looking for faults and coming up short. What right did she have to be jealous anyway? She and Bobby didn't even know each other anymore; they couldn't even be called friends.

Sandra especially had to keep her mouth shut while Jennifer went on and on about the trip she was planning for her and her hubby and how she planned to stay at home and rear their little tykes soon after. It would have been kind of Mr. Neason to mention that Bobby was married and his wife would be training her. She was almost angry enough at him to quit. But that would mean really never seeing Bobby again. At least if she stayed, maybe she would see him eventually. Her curiousity had the best of her.

Jennifer showed Sandra how to enter meetings into Mr. Neason's calendar the next day. As she perused his week for meetings and appointments that he may need her assistance preparing for, Sandra saw something that made her heart jump. Robert was scheduled to be in the office to see Mr. Neason on Friday. She wasn't ready to see him yet. She couldn't account for whatever reaction she might have when she did. Would she cry? Would she run into his arms? Would she feel the same about him that she did when they were young? Would he feel the same about her? Would he hug her and lift her off the ground swinging her in circles while she tucked her head into his neck? Surely not, given they were in an office, but what would it be like to see him again? What had he grown up to look like? By her calculation he would be about 27 years old, since he was two years older than her. Well, one year and 10 months older.

Mr. Neason arrived at the office and greeted Sandra with a warm welcoming smile. She and Jennifer were tucked in together behind her desk just outside his office.
"How's it going Sandy? Are you getting the hang of things so far?"

Straightening up in her seat, she said, "I think I'm picking it up pretty well, thanks."

"Wonderful. Let me know if you have any questions." Mr. Neason smiled again at Sandra then gave Jennifer a peculiar look before disappearing into his office. Sandra sensed the look had a feeling of negativity behind it. Aha! Sandra thought - he doesn't like Jennifer! But why? She's his daughter-in-law after all, married to Bobby, she can't be so bad.

Jennifer rolled her eyes. "He's such a jerk." She mumbled under her breath. Sandra was shocked.

"Mr. Neason?" she asked. "He's the nicest man, how can you say that?"

"He hates me for marrying his son." Jennifer confessed. "He doesn't think I'm good enough for him." She scowled.

"Did he say that to you?" Sandra couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"No. 'Course not. Mr. Neason would never say anything like that." Sandra was confused and didn't want to continue the conversation in case Mr. Neason could hear. She didn't want him to think that she was a gossip girl.

"Anyway," Jennifer raised an eyebrow suspiciously, "Indira told me that you know Mr. Neason and Robert. You're a friend of the family or something." The nice woman she met the day before was suddenly coming off as a bit of a crazy lady. She sat waiting for Sandra's answer with her hand clutched around a newly sharpened pencil.

"Uh...yeah, we used to live nearby each other years ago." Sandra said as casually as she could manage. "When I was a kid."

"Live by each other?" Jennifer snorted. "And that makes you a friend of the family?" She was slightly indignant suddenly.

Sandra didn't know what to say but she was offended by Jennifer's new attitude. "We were friends. Bobby and I - Good friends." She said firmly.

"Bobby! Jennifer shouted as she jumped to her feet. "Nobody calls him that." The pencil in her hand snapped in two and fell to the ground as Jennifer turned and stomped away toward the reception area.

Sandra, stunned, sat staring in the general area in which Jennifer had stormed off. Mr. Neason popped his head out of his office. He looked around and then came out to speak to Sandra. "Don't mind her, she got her claws into Robert a while back and doesn't like a little competition." He laughed his friendly laugh and returned to his office closing the door behind him before Sandra could ask if she was the competition he was referring to. She couldn't figure out what was going on, but she was beginning to think that she might be a pawn being played by Mr. Neason to mess with his daughter-in-law's head. Kudos to him, she thought, as it seemed to be working.

Jennifer returned, and stood stiffly in front of the desk. "I think you've got this covered. I'm going to take the rest of the week off and prepare for my vacation with my husband." She spat out the last word like a ball of venom aimed at Sandra. A warning, she thought. Jennifer had done a complete 360 from being the bubbly agreeable blonde looking forward to her second honeymoon, to a crazy fuming flit. Sandra thought Marta was crazy when they first met, but Jennifer was taking the cake.

Jennifer marched into Mr. Neason's office closing the door behind her. Sandra heard muffled talking and Jennifer marched out again past Sandra toward reception. "Bye. Thanks for your help." Sandra called after her, slightly bemused and bewildered. She noticed that Mr. Neason was standing in the doorway of his office, he winked at her and went back inside calling out to her, "Can you grab me a coffee Sandy, dear? Two cream one sugar. Thanks."

It turned out that Mr. Neason was pretty self efficient in running his business and didn't really ask Sandra to do much for him except fetch him coffee and scoot out to fetch his lunch at a nearby cafe. Indira ignored her for the most part except when transferring a call through or dropping Mr. Neason's mail off at her desk. Sandra would smile and say thank you but Indira was clearly on Jennifer's side and to be kind to Sandra would likely be some sort of betrayal.

At home things were going well, except that Sandra missed Daniel so much during the day that she smothered him with kisses and hugs and tickles all night long to the point that he would try to wriggle out of her arms for some breathing space. Mike seemed to find it annoying as well, not understanding how difficult it is for a mother to be away from her child for ten hours a day. The smell of Daniel's hair and skin was intoxicating. She couldn't get enough of his soft skin against her cheek and lips. Daniel was talking more and more every day it seemed, which made him even more enjoyable to be with.
"You're going to turn him into some kind of mama's boy." Mike said as Sandra played trains with Daniel on the living room floor.

"So what?" She retorted, "Better that than a cold, distant, emotionally stunted male." Mike stood from the sofa and strode into the kitchen. She heard him open the door to get a beer. The conversation was over.

After putting Daniel in his crib each night, Sandra would make a cup of tea and sit on the front porch letting the cool night air wash over her. It was the only time that she allowed herself to daydream about Bobby and what might happen when Friday came and they would meet again after so many years. What would he think of her? She wasn't the innocent girl that he once knew, full of curiosity and vitality. She wondered if he was happy with Jennifer, if he loved her. Of course he loves her, she told herself, he married her after all didn't he? They were going to be leaving for Europe and then coming back to start a family. Sandra knew that whatever her feelings for Bobby, it was vitally important that she respected the fact that he was married, even if he was married to a woman with split personality disorder.
Friday came at last and Sandra donned yet another new suit, purchased again with the help of Marta. Daniel had clapped approvingly when she tried it on in the store. She felt sophisticated and beautiful in the straight cut red dress and coordinating black jacket, belt and shoes. She straightened her hair and wore it down with one side tucked behind her ear. Sandra went as far as applying just a touch of mascara and lip gloss as a finishing touch. She was ready for her reunion. Or was she? Butterflies churned in her stomach on the drive with Mike to the train station. "You look amazing today Sandra." He said. "This new job is really doing you good. How do you like it?"
"It's great," she replied. "It's a lot easier than I thought it would be and the people are - nice." She had failed to tell Mike how she got the job. She didn't think he would be jealous, in fact she just didn't think he would care to know the details. It would take the excitement out of it for her if she told him she had found an old friend who actually thought she was dead and his father hired her on the spot and now they were going to be reunited after so many year knowing that Mike would just shrugg his shoulders the way he did when he wasn't really listening anyway. No, she didn't want him to ruin the fun for her.

The anticipation was mind numbing. Sandra felt the way she did the day that Bobby was leaving. She promised herself that she would kiss him that day in case she never had the chance again. She loved him so sweetly that even though her heart was breaking, she knew that she couldn't go through life without having him be the first boy she kissed. And so she got up that morning and went to Bobby's house to get him. They walked around the neighborhood silently, dragging their feet, both sad knowing they were wthin their final hours together. They ended up at the park where Sandra led Bobby down the trail to the pond. With raw nerves and her heart pounding in her chest, she reached up on her tippy toes and kissed him on his soft smooth lips. She held her lips there until he wrapped his arms around her like they had seen grown ups do in so many movies. "I love you Bobby." She had whispered as they continued to hug.

"I love you Sandy." He replied, picking up a piece of her hair between his fingers. "I'm going to miss you so much I don't know what I'm going to do." A tear ran down his cheek and landed on hers where it joined the stream that was already flowing from her eyes.

Now she sat at her desk tapping her pen, staring at Mr. Neason's calendar where it read: Robert 4:00pm. She had a feeling the day was going to crawl and it did. Sandra faxed out contracts, emailed rate cards, fetched coffee and lunch and called home a few times to hear Daniel's little voice.
"Hiiiii," he would say muffling the phone with his lips pressed against the receiver. "Hi Mama! Mama's at work!"
Finally 4:00 pm arrived and with it came Bobby Neason. He turned the corner and she recognized him right away. He was about six feet tall, his hair was dark and wavy and his eyes were still as blue as the midnight sky. She stood so quickly that she bumped her knee on the desk.

"Ouch - fudge," she yelped. Bobby stopped in his tracks. He was wearing a dark blue suit with a white shirt and a red silk tie. He had grown nicely into his prominent jaw line and was standing in front of her - a man.

"Sandy?" he said taking a quick step forward and then immediately correcting himself to a restrained stance, feet apart, jaw clenched. It was the same position he took when the neighborhood kids used the tease them, calling them boyfriend and girlfriend, making suggestive noises and gestures. She knew the stance, it was defensive. "It's nice to see you again," he said, extending his hand.
Sandra, surprised by his standoffish behavior, put her hand in his and wrapped her fingers and thumb slowly around his wide palm. "Bobby." She sighed. "It's great to see you." She felt herself smiling widely and noticed his jaw loosen as he looked down into her face.

"Is my father in?" he asked dropping her hand and tightening his jaw again. "I have a meeting with him. And Sandy, please don't call me Bobby, I go by Robert now. VPs of Ad Agencies aren't called Bobby." The chill in his voice washed across her body, stinging like frost bite.

"Well, I go by Sandra now that I'm all grown up too - so you can go ahead and not ever call me Sandy again okay?" Tears welled up in her eyes, she couldn't stop them. "Go right in, your father is expecting you." Sandra sprinted to the washroom to collect herself, leaving Robert behind.

When she returned to her desk, Robert was already in Mr. Neason's office with the door closed. When he came back out twenty minutes later, Sandra busied herself organizing the papers on her desk refusing to look at him or say good-bye. She wasn't going to allow him to see how much he had hurt her.

"Sandy." Bobby was standing over her desk, speaking in a much softer tone. "Sandra," he corrected. "It was good to see you again - I'm glad you're not dead." He smiled at his joke and for a moment Bobby was back.

"Well, you didn't seem very happy to see me." Sandra retorted, still hurt.

"I guess I was a little shocked." He said, leaning on her desk. "It's been a long time."

Indira walked by as they were talking, Bobby stood up again and tensed his jaw. "Well, I'll see you around, I guess." He said and started to walk away.

"That's it?" Sandra asked incredulously. "Bobby - you were my best friend when we were kids .... I would be like old times." She felt idiotic saying it out loud.

The softness was gone from his voice, "Maybe I had to grow up Sandy. Ever think of that? It's not like you picked up a phone in the last ten years or did an internet search." A pained look crossed his face creasing his brow, and before she could respond, he walked purposely away.

Sandra sat stunned again by their second encounter. How did it go so wrong? Her heart was aching inside her chest and her eyes were stinging with oncoming tears. "Dammit." She said. "Dammit, dammit, dammit." All she wanted was to have Bobby back in her life. Why was he so angry? What had he just said? Had to grow up....internet search...could have looked him up. "He's mad at me for not trying to find him." She said out loud to herself and suddenly felt absolutely awful for not doing so. All those times she typed in his name and then deleted it. He was somewhere carrying on with his life thinking that she was dead and gone. Suddenly there were footsteps coming her way. Bobby was back in front of her desk. He dropped a folded piece of white paper down in front of her and walked away again.

Curious, she unfolded the paper which read 5:00 PM STARBUCKS. He wanted her to meet him after work. Her hand flew to the phone and dialed home. When Marta answered she tried to act casual, "Hi Marta, I'm going to be a bit late tonight if that's okay with you. Some people from work want to take me out to a welcome dinner." She lied through her teeth.
"Sure. No problem. Daniel is sleeping and I was just going to do some yoga. I'll go home when Mike gets here." Marta said. Sandra could visualize her on the floor stretching out her ballerina-like legs. For an older woman, Marta was in great shape and very attractive.

"Great, thanks." Sandra said, "I'll talk to you later then." she said and clicked the hang up button with her finger and dialed Mike. She got his voice mail.

"Mike, I'm going to go out after work with some colleagues, don't worry about picking me up at the station. I'll get a cab. If you're going out tonight, you'll have to wait till I get home, won't be too late. Bye." She hung up feeling only the smallest tinge of guilt for lying.

After work, Sandra walked into Starbucks with a flourish, feeling like she would finally get the reunion she dreamed of with Bobby. But she knew that the third time would not be a charm when she saw Bobby slumped in a leather chair in the corner staring at his shoes. He didn’t stand up when she approached him so she took a seat in the chair beside him, sinking into the warn-out cushion.
"Sandy, I just don’t understand why you never tried to find me. I mean, I'm sorry I didn't stay in touch, but it wasn't as easy back then. Then you Dad tells me your dead..." His voice trailed off.
"I’m sorry Bobby," Sandra said putting her hand on his where it was resting on the arm of the chair. "I…I guess I was afraid."
Bobby looked into her eyes and winced, moving his hand away from hers. "I’m married now." He said in a defeated tone. "Jennifer flipped out when she heard you were back." He smiled apologetically. "I mean she is really jealous of you."
"Why? She doesn’t even know me." Sandra said defensively.
"Oh yes she does. I told her about you a long time ago. When she asked me about my first love."
Sandra’s heart bumped against her chest, "I was your first love?"
"Wasn’t I yours?" He asked a bemused smile playing on the corners of his lips.
"Of course you were" she said blushing slightly and this time Bobby placed his hand on hers. "There’s a lot of history between us isn’t there?" she said looking into his eyes.
Bobby moved closer so that there was only two chair arms between them. "Yes, and if you would have walked in that door two years ago, a future too." He frowned and the wrinkle returned to his brow. She touched it with her fingertips trying to smooth it away in a very motherly fashion.

"Two years ago - I had just found out that I was pregnant then," she whispered.
"What?" Bobby asked clearly taken aback.
"Pregnant. I have a two year old son. His name is Daniel."
"My father didn’t tell me you were married." Bobby was physically recoiling in his seat at the news.
"That’s because I’m not. I live with my boyfriend." The word boyfriend caught in her throat the way it always did, since she didn’t know how to label or define her relationship with Mike anymore.
Bobby didn’t say anything for a few minutes. Long enough to make Sandra feel uncomfortable and begin to strain her hands while looking into his face for a sign of what he might be thinking. But he just sat there looking stunned, if handsomely so, until finally he breathed out a whoosh of air relaxing his body. "And the plot thickens I guess," Bobby finally said. "I can’t believe you have a son. What’s he like?"
"Oh, he’s amazing. He’s a happy little guy. He looks just like me actually." Sandra beamed.
"Then he must be adorable." Bobby said. "I love kids, I loved being one anyway. I think I would love kids, I haven’t really been around many." Bobby seemed slightly uncomfortable with the topic grasping to find the right thing to say.
"Uh-huh," Sandra said, slightly confused, "Jennifer told me you two were going to start a family when you get back from your vacation."
Bobby froze again, "She said what?" His face turned red and became distorted. "We never discussed that." His eyes seemed to darken.
"Well, somebody’s been making plans." Sandra said, knowing that Jennifer seemed like the type who would get herself pregnant on purpose to keep her man. "Sorry. I didn’t mean to stir the pot. It’s none of my business."
Bobby sighed and rubbed his forehead where Sandra had touched it a few moments before.
"So," he said.
"So," she said.
"Now what?" Bobby asked with an innocence that brought Sandra back that day by the pond when they had kissed for their first time.
"I don’ t know Bobby. I guess now we’re friends again." It was her turn to sigh. "I’ve really missed you."
Bobby took her hand in his, lifted it to his lips and kissed the back of it. "I’ve missed you too, I’ve probably thought about you every day since I moved away. I’ve changed though Sandy. I’m not the nice guy I used to be, ask anyone, ask my Dad. When I found out you were - gone - it changed me. I stopped caring about anything and I threw myself into the business. I have a reputation for being a real bastard actually."
"Well I believe it by the way you treated me earlier." Sandra teased.
"So you can’t go around calling me Bobby, it’s going to ruin my reputation. OK?" Bobby was serious but smiling amicably at her.
"OK Bobby, I’ll save it for when we’re alone." She agreed. "But I guess that won’t happen very often will it?"
"Yeah, I guess not." He said.
Bobby walked her to the subway station that would bring her to the train that would in turn bring her back to Mike and Daniel and Marta and her life. The backs of their hands brushed as they walked slowly together on the sidewalk, trying to make their time alone together last. Bobby paid the fair for them both to enter the train station and stood on the platform waving goodbye. As the train pulled her away she watched as Bobby transformed back and forth from the tall handsome man he was now to the awkward little boy she knew so long ago.

Chapter 5

Mike and Daniel were playing with his trains on the living room floor when Sandra finally arrived home. To say they were playing together would be misleading. Daniel was pushing the little blue and red trains up and down Mike’s long bumpy athletic legs while he watched a rerun of Seinfeld on the big screen TV. Mike didn’t jump up and grab his gym bag as she expected him to when she walked through the door. Instead he flicked off the TV, rolled onto his back and pulled Daniel up to balance on his bent knees. Daniel squealed in delight.
"Dada Dadada!" he cried.
"So how was work?" Mike asked casually.
Feeling a little guilty, Sandra said, "It was really good, I think I’m getting the hang of it."
"I made some dinner – steak on the BBQ. You should have seen Danny eat it up." Mike was twirling Daniel in the air above him now."
"Well, I’d be careful then if I were you. Unless you want to see it come back up." She joked.
Mike put Daniel back on the floor with his trains and wooden tracks and walked over to where Sandra was standing.
"You look really good today - there’s something different about you. I don’t know what it is."
The next few weeks were absolute torture, as Bobby and Jennifer had left for their trip. She imagined Jennifer tossing her birth control packet onto the tarmac as they entered the plane. In the meantime, Mr. Neason had invited Sandra to a few Agency functions where she met some pretty interesting people. One such event was held at the Museum at night. It was a catered dinner and awards evening for best advertising campaigns. Some young hotshot, after drinking all the free booze he could manage, had Sandra cornered near the washrooms.
"I haven’t seen you around at the parties. Where are you from?"
"I’m with the Neason agency." She replied trying to get around him and back to a less private area.
"Oh yeah," he said. "I know the Neason’s – bunch of arrogant bastards." He spewed. "But Mrs. Neason, what a piece of ass. Just like you."
"Is that supposed to be a compliment?" Sandra snorted in disgust.
"Well, I can compliment you now or I can compliment you in the morning sweetheart."
"Oh, I don’t think so. Who do you think you are?" she asked.
"I’m from Vogul Advertising. My Daddy’s rich too, just like Robert’s. Yet all the babes want him. What does he have that I don’t?" Vogul boy pulled on his tuxedo shirt and spilled his drink on his shoes in the process.
"Good breath for one." Sandra mumbled.
This seemed to anger the young fiend. "Oh yeah, well his wife didn’t seem to mind my breath a few weeks ago when he was in Vancouver on business."
"What?" Sandra demanded. "What did you just say?"
"I’m just saying," the drunkard said as he sauntered away as though he had won some imaginary battle between them.
"Don’t tell me that Jennifer cheated on Bobby with that loser." Sandra said to herself. "What is wrong with that girl?"
Just then, Mr. Neason came out of the washroom to her right. He stopped surprised to see her standing there and then offered his arm to her and they walked back into the grand room.
"You look very lovely tonight my Dear." He said.
"Thank you Mr. Neason."
"You know, I’m really glad you found us Sandy. It’s been nice having you around again. You don’t seem to want anything from anybody which is refreshing in this industry. I want you to start thinking about our office Christmas Party - or Holiday Party I guess we are to call it these days. Make it someplace nice, maybe some entertainment and dinner. Bring your husband, what did you say his name was?"
"Mike, he’s my boyfriend." Sandra blushed at how silly it sounded to be amongst grown ups and still refer to somebody as your boyfriend. But that’s just how it was for her.
"Hmm - good. Bring him along."

Balancing life and work was becoming easier for Sandra she realized as she sat once again on the train out of the city. With Marta watching Daniel and making dinner every night, it was a breeze. All she had to do was go home and play with her son. She knew that she was blessed with Marta and wanted to do something nice for her to show her appreciation. But what would a single woman with everything want? Then it occurred to her - a man. And Mr. Neason would be perfect for her. He was as conservative as she was and they were both around the same age or at least looked it. And so she decided that she would play cupid and find a way to set them up without them knowing it. She was scheming and it felt good, she hoped it would keep her mind off Bobby.

As luck would have it Neason Advertising took on the National Ballet as a new client and Mr. Neason dropped two tickets on her desk a week prior to the opening show for Sandra and a guest.
"Will you be attending the show Mr. Neason?"
"Of course, I'll be accompanying the clients. We'll be sitting in the balcony and so will you if you noticed on your tickets. So dress nice and be charming. Can you handle that?"
"Yes Sir." Sandra gave an army solute and smiled.
"Will you be bringing your boyfriend?" Mr. Neason asked.
"Actually, I think I will bring his mother." Sandra ventured, "She's widowed and watches my son for me, so I thought this might be a nice way to say thank you."
Mr. Neason raised an eyebrow. "That's nice of you. I look forward to meeting her."
Sandra beamed, "I think you two will get along really well, she's really something."

Mike was not at all insulted to be bumped from the ballet and happily agreed to stay behind with Daniel. "I'm glad that you and my mother get along now." He said as she was dressing up for the event in a black satin cocktail dress she had purchased with her own money, something she was very proud of.
"I really hated her in the beginning didn't I?" Sandra recalled, "But she and I just had to adjust to each other I guess. I couldn't live without her now."
Mike looked down at his feet and then around the room. "Sandra. I've been cheating on you."
The silver beaded necklace she was trying to clasp onto the back of her neck dropped to the ground. What?"
And then she remembered the email. How could she have been so stupid? The whole reason she got the job in the first place was to save up money to leave Mike. Hadn't she suspected he was cheating on her? And his semi human emotional state ninety percent of the time was enough to send her packing. But she thought he had changed, that things were getting better. Apparently not.
"Is it the waitress?" She asked. Her tone was cold and unforgiving.
"No, a coworker." He confessed. "It didn't mean anything. I just wanted to tell you because she keeps calling me now and she's sort of stalking me. She said she was going to call you and tell you..."
"So the only reason you're telling me now is because you were about to get caught anyway?" Sandra was strangely calm, it unnerved her. She should be screaming and throwing things at him. But instead she just retrieved her necklace from the floor.
"Can you clasp this for me please?" She asked putting her back to him and lifting up the hair around her neck.
Mike put the necklace in place with shaking hands and Sandra turned to face him. Something changed in her and she kissed his lips softly. She was relieved to know that she wasn't crazy for being unhappy with him, that she wasn't the one closing herself off to love.
"Don't leave me Sandra." Mike whispered. "Daniel..."
"You should have thought about Daniel before now." She felt a twinge of disgust creep into her throat. "You can't keep me around and not love me just so that you don't loose Daniel. How selfish can you actually be?"
Mike dropped his head and then looked up into Sandra's eyes with all the confusion, worry, and sadness of little boy lost at a shopping mall. She felt pity for him at that moment, for whatever she had been going through the last couple of years, she had no idea what he must have been going through himself.
The doorbell rang. "We'll talk about it later, Mike."

Marta was wearing a purple collared dress with a back fur jacket and heels. She looked like a movie star - if an aging one. She hugged Sandra and air kissed her cheeks.
"It's been ages since I've been out on the town." Marta confessed grinning ear to ear. "We're going to have a fabulous night."
"Gammy!" Daniel came running from around the corner jumping into Marta's hands. Sandra had to steady her back as Daniel was getting bigger every day it seemed.
Sandra took Daniel into her arms. "Did you climb out of your crib again? I think it's time for a bed soon. Be a good boy - Mommy's going out with Gammy for a while. Good night Honey Bunches." Sandra kissed his cheek, handed him off to Mike and headed for the door without anohter word. Mike who gave his mother a weary glance.
As Sandra and Marta entered the balcony, Champagne glasses in hand, Sandra was surprised to see Bobby sitting alone while Mr. Neason stood talking to two other men, both wearing expensive looking suits. One of the men had shiny silver hair and taught skin and the other man was younger, perhaps in his forties with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a crocodile smile. They were all presumably clients.
"Ah Sandy, this is Mr. Smith and Mr. Kline from the National Ballet." Sandra walked passed Bobby toward the group giving him a confused look. She shook the hands of the two men. The younger of the two, Mr. Kline, decided that he would be extra charming and kiss her hand while gazing at her with his penetrating blue eyes. "Call me Jim." He said and Sandra felt like he was undressing her with his eyes.
"This is Marta," Sandra said bringing Marta in the circle for a round of hand shakes. It was Mr. Neason’s turn to kiss a hand and Marta smiled back at him approvingly.
The lights dimmed and everyone took a seat. Mr. Kline decided that he would sit with Sandra unfortunately for her. Yet it was fortunate in a way because it left a seat open for Marta with Mr. Neason.
"Please Marta," Mr. Neason said cordially taking her hand and leading her to the red velvet chair trimmed in gold painted wood.
Bobby was on the Sandra’s left and she felt like an awkward little meat filling in between two slices of handsome men. One whom she had just met and one whom she’d known her whole life.
"What are you doing here?" Sandra whispered.
"That’s a damn good question. My father made me come."
"I mean, what are you doing back from your vacation?"
"You don’t want to know." Bobby grumbled.
Mr. Kline shifted in his seat. An indication that he wanted Sandra’s attention. Sandra sighed and turned to him. "Do you enjoy the ballet?" She asked.
"I’m the Senior Vice President of the National Ballet, so I guess I’d better." He said smiling ironically.
"But do you actually enjoy the ballet?" Sandra asked again deciding to have a bit of fun with him.
"Well, no. What man would admit to something like that?" he replied.
"I enjoy the ballet." Bobby interrupted, giving Sandra the impression that he was ever so slightly jealous of Mr. Blue Eyes.
There was an awkward silence for a moment until Sandra said, facing Mr. Kline, "Well, I won’t tell your boss that you don’t like the ballet." And then turning to Bobby she said, "And I won’t tell your father that you do."
They all laughed and then Sandra began to watch the stage purposefully as the dancers floated gracefully below and the men at her sides followed her lead.
Sandra couldn’t help but giggle forty-five minutes later when Mr. Kline stifled a yawn beside her.
When she looked over at Bobby he seemed transfixed by the story that was being played out in dance. It was the tale of a maiden who had been knocked down again and again and yet continued to get up and dance and never give up hope. She had a husband who wore a black leotard indicating that he was a bastard and a smitten prince who once laid eyes on her in his garden began vying for her love. They were both dancing around her then, pressuring her to choose. Instead of choosing though, she collapsed dramatically and the curtains closed. Intermission.
Bobby’s hand was on the armrest only an inch away from hers and that was what she was observing when the lights came up. They looked into each other’s eyes for a brief moment before Mr. Kline took her attention away again.
"Shall we get some more Champaign?" He asked. "I need to stretch my legs, I think they fell asleep."
Sandra smiled politely, "Sure. Let me just collect my Mother-in-Law."
Mr. Klein's eyes dropped to her left hand where there was no wedding ring to be found. Feeling self-conscious, she tucked her arm into Bobby's who was now standing at her side.
Mr. Klein seemed to make a quick assessment of the situation, glancing over at Mr. Neason and Marta, then back at Bobby and Sandra, and gave a little chuckle. "Tight group." He said. "Well, let's all get some Champagne together then." He said linking into Sandra's other arm, clearly undefeated.
At the lobby bar the three of them, after a few glasses of bubbly, became like old friends laughing at Mr. Klein's stories of his intrigues with the many diva dancers of the ballet.
"All these beautiful little dancers...they're so nimble and ladylike; I can't help myself when I'm back stage. I can't tell you how many husbands I've had banging on dressing room doors."
"I knew you were a womanizer from the moment I met you." Sandra said, surprising herself a little with her honesty. The alcohol was giving her a courage and comfort she wasn't accustomed to.

Mr. Klein raised his glass, "Cheers to that" he said and they all drank.

Looking around the lobby Sandra noticed the intricate detailing of the murals and molding around the ceiling. She wondered how many people came through this amazing lobby without noticing the exquisite artistry above. It was as though the ceiling had been removed and heaven was visible to the plain eye. Clouds, cupids, and powder white women lounged and posed in eternal bliss.

Marta, Mr. Neason, and Mr. Smith joined them at the bar. The conversation turned to the ballet.
"The show is absolutely wonderful. Thank you for having me here tonight." Marta said, not to Sandra but to Mr. Neason with a smile that was genuine and very girlish for a woman her age.

Mr. Neason bowed his head slightly in such a gentlemanly manner that it reminded Sandra of a Shakespearian play.

Flickering lights indicated that it was round two. Sandra noticed Mr. Klein staying behind at the bar as they all walked toward the stairs. She was going to go back to collect him until she noticed that he was staring directly at a woman wearing a tight black bosom-bearing dress sitting across the bar from where they had been. She realized that he had glanced over her shoulder in that directions many times and now she knew what he had been looking at. Mr. Klein rose and walked toward the woman as the rest of the group shuffled back to their seats.

Bobby took Sandra's hand as they took the narrow stairs to the balcony and pulled her back slightly to wade in the darkness just inside the stairwell as the lights dimmed. "Sandy, I'm glad you came tonight. At first I didn't want to see you, but I'm glad I came too." Sandra tried not to be hurt by his words and stayed silent waiting for him to elaborate. "Jennifer couldn't shut up about you on our vacation; she was like a crazy person. Crazy with jealousy. It was unbearable." He looked down at the floor, "That's why I came back early. It was a miserable time."
"So what's going to happen now?" Sandra asked.
"I don't know. She's still there. She said she was going to enjoy the vacation with or without me." He sighed. "She wants me to get my father to fire you."
"Fire me?" Sandra laughed nervously.
"She's threatened by you. She wants you far away from me."
"Well, I'm no threat. I'm" Sandra said.
"Yes, well that's the problem." Bobby said. "You are beautiful and you have been carrying around my heart for all these years."
Sandra blushed slightly at his admission. The alcohol must have given him the courage to say whatever was on his mind too. "Do you want it back?" She asked.
Bobby smiled and brought her hands to his mouth brushing his lips across her fingertips and then folding her hands onto his chest. "No. Just hold on to it for me will you?"
Marta appeared at the top of the stairs just as they began to make their way up again to the balcony. "I thought you two got lost," She said.
"Nope. Present and accounted for." Bobby said escorting her back to her seat beside Mr. Neason.
Marta was charmed by Bobby, but still gave Sandra a look that shook her awake. It was a look that said, "Don't forget who you have waiting for you at home." And Sandra heard the message loud and clear.
Sandra and Marta left the ballet that night like Cinderella running from the ball at midnight, after thanking Mr. Neason for his hospitality of course. Sandra said good-bye and nothing more to Bobby forcing herself not to look back as she walked away from him and into the night.

"Mommy park?" Daniel asked as soon as she pulled his shirt over his head the next morning.
"Mmm. It's a little cold honey. Why don't we go to Monkey Mountain instead?"
"Yay Monkey Mountain!" Daniel cheered.

Sandra couldn't get Bobby's soft kiss off her hand. She could still feel the warmth of his lips weeks later. Of course he had been a virtual ghost since the ballet. Sandra decided that he let the alcohol speak for him and was now embarrassed by what he had said to her.

Mike, in the meantime, had taken to following Sandra around like a lost puppy. It was becoming annoying. The only benefit was that he was actually around to help her out with Daniel. Daniel had grown into a little toddler and was wreaking havoc on her nerves pulling books off shelves that would inevitably land on his head sending him into hysterics. He had also begun running off without any warning towards a dog or cat or squerell running across the road. She feared everyday that he would run right into traffic. Thankfully there wasn't much traffic in their area, not like in the city, but it would only take one car and poor timing to cause a disaster. It was safer to bring him to an indoor playground like Monkey Mountain where everything was soft and safe and colorful and fun.

Mike was waiting at the door with his shoes on. "Do you mind if I tag along?" he asked.

Sandra rolled her eyes, but it wasn't in her nature to be cruel. "Sure. Why not?"

"Thanks," Mike said, "I'll buy you a latte on the way.

That sounded nice to Sandra, and they all piled into the car for a little family outing. Maybe today we'll talk about it, Sandra thought sipping her latte. Was she ready to have that conversation? It was so mature, so serious, so depressing to talk about how he had cheated on her and how she planned to move out of his house and into an apartment once she had the money saved. He was being so sweet and so attentive. If only he had been that way before.

She could feel Mike glancing at her from the driver's seat. She avoided his eyes as she turned to check on Daniel in the back seat.

"Hi Mommy." Daniel waved and smiled, milk dripping down his chin. He was very proud to be drinking from a straw out of the small carton of milk from Starbucks.

Monkey Mountain was a large indoor playground with silly music playing over the speakers. Songs that Sandra recognized - her metemorphis into motherhood was complete - she now knew all the words to every Barney song. It was slightly disturbing.

Daniel wiggled out of her arms running toward the ball pit and swan diving into it. He came up crying because he hit his head on the bottom. Mike took a step forward and Sandra stopped him. "You're okay honey!" She called to Daniel. "Look - there's a rope ladder." She pointed at the rope ladder leading to a maze of bridges and slides just above the ball pit. Daniel stopped crying immediately and started making his way through the red, yellow, and blue balls toward it.

"He's fine, it's more his ego that was hurt than anything." Sandra commented and then added, "He is a male after all," and laughed to herself.

Mike gave her an uneasy look and followed her to the parent sitting area. The chairs were big enough for them to sit in but the Monkey Mountain theme was never ending. The chairs were shaped like animals, hers a giraffe and Mike's an elephant, both complete with a tail hanging from the backside. The music quickly became obnoxious as they silently watched Daniel scurry about the playground, fall, cry, and then continue on.

"Mike. I've been seriously considering moving out with Daniel for a long time now." She didn't look at him. She knew that if she did, she would change her mind. Mike remained silent and so she continued, "I've almost got enough saved for first and last deposit. I'm going to move close to your Mom so she can continue to help me out with Daniel and so that Daniel won't be too far from you, just in the next city over."

"You're not even going to try?" Mike asked. His voice was shaky and low.

"Tyr? I've been trying since the day I got pregnant. Listen. You never asked to be a father and never asked to have all this responsibility of supporting us both. I have a job now and I can take care of Daniel and myself."
"I'll still help you out." Mike said a little too easily defeated in Sandra's opinion.

"You'll have to pay child support I guess." Sandra felt tears stinging her eyes and went to collect Daniel and go back home.

Chapter 6

Sandra made another big decision, if she was going to move out on her own, she would have to buy a car. She made an apointment at the bank, and was pleasently surprised when they approved her for the loan. They also gave her a line of credit which would help immensly with her move. She was financially ready to move out. Telling Mike was uncomfortable, but not terrible. What she really feared was telling Marta of her plans.

The following weekend, Sandra asked Marta to come by. She told her that Daniel was asking to see her. When Marta arrived, Mike wasn't home, which was not unusual. Sandra made them a pot of tea and they sat outside in the back yard watching Daniel play in his little pool. The sun was hot and the breeze was welcome. Sandra, looking at the pool and Daniel, realised that moving out was going to come at his expense. She would not be able to afford a house, they would be living in an apartment and would no longer have a back yard for his little pool. What he would have was his Mother, and hopefully, Marta's support.
"I don't know how to tell you this," she began. "I'm moving out with Daniel." Marta said nothing. "I'm hoping to find a place near you actually, so you can still see Daniel often and so we won't be too far away from Mike. He'll be able to see Daniel whenever he wants, and so will you, of course." Sandra braced herself, she really didn't know how Marta would react.
Marta sat quietly continuing to observe her Grandchild splashing and playing.




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