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By Patricia Haley
BETCopyright © 2007 Patricia Haley
All right reserved.
"Home sweet home" was her unspoken motto, and Karen took pride in creating a happy haven for her family at any cost. She steadied herself against the mahogany fireplace mantel lined with family photos. Smiling faces captured at graduations, birthday parties, proms, and other special moments created a storybook picture.Among the memories was also a dusty Bible that had been received as a wedding gift eighteen years ago and a few other favorite trinkets collected from countless vacations including the annual trip to Martha's Vineyard. The Clarks had worked hard to get a slice of the American dream. One glance around the room showed that their efforts were paying off.
Head tilted down and eyes closed, she started from the center of her forehead and repeatedly spread her thumb and index finger forcefully slow across her brow like a butterfly struggling to stay in flight. "Oh, God. Please help me."
Feeling a moment of relief, she meandered to the window, which was squeaky clean as far up as a step-ladder-assisted arm could reach. Beyond the beds of spring tulips, Karen could see their collie running around and around the sprawling well-manicured backyard. Going in circles wasn't a question of if, only a matter of when. She envied that the only dilemma their dog had was whether to chase his tail now or later. She stared into the evening wondering where the week had gone and what time her husband would be getting home.
"Mom,Dr. Costas is on the phone!"
Karen heard the teen yelling from upstairs. It was occasions like this when she regretted forgoing the intercom package eight years ago when they had the home built. She made her way back across the family room to take the call. She slipped into her favorite chaise longue and picked up the phone that was resting on the marble end table. She didn't bother to return the scream with a thank you. "I got it, Chelle-baby. You can put the phone down now. Thank you."
"Hi, Karen. Dr. Costas here. I got a message that you called. What's going on?"
"I've had a throbbing headache for the past few days. Nothing major."
"I didn't want to take any kind of medication without checking with you first."
"That's good. Under normal conditions, it would be fine, but we've come a long ways. It's been a tough fight and we don't want any setbacks in your remission."
"Do you have any nausea or any problems with your bowels?"
"No. No fever, no fatigue, no chills either."
Karen knew the routine list of questions that Dr. Costas asked whenever there was potential trouble brewing. Each time Karen got sick, she didn't find it any easier. She wanted to be brave in facing her health challenges, but found herself more often afraid. She couldn't decide which was worse, knowing or not knowing.
"Good. There doesn't seem to be any need for alarm. Why don't you take a simple over-the-counter pain reliever, something like Extra Strength Tylenol? Let's try that first. If the headache persists, give me another call in a few days, and we'll get you in for a look. Karen, it's also going to be important that you keep your stress level down. Remember pressure really seems to take a toll on you and we don't want to wear your immune system down. So, take some time to relax over the weekend. That's the best medicine I can prescribe for you right now. Okay?"
"That's fine. Thanks, doctor."
The phone rang as Karen put it down. Caught off guard by the incoming call, she put the phone up to her ear to see who was on the line.
"Hey, Karen." A deep, authoritative voice greeted her.
"Oh, Johnny, it's you."
"Why? Were you expecting somebody else?"
Karen knew he wasn't really looking for an answer. She kept quiet.
"What a way to answer the phone. You answer it like one of the kids."
Early in his career he'd spent seven years as a production line supervisor before getting promoted to senior management. Barking out orders at work carried over into his personal life. Karen heard Johnny loud and clear, internalized his comment, and opted to say nothing in her own defense. His personality didn't accommodate timidity or shortcomings in others.
"I just got off the phone with Dr. Costas. She told me to take some Tylenol for my headache."
"Tylenol! That's it? See you should have taken the pain pills like I suggested a few days ago. You would have been over it by now."
"I didn't want to take anything without talking to the doctor, Johnny."
"No, you'd rather sit around and whine."
"The doctor's job is to give me medical advice. It's not like either of us went to medical school," Karen snapped.
"You don't have to go to med school to know you should take a painkiller when you have a headache. That's basic common sense. Not everything has to be dramatic, Karen."
She cut in and tried to change the subject. "Well, could you stop by the pharmacy on your way home and pick up some Extra Strength Tylenol for me?"
"I wasn't planning to come straight home. I'm going to make a quick stop, and I'll be in later."
"Later!" Karen sighed. She hesitated before voicing her frustration.
"What's the big deal, Karen? I asked Tyrone to meet me at Floods for a hot minute."
Silence fell over the line.
Karen hadn't been fond of Tyrone years ago, back when she saw him as a partying bachelor who had been married and divorced several times with no intention of settling down.
Those were the times when she had viewed him as a bad influence on her husband. She now knew that the truth was that Johnny's strong personality didn't allow anyone too much influence in his life. He made up his own mind. Yet she found it more comfortable to blame her marital issues on outside factors. So long as it wasn't her fault, she didn't have to take responsibility for fixing it.
"What about the card game?"
"What card game?"
"The one the Burks are having." Karen knew that she didn't feel up to going, but if that was what it took to get Johnny home, she was willing to go along.
"Oh, yeah, okay, the couple from your church. You didn't tell me anything about a card game."
Karen knew that telling him in advance would not have made a difference. Friday was turning out to be his night, and nothing interfered.
"I already have plans. Why don't you go on without me?"
"Why do I always have to go without you? Why can't you just come home after work on Friday, for a change?"
"There you go. I try to be considerate and let you know where I'm going. This is the thanks I get. You make a big deal out of my taking a few hours every now and then to wind down."
"Every now and then? You've been doing this every Friday night for the past three months."
"See, you're exaggerating. It hasn't been that long."
"Oh, yes, it has. It started right after New Year's, right after I closed the business."
She realized that it was still a sore topic with Johnny and didn't expect him to acknowledge the truth, but his silence was confirmation enough. He hadn't agreed with her decision to quit. Her interior decorating business was doing well, but she felt that it had become too stressful managing a household, children, her health, and a career. Despite Johnny's disapproval, she closed her business in hopes of finding something less demanding. So far nothing promising had come along.
"Before, you only went out once every couple of months. That was fine."
"No, it wasn't. You complained about that too."
"It was better than this. I'm here alone every Friday night."
"You're not alone. The girls are there."
"You know what I mean, Johnny. Your hanging out every Friday night is not fair to me."
"You're talking about fair! Don't I work hard all week, take care of the bills, and take care of you and the kids? Remember that I don't have all week to relax like you. Somebody has to work."
He took a deep breath. "I can't believe you won't allow me to have a few hours to hang out without breathing down my neck with this guilt trip. I mean, it's not like I'm doing anything out here. I don't press you about going to church so much. Why do you always have something to say about the little bit of time that I take for myself?"
"I'm sorry, Johnny. I was just hoping we could do something together." A whisper was all she could manage. Eyes closed tightly, she pressed her forefinger against one temple to alleviate the pain.
"If you're really serious about doing something together, I have a few ideas."
Karen suspected that Johnny was talking about sex, and she wanted to avoid the topic. "Well, I'm tired and I don't really feel up to doing too much."
"That's what I thought. Look, I've already made a commitment for this evening, but we can do something tomorrow. Maybe I'll even go to church with you Sunday."
Yet again, Karen had stirred the pot of emotions. She tried to perk up and get past her disappointment. She was feeling less and less guilty about questioning his time out. She wanted to trust Johnny but didn't know how. Doubting had become a natural state of being. He hadn't made it any easier.
Karen rested her eyes, pulled her knees into a tight fetal position, and allowed her thoughts, fears, and insecurities to drift away. For a fleeting moment, she was free.
Excerpted from No Regrets by Patricia Haley Copyright © 2007 by Patricia Haley. Excerpted by permission.
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