Ian kissed the kids as they ate their breakfast, and hugged me from behind while I loaded the dishwasher.
“Hey, the guys from work just buzzed me. They’re missing a fourth. OK if I go?” he grabbed a slice of bacon from the platter on the counter.
“I thought we were going to Butler’s today. It’s the last weekend for strawberries.” I turned my head to watch him ruffle Luke’s amber curls.
“I know, I know. But it’s the firm’s end of season golf outing. It’s been a long few months,” he debated back, still smiling.
“Honey, you just golfed with my Dad last Sunday. I really wanted a weekend for just us,” I cautiously countered.
His stress level had been high since March, when tax deadlines and client anxiety raged. I saw him pull in his fingers, a tense fist. I hung my head, bit my lip, knowing I had lost.
“I just need a little time for myself, ok? Tee time is at nine, so I gotta go.” He left through the garage door.
Parking for Butler’s Orchard was to the side of the road. I pulled in and released Liza and Luke from their car seats. At the white stand, I paid for three baskets.
“Good thing you made it out early,” the older lady at the register said. “Not sure we’ll have much more left after this morning. They’re mighty tasty. Best season in years.”
As I gave the kids their baskets, I told them to choose one row of plants to pick. They ran down the slope to the field with seemingly endless lines of knee-high plants, red treasures revealed with every feather breeze. Luke immediately put a berry into his mouth.
“Hey, guys! We’re here for picking not eating!”
As I stooped to part leaves and pinch the fruit from the stem, in the relative peace of the sun washed field, they came to me. Memories of this time last year, another beautiful May morning when I found his phone while he showered. Text messages filled the screen.
I need you NOW, baby.
Bernie just left, we have the whole day.
Tell her you need to get to the office.
To his credit, Ian never denied it. He actually told me exactly what happened. The long days, joking turned to flirting over late night delivered dinners. Their overnight client trips, drinks at the bar turned to kissing in the elevator. Sex in hotel rooms turned to making love at her place when Bernie was out.
Love. Was it love?
It took him a month living at his brother’s to conclude it wasn’t. He decided he wanted his kids, his home and me. I knew he loved his kids and his home. But did he love me? I spent the last ten months looking for proof in his tone, his touch, in how often he called me, held my hand, laughed at my jokes.
He did his penance: willingly talked at marriage therapy, surprised me with date nights, attended school plays, FaceTimed with me before he slept in faraway hotel rooms, and sent roses at Valentine’s.
When I finally allowed him back into my bed, and he hovered over me, I wondered if it was love. Did the movement of my hips and the tease of my tongue make him love me? Or were they just a replacement for her. With each thrust, a mantra was born that I could not change, “He loves me. He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. Not.” When finished, he’d kiss my cheek, roll over to slumber, and I would stay awake staring into the darkness of love unsure.
And then it was spring again. Tensions that had been buried at therapy session and in glasses of wine, overshadowed by holiday cheer and birthday party chaos, and ignored in the peace of routine days, were born again. It had been weeks since he laid over me, weeks since any touch echoed with “he loves me”.
“It was tax season,” I told myself. “It’s the stress. He works such long hours. The deadlines, the responsibility. I need to give him space. Now is his time for work, then he can focus on the kids and me. Just give him time.”
I stopped picking berries, the flood of memories and the burden of hopes, too heavy. I sat on the slope, watching Luke and Liza move along the row until their baskets overflowed, juicy red. I called them back, and they ran to show me their bounty.
“To have the innocence of a six year old,” I thought, “Simple joy from a basket of fruit.”
We headed back to the car, with the promise of a strawberry pie, Daddy’s favorite, for dessert.
I clicked to open the hatch on the back of my SUV. I looked inside to see Ian’s golf bag, forgotten, laying on its side. A golf ball rolled out and landed at my feet.