Daisy: The Newport Ladies Book Club
By Josi S. Kilpack
“Would it kill you to take a day off, Daisy?” Paul asked over the phone.
“Yes,” I said, glad he couldn’t see my smile so that the game would play out a little longer. “It just might.”
Paul laughed, a laugh that was too high-pitched for a man of forty-four. When we first started dating six years ago, I’d found it annoying and knew that I would never be able to marry a man who laughed like a teenage girl. Somewhere between that first date and a marriage proposal—complete with swans if you can believe it—I came to love that laugh and a hundred other things that made Paul a husband-extraordinaire. “You know I can’t take time off at the end of the month—too many policy renewals.”
Commercial insurance policies tend to renew annually on the first day of the month, meaning that my clients bombard me with questions a week before they’re supposed to re-up for another year even though I’ve been reminding them for the last sixty days.
“The 30th is a Saturday,” Paul said. “We can leave Friday afternoon after you finish your renewals and you can take Monday off—it won’t set you back too far. Come on,” he prodded. “You know you want to.”
“You are so bad for me,” I said, lowering my voice seductively. Meanwhile I flipped through my planner almost a month forward to check the dates for this romantic escapade. I had a ten o’clock meeting on Monday, November 1st but I didn’t think it would be hard to put off. My hopes were rising as I flipped back a page to be sure I’d properly evaluated the weekend.
“Shoot,” I said, scowling at October 31st. “Sunday is Halloween.” It was part of the unspoken code of parenting ethics that you had to be around for any and all holidays—even pointless ones I swore were instituted by the American Dental Association and Mars Candy Inc. as a means of job security. My next thought, however, was why did I had to be there? Stormy was in her final year of high school and with ten years between her and her older sister, December—who was about to make me a grandma at the age of forty-six—I’d been doing the Halloween thing for a very long time. Couldn’t I take one off?
“Maybe Stormy could stay with Jared,” I said, feeling the building excitement of a weekend away. Stormy didn’t spend many weekends with her dad since she had things going on with her friends most of the time, but Jared was there. It was perhaps the only perk of having my ex-husband live just half an hour away.
“Your call, Mama,” Paul said, causing me to scowl. He knew I hated it when he called me that. It always made me defensive of the many things I was, motherhood only being one of them. Paul, on the other hand, claimed to find my maternal aspects very sexy and I took that at face value. His fifteen-year-old daughter, Mason, lived in San Diego and found it hard to come up on the weekends now that she was in high-school. She came for a couple of weeks each summer and alternating holidays. Paul missed her.
I bit my lip and stared at the page in my planner. “I’ll talk to Stormy about it,” I said, hoping it would be an argument I could win. I flipped back to “Today” in my planner and wrote a note to myself.
Stormy Halloween w/ Jared?
Then I leaned my elbow on my desk and rested my head in my hand as I continued the sweet-talk with my sweetie. “So where are you taking me, Romeo?”
“It’s a surprise,” Romeo said.
“Not even a hint?” I pushed. It was Paul’s year to plan our anniversary celebration and I felt a thrill run through me at the possibilities. Say what you will about second marriages, but so far mine had been a wonderful ride. Maybe because both of us wanted to make sure this one worked, maybe because we were both grown-ups now and knew how to make better choices in a mate, or maybe because we had a better idea of our future and therefore could plan it out exactly as we wanted it to be. Whatever the reason, Paul was the sugar in my coffee, the tread on my tire, or, as he liked to say it, the Shasta to my Daisy.
“I’ll give you a clue: Bring your bikini.”
“Nice one,” I said, narrowing my eyes. Bikinis don’t come in a 14, but I had a very flattering one-piece I’d be happy to bring along with control panels in all the right places. “I don’t know why I put up with you sometimes.”
“Because I pay the mortgage,” Paul said. It was an offhand comment but it pinged in my chest and I responded without thinking about it.
“Careful, sailor, or you’re on the next boat out of here.”
That fell even flatter and we both went quiet, having sufficiently stepped on one another’s toes rather harshly. We could banter and tease all we wanted, but Paul’s wife had left him without warning ten years ago, so jokes about me leaving were never funny. I wondered why I said it. My next thought, however, was that him making comments implying that I couldn’t take care of myself was equally difficult for me to take in stride. Did I say second marriages were perfect?
I cleared my throat. “Well, I’d better go,” I said. “But the weekend sounds like fun. I’ll talk to Stormy about it tonight and then give Jared a call. I’m sure it’s a go though—he totally owes me for Labor Day.” He’d had to cancel Stormy spending the weekend with him because he said he had a last minute business trip, but I suspected he’d taken his newest girlfriend to New York for the opening of a Broadway play he’d told Stormy about the week before. He was a theater major in college, it was probably how he’d tricked me into marrying him; he acted out the part of faithful suitor. What a joke.
“Right,” Paul said, also trying to recover from the moment. “She’s got that Shakespeare thing at school tonight, right?”
I groaned. “That’s right,” I said, looking at my planner again. I hadn’t written it in. Instead, I had a list of errands I was hoping to do on the way home: The hair salon for my favorite shampoo Stormy had left at the pool on Saturday, the library for a new novel, and the grocery store for some more Lean Cuisines; I brought my last one to work for lunch today. “Um, is there any way you could go solo so I can run some errands?”
“Isn’t Jared going?”
“I think so,” I said.
“Daisy,” he said, a reprimand in his voice that caused me to let out my breath in a huff. Paul and Jared did okay together, but Paul was always anxious about seeming as though he was overstepping his boundaries as step-dad when dad-dad was around.
“Okay, okay. Don’t worry about it,” I said, trying not to sound as annoyed as I felt. After working all day I wanted to run my errands and go home, not sit through a high-school drama performance where my daughter probably had three lines. “I’ll try to leave a little early and get my stuff done before it starts.”
My stuff, I thought after I hung up a minute later and looked at my list again, a familiar frustration rising in my chest. I yearned for my stuff, my time, my schedule. After so many years of putting it after their stuff, their time, their schedules, my patience was wearing thin. Of course, Paul was different. He was a grown man and he was wonderful about giving me my space. My girls? Not so much. I was their mother; I was supposed to put them first, but that didn’t mean I didn’t long to just do my own thing. I’d been so young when I became a mother—barely seventeen—and I felt like I’d been trying to catch up with the role ever since. Now, the end was in sight. If it made me a bad mom to look forward to being done with this phase of my life, well, so be it. I’d given so much for so long.
I pushed my planner to the side of my desk and opened up my e-mail folder; my break was officially over. I glanced at the clock—it was almost two. If I kept a steady pace I should be able to leave the office by 4:30. That would give me the time to get the shampoo and the microwave meals—I could move the library to tomorrow. “Nine more months,” I said to myself, that’s how much longer I had before Stormy graduated from high-school. She was already planning to go to California State after living with Jared for the summer—applications were due in November. I could go away on the weekends any time I wanted to once she was up and out. Paul and I planned to buy a trailer and hit the open road—my office was getting closer and closer to telecommuting options all the time, so I could still work part time. We wanted to trace the Oregon Trail, then visit the thirteen original colonies. There was so much we wanted to do and we were so close to having the green light to do it.
For now, however, I was sentenced to high-school plays, budget-busting prom dresses that were worn one time, and overseeing homework.
“Nine more months,” I said one last time before getting back to work.