“To us!” Steve Singer’s tone was jubilant as he raised his wineglass to Madeline and smiled across the cloth-draped table of Bacchanalia, one of Atlanta’s finest restaurants. “To twenty-six years as man and wife.”
Madeline clinked her glass to his and took a long sip. The flickering candlelight turned his gray eyes a metallic shade of silver and cast shadows across the planes and angles of his still handsome face. If she squinted just right she could almost see Steve as he’d been when they’d first met twenty-seven years ago. Then he’d been tall and trimly built, his manner reassuringly calm and certain. For a moment Madeline could almost feel the too rapid tattoo of her heart in her chest each time she saw him. And the delicious ache in her jaw that had come from hours of non-stop talk and laughter.
Today, they had crossed the great marital divide; she had now been married to Steve Singer longer than she’d been single. Madeline smiled and raised her glass for another clink. “Happy Anniversary,” she said. “To us!”
Steve watched her face as they drained their wineglasses and Maddie pressed ‘play’ on their joint highlight reel to search for a specifically fabulous memory to drink to.
She realized just how many great moments there’d been as she fast-forwarded through the years in her mind. She paused over the births of their children Kyra and Andrew, and all of the special moments that had filled her twenty plus years as a stay at home mom. Freeze frames of Steve’s achievements in the financial world followed along with the best of their family holidays and vacations.
Not that long ago she would have put their reel up against anyone’s. Maybe even nominated it for Best Movie and Screenplay. So much of their marital movie deserved applause.
But the last year and a half had been brutal. It had reframed an entire lifetime of memories.
Maddie drank the rest of her wine while the waiter combed the last offending crumbs from the tablecloth and retreated with a bow, promising to return shortly with coffee and dessert. She tried the squinting thing again but couldn’t block out the image of Steve lying on the couch after he’d lost his job, their savings and, finally, his backbone.
Somehow they’d survived the nuclear blast that blew their lives apart. In many ways they still looked the same. All of their limbs remained intact. But inside, Maddie knew, their guts had been rearranged. She was afraid that crucial pieces might be missing.
Eyeing her empty wineglass, she almost smiled as the line, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” ran through her head.
Madeline blinked and dragged her gaze back to Steve. She looked directly into his eyes, which were the color of a stormy sky with clouds of what she recognized as hurt.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “What did you say?”
“I said, I have a job now. You don’t have to go to Miami and work like a slave on that house.” His tone was eminently rational. “The television series is a crap shoot—nothing may even come of it-- and for such a big network they’re not even offering a living wage.”
This much was true. But if Madeline had learned anything during their personal nuclear meltdown, it was that it was better to act than be acted upon. If she hadn’t spent last summer in St. Petersburg with Avery and Nicole trying to bring the dilapidated Bella Flora back to life, they wouldn’t even have that potential asset. And she wouldn’t have this opportunity to do a television series with her daughter and the strangers who had become Madeline’s friends.
“Do Over is a big break for all of us and especially for Kyra,” Madeline said. “It was her documentation of our work at Bella Flora that made it happen and she deserves to reap whatever rewards come out of it.” She shook her head, still amazed at how completely their daughter, now a far too young single mother, had turned her life around.
Steve reached for her hand. “Then let Kyra go. She’ll shoot the video, Avery will run the construction, Avery’s mother can handle the interior design. Nicole will do whatever it is she does.” He smiled winningly. “I know how you like to mother everyone—and you’re really great at it-- but they’ll survive without you.
Madeline stilled. “So you don’t think I add value?”
“I didn’t say that.”
No, he hadn’t. Not exactly. But that was the thing about being married longer than you’d been single. You no longer needed an interpreter for what had been left unsaid. She drew her hand back.
Not that long ago, when Andrew had left for college and their nest had first emptied, she’d dreamed of her own craft room and long periods of doing nothing, but she wasn’t that person anymore. Now all that nothingness just looked like… not quite enough.
“We’re married,” Steve said. “I love you and I want you here with me. Where you belong.”
“I love you, too,” she said. She did not need to replay their reel again to know that. “That’s not what this is about. I can’t just let Kyra go down to Miami and handle what could be the project of her life while she takes care of our six month old grandson by herself.”
Nor did she want to.
The chocolate mousse and coffees arrived. Steve stirred cream and sugar into his coffee and took an exploratory bite of the dessert.
“I thought you were okay with this,” Maddie said. He had helped her pack the mini-van for the drive down tomorrow and hadn’t said a word.
“They’re not paying you enough for this to make sense,” Steve continued, turning on the earnest charm that normally served him so well. “I have an income now, and I’m starting to build clientele again. If Bella Flora sells, we can erase pretty much all of our debt.”
He put down his spoon and reached for her hand once more. It was beginning to feel like the prize in a tug of war. “You’ve done enough, Maddie. I’m sorry you’ve had to do so much. But I know the worst is behind us. Or it will be if you let it.”
There it was. The subtext to everything that had and hadn’t been said. The thing they tiptoed so carefully around. Steve wanted to pretend that he hadn’t broken rank and run when their foxhole had been shelled. He hadn’t forgiven her for taking on the enemy, not really. And despite all the months of trying, she hadn’t completely forgiven him for forcing her to do it.
Maddie watched her husband eat the mousse and sip his coffee, but could no longer imagine swallowing either.
“I’m sorry,” she said as gently as she could. “But I’ve signed a contract with the network and I’ve given my word to Avery and Nicole. I know Kyra is counting on my help with the baby. But I am counting on you coming down to visit often.”
Because she knew that it would hurt him, she was careful not to give away how much she was looking forward to working on this project with her friends and her daughter. And that she hoped that Do Over would be exactly that for all of them.