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Archive for December, 2004

All Sales Final

Christmas day was cold but clear, and we spent much of it outdoors, playing football and enjoying the fresh air. Indoors, we played with the kids and their new toys. I helped Lucy’s mom make the traditional dinner.

After dinner, we sat around a fire, telling stories until the kids went to bed. The adults stayed put, talking. I poured bourbons for Lucy and myself. She sat on a couch, between her siblings. I sat on the floor near the fire.

Lucy’s sister pulls out a pipe and a bag of pot.

This is a family tradition: the smoking of the peace pipe. In years past, there was always some fight on Christmas night. Tonight, we wondered if Lucy’s mom would get into it with my ex father in law’s other ex, like it was thirty years ago, and she was still mad about their break up.

Lucy, her sister, and her sister’s fiancé are potheads. The rest of us are novices. Lucy has to show her brother and father how to operate the pipe. I know at least that much, but cough after trying to inhale.

Neil Young is playing in the background. The fire is stoked and very hot. A stoned debate breaks out on the physics of shortwave radios, a subject no one present understands. It’s very funny to see everyone offer revelations and insights.

I know that pot makes me stupid. I keep my mouth shut and tend to the fire. Lucy’s mom, drunk and stoned, pulls me in to a side conversation about how much she likes me, and how she misses me. Lucy motions for me to move away and sit near her—it’s just best not to go there, she whispers in my ear.

After everyone is gone, Lucy and I sit by the fire. I move to sit next to her.

“Making your move, huh?” she says.

“Just getting closer” I reply, putting an arm behind her. “So we can talk quietly.”

I have no idea what happens next. Are we going to retire to bed, together? To our separate rooms?

We have The Talk.

She brings it up. “What are we doing? It’s very confusing. “

“I know, it is very confusing. I’m not sure what’s happening, but I’m so glad we aren’t fighting. I’ve really missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too. But what are you doing? Why are you seducing me?”

“I’m seducing you? I thought . . .”

“Is this just sex, or do you want to get together again?”

This is heavy. “I think we should talk about this, but not now, not when we are stoned.”

“Is this just sex? Because if so, that’s okay. But do you want to get together again?”

“You would even contemplate getting together again?” I’m stunned.

“It would make everyone happy. It would make the kids happy. It’s what everyone wants.”

“Is it what you want?” I say. “Wait, I’m too stoned to have this conversation. I really can’t believe what you are saying.”

“I think its just sex for you.”

“I’m not sure, not at all. I mean, I don’t need to get into something with you just to get laid. I’m so happy to be connecting with you, to be talking without so much anger. But maybe this . . . this is so much.”

We look the fire. “I’m going to bed,” she said. “Good night.”

What just happened?

The next day, I pull her aside. I’m not sure where we were going last night, I say. But I want to revisit that conversation when we can really talk.

I think I have my answer, she says. I’m not looking forward to that conversation!

Yeah, but we need to talk. We can’t leave this dangling.

Okay, she says. You will call me, and we will talk.

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eXmas Morn

I heard the kids come downstairs together. I heard their voices as they tried to make sense of the piles of toys. This is yours, Jason told Lillie. Is this mine? Collie asked. Look! Jason whispered loudly. What’s that?

I opened my eyes. Seven oh four.

I sat up, in my pajamas. I headed into the living room, a few steps away.

“Good morning! Merry Christmas! Gosh, look at all this stuff!”

I hugged each of the kids, and hovered around their piles of goodies, keeping my voice low. Look, this glows in the dark! Hey, did you notice the other doll? Is this CD for you, Jason?

The stairs creaked as Lucy came down. “Good morning, everyone! Oh my, look at what Santa brought!”

We fell into our natural rhythms, attending to the kids and their excitement.

Secretly, we were hungover, operating on next to no sleep.

The rest of the family had arrived on Christmas Eve. All were holidaying at the house, but most staying at nearby motels and bed and breakfasts.

A longstanding tradition has me in the kitchen most of the afternoon, preparing Christmas Eve dinner. It’s a simple meal, and I always make the same thing, but it requires some prep time.

Lucy and I were with the kids and her mom before everyone else arrived. But Lucy and I had very little time alone to process what had happened the night before. After so much animosity, we had made love. We had talked. And Collie had busted us.

That morning, we ascertained that Collie had not made too much of his discovery—or at least, he didn’t seem too. He had filed it away, I was sure, until he could make sense of it, without involving too many grown-ups in his mental processes.

As Lucy’s mom made lunch for the kids, Lucy and I secreted away to wrap presents. We established an efficient assembly line. She alluded to the night before. I dropped my scissors and kissed her. I held her. “I’m so glad we aren’t fighting,” I said. Me too, she said. I put my hand on her face. We went back to wrapping.

After lunch, we walked the kids to a nearby carousel. The boys rode their own horses, as I rode with Lillie. At each pass, I smiled at Lucy. We have not been able to look at each other for over a year. This felt right, much better.

Her family began to arrive after lunch, and we were drawn into other people’s lives and stories. Tales were exchanged about troublesome flights, rental cars, cat feeders. They vanished to wrap gifts as I cooked dinner.

My ex mother in law’s ex girlfriend arrived. I served drinks, then dinner. It went off without a hitch, peppered by amusing stories about my ex father in law’s quirky ex girl friends.

My children were all ears. All these attitudes about exes were registering.

Our family has many Christmas Eve rituals. We sing, the children recite poems, and snacks are left for Santa. After the children go to bed, all the Santas prepare for Christmas morning.

When everything was all set and done, Santa’s helpers retired to their hotel rooms. Lucy and I poured drinks and repaired to the study to unwind.

We turned on the television to find a movie in which Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep were star-crossed lovers, commuters who met on a train. They were married to other people, but their banal conversation led to an intense physical relationship.

We kissed.

“This is confusing,” she whispers.

“I know.”

“But it’s very common, I think,” she says, kissing me.

“Maybe so,” I kiss her back. “But I can’t believe this is us.”

I followed Lucy’s lead. She snuggled close; I snuggled closer. She kissed me; I kissed her. Her hand went up my shirt; my hand touched her breast.

We were side by side. I rolled over to be on top of her. I felt like an acrobat. My body was so light.

I was in her, on top of her, kissing her. Our mouths were alive. That was in itself so electrifying. She had eschewed my kisses so very long. For years, a passionate kiss had been met with an admonishment to brush my teeth. My advances were met with rebuffs.

I had lost track of how to make love to her, years ago. It was so easy now.

We were coupled in the dark, surrounded by window full of stars, warm together surrounded by the cold sky.

As we kissed, I grabbed her hips and pulled her on top of me.

I held her hips as I entered her. I was surprised to remember how slender she is. I pulled her over so easily. I pushed up into her, my thighs bumping her into air. I pulled her nipples into my mouth.

“You made me cry,” she whispered.

“When did I make you cry?’

“It was a long time ago.”

I embraced her. I embraced this moment. So maybe this is how we forgive one another and move on, I thought. By loving one another, by caring about one another, now.

“I’m sorry I made you cry.” We kissed. She pulled me closer as we fucked.

We were so well joined, so physically one with one another. We pushed into one another, breathed into one another’s mouths.

Let’s forgive each another.

“You broke my heart into a thousand pieces,” I said. Intense. Tender.

“You broke my heart too,” she said.

“I’m sorry I broke your heart,” I said. She is quiet. So much for mutual forgiveness.

We fucked silently. “I want you to come for me,” I said. She said she had not been able to get off with other men. I didn’t know what was happening between us. But she should have this opportunity to come.

“Okay.” She focused. She pushed into me, her eyes closed, working hard.

“It’s your fault too, you know,” she said, trying to let go.

“Come for me.”

Lucy’s orgasm is like a safe to be cracked. It is secured if you don’t have the combination. But if you ascertain that special sequence, all the locks tumble into place easily.

No one among her pathetic lovers has bothered to learn the combination. I work the locks.

They tumble. Lucy comes.

“You got your wish,” she breathes. I hold her close.

I flip her, back in our familiar terrain. She gets off on top of me, then I flip her. That’s how it once worked.

We make love quietly, trying to avoid discovery by our kids and her mom, I wonder: am I now having an affair with my ex wife? No one can know?

We talk as we touch and kiss. I am excited at how we are opening up and sharing.

She ventures another insight. “You waited too long to open your heart.”

So long as we are forgiving one another, I am hers. But if she wants to blame me for her pain, that’s another story. She dumped me. There is too much pain to assume as my own responsibility.

I sit up. I am still in her. I find my t-shirt and put it on. I look at her,

“We can make love. We can talk about what went wrong between us. But we can’t do both at the same time.”

She nods. We fuck for a while. But I am done.

We doze off. I am not really asleep. She says she should go to bed; I let her go. Three o’clock, Christmas morning.

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eXmas Eve

“Hey, Dad. Dad!”

Collie was sitting on the table next to the futon. Light filled the study. I glanced at the clock; it was just after seven.

“You’re up early, Collie.” I grabbed my pillow, pulling it close.

“You and mom fell asleep watching television.”

I looked over my shoulder. “Oh yeah?”

“Yep. She went upstairs to go back to bed.”

“Smart of her,” I said, closing my eyes.

“She was naked. Are you naked too?”

I opened my eyes.

Collie was sitting next to my pajamas. I reached over and pulled them under the covers.

“I guess I am!” I said, sliding a leg into my pajamas with one hand, holding the blanket in place with the other. “Funny, I thought I had put these on. D’oph! Silly me, huh?

“You want to watch some television? Wonder what’s on? Hey look, SpongeBob! Awesome! Let’s watch it together! I’m going to make some coffee. You want some juice or anything?”

I put on a kettle in the kitchen. There was a bottle of bourbon on the counter. I put it away.

Lucy and I were watching something on television the night before, but it was just background noise. We were talking about the kids, how things were planned for Christmas, passing the time until we were sleepy enough for bed. She finished her drink, and offered to get me another.

We talked, we drank. She finished her drink before I finished mine, and got up to fetch us another round. She returned and lay down, close to me. I had a sip. You’re drinking a fair bit tonight, I noted. I’m a seasoned lush, but she was always a lightweight.

I’m drinking a lot more these days, she said. A lot of things in my life are different,

Me too, I said. We’re going to have a lot to talk about one day, when we can compare notes on our lives apart during this past year. I squeezed her hand. It was nice to think that one day, we might be able to be open. Maybe we could be friends again.

She began to talk about her dating experiences. She had been seeing a lot of men, she said. No one special, but a lot of one night stands. She attends many concerts, and she meets guys at those, or at bars, or through friends, or through her job . . .

I listened. I asked questions, without prying. I was glad she was opening up to me as a friend, and not seeing me only as an ex, an enemy. It had been so long since we were relaxed with one another.

I did not offer comparable war stories. I listened, and I felt close to her. I knew that hearing about me and other people would only hurt her, or stop her from sharing.

I didn’t trust her enough to open up about myself. But I trusted myself enough to listen.

She talked about flings with young men, saying they were tough because she didn’t want to mislead them about the “dream.” What dream, I asked? The whole getting married and being happy thing, she said. Because that’s not where I’m heading. I understand that, I allowed.

She talked about being with married men, and others who didn’t really attract her. She talked about all the flirtations she had with the fathers of our children’s friends. She was hanging out a lot with the boyfriend she had before meeting me, and his wife. There was no sex there, but she liked being a part of his life again.

I identified with all she was saying. I had long thought that each of us was the person best prepared to understand what the other had been experiencing. I wanted to share my life too, but that could wait for another time.

Was this the same woman I once knew so well? The woman who had been with so few men before marrying me? The woman so dead set on monogamy and commitment? The woman who so enjoyed sex, but had so little interest in it?

She was not drunk, not at all. But she was in a mood to talk, and the bourbon had helped.

“You know,” she said, looking into my eyes. “You are still the only man who has made me come.”

“I’m glad for the distinction,” I said, touching her hair, “but I’m sorry you aren’t getting off.”

As she told her stories, she repeated this revelation. I put my arm around her. I held her close. I know, I said: what we had was special. It’s hard to move on from that.

She said it again. I was the only one who could get her off. I touched her face. She kissed me.

We have spent so much energy being angry with one another. Her cruelty has pained me so much. I have tried not to hurt her, to be above that, but I’m sure I have.

Kissing her, I felt that finally we acknowledged that we don’t hate one another. We share too much. We can have some kind of future that isn’t about bitterness.

Our pajamas were gone. I was in her. We kissed, and kissed. We pushed against one another slowly, exploring that intense familiarity.

I wanted her orgasm. I pulled out and went down on her. “No, no, wait,” she said. I stopped. I fell into her arms. I held her close.

I listened to her breath.

I thought about the births of our children. I have never felt so close to another person as on those three days and nights. We were so scared. I wanted to inhabit her skin then, to share that, to spare her that. We cried together when each of our babies was born.

When they were safe, when she was safe, when it was over. Deep, lurching sobs. I kissed away her tears.

I was so helpless. She needed me so much. The babies needed me.

I held her close. “I am always going to love you,” I whispered. “That isn’t going away.”

“I wish we could sleep together,” she said.

“Me too,” I say. “Would we have to make a date for that?” I laugh at the irony. So many nights we were together, and that is what we want tonight.

“No,” she said. “No dates. Just Christmases.”

We fell asleep.

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eXmas

I walked quickly through a drizzle to pick up the kids. I arrived about ten minutes behind schedule.

The kids were excited to see me. Lucy was there too, for an after school meeting. When she saw me, she rolled her eyes and sighed loudly. She took me by the arm and led me to one side, telling the kids to stay put.

She gave me a quick, familiar lecture on the importance of being on time. I nodded, listened, agreed. That ritual completed, I returned to the kids and took them home.

That night, Lucy was picking us up to go to her mother’s house for Christmas. Last year had been the first Christmas since our break up. Per our tradition, we spent the holiday with her family at her mother’s house. It had been awkward, but we bit the bullet for the kids’ sake. There had only been one fight—between Lucy and her mom, about her mom being too familiar with me about details concerning our divorce—but fights between Lucy and her mom were also a family tradition.

Lucy and I had a good Thanksgiving this year. She’s been very civil with me lately. I hoped for the best.

Mind you, this holiday had enough landmines to blow us all sky high.

My ex wife and I would be there, with our three kids. My ex mother in law, a lesbian, had invited an ex girlfriend to join us for dinner on Christmas Eve. My ex father in law would be there, at the home of his first ex, and bringing along his second ex wife (he has three from which to chose). My ex brother in law was bringing his ex boyfriend.

To add a dollop of optimism to the occasion, my ex sister in law would be there with her fiancé.

So many exes. Another ex-mas with Lucy’s family.

After school, I fed the kids and cleaned up, packing a few things to see us through the weekend. I poured a stiff drink to fortify my nerves.

Lucy arrived around bedtime, and we packed the kids into the car. I sat in the back between Lillie and Collie; Jason rode up front. We talked about Christmas until the kids drifted off to sleep. I talked with Lucy to keep her company as she drove, catching a few moments of sleep myself.

After few hours, we parked in front of Lucy’s mother’s house. Her mother was asleep and everyone else was arriving the next day, on Christmas Eve.

Lucy roused the boys, and I carried Lillie inside. We undressed the kids and tucked them into bed. We unpacked the car. I took Lucy’s bag upstairs to the room we used to share. I carried mine into the study off the dining room, where I would sleep on a futon.

We repaired to our separate quarters to put on pajamas. Lucy came downstairs to have a drink and watch television with me in the study. We talked and began to unwind.

This was going well. We were being nice to each other. It felt very familiar. Fingers crossed for the weekend.

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Dream

Jessica came over for a night of meat-and-potatoes loving. We poured some bourbons and talked, splitting a cigar as we listened to 1920s jazz.

We stayed up late until all hours having sex. I stayed on top—“doing all the work,” as she puts it. We slept until one or the other of us started up again. We would go at it until she came, then sleep until the next round. I waited to come until the very last round the next morning.

I made ham and cheese omelets, with onions and coffee. She was happy and laughed often as we talked.

When she left, I found a Christmas gift had been left behind for me.

As Jessica and I slept during that night, I had a dream.

In the dream, we were in my bed, in the dark. Jessica was giving me head.

My teenage daughter Rachel walked into the room. She looked around and left. “Rachel?” I asked, as Jessica continued at her task. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” she said. “I was just looking for a place to sleep.”

“Why aren’t you in your bed?”

“Well . . . ,” Rachel hesitated. I got up to investigate; Jessica followed.

The apartment was filled with people I didn’t recognize. Two pleasant well-dressed elderly women greeted me. There was a mother in panties, nursing a baby, next to a young man with blonde dred locks. Three young women in flowery party dresses were chatting near the dining table. Other folks milled about.

The room was lit by Sterno flames.

“Who are these people?” I asked, as tamped out the Sternos with my hands. “How did they get here?”

“I dunno . . . ,” Rachel mumbled, looking at her feet.

“Rachel,” I said, sternly. The guy with dreds rode past me on a bike. “Did you leave the apartment?”

“Yes,” she sighed in admission. “But only for a little while. I went to the park and I found someone who needed a place to stay, and then someone else, and then these nice ladies . . .”

“Rachel!” I admonished. “You can not bring people home from the park in the middle of the night.”

“I know,” she said. “Sorry.”

I certainly did not want these people in my home. But now that they were here, I felt I had no choice but to feed them.

I took stock of my pantry. I found a bag of frozen ears of corn, a box of mashed potato flakes, ground beef, and other sundries.

In reality, these foodstuffs are never to be found in my kitchen. They were mainstays of my family’s diet when I was a kid. These are the first things I learned to cook.

I started some mashed potatoes, which evolved into a shepherd’s pie, and then was neither mashed potatoes nor a shepherd’s pie. The corn looked fine, but turned mealy as I boiled it. I heard a baby cry, and thought, hurry, they are hungry. My parents were at the table, asking how much longer until dinner?

There was a knock at the door. A man in a trench coat asked my name. I told him my name. He asked me to sign on a dotted line. I signed.

“Sir, you are hereby subpoenaed to appear in court concerning paternity suits filed by two women.”

Two women?” I turn to my parents, incredulous. “How many babies are there? One or two?”

“I’m just serving the papers, sir. The information is in these packages.”

He hands me two envelopes, each marked with the name of a plaintiff. I forget the name of one woman.

The other was Cilla Freick.

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Best Laid Plans

My hair was still wet from the shower when Lucy and the kids showed up. We were going to get Christmas gifts for her family.

Lucy and I had created a list and plotted a course. We would drive to a few places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and make fast work of this.

But the best laid plans of Moms and Dads often go awry. All it takes is a recalcitrant five year old.

Lillie was bored, and miffed that Collie had a toy he refused to share. She whined and moaned about this. It was darned irritating. Sitting in the back seat between them, I tried to get her involved with something else, beseeching Collie to put the toy away.

Lucy sharply told Lillie to stop acting out, that we needed to work together to get things done.

The battle was joined.

The generals in this battle had many tactics in their arsenals. I tried distraction, humor, reason. Lucy cajoled, bribed, reasoned. Collie gave the toy to Lillie, for keeps, forever. But that was no longer the issue.

All volleys were futile. Lillie would best her mom, damn the torpedoes.

In exasperation, Lucy said, “Lillie, I am not going to talk with you for the rest of the day. When we get home, you are staying in your room. I won’t put up with you.”

The car was quiet. We all knew this outburst. We all knew the power of the Silent Treatment.

Lillie looked out the window. I heard her mutter, “She will forget. She always does.”

Lucy’s anger no longer affects me as it once did. But I know its force.

I watch out for the kids.

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Sick Day

After several days of coughing and complaining of an “itchy” ear, Jason wakes with a fever. It’s too high for school, so on Friday, he takes a sick day.

I stay home with him, as I can try to do some work from home. My ex Lucy will be taking the kids for the weekend, but she will be unable to pick him up before six.

I cancel a few appointments, but there is one problem: in order to be at a dinner party with May that night, I would need to leave New York by 3pm or so. Looks like I would miss that.

It’s a crazy weekend anyway, the last before Christmas. I have shopping to do, an apartment to scour, and loads of work. I may need to take Jason to the doctor on Saturday morning. And I have to be back in New York by Sunday noon for a work-related holiday function.

Given all of this, I should bag the trip to May’s. At any rate, I’m still annoyed by her reaction to my wanting to spend New Year’s eve with my daughter. I’m really not in the best frame of mind to be all lovey-dovey.

I call May with the bad news.

“Why can’t you leave after Lucy has the kids?” she asks.

It will be rush hour on a weekend, I say, so I wouldn’t be there until very late. I cite all the things going on this weekend and say it’s just not worth the trip to spend one day hanging out with May and her friends.

“So don’t go to your party on Sunday. Then you can stay until Monday.”

Well, I can’t stay until Monday, as I’ve got so much to do. And anyway, I want to attend that party—I work with these people, and I like them.

“So this party is a bigger priority in your life than I am?”

Uh, no. This party is a one-time event. I spend a lot of time with you. We have been on two weeklong vacations together since September. To do that, I had to sacrifice time with my kids, and time for work. I am very behind on work as a result.

“And that is my fault? If we don’t see each other this weekend, we won’t see each other for three weeks!”

I’m not saying that. Look: we have spent a lot of time together lately. We will spend a lot of time together after the holidays. My batteries are charged from all that time. I am secure with us. We can be apart for a few weeks.

“My batteries are NOT charged. I need you. If you can’t come to me, why aren’t you asking me to drive to New York?”

I don’t see much point in it. I need to get things done this weekend, and my son is sick. I can’t say for sure how that will affect things. I really don’t have time to hang out. And anyway, you have all those parties you want to attend with your friends.

“You are a bigger priority in my life than these parties. I see you don’t feel the same about me.” She begins to cry.

“Dad?”

“Hang on a sec . . . yes, Jason?”

“Can you help me please?”

“Okay . . . just a minute, May, Jason needs me.” When I return to the phone, she is in tears.

“I wish you could make me feel loved and wanted. You don’t care whether you see me or not.”

I’m sorry you don’t feel loved or wanted at this moment. But we have spent a lot of time together. You need to focus on that, and not on this momentary set back.

“I can’t! I need you now.”

You need to be grown up about this. You can handle not seeing me this weekend.

“Three weeks! I won’t see you for three weeks!”

By this point, I am getting very annoyed. I know I should be consoling, and loving, and rip at my chest, saying yes yes, I will do anything to be with you this weekend, even if only for an hour, to show how much you mean to me.

But frankly, her whining and intransigence are pissing me off. I have a sick son in the next room, and I am on the phone trying to help her understand why that has taken precedence over partying with her this weekend.

May, I repeat, we have seen a lot of each other lately. We will see each other a lot soon.

“But I need you now! I really need to talk with you about a job I might be offered in California.”

I know all about this job offer. May is forever uncovering cool sounding opportunities that don’t pan out. Like the others, this one might, it might not. I have learned to be encouraging, and offer what best advice I can, without getting her hopes up.

I say that that job sounds interesting, and it is a lot of money, so it is worth looking into.

“But I will never see you!” she weeps. “Why aren’t you begging me not to take it?”

I’m not going to beg you to miss an opportunity you want. But this is premature, isn’t it? I mean, the job isn’t yours yet. I believe you will be a great applicant, but let’s not worry about how it impacts your time with me until it’s a reality.

“It can be a reality, it can, and you don’t care! You don’t care about seeing me.”

Well, that’s not true . . . I was saying . . .

“Look, I need to know now if there is a future for us, so I can make a decision about this job.”

I think we have spent a lot of time together, and things are going well, and I am glad to have you in my life. But do you need to know right this second that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together . . . ?

“I need to know if I am going to go to California alone, or stay here to be with you.”

That is asking too much. Look, I know you are disappointed about this weekend. I am disappointed too. But we have spent a lot of time together lately, and we will spend more time together after the holidays. This momentary disappointment should not precipitate a crisis in our relationship.

I am speaking very calmly, but I am very pissed off.

“You don’t care about me,” she wails.

“Dad! Can you help me again?”

“Just a minute Jason!”

May, I need to go. I understand that you are disappointed about this weekend, and I have said that I am too. Now is not the time to talk about this job opportunity, as you are upset and I need to tend to my sick child. I am going to end this conversation now, and we can talk about the job later.

“When? When can we talk about it?”

Another time, when you aren’t so upset. I need to go. Goodbye.

Sob. “Goodbye.”

I look at the cell. We had talked for over an hour, when she knew I had a sick kid and tons of things to do.

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