Word count, start of day -- 15,061
I hope he wouldn't mind me bringing my daughter with me. I felt like treating her for lunch. The harder part was getting Dennis to let her come with me. I had to promise him that he could take her to the par when I got home. Without me, that is.
I shook my head. It was such a shame that we had to split time with Erin, but it seemed to work out. Maybe it was a dry run for separation. Dennis and I had been living apart in the same house for months now. What would be the big difference about separating at this point? If I'm not going to have my house, why live with Dennis somewhere else?
I got in line, looking for Brian. Not here yet. I checked my watch. A few minutes early still. Accountants are probably punctual people. Predictable, stable, and punctual.
We got out food and found a seat, near the door to the play center. Looking up, I saw Brian get out of a silver compact car, then jog in front of it to open a side door. From the far side of the car, he extracted a child. I choked on a French fry at the sight. He brought his daughter, too!
I wondered if he brought her for protections, like I did. Evidently, neither of us wanted to give the other the wrong impression.
He waved when he saw us, then worked his way through the line and over to our table. "What a surprise. It's good to see you here."
I almost said something, but saw him give a look towards his daughter. Her attention was fixed on the plastic toy she had retrieved from the kid's pack meal. I went along with him. "Good to see you, Brian. Would you like to join us?"
They sat down and all four of us were introduced. His girl, Natalie, was a couple of years older than Erin. Maybe this was what the little trickery part was about. She would probably in all innocence tell her mom about lunch. And maybe Brian had not told Gwen about this lunch, either.
The kids sucked down their food and were quickly moving to the play room. The girls seemed to play well together. Girls got along well together usually. Until middle school, at least. Then they got vicious.
"So," Brian asked, partway through his burger, "finances. What can I help you with?"
"I need a budget plan," I said. Then I corrected myself. "I mean I may need a budget plan."
He half-shrugged and pulled on the straw to his milk shake. "Either you do or you don't. What makes you think you might need a budget yourself?"
"Well, our house is on the market."
This seemed to take him by surprise. "Really? Why is that?"
I sighed. "Dennis has a job offer back home. Back in KC."
"Wow," Brian said. I think I really did surprise him. It surprised me, too. My plan had been to just tell him generally about this stuff. These details were not supposed to be flowing out of me so easily.
"You're going back," he said. It seemed so definite how he said it.
"Dennis is pretty committed to taking this job," I hedged.
"And you're staying here, no matter what?"
I nodded. "I guess so."
"And he's moving a thousand miles away, no matter what?"
I nodded. "I guess so."
"Sounds like you two are playing a pretty high stakes game of chicken."
I chuckled, even though I know I shouldn't have. "I hadn't thought of it that way."
Brian nodded, then turned towards the glass window. The girls were in the ball tent jumping up and down, falling into each other. They were just laughing and being kids. It was great to see. "So you want me to figure a budget for you based on your incomes and the cost of living in Kansas, that sort of thing."
I dabbed at the corner of my mouth with a napkin. "Not exactly."
"Okay, you may not get another job back in KC, and you want to make sure you have enough money to live off just his salary." He folded a napkin over, making a perfect crease down one side. A pen appeared from somewhere unseen. "Okay, first thing. Is the chemical company going to pay your moving expenses? That could be expensive. And the equity in the house, how much is
I appreciated his willingness to jump in and help. It was cute and very kind. But I could not let him go too far down that path. "Actually," I said, darting my eyes to the side. The kids were still fighting imaginary monsters of some kind. "I'm going to stay here."
He sat up straighter and looked me in the eyes. I dropped mine to his hands, which were fiddling nervously with the napkin. "I'm sorry," I heard him say softly. I lifted my head and found his eyes warm, compassionate. He really was sorry.
"We've been having problems for a while, actually. But moving back home is the last straw, as far as I'm concerned. He made that decision almost completely on his own, with hardly consulting me at all."
Brian nodded sympathetically. The more willing he was to listen, the more willing I seemed to be to talk. I found myself spilling my guts to him.
I continued to talk. "I mean, I really like my job. The people keep to themselves, and I can get my work done, there's no drama there. It's quite pleasant."
"But the house is on the market? I mean that's a done deal?"
I nodded. He winced. "That's rough, but maybe it won't sell."
"Either way, we are going to separate at some point, I think."
"Marriages are tough. They take work, and even when the people work hard, they don't always work." He seemed sincere in his care. And he seemed to understand the struggles of being married. His marriage seemed fine the two times I met Gwen, but he probably felt the same way about me and Dennis. Maybe he was struggling, too.
"You haven't talked to Erin about this, have you?"
"No, no, of course not. We won't until we're ready to separate."
"When the house sells," he said.
"I guess so."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry. You asked me here to talk about financial things. What financial things do you need to know?"
"Well," I said, a little nervous. "Some of that stuff you were talking about before, you know, budgets, bank balances." I lowered my voice, a little embarrassed. "I work as an accountant, sure, but Dennis handles all of the finances."
Brian nodded. "A lot of things have changed lately between the sexes, lots of changing gender roles the last generation, but I guess that is still a standard role. One of our tax clients is a couple where the woman is a vice-president of finance for a huge company here in town and the husband is a roofer. Literally, he is a roofer." He paused and eyed me. "Know who handles their tax questions and writes the checks? The roofer." He laughed. "It's amazing."
"Dennis is a little older than me, you know," I said. "I guess he is one of those from the prior generation like you said. He is used to that role, I guess he did it in his first marriage. He just likes doing the books, I guess."
"Do you have any money on your own?"
"No," I said quickly, then decided to confess. There was something about this guy that was easy talk to. I liked it. "I have a separate checking account."
"You're paycheck goes into it? Or do you use it for personal expenses? How does that work?"
"I really don't use it to pay bills."
He eyed me like he didn't know what I meant. Why would he know what I meant. "All that is in it is the tax refund.
He choked on his milk shake, but quickly recovered. "And Dennis doesn't know it's there?
I shook my head. His eyes lit up, but he took a deep breath. I could actually see him calming himself. "You let me, you got me in the middle, I," his voice dropped off.
I reached over and patted his hand. "I'm sorry, I didn't think about that. You didn't sign it, so officially-"
"But he knows!" He cut his eyes towards the window, and mine followed. The kids were still playing fine together, although I could see that Erin was starting to wind down. The few years differences in their ages was starting to become clear. Brian went on. "If he finds out, he'll assume that I knew, and that I pulled this off for you, and that, I don't know-"
"That what?" I demanded. I knew I shouldn't have led him astray, but now he was implying more than I meant. It was just
an oversight, just an accident.
He did the right thing for the moment and just shook his head. "It's okay, Annie, it was just a surprise. I probably over-reacted. I didn't know anything about that when I filed the return, and if he can't believe the truth, then there's nothing I can do about that."
I patted his hand again. "I'm sorry, Brian."
He moved his other hand over and took mine. "It's okay, I'll help you out. If there's anything I can do, financial or otherwise, just let me know." He tilted his head towards the plate glass. "They're having fun."
I smiled towards the girls. I caught Erin's eyes and waved. She waved back, then came running out of the room and into my arms. "Fun in there, mom!"
I laughed. It was always a wonderful sight to see your child smile. Nothing like it in the world. Natalie followed a few minutes later. She had stopped to put her shoes back on, while Erin was still in her socks. I sent her back in to retrieve her shoes, and when we are ready to go again, I stood. "Thanks for coming, Brian. And thanks for listening."
"Any time, Annie. It's what friends are for."
I came this close to hugging him, but instead patted him on the shoulder. I'd gotten in trouble with male "friends" before. I thought Brian was sincere, but with men you never knew. They could never be completely trusted. That I was sure of.