Word count, start of day -- 10,409
Gwen had taken Natalie to the little park a few blocks away. Seemed to me like a good time to call. I found the number in the tax file and dialed.
"Annie, it's Brian Norton."
"You've got our taxes done?"
"Gee, it's nice to speak to you, too."
Annie Chuckled. "I mean, it's good to talk with you, Brian. How have you been? You've got our taxes done?"
I laughed. It was pleasant banter. "Yes, I do. Right around a nine hundred dollar refund."
"Sounds great. I could put nine hundred dollars to good use."
"Couldn't we all?" I asked with a chuckle. "When do you want me to bring this stuff by."
She hesitated. When she spoke, she spoke hesitantly. "Is there any way you can do this online?"
"File the tax return online, you mean?"
"Right. How does that work?"
"They call it electronic filing. To do it, you need to file with an authorized prepare, because you don't file it directly with the IRS." I took a second to think. "Now, my firm can do this, but that's probably not practical."
"You can't do it yourself?"
"No, I'm not registered individually with the IRS to do this. But you can go to any tax prep service and they'll do it."
"Like H & R Block?"
"Sure. Jackson Hewitt, Block, whoever."
"Even if you did the return?"
"Well, yeah. But they will charge you a fee for it." She wanted to know how much it cost and I let her know.
"OK, can you do that for me?"
I thought about that. I supposed I could. "Sure."
"Well, do you need me to go with you and sign anything?"
I didn't think so. "No, I can handle it."
"I don't want to be pushy," she started.
I chuckled, knowing what she meant. "Tomorrow at lunch."
"That would be great."
"I need your banking information for the direct deposit of the refund. I think they'll take their fee out of the refund. Then I'll send you a copy.
She gave me her address and banking information, the routing number and the account number.
"Thanks for everything, Brian. I know we said we weren't going to pay you, but--"
"I didn't sign it, I can't take money for it. But thanks, Annie."
"How about a lunch?"
"Next year when you're doing the audit, I'll take you out to lunch."
"Thanks, Annie. It's a deal. I'll get these stuff off to you in the mail soon."
"All right, Brian. It's a date."
"Cookie, mommy, cookie, mommy, cookie, mommy."
"Hold on, Erin, wait until we check out."
"Cookie, mommy, cookie, mommy, cookie, mommy."
My daughter looked at me with her big green eyes and I melted. I always did. I probably always would. I sighed and gave her the box of animal crackers. I was just glad to get out of the house on a Saturday morning. The less time I spent in there with Dennis the better. If not for Erin, Dennis and I would have nothing in common. She is our only bond. Is a child enough of a bond, even a perfect little angel like Erin? Damn it, I needed a chance to grow, too. I just didn't know what to do. It was too damn confusing. No time to clear my head. No time to--
"Tank you," Erin said with a glint in her eye. I loved her so much it hurt sometimes.
I was working my way through the long shopping list. It has even gotten to the point where I needed to cook three separate meals a night. Dennis, Erin and I all had different tastes in food. She of course liked anything fried and salted. Or anything with ketchup. Or something fried and salted, with ketchup. Dennis was growing more interested in French cuisine. Cuisine? I liked nice restaurants, sure, they were romantic. But cuisine? I don’t want any cuisine. My parents didn’t raise me on cuisine. Give me food, real food, real American food.
When Dennis and I were dating, meat and potatoes were more than acceptable for him. But now that we're married I'm supposed to sauté fish fillets and cook scallops for him. Scallops? Maybe he was just trying to show off that he has traveled around the country and that I haven't. I don't know why he let me be myself before we were married and now I'm supposed to change everything about me. Why can't he change? I never bought that old dog and new trick crap. Maybe it's true after all. Maybe he's too old to change. Damn. So I end up with a shopping list that takes up an entire page.
The meat department was a challenge. Single packs of steaks for me. These were tough to find some days. They usually packed them in twos or fours. Dennis wrote a bunch of things on the list, a couple of which I had never heard of. Why did he do this to me? I know he's better than me, more classy, damn it, why does he have to rub my nose in it? I asked the butcher and he sent me to the seafood department. How was I supposed to know what a mahi-mahi was? I got two single packets, and then headed towards the produce section.
I shook my head. I never realized how much Dennis had changed to date me. I knew he was a wine expert, but I thought it stopped there. Now it seems like lettuce and carrots weren't good enough for him anymore. Maybe they were too common. Did he eat radicchio at his parents table? And Belgian endive? What the hell was a Belgian endive? Who was he trying to impress? Or who was he trying to put down? Every time I looked at this list and thought about what it implied, I got angrier and angrier. And he thinks we connect? On what level do the two of us connect? What do we have in common that matters?
"Hey." I heard the voice, but just passed the guy. I never had worn a wedding ring, and I've learned to not make eye contact with guys. Even with Erin, a guy may very well hit on me. I brushed by. "Annie?" he called out.
"Brian!" It was good to see him. "How are you doing?"
"I am doing real well, Annie. You?"
"Fine. I have a pretty long list," I said, showing him. "But why are you here? You don't live around here, do you?"
"No, I'm just picking up a few things for dinner on the way home. I was doing some browsing over in Short Grove."
"Well, it's good to see you again."
He reached over and rustled up Erin's hair a little bit. "Animal crackers, hmm?"
She nodded and gave him a crumb-filled smile. "Cookie."
He nodded at her. "Yes it is." He smiled at me. "Where to next?"
"I'm getting chips and soda and some meat for tonight. Grilling out. You headed that way?"
"No. I just got meat. I'm heading to get some shampoo and soap."
He nodded. "Well, it's good to see you again."
"Thanks. I got the tax refund, by the way. Less than three weeks."
"Hey, I'm glad it worked out." He started wheeling his cart away.
"What kind of meat?"
He turned. "What?"
"You said you are grilling out tonight. What kind of meat?"
"Steaks, of course. What else is there?"
I smiled, waved, and turned away.