A Short Story

The Secret

“What do you mean, you’re going to work on the car again?” I stared at my husband, who was standing by the doorway looking guilty, his toolbox in his hand. “You can’t go today. You promised me we’d finally go shopping for baby furniture.”

“I know, Abbie. It’s just that …” Mitch refused to meet my gaze. “Phil has some free time, and we’re really close to finishing. That thing’s a classic — if we can sell it as soon as it’s done, we’ll have enough for the whole hospital bill and even some left over.”

Disappointment welled up in my throat, and I fought back the tears that lately were always close to the surface. I’d never been the teary type, but during these last six months of my pregnancy, I cried at the drop of a hat.

I knew Mitch had our best interests at heart – he and his brother were restoring a gold mine of an old car they’d found for $500 in the classifieds. But I’d finally come to resent all the time he was spending away from me.

“Look Mitch,” I pleaded. “We’re on different shifts – this is our only time together. I’ve seen you for a few minutes a day all week long! And you know how much I wanted to at least find a crib today.”

“I do know. And I’m sorry, Abbie.” He still refused to meet my gaze.

“Mitch, this baby is going to be here in three months, and we’re nowhere near ready!”

“Next week we’ll go. I swear, hon. I love you.”

He was already out the door as the tears I’d been fighting overflowed and rolled down my cheeks. This was how our relationship had gone for the past month. It wasn’t just that I missed Mitch and wanted his help. Couldn’t he understand that I had fears and worries I needed to share?

My biggest fear was that Mitch regretted our having a child. When we first found out I was pregnant, he was thrilled. He went with me to every doctor’s appointment and devoured all the literature on childbirth. But lately, it seemed, the bigger I got with this baby, the more distant he became.

I also couldn’t help wondering if Mitch was comparing our life — now filled with talk of diaper services and strollers — with his brother’s. Phil had a different beautiful woman on his arm every week. He owned a sports car, a big-screen TV, a state-of-the-art sound system. How could I blame Mitch for wanting to escape to that haven instead of being stuck at home with me and my huge stomach and swollen feet?

The rest of the week, Mitch left early each day for his construction job, returning after I’d left for my late shift at the hospital. By Friday, I was exhausted and depressed.

That night, I’d just delivered medicine to a patient when Kate, my best friend since nursing school, dragged me into the employee lounge. “What’s going on Abbie?” she demanded, and my emotions broke free. I sat down and wept.

She thrust a tissue at me. “Is Mitch still off in his own world?”

I nodded. “It’s been even worse this week. We’d both decided working the night shift would be best for me because it’s not so strenuous, with patients sleeping. But now I feel like we’re on different planets.”

She frowned. “You know, I really think he’s just nervous at the prospect of becoming a dad.”

“But doesn’t he realize I’m terrified too?”

“Well, you’ve had a little more time to get used to the idea- six months of exhaustion, heartburn and morning sickness. For him, it’s probably only just beginning to seem real, now that you’re getting closer to delivery.”

I sighed. “Maybe you’re right, Kate”

“Why don’t you sit down and talk to him about it? he’s probably as unhappy as you are, and it might help him to share his worries with you. I bet by this time Monday, you’ll have your old husband back.”

With new hope, I finished my shift and went home. To my surprise, a light and the TV were still on in the family room.

“What are you doing up?” I started to say, but then realized Mitch was asleep in his chair, a book spread out across his lap. Had he been there all night? I reached to take the book from his lap. To my surprise, it was one of my pregnancy manuals, open to a picture of a fetus at six months. Mitch’s thumb covered the baby’s face, as if he’d been caressing it.

“Honey?” I whispered.

He came awake with a start. “What is it? What’s wrong? Is it the baby?”

I laughed softly, touched that the baby would be the first thought in his head. Kate was right – she had to be. Mitch wanted this baby as much as I did.

“No. The baby’s fine. You fell asleep in the chair. I thought you’d be more comfortable in bed.”

He looked disoriented for a moment, then nodded and followed me into our room. The exhaustion of the past week suddenly overwhelmed me, and I quickly drifted into sleep.

I awoke refreshed, my renewed hope still strong. Mitch was already up and in the kitchen. I got dressed with a lightness in my heart for the first time in weeks. Today we would go shopping for baby furniture … together.

“Honey, I thought we’d go to the Furniture Barn first,” I called out. “They’re having a sale on all their baby things.”

There was no answer, so I peeked out the bedroom door. I couldn’t hear Mitch in the kitchen anymore, so I walked down the hall to find the kitchen empty and a note on the table: Abbie, gone to Phil’s to work on the car. Be back this afternoon. In tiny letters he’d written,  I love you.

I was stunned. How could he have done this to me again? He knew how badly I needed to be with him today. Well, he wasn’t going to keep ruining our marriage, I thought.

It took me only a few minutes to drive to Phil’s. I marched to the side door of the garage, ready to vent my frustration and anger. When I pushed it open, both Phil and Mitch looked up. The power tool they were working with whined to a stop.

“Abbie! What are you doing here?” Mitch asked as Phil backed toward the door to the house.

“The question is, what are you doing here? You promised we’d go shopping today, Mitch!”

He winced. “I forgot.”

That was it — I’d had enough. I looked around frantically, wondering how I could ever resolve the mess of my marriage, when my attention was caught by the shine of polished wood at the other side of the garage.

For a few breathless moments, I stared in disbelief at the sight of a cherrywood crib along the wall, a matching changing table, and even a gleaming rocking chair.

I crossed the floor to the crib. It was exactly the one I’d dreamed of.

“What’s going on? Where did all of this come from? It’s … it’s beautiful.”

“Mitch fidgeted. “Are you sure you like it? We can stain it another shade.”

At his words, I looked at the furniture and for the first time noticed the handmade touches. “Mitch, you made these?”

He nodded, his face still red. “Phil helped. There’s a bureau too, but we’re not quite done with it.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“A couple months. When we weren’t working on the car, we worked on this.”

While I’d been nagging him to help me get ready for the baby, he’d been spending all his spare time here, getting ready in his own way. “Why? Why didn’t you tell me?”

He shrugged. “I wanted it to be a surprise. You were working so hard, eating the right foods and doing everything to give the baby the best chance possible. I wanted to do something too.”

“Oh Mitch.” The tears began again as I realized the amount of work — and love — that had gone into crafting this furniture.

“Please don’t cry, Abbie.” He enfolded me in his strong arms. “I wanted to make you happy.”

“I am … It’s just … I didn’t know what to think these past few weeks. I thought you were regretting that our lives were going to change so much.”

He stared at me. “You were thinking I didn’t want the baby?”

“I didn’t know if it was the baby or just me,” I said.

As if she knew we were talking about her, the baby suddenly kicked me hard in the ribs, so hard that Mitch must have felt it – he leaned back, his blue eyes filled with joy.

We stood surrounded by the beautiful furniture he’d made, and caught a clear glimpse of the future … and it was perfect.

© RaeAnne Thayne