“Come to bed,” Mark stood at the kitchen counter. He’d just filled it with multiple glasses and even a few forks and spoons that he’d retrieved after putting the kids to bed. He knew he should put everything into the dishwasher, but not tonight. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough.
Sal looked up from her laptop. “Not yet. I have two more things to deal with tonight.”
“Will leaving them topple your plan for tomorrow?” he asked.
“Maybe,” she said. “Go on without me. You get up earlier than I do. Thank you for putting the boys to bed.”
He watched her focus return to the laptop screen. Sal worked non-stop preparing for the arts festival. She wasn’t doing the work alone. Plenty of others were on the committees, yet the woman was wearing herself out. He opened the cupboard, took down two wine glasses and before thinking too hard about it, filled both of them.
When he walked through the living room to where she was tucked in on the sofa, two dogs lying on either side of her, he coughed to get her attention.
“What?” she asked. “What time is it?”
“Nine thirty.” He handed her a glass of wine.
“Thank you. What’s this for?”
“I’m about to find out if I’m coming out of this evening dead or alive,” he said and closed the lid of her laptop. “Dead yet?”
“Not even a little.” Sal leaned forward, set the laptop on the coffee table and then handed the glass back to him. He was confused until she picked up Felix and moved him to the other side. Oscar growled at the disturbance but the two curled in on each other.
Mark sat beside her and handed the glass back.
“What’s up with the glass of wine?” Sal smiled. Her smile and her eyes were weary, but that was just another of the familiar looks that he loved.
“I miss you.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“That’s not what I mean. I’m selfish. I want a little time with my wife. No children, no phone calls, no laptop, no interruptions. And no one’s going to call at this hour.”
“Don’t jinx us,” she said and turned enough to throw her long legs over his lap. “I’m sorry to have been so distracted lately. You’re a rock star.”
“I know.” He touched his glass to hers. “That’s why you married me.”
“No, I married you because you’re gorgeous. I couldn’t let anyone else have the most beautiful man I’d ever seen in my life.”
“I thought that’s why I married you.”
“Aren’t we a pair,” she said and sighed as he put his arm up on the back of the sofa so she could lean against him. “When the arts festival is over, we should take a weekend. Maybe we could drop the kids at your mother’s house and find a quiet cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota.”
Mark made a valiant attempt to not laugh at his wife, but couldn’t help himself. “You want to spend time in a cabin?”
“They have running water, don’t they?”
“And restaurants nearby?”
“Honey, no restaurants.”
“Scratch the cabin on a lake, then.”
“If I catch fish, I could fry it up for us,” Mark said.
That made Sal laugh. “You’d have to catch fish every day. I can’t imagine trying to figure out how to cook enough meals for us when I’m supposed to be relaxing. How about a fancy hotel in downtown Minneapolis?” Sal smiled. “I’d like a hotel room and you’d like a cabin on a lake. How are we still together?”
“We live in Bellingwood. Close enough to cities for you and close enough to rural life for me.”
“We should buy a cabin on a lake that’s close enough to civilization I can gather food for us.”
He shook his head. “There isn’t much in the area that would be quiet and solitary. The lakefronts fill up with fancy homes. I’m happy here in our nice house.”
“But wouldn’t you like a spot where you can go fishing?”
“I can go fishing without owning a cabin. People do it all the time.”
“It sounds romantic, though.”
“A cabin on a lake?”
“Or a river. Something tucked away from the rest of the world. Where no one can find us. Cell phones don’t work, no internet, nothing but us and nature.”
“Who are you and what have you done with my metropolitan-loving wife?”
“Maybe I’m only tired.”
“You must be very tired if you are romanticizing a rustic cabin.”
“I see flannel blankets and rag rugs on the floor. Overstuffed rocking chairs and beds that wrap you up. A fireplace at one end of the big open, room, and flickering candlelight in sconces on the wall.”
“And the bathroom?”
“I’d need running water.”
“And how do you plan to feed your family?”
“Hot dogs cooked in the fireplace. Cooking will always be my Waterloo, won’t it?” Sal asked with a laugh. “I love you for not believing I should be a gourmet chef and spend my time planning and cooking meals. The idea of that makes me shudder.”
“We feed our family. That’s all that matters.”
“Your mother is such a wonderful cook. I wish I cared enough to be like her.”
“Sal Ogden, you care about everything else. Our kids are loved. They learn new things every day. They are curious and love to explore. They aren’t afraid of life. You love me and even make me learn new things.”
“You make me learn new things,” Sal said with a giggle. “Mother would never have believed that I’d end up in a stall with a colicky horse, worried sick over the poor beast.”
“I should have taken a picture as proof that you were really there.”
“And I’m collecting eggs and playing with goats. Mark, you’ve turned this Boston girl into a farmgirl.”
“Not quite, but you’re getting there. You don’t regret it, do you?”
“Do you regret life with me?” Sal retorted.
“Not for anything.” He paused, leaned to kiss her, then said, “Okay. Some of these committees you keep putting me on are tiresome, but …”
“I need you on those committees,” Sal said. “You have the respect of nearly every farmer and pet owner in the area. When I start pushing for something and you are there to back me up, they hear my words as coming from a reasonable person, not an outsider.”
“That annoys me.”
“What? I don’t mean to be annoying. I appreciate you more than I ever say.”
“No, I’m annoyed that you aren’t respected on your own. That you even need me to run interference. You are the brightest, most creative woman I know and if anyone would like to challenge me on that, I’ll beat ’em up.”
“That’s my macho man.”
Sal’s phone rang and she scowled at the coffee table. “See. You jinxed it. I wonder what the problem is now.”
“Don’t answer it,” Mark said. “It’s ten o’clock. We should be in bed.”
She reached over, picked it up, and smiling, said, “Good evening, Kathryn.”
His eyes grew wide. “Mom?” he mouthed.
Sal nodded. She swiped the speaker on and said, “Mark is here, too. How are you this evening?”
While Lila Kahane sent Sal’s blood pressure through the roof, Mark’s mother was such a calming influence it felt like a nice glass of wine coursing through her veins.
“I’m fine, dears. I was thinking about you and the excitement you’re about to have in a couple of weeks. Are you ready?”
“Not yet,” Sal said, “but I will be when it arrives. Things are lining up.”
“Dad and I wondered if you’d mind a visit over Labor Day weekend.” Kathryn chuckled. “Dad tells me I’m saying it wrong. Would you mind if we took over your house and kicked you out for the weekend? You could go anywhere you wanted. Mark, will you take the time off so you can treat your wife to a getaway?”
“You’re amazing, Mom. How did you know?” Mark asked.
“Know what, dear?”
“That Sal and I need time alone.”
“It’s not that big of a leap. She’s been working like a fiend all summer long. You always work hard.”
“Aren’t you getting ready for dance class season?” Sal asked. “You don’t have time for this.”
“Mark Ogden,” his mother scolded.
He flinched. “Uh oh.”
“What uh oh?” Sal asked.
“Mom retired. She sold the dance studio.”
“You did what?” Sal asked. “When?”
“After last season. I’ve been quietly putting things into place and as soon as I was able, I signed the papers, turned over the keys, and came home to put my feet up.”
“But it’s your life,” Sal protested. “You love teaching dance.”
“You’re right. I do. I’m not stopping completely. I will continue to teach a few classes for the new owners. It’s time for us to see the world and spend more time with our children and grandchildren. Who knows what we’ll do next.”
“How long have you known about this, Mark?” Sal demanded.
He lowered his head in shame. “A month or so. But …”
She swatted his chest. “Don’t you say another word. Kathryn, we would love to have you visit over Labor Day weekend, but you don’t need to take care of the children. You can just come visit.”
“No, no, no. We want to do this for you. Mark, make a plan. Sal is busy making plans for her entire community. You can come up with a nice vacation spot for her.”
“How long will you be here, Mom?” he asked.
“As long as you’ll let us stay. Now, I know it’s late so I won’t keep you. We’ll talk again after the arts festival is over. Good luck with it all, Sal. I’m proud of you. Good night.”
She was gone before Sal could reply.
“How does she do that?” Sal asked Mark.
“Know the perfect gift to give.”
“With Mom, it’s always been her time. Like she said, it’s no secret how hard you’re working.”
“She retired? I don’t know what to think about that. I have a hard time imagining your mother at retirement age.”
“She’ll appreciate that. We were all surprised.” He shrugged. “Not really. Mom loved the studio, but she never wanted it to encompass her entire life. It will be nice for her to have more freedom.”
Sal leaned against him. “Where should we go?”
She sat up and swatted his chest. “That’s not funny.”
“I’m not being funny. Why don’t we go and you can show me all your favorite haunts?”
“Because I don’t want to see my mother on the one weekend that I have to spend with you. If we’re flying across the country, we go west.”
“San Francisco? San Diego? Wherever you want to go.”
“Is it sad that I’m ready for the arts festival to be over so we can make plans to take a trip somewhere?”
“Mom said I’m supposed to plan it.”
“Go ahead,” Sal said with a laugh. “I’ll fix whatever I don’t like.”