Jake sighed as he slumped against the steering wheel of his truck and moved back into the lane. He had moved over to the side to let a motorcycle past because the truck filled the whole lane. It had been years since he’d been on a bike, the girl who loved to ride on the back of his cruiser when they were dating had mysteriously morphed into a wife who made him sell his bike because she was worried he’d get killed riding it. At least that meant she wanted him to make it home, right? Things could be worse. Some couples burned hot for a few years and then faded but they still lay in bed on Saturday mornings laughing and cuddling like newlyweds. He smiled, thinking about her eyes looking up at him.
It had been a rough couple years, giving up his music career for a straight job and rising up the ranks seemed like the responsible adult thing to do. And with housing prices skyrocketing, pouring their life savings into a house had likewise seemed completely sensible. Meanwhile, the corporate world squeezed in around him like a steel gauntlet gripping his heart. The endless thankless early mornings and late nights, the commute, the pile of old instruments in the back of his closet gathering dust. The slow creeping certainty that he wasn’t all that special or interesting or worthwhile to anyone but Sarah.
She wasn’t a classical beauty, other men didn’t stop and stare when she walked down the street. He knew she had struggled with feeling like when she went out with her girlfriends she was always the hot girl’s friend, the one who the wing man talked to so his buddy could get her friends ear. Even now, years later, when he told her she was beautiful she kind of gave him a look as if to say “I believe that you think that but I don’t understand why.” Not that she was ugly, he loved the curve of her hips and the way her smile lit up the room, but in an era of photoshop where even supermodels don’t live up to the standard anyone’s confidence can take a hit. She needn’t have worried, he was in love and as far as he could see, she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Jake had spent more hours than he could count standing around dimly-lit hole in the wall bars listening to terrible bands and waiting for his chance to play and blow them away, only to finally get on stage and be mostly ignored as people swirled in a slow dance of desperation around him. The women making a big show of how much fun they were having dancing and trying hard to look disinterested in the men, the men trying out every terrible pick up line and game they could think of to get a laugh or even a look of shock that could break the ice. The subtle slump of the shoulders as people slowly gave up looking for the person they hoped would arrive and settled for the person they could get. Meanwhile, those few couples that came out together either fell into each others eyes, oblivious to it all, or squabbled along the sidelines. Women silently (or not so silently) asking themselves why they’d settled for this long streak of uselessness.
He knew Sarah would never talk to him like that. He knew she didn’t feel like she had settled. He knew that whatever it took, however hard he had to work, he would live up to being the man she thought he was.
Finally, he merged over and got off at the exit. It was a slow slog through cross-town traffic and he remembered just in time to swing by the grocery store to get food for the party they were hosting the next day. Fortunately, most of the things he was after were on sale. Money was tight and it was about to get tighter. He paid, making sure to use the credit card instead of the debit, and carried the bags back out to the truck and homeward. She greeted him in the kitchen, long flowing skirts and a big smile on her face. Her belly was starting to visibly swell from the baby.
He put down the groceries and embraced her, eyes filling with tears.
I’m so sorry.
She looked puzzled but did not let him go
I got fired today.
She squeezed him tighter for a moment and then let go, reaching up to touch his cheek. She didn’t yell or recoil or blame him and there was no pity in her eyes, just confidence. Faith.
We’ll get through it. We’ll find a way. I believe in you.
It was enough.