It was difficult to keep a straight face watching the gaggle of two-year olds running back and forth across the grass, smartly outfitted in soccer uniforms and yet not knowing a thing about the game. Tracy kept her eyes on Layla’s curly-haired head, bouncing up and down and she chased the ball with her teammates. Before they left the house, Tracy had pulled her socks all the way up over her knees to make sure if she—God forbid—fell while playing, Layla’s legs would not be cut and scarred. This whole soccer fiasco was Brendan’s idea, and she’d only gone along with it when, after much coaxing, he pointed out that she was raising Layla to be what he called “a little princess.” Like there was anything wrong with that.
She’s always going to be our princess, he said in a voice that Tracy recognized as the one he used when he was humoring her. But we still need to teach her other things too.
How to be a member of a team, how to deal with competition, with losing…
Sounds like big lessons for a two-year old, Tracy had muttered.
Okay, fine, Brendan capitulated. She needs to get outside, run and get dirty once in a while.
Now that made a little more sense. Especially since Tracy caught herself about to say: Little girls don’t need to run outside and get dirty. The impulse scared her to death. Because it sounded precisely like the kind of thing her mother might say. So now Layla was in a neighborhood preschooler soccer league which Tracy found out about on the Mommy & Me Listserv. When she showed Brendan the prospectus about the league and that of another similar one that she couldn’t decide between, he’d shaken his head, laughed and given her the okay to sign Layla up for whichever she chose, all the while mumbling something about ‘First World problems.’
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, Tracy came out to Prospect Park with a bunch of other stay-at-home mothers and a smattering of nannies to watch their kids and charges running around in befuddlement at which of them should be kicking the ball and in what direction. Glancing down at her watch, Tracy saw that it was almost four. The game was almost over and Brendan had promised he would make the last half. Lately, he’d been terrible about time and keeping appointments. She still hadn’t quite gotten over him missing Ovulation Day about a week back. And now she was just another nine days away from her period so they would have to wait another three weeks to even give it another shot.
“That’s some crappy defense.”
Tracy’s head whipped around and despite herself, she smiled at the sight of her husband, without his suit-jacket, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up to the elbows, exposing his firm, sinewy forearms. He was tall and lean, firmly-muscled but not bulky, with the square-jawed, even handsomeness of someone who could very well have made a living off his good-looks.
But by far, the most amazing thing about Brendan was his smile, and its uncanny power to make Tracy weak at the knees darn near every single time. It felt like he had a million smiles for the rest of the world, but one very special one reserved just for her. And of course, another just for Layla.
They’d been together for five years and married for three, and he was still the only man who had ever affected her this way, making her feel safe, protected and always, always wanted. Even now, he was grinning at her in that way he had, his eyes traveling her length, from head to toe, lingering at her chest. Finally, he bit into the flesh of his lower lip, and then smiled at her once again. After all this time, Brendan still looked at her like they were dating, like they’d never touched, made love, had fights, made up, seen each other ill, and gone through many more messy and unromantic rites of marriage. There were still days, even now, when Tracy couldn’t quite make herself believe she deserved him
“Hey sweetheart. We winning?” He leaned down to kiss her and then turned his attention back to the game.
“I have no clue,” Tracy said. “It just looks like a big jumble to me.”
“We’re one goal down,” someone said.
Tracy turned at the voice. It was one of the nannies, a college-aged student who escorted a set of twins, whose parents Tracy couldn’t recall ever having met. The twins’ names were Aidan and Ethan. They were super-cute, ginger-haired with cornflower-blue eyes, but appeared to be quite the handful. Of course they were, with absentee parents, how could they be otherwise? The thought felt mean and petty, but once she’d made the choice to stay home with Layla, Tracy couldn’t conceive of how women—assuming they had the option—could voluntarily make a different one.
“One goal down, huh?” Brendan shrugged. “Thanks.”
He smiled at the nanny and Tracy watched the girl shrink into herself a little, and look shyly down at the ground after nodding an acknowledgment.
“So do we have you all evening?” Tracy asked. “Or are you going back to the office after this?”
“Nah, I’m done at the office for the day. And what a day …”
She tuned out most of what came afterwards, focusing only on the fact that Brendan would be home. In the last few years, having him home on a predictable schedule happened less and less often as he continued to build the record label he chaired with his best friend, Shawn, and co-managed the string of upscale lounges they had around the country. The recording industry and ownership of nightclubs put the kinds of temptations that could be poison to a marriage front-and-center, so Tracy was vigilant about making sure her husband was well taken care of when he was home.
After all, what else did she have to do besides look after him, their homes and raise their daughter? So whenever he was around, there were home-cooked meals, a clean and orderly house and when Layla was asleep, plenty of intimate, adult time. If she had anything to do with it, there would never be something that another woman could offer him that she didn’t already provide.
Tonight she would make garlic-rubbed pork shoulder and asparagus, and because Layla liked it, her special three-cheese macaroni. Brendan would complain, as he always did, about wanting potatoes or some other starches, but Tracy made a point of never keeping that kind of stuff around. Those thirty-five pounds she’d gained during pregnancy were way too hard to get off, and she wasn’t putting herself in the line of fire to become one of those frumpy, I’m-way-past-caring-about-my-appearance housewives.
“But, there’s one more thing,” Brendan said, breaking through her reverie.
“Even though I don’t have to go back to the office, there’s a …”
Tracy’s shoulders sagged, as she waited for what she knew was coming.
“… a cocktail party at a colleague’s place.”
“What time?” Tracy asked dully, seeing her visions of a quiet family dinner disappear like a puff of smoke.
“So you’ll be home when? Like midnight?” She tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice, and was fairly certain she failed.
“We’ll be home around then, yeah. You’re coming with me.”
Tracy looked up at him, suddenly feeling a little frisson of excitement. They didn’t go out together too often anymore. Most of what they did involved their friends who all also had kids. Lots of “family-friendly” activities and occasions these days, but far fewer where it was just them with other couples. Tracy missed that—the dressing up, the makeup and heels, the hairstyling and most of all, the feeling of Brendan’s hand on the small of her back as he ushered her into a room, the look of pride on his face when she commanded the attention of all the men in the room, yet only wanted his attention.
“But …” The excitement was replaced very quickly by practicality. “We don’t have a sitter. You know I need to book Elite at least 48 hours in advance.”
Elite was the name of the extortion racket that masqueraded as a babysitting and nanny service, and the only one Tracy felt comfortable using on the rare occasions she and Brendan had a night out. All the over-anxious Moms swore by Elite and its rigid reference policy, battery of background checks, and psychological tests; but their service had more demand than they could keep up with so the chances of getting a last-minute sitter on a Friday was slim-to-none.
“So call Riley or Robyn,” Brendan suggested. “What’s one more kid to either of them?” He chuckled at his own joke.
“They’re both in Jersey this weekend. How would we get Layla out there before tonight?”
On the soccer field, something exciting was happening. The entire herd of kids was running in a single direction, all of them squealing excitedly. Brendan and Tracy looked up and suddenly Brendan was running himself.
“Baby, check it out! Layla’s got the ball!”
Tracy followed him as he ran along the sidelines, watching their daughter manage with a few jerky kicks, maneuvering around two equally uncoordinated defenders before taking her shot. The ball rolled, a little slowly Tracy thought, before making its way past the befuddled goalie and into the net. Parents and caregivers cheered and screamed, but none louder than Brendan who broke all rules of game day etiquette by running onto the field and grabbing Layla and tossing her in the air.
Watching Layla’s surprise and glee at her father’s sudden appearance, Tracy felt her heart swell to almost bursting. Her love for them both never felt more perfect as it did in that moment. Then Brendan was turning to face her, holding Layla up like a trophy while the ref tried to reestablish order on the field.
Tracy forced herself to tear her gaze away from her husband and child, looking over her shoulder. It was the twins’ nanny.
“I couldn’t help overhear you,” she said. “About needing a sitter tonight?”
“Yeah?” Tracy looked her over. She had pale, pale skin and hair too black to be natural. Her fingernails were painted black as well, and she was festooned with silver jewelry—necklaces and bracelets with charms bearing mystical shapes.
“Well, I could do it if you’d like. I’m sitting for the Griersons but I know they don’t mind sharing the time with other families.”
“The Griersons …”
“Aidan and Ethan’s parents? I do overnights sometimes and …”
“Oh, I wouldn’t need anyone to watch her overnight,” Tracy said, feeling just a tiny bit alarmed at the idea of leaving her daughter with this Goth poster-child. “Just until about midnight or so.”
“Well, I’m sure if you call Mrs. Grierson, we could work something out. Maybe we could even do it at your house and then I’ll take the boys home once you get back.”
“How does that … work exactly?” Tracy asked. “I mean, compensation-wise.”
“Babe … did you see that?” Brendan came trotting back up to join them after his victory-dance, his eyes still wide and animated as though Layla had walked on water.
“Yes, Brendan I saw. It was great. Listen …” Tracy looked at the young woman and realized she didn’t know her name.
“Trish,” she supplied.
“Trish says she sits for the Griersons and could probably watch Layla if it’s fine with them.”
Brendan turned and took a closer look at the young woman and offered her a brief smile, and then his hand which she shook.
“Hey,” he said. “Brendan Cole. Trish …”
“Trish Carson,” Brendan repeated. “So you work for the Griersons? Which are their kids?”
“The two redheads.”
Brendan glanced at the field and smiled again. “Oh yeah. Cute.”
“So,” Tracy interjected, to move things along. “If you give us the Griersons’ number, we’ll call and see whether we can get things settled for tonight.”
“Of course.” Trish fumbled with the ratty messenger bag hanging at her side and fished out a cell phone. “If it’s okay, I’ll call Mrs. Grierson first, just to make sure.” She walked a few feet away from them and dialed a number, putting the phone up to her ear.
Turning to look at Brendan, Tracy smiled. “So the game’s turned out to be pretty exciting, huh?” She nodded in the direction of the field.
“Yeah. I need to make it to more of these,” Brendan said.
“Yes,” she said, meeting his gaze. “You do.”
Brendan’s expression sobered. “Baby …”
“I know it’s not that easy, with work and everything, but if it’s this tough with one, how are you going to ..?”
Gathering her face in his large hands, Brendan leaned in. “You worry too much. We’ll work it out. Like we always do. But for tonight, let’s just get dressed up and enjoy this party. Okay?”
Taking a deep breath Tracy nodded. “Okay.”
From an upcoming novel.