I switch the phone over to speaker mode.
“Is Albert coming home today?” My mom says, the excitement in her voice matching my own.
I finish wiping down the counters and tick that chore off my list. “Yes, ma’am, he certainly is.”
“My brain has officially quit on me. How long has he been overseas?”
“Well, he was only supposed to be in Afghanistan for six months, but he re-upped after what happened.” I rub my eyes as they water from the cleaning fluid fumes. As she continues to chatter, I check to see what else is on my list to do. How am I ever going to get the house cleaned, his fish tank spotless, and groceries bought before I head to the airport? And, wow, I need to open these windows before I gas myself. I cough.
“Quinn, dear, did you hear what I said?”
“Do you think we’ll be welcoming home the same man we sent over there?”
Sighing, I take a drink of iced tea and go to open some windows. “Would you be the same after having seen an eight year old used as a suicide bomber?” I close my eyes hearing the bite in my voice.
“I’m sorry, Mom. Everyone keeps asking me that question and I honestly don’t know.” I lick my lips as the moisture leaves my mouth. “Every time I talk to him things seem different, sometimes good, sometimes not. I’m not sure what we’ll be facing when he gets home. I’m just thrilled that he’ll be home, and safe.”
“How long have you two spent together since your wedding?”
“Including our three day honeymoon and the week he was home after his first tour?”
Mom whistles. “You two are going to have a rough time of it if he isn’t himself.”
“We’re both stubborn so it’s assured we’ll have a hard time one way or another. We’ll just have to figure it out.” I pull my hair into a pony tail and escape to the grocery store and pray the house will be aired out by the time Albert gets home. I lay my phone in the passenger’s seat. “Can I be honest, Mom?”
“I’m so excited to be able to fight with him. You know how boorish he can get, and now I’ll have a chance to argue with him properly. Without worrying the last words I say to him will be the last he hears from me.”
“An argument could always be the last, no matter where you are, Quinn.”
“It’s different when you know there’s a high possibility for your husband being shot at or blown up.”
“Have you told him yet?”
“No.” As I pull into the grocery store’s parking lot, I bite my lip. “And quite frankly, I’m nervous.”
“Quinn Ann! A pregnancy isn’t something you can just spring on the man.”
“I’m not going to spring anything on him.”
“Oh really? Then what do you call him seeing you with your six month belly and no prior knowledge? That isn’t the subtle approach, my dear.”
“He had enough to worry about. I didn’t want to add myself to the list, Mother.”
I roll my eyes. “Lots of errands to run, bye!” Hitting the end call button I shove the phone into my purse. “I love you, Mom, but sometimes you add more stress than I think is worth it.”
As I head into the store, I can’t help but grin. I might be exhausted but having Albert home is all I’ve wanted.
Checking my purse, I realize I’ve left my grocery list at home. “Great, job.” I sigh. “Well, I hope pregnancy brain will take a break for today.” As I do a mental run through of my grocery list, my head begins to spin. I take a deep breath. Tonight needs to be perfect for him and it won’t be if I start to panic. I grab two large steaks, potatoes, corn on the cob, and watermelon. “Now if I can just find Hinton’s BBQ sauce, this will be a dinner fit for a true hero. Albert can’t have a steak without his Hinton’s.” It’s always in isle 12, but of course it’s not today.
As I take another lap around the store, my feet begin to throb. “Why is it I can’t find anyone to ask about this stupid sauce?” I check my watch and sigh, only three more hours to finish everything and get to the airport. I feel a mental spring pop loose. “Keep it together, he deserves perfect.” Leaning over the cart, I stretch my back and close my eyes. “Think, what else do you need—The cake!” I snap my fingers. “It should be ready now.”
“Hello,” I smile as I reach the bakery counter, happy for the chance to stop walking again.
“I have an order to pick up, for Stanton.”
The look on the bakers face immediately makes me nervous. I’ve never seen someone frown to the point they give themselves a uni-brow. “Ma’am,” he says, “your order isn’t going to be ready until tomorrow.”
I wince as my daughter voices her displeasure about this by kicking my liver. “What do you mean? When I placed the order last week I told you I needed it today.”
“That’s not what it says in my records, ma’am. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m already have more orders than I can handle.”
I feel another mental spring give way. “Sir, please, I need this cake.” My eyes water against my will. “I’m using it to reveal the sex of our baby to my husband. It’s his favorite flavor, so I’m hoping it will ease the shock of him finding out I’m pregnant.”
He quirks an eyebrow.
“Don’t judge, just make with the fudge. It’s his favorite.”
“Ma’am I really—”
I stop him as I feel my phone vibrate with a voicemail. “Sorry, just a second. The only one who leaves me voicemail is my husband. You know, the returning veteran who defended the country, without any cake to eat.” I roll my eyes.
The way his voice shakes steals my breath.
“I’m not sure what’s going on, but I need you to know that I love you and—”
My heart races at the voicemail ends in static. What’s happening?
Thank you so much! I want to dedicate this story to the brave men and women that serve in the American armed forces, and the their families. The sacrifices these people make is truly awe inspiring to me. As always, if you have a question you’d like to ask this character, Quinn, leave it in a comment below and I’ll include it in my next character interview.