Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Bart Marrow had not expected being married to really change his relationship with Rosalie Smoot any. They had already been cohabitating for some time now, after all. The bison was, by her nature, reserved and not given to strong displays of emotion. Rosalie herself had outwardly treated the task of actually getting the paperwork and finding an officiant as more like a chore than anything, and had actively tried to hide how much she had enjoyed picking out a dress. Bart suspected that if it hadn’t been announced on the Crawdad Stadium Jumbotron then she might never have even told her teammates on the Biloxi Voodoo.
The hyena had never told her it was he himself who had surreptitiously slipped the note to the arena’s A/V crew, but there was no doubt in his mind that she knew exactly who to blame. Her actions that night after the game suggested she was anything but upset.
But there had been changes. They were subtle, and it was entirely possible that no one outside the Smoot family had even noticed. They still maintained separate bedrooms, but now they shared a bed more nights than not. Rosalie no longer hesitated to publicly display her affection for Bart. She smiled whenever she said the word ‘husband.’ And as for their belated honeymoon in Walt Disney World… well, Bart might not have let Rosalie put the wedding off for so long if he had known what she had had in store.
Bart woke up in the middle of the warm Mississippi night and immediately realized he was alone, shivering without the great insulated bulk of his bison wife that he had become accustomed to. The hyena rolled over and stared bleary-eyed at the rectilinear red digits of his alarm clock: 3:22 A.M. It wasn’t atypical for Rosalie to wake up well before him; she had long ago cultivated a habit of getting by on very little sleep and would often complete her morning exercise routine before the sun even rose, but this was unusual. She had been getting up earlier and earlier for weeks now, sleeping restlessly, and Bart knew exactly what she was losing sleep over.
Rosalie had spent the last two seasons playing for the Biloxi Voodoo of the Furry Basketball Association, all the while building a new life for herself, her now eight-year-old daughter Eleanor, and Bart. Her contract had expired at the end of her sophomore season, launching her for the first time into the realm of free agency. She had received two very attractive offers: one from the Voodoo, a team that had not made the playoffs since before Rosalie joined, but was also more of a home than the bison had ever known; and the second from the Tallahassee Typhoons, a consistent playoff contender in recent years, but would require Rosalie to uproot her family from the happy stability they had come to know.
Bart had his own opinions on both offers, but ultimately it was Rosalie’s decision to make. He would support her wholeheartedly either way, and as long as he was with her and Eleanor, he would be happy.
He found his wife in the kitchen, sitting at the table clutching a mug of tea and illuminated solely by the glow of her laptop’s screen.
“Sweetliver?” he said, using an archaic hyena term of endearment, and speaking quietly so as not to wake Eleanor.
Rosalie looked up. “Bart? What are you doing up?”
Bart could not completely hold back a chuckle at the irony, an occupational hazard of being a hyena.
The bison seemed to realize it immediately and had the good grace to look sheepish. “I couldn’t sleep,” she said quietly. A pad of paper on the table was covered in notes written in Rosalie’s nigh-illegible handwriting.
Bart nodded. “I know. So what are you doing?”
“Looking at real estate.”
Bart cocked an eyebrow.
“I’d like to have more space. Something with room for a proper personal gym, not just a drafty garage. And you could have a bigger kitchen. And all three of us shouldn’t have to share one bathroom. Here, look at this one, Bart. It has a hot tub…”
Bart moved to look at the screen over Rosalie’s shoulder. The listing was for a four-bedroom, three-bath house in a gated community. The price was steep, but unspoken between them was the understanding that Rosalie would soon be able to easily afford it. Bart’s eyes roved over the screen, absorbing the details until he got to the address and stopped. “Rosalie, this house is in Tallahassee.”
“Does that mean…?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I’m looking at Biloxi, too…”
Bart nodded; she was no closer to making a decision. He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. She looked back to the screen and began clicking through the numerous tabs she had open, showing houses for sale in Biloxi and Tallahassee. Rosalie would start to enumerate their amenities before trailing off mid-sentence and moving on to the next one. Bart nodded along, his right hand lightly holding her left.
“Bart.” Rosalie stopped abruptly and turned to face her husband, “What do you want?”
Bart was taken aback, he opened his mouth to speak and couldn’t think of anything.
Rosalie filled the dead air. “I want everything. I want to put down roots, to have Eleanor happy, to be on a winning team for once. But I can’t /have/ everything and it’s so—so— /frustrating/.” Rosalie gestured at the laptop screen helplessly. “I know what Eleanor wants. And I think I know what I want. What’s best for each of us, but not for all of us. But I don’t know what you want. And don’t just say you want us to be happy. Even if it’s true.”
“Rosalie, that’s not fair.”
“There’s three of us in this family. You’re my partner. You have a say in this. It would make me feel better if I knew.”
“I… I don’t know…”
Rosalie gave an exasperated sigh.
“No, listen.” Bart took her hand in his again. “I hate to watch this gnaw at you like this. I want to talk it out. Months ago, I promised you that whatever happened next, we would decide together. I still want that.”
Another hyena chuckle. “I don’t see you hurrying back to bed. Do you have any other plans for the evening?”
Rosalie half-smiled. “Fine. But I’m gonna need you to make me another cup of tea.”
“Coming right up.”
They talked through the night. Sheets of yellow legal pad were scribbled on, crumpled up, and thrown away.
“I’m not happy about Coach Vanhorn leaving.”
“Yeah, but from the rumors I’ve heard about the Typhoons’ coach…”
“Bart, I like Coach Tetreault.”
“You do? She’s terrifying!”
Rosalie bared her teeth. “Ask Sister Bernadette. So am I.”
They were still talking when the sun painted the morning sky a warm shade of pink.
“Winning a championship here. It’s not impossible, but it will take years. Staying with the Voodoo would definitely be the hard way. If I abandon them, it’s hopeless. But if I—if we succeeded, Bart that would be /incredible/.”
“Realistically, who else do they have? I agree, the Voodoo need you. And their offer certainly reflects that.”
“And if I pick up and leave, what example does that set for Eleanor? Abandoning a team that needs me.”
“Though… there is something to be said for the example set by going after what I want, even if it means making sacrifices.”
“You’re no help at all, Bart.”
They were still talking when the newspaper thumped onto the end of the driveway.
“And what’s with signing Barton Rouge again? Bringing him back isn’t going to do anything to solve the fundamental problems. I know people around here still miss him, but it’s not going to magically bring back the good old days. The team needs to be thinking about the future. Young talent.”
“On the other paw, Rosalie, the Typhoons are stacked with young talent. There would be a lot of competition there. It would take a lot of hard work for you to stand out.”
“Are you saying I can’t do it?”
“That’s not what I mean at all, and you know it. I believe in you, I always have. But if you stay with the Voodoo, you could be a star. You could be their strongest player by far.”
“It wouldn’t be easy on the Typhoons.”
“Going to the Typhoons would definitely be the hard way.”
They went through more mugs of tea, and then switched to coffee when the automatic timer kicked on. Scraps of paper littered the floor.
“But Eleanor is happy here. I’m happy here. You’re happy here. Right?”
Rosalie shrugged noncommittally.
“Why should we disrupt that?”
“Eleanor has always been my priority. That… that has always been the constant in my life. Her and basketball.”
“And your priority is my priority. Leaving would break her heart.”
“That scares me most of all, Bart. Without meaning to, I’ve got roots here now.”
Bart clasped her hand in both of his. “So… I guess that means…”
Eleanor, as habitual an early riser as her mother, tiphooved down the hall to the kitchen in her maroon Biloxi Voodoo pajamas, drawn by the sounds of low conversation. As she rounded the corner, she watched her mother kiss her father on the lips. They were both very happy about something.
The young bison stepped on a scrunched up piece of paper scribbled with the words ‘Who is Vincent Wei?’, the sound drawing her parents’ attention.
Rosalie whispered low into her husband’s ear. “So we’re agreed? We’re staying in Biloxi?”
Bart nodded. “It’s what’s best. For all of us.”
The older bison and the hyena stood up. Rosalie cleared her throat and addressed her daughter, “Eleanor, Bart—your father and I, we’ve been talking… I want you to know, this hasn’t been easy. I had to think long and hard about this. And I—we want what’s best for you, for our family. And we’ve made a decision.”
Eleanor nodded. “I understand. We’re moving to Florida.”
“We’re st—Wait, what did you say?”
“Florida. The Tallahassee Typhoons. I knew that’s what you’d pick.” Eleanor said matter-of-factly.
“You—you’re okay with moving? I mean, you want to go to Florida?”
“But aren’t you worried about your friends? About Ruth? It’s a big change.”
“It’s not that far away. I told Ruth she and her mom could come visit. Um. I mean, if that’s okay. We’ve talked about it a lot. I told her, like, months ago we were gonna move. And we can write letters. Or maybe… maybe I could get a phone and we could text?” Eleanor added hopefully with her best winning smile.
“We’ll talk about that later—“ Bart started, but Rosalie cut him off.
“I thought… You told me you were worried about Ruth. You said she needed you.”
“She does. But that was second grade, Mom. I’ve been helping her. I’m not Ruth’s only friend anymore, Mom. No one likes McCormic anymore. Well, not much. There’s Addison, and Harmonie, and Kaitlyn and Catelin. We eat together at lunch. We’ve been talking about how we could stay friends after I move for weeks.”
“Oh.” Eleanor had mentioned some of these details in bits and pieces over the past couple months of school, but somehow Rosalie had never absorbed just how much the picture had changed. “How… How did you know what I would decide?”
“No offense, Mom, but the Voodoo kinda suck.”
“Oh, thank God. Honey, I want to go to Florida, too,” Rosalie picked up Eleanor and hugged her, “But what did I tell you about that kind of language?”
Bart stared, stunned. “/You/ want to go Florida? /I/ want to go to Florida! It is absolutely the best move for your career.”
Rosalie turned to stare back, wide-eyed as she accused, “But you said—!“
Bart retorted, “Yes, and you agreed!“
Rosalie narrowed her eyes, looming over him.
Bart stood his ground.
For a moment, the air between them crackled.
Then, in an instant, Rosalie burst out laughing as madly as her hyena husband ever had, Bart hooting right along with her.
“I love you, sweetliver,” Bart said teasingly, “But you are the most impossible woman I have ever met.”
“Yes, and you’re legally bound to me now, so deal with it.” She leaned down to meet his kiss.
“So… now what?” Eleanor asked, still held in her mother’s arms. “I think this calls for a celebration,” she added suggestively.
“Nice try, Eleanor. But it’s a Tuesday. /You/ need to get ready for school.” Rosalie tapped her lightly on the nose and set her down.
“Your mom and I have a lot to take care of today. But we’ll do something this evening, I promise,” Bart assured her.
Eleanor hugged Bart around his waist. “Thanks, Dad. I’m really looking forward to this.”
Bart ruffled her shaggy headfur. “Us too, Eleanor.”
She let go and started out of the kitchen to her room to get dressed. At the corner, she stopped and turned back towards Rosalie. “You should have asked me earlier, Mom. I’m eight years old now, you don’t have to worry about me all the time.”
Bart suppressed a barking laugh.
Rosalie cocked an eyebrow. “Yes, I do. That’s my job. I love you, Eleanor.”
“Love you too, Mom,” and Eleanor disappeared down the hall to her room.
Bart prodded his wife’s side with his elbow, “She gets that from you, y’know.”
Other recommended reading:
Incidental Contact: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1320
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