It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. Jenny’s eyes were burning. She wondered if it was the cold or the mascara melting into her eyes from once again, not being able to hold back the tears. As she reached for the doorbell, the door suddenly whipped open and she let out a yelp.
“Brenda! Oh my God, you scared the crap out of me!” she exclaimed.
“Jenny, you look terrible. Not again? Come inside you must be freezing!”
Brenda and Jenny met five years ago when Jenny and Jeff moved into the rental across the street. They became close friends and confidants. Jeff and Brenda’s husband, Bob, often went fishing together and would share beers after doing yardwork in the summer. They were good friends, but not as close as Jenny and Brenda.
“Oh honey, let me take your coat. Have a seat and I’ll put some tea on.”
Jenny moved to the sofa and curled up on one end of it. As Jenny looked around the cozy living room, she imagined this being the life she always dreamed of. Family pictures on the mantel, kid’s toys in the corner and the soft sound of lullabies coming from the baby’s room.
As Brenda walked into the room, a mug of tea in each hand she said, “So tell me, Baxter did it again, didn’t he.?”
“He did. I can’t believe this was the third time! My apartment is eight miles away. How does he keep finding his way back to the old house? Obviously, he prefers to be with Jeff instead of me.”
“Oh Jenny, that’s not true,” Brenda tried to reassure her.
“No. Three times Brenda! This time, when Jeff texted that Baxter showed up at his door again, I packed up the damn dog’s bowls and food and I dropped all of it off. I told Jeff, Baxter obviously misses him and the house, so…” Jenny choked.
Brenda got up and moved to the sofa, hugged her friend and let her cry. She felt badly for Jenny and Jeff. They were the perfect couple in so many ways. It came as a shock to her when six weeks ago, Jenny told her that they were splitting up. Jenny had told Jeff she wanted more in their relationship. She wanted marriage and babies. To Jenny’s surprise, that was not how Jeff imagined their life moving forward. What the heck, Jeff?
“Even the dog doesn’t love me anymore,” Jenny sobbed. “How can things get any worse? Everyone tells me to move on, but to what? I’m not getting any younger. Maybe I should become a librarian.”
“Uh, hello…I’m a librarian,” Brenda said quietly.
“Oops. I-I’m sorry. You know what I meant,” Jenny feebly replied.
They stared deep into each other’s eyes for three long seconds. Brenda’s eyes showed how stunned she was until Jenny crossed hers and they both busted out laughing.
“How about I open a bottle of wine?” Brenda winked.
“I never was a fan of tea,” responded Jenny. They both laughed even harder.
The two spent the next several hours reminiscing, laughing and crying together. Bob being out of town on business worked to their advantage. A second bottle was opened and emptied. Jenny felt better and agreed she would give herself time to get over losing Baxter. Oh yeah, and Jeff too.
It was decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea for Jenny to drive home, so Brenda made up the sofa as a bed. They said their goodnights. Jenny fluffed the pillow and pulled the blanket up around her. In an instant, she fell asleep.
As the morning light filtered into the living room, Jenny felt a fuzzy ball brush across her face. “Baxter, cut it out,” she mumbled. Then she remembered she wasn’t home and opened her eyes. There laying next to her was a naked plastic doll with crazy, wild hair. On the other side of the doll was Brenda’s two-year-old, Aubree, staring at her with big blue eyes. “Wapfels?”
“Hey sleepy-head,” Brenda smiled as she set a cup of coffee on the sofa table.
“Thank you, thank you. That’s just what I need. I feel a headache coming on.” Jenny savored the first swallow. “So, wapfels?”
“Waffles,” smiled Brenda.
“That was my guess! I have time for a quick one, but I need to get home. The weekend will be over before we know it. I’ve still got boxes to unpack and you’ve given me a lot to think about. How to focus and move forward. Thank you. You are such a good friend.”
“Stop already. You’re going to make me cry. We did enough of that last night!”
Jenny finished her breakfast and Aubree helped her find her purse and keys. She gave Brenda and the toddler a warm hug and stepped outside to her car. Luckily, the morning sun had melted the snow that had fallen last night from her car. As she walked to the driver’s side, she heard a bark followed by Jeff’s voice.
“Bax. Baxter! Come on. Let’s go buddy!”
Jenny looked towards her old house and there was Baxter excitedly wagging his tail and pulling on the leash to run towards her. Jeff gave her a quick wave. Caught off guard, all she could do was wave back. Baxter looked confused and turned to follow Jeff back to the house. Jenny got into the car and turned on the ignition. That was awkward.
The weekend didn’t move as quickly as Jenny had hoped. Adapting to single-life again isn’t easy. She found herself looking forward to going to work on Monday and losing herself in routine. Brenda stressed to her that only time will heal her broken heart. Jenny knew she had to give herself time.
It’s tax season and everyone at the accounting firm where Jenny works is busy as ever. So busy that she finds no one takes the time to ask her how her weekend was. No one even knows that her and Jeff are no longer together. At least she doesn’t have to worry about talking about her personal life. She is able to bury herself in her duties and avoid an embarrassing emotional breakdown. But, with all this work and busyness, the week goes by too quickly and Jenny is again facing the weekend.
She took her time leaving the office and stopped at the deli near her apartment. Jenny chose a healthy salad and some fresh cheese curds. At the last minute, she grabbed a pint of cookie dough ice cream. She marveled at the realization that she felt no guilt. Maybe time is doing its thing?
As she pulled into her parking spot at the apartment building, she gasped as she saw who was sitting at her front door. Quickly, she grabbed her things and got out of the car.
“Baxter, what are you doing here? You silly dog!”
Baxter ran to her and nearly knocked her over. He was jumping up and down and wagging his tail wildly. She gave him a pat and unlocked the door. Dropping her purse and groceries on the counter, she bent down and gave Baxter a proper greeting. Petting and hugging him she told him, “I’ve missed you so much Baxter, you big doofus! You know you shouldn’t be here. Your daddy is going to be so upset with you!”
Jenny got a bowl out of the cabinet and filled it with water. As Baxter began lapping it up, she reached for her phone and sent a quick text to Jeff letting him know Baxter was with her. He responded almost immediately, thanking her and expressing his relief. Baxter had run off the night before and he’d been frantically looking for him. Jeff would be over in an hour to pick him up.
“Oh, Baxter. You’re in trouble.”
Jenny put the ice cream in the fridge and grabbed a fork from the drawer. Both she and Baxter retreated to the living room with the salad and cheese curds. She turned on the TV and plopped down on the sofa. Baxter sat in front of her and got into his begging position.
“Somebody must be hungry.” She tossed a cheese curd towards Baxter and he snatched it from the air. She popped a curd into her mouth and tossed another to Baxter, who was already begging for more.
It didn’t seem like an hour had passed, but there was a knock at the door. Jenny looked out the peephole and there stood Jeff. She opened the door and Baxter rushed to greet Jeff.
“Baxter, old buddy! You’re a bad dog.” With that, Baxter put his ears back and lowered his head. “Sorry about this, Jen. Looks like I need to keep him on a leash at all times.” There was a short pause and Jenny and Jeff stood looking at each other. Jeff spoke up, “You look really nice, Jen.”
Jenny felt the color rise in her cheeks. All she could muster was, “Thank you.”
Jeff nodded and looked a little flustered himself. Finally, he said, “Thanks for calling me. Have a good night.” He turned and walked away, with Baxter in tow.
Jenny closed the door behind him and burst into tears. “What the hell?” she said aloud. The rest of the evening she sulked in front of the TV. She poured herself a glass of wine and shed more tears. If she were asked what she was watching, she wouldn’t be able to tell you. All of her thoughts were on Jeff and that damn dog.
When morning came, Jenny laid in bed debating if she should bother getting up. The light peeking around the edges of the window shades made it hard to tell what time it was. Apparently, her bladder knew, so up out of bed she was.
She made her way to the kitchen and switched the coffee maker on. While the coffee brewed, she went back to the bedroom to throw a sweatshirt on over her pajamas. Back in the kitchen, she was able to pour a mug full and add creamer. Life isn’t all bad. There’s always coffee.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, followed by barking. “Baxter?” Jenny raced to the door and checked the peephole. She couldn’t see anyone, so she opened the door and there sat Baxter. Suddenly, Jeff stepped into view behind him.
“Jeff, what are you doing here?” she managed to ask.
“Baxter and I need to talk to you.”
“Talk to me?” Jenny felt uneasy and nervously ran her fingers through her hair.
“I always felt you looked your sexiest in the morning before you combed your hair,” Jeff said with a smile.
“Now I’m embarrassed. Come on in.”
Jenny poured a mug of coffee for Jeff and offered Baxter a cheese curd. The three of them moved to the living room. Jenny concentrated on her coffee as she watched Jeff cautiously work up the courage to start the conversation.
“Jen, I wasn’t fair to you about our future. When you brought up the idea of having kids, it freaked me out. I know we had talked about it in the before, but as time was passing, I felt we were doing alright. The three of us.”
Jeff took a slow swallow of his coffee. Jenny waited not wanting to say a word with not knowing where this conversation was going. “I was feeling pretty empty when you and Baxter moved out. It’s pretty obvious Baxter can’t decide who he wants to live with. When you brought him back to be with me, he would look out the window every day waiting for you to come home. It took me awhile to realize, I was doing the same. Waiting for you.”
Jeff took another sip. “Bob came over a week or so ago. He had Aubree with him. I think Brenda had a book fair at the library or something. Anyway, we were out in the garage and Aubree was following Bob around like his little shadow. You know, she looks just like him. Anyway, I never saw that side of Bob before. He worships that little girl. He made it look so easy. Being a dad. And old Baxter here, acted like Aubree was his puppy. Being all protective and stuff!”
Jenny didn’t know how to respond. She could hardly swallow the lump in her throat.
“Jen, don’t cry,” Jeff moved closer and put his arm around her and drew her in. “What I’m saying, Jen, is please come back home to Baxter and me. I want us to be a real family. I love you. Please marry me.”
Jenny began to sob harder. Barely getting the words out, “Yes, Jeff, I’ll marry you. I love you.”
They held each other and kissed. Jeff pulled away, “And one more thing. I think I like the idea of having a “Mini-me” or more running around. Baxter says so too!”
With that, Baxter let out a confirming bark. Jeff and Jenny laughed and Baxter nearly whipped their coffee mugs off the sofa table with his wagging tail.
“Let’s go out for breakfast to celebrate!”
“I’d love to. Give me a few minutes to change and fix this hair,” Jenny replied.
“Hey, speaking of which. What’s the deal with that naked doll with the crazy, wild hair that Aubree always carries around,” asked Jeff.
“I have no idea!” Jenny laughed.
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Sorry I am so late with this Critique Circle! I love this story. I relate so much with Jenny, throwing herself into her work to avoid dealing with Emotions. You wrote all your characters to be relatable, despite the short amount of time we get to know them. My main critiques are small. There are some tense switches, going from past tense to present when talking about Jenny's work, and a couple awkward phrases when Jeff comes to talk to Jen. Otherwise, definitely an engaging and relatable read! Love it!