The Sidelined Wife(3)

By: Jennifer Peel

My brothers and their families were already there. Two Decker and Sons Landscaping trucks sat in the driveway advertising the family business most of us worked for. I was still irked about being left out of the business name. So maybe Decker and Sons and a Daughter Landscaping didn’t roll off the tongue, but I made sure everyone got their paychecks and all the bills were paid on time. So what if I wasn’t out in the elements all day long, whether it was in the pouring rain, blazing sun, or raging blizzard? I still played a vital role. And so did Avery, my sister-in-law. The name should really be Decker and Daughters and Sons Landscaping.

“Let’s keep the roughhousing with your cousins down to a mild roar tonight,” I threw out to Cody before we exited the car.

He ignored me and hopped out of the car, intent on finding Matt and James Jr., aka Jimmy, my brother James’s sons. Matt was a junior this year, Jimmy a freshman, and Cody fell between them. Three good boys, but when they got together, something was sure to get broken. We had a running tally—everything from electronics to furniture. Those three reminded me of what it was like growing up with James, my older brother, and Peter, the youngest. Nothing was safe. Thankfully, as the only girl, I never had to share a room with the loveable imbeciles.

Cody was in the house before I even made it up the concrete walk that led to the covered porch with my triple chocolate mousse pie. Hanging ferns dotted the porch and pink impatiens lined the walkway. They didn’t exactly match the house, but Ma always did things her way.

A wave of noise hit me once I reached the door. Not only were the cousins already at it, but my dad and brothers were heavily involved in a Cubs game, and from the loud cheering, something amazing just happened. The Cubs were only a warm-up to the Bears pre-season game that would come on later. The Decker men, all six of them to my mother’s dismay, would wolf down their dinner so they could catch all the action. We may not go to church every Sunday, but the Deckers never missed a Bears game. I should have known Neil and I weren’t meant to be when he told me he didn’t like football. I wasn’t a fanatic like my dad and brothers, but football was part of being a Decker. I thought maybe the sport would grow on Neil, but it never did, not even when our son started playing. Neil hardly made time to watch him play. Thank goodness for the goofballs I called my brothers and the best dad around that filled in. Though it wasn’t a role that fill-ins really worked for. Cody always remembered the games his dad missed no matter who else came.

Those thoughts had me looking down at my pie, wishing for a fork and a corner all to myself where I could drown my sorrows in layers of chocolate mousse and ganache. The sounds of family should have made me feel better, but all I felt was more alone. Neil hadn’t been to Sunday dinner in months, but this week it was official. I was single, and my siblings were happily married. My parents were married and mostly happy, maybe a tad combative from time to time, but at the end of the day we knew they loved each other, and come heaven or hell, they were staying together.

I breathed in and out while staring at all the photos that lined the hall back to the kitchen and family room area where everyone was gathered. Simpler and happier times stared back at me. Ma really needed to take down my wedding picture. I stared at my twenty-two-year-old self in a simple silk gown holding a ginormous cascading bouquet of white flowers. I had an all-white wedding. What a dumb idea. Neil looked ridiculous in a white suit. I was smiling up at him as if he held all the answers and the key to my happiness. A handsome, intelligent doctor smiled back at me. And he could be charming when he wanted to be. That quality faded over the years. His hair had too. He no longer had the thick, sandy mane. I smiled when I thought of his rather large receding hairline. Served him right.

My thoughts were interrupted by my mother. “Samantha Marie, are you here?”

She always used my middle name because all good Catholic girls, like my mother, Sarah, needed good Christian names. Samantha was not one of them, and technically neither was Marie, unless you were French, then it meant Mary. But my father loved the name Samantha, and Samantha Mary didn’t sound as good, so that’s how my name came to be. My mother was distraught about Cody’s name, because unlike my brother, I didn’t head straight for the Bible to pick it out. I appeased Ma by giving Cody the middle name of Joseph, which was my father’s name and a solid Christian name. Now Cody would forever be Cody Joseph to my mother.

I took a deep breath. “I’m here, Ma.” I headed straight into the fire.