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SPRINGFIELD
Day Three

Cabin Fever:
Day Three

Created by Robin



The dream is smooth and seamless and crushingly convincing in its simplicity...

Ross and I are still in bed, huddled beneath the blankets against the early
morning light, two drowsy ex-patriots of the sun making lazy plans for the
rest of the day. Cole Porter plays softly from the alarm clock on the
nightstand, an instrumental version of "You Do Something To Me," and Ross,
too shy to actually sing, is humming the melody in my ear. The sound purrs
through his chest and reverberates soothingly against my back as I lie
wrapped in his embrace. Every once in a while, his mouth will move in just
the right way and his face will brush mine, pleasantly scratching my cheek
with the night's worth of sandy brown stubble dotting his jawline.

After my serenade ends, we speak in whispers without reason, hesitant to
disturb this all-too-rare stillness, wanting only to make these few remaining
minutes of solitude last. There's just one more endearment we have to say,
one more spot we have to tickle, one more kiss we have to give... at least...
before we allow in the rest of the world.

But time, tide, and four-year-old twins wait for no one. We hurriedly roll
out of bed and pull on pajamas--the same pair, Ross takes the bottoms and I
take the top--when the boys come knocking at our door. They bound into the
room, overflowing with sloppy good morning kisses and rapid-fire chatter.
Among half a dozen other things, Jason wastes no time in informing me that
the baby is awake, and even though she is not 'all the way' crying, she looks
awful sad in her crib all by herself. Kevin adds that he doesn't know about
her, but he and his brother are really, really starving to 'depth' and just
what is for breakfast, anyway, and how soon can they have it? Our day has
officially started.

First reminding Jason that, although it was a very sweet idea, he is not to
ever--EVER--again keep his sister company by climbing in the crib with her,
then directing Kevin's food preparation-related questions to his father, I
duck out of the room to check on the baby before Ross can object to my
division of the parenting duties. Sometimes I think if he had his way, he
wouldn't share our daughter at all. Unless it was time to feed or change
her, of course. Then he would at least consider it.

I find Clarissa just like her brother said, not actually in tears but
precariously close to it. Another tickle or endearment or two and I would
have been too late. By the time I peek my head around the corner of the
nursery, the big blue eyes that look a little more like mine each day are
already filled with tears just waiting to fall. Her tiny cherubic face
brightens immediately upon seeing me, however, and I can't help but grin in
return, even though I really should be scolding her for throwing every single
one of the stuffed animals out of her crib. It's becoming a habit with her.
Anytime Miss Clarissa feels she is not receiving the attention she rightly
deserves, the exact same thing always happens: a tantrum the likes of which
have not been seen since the movie "The Exorcist," quickly followed by some
of the most heart-wrenching wails I have ever heard before in my life. At
still a few months shy of a year old, my youngest child has shown an early
flair for the dramatic. Something that, her adoring father never fails to
mention, the sweet little angel comes by honestly.

An indignant round of spit bubbles greets me as I lift Clarissa from her
crib. Hugging her tight, I smooth the strawberry-blonde fuzz standing
straight up off the top of her head and murmur reassuringly into her delicate
little ear. She grabs my hair with both chubby fists, wipes her nose on my
shoulder, and hangs on for dear life. Ahh, motherhood...

After a short trip to the changing table, we join the Marler men back in my
room, where breakfast is already being served. Kevin, Jason, and Ross sit
cross-legged in the middle of the bed with the box of assorted muffins and
pastries we purchased the night before between them. They're eating off
paper plates, and disposable boxes of juice rest on the nightstand--our
family's version of breakfast in bed. Thank God for Buzz Cooper.

The boys manage to find room on the queen-size mattress for us, and I waste
no time in opening the jar of baby cereal Ross hands me. If Clarissa starts
out the day in a foul mood, she'll be a corker all day long, so it is best to
try to anticipate her needs. I feed the baby and Ross feeds me, sneaking in
bites of his food as I spoon oatmeal and mashed bananas into our squirming
daughter. The boys watch the intricate proceedings very closely, and
whenever one of them thinks their father is a bit slow on the uptake, they
take turns feeding me, too. Between the three of them, my belly is pretty
full before they decide the meal is finished.

Getting a drink is the worst part, though. Ross is ever so thoughtful,
holding the juice box while I lean over and sip from a straw, but he keeps
pulling it away before I am done swallowing. Which means that I now have
splashes of dribbled juice down my front, along with whatever unmentionable
substance it was that Clarissa wiped on me. Judging from the way he keeps
biting the inside of his lower lip and snickering, Ross seems to find this
rather amusing. So amusing, in fact that I think he may have even done it
once or twice on purpose.

Just for that, I make him take the lion's share of cleanup duty. It goes
without saying that he accepts his punishment in stride. Of course he does.
Ross Marler is as unflappable at eight-thirty in the morning with three kids
using him as their own personal jungle gym as he is while locked in late
afternoon deliberations with some of the state's toughest attorneys. No
matter what the challenge, he simply visualizes a plan of attack and
systematically sees it through to its inevitable end. Case in point...

He begins tidying the mess from breakfast by shooing everyone off the bed.
It's an unpopular decision. The boys and I grumble ineffectually to
ourselves as the four of us reluctantly slide down onto the floor. They know
as well as I do that their daddy has his own meticulous manner of doing
things, and no one is getting anywhere near that bed again until he is
satisfied that it has been cleaned correctly.

We have no choice but to wait patiently and silently plot our revenge as, one
by one, Ross brushes the crumbs from the pillows and then softly lofts them
at our heads. The comforter gets the same treatment. He folds up the flat
sheet next, edges in first, so that the dropped bits and half-eaten pieces of
baked goods are neatly tucked inside. Noticing my interest in his progress,
he grants me his smuggest, most I-am-in-complete-control smirk. I respond by
giving him the thumbs up signal: You go, boy. Clean that bed.

Carefully carrying the folded bundle across the room, he shakes it out over
the wastepaper basket before tossing it into the laundry hamper. The pillows and
comforter are put back where they belong. Lastly, Ross elects two little
helpers to assist him with disposing of the trash.

As for my part of the cleanup, I strip Clarissa down to her diaper, wash off
her grubby face and hands, toss her soiled sleeper somewhere near the general
vicinity of the laundry hamper, and then she and I get back in bed.
Full-bellied and warm beneath the thick down comforter, pretty soon I don't
know which of us is rubbing at our eyes more. We're both half-asleep again
by the time Ross and the boys return from downstairs.

Spotting her brothers, Clarissa rallies herself enough to crawl down to the
foot of the bed where the boys are running die cast cars over the hills and
valleys created by the bunched-up bedclothes. Ross pokes me in the shoulder
and tells me not to get too comfortable. He says something about wanting to
pick up peat moss for the garden and something else about retaining moisture
in the soil, but I miss most of it because I'm yawning so loudly. I nod
anyway and curl up on my side. My eyelids close of their own accord, and it
requires a great deal more effort to reopen them than it should.

The bed shifts as Ross settles his weight beside me, spreading the morning
paper out on his lap. Several much better uses for that lap pop into my
errant mind, but since children are present, I discard the first few and
settle for a more appropriate one. Shoving the newspaper off his legs, I
rest my head on his thigh and watch our kids play together while he reads.

The twins have abandoned their miniature cars in favor of their favorite
game-seeing which of them can make the silliest face and cause Clarissa to
laugh the hardest. Every time she so much as flashes that lopsided,
one-toothed grin, they collapse into fits of hysterical giggles, and it idly
occurs to me to wonder just who is entertaining whom. Amazing though it may
seem, these are the same two boys that decided within hours of their sister's
birth that she was one gift they'd rather Santa had not delivered. It must
have been an incredible disappointment, to once again have both Mommy and
Daddy under the same roof at the same time, only to have to share them with
someone new. But just look at my babies now. It must be true what they say...
time heals all wounds.

I glance up at Ross and catch him staring at me. The unguarded expression on
his face at that moment is so full of love and happiness that I have to kiss
him. I can barely lift my head, I'm so sleepy, but I just have to kiss him.
Mustering all my remaining energy, I rise up on one elbow and press my lips
to his chin, because it is what is closest. Ross kisses my forehead and says
forget the peat moss, go ahead, take my nap. He'll manage our three heathens
alone while I sleep.

That's one division of childcare that will not require further discussion. I
return to using Ross' thigh for a pillow, rolling over on one side, allowing
my eyes to drift closed. He reaches out to smooth my bangs from my brow, but
the cold glide of something metallic startles me. My eyes fly open to see
what it was, and I spot the source immediately--his wedding ring. Good
grief, I have to be really out of it to have forgotten what my husband's
wedding ring feels like against my skin when he touches me.

He continues stroking my hair, and I shut my eyes again. His gold wedding
band is the last thing I see before I drift off to sleep...

The persistent ringing wakes me. I try to wait it out, but after nine rings
I sluggishly emerge from beneath the patchwork quilt I was hibernating under,
irritated and wondering why Ross doesn't bother to answer the phone. I must
not have slept well. I'm still so exhausted that my movements are even more
clumsy than usual. My head and limbs seem heavy enough to be weighed down by
anvils.

The cordless rings twice more before I can bring myself to stumble out of bed
on stiff legs in order to retrieve it from the dining table. Except for the
grating, high-pitched trill of the phone, the entire cabin is quiet and
still. Maybe the kids went outside to play with their father while I napped.
Grabbing the offending handset off the table, I jab the power button with my
index finger and bark out a sharp, "What?" in lieu of a greeting.

"And a lovely morning to you, too, sweetheart," Ross' voice chuckles in my
ear, and an abrupt realization sounds like a thunderclap in my head.

What was I thinking? No wonder it's so quiet here. Ross didn't take the
kids outside to play while I napped. He took them home to Springfield days
ago, and I stayed behind to work on my book-which, come to mention it,
explains why my bedroom suddenly looks so much like the Bauer cabin. I am
here alone, and I was only dreaming when I thought we spent the morning
together. None of it was real. Not the breakfast, not the kids playing at
the foot of the bed, not the last thing I saw as I nodded off to sleep... none
of it.

"Honey, are you still there?"

"Y-yeah." The word comes out in a long, shuddering breath.

"Are you okay? You sound strange." That's all it takes. One word, and he
picks up on my pain. Yet I have been begging him to marry me for weeks, and
he still fails to see the importance of the issue.

"I'm fine, Ross. I was asleep, that's all. But I'm wide awake now."

Yes, I am fully conscious and once again capable of rational thought, but
still a glutton for punishment. I know it was only a dream, but I can't
resist the urge to check, anyway. I don't know which hurts more--the fact
that the strip of skin on the third finger of my left hand remains as bare as
it was when I went to bed last night, or that I went looking for something
that wasn't there.

"Blake, are you sure everything's all right?" The worried edge of his tone
cuts right through me. "I know you said you just woke up, but it sounds
almost as if you're crying."

"Look, Ross, I can't talk to you right now, so I'm going to go."

"What is it? What's wrong?"

A searing mixture of hurt, anger, and shame burns in my chest, and for a
second I have to clamp my hand down over my mouth just to contain it.

"Honey...?"

"I don't... I can't... Not now. Goodbye, Ross."

Disregarding his protests, I click the power button, and the line goes dead
in my hand.

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