Happily Ever After
Lisa pulled into her brother's driveway and stopped. She took a look in the mirror and wiped away all signs of smeared mascara from around her eyes. Her eyelashes were slightly wet, but no one would be able to tell she had been crying. As she got out of the car, two little girls came running out of the house to give her a hug.
"Aunt Lisa!" they shouted.
She stooped down to give them a hug. "How's my two favorite nieces?"
Emma, the older of the two girls, crossed her arms and said smartly, "Aunt Lisa, we're your only two nieces."
Lisa smiled and ruffled the girl's hair. "Okay, smarty pants."
Just then, the girls' father, Lisa's older brother, came out of the house with a sleeping bag under each arm and a backpack in each hand. "Okay girls, I think you're all set" he said.
Lisa opened the trunk of her car so he could free himself of the girls' luggage. Then he turned to her and said, "Hey, thanks for doing this, and sorry that it was such short notice. Elaine got the discount for the hotel only yesterday."
"Oh, John, it's no problem at all. You know Dan and I love having the girls over."
John nodded. "How are things going for you two?"
"They couldn't be better!" said Lisa. But when John turned to close the trunk of the car she bit her lip. That was a lie. If John had heard the argument between her and Dan before she got here, he would've said that things were far from being good between them. And Lisa would've agreed with him.
Lily, the youngest of the girls, came running up to her dad. "Can we go now?" she asked.
John laughed. "Not until I get a hug and kiss from you both."
The girls each said their goodbyes and John buckled them in the back seat. Lisa hugged her brother and said, "You and Elaine go have a great anniversary weekend. Don't worry about the girls."
John smiled. "When they're with you I never have to."
The girls waved to their dad as Lisa drove away. But they seemed to forget about him as soon as he was out of sight. They began talking excitedly about all the things would do at "Aunt Lisa's house".
Usually Lisa would join in the conversation, but today her mind was elsewhere. Her thoughts went back to the argument she and Dan had only an hour ago...
"It's a great opportunity for the both of us," said Dan as he stirred the creamer in his coffee.
Lisa shot him a look of disbelief. "Both of us?" she shouted. She placed both hands on her hips before saying coolly, "Please explain exactly what opportunities there are for me!"
Dan shrugged his shoulders and said with a grin, "You'll be in Steeler country. That should be reason enough, right?" Seeing that Lisa wasn't laughing, he cleared his throat. "Look, I know it will be a big change. But it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if I don't take it, the chance might never come up again."
Lisa pointed to herself. "And what about my job? Huh? I've worked so hard to build my business over the last three years! And now, just when I've finally made a name for myself, you want to move to Pittsburg?"
"Lisa, listen. I know you've worked hard and it's great that you have gotten a great number of clients. But look at it this way: now you can build your business back up in Pittsburg with high recommendations from your clients here. If they love your work here, then I know they'll love it there."
Lisa threw her hands up in frustration. "Dan, it's not that easy! You can't just waltz into a new city and expect people to let you decorate their apartments and houses for them. You have work your way up, something that takes a while. And I really don't feel like starting over!"
Dan scowled at her. "Well what about me? I've worked hard for this company for four years! I've never gotten a promotion or a raise! And now, when I'm finally being rewarded for my hard work, you don't even want to consider it? Come on, Lisa. At least think about it."
"I don't have to think about it! I already know what my answer is!"
Dan dumped his unfinished coffee down the kitchen sink and walked out of the kitchen. "Fine," he said angrily. He grabbed his briefcase and his laptop and opened the front door. He turned to Lisa. "You know, after all I've done to help you start your career, I thought you would support me with mine."
Lisa tried to call after him, "Dan-" But she was cut off by the slamming of the front door in her face, and hot tears began streaming down her cheeks.
Now Lisa had to fight back the tears that threatened to spill over as she unlocked the door of her house. The girls ran in and immediately threw down their backpacks and sleeping bags on the living room floor. They opened the toy chest that also served as a foot rest and began pulling out dolls and other objects. Lisa went to the fridge and began pulling out leftovers to warm up for dinner. Dan had gone to a business conference and wouldn't be back for another hour or so. Lisa would have to entertain the girls by herself.
Lily came running up to her with a nude Barbie doll and a dress. "Aunt Lisa, can you please help me?" Lisa stuck some Macaroni-and-Cheese in the microwave and then turned her attention to dressing the Barbie doll. The little dress was a business suit: dark blue with a collar at the neck. It reminded Lisa of the first day she visited her first client...
Lisa rummaged through her closet frantically. She was trying to find the perfect dress to wear to her meeting with her clients. This one was too short...this one had sleeves that were too short...the neckline on this one was too low...She had been too busy organizing her papers and briefcase the night before, and now she didn't know if she had anything appropriate to wear.
All of a sudden, she felt two strong arms wrap around her waist and a warm kiss on her neck. She turned around to face Dan. "I don't have time to dill-dally, I have a client, remember?"
Dan stuck his lip out and pretended to pout. "You mean, you can't spare just five teeny tiny minutes with me?"
Lisa gave him a kiss on the lips. "If you can magically make a dress or business suit appear, then I might be able to spare ten minutes."
Dan grinned. "Well then, Abra Cadabra!" He gestured toward the bed where a dark blue dress lay. Lisa picked it up and held it against her body. It was the perfect length and the neckline was business appropriate.
"It's perfect!" said Lisa.
Dan smiled with satisfaction. "I wanted my lovely wife to look beautiful on her first day of work."
Lisa stuck out her lower lip and pretended to pout. "You mean, I'm not beautiful already?"
Dan wrapped her in his arms and kissed her on the lips. "Of course you are. I just want to show it off to everybody else. With that dress they can't ignore it."
"Mmhhmm..." she replied and gave him another kiss.
Lisa finished putting the dress on the Barbie doll and handed it back to Lily. Emma came into the kitchen and asked. "Aunt Lisa, can we do princess dress-up?"
Emma and Lily's version of dress-up was more than just a princess dress from the closet in the spare room. "Princess dress-up" included a make-over of hair styling and make-up and posing for the camera. It was something they always looked forward to when sleeping over at Dan and Lisa's.
"Sure we can," Lisa replied. "But after dinner, okay?"
"Okay," said the girls, and they went back to playing with their Barbie dolls.
After dinner, the girls helped Lisa do the dishes so they could get to princess dress-up sooner. When they finished, the girls ran to the spare bedroom to pick out a dress from the closet. Emma chose a pale blue Cinderella dress and Lily chose a pink fairy outfit with wings. Then Lisa brought out a bag of cosmetics that she kept just for the girls. They went through it, looking at each color of eye shadow and lipstick before choosing the ones they wanted.
Lisa sat them down in front of the TV in the living room and put a movie on for them. The girls, of course, chose a princess movie and it kept them still while Lisa styled their hair. She made two small braids, one each side of Emma's head. Then she used a hair band to join the braids together in the back and used a curling iron to make ringlets with the rest of her hair. On Lily's hair, Lisa simply made one long braid and then put it up into a bun.
When she was finished, Lisa realized that Dan wasn't home yet, and he should've been. So she called him. When he answered he told her he was filling the car with gas and would be home soon. To Lisa, his voice sounded cold and unapologetic. She had expected him to apologize for not calling her to say he was going elsewhere after the meeting. He always called if he was going elsewhere. The fact that he didn't tonight told Lisa that he was still upset.
Lisa's heart sank. Dan was right earlier. He had given up a lot of his time and efforts into helping her build up her business and she hadn't thought much about what it did to his own job. He hadn't gotten a single raise or promotion since he started helping her, and now all he wanted was to move up in his career and she was holding him back. The realization brought on a wave of guilt.
After putting on make-up, the girls were eager to do their photo-shoot. So Lisa got out her camera and began snapping pictures. The hallway served as the runway and the girls needed no advice on how to strike a pose. They were a show of their own. Lisa was usually enthusiastic about doing this, but tonight she just wasn't in the mood to laugh and giggle with them.
When the girls had done all the poses they could think of, Lisa began uploading the pictures to her laptop. One of the girls' favorite things to do was to put their pictures in a scrapbook that they called "The Beauty Model Book". So as soon as Lisa finished uploading the pictures, she began printing them on photo paper. She got out the box of craft materials which included paper, scissors, glue, glitter, hundreds of stickers, letter cut-outs, ribbon, markers, crayons, and other craft supplies. The girls sat down at the dining room table and began choosing their materials while Lisa cut out the pictures for them to paste onto the new pages. Lisa remembered the first time she did all of this with the girls.
It had been Dan's idea. The first time the girls stayed with them, Dan and Lisa were at a loss on how to entertain them. But as the girls were looking through an old picture album, they saw a few pictures of Dan's sister posing for the camera in a high school beauty pageant. Dan immediately got the idea to do a beauty pageant with the girls. When the girls asked if they could put their pictures in the album, Lisa suggested doing their own album and making a scrapbook. And since that day, the girls always looked forward to princess dress-up and The Beauty Model Book.
As the girls were cutting ribbon and shapes, their conversation interrupted Lisa's thoughts.
"Daddy says all girls are princesses!" said Lily.
"Yeah, but they aren't all real princesses, silly," Emma argued.
"Yeah they are!" said Lily.
"They are not!"
"Uh huh! Daddy says they are!"
"He doesn't say they are real princesses though," Emma tried to convince her sister. Lisa smiled. Leave it to Emma to ruin a dream with a fact.
Lily crossed her arms. "Then why would Daddy call them princesses if they aren't?"
Emma pointed to her chest. "Because they're princesses in their heart."
"We are princesses in our heart, right?" Lily asked.
Emma nodded. "Uh huh! Daddy says so."
"I wish we were all real princes and princesses," said Lily. "Then real people can live happy ever after, like Cinderella and her prince."
"Real people do live happily ever after," said Emma.
Lily said almost sadly, "No they don't."
Emma threw her hands in the air. "Of course they do, silly! Mommy and Daddy live happily ever after!"
Lily shook her head. "Nuh uh."
"Nuh uh! Mommy and Daddy sometimes talk mad to each other!"
Emma shrugged her shoulders. "That doesn't mean anything."
"Uh huh. People who talk mad to each other aren't happy ever after people."
Emma got out of her chair and walked over to where her sister was sitting. She put her hands on Lily's shoulders and said, "No, silly! It doesn't mean people who live happily ever after have to be happy all they time, just some of the time!"
Lily wrinkled her brow, puzzled. "But why is it called happy ever after?"
"Because in the end they become happy before they die."
Lisa had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. This was getting amusing.
Lily was thinking about what Emma said. "But real princesses are happy all the time right?"
"No, silly!" said Emma. "They are only happy some of the time too."
"But they are real princesses!"
"Real princesses talk mad to their princes too."
Lily's eyes widened. "They do?"
Emma nodded. "Uh huh. But they're always still happy in the end before they die."
"Why do they call it happy ever after?"
"Because they are big in love. They don't always have to be happy in happily ever after as long as they are really big in love."
"Oh," said Lily. "So Mommy and Daddy are really big in love?"
Emma smiled big and nodded. "Uh huh!"
Lily turned to Lisa. "Aunt Lisa? Are you and Uncle Dan really big in love?"
The question took Lisa by surprise. "Uh, yeah, of course we are, silly."
Emma nodded at her sister in satisfaction. "See!" she said.
The girls continued pasting pictures and drawing as Lisa thought about the conversation they had. Emma, who was only seven, was very smart for her age. Lily, who was five, was beginning to be like her big sister. It always amused Lisa to hear the girls' perspective on things, and their conversation tonight was quite entertaining.
It was nine o' clock now, and the girls needed to be going to bed. They protested when Lisa put away the scrapbook and materials and told them to change into their PJs. She then took them into the bathroom to wash the make-up off their faces and make them brush their teeth. They had just finished rinsing out their toothbrushes when they heard the front door close.
"Uncle Dan!" the girls shouted, and they ran out to give him a hug.
"Hey! How's my two favorite nieces doing tonight?" said Dan. He set his briefcase on the table and lifted them both into his arms.
Lily crossed her arms and said smartly, "Uncle Dan, we're your only two nieces."
Dan laughed and said, "Okay, smarty pants."
Lisa stood in the hallway watching, and smiled. Yes, Lily was taking after her sister alright. Lisa remembered Emma saying the same exact thing that afternoon, and Lisa had given the same response as Dan.
"Are you girls ready for bed already?" asked Dan.
"Will you read us a bed-time story?" asked Emma.
"Of course," said Dan. "Go pick one out." The girls ran to the shelf in the living-room to choose a book while Dan's eyes met Lisa's.
"I'll warm up your dinner," she said and went to the kitchen. Dan followed her.
"Lisa, we need to talk."
The girls ran up to him with two books in their hands. "We want two stories!" they said.
Lisa nodded at Dan. "Okay," she said.
Dan sat on the couch with the girls and read to them while Lisa heated his dinner in the microwave. She stood there thinking about the girls' conversation earlier. Emma's words kept playing in her mind: "They don't always have to be happy in happily ever after as long as they are really big in love." Lisa had been getting the feeling lately that her and Dan's marriage was missing something. And she could tell that Dan was feeling the same way too, but neither of them ever ventured to ask what that might be. And for the first time, Lisa realized how selfish she had been, running full speed into her career and leaving Dan to struggle with his.
The guilt that had been building up in her all evening was eating at her now. How could I have been so selfish? She thought. He's been so supportive of me and my ambitions and I've just taken him for granted.
Lisa didn't hear Dan walk up behind her. "The girls are tucked into their sleeping bags," he said. He grabbed his dinner out of the microwave and headed out to the back porch. Lisa followed. They sat there in silence while Dan ate. When he was finished, Lisa spoke.
"I think we should go to Pittsburg."
Dan looked at her. "Lisa, we don't have– "
Lisa held up her hand. Tears welled up in her eyes as the words tumbled out. "Dan, I'm so sorry. You were right earlier – about me not being supportive of you – you were right. I’ve been selfish and I've ignored your problems and I'm so sorry."
"And if you really want to go to Pittsburg, then I really want to go to Pittsburg too."
"And I don't care if I have to take my business there and start from square one. I'll do it!"
"Lisa, that's not–"
"You were right, Dan, and I'm sorry."
"Lisa, please listen–"
"And I just want you to know that no matter where we are, I'll be happy there, as long as you are."
Dan got up and put his hands on her shoulders. "Lisa! We're not going to Pittsburg."
"I said we're not going to Pittsburg."
"But I thought you–"
"At the meeting this evening there was change of plans. The guy who was supposed to be promoted to office manager got the job in Pittsburg instead."
"Oh, Dan, I'm sorry."
Dan held up his hand. "That's okay, I got his job."
Lisa jumped up. "You did?"
Dan nodded. Lisa threw her arms around him. "Oh, Dan, that's great!"
"For both of us," agreed Dan.
Lisa looked at him for a moment, puzzled. "So, when I was talking on the phone to you earlier, why did you sound upset?"
"Oh, that. Well, I was waiting in line at the gas station to pay and some guy walked by and spilled soda on my brand new work shirt." Dan showed her the spot that was wet.
Lisa laughed and shook her head. "Listen, Dan, what I just said – I meant it. I really am sorry for being so selfish and, well, I'm just really, really sorry."
Dan pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms around her waist. "And I'm sorry too."
"For not communicating. You not paying attention to my wants and needs is just as much my fault as it is yours. I could've told you how felt and we could've worked things out together. But I kept my feelings to myself and I feel like it's been creating a wall between us."
Lisa put her arms around his neck. "Then let's break that wall down tonight."
Dan smiled. "Agreed," he said, and gave her a kiss on the lips.
"You know what this is?" Lisa asked him.
"It's fair princess and prince charming in a magic moment."
Dan laughed. "Now you're beginning to sound like Emma and Lily."
"Don't laugh at me, you're the one that left me alone to entertain them."
"Well, how about I make it up to you tomorrow by taking you and the girls to the movies?"
Lisa gave him another kiss. "Sounds good." She was about to give him another one but he pulled back to look into her eyes.
"You know what this is?" he asked.
"Happily ever after."
She smiled and they leaned in for another kiss. She would tell him about Emma and Lily’s conversation later.