“Lovely,” Natalie muttered, wiping the spit up off of her neck while trying to simultaneously comfort the toddler in her arms. Tonight’s dinner apparently didn’t sit well with Viggo, and he left his masticated potatoes all over her before switching right into tantrum-mode. He was a wiggly boy, and usually a pretty happy kid, but he had his moments. And they always seemed to come right after dinner.
“Viggo, come on, you gotta calm down,” she pleaded with him, knowing that nothing she said could ever make him stop screaming at this point. He was cranky from staying up too late the night before because Dad was home for an evening before heading out for a full day in the studio the next morning. She felt tears press against her eyes and willed them not to fall. Not right now, Nat , she scolded herself. You don’t have time right now.
“Mom do you want me to take him?” Ezra offered; her sweet boy who was way too young to be acting like such a mature young man. He always tried to help Natalie, because he seemed to inherently know when she was overwhelmed.
“No, I’m okay Ez. You threw tantrums too, I’m used to it.”
“Yeah but I was the only one you had to calm down…”
She closed her eyes and bounced Viggo until he wore himself out. His screaming left a ringing in her ear, and she could feel a headache coming on. She cooed against his hair until he settled down, and she carried him to his room and tucked him in gingerly, hoping that the worst was over. When she closed the door she Ieaned against it in defeat, unable to stop the tears that finally started to fall.
It was moments like these that she always thought about her life at seventeen, how she wished she could go back and tell that girl to savor every moment; every reckless summer day, every drive around the neighborhood, every day in high school where the most stressful thing was the chemistry quiz she would have to take in fourth period. Now she had four children and she wasn’t even ten years out from those golden days of May, where school was winding down and the clock was being watched, seniors everywhere counting down the moments until freedom.
I swear that just happened, she thought to herself, wondering how the time had flown so fast. Her life was so different now, and yet it seemed like senior year had just ended, Kate and Natalie whooping like lunatics at the sound of the final bell. Who am I kidding, I was already pregnant. Senior year was a nightmare, if she looked at it without the rose colored glasses of memory. She wiped her face and trudged back downstairs. As soon as she got the older kids to bed she could pour a glass of wine and relax. For now.
That night, Natalie felt the bed shift as Taylor collapsed into it next to her. She couldn’t remember the last time they had spent time together, just the two of them. But, that’s the way it was, she supposed.
She felt him tossing and turning and wondered if she should speak up and let him know she was awake, if he needed to talk. He had seemed a bit distant lately, but she just figured it was because he was stressed. He always had a lot on his plate, she couldn’t deny that, even if most of the child rearing did fall to her. But, she let it go. She knew there was nothing she could do.
“Are you okay?” Taylor asked once the kids were in bed, looking at his wife and seeing her grimace.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just have a headache,” she replied, trying her best to not to sound too cranky.
“You can go to bed, Nat.”
“I know it’s just…we never…”
“I know, but it’s okay. You don’t feel good. I’ll still be here in the morning, I promise.” He kissed her forehead gently and shooed her off to bed.
“God, I look old,” she muttered to herself as she washed her face. Earlier that day, she and Kate had joked about that very thing while getting some shopping done, both of them burdened with strollers and constantly counting children to make sure the whole crew was with them.
“We’re old ladies, Nat. We just have to deal with it,” Kate had said when Natalie pulled a face picking Viggo up from the ground.
Natalie laughed and adjusted Viggo so that her hip didn’t scream with pain. “I’m not old!!” she said playfully, even though she felt it. “I shouldn’t have hip pain!”
“Yeah well…they make us age faster.”
“Well that’s true,” Natalie said, struggling to strap Viggo back into the stroller so they could actually leave the grocery store. “Speaking of…how is…everything.”
Natalie didn’t particularly want to bring up the subject, but she knew her best friend wasn’t having the best time in her marriage. She knew they fought a lot, and heard about almost every marital spat, which she knew Zac probably didn’t appreciate.
“Exhausting,” Kate replied plainly. “I feel like I’m a single mom. I hate feeling like I’m doing this whole thing by myself.”
“Yeah, I understand that.”
“I figured you would. I just hate fighting so much. Sorry, I’m like making this sound like such a big deal and it isn’t. I have two kids and you have four, I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s just a fight.”
“Yeah, you’ll be fine.”
“I feel like you guys never fight, though…”
“I don’t really…have anyone to fight with. It makes things easier,” she said with a defeated smile that she hoped Kate would read as reassuring.
Natalie climbed into bed and sighed. She wanted Kate to believe that she was right, that they had a great marriage even though Taylor always seemed to be busy. But it was hard to keep that up. She had fooled herself for so many years, and it was getting more and more difficult to believe in it.
“You want eggs, Tay?” Natalie asked over her shoulder when her husband came down for breakfast.
Natalie piled his plate high with scrambled eggs from the huge mess of them in the skillet. It was Saturday and she had the whole day planned with the family, now that Taylor was home. He was in between tour legs and she could tell that he needed a break. He sat down at the table and Ezra handed him a section of the paper, causing Natalie to chuckle at how similar they were.
When Natalie had said to Kate that she didn’t have anyone to fight with, she wasn’t lying. She and Taylor didn’t fight. They just…didn’t. There were never any screaming matches or cold silences or biting remarks about the other. They just continued to live their lives, Natalie always putting on a huge smile even when Taylor left her alone with four cranky kids. It was a thing that the other wives always seemed to be jealous of, but Natalie was just as envious of them as they were of her. At least they got to feel real feelings and express all of their emotions, even if it did mean that there were fights and hurtful words thrown around. Natalie didn’t ever get to scream or cry or pitch a fit. And she probably could, she just…didn’t. And neither did Taylor.
When it was good, it was great. Taylor loved his kids dearly and that mutual love for the four little humans they had created together bonded them forever. They laughed heartily at Penny’s boldness and River’s constant giggles. They looked at Ezra with complete admiration as he turned into a little adult. They gazed at Viggo in wonder, never quite over the fact that they had created this perfect little life together. There was also the fact that they had been through so much together, and that no one else really understood, not even Taylor’s brothers. That was something Natalie held close to her chest, seeing as Zac and Isaac got to share everything else with Taylor. But they would never understand what it was like to be scared shitless at the prospect of having a baby at eighteen, or the look they gave each other at the altar that muggy June day, as if to say “I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m glad we’re in this together.” When stuff got hard, Natalie would think about that. She missed those days. They were scary, sure, but they had each other.
Thinking about all of that, and seeing him at the sunny breakfast table, always made her realize that she could never leave Taylor, even if sometimes in moments of panic she fantasized about it.
“So what do you guys think about a museum day?” Natalie asked, her voice a little too cheery for someone who hadn’t had any coffee yet.
“Sounds great, Nat,” Taylor replied, turning a page in the paper.