"Thank God," she said. Taking her coffee, she went upstairs, walking past her daughters' bedrooms and toward her own. It was still early. Maybe she would wake Michael with a long, slow kiss. An invitation.
How long had it been since they made love in the morning? How long since they'd made love at all? She couldn't remember. Her birthday seemed a perfect day to change all that. She opened the door. "Michael?"
Their king-sized bed was empty. Unmade. Michael's black tee shirt the one he slept in lay in a rumpled heap on the floor. She picked it up and folded it in precise thirds and put it away. "Michael?" she said again, opening the bathroom door. Steam billowed out, clouded her view.
Everything was whitetile, toilet, countertops. The glass shower door was open, revealing the empty tile interior. A damp towel had been thrown carelessly across the tub to dry. Moisture beaded the mirror above the sink.
He must be downstairs already, probably in his office. Or maybe he was planning a little birthday surprise. That was the kind of thing he used to do...
After a quick shower, she brushed out her long wet hair, then twisted it into a knot at the base of her neck as she stared into the mirror. Her facelike everything about herwas strong and angular: she had high cheekbones and heavy brown brows that accentuated wide-set green eyes and a mouth that was just the slightest bit too big. Most women her age wore makeup and colored their hair, but Jolene didn't have time for any of that. She was fine with the ash-gold blond hair that darkened a shade or two every year and the small collection of lines that had begun to pleat the corners of her eyes.
She put on her flight suit and went to wake up the girls, but their rooms were empty, too.
They were already in the kitchen. Her twelve-year-old daughter, Betsy, was helping her four-year-old sister, Lulu, up to the table. Jolene kissed Lulu's plump pink cheek.
"Happy birthday, Mom," they said together.
Jolene felt a stinging, burning love for these girls and her life. She knew how rare such moments were. How could she not, raised the way she'd been? She turned to her daughters, smilingbeaming, really. "Thanks, girls. It's a beautiful day to turn forty-one."
"That's so old," Lulu said. "Are you sure you're that old?"
Laughing, Jolene opened the fridge. "Where's your dad?"
"He left already," Betsy said.
Jolene turned. "Really?"
"Really," Betsy said, watching her closely.
Jolene forced a smile. "He's probably planning a surprise for me after work. Well. I say we have a party after school. Just the three of us. With cake. What do you say?"
"With cake!" Lulu yelled, clapping her plump hands together.
Jolene could let herself be upset about Michael's forgetfulness, but what would be the point? Happiness was a choice she knew how to make. She chose not to think about the things that bothered her; that way, they disappeared. Besides, Michael's dedication to work was one of the things she admired most about him.
"Mommy, Mommy, play patty- cake!" Lulu cried, bouncing in her seat.
Jolene looked down at her youngest. "Someone loves the word cake."
Lulu raised her hand. "I do. Me!"
Jolene sat down next to Lulu and held out her hands. Her daughter immediately smacked her palms against Jolene's. "Pattycake, pattycake, baker's man, make me a . . ." Jolene paused, watching Lulu's face light up with expectation.
"Pool!" Lulu said.
"Make me a pool as fast you can. Dig it and scrape it and fill it with blue, and I'll go swimming with my Lu- lu." Jolene gave her daughter one last pat of the hands and then got up to make breakfast. "Go get dressed, Betsy. We leave in thirty minutes."
Excerpted from Home Front by Sarah Hannah. Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Hannah. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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