Angie pulled into her driveway and shut off her car. Rather than get out immediately, she dropped her head forward onto the steering wheel and took several deep breaths, trying to pull herself together. She could feel the crumpled pink slip practically burning her through the pocket of her slacks. Just how was she going to explain this to Eric? With trembling fingers, she pried the paper out and flattened it on the wheel in front of her, scanning over it for the thousandth time as if it would help provide an answer. "Downsizing." "Services no longer required." She mentally stumbled over words like "we regret to inform you" and "we are terribly sorry". Like they really gave a damn about her and her husband. About how they were going to make the car payment, the credit card payment, the mortgage payment. God, how was she going to tell Eric?
Angie crumpled the pink slip and stuffed it into her pocket again, checked her face in the rear view mirror, and got out of the car. Maybe over dinner, she thought, as she opened the front door and stepped inside. They could sit down and have a nice meal, then they could talk. That sounded like the best plan.
Angie dropped off her purse and jacket at the door and walked into the kitchen. Eric was hunched over the counter, chopping onions. He glanced up and smiled a greeting. "Hey, hon. How was work? Forgive me if I can't give you a kiss just yet; my hands are a bit messy," he said apologetically, gesturing with his slick hands. "I'm making stew tonight, hope you're hungry." A pot simmered on the stove.
Angie nodded quietly. "Yeah, sounds good."
Eric washed his hands in the sink, trying to get the onion smell off. "What's the matter, Angie?" he asked, wiping his hands dry on his pants. He gave his wife a kiss.
Angie shrugged. "Just a long day, I guess."
Eric frowned, then lit up as a thought occurred to him. He grabbed Angie's hand and pulled her toward the bedroom. "I have something that will cheer you up," he said with a grin. "I picked up today after work. As a surprise. Ready?" He pushed open the bedroom door and they stepped inside. "Surprise!"
Facing the end of the bed, where the dresser used to be, stood a sleek black metal television stand with wide glass shelves. On top of the stand stood a giant forty-two inch screen TV, one that Angie knew had not been there when she had left that morning.
Angie stared at the TV, unable to speak. She couldn't get a thought going. The car engine of her mind refused to turn over, no many how many times she turned the key and started a sentence. All she got out were a few whines of protest. "What… why… you… how… WHY?"
If possible, Eric's smile stretched even wider. "Ha! You're speechless! I knew you'd like it. We talked a few times about getting one for the bedroom, and I passed by a sale today, and thought, 'Hey, why not?' I knew you'd like it."
Angie's thought processes finally sputtered to life. "'Like it'? Eric, what do think you are doing? You can't just buy a TV on a whim! Don't you know that?"
Eric's brows wrinkled. "Wait, hold on. It's not just a whim! We've been talking about this for a while, haven't we? You said you wanted to watch that cop show before bed, and I want to watch the news in the morning while I get dressed for work. And we can watch movies in bed. What's so bad about that?"
Angie rolled her eyes. "It's not a cop show, it's NCIS. And we talked about it, like, once or twice, Eric! Something that would be nice to have in the future. Like a bigger house, or a Rolex, or a Camero! Not something that you just go off and buy because you saw it on the way home and thought 'Oh, I'll just pick up some bread and some eggs and a FORTY-TWO INCH!"
Eric put his hands up defensively. "Hey, calm down! It wasn't like that!"
"God, Eric! I swear, for such a smart guy, sometimes you can be as dumb as a rock."
Eric lowered his hands and stared at her bemusedly. "Really, Angie? 'Dumb as a rock'? First of all, I don't like being insulted, but second, if you are going to do it, make it a good one. 'Dumb as a rock' is like 'slow as a snail' or 'old as dirt'. What about, let's see, 'as sharp as a bowling ball'? Or 'I have the brains of a house plant'? Or-"
Angie threw her hands in the air. "Shut up! Gah! You aren't even listening! You never listen! You just go off into your own little world and don't even pay attention to what's going on around you! What makes you think we can afford a new TV anyway, Eric?"
Eric shrugged. "Sales were high this month so I'll be getting a little extra when my paycheck rolls in. It's no big deal, Angie, really. I just wanted it to be a nice surprise."
He sounded so pathetic and sad that Angie felt the fight leak out of her. He was just trying to do a nice thing. It wasn't his fault. As her anger faded, so did her strength, and her head and shoulders sank forward, leaving her defeated.
Eric noticed her change in posture and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry for not talking to you about it first, hon. I was just trying to cheer you up, I guess."
Angie stared at the floor and felt her eyes tear up. "We have to return it. We can't afford it."
"What? But, I just told you, my bonus…"
Angie stuffed her hand into her slacks and yanked out the pink paper, shoving it into his hands. She swallowed hard as he read it.
"Oh. Oh, my god, Angie. You- They fired you? I-I'm so sorry!" Eric wrapped his wife in a tight hug.
Angie finally broke down into tears. "They d-did away with the w-whole department. Just h-handed that paper to me, told me to clean out my d-desk, and walked away. W-what are we going to do?" she sobbed into his shoulder.
Eric stroked her hair softly. "We are going to be fine, Angela. Trust me. I'll return the TV tomorrow, so the bonus I get will keep us going while you look for a new job. I can pick up a few extra shifts at work. We'll be fine."
Angie sniffed. "You really think so?"
"Yeah. Besides, you hated that place anyway. That Robertson was a real asshole, right? And Bethany was always stealing your pens." He handed her back the pink slip.
Angie chuckled. "And nobody ever made coffee except for me," she added, wiping her eyes. She smoothed out the paper again. The lettering was starting to fade from all the crumpling.
Eric nodded. "That's right. Now's your chance to get a fresh start. Didn't you always want to do something in journalism? Or am I thinking of someone else?"
"No, that was me. Maybe you're right. It'll take some work, but we can get through this."
Eric smiled. "We won't have the car repossessed, and we won't have to go live with your mom."
"That's right." Angie felt her confidence building.
"Thank God," he muttered.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with my mother!" Angie balled up the pink slip in her hands and threw it at him. Eric ducked the paper wad and it fell forgotten to the floor. He reached forward and kissed her pouting lips. Angie wrinkled her nose and said, "You smell like onions."
Eric let out a cry and dashed off to the kitchen. "My stew!"