Connections Jan 2015 - Page 30

that ooo wuv him?” The baby looked back up at her mother with a vacant expression. Neal took another sip of his coffee and stared at the floor. He felt like a fool. Over the past few months, he had grown quite accustomed to the feeling. Cradling Natasha in one arm, Annie open the formula she had bought and began to heat it on the stove. “You need to stop daydreaming, Neal, and get your mind back on your work.” There was a nasty undertone in her voice, one he had not known before they had gotten married. Or had been forced to get married. Neal certainly would not have married Annie under his own free will. Neal got up and dumped the rest of his coffee in the sink, glancing one last time at Natasha’s little face. For an instant, their eyes locked. Then, the baby gazed past Neal and flailed her arms around. “Guhhh,” she gurgled at the ceiling. As Neal walked out of the kitchen, he vowed to forget what had happened that morning, or what he thought had happened. And he might have, had he not taken that one last glance at Natasha. When he saw the look on her face during that fleeting instant, his heart had jumped into his throat. It seemed to be a look of hate. *** Neal pulled his aging Toyota into the parking lot of Snell’s Flowers and sat for a moment with the engine running, savoring his last few moments of freedom. By his watch, it was only 7:57. That meant he still had three precious minutes left before he had to succumb to another long day of ass kissing. He had worked at Snell’s for less than two weeks, but it already seemed like months. He despised every second of it. Here he was, almost a degreed chemist, spending all his time behind the wheel of a white Chevy van with the words “SNELL’S FLOWERS—LET US MAKE SOMEONE’S DAY FOR YOU!” cheerily printed across it. He delivered roses and chrysanthemums and jonquils to people all over the city, happy people who had not taken a wrong turn in their lives, like he had. If Neal had just pulled out of Annie just a millisecond earlier—just one lousy, goddamn millisecond—everything would be different now. Annie wouldn’t have gotten pregnant, Neal wouldn’t have felt obligated to marry her, and she wouldn’t have had the baby. And instead of driving a damn flower truck all over the city, he would be completing the last year of his college degree. After that, medical school. But, of course, Neal hadn’t pulled out of Annie in time. He had hesitated a fraction of a second to enjoy a little extra pleasure...and boom! His entire world had been turned upside down. Annihilated. One fleeting moment of extra pleasure in exchange for a lifetime of success and happiness. It just wasn’t fair. Neal dragged himself out of his car and, just as he locked the door, old man Snell rolled into the parking lot in his big blue Cadillac. He gave Neal a fatherly kind of nod as he glided the huge vehicle into the reserved parking space next to the front door. Two crimson pom-poms were visible in the car’s back window. Buford Snell had been some kind of football hero back when he’d attended University of Georgia. Based on his age and values, Neal figured it must have been back at the time football players wore knee socks, striped shirts, and those thin little leather helmets that looked like bathing caps. “Early bird catches the worm,” Snell said approvingly as he got out of his car. Neal cringed. Snell and the rest of the his “fambly”—his condescending mother, known as “Grammy,” his matronly sister, his loud-mouthed brother-in-law, all his bratty nieces and nephews—disgusted Neal. However, the feeling was not mutual. N V