Lee woke up in the middle of the night. Glancing a the clock that read 4 o’clock he moaned softly. Lying back sinking his head into the pillow he closed his eyes willing sleep to overtake him. Amanda murmured something in her sleep snuggling closer to him. Gazing at her sweet peaceful face he wished he had the courage to tell her what he had done but he just couldn’t bear the thought of her looking at him with disappointment in her deep brown eyes. Kissing her forehead he knew the day was coming when he’d have no choice but today with luck wouldn’t be it.
Later that morning Amanda stretched out feeling the empty space where Lee should have been. Sitting up she frowned at his pillow. She never missed her ability to sense people so much until now. She had expected it to come back after Michelle had been born but it didn’t. She was slowly learning how to function without it. Most days were peaceful without it but she could use now. Something was bothering Lee, he had been so worried lately and trying to pretend he wasn’t. All her inquiries were brushed aside with explanations of deadlines at work, lack of sleep from getting up with Michelle and the list went on.
Glancing at the table near the bed she saw a note leaning against the lamp. Taking it she smiled in relief at least she knew where he was even if she was no closer to understanding why. He had gone into work early stating he hadn’t been able to sleep with the added stress of being behind on a project at work whose deadline was approaching. She knew he hated that job, he should just quit. They could survive on their savings for a time. She had suggested doing just that only to have him refuse the idea with a slight worried furrow between the eyes. She had the unwelcome feeling he was hiding something from her.
After dressing she went in to check on Michelle who reached her little arms up to her. It was hard to believe it had been a year since Michelle had come into her life. At times she couldn’t imagine her life without her. Amanda had wanted to plan a huge birthday party for her that didn’t happen because Lee had to work that day and it didn’t seem important if daddy wasn’t there to share in the celebration. “Mama?” her clear little voice jolted Amanda from her thoughts. Tickling her little girl, hearing her delighted squeals Amanda knew nothing could diminish her happiness in having this little girl in her life. “How’s mama’s little princess?”
“Hungy mama,” she announced.
Laughing Amanda took her downstairs and put her into her highchair. As she ate she watched Michelle eat her cereal. By the time they were both finished Amanda knew her little girl was wearing more then she had managed to get into her stomach. “You’re a mess,” Amanda told the little girl taking the bowl away.
Holding her hands up “cloth wash peas” Michelle said with a grin.
After washing her up Amanda put her into the playpen. Amanda’s mind went back to mulling over what could be bothering Lee. She just wasn’t sure what was happening or why he had stopped talking to her. If she pressed for answers he got this look of shame on his face before anger replaced it. She didn’t often wish for ability to come back but just this once if it would help her understand she’d take it back in a heart beat.
The phone rang jarring her thoughts. “Hello?”
“Mrs Grayer this is Steven Hendricks from Sim National Bank may I speak to Mr Grayer?”
“He’s at work right now,” she told him.
“Err,” the banker manager said into the uncomfortable silence “I just called his employer and was informed he was no longer employed there for the the past several months. Perhaps our records haven’t been updated? Do you have the name of his new place of employment?”
“I don’t understand,” Amanda stuttered “Lee never told me he changed jobs….” Could this be the reason why Lee has been so distant lately? Ashamed to admit he lost his job. He should know she would support him in whatever he did. Why did he feel the need to hide it from her? She knew in the past she hadn’t been strong enough for him to rely on but she thought she had been getting better.
“Mrs Grayer are you still there?” the concerned voice of the banker asked.
“Yes” she said her mind still swirling in confusion.
“I regret to inform you that we haven’t received any house payments for the past four months. We’re about to start foreclosure proceedings….”
“Four months? Are you sure?” she asked “what about the money in our savings account?”
Her question was followed by a lengthy uncomfortable silence “I’m sorry that account was closed due to lack of funds.”
“What do you mean lack of funds?” she cried sitting down as she felt the rug was about to be pulled out from beneath her “I had over half a million dollars in that account. What happened to all of that money?”
“I don’t know Mrs. Grayer,” the banker sounded distinctly uncomfortable as he offered “I could start an investigation to see if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. However I do have to warn you it is extremely unlikely since we have made calls regarding suspicious transactions that were approved by your husband.”
“What kind of suspicious transactions?” she asked.
“Money transfers to the Lucky Palms Casino.” His statement was followed by a loud gasp of surprise “Mrs Grayer your husband may have a gambling problem. I’ve seen this before. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you for your honesty Mr Hendricks. How much do you need to forestall foreclosure?” The amount left her stunned. She should never have left the finances up to Lee. She should have had a share of where the money went. “When will you need the money?” she asked. Finishing the call she leaned forward and weakly held her head in her hands How was she going to get that much money by the end of the week? This was as much her fault as it was Lee’s. She shouldn’t have expected so much from him. Glancing at the clock. He’d be home in a couple of hours. Plenty of time to make a call to the only person she knew who could help them.
She paced the floor while she waited for someone to answer her call. “Uncle Gene?” she cried in relief when a gruff voice said hello.
“Yeah…Mandy is that you?” he asked “is everything alright?”
Blinking back tears she listened to the concern in his voice. She didn’t call her Uncle often preferring to talk in person or email. His voice always choked her up being so similar to her what she remembered her dad’s voice being like. She was sure now if it was the voice itself or the concern and love she could hear in his voice that caused her to associate the two together. “No” she managed in a small tearful voice “I need your help….”
He let out a sigh before replying “tell what’s up?”
Without much prompting Amanda poured out everything including the bankers suspicions that Lee had a gambling problem. “I know the royalty checks aren’t do for another month but I can I have a an advance?”
“How much do you need?” he asked whistling at the sum “Mandy I’ll give you the money.”
“No just an advance on my share of the royalty check,” she said refusing his offer.
“Honey your share won’t cover what you owe.” Gene told her. She could he the effort he was making to cover up his irritation he felt over the circumstances she was in. “I’ll give you the money you need to keep you going for the next several months.”
“You can’t do that,” she protested. She hated having to go to her Uncle for help as it was. It was even more difficult to accept his offer knowing she was taking away from his personal savings, savings that his family might need one day. She just couldn’t accept it.
“Mandy your as much my daughter as my girls are. I raised you since you were fourteen years old. You will take the money with no arguments, understood?”
“Yes and thank you,” she murmured with no further objections. She recognized the tone he was using and it was pointless to argue. ” I’ll pay you back.”
“If that makes you feel better,” he agreed “I’ll transfer the money to your account to cover what you need plus a little extra to help you get back on your feet.” He hesitated for a moment before adding “Mandy I want you to call the bank and take Lee’s name off the account…”
“I can’t do that,” she protested “it’s like I’m saying I don’t trust him.”
“Listen to me. Lee has a problem. Gambling is a disease. As long as he has access to ready money he’s not going to stop. He needs help. I’m not saying to cut him off forever just for now. You have to think about your daughter and what’s best for her. She needs a roof over her head and food to eat.”
“You’re right Uncle Gene. I’ll make the call,” she said even though she didn’t want to believe him “and thank you.”
“Don’t worry honey things will get better. Come and visit I’d love to see you guys.” She smiled hearing his concerned caring voice thankful she had someone like him in her life she could turn to.
She had supper ready and waiting for Lee when he came home. He looked mildly shocked as he came in through the door. Amanda went to greet her, kissing his cheek. “How was your day?” she asked.
“Busy,” was his standard response to her question. Sniffing the air “smell good. I’m starved.”
They ate in silence for several minutes. Putting her fork down Amanda watched Lee eating in silence. He studiously kept his eyes down concentrating on his food “the back called today.”
Choking he coughed and gasped as he managed to clear his throat “what did Mr Hendricks have to say?”
“He called to inform us that the back was about to start foreclosure proceedings on our house.” she kept her voice calm as she watched him intently “Lee why didn’t you tell me you lost your job?”
“What?” he cried looking up at her panic causing his eyes to dart around the room “I…I…” he groped for something anything to say. All he was able to do was open and shut is gaping mouth like a fish out of water. “I’m sorry” she managed head hanging, cheeks flaming under her steady gaze.
“When did it start?” she asked.
“When did what start?” he asked confused.
“Your gambling addiction,” she reached across the table to take his hand.
He jerked his hand away. Standing he knocked the chair over in his haste “who told you I have a gambling problem?”
“The bank manager told me my savings account was closed due to lack of funds when I suggested we transfer money from that account to cover the house payments.” Standing she approached the man she loved. Taking his face in her hands she forced him to look at her “why didn’t you tell me you needed help?”
“I…I…was too ashamed” he stammered looking down and away from her. “I didn’t know how to admit that I had gambled all of my money away. I thought I could win it all back. I started to use your savings. The more I won the more I played. Then all I did was lose. I found that was all I thought about. I’d sneak out at lunch to play. Then I’d lose track of time…” he told her everything “I’m so sorry,” he repeated several times.
Looking around the house she loved so much before turning to Lee “I’ll support you all the way if you get help…”
“Alright,” he agreed relieved there wasn’t any screaming or recriminations.
“We need to move,” he opened his mouth to protest. Putting a hand up she said “shh it’s alright. I love this house but I love you more. I want to live where you won’t be tempted around every corner to gamble.” She placed her soft lips on his cheek “you bought this house because you wanted me to feel safe. We’ll sell this house because i want you to be free.”
“Where will we go? How will we sell before the bank forecloses?” Lee asked letting depression slip back in.
“Uncle Gene loaned us enough money to keep us afloat for several months. It should give up enough time to find something else.”
“He must despise me,” Lee muttered knowing he’d never be able to look the older man in the eye again.
“You might be surprised. He’s really quite understanding. He fought his own addictions when he was younger.” She squeezed him tight “all he really wanted to do was help.”
Nodding Lee said “I’ll thank him next time I see him. Let’s clean up the kitchen and discuss places to live.”
“Sounds like a plan” she said cuddling into him.
“On second thought I have a better idea,” he said kissing her hungrily on the mouth.
“The dishes can wait,” she mumbled fumbling with his belt.