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Cass laid the keys down gently on the entryway table so as not to wake up her husband. From where she stood she could see that he was lying on the couch with the baby, their son, ten months old.

“Thank god for him,” She decided against a kiss on his forehead, the baby might stir and she didn’t want to risk waking either of them. On the other end of the couch, Daisy snuggled in deep with the family cat, her four year old daughter’s face looked exactly like the cherubs painted in some European church Cass toured as a college student.

“I’m so tired.” Her plane was delayed, she missed her connecting flight in Chicago, so her ten p.m. arrival evolved into a three a.m. arrival, home at three-forty-five.  And she was due at the office for an early meeting at seven.

Cass slogged her way to their his-and-hers bathroom and showered off airplane and airports and taxi cabs.   “I better not get in bed, I’ll sleep too deeply.” She made her way back to the living room and sat opposite the couch to watch her family sleep, and maybe catch a small nap.

“They’re so peaceful and secure.”  She was grateful to be able to provide for their safety.   Without her income as a sales assistant for a marketing firm, they’d struggle with just her husband’s meager teaching salary.  Especially here in San Francisco.   It meant, though,  that he was more involved with their children than she was because of the demands of her work.  She was surprised to find, one day not long ago, an inkling of resentment towards him for the way things were working out.   “Where the hell did that thought come from?” She checked it right away.  This was her decision as much as his, even when they dated they talked through the details.   His teaching salary wasn’t much, but the benefits made up for it, as did the long vacations, although Blake’s workload was arguably as heavy as hers.  She is the main bread winner instead, and he takes care of ‘home base’.   It seemed so progressive when they talked it over years ago, but living the reality was exacting a cost that Cass didn’t know she would be forced to pay.

She missed Daisy’s first day of pre-school thanks to a client who suddenly was ‘shopping around’ again at other agencies. Cass’ career took a hit when she became unable to fly because of her pregnancy with David:  A client needed assurance somewhere and an agent needed to fly there in person to allay their anxiety.  It was her account, but Phil got all the accolades because he could board an airplane.  She has only been to their son’s newborn checkups; Blake had so far taken him by himself since David was six weeks old. She was missing his infancy. “Shit.”  By comparison, Daisy was a big girl now that David was the baby and Cass found herself wondering what she was up to these days.  Was she still on her ‘I hate applesauce because its not a real apple!” kick?  She had a band-aid on her elbow, Cass noticed.  “I wonder what happened?”

Feeling herself at the beginning of a no-win, could’ve, should’ve guilt trip, she got up from her chair to get a bottle of water. “Breathe.”  The kitchen was a mess, there was a shut off notice for the electric bill on the table, and the dishwasher was full but hadn’t been run. Cass’ anger flared and she sat down to organize the pile of mail that accrued while she’d been gone, this was her chore since Blake took care of the house and kids. “Breathe.” Pre-school tuition was overdue, their student loans were overdue, there were doctor bills from her emergency c-section in arrears.  They let the housekeeper go (she came once a week) and long ago quit eating out.  Cass agreed to keep lunch-buying to a once a week deal, but many days she forgot to pack a lunch and so went without.  She was existing on office coffee and vending machine almonds. “Breathe.” The mail was organized, junk in the trash and a neat stack of bills brought a sense of immediate gratification.   She checked the bank account to see which bills could be paid, which would need to be juggled and fell apart at the low number in their balance. The second daycare expenditure was impacting their budget with disastrous results.  Bills would have to wait till her next check on the fifteenth because, for god’s sake, they had to feed the babies.  So much for a decent credit score. “Breathe.”

Heaviness broke through the exhaustion and weighed Cass’ soul down like an anchor.  She was frozen to the dining chair, she was unable to reign in her quickened breathing and her chest tightened. She curled her knees into it for comfort. “It’s gonna be okay.  It always works out.  It’s just a fucking credit score.  It’s not your identity.  And today is Friday and you have the weekend with your babies.”  It took several minutes and she finally let the first tear slip.  Once done, the dam broke and Cass wracked her body with quiet sobs as the stress from traveling, parenting, partnering, balancing, and working made its way out from deep inside where she kept it buried.

Blake waited until her sobs receded.  He watched from the doorway, having come upon her just as she was breaking down.   He knew she’d want to be left alone, so he stood and let his own tears fall from a well of love and gratefulness.  Once she began to quiet, he approached slowly and stroked her hair from behind and offered tissues from the counter.

“Thank you.”  She let him hold and comfort her, fix her a pot of coffee and caught her up on how the babies were doing. David was beginning to pull himself up to chairs and Daisy can print out her first name. She filled him in on the success of her trip.  After half-an hour, at five-thirty eight, Cass made her way upstairs again to dress for work.  At six o’five she kissed her sleeping children good-bye and grabbed her lunch from her husband. “See you this afternoon.”

She stepped outside to catch the train to work.  “Breathe.”