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THE TOLL OF TWO, a short story

February 23, 1992

Carter’s fingers typed quickly on the keyboard, clicking and clacking away. Stephanie’s finger, on the other hand, hovered above the play button.

“Are you ready? The popcorn’s getting cold.” Stephanie sat on the couch with one hand holding the remote, another in the bowl of buttery goodness. She stared at Carter as he kept at it on the computer. She knew he was working on one of his stories again. He was so cute when he was focused, she thought. His brow furrowed and he wore a look of confusion even though she knew it meant he was dialing in on something specific in his story. Her favorite pieces of his were the poetry he would pen about their young love. Their vacations together, their romantic nights on the town and even their times underneath the sheets would show up in his stanzas.

“Baby, how much more? I’m trying to be patient over here but I can only resist Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts for so long,” she said.

“Just…just two more pages,” he said, his eyes still glued to the screen.

Stephanie sighed.

Love is patient and supportive, she thought, then stuffed her mouth with popped kernels.

October 5, 1995

The ocean water breathed in and out on the shores of the remote island. Stephanie watched it from afar, but not too far. Their hotel room was right on the edge of the beach. Months and months of vivid dreams imagining what this trip would be couldn’t come close to what she was actually witnessing.

Honeymooning on the islands was what they’d talked about since Carter had proposed. Stephanie was ecstatic. She bought every travel pamphlet, booklet and tourist guide she could find to plan the trip for the best experience possible. The sun was setting, turning the clouds into a soft pink pillow that she wouldn’t mind cuddling up next to her new husband on.

But where was Carter?

She peeked into the room from the deck. Of course, there he was. Typing away.

“Um, hello?” she asked.

No response.


Carter’s neck snapped toward the deck.

“Sorry, baby. I’ll be right there. Two more pages,” he said.

Stephanie leaned back into her cushioned chair.

Two more pages. Always two more pages. She thought they agreed he wouldn’t bring his computer along on the trip. Apparently, it was a one-sided agreement.

She looked down at her hand and tilted it back and forth. The diamond glistened in the last of the sun’s gleaming light.

This was marriage, she thought. This is what you do. Love each other through flaws.


August 15, 1998

Stephanie held the newborn close to her chest. The breastfeeding was painful but it was a pain she had learned to love. Especially after already gaining a tolerance with her firstborn, Franklin. Jordan was easier. He was gentler and slept with ease.

The only problem was trying to manage Franklin, who was walking now, while feeding Jordan. It would be a breeze if she had some help, she thought.


She wondered what that was like. She wondered a lot as of lately. The one thing she had stopped wondering: where Carter was. Somehow, he didn’t hear the shrieks of Franklin tormenting the living room. He didn’t hear the cries of Jordan in the middle of the night. And he never heard her sighs at the dinner table.

As Franklin continued trying to climb the ceiling-reaching bookcase she called out to him, knowing it was like shouting into an abyss.

“Carter, can you give me a hand in here?” she asked, the patience she once had now void in her tone.

No response.


“I’ll be right there…just…just two more pages,” Carter’s voice echoed down the dark hallway.

Stephanie didn’t have any more thoughts of being supportive, patient or loving through each other’s flaws. There weren’t any thoughts anymore. She barely felt anything either. Just a gnawing and ever-present numbness.

July 27th, 2014

Franklin’s teeth shined bright as he grinned wide for the picture. His bright blue cap and gown flowing to the wood floor.

“One more, real quick,” Stephanie said.

“Mom, c’mon,” Franklin said.

“Oh, hush. My baby’s graduating, I’ll take as many as I want!”

“Why doesn’t Dad have to take any with us? That’s not fair!” Jordan whined plopping down on the couch in exhaustion.

Stephanie didn’t even bother with answering the question. The boys knew how their father was. Unfortunately, at this point they had their own eyes to witness for themselves.

“Dad! We need you for a picture!” Franklin shouted.

“I’ll be right there! Two more pages!” Carter echoed back.

Franklin’s head dropped, his cap sliding forward on his forehead.

“Go figure,” Jordan said.

Stephanie winced at the idea of her children going through the same thing with Carter as she had over the years. It was one thing for her to deal with it, it was another for him to treat the kids that way.

March 13th, 2015

The pen’s etchings sounded like they were coming through a megaphone in the silent office. Then the page flipping. Signature after signature. It was a long, tumultuous road to get to this point but they had finally come to it. Enough was enough. Perhaps Carter would finally get the time he needed to work on his writing. He was free.

“…here, and then here,” the lawyer said, pointing at the bottoms of the pages.

“Stephanie, do we really have to do this?” Carter asked. He looked up from the desk at her. She was standing with her arms crossed, tapping her foot impatiently.

“Yes, hurry up now,” she said.

“How much more is there?” he asked.

The lawyer paused to look at what was left.

“Just two more pages,” he said.

Stephanie erupted in laughter, her heart warmer than it’d been in years.

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