Lifelong Learning, Part 2
Fitz maneuvered up the stairs of Lauren's basement, arms brimming over with three large plastic tubs and a dozen broken down cardboard boxes. By his third unaided round trip, he was ready to call this box procuring mission completed. Maybe he could convince Olivia to hire a full service packing and moving company, though his first two attempts she'd rejected.
"Fitz, I don't want strangers going through our belongings," she had explained.
The second time, he countered with, "Honey, we'll have them pack all the rooms but ours."
She'd wrinkled her nose and said, "Nah…then I won't know where anything is packed even if the boxes are labeled. I do this whole mind mapping thing to help me to remember. If someone else packs, I'll be lost."
He chuckled at the memory as he bounded the last stair and placed his load beside the others.
He loved Olivia, quirks and all. He knew he had his own set of idiosyncrasies she accepted. Their life now was on the right side of perfect. There were no more controversies with Mellie, Celeste, Jake, or Savannah. The problem of Olivia's regular travel had worked itself out and he hadn't come out as the bad guy. Her absences had always put him in a bad mood no matter how much he tried to mask it. Did he share this with Olivia? No. He bore it, albeit grudgingly because he knew how much she loved interacting with her readers and sharing her ideas. It was an extension of her teaching but on a larger scale. To his surprise, she had been the one to broach the subject first. He'd been honest, and in time, she agreed to remove regular travel from her new contract.
His father had been right. You lose ground when you are the first to begin the conversation, not just any conversation, but a conversation of consequence. Better to leave things unsaid than to concede ground. With that settled, they could move to Berkeley and he could begin his new job as Superintendent.
Less than 5 years ago, he'd been in a loveless, tepid marriage. Mellie's infidelity wasn't the catalyst for their divorce. It had been his reaction to it, indifference, causing him to finally ask the hard questions, to at once identify his motivations for choosing the familiar, the benign, the lukewarm familiarity, his self-imposed prison of unhappiness. At once it was easy to take Karen and Gerry and leave Mellie.
And then he'd met Olivia. Everything changed. From that first encounter, he knew he wanted her, all of her, in every way. It may be a cliche, but for him it was love at first sight, feelings he had never known before that moment and all the moments since.
As he moved closer to the kitchen, he heard voices, Olivia and Lauren engrossed in conversation about something until a loud thud interrupted them.
"Ollie, no! Oh Lauren is it broken?" Fitz heard Olivia say. From the sound of it, Ollie must have knocked over the orb shaped crystal piece on Lauren's coffee table.
"It's fine Liv. He's at that stage. It's been a while since we've had to child proof the house—" Lauren said with no hint of irritation in her voice.
"Are you sure it's okay for Ollie to stay over, Lauren? Now that he's walking, he's a handful. He loves to explore, and he doesn't like his own toys."
"No, It'll be fine. David and Jake will be home later and we'll all keep him occupied. You and Fitz are on a tight schedule and already have too much to do before you move. Keeping Ollie is the least I can do to help. You all need to make a dent in this packing. Why not hire a company?" Lauren urged.
A smile spread across Fitz's face at that question. He waited to hear her answer, but didn't. The sound of crickets—Olivia's text message alert—commanded his attention there beside her purse on the kitchen table. He grabbed the phone for her. Every text was important and urgent these days with all the juggling for the cross country move. By the time he picked up the phone, it had gone black so he couldn't read the text. He hesitated before pushing the home button to see the alert. Something held him back. He wanted to see it, but part of him felt he shouldn't. Later he would have to admit this was no casual glancing. No happenstance. He purposely looked, re-illuminated the phone. Did he make it a habit, reading her texts? No. But there should be no reason he couldn't. He had no trouble with the reverse. The entirety of his inner contemplation lasted less than a second before he pressed the home button and saw the notification.
Hey Liv. The revised contract is in your e-mail with a new travel schedule even Fitz will like so…
Olivia surveyed her side of the closet and sighed heavily. "Where did all these clothes come from, Fitz? I thought I got rid of most of them when I moved out of my townhouse. Babe, your side is practically all packed. When did you do this, babe? Fitz? Fitz?"
When he didn't answer, she walked out of the closet. Rolfo rested at the foot of their bed, head between his paws, but no Fitz.
"Rolfo, where did he go?" she inquired. Rolfo raised one eyebrow, lowered the other, and thumped his tail twice.
"Fitz? Fitz?" she called down the hallway. There was no answer. When she reached downstairs, she called out again. He didn't answer, but she heard the low rumble of a television on low volume in the family room. He was there in the darkened room illuminated only by the television, shadows dancing on the walls. He was sitting with one hand thrown behind his head, the other balancing a beer on his knee.
Olivia walked around and stood directly in front of him. "I was calling you, baby. What are you doing? Taking a break? We have been working most of the day…you could have told me. I could have joined you. I think our stuff is multiplying with every box we pack," she said with a smile.
His nonresponse finally registered. The light caught his face. His eyes were trained forward, looking through her almost as if he could see the screen. His face held a strange expression. Something wasn't right with Fitz. With the exception of his interaction with Ollie to say goodbye, he'd been quiet, subdued since they left Lauren's house. Was he tired from their labor, mentally tired from the changes ahead?
She touched the rim of his beer bottle. "I'll get one of these and join you." When she stepped away, he clasped her wrist, pulling her back. He pushed his beer to her. She took it, sipped, and pressed it to his palm. He leaned over and set the bottle on the side table. He let go of her wrist, and took both of her hands in his, sliding them against hers. Then she felt it, the tension, sitting in the air. He wanted her, she knew, but there was something else between them.
He tugged forward. She lost her footing and fell against him awkwardly unable to gain hold of herself. In one deft motion, he swung her over his lap and pressed his lips to hers. Communication comes in many forms. In a marriage, the forms increase sevenfold. Olivia got the message and her body responded. Breathing quickened. Nipples hardened. Her core ached. He knew all her hot spots and she knew his, but her knowledge didn't matter. When she tried to touch him, caress him, feel him, he pushed her hands away. If their lovemaking was a conversation, he was the only one talking, the only agent of communication. His lips, tongues, and fingers traveled every inch of her body awakening sensations that made her dizzy and breathless. She squirmed for something to ground her, to tether her to the concrete, but he restricted her wrists and then her legs with his body. The sounds she made were unfamiliar, guttural cries, high pitched whimpers, and deep moans that eventually became pleas for him to fill her up. But he wouldn't, defiantly refused to get his own release. Finally, he flipped her over and they were one, one body, one voice lifted in passion.
"So, I was thinking about getting take out from Mellow Mushroom. Do you want pizza or a sub?" he said, walking out of the closet in jeans and a t-shirt, his hair still wet from the shower. He shoved his wallet in his back pocket and grabbed his keys and phone from the dresser.
Olivia was sitting on the bed applying lotion to her legs after her own shower, trying to figure out what was going on in her husband's mind. He was easy to read. She knew he was upset about something. It was the something she couldn't identify. It was obvious now that he wasn't going to volunteer it. Communication or the lack of it was one pernicious problem plaguing their relationship. Olivia thought they had overcome it, but something had happened in the last 12 hours to make Fitz go quiet and then launch an all out orgasmic pleasure offensive. It reminded her of the time her stupid celibacy proposal had backfired. It was as if they were competitors on different teams trying to win a battle instead of partners who worked together and compromised for the common marital good. What was the battle over in this case? Olivia hated this. She needed him to be direct, openly articulating the problem.
Olivia crossed her arms across her chest. "Fitz, what's wrong?"
"Wrong? What do you mean?" he said.
She sighed impatiently. "You are mad about something and you won't tell me what it is. So I am asking you. What. Is. Wrong?"
"I'm fine, Livy...hungry, I guess. We haven't eaten since before taking Ollie to Lauren's this morning, but-"
"Yeah, that's it. You began acting strangely at Lauren's. Is it because I didn't help you carry the boxes? That can't be it. You don't say two words to me most of the day after leaving her house. I chalk it up to us trying to get packed up. Then you disappear downstairs in the family room to sit in the dark with the TV practically on mute. Then you fuck me within an inch of my life. Now you want pizza. Something is not right here," she said.
By his shocked expression, her words made their intended impression. He recovered quickly. "Well, if you were being fucked to death, you enjoyed every minute of it by the sounds you made. But I apologize if it was too much for you. It's rare for us to have the house to ourselves. I had a chance to make love to my wife so I took it."
Olivia stood. "It felt good, but that was overshadowed by the knowledge that you were motivated by anger, hurt...something you don't want to talk about. That wasn't making love. Making love goes both ways. It was more like you wanted to show me how many times you could make me orgasm, make me scream like some animal. But you didn't want me to do the same to you. Downstairs was all about power and control, Fitz. So I'm asking you why you felt the need to do that? What's wrong?"
He opened his mouth to speak, but didn't say anything, swiping his hand briskly through his hair. These were his familiar signs of frustration. She was getting through to him. Then he took a deep breath and regarded her directly. "I'm sorry if I was too rough, Livy. There is nothing wrong with me," he reiterated.
She lifted her arms in frustration just as her cell phone emitted the sound of crickets. Glancing at it, she saw the shortened alert message:
Did you get the new contract, Liv? I know you're busy, but we'd really like to finalize this soon, so...
Olivia swiped the phone. In a few quick swipes, she was reading her e-mail. She read both of them noting the timestamps. All the pieces fit together instantly. She remembered Fitz handing her the phone at Lauren's earlier. At the time, she hadn't looked at it. Ollie had distracted her with a cry to be picked up after knocking over Lauren's crystal orb. Fitz had taken him from her arms. She'd pushed her phone in her pocket and resumed her conversation with Lauren. Instantly she knew. He'd seen Daniella's message as it came in. Had he read the e-mail? The contract? Was that what set him off? Olivia didn't know exactly since she hadn't looked at the attachment.
When she looked up, Fitz was gone. "Fitz! Fitz! Get back here!" she called.
In a couple of seconds he was back in the bedroom. "So you saw Daniella's text and e-mail? Were you looking through my phone?"
"The text came through when I was standing near your phone. Yes, I did read the text. Not the e-mail," he said evenly.
"Why didn't you ask me about it instead of getting angry. I haven't even looked at their proposal," she said.
"But you're considering it even though we agreed you wouldn't do anymore regular travel." His voice was calm.
"Daniella contacted me to take a look at a new travel proposal. I haven't even seen it yet. You're angry for nothing. I thought we agreed you wouldn't go snooping through my phone, Fitz."
"Liv, I wasn't snooping. You've been juggling a lot of things lately with the move. I thought the text could be important. And I'm not angry. You should have squashed it from the beginning. We agreed. No travel," he said.
Olivia felt her frustration turning to anger at his calm voice. "I hate when you you're like this Fitz. You don't like something and refuse to tell me, directly. But the thing is that you get your point across one way or the other with your moods and I have to do all the work to figure it out," she said.
"I'm sorry if you think I'm moody. I think you should tell Daniella you can't travel and that will be the end of it," he said.
"It's not the end of it. Templeton wants me and they are begging me to reconsider. They are willing to work with us, honey. We can discuss this but you can't tell me what to do. GG was saying I should choose what makes me happy and I agree." she said, taking deeper breaths to keep calm.
"GG is not part of our marriage. We can't move to California fast enough so she can move back into her own home. But that's another issue. We agreed, Livy, that you traveling for extended periods was not good for our family. You can give workshops exclusively in California. Your place is...you should be home."
They stood at opposite ends of the bed.
Olivia's attempts to curb her anger were failing by the minute. "If the tables were turned, Fitz, I would support you and wouldn't make you choose. I know I agreed to stop the travel, but I really love the workshops. You and Ollie can come with me sometimes-"
He cut her off. "I won't be able to follow you around, Livy. I'll be Superintendent and what about Ollie? He needs you. What's going to happen when we have more children? I can't believe you are bringing this up now with the move...after we've already decided?" he said angrily.
"Follow me around...you mean like a wife? That's a double standard if I've ever heard one. Stop being so selfish, Fitz!" she accused, matching his angry tone.
"Selfish? Me selfish? You're the one putting your job before your family!"
"Do you even hear the words coming out of your mouth? You were married for almost two decades to a woman who took 1st place in the shitty mother and wife awards and you have the nerve to expect me to forget about what I want. I really don't know who you are right now. You don't resemble the man I married," Olivia said. At once she felt separated from him as if he was a stranger. It was Fitz, her husband standing before her, but it wasn't the Fitz she loved.
"I'm the same man, but I'm not changing my mind about the travel. Pizza or sub, Livy?" he asked.
"Neither. I'll get something from fridge." She wanted to scream at him, but realized it wouldn't help.
"Okay. I'll be back. Call me if you change your mind," he said, all traces of anger gone from his tone.
And thus began the war of silent aggression. It was Grant vs. Grant with neither side giving in.
"You seem relieved not to be pregnant, Mrs. Grant. I thought you and Mr. Grant were trying again," said Dr. Paloma, studying her from across his cherry wood desk.
"We are going wait a little longer. It's not a good time with work," Olivia said, "And I need that..um..refill for birth control too." Olivia was usually more willing to reveal more to her doctor, but that was when life was good. She didn't want to share that she and Fitz had rarely talked to one another in the 5 days since their fight. She had given him her coldest cold shoulder, talking to him only when it was absolutely necessary, never calling or texting him during the day when he was at work, leaving him handwritten notes or e-mails about various things they needed to discuss, sleeping in Ollie's room most nights, and now getting a refill of birth control, though he didn't know about that. He responded in kind by accepting her actions as if they were normal. He didn't try to touch her. This was the most surprising. She'd counted on him trying to get close to her, but he didn't.
It would have been more difficult to carry on this way if GG and Karen were home. GG was in Lansing visiting a friend. Karen was dividing her time between a vacation with Mellie, Cyrus, and Gerry and visiting Gerry at college. They were all due back tomorrow in time for Fitz's going away party from work. Olivia had no plan for how to resolve this conflict.
"Certainly, Mrs. Grant. My PA has already called it in to your pharmacy. When are you and the family moving? Are you all ready?"
Olivia plastered a fake smile on her face. "In 7 days. We're just about ready. Still tying up loose ends."
Dr. Paloma stood with an extended hand. "It's been a pleasure having you as a patient, Olivia. When you find another doctor, send me the info and I'll have your records transferred."
"Thank you," Olivia said, shaking her hand.
"Liv, this silent treatment is not going to work," urged Abby, "You have to talk to him about this. What are you going to do when GG, Karen, and Gerry get home. They will know something is wrong between you, two. Ollie probably does, especially if you're sleeping in his room most nights."
"I've tried to talk to him-"
"Since the first conversation, Liv?" Abby interjected.
"No...he won't talk. He pretends like everything is fine. I'm not sleeping in Ollie's room anymore because Ollie now insists on sleeping in our room with both of us. It's like, subconsciously, he knows I shouldn't be in his room. I don't know what to do, Abby. I'm on edge constantly because whenever Fitz is around I can't be myself. I don't think he loves me anymore. It's like he doesn't care. I think I'm losing him. It makes sense, Abby. It's like my screwed up family history has damaged me forever. My life is better when I'm alone. I was better when it was just Rolfo and me...when I was teaching in my own little classroom. Maybe I should let Fitz go. It can be Ollie, Rolfo, and me. I'll stay here...maybe get my job back...Fitz can see Ollie when he wants-"
"Olivia..." Abby said.
"...maybe I could stop the sale of the house...but could I stay there with all the memories-"
"Olivia! Olivia! Snap out of it! You are being too dramatic and taking this to a place it doesn't have to go. You and Fitz are not splitting up. Okay so, he got mad about you reconsidering the contract and wouldn't tell you...by all accounts won't look it over with you. You should weigh it without him and then let him know what you think is best and what you want to do. He won't communicate, er, directly, but that doesn't mean you can't. Stop being so reactive. So he gets mad when he doesn't get his way. What man doesn't? Just break this fight up, preferably before the family gets back. You don't want GG or the whole Grant clan meddling," said Abby.
"What do you mean the whole Grant clan, Abby?"
Abby looked around frantically for something. "Hey, we should check on Ollie. When he and my kids are quiet, they must be up to mischief," Abby said.
"Abby... what's going on?"
She rolled her eyes and sighed in defeat. "Liv, you have to promise you won't say anything. Your inlaws, and a boat load of Fitz's family is coming for his going away party. Actually it's a bon voyage for both of you, Ollie, and Karen. They'll all be here...like at your wedding. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it's going to be if you two aren't the happy couple everyone thinks you are?"
"What? A surprise party? That doesn't make sense. Why not do it after we move there?" Olivia wondered.
"Maybe to involve your friends and family as well as Sybil and Lauren. I don't know, Liv. You marry one Grant, you get them all," Abby teased in an effort to lighten the situation.
Olivia didn't appreciate that. She ignored it. "Noooo."
"Yes, Liv. So you have about 24 hours to smooth this over. Now that doesn't mean you give in. Just change your perspective. Fitz is Fitz. You be you, okay? I have some good gossip from school. Guess who Quinn is dating?"
They sat on opposite ends of the table eating dinner. Ollie was perched in his high chair smashing his peas and carrots before swiping them to the floor.
"Okay, buddy, I think you're finished," said Olivia, rising from her seat.
"I'll get him," said Fitz. He scooped Ollie from his seat and left the room.
Olivia began cleaning up the kitchen. She had decided to confront Fitz tonight, hopefully clear the air and bring everything to a resolution. An hour later, Fitz came downstairs. A slice of chocolate cake set in front of his seat.
"This for me?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes," she said, leaning against the counter with a glass of wine.
"Wine..." he said. That one word communicated so much. Since they had been talking about getting pregnant again, she had stopped drinking wine and coffee. That she was holding a glass of wine meant, for him, something had changed.
"Would you like a glass...with your cake?" she offered. His sad expression almost made her lose her resolve. 'Fitz is Fitz. You be you.' Abby's words rang in her head, steadying her.
"Sure," he agreed.
"Is Ollie sleeping?" she asked.
"Yeah, napping on our bed. He'll be up later. I tired him out with his bath and a couple of rounds of riding on my back-I was the horsey-across our room," he said.
It was quiet again except for the clink of his fork on the plate. After a time, Olivia pulled out the chair beside him and sat down, facing him.
"I reviewed the new contract, Fitz, and I like it. There are more conferences, but the durations are shorter, less than three days...except for the annual meeting of the ASCD which is four. They increased my compensation by fifteen percent," she explained.
He looked at her, expression unreadable. "How many more conferences?"
"Two more. It's basically two per quarter, at three days each with the exception of the annual meeting which is four days. That one is in October," she explained.
"Have you...accepted yet?" he asked, cautiously.
"No. I wanted to talk to you about it first...see what you think."
"Liv, I can support that. Honestly, I wish you didn't have to travel as much, but it's part of the job you enjoy. I don't want to stand in the way of what makes you happy."
Olivia couldn't stop her eyes from welling up. His words were like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, unbelievable.
Moved by her tears, he pushed his chair back and pulled her the short distance into his arms. "Livy, Livy, Livy I'm sorry for being an ass."
She squeezed him tight and wept, not in sadness, but in joy at being close to him again.
"But you're my ass, Fitz. I have to remember that and not get distressed when you act like that. We have to deal with it. It's not the end of the world," she reasoned.
"Okay. I'm just glad you are talking me again. I was ready to call Daniella myself," he admitted.
"Did you know your family was coming for your going away party?" she asked.
He frowned. "No. Well, my family here is coming, but that's it."
"According to Abby, your mom, dad, along with most of the California contingent is coming," she explained.
"But why? And how does Abby know?"
"They enlisted her help with the guest list and general planning. They knew she would know our plans," Olivia said.
"Wow! FJ will be here tomorrow. Our house is going to be full of Grants...tomorrow?" he said.
"Don't get that tone about your dad, Fitz. You two are so much alike. I need to talk to your mom for pointers on dealing with the Grant male," she said.
"It's more than a notion, I imagine," he said, leaning forward to kiss her.
"Yes, it will require lifelong learning," she agreed, leaning forward to kiss him.
"And loving," he said, sealing it with a kiss.
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