An excerpt from Everything or Nothing


For whatever reason, it was always tougher getting Joey to bed on Monday nights. Maybe it had something to do with reestablishing his routine after the weekend. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Monday always tended to be a catch-up day at work (especially now with the campaign), which led to rushed dinners and a smaller window between the end of the meal and the point when they sat in Joey’s room reading him bedtime stories.

Tonight had been even more of an issue than usual. First, Joey wouldn’t brush his teeth, claiming that the toothpaste – the same toothpaste he’d been using for the past year – was “spicy.” Maxwell wound up brushing Joey’s teeth for him, something he’d never done before and something he was hoping wasn’t destined to become a part of their evening ritual. Then Joey insisted on putting his pajama pants over his head. He seemed to think this was hilarious, and Maxwell found it funny the first time he did it as well. The fourth time wasn’t nearly as humorous.

Once they’d read a couple of picture books, Annie left and Maxwell and Joey entered the last phase of the bedtime process. Maxwell climbed into bed next to his son and sang him the lullaby that Maxwell’s mother used to sing to him. It was obvious to Maxwell that Joey already didn’t remember his grandmother, who died before Joey’s second birthday, but he seemed to like knowing that his dad was singing him to sleep with a song that his mom once used to sing her son to sleep. On most nights, this was enough to get the boy to settle. Tonight, though, as Maxwell kissed his forehead, Joey wrapped his arms around his father.

“One more,” the boy said.

“One more what?”

“One more.”

Maxwell lay his head back down, which caused Joey to do the same. Did Joey want one more song? One more minute? No elaboration seemed forthcoming. Maxwell simply lay there a short while longer and then tried to get up again. As before, Joey latched onto him. The third time this happened, Maxwell decided to sing the song again, this time brushing Joey’s hair as he did so. That seemed to make a difference. By the time Maxwell climbed out of the bed, Joey was asleep and Maxwell felt as though he’d put in another full day of work. Maxwell knew that it would be a terrible idea for the kid to grow accustomed to his father staying in bed with him until he nodded off, but that seemed to be the only available option tonight if Maxwell didn’t want to simply stay in bed with the kid the entire evening.

The odds were good that Joey would sleep through the night now. He wasn’t always easy to get to bed, but he usually slept heavily once he was down. Given how much energy the boy expended during the day, that seemed like an essential thing.

This meant that the rest of the night was for the grownups, something Maxwell had been looking forward to. Between one thing and another, he’d had so little alone time with Annie recently and he felt that they needed to take advantage of any chance they might get.

The last nine months had been a series of fits and starts in Maxwell and Annie’s marriage, all starting around the time he decided to run for mayor. Annie didn’t want to be stuck at home with Joey while Maxwell was running Oldham, and her response to this peaked right after last year’s Halloween party when she took off on her own for three days. Maxwell had never been able to get her to tell him where she’d gone or why she felt the need to leave, but she seemed to come back with a resolve toward bridging the gulf that had opened between them. There continued to be times when she vanished – more often emotionally than physically – but she always came back and there were always stretches afterward where things seemed more like they had once been.

It was a form of progress, one that was somewhat better than the “progress” he was making on the mayoral campaign. Most significantly, though, the inconsistent nature of his relationship with Annie underscored for Maxwell how much he wanted again the prevailing, loving connection they had before Joey was born. For most of the past year, he’d had to face the prospect of having less of his wife and consider the possibility of having none of her – and he found the idea of this physically painful. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to contend with the ramifications of a failed marriage; it was that he flat-out didn’t want to lose Annie. The thought of losing her drove home for him just how much he wanted her.

He stopped in the kitchen on the way back from Joey’s bedroom, got a bottle of Pinot Noir from the wine rack, and poured two glasses, bringing them into the den where Annie was sitting reading a book on her iPad. He kissed the top of her head, handing her the glass. Annie seemed lost in the book and didn’t look up at him immediately. She finally took the proffered glass from him.

“What’s this for?”

Maxwell sat next to her. “For surviving a three-year-old force of nature and still having a few hours before we call it a night.”

Annie gave Maxwell a faint smile and then took a small sip of the wine before setting the glass on the coffee table.

Maxwell settled back into the couch and reached out to rub Annie’s shoulders. “What are you reading?”

“A serial killer novel.”

“Really? You don’t usually read that kind of stuff.”

She flicked a page and spoke without looking up. “I’m broadening my horizons.”

Maxwell wondered if reading excessively violent fiction qualified as “broadening.” “Is it any good?”

“Fantastic, actually. I’ve already downloaded the author’s next three books.”

Maxwell wasn’t sure what to think of this. He continued to rub her shoulders with his right hand while he sipped the wine with his left. “What a crazy day. And then Joey had something going on in his head. Even more of a challenge than on most Mondays.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Equilibrium is restored, though.”

If Annie absorbed any of this, she didn’t let Maxwell know. Earlier in their marriage, Maxwell marveled at Annie’s ability to read and maintain a conversation at the same time. That was when she was reading a different kind of fiction, though. Maybe serial killers required all of her attention. He’d just sit here with her until she came up for air.

A few minutes later, Annie sighed, turned off the tablet, and put the device on the coffee table. She reached for her wineglass, took another sip, and turned toward him.

“I’m gonna call it a night,” she said.

Maxwell glanced at the clock on the cable box. It was 9:37. He started to get up from the couch.

Annie put out a palm. “You don’t need to get up. It’s early. Relax for a while. I’m just beat.”

Maxwell leaned forward. “Are you sure? Maybe an early night would be good for the two of us.”

Annie shrugged. “Your call, but I’m wasted. I’ll probably be out cold before my head hits the pillow.”

The message was abundantly clear. Maxwell sat back. “Okay. Well, have a good sleep.”

Annie started walking toward the bedroom. “Thanks. See you when you come to bed. Well, probably not, actually.”

No, probably not, Maxwell thought. He watched his wife head down the hall and then found the television remote and his wineglass. Very little about this evening – or this day, for that matter – had gone according to plan.

Maxwell sat back on his living room couch, feeling decidedly out of his comfort zone.

on September 14 • by

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