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Skinflint

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Joanne snatched the checkbook from her husband's hand. "No, wait, not that one, babe. Here," she said, and thrust a sticky plastic toy in his hand instead. "MaryJo's been slobbering all over that, can you deal with that, please? And maybe figure out where your son is?" She could feel his bewildered eyes on her back, but she ignored him and pulled out her wallet. She smiled at the bored looking cashier, and passed the girl some cash. "I haven't quite gotten him trained on the family finances yet. You know how men are." The girl was young and sullen and probably had absolutely no idea how men were, but she flashed a well trained, lightening-quick, closed-lip little smile, before ringing up the groceries.

"Mommy," Chris said, all bright eyed and sweet faced, and carrying a coloring book. "Can I have-"

"Absolutely not, I don't know where you got that, give it to her and get your behind on to the car. I told you about touching things in the store, boy."

"Oh, now, hang on, Jo," Roy said, and came to squat next to their crest fallen son. "I think we can-"

"Roy…" The warning in Joanne's voice was clear. She heard the cashier struggle to stifle a giggle, and Chris immediately put the coloring book on the conveyor and stepped away as if his hand were burned.

Roy stood up and frowned at her. "What's the matter with you?"

"Don't contradict me," she hissed. "Come on, we're in the way," she said, and hauled her men towards the exit.

She could tell he was annoyed with her. He never liked it when she fussed at his precious babies (the hellions that made her insane while he was scaling mountain sides and shocking heart attack victims and running head long into burning buildings), and he absolutely hated it when she gave him hell in public. She didn't give a damn. He wanted to buy his son the world? He shouldn't have been the starry eyed fool who'd decided to save the world first. Should have been a oil baron, or a movie mogul. Or a doctor, like Ma was always saying.

She strapped the kids into the car while Roy hefted grocery bags into the trunk. She refused to look at him. She could tell by the way her strong, able bodied fireman huffed and puffed that he was quite angry with her. She felt guilty for nagging, especially in public, but what could she do? If they didn't present a vaguely united front, the kids were going to start that divide and conquer nonsense in absolutely no time, and then she'd really have her hands full.

She also felt a little bad for snapping at Chris. She tapped his nose until he looked her in the eye. "When we get home, I'll make banana splits. Sound good?" His answering smile was faint, but he nodded. It would have to do.

When she straightened up, she could feel Roy standing right up against her. If they'd been at home, locked away from the kids and the outside world, she might have thought he was trying to get fresh. But he wasn't one for public displays of affection - she was lucky if he'd kiss her lips in front of anyone not blood related to him. There was no reason for him to be in her personal space that way, except to trap her.

He wasn't generally that kind, either.

She turned slowly, careful to keep her face neutral. "We all loaded up?"

"Yeah. Can I have my checkbook back?"

Oh yeah. She pulled it out of her purse and handed it to him. "I didn't even know you still knew where that was. Where'd you find it?"

"In the desk drawer, where it always is. You didn't tell me you'd made a withdrawal, Jo."

She bristled, and hoped like hell he hadn't been looking at the books. "I always pull out cash, Roy, you know that." She started to head around the car for the driver's side, but he smiled humorlessly and pulled her gently to the front passenger seat. "I'm not driving?"

"No," he said. "You're in a foul mood today, and I'm not interested in being a terrified passenger."

The words that came immediately to her mind were far too rude to blurt in front of her children, but she thought them as hard as she could in his direction. She plopped down in the passenger seat and stared out of the side window.

"Do you have any objection to my bringing him the c-o-l-o-r-i-n-g-b-o-o-k when I get off my next shift?"

She sighed. "He probably knows what you're spelling, Roy. He's a child, not an idiot."

"Why can't the boy have-"

"Because he's got crayons and plenty of paper at home! He can draw a million pictures, Roy, and it wouldn't cost us one red cent!"

Roy didn't say anything else. The only sound was the roar of the engine, the steady whisper of heavy, angry breathing, and the rush of blood in her ears. She chewed on the inside of her cheek, and wished she hadn't bowed out of tonight's game. Maybe it wasn't too late, maybe she could buy in with those starter earrings Ma had bought for MaryJo…

When they got home, Roy unloaded the car in the same way he'd loaded it up - silent save for his heavy breathing. MaryJo went to her room to find more toys to smear candy and slobber all over, and Chris slunk silently to his own room, probably to stare out of the window and wish for a nicer mother. Joanne stared helplessly at the bags that were slowly crowding her out of her own kitchen, and wondered how much of any of it she really needed.

She could probably take the cookies, the bread, one of the jugs of milk back. That would put a little cash in her pocket. And she wasn't really baking that much. She didn't need a whole sack of flour that big, she could exchange it for a smaller one. Sure, sure, and with Roy at the station for half the month or so, she could probably get away with returning the pork roast and all the steak, and she could just give the kids some chicken, and she could snack on the plums in the backyard. Yeah, she could get maybe half her money back.

"Okay, what, Joanne, what? What the heck is it?"

She jumped and looked at Roy guiltily. The thunderstorm that had been brewing on his sweet, cherubic face was all but gone, replaced by bewildered concern. She tried to smile away her own shamefacedness, and shook her head. "I just can't believe how much money I've managed to spend today. I never meant to get this much."

He looked dubious. "Don't we need it?"

Of course they did. "Some of it. Not in this quantity, necessarily. Or so… extravagantly?"

He rolled his eyes. "Live a little Joanne. Loosen those purse strings a little bit." He grabbed a bag of charcoal from one of the paper sacks, and hefted it with a grin. "I'm gonna put the steaks on, sugar. You get the lemonade and the coleslaw together, and let's enjoy this paycheck I've been slaving for, okay?"

She felt absolutely sick, and wondered if he would miss the gold watch he'd given her for her 25th birthday. She kept right on smiling, though. "Sure thing, babe," she choked out. "It's only money."