Foolish Games
By Audrey Lynne

And these foolish games
Are tearing me apart...
-"Foolish Games" - Jewel

"This isn't working."

He heard her words, but he didn't completely comprehend them at first, mostly out of denial. "What?" He looked at the pot she was stirring on the stove, knowing that wasn't what she meant, but opting to play the fool anyway. "If the recipe's giving you trouble, you can always try something else."

"No!" His wife spun around, throwing the wooden spoon in her hand down. It bounced off the stovetop with the clanging sound of wood striking metal, then fell to the floor with a hollow thud. "This." She gestured widely around the kitchen, no doubt trying to take in their whole apartment with the wave of her arm. "Our lives! Us!"

This wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation, but over the three months they'd been married, they'd been having it far more frequently. The doubts he'd harbored prior to their wedding day had only continued to grow, rather than be assuaged. "I realize we've both had reservations about this union, but-"

"But nothing!" she insisted. "This. Is. Not. Working. You know it and I know it, so why are we going through the motions? Why do we keep up the charade?"

He'd wondered the same thing himself, many times, but somehow it felt different when he heard her bring the matter up. "You know why we married. The family-"

"The family doesn't always know what's best for us!" She turned off the stove in one quick, forceful motion and stalked out into the living room. He followed, nudging his glasses back up onto his nose. He was going to have to adjust them later. "I'm a good little girl, so I played the family game. I let them choose my mate, and you did the same, because you're trying to make them happy, too. Contrary to popular belief that all the women in this family should be content to be housewives, some of us don't want that. I've studied; I know how arranged marriages should work. They should be matched on personality and compatibility, sort of like a dating service. We have nothing in common whatsoever! We just got put together because some biddy decided it would be best to the family and we'll produce amazingly brilliant children together! You know it, I know it; we've heard our mothers complain about it before!"

"Do you want children?" he asked quietly. The whole concept made him rather nervous. Science, he knew intimately. The needs of small children? No clue whatsoever. His own father had been much the same, and his father before him, and so on for generations of Spengler males. He highly doubted he would be the one to break the mold.

"Yes, someday." Her blue eyes blazed with an inner fire. "But not now."

"And not with me," he said matter-of-factly, neither hurt nor comforted by the thought.

"To be honest? No." She pushed her own glasses back up and moved closer to put a hand on his arm. "That's nothing against you. You're a good man, just not the one I wanted to marry. And I know full well I'm not the woman you wanted to marry, if you wanted to marry at all. They gave us that old line about how the love would come. It's not coming."

He doubted it ever would come, but he still had to try to persuade her to stay. In the first place, it would be quite the family scandal-and secondly, they were both out of their native environment, especially her. She'd left Cleveland to marry him, let him continue his physics work at MIT as a good wife should. While he knew she would probably be more than happy to start studying at a local university herself, and he personally had no problems with it, to do that would mean she would be out of the home, not tending house, and the same biddies that had paired them would be quick to remind her of her place. It truly wasn't fair, but life was unfair in many ways, as he'd discovered early on. "Perhaps we should give this more time. Once I finish my work here, we can return to Cleveland. I'll work for the family labs again, with my father and Cyrus, and you can be with family again, and-"

"And be the good little wife," she finished flatly. That was one of the things he'd admired about her, the unwillingness to merely accept her lot in life, the way so many women in the family had. In a way, he wished he had the courage to do the same.

He sat gingerly on the arm of the couch. "I don't have any easy answers for you."

"What, like I do?" She pointed down at his shoe. "Look at the laces on your shoe. Imagine that the interweaving parts are the marriages that bind our sides of the family together." She paused, contemplative. "If you undo the top one, the lacing isn't going to all come apart."

"But if you cut it, then pull-as the family will pull on us, realistically-the two pieces do come undo and apart."

"So we don't cut it," she suggested. "We untie the knot, undo our portion, and leave it at that. We stay friends."

Divorce was highly uncommon in the level of society they had grown up in, and positively unheard of in their family. "They'll talk. This is going to be another of those scandals that's never quite forgotten."

"Yes, but the advantage of a good Midwestern family scandal is that, after the initial shockwave passed, it isn't discussed at family gatherings again, only in private. I can live with that." She pinned him with a stare. "You're always so worried about your reputation. Can you? Or do we stay together, have a child or two to keep everyone happy, and just keep playing the game?"

"Living a lie, you mean." It wasn't hard to read into her tone.

"If that's what it takes. Your genes run strong; the children will probably look like you. We'll have a boy to carry on the name, or keep trying until we get one, like all the generations before, you'll train him in your labs to be the brilliant scientist you are, and then ship him off to the best universities and marry him to a girl the family chooses so he can carry on the tradition. Why rock the boat?"

It didn't sound very fulfilling, but he knew she hadn't meant it to be. And he could survive that, if she could; he'd go on working in the labs, teaching his child while she took care of his needs beyond the intellectual. It sounded exactly like how he'd been raised-how the Spengler men had been raised for generations. "I'll do what I have to."

"That's what you said when you married me," she reminded him, without malice. She got up, walking into the kitchen, stopping only when he called her name.

"Meredith?"

"Yes?"

He chose his next words carefully. "I'll think about it."

"Go ahead," she replied, her words almost painfully empty. "We've got the rest of our lives."

The rest of their lives, indeed. He was nineteen; she was eighteen. They could live the lie for another seventy years...or start the "prime of their lives" with a broken marriage and a family scandal. It seemed to be a no-win scenario. In cases like these, it was only prudent to choose the lesser of two evils. He doubted he'd marry again, if this didn't work out; he didn't have the skills women claimed it took to make a marriage work and he didn't know where to learn them without breaking the emotional code years of training had ingrained into him. Relationships were uncomfortable; science was safe, and it called to him now. It was time for a retreat into the lab. But, first, he had a decision to make. "I'll call the lawyer tomorrow."

She nodded and continued onto the kitchen, while he made his way to the spare bedroom that housed the laboratory equipment he'd brought into the apartment. He stared at the phone in there for a long moment, then picked it up to call his mother. She had to be the first to know-and perhaps she could advise him about how to broach the subject with his father. Her voice was a familiar comfort when she greeted him, and he took a deep breath before replying. "Mom? It's Egon." He paused again, briefly, gathering the courage to go on. "There's something I need to tell you."

The End...sort of

Author's note: Just one possible explanation for why Egon seems so skittish about a relationship with Janine... ;) (Not that he can't get over it eventally...) Also, it ties in with some other stuff I've got in This Provincial Life, a story I'm working on with Egon's mom. It presented itself to be written, and I did, mostly to keep it from driving me nuts.