Authors: Debbie Macomber
“Coming home to an empty house is killing me because I know I'm the one who drove you away. Tell me you'll give me another chance, Nichole. Give me hope that I haven't destroyed our lives by my stupidity.”
The waiter arrived with our dinner salads and Jake eased back. “Let's enjoy this wonderful meal,” he said. “Let's make it a true celebration.”
I hesitated for only a half-second before I nodded.
Jake smiled and it seemed as if the tension eased from his shoulders. “I love you, Nichole, more than you will ever know.”
After we finished our salads our steaks were served. Jake had ordered four side dishes, far more than we could ever eat. He dug in, and then, turning to me, he said, “I've missed your cooking so much.”
That was a surprise, knowing that he often ate out at what he claimed were client dinners. Only later did I realize the majority of his so-called meetings had nothing to do with his job as the head of sales for a large wine company.
It was almost as if he knew what I was thinking. “I've learned my lesson, Nichole. With God as my witness, I will never give you cause to doubt me again.”
A knot formed in my throat. How badly I wanted to believe that was true.
We declined dessert. Jake ordered a glass of port, but all I wanted was a cup of coffee. I excused myself and visited the ladies' room. When I returned I noticed the hostess at our table, chatting with Jake.
Jake slid out of the booth and stood when I returned. His manners had always been impeccable. As soon as I sat back down I doctored my coffee. Jake was smiling, jubilant. “I'll arrange for a moving van to come and collect your things. I know you have a lease, but I'll pay that off.”
My head shot up. “I haven't agreed to any such thing, Jake. Before I make a decision I'm going to need to carefully think this through.”
He looked as if I'd slugged him.
“This is an important decision and I want to be sure I'm making the right one.”
For just a moment it looked as if he was about to break down. “What more can I say?” he asked. “What more can I do to convince you I'm a changed man?”
“Be patient,” I whispered.
“How long are you going to make me wait? Nichole, this is killing me. Please. I want my family back.”
“I'll let you know in a few days.”
“As soon as I've made my decision, you'll be the first to know.”
He paid our bill and we left together. I paused at the hostess desk and waited while the woman called for the valet to bring around his car. I watched as the hostess returned the valet slip ticket and how Jake's fingers
brushed against hers.
I swallowed tightly and looked away.
Owen slept over with Leanne. I couldn't sleep. I was up half the night. I tried to read, but my thoughts drifted back to my dinner with Jake. I knew he was sincere. I knew he had every intention of remaining faithful and he would for as long as he was able. Still, I couldn't get the picture out of my mind of how Jake's hand had touched the hostess's. Anyone looking would say it was accidental, and perhaps it was. I would never know. He must have sent off some vibe for her to have approached the table while I was away, and I noticed how his eyes had briefly followed her as she'd crossed the room.
The crux was I couldn't trust Jake. I would spend the rest of our married life doubting him, questioning him every time he was late coming home or taking a weekend trip for business. The lies flowed so easily from his lips I would never be able to tell if he spoke the truth or not.
Cassie had told me to listen to my gut and my gut told me the marriage was over. As badly as I wanted to believe Jake would never stray again, my gut said he would.
With tears streaming down my face, I reached for my cell and sent him a text.
A part of me will always love you, but I feel it's best for Owen and for me to proceed with the divorce. I wish it could be different.
Once I pushed the send button, I went to my desk, took the divorce papers out of the manila envelope, reached for a pen, and signed my name.
I looked forward to lunch with Kacey Woodward, who had been my best friend through the years. Knowing how much she enjoyed tuna fish, I made tuna sandwiches with Nikolai's latest offering of bread. I cut thick slices, savoring the aroma of the dill weed and something else I couldn't name. Along with the sandwiches, I put together a fresh fruit salad from the berries I'd purchased Saturday morning at the farmers' market.
Owen had been with Jake for the weekend. My son hadn't taken the news that Nichole had decided to sign the divorce papers very well. When I gently inquired how he was doing, he'd burst into a tirade against his now ex-wife, bitterness and anger spilling out of him.
“I was willing to do anything if she'd take me back. Well, screw her. If this is what she wanted, then fine, I don't need her.” He'd gone on for several minutes, blaming Nichole, claiming she was an unreasonable shrew, and casting blame on me, accusing me of siding with her against him. I tried to explain this wasn't a matter of taking sides, but Jake clearly didn't want to hear it. The decision had been hard for Nichole, and when she told me she'd planned to go ahead with the divorce she'd been in tears.
I closed my eyes as Jake continued to rant. I did my best to encourage him to move on. He didn't want to hear it and considered me a traitor both to him and to his father, claiming I'd had the power to persuade her to reconsider. To Jake's way of thinking I could have done a lot more to help him and I hadn't. To put it mildly, it wasn't a pleasant conversation and I felt emotionally and physically shaken afterward.
Because Kacey was notoriously late I gave myself an extra fifteen minutes before I set the table. Predictably, Kacey showed up at twelve-fifteen, bursting with life, enthusiasm, and the latest gossip from the club she was certain I would want to hear.
I led her into the kitchen and poured us each a tall glass of sweetened iced tea.
“I so love this apartment,” Kacey gushed as she looked around. She'd been to my place before but never for any extended period of time, which was one reason I'd decided we should eat in.
I had another reason, too; I was rather proud of my decorating efforts. In the divorce settlement with Sean, I'd basically left everything in the house to him and purchased all new furnishings for my apartment. I'd placed three short lime-green sofas in a U shape around a large square white coffee table in front of the fireplace. Both sides of the fireplace had mahogany bookshelves bursting with books, many of which were autographed. This was a thirty-year collection I treasured; my books were one of the few things I'd brought from the house.
My kitchen was a bright, cheerful shade of yellow. I'd painted it myself shortly after moving in. I'd arranged white ceramic accent pieces across the counter. The second bedroom was where I chose to place the television. I had two chairs with an end table between. The closet was full of Owen's toys and he knew right where to go when he came to visit.
“You've decorated it so beautifully,” Kacey said once she'd arrived. “You could have gone into home decorating if you'd wanted to,” she added, and then grew thoughtful. “Actually, you still could. Have you ever thought of that? Because you're a natural. I always liked the way you did your house, but you've excelled with the apartment. If this is something that interests youâ¦”
“It isn't,” I admitted, reveling in Kacey's praise. “I enjoy doing my own, but wouldn't presume to know anyone else's tastes.”
“Staging, then. I know this great real estate agent whoâ¦”
“Kacey,” I said, smiling, holding up my hand. “I don't need anything to fill my time. I'm perfectly content with my life as it is. Now, come eat before our sandwiches get soggy. I made tuna fish, your favorite.”
“You're happy? Really?” Kacey took her place at the table and removed the soft orange-colored napkin from its holder and spread it across her lap.
I considered the question and then nodded. “Yes. When Nichole and I first moved out we made a list of ways to help each other move on in life. The first thing on our list was to refuse to wallow in our pain.”
“How could you notâespecially you?” Kacey asked, and seemed genuine. “You were with Sean for thirty-five years.”
It would be impossible for Kacey to understand. “I had enough pain being married to Sean. Still, there was a grieving process because divorce is a death in its own way. Nichole and I talked about how best to deal with that deep sense of loss and failure. We were each letting go of a dream, of our expectations of what it meant to be a wife, and striking out on our own for the first time. Both of us married right out of college. Neither one of us had ever lived on our own. The truth of it is I don't know if I could have ever found the courage to divorce Sean if not for Nichole.” I carefully spread my own napkin across my lap. I knew Kacey found that difficult to understand.
The few friends I had kept all seemed to want to keep me updated on Sean's exploits. It was as if they were now free to tell me what I'd known all along but had refused to face. It was after such a lunch that Nichole and I decided on Rule #2,
Cultivate New Friendships.
I didn't want to abandon longtime friendships, but the longer I was out of the marriage the less I found in common with those from the club.
“Didn't you tell me you're volunteering at the Community Center?”
Just thinking about my English-as-a-second-language class brought a smile to my face. “Yes, and I'm really enjoying it.”
“That's what you said.” Kacey took the first bite of her sandwich, chewed slowly, and then looked up. “My goodness, this is great.” She eyed the sandwich, turned it over, and studied both sides. “This bread is homemade, isn't it? Don't tell me you've become a gourmet chef now, too.”
“Not me. One of my students bakes me a loaf twice a week. It's actually very sweet of him, although I have repeatedly told him I can't possibly eat all this bread myself.”
I agreed. Nikolai's bread was by far the tastiest bread I'd ever eaten.
Kacey finished off her sandwich in record time, hardly talking while she savored her meal. “I'm dying to tell you the news, but I can't stop eating. I don't think I've ever tasted bread this good.”
“Nikolai is a talented bread maker.” Whatever news Kacey was dying to tell me was sure to involve Sean, and frankly I wasn't interested. The key was moving on, and as best as I could, I had. Looking back stalled the progress I'd made.
I held up a hand, stopping Kacey. “I don't want to hear it.”
Kacey's mouth sagged open. “But it's a juicy piece of gossip.” She shook her head. “I don't care if you want to hear it or not, I'm telling you. Sean took that woman, you know, another one of his âflavors,' to dinner at the club Saturday night andâ”
“He's had several through the years.”
“Don't we know it. Anyway, he brought her to the club. You know how the club is on Saturday nights. Formal jackets required and all that nonsense. Anyway, this woman he had living at the house apparently found out that he'd been chasing another skirt and was outraged. She made this huge scene right in the dining room. Sean did his best to calm her down, not that it did any good. Then she stood up, took her cosmopolitan, and emptied it in his face before she stalked out.”
I could imagine how mortified Sean must have been. Appearances were everything to him.
“I'm telling you, Leanne, it was all I could do not to stand up and applaud that woman, âflavor' or not.”
“She had more courage than I ever did,” I said, although there'd been many a time I would have enjoyed embarrassing my husband for the way he'd humiliated me.
“Apparently, she moved out on Sunday.”
I knew Sean had another woman in the house and wondered how long it would last. He seemed to grow bored with his conquests in short order.
Kacey studied me. “Don't you have anything to say?”
“Not really.” Having finished my sandwich, I reached for the fresh berries. The blueberries were ripe and fat this year and had long been my favorites. “I don't wish Sean ill,” I explained, meeting Kacey's eyes. “I'm not a vengeful person. We had a few good years. At one time I loved him with everything I had, but no longer. He isn't part of my life now and I'm fine with that.”
Kacey continued to stare at me. “Sometimes I don't understand you, Leanne. You should be gloating.”
“Because Sean will never be able to find anyone as wonderful as you.”
I wanted to believe that, but refused to allow myself to dwell on anything having to do with my ex. “I'm not looking for revenge or justification or anything else. I have a new life and I'm just beginning to explore what all that means. I'm happier now than I've been in years.”
“You know what they say, don't you?” Kacey asked, and then answered her own question. “Happiness is the best revenge.”
“I am happy.”
“You need a man in your life, though,” Kacey insisted. “That would really tie Sean's tail in a knot and piss him off. I don't think he'd be able to stand it.”
Laughing, I calmly shook my head. “I don't need a man. In fact, a romantic relationship is at the very bottom of my list of wants. If I've learned anything in the last two years it's that my life now is good exactly as it is.”
“But having a relationship helps.”
“I disagree,” I said, although I didn't want to argue with my friend. “I'm just learning who I am and what brings me joy,” I explained. Teaching, I discovered, gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment; I looked forward to every class. “Another relationship at this point would cloud my focus.” While married, my life had revolved around Sean; I kept our home, entertained on his behalf, and managed our social calendar. Basically I'd seen to him and the needs of his career to the point that I'd lost my own identity. I found pleasure in discovering the things I enjoyed.
“There are dating sites that specialize in people our age. You should check them out.”
“Why would I?”
“Do you want to be alone the rest of your life?”
I carefully considered the question. “I'm not really alone. I have my son and of course there's Nichole and Owen, you, and other friends.” Making friends was another benefit I'd recently discovered. While married to Sean I'd avoided close friendships. I hadn't realized it until recently, and now I understood why. Friends were a risk when I was married.
Eventually, one would feel obligated to tell me about Sean's affairs. Those who didn't treated me differently after learning I had an unfaithful husband. They avoided me or were extra-sensitive or sympathetic without saying why. Friendships became awkward and weighty, and so it was best to keep only two or three women I knew were true friends.
Kacey looked so surprised by my lack of interest in a new relationship that the room went silent for several long moments.
“You really mean that, don't you.” It was a statement and not a question.
“I do,” I assured her.
“You're not interested in finding someone on the Internet? It's all the rage, you know.”
“Kacey, not interested.”
“A blind date?”
“Not interested,” I echoed, amused by how insistent she was. “I'm perfectly happy.”
Kacey grew serious. “You're not still hung up on Sean, are you?”
“Not at all. I wish him well. I wasn't able to make him happy, and my hope is that he'll find a woman who will.”
“You actually want him to be happy after the way he treated you?” Kacey wore a shocked, disbelieving look.
“You mean the way I allowed him to treat me?” I asked. “I could have walked out at any time. I'm the one who turned a blind eye. I'm the one who chose to die a little with every one of his affairs, so no, bottom line: I choose not to hate Sean. If I have any anger, it's directed at myself. I don't know why I waited so long to take care of myself emotionally and spiritually.”