Authors: Isabel Sharpe
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #General
As Good As It Got
Back home. Thank goodness. Frowning at the wilting plants
Inching. No, centimetering. No, millimetering. Ann pulled her silver Mercedes—one…
Martha took in a deep breath over nine counts, filling…
Cindy stood back and surveyed the room that would be…
Ann stepped onto Cabin Four’s screened-in porch and greedily
Ann dragged her eyelids open, registered pine walls and the…
Cindy walked a little apprehensively up the narrow trail toward…
Martha opened Internet Explorer on Betsy’s computer and typed
Dinnertime at Camp Kinsonu. Ann pushed a piece of yellowish…
Death. Imminent. Ann rolled to her side, sending mental instructions…
Cindy smiled down at Martha’s perfect cookies and tried to…
Martha sat out on her favorite ledge in her favorite…
Ann looked critically at the painting she’d just completed of…
Cindy walked along the path toward the building where they… 222
“Thank you.” Ann smiled warmly at Arnold, who was standing…
Martha stood on the scattered rocks at the edge of…
If Cindy thought there was true silence in the room…
Ann stood on the beach, waiting for Patrick to show…
About the Author
Other Books by Isabel Sharpe
About the Publisher
Back home. Thank goodness. Frowning at the wilting plants in her garden—she’d been gone four days and they embraced the opportunity to humiliate her yet again in front of her green-thumb neighbors—Cindy Matterson jiggled her key in her back door lock until she found the sweet spot and could twist it open.
She stepped inside, experiencing the usual sick sense of loss when her beloved dog, Max—part Corgi and part who knew what—was no longer there to greet her. She dropped her overnight bag and glanced at the answering machine in the phone nook tucked into the back wall. The machine blinked, announcing the welcome-home message her husband always left. Cindy smiled fondly, pressed Play, and mouthed along with his deep serious voice. “Welcome home, honey, hope you had a good trip, I’ll be back by seven tonight.”
She didn’t leave town often, not like he did, traveling the world over for General Electric, but she sometimes went to 2 Isabel
visit friends, or in this case to visit her parents in Princeton, New Jersey, so they could make her feel inadequate about pretty much every way she’d chosen to live her life. Who could pass that up?
No, she wasn’t a history professor like her dad, or an art history professor like Mom. Nor did she have a career the narrow way people defined the word. Spending every minute in full-blown panic trying to keep up was not for her. Someday they’d find out the high rates of cancer and heart disease in this country were caused by people forcing themselves to do more than their bodies and brains were meant to do.
Cindy had made it through high school in Princeton and raised a wonderful daughter, Lucy, now a junior at—where else?—Princeton. She’d have liked more children, but Kevin wanted to stop at one, so they did. All that was plenty of satisfaction for her. Nowadays she read and volunteered here and there. She used to enjoy visiting antique shops, but now didn’t feel she could, after Kevin paid an exorbitant fee to the decorator he thought they needed. They probably did.
Cindy didn’t exactly have an impressive knack.
A glance into the kitchen produced a wince at the build-up of dishes. She’d only been gone three days, and Kevin seemed to have used enough dishes for twice that. Obviously he hadn’t worked at the office all weekend, as he too often did. She hadn’t bargained on her marriage being quite this lonely, but then life threw all sorts of stuff at you, and you could either become miserable and depressed or deal with it and choose to be happy anyway. Why would anyone pick any other path?
Upstairs, overnight bag in hand again, she entered their lovely spacious bedroom, with the decorator’s choice of stain As Good As It Got
on the hardwood and the decorator’s choice of Oriental rugs and knickknacks and wrought iron and everything else.
But she had to admit the room was beautiful. Usually. At that moment, their king-sized bed was unmade and strewn with Kevin’s clothes. He couldn’t have tidied up even a bit for her homecoming? Usually he was the neater of the two.
He must have been in a horrible rush this morning. Not like him at all.
Cindy gathered up a pile of shirts and underwear and dumped them into the quaint wicker and canvas hamper, also decorator-chosen. Sometimes she felt like she lived in some other person’s home. Her ideal would have been a rustic cabin in the Rocky Mountains or an ivy-covered stone cottage in the English countryside. Maybe a villa in the south of France, but that part of the world was becoming too chic for someone like her.
Kevin’s clothes cleaned up, she pulled at the sheets—
Neiman Marcus 604 thread count, the price of which had nearly given her a heart attack, but that’s what Kevin grew up with—and the thin cotton blanket and cream-colored quilt, all they needed for summer in Milwaukee.
A lump remained at the foot of the bed after she’d carefully arranged the covers. She frowned and tugged up the various layers again. Still there. Must be one of Kevin’s socks, though she hadn’t noticed any singles during her earlier sweep. Maybe its mate was on the floor?
She sighed and reached underneath, scrabbling around until her fingers touched something too soft and too satiny to be a sock. Dragged out into the muted gray light of a cloudy day, it proved to be underpants. A thong actually.
Black, trimmed with red lace. Not hers.
But how had—
Her brain caught up with her surprise.
She sank onto the bed, staring at the panties, hands starting to shake. Was it all going to happen again? No, no, it couldn’t. There was some other explanation. Like . . .
Like . . .
Like she couldn’t come up with another explanation.
Right now she had some respite through the miracle of denial, but she knew that not too far off the pain and shame would hit—and, since she was a woman, probably guilt too, that once again she hadn’t been enough for him. Then she’d have to go through the anger and depression and bargaining stages again, and it was not going to be fun. At all.
However, during this tiny peephole of sanity she could think rationally. Maybe she should call her friend Marjory.
The last time Kevin did this, Marjory stood by her, though she’d been furious at Cindy for staying in the marriage.
Cindy intended to stay this time too, because she’d sworn in front of God and man and umpteen thousands of intimidat-ing dollars’ worth of guests and flowers and food and rented space that she would, until death. This wasn’t death, though soon it would feel like it.
Of course he’d promised too, to be faithful, but one broken promise didn’t give all-out license to break them all.
Last time, Marjory might have understood on some level and maybe admired her for fighting so hard for her marriage, for enduring those stiff counseling appointments and silent dinners until they’d worked through the worst and were able to move on.
This time Marjory would say Cindy was an idiot for stay-As Good As It Got
ing. And so would her parents—who still refused to be civil to Kevin after he’d done this the first time, when she and Kevin still lived in Boston, and the second time, when they’d moved to Chicago. And so would probably everyone else she knew, except her grandma Louise, who thought you should stand by your man even when he was in the process of aiming a pistol at your head.
Cindy launched the panties onto the bed as if they’d ignited.
What kind of woman left a man’s home where she wasn’t supposed to be in the first place, and didn’t notice she no longer had on underwear? Maybe a woman who didn’t usually wear underwear. Or a woman who wanted to be caught. Or . . .
Wild hope arose. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe Kevin was secretly a cross-dresser, or maybe . . .
No, she didn’t think so. The woman probably went everywhere toting a bag full of sex toys and hot lingerie and just—oops!—left some behind.
And here came the anger, rushing at her like the huge boulder in the Indiana Jones movie, only she had nowhere to run to avoid it. And no Max to comfort her. Always when she was feeling low, she’d lie down, on the floor if the low was really low, and he’d curl up next to her or on her tummy.
Lying with him, feeling warmed and adored and worried over, was about as good as it got. Though it did bother her sometimes that the good-as-it-got in her life came from being prostrate with a dog.
But without Max now and with all this anger, tears would inevitably come. If she gave in, she’d spend the rest of the afternoon sobbing and furious. Then when Kevin came home, she’d be a puffy-eyed, red-nosed mess and all he’d think was how could he have stood her for so long?
So she wouldn’t. Instead . . . she’d practice her tennis, which Kevin wanted her to learn so they could be a cute tennis-playing couple at the country club.
Downstairs, changed into sweats and sneakers, she was inspired to grab a tub of split pea soup—Kevin’s favorite—from the freezer, which his mother had made and stored during her last visit, and plunk it into a big soup pot over low flame to thaw and heat. Kevin would love having his favorite soup for dinner.
An hour later, still breathing hard from the energy required to chase down the driveway after all the balls she missed on rebound from the garage, she came back inside, feeling as if a tennis ball had turned to rock and lodged itself inside her chest. She turned on the oven for frozen bakery breadsticks, ran upstairs to shower, and put on a blue cotton
“skort,” which in her day were called “culottes,” and a white polo top.
Back down, bursting with unpleasantly manic energy, she set the stage on their dining table, using wedding china, candles, crystal, and a slightly bedraggled bunch of peonies thrust into a vase too large for them.
There. All the house needed was Kevin.
Fifteen agonizing minutes later his car turned into the driveway. The rock tennis ball in her chest became lead. She made a false start in one direction, then another, then forced herself to be still several feet from the back door where he would come in, and began humming a tune that had been stuck in her head all day, which she couldn’t place.
She wished she had a capacity for alcohol, because it seemed like now would be a good time to pour herself a stiff one and toss it back defiantly. However, in her case, espeAs Good As It Got
cially on an empty stomach and raw nerves, she’d just unravel and have to be carried to bed.
His key hit the lock. Cindy wasn’t going to open the door for him today. Nor would she throw her arms around him and welcome him home in her usual fashion. Instead, she hummed louder.
“Hey, there, look who’s back.” He smiled, and she hated him for being able to stand there, tall and still boyish in spite of the encroaching gray, smiling at her as if he hadn’t been ejaculating into someone else in their bed that morning, and probably all weekend too. “How was the trip?”
“Very enjoyable.” She enunciated carefully so she wouldn’t blubber and so he wouldn’t notice that she was upset, which was a waste of time because when she was calm and happy she’d never say anything like
His eyes narrowed; his chin jutted like Max sniffing the wind to see which kind was blowing.
An ill one. From him doing no good.
“Your parents well?”
“Yes. They send love.” Which was ludicrous because they’d more likely send anthrax if they could get away with it.
He loosened his tie, handsome as the day they met, alumni weekend at Princeton Day School, when she was a sixteen-year-old student helping out and he was twenty-one coming back to his alma mater. She still got a little thrill looking at him, though obviously these days he had to get his thrills elsewhere.
“Where’s my hug?”
“Your hug.” She couldn’t do it. “I don’t know. Did you lose it?”
Now he was looking nervous, glancing at her as he set 8 Isabel
down his briefcase and plopped on top of it a copy of the day’s
New York Times,
which he’d finish reading that night in bed. “C’mon, Cinds, you must have one for me somewhere.”