Authors: Debra Kay
2013 Debra Kay
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real.
This book is dedicated to the special people who comprise my rainbow. You are a burst of color, even on a dark day. And most of all to my sunshine; I would wither without you. Thank you for your encouragement, especially when I stopped believing in myself. I am forever grateful.
If love is a game, I am a loser.
At least my golden retriever loved me, but if I left the door wide open, she would leave. My dog might come back; sadly, my husband didn’t.
Really, I didn’t always wallow in self-pity, but I had been crushed by his departure, and I just could not shake the sorrow of being alone. The handsome, swarthy handyman I hired to help restore my house was the closest a man had been to my bedroom in over a year. And I admired his strong, dexterous hands as he fiddled with the broken faucet.
While he manipulated the stainless steel nozzle, I leaned against the marble counter, stared at his thick, callused fingers, and fantasized. Almost every man I looked at now had me wondering what his caress might feel like: rough and rugged with a cowboy, skilled to perfection from a masseur, or right on key by a musician. I bet the repair man’s skillful, experienced touch would leave me breathless for more. And when he turned to ask me a question, he jolted me back to reality, exactly where I didn’t want to be.
He looked at me steadily with intense brown eyes. He pointed to the stained glass that filled the entire window over my Jacuzzi tub. “Is that the artwork you want me to remove before you sell the house?” he asked. I nodded, staring at his full, succulent lips, wondering—if I kissed him would he stop me? Or return my advances? Would his kiss be soft and inviting or hard and passionate? After a minute, I realized I was gaping at his perfectly sculpted mouth and muscular chest. Embarrassed, I looked down so he wouldn’t see the yearning in my blue-green eyes.
Meanwhile, he seemed oblivious to my desire and shook his head. “Sorry to tell you this, Ms. Baxter, but if I try to detach that colored glass from the window frame it’s adhered to, it will break. And the art is stunning. I know you want to take it with you when you move, but not shattered.”
I just sighed, defeated. No, I did not want it broken like everything else in my world. “Thank you anyway. And please call me Lila.”
He smiled thoughtfully and apologized for his bad news while gathering his tools. He told me he would let himself out and be back tomorrow to finish the projects. A few minutes later, I stepped into my bedroom and listened to the sound of the front door closing. The sky was growing brighter with sunlight flooding the room between the open silk curtains. I stared at the king-size bed with one monogrammed pillow propped against the mahogany headboard. I plopped down on the disheveled, purple satin sheets and sighed.
Realizing I was alone, I wondered whether it was better to have “loved and lost” than to have never loved at all. I kept asking myself that question this past year because I’d had my heart pulverized and stomped on by the very person around whom my world had orbited. I didn’t just love my husband; he was a part of me. He was my universe, my family, my compass. It’s not that my identity completely hinged on him, but I thought we were a team until he dropped a bomb on my world, crushing my hopes and dreams.
Exactly one year ago, my husband, Peter, and I went to Parents’ Day at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to visit our only child, Jenny. I wanted to make sure she was settled in for her freshman year in college. After a hectic day, we began the thirty-minute drive home to Raleigh. I looked at Peter, smiled, and asked softly, “Can you believe our baby is grown?” Before saying another word, I reached over and gently caressed his arm, only to be met with a slight jerk as he yanked his arm from beneath my touch.
He snarled in a voice I had learned to accept, focusing ahead on the road. “I’m just glad she earned an academic scholarship.” His once-friendly tone had become a distant memory, replaced with a gruffness that had intensified over the years.
I sighed and wished time had not passed so quickly. “She makes me proud. I feel so lucky that I was able to work from home, for our business. I loved being an art teacher before she was born. But I don’t regret quitting that job to help with our family’s needs.”
“Thanks to my hard work, my company grew and prospered,” Peter said brusquely.
“Yes . . . your hard work,” I said, forcing a smile.
“What? You don’t appreciate what I’ve done for you?”
I nodded. “I do.” I sat confused. I managed part of the business, too. I thought we had a partnership, but what did I know?
“Without me, you’d be just another middle-class gal. I gave you the finest. Don’t forget that.”
I shook my head. “My
family had everything. We didn’t need material things. We had love. Lots of it. I tried to make sure Jenny had that same feeling growing up.”
Peter mumbled. “Right. . . .”
Once our discussion about Jenny ended, we sat in silence except for the whistling air. Peter insisted we keep the top to his new Porsche convertible down to enjoy the warm, sunny afternoon. Strands of brown hair slapped at my face. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the long piece of jet-black hair that Peter usually combed across the top of his head flapping in the wind. I saw him struggle to tame the flyaway hair with his left hand; however, it wanted to sail free in the breeze.
At that instant, I noticed something missing: his wedding ring. I gasped. When did he stop wearing it? Instead of asking, I sat quietly, shifting in my seat, staring at my dainty, manicured finger. I twisted the sparkling band, around and around, and then concentrated on the puffy white clouds floating freely in the royal blue sky.
When high-rise buildings appeared in the distance, I knew we were almost home. A few minutes later, Peter pressed the remote, opening the iron gate. Gritting his teeth, he drove without braking along the meandering tree-lined drive leading to our house. And suddenly, it looked more like a haunted hotel in the distance rather than a comfortable home.
Instead of parking in the four-car garage, he pulled into the circular drive in front of the house. Without even turning off the engine, Peter hopped out of the car, yanked open the front door, and raced across the foyer, almost slipping on the shiny, polished marble floors. Once inside, he disappeared upstairs.
I took a crystal glass from the cabinets and poured myself a glass of iced tea. A few minutes later, he waddled into the kitchen. I looked up, bracing myself for a cutting remark.
I smiled. “Wow, you look handsome. Are you going somewhere?”
He stared at me with his vacant, dark eyes. But he didn’t say a word. His stone-cold gaze made me shiver. Finally, he broke the silence by asking, “Do you like this new silk shirt on me?” I looked at his black shirt and noticed that the buttons didn’t pull tightly across his belly. Maybe he finally broke down and bought an XXX-large.
“You look great.” I paused. “Why don’t we go to the club for dinner and let me show you off?”
He stared at me without blinking, and for a second it looked as if his face had become molded in wax. His labored breaths reminded me of our neighbor’s bulldog. After clearing his throat, he said, “I’m going to buy new clothes. You can just keep the old ones. In fact, you can keep everything we’ve accumulated. I don’t want it anymore, and I don’t want you either.”
In a shaking voice, I asked, “What are you saying to me?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I want a divorce. I just feel like I need new stuff and a new life, too.
And since you’ll hear about it soon enough anyway, you might as well hear it from me. I’m moving in with Sabrina, and she’s pregnant with my child.”
I gasped. His words nearly punched the life out of me. I searched my brain.
How do I know that name?
Finally, it occurred to me: Sabrina was our babysitter a few years ago. For crying out loud, she couldn’t be more than twenty-five years old. And to add to the drama, she looked like a younger version of me.
“Sabrina doesn’t argue with me like you do,” he said.
“You just don’t want to hear my opinions.”
“Why should I? You know I’m usually right. Didn’t I make a fortune with
car dealership? You could never have done that yourself,” he said. He didn’t stop there with his hurtful words. They just kept firing at me like a machine gun. “You know, in North Carolina we have to be separated for one year before the divorce is official. I’ll tell you what, you keep the house. It needs a lot of work anyway, and I don’t want to be bothered with it. You know, I have a new baby to concentrate on. So do what you want with the house. In fact, do what you want with all of the stuff. I’m leaving.”
He rushed out the door without looking back. I didn’t even have a chance to fight with him. In a flash, our life together ended. He was gone. I never dreamed my empty nest would include my husband.
If he had died suddenly, I could have grieved his memory. But instead, he left abruptly and I had to go on living, knowing he was playing house with another family right around the corner.
Even a year after his hasty departure, I struggled to deal with my memories of him.
I just want to forget, but how is that possible?
We can’t just take an eraser and wipe the past away. Can we? It’s an imprint that’s forever etched into our brains—whether we like it or not.
After twenty years of marriage and what I thought had been a partnership, I was alone in the stately home we once shared. The only sound was my rapid breathing and the faint hum from the air conditioner. I picked up a crinkled photograph and a tiny matchbox off of the nightstand. My trembling hand nearly knocked over a crystal vase filled with sprigs of lavender.
With the tip of the match, I struck the flint. In the next instant, I lowered my eyes and fixated on the translucent flame while it danced along the wooden matchstick and brought the piercing heat dangerously close to my manicured fingertip.
I rotated my wrist slowly to stall the movement of the rapidly approaching flame. To avoid torching my long tawny hair, I tucked the loose strand behind my ear, away from the fire that waved uncontrollably from the blast of cold air.
In my other shaking hand, I lifted the creased photo and stared one last time at his attractive face.
Quit taunting me with your perfect smile,
I wanted to shout. But my words would have echoed in the silence of our abandoned home. Why did you want to leave me?
How many times had I studied that timeless image of him looking so dashing in his black tuxedo? That special day now only a distant memory, captured always and frozen forever in this photograph.
I squinted my red, swollen eyes so that I could see the outline of his face more clearly. My tears dripped on the photograph, and the drops of moisture distorted and blurred his image. I hesitated for an instant but continued to merge the flame and photo. Meanwhile, I watched with a bitter smile while the burning photograph dissolved into ash. If only it were that easy to delete the painful memories from my traumatized mind.
Burning his picture might seem like an unusual way to celebrate becoming divorced. Today it was official. I was free, no more paper handcuffs.
Oh, the irony that I almost caught my French-manicured fingernails on fire. He always insisted that I keep my nails groomed. Just like he insisted that I keep everything about me and the house perfect. It was all a facade that only fooled me.
It is time finally to peel off these fake nails, remove my mask of thick makeup, and be free.
I played the role of the compliant, devoted wife, and sometimes when one assumes a part, one gets lost in the character
. I need to find myself.
What good did my efforts of perfection do for me? Nothing. Try as I did, he left anyway. And after all those years of dutiful marriage, he discarded me without a thought; like loose strands of hair tossed out a car window, he hurled me into the wind.
And now I wondered, should I stop burning his photographs? Maybe. But that wouldn’t be much fun or provide enough cathartic release. Perhaps burning a few more would be therapeutic. I stumbled while stretching to reach the top shelf of my closet. Although still somewhat nimble, I was not limber like I had been years ago as a competitive gymnast. The muscles of my former athletic self were pliant, but soft, although I would like to think in all the right places.
I reached up to grab the box labeled
on the shelf above my tidy row of dresses. As I grasped the box, a sharp pain ripped across my body, tearing into me like an invisible blade. I winced and just as abruptly as the piercing pain started, it stopped, leaving me gasping for air in its wake. The pain in my abdomen had become familiar, but seemed to be getting worse.
Wild thoughts ran rampant through my brain as I tried to imagine what just happened. Maybe I pulled a muscle this time. Or could it be more? Could heartbreak radiate through the body in the form of true physical pain? Somewhere deep inside me, warning bells were ringing.
An instant later, the box tipped over and fell toward the marble floor. I gasped as a lifetime of mementoes crashed and tumbled to the ground
and then sighed in relief after seeing the box intact. My curiosity drew me toward it, and I felt like those past events were calling out to me. But today, of all days, could I really handle seeing the contents? I should lock the box and spare myself the pain of reliving the past.
Hidden secrets . . . secrets hidden.
What was the harm? Come on, one quick peek. With hesitation, I raised the top of the box and peered inside. S
ifting through it was like stepping back in time. “No way, I forgot about you,” I mumbled, lifting a tiny black bikini from the box. Peter bought this for me on our honeymoon. He thought it was a good idea for me to parade around in two minuscule pieces of fabric. I shoved the bikini back in the box.
At least it doesn’t take up much space.