EXCERPT: From the Heart
“I don’t have enough coffee or middle fingers for today.”
Everything that could possibly go wrong with a day had already gone wrong and the clock had yet to strike eight a.m. I woke up confused and cranky well after my alarm had gone off and when I finally made it outside to leave for work, I was greeted by a flat tire. It only spiraled further down the crapper from there.
Currently, I was back at home, sitting in my car with my head pounding from what was sure to become a migraine. Not to mention, covered in sticky foam courtesy of my hell-bent-on-betrayal espresso machine and some unruly steamed milk. But I had known something was about to go extra-horrid-change-your-life-wrong the second I had approached my driveway and saw my husband’s latest Porsche parked right next to his secretary’s little red Honda. Apparently, my coffee shop’s espresso machine wasn’t the only thing in the mood to stab me in the back this morning.
I pulled in behind the Honda, shut off the engine and slammed out of my car. All I wanted was a shower, some fricking Advil, and maybe a damn nap. It looked like I was going to get a whole lot more than that. I was about to see something horrible. I could feel it.
How do you know when a marriage is over?
Several times over the years, I tried to recall the moment, or even a ballpark time period when my marriage went from happy to…less happy. From shaky to in serious trouble and I could never do it. Tom and I had loved each other once, that was a fact. But somewhere along the line, we grew apart. Hence my big decision to file for divorce. I had decided on February first to file. I didn’t want to taint the holiday season for my sons. Plus, my little sister was getting married on New Year’s Eve and I didn’t want to ruin that either.
A wave of nausea hit me as I approached the porch and the snick of my key in the lock made me flinch, but I persevered and stepped into the foyer anyway. After deciding to head up the back stairs, I tossed my keys on the kitchen island and tried to get mentally prepared for. . . whatever I was about to find.
Choking back bile, I floated up the stairs just like I floated through most of my life—mindlessly. I didn’t want to catch him in the act, yet I couldn’t force myself to turn around and leave. The car in the driveway was my first clue, for today anyway. The knock-off Louis Vuitton bag I spied sitting on the stairs was the second.
I continued down the hall to our bedroom. Tom and I had moved into this house almost twelve years ago. The same year our twin boys started kindergarten and I opened my coffee shop in town. My pregnancy had been a surprise, but Tom had insisted it was meant to be. After we got married, I left college to have the boys and found a job as an educational assistant. Since Tom was in his junior year, he went on to graduate, then worked his way up to owning his own real estate agency right here in Sweetbriar, Oregon. He was ambitious and determined to make a good life for us and he did it. But he developed expensive taste over the years and the more money he made, the more his sweet disposition disappeared. Sadly, he replaced it with a big-ass ego, an air of condescension, and an overabundance of concern about what other people thought of him. Keeping up with the Joneses was not good enough for Tom. He preferred to lord his success over everyone we knew. He wanted to be the only Jones in town.
A finite number of happy family smiles greeted me as I passed the portraits and school pictures lining the hallway. I ended up standing in front of our wedding photo, hung in an inset arch, right next to our bedroom door.
Who was that girl?
Hope shone in her eyes while two baby boys grew in her belly. Tom had worn a rented tuxedo and an adorable, sweet smile that I hadn’t seen in far too many years to count.
“Tom! Tom! Tommy!” a woman moaned. It sounded like his secretary. I kept forgetting her name. Or maybe I had just subconsciously refused to remember it. It had been clear upon meeting her that her goal was to end up right here—beneath my snake-in-the-grass husband.
“Bethany, baby—” he grunted.
Bethany, that’s it.
Through the partially open door, I could hear the rhythmic squeak of the box spring and the slap of his hips against hers.
Cheating on me in my own damn house.
As if in a trance, I pushed the door all the way open to see them, naked, right in the middle of the bed. They faced the mirror over the dresser, too wrapped up in the obscene show they were putting on for themselves to notice they had an audience.
“Tommy. Please. Please. Please,” she begged as she writhed beneath him.
He collapsed forward onto her back, kissed her neck, and said, “I love you, babydoll.”
My stomach twisted into a knot as time stood still. I let out a gasp and suddenly trying to recall the precise day things started to change between us didn’t matter anymore because my marriage was over. February first could eff off. No one cheats on me.
He rose to his knees when he heard me gasp. “Violet, shit.”
We locked eyes for one brief moment until he scrambled for his robe at the foot of the bed and put it on. Almost eighteen years of marriage and all he had to say was “Violet, shit”?
“What are you doing here?” He looked annoyed.
Excuse me? I wasn’t the one banging someone else in our freaking marital bed on my brand-new sheets. “Uh, I live here, and I have a headache.” Maybe I should leave. But I still couldn’t make myself move. My marriage had gone up in flames. Yet, here I stood, allowing myself to feel the burn.
“Another headache? Really?” he scoffed.
“Oops,” Bethany chimed in with a satisfied smirk on her face. She stretched like a cat before rising to her knees next to Tom, not even trying to cover herself. “Maybe I’ll let you two talk for a minute. Do you need to talk to her, honey?” Yuck, baby talk.
“Yes. I do.” He nodded with his eyes darting swiftly between the two of us. Caught between past and present. Wife and mistress.
She kissed his neck and smirked at me when he sucked in a breath. “Don’t forget who you belong to now.” She got up to saunter naked into my bathroom.
Would fire be enough to get skank off my towels?
Despite all my instincts telling me to get the hell out of there, I stood still with my temper simmering beneath the surface. It pushed all other feelings to the back burner, and I was grateful for it.
After a nervous sigh, he finally addressed me. “Violet, have you checked your email today? You always check it first thing in the morning. Don’t let your headaches start affecting how you run your business—”
“What? Email? No. My morning has been a disaster.” Each word he said fueled my anger. Later, I was sure there would be other feelings—humiliation, grief for the loss of the family I had fought so hard to keep, possibly nostalgia, and maybe worry for my boys and our future. But for now, rage worked for me. It kept me on my feet, and I needed to stay upright so I could leave with my dignity intact.
He drove a hand into his hair and let out a huff. “I explained everything in the email. You just saw me with Bethany. We’re in love, Vi. I want a divorce. I thought maybe you could pack your stuff this weekend—"
“Are you crazy? You pack your stuff this weekend. I’m not leaving my house,” I argued.
“We wouldn’t have this house if it weren’t for me. You can’t afford to keep this place on your own. The boys can stay with me until you find your own place.”
I was not about to leave my boys with him and his new girlfriend. I panicked and swiftly changed course. My sons were more important to me than staying in this house. “I guess you got it all figured out. Fine, I’ll leave. But I’m taking the boys with me.”
“Fine, great. You’re right, they should be with you. I’m taking Bethany up the mountain to ski for the weekend—which I also told you about in the email—you can pack up your things, and a few things for the boys while I’m gone.”
“Skiing? I thought you had a real-estate conference in Portland . . .” My face fell. I am so stupid.
He shook his head. “I really didn’t want you to find out like this. . .” The statement hung in the air as if there were nothing else to say.
“Thus, the email of doom. I know we were having problems, but to end it like this? After all these years together? Cheating? A fucking email? You couldn’t have just talked to me and asked for a divorce like a decent person?”
His head dropped, “Vi, I don’t know what to say.”
How about “I’m sorry”?
Morbid curiosity kept me asking questions I didn’t really want the answers to. “How long?”
His eyes darted to the bathroom door. “Physically? A little over six months.”
“Six months.” It had been almost a year since we had been intimate. And two years of marriage counseling that clearly didn’t take. Too much time spent on dinners and discussions and dates with my husband that according to our marriage counselor would put the fire back into our marriage. But really, I had been wasting my time trying to rekindle what had already been a pile of ash.
I looked to the floor with thoughts of STDs and tiny little Toms running around Sweetbriar darting through my mind. “Are there more? I mean, other than Bethany?” The fact that I hadn’t lost my shit yet was astonishing. Either I was stronger than I thought, or it would all come out later.
Earnest eyes met mine and for a brief second, I recognized the man I used to know. “No! Just her. I swear, Vi. It’s only ever been Bethany.”
I studied his face with narrowed eyes. I believed him. But I would make a doctor’s appointment anyway, just in case. I’d been wrong about him before, obviously. After spinning on my heel, I crossed the hallway to the stairs to leave.
Sudden realization halted my progress, and I froze at the top of the stairs with a bitter laugh. All my plans revolved around stupid, freaking February first. My sister Rose was getting married and I had planned to buy her house and move in with my boys. But not yet, dammit!
My bed was tainted now. I could never sleep in it again. This whole house was dirty with betrayal and filled up with lies. The filth would be impossible to scrub away. I couldn’t stay here even if he had agreed to be the one to leave. Tears clouded my vision as I rushed down the stairs, stopping in the kitchen to grab some Advil and a glass of water. My hands shook with frustrated rage as I filled a glass at the sink.
Had she been in my kitchen?
Drank from my glasses?
Eaten off the plates we’d picked out together?
I slammed the glass down to the countertop—onto the lovely grey granite we’d chosen together five years ago when we’d remodeled the kitchen. We were happy five years ago. Weren’t we?
Was anything real?
Why was I so upset?
My heart pounded in my ears as my breath grew shallow. Forget Advil, I needed my migraine prescription and a dark room. But the pills were upstairs in the bathroom, occupied by my husband’s naked secretary.
And my bedroom? Ew.
I had to get out of here. But I had nowhere to go.
I tolerated the little digs about my shop, my body, myself that he dished my way over the last few years. I had done it for my boys, to keep our family together. I put up with it until I couldn’t do it anymore. But this was just too much.
I choked on a sob and swiped my hand under my eyes to catch the tears, wincing as the overhead light caught on my rings. A gold wedding band, the tiny speck of a diamond engagement ring Tom had proposed with, and on top, the three huge diamonds he had insisted I wear when he felt he’d finally made it. I used to enjoy seeing them, sitting pretty on my hand, a little reminder of the family we had created together and how far we had come when no one thought we would last. I extended my hand out to look one last time before slipping them off and placing them on the counter.
I collapsed on one of the bar stools at my island and rested my cheek against the cool granite, just for a minute, to get the pounding in my head to stop before I left. My heart felt light as a feather as it sank inside my body.
I had been planning my exit.
I wanted a divorce.
What was wrong with me?
“Oh, honey. Don’t become a cliché. A sad little scorned woman.” Bethany grinned at me as she swanned down the stairs. Clearly, she thought she had won a great prize in Tom. Sure, he had oodles of money, a nice car, and this huge house in town. He had all the necessary requirements one looks for whilst digging for gold. But she had missed a few pertinent facts. She was destined to become me, and he would find somebody to replace her. The circle of life for cheating assholes.
I ignored her. Nothing I could say would get rid of that smug, smackable look on her face and I wasn’t willing to expend the effort on a catfight. He wasn’t worth it, and I was beginning to wonder if he ever was. I stood and grabbed my purse.
“Bye now,” she said with the bitchy smirk she always gave me whenever I saw her in Tom’s office or my coffee shop.
“Just wait until he cheats on you, dumbass,” I muttered under my breath as I left.
I had some of my headache prescription in my office. I could hide out in there until I decided where to go for the night, or until school let out and I had to tell the boys. Their relationship with their dad was already on shaky ground, this would make the bottom drop out from underneath it.
Without sparing her another look, I found my keys on the table and headed to the front door. If she wanted him, she could have him. How long would it take until he started running her down like he’d been doing to me over the last few years? I almost felt sorry for her, but her motivations had been clear since I had met her, so I was okay with letting her reap what she had oh so carefully sewn.
I slammed the door as I left and immediately regretted it when my head started pounding again. Startled, I looked up when I heard a car pull up to the curb with a squeal, followed by a door slam.
Headed my way with a face like thunder, storming up the front walkway as I drifted down. “Violet, I have to tell you something and this isn’t going to be easy to hear—”
“Not now. I have to get out of here.” I tried to step to the side to go around him, but he blocked my path with his tall, broad frame and angry energy.
His eyes softened as they met mine and I quickly looked away. Sympathy would only make me start crying again. “This is important, it’s about Tom. I don’t know how to tell you this—”
“What? That he’s been cheating on me with Bethany for the last six months?”
He inhaled a sharp breath. “Six months? That long? Shit."
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?” I tapped my foot impatiently.
“Yes. I’ve been one step behind you all morning. I saw them together about an hour ago. Kissing in the parking lot of—”
“It doesn’t even matter. I saw them myself, Jake. Right here in my bed. But—” I looked up, his soft brown eyes gleamed with sympathy and care as I met them with mine. “Thank you. I mean, you’re his best friend. I appreciate that you were going to talk to me and not try to cover for him.”
He snorted. “I don’t give a shit about Tom. You’re my friend. Don’t you know that by now? Tom can go to hell.”
We both jumped as the front door opened. Tom and Bethany stepped out onto the porch, dressed for the workday and bearing Tom’s bags packed for their ski trip. “Moretti! Hey, buddy,” Tom called, sounding like it was just a normal day.
“Hey?” Jake’s face showed his incredulity as he threw his arms out to the side. “That’s it? Are you crazy, doing this so publicly? I saw you kiss her in front of your office. And I wasn’t the only one. Don’t you have any respect for your family?” My jaw dropped. I had yet to contemplate which side our friends would land on when the news got out. I was happy Jake chose mine, he was a good man and the boys had always adored him.
“I sent her an email—”
Jake huffed out a hostile laugh. “An email? Are you fucking serious—"
“I have to go.” I darted around him, trying to ignore their angry words. I hopped in my vehicle and started it but slammed to a stop halfway out of the driveway when I saw Tom attempt to shove Jake off the porch. Jake shook him off and turned around. He strode angrily to my car, tapping on my window when he arrived. I rolled it down then rested my hand on the frame as I turned in my seat.
“I want you to call me if you or the boys need anything. Any time, day or night, you can call me. Do you hear me, Violet?” His anger melted away as he spoke. His smile grew gentle as he studied my face.
“Yes, Jake,” I murmured, still shook from their confrontation on the porch.
His eyebrows knitted with concern. “I mean it. I’m going to call you tonight to check on you and the boys and you’d better answer.”
“Okay, I’ll answer.” I breathed.
He echoed my soft “Okay”, Then covered my hand briefly with his before taking it away. “You drive careful. Is Holly still going to be at the shop when you get there?”
“That’s good, you shouldn’t be alone today. I’ll talk to you tonight—in fact, I’ll swing by and drop off dinner for you and the boys. Will you be here at the house or—?”
“I’ll be here. I have to pack.”
“That bastard. We’ll talk more later.” He pressed the pocket square from his suit jacket into my palm. “Just in case you need it on the way. Bye, sweetheart.”
“Goodbye, Jake.” I managed to say. I watched as he got into his car and drove away. Then I got out of there.
What the hell was that?