I CHUCKED MY CELL PHONE into the seat next to me and adjusted the vents, cranking up the car's air-conditioning to let it blow directly on my heated face. I pulled sharply back into traffic after having pulled over to read Richard's text. How could that man make me so angry with just 140 characters?
I was headed into Glenville to drop the kids off for a short visit. Paige and Jordan were in the back discussing whether or not "poop from the potty went to goldfish heaven," and I was in front, sizzling mad at their father.
His text had read, "Running late. Drop kids at office."
Of course he was running late. Of course he thought I could drop his children at the office instead of his apartment. It didn't matter to him that his office was in the thick of downtown Glenville, where traffic was the worst. Or that the red-haired adulteress sat at the front desk.
I hated going into the Channel Seven building. Every time I'd been there, I swear his coworkers smirked at me and whispered into their phones. His charm had brainwashed them. They seemed to think his antics had been harmless. Just boyish bad behavior. Certainly nothing to get divorced over. I'd heard they even renamed the copy room after that infamous party. It was now known as the Copulator Room.
I gripped the steering wheel more tightly and headed into the city. A dozen more harrowing miles and at last I arrived. I parked in the ramp next to the Channel Seven station and called Richard. He could come out to get his children. I was not going in there.
"Hello, beautiful," Richard purred into the phone.
I swallowed my first response. It tasted as nasty as it would have sounded. "You're not supposed to call me that."
"I know, but you are so beautiful I can't help myself."
"Try. We're divorced now, remember?"
His snicker was humorless, like a serial killer plotting. "How could I forget?" Richard asked. "I think of it every time I make another huge-ass mortgage payment on a house I'm not allowed inside of. And you're not living at."
"Maybe you should have thought of that before you banged the weather girl."
He paused as if he had to think about it. "I've never banged a weather girl."
I took a big breath, wishing I could blow away my memory of him with it. "Anyway, we're here. Come out and get the kids."
"You're here? Fantastic! Bring them in." Genuine enthusiasm sounded in his voice, softening my anger.
"No, you come out and get them."
In spite of our history of hostility, Richard could still be very persuasive. If I gave him an inch, he'd convince me to cook us dinner and massage his feet faster than I could say, "Fuck you, you bastard."
"I'm waiting for a phone call. Can't you please just come in?" He whined, which meant he was lying. Actually I knew he was lying because he was talking.
"Nope. Come and get 'em."
His sigh was prom-queen dramatic. "Oh, fine!"
He came out the door in minutes, a broad smile on his face for Paige and Jordan. My breath caught when I saw him. He was tan, and his blond hair was the lightest I've ever seen it. It made his brown eyes seem even darker, deeper. Those eyes always reminded me of chocolate, another thing I once loved but had given up for my own good.
"Hey, guys! Come on! Give your pop a hug!" He threw his arms out wide.
I helped them out of the car and they ran to him like puppies to a biscuit. My heart twisted. Seeing Richard with our kids could still make me melt. It reminded me of all the reasons I'd fallen for him in the first place. But he was my kryptonite. I needed to get away from there, and fast. I pulled the overnight bags from the SUV and all but threw them in Richard's direction.
"Here's their stuff. Where do you want me to pick them up?"
"How about the Waffle Castle at nine o'clock? We can have breakfast together." His voice sounded hopeful, the idiot.
Saturday mornings at the Waffle Castle had been our family ritual. He was too dense to realize his own insensitivity, his stubborn refusal to admit our lives had drastically changed from what they had once been.
"No, this is your time with them." I felt my lips pursing into a prim spinster-quality line.
Richard leaned forward, whispering. "My therapist says we should have friendly family time together. For the kids."
For a split second I felt remorse. Maybe he wasn't dense. Maybe he wanted to recreate that ritual for the kids.
"Your therapist?" I asked.
"Yeah, well, she's not technically my therapist. Just a friend." He shrugged.
My internal fluttering of optimism turned to churning acidic certainty. He was screwing her.
"I'll pass on breakfast."
Richard shook his head and picked up the kids' bags. "Suit yourself. Come on, kids."
I scrambled to kiss Paige on the cheek, already overwhelmed with the heaviness of missing them. Jordan was out of my reach, clinging to Richard's hand and not giving me a second glance. They were so excited to see their father I had become invisible.
"OK, well, have fun," I called after them. No one turned around.
During the drive to Glenville I had worried my kids would miss me too much this weekend.
Now I was terrified they wouldn't miss me at all.
I climbed back in my car, knowing the obligatory visit to my mother's house came next. That did not make me feel better. I hadn't told her I was coming to town, but some supernatural ability enabled her to discover everything I didn't want her to know. If I didn't stop by for a visit, I'd be in trouble. Just one more thing for her to add to the list of my shortcomings.
She hadn't forgiven me for divorcing Richard, which made no sense to me at all considering she'd divorced my dad with no regrets when I was eleven. Penny and I had come home from a sleepover at my cousin's house to discover he was gone. No note. No phone call. Just my mom saying she'd told him to leave. No one ever came right out and told us there was another woman, but all the signs were there.
He got remarried a year later, and I only saw him a dozen more times before he died. That was almost fifteen years ago. Eventually the constant ache of missing him became background noise I hardly ever noticed, an ever-present hum, but not so loud it was distracting. Unless I listened for it, as I had when there was no one to walk me down the aisle or on the days my kids were born.
Arriving at my mother's house, I knocked lightly on the screen door even though I could see her standing in the kitchen. "Hi, Mom." I stepped inside and automatically wiped my feet on the doormat.
She wore a crisp white tennis outfit, her sleek black hair pulled into a stylish clip at the base of her neck. The ice in her tea clunked when she set down the glass.
"Sadie, what a surprise." There was no move to embrace. Helene Harper considered physical displays of affection vulgar.
"I just dropped off the kids with Richard. I wondered if you wanted to have dinner or lunch tomorrow or something."
"You should have called first. I've got the museum gala tomorrow. I'm the chairwoman, remember?"
"The gala is tomorrow?" I smoothed back an errant strand of my own dark brown hair. People said I looked like her, but other than the coloring I really couldn't see the similarity.
"I don't suppose you would remember if it's not important to you."
First strike, Mommy.
"Who's the speaker this year?" My feigned interest wouldn't make her forgive my oversight, but we had long been entrenched in this game. I leaned against the counter.
"Some historian," she huffed, dismissing his value. "Without Richard's connections, we had a terrible time finding anyone interesting. Don't slouch, Sadie."
I started to straighten, but caught myself and resisted. "Mother, you play golf with the mayor's wife. Surely Richard is not your only connection."
"Did you come here to be sassy with me?" She sipped her tea and pointedly did not offer me any.
"No, of course not. Sorry." I wasn't really, which was patently obvious. "You're booked all weekend, then?"
"Yes. Unless you want to play tennis with me right now. I'm late for my cardio league." She looked at her watch, pushing aside a dozen gold bracelets to find it.
I didn't bother mentioning her backhand might improve if she took off some of that bling.
"Nope. Still not any good at tennis. What's Penny up to today?"
"You'd have to ask her."
This was ridiculous, two grown women not able to say what was really on our minds.
"How long do you plan to be mad at me?" I blurted out. Damn it. Fontaine's big mouth was contagious.
My mother set the glass down so hard tea splashed out. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It seems like you're still mad about Richard."
My mother sighed, deep and long. "I'm not mad at you, Sadie. I simply think you rushed into this divorce. Richard made one mistake and you threw eight years of marriage down the drain. And the children will suffer for it."
Heat started in my gut and spread in every direction. My heart pounded as if a gun were pointed at it. "You think I made this decision lightly? You divorced Dad for cheating and Penny and I turned out fine."
Her cheeks flushed carnation red. "What happened with your father and I has no bearing here. Your situation is completely different."
"How?" I had poked the sleeping bear. I may as well let her go full grizzly.
My mother tugged at her Lycra tennis top, smoothing it over her trim torso. "I don't have time for this, Sadie. I told you, I'm already late for tennis."
She picked up her Coach purse and started digging around for her keys. When she looked back up, her eyes were bright with moisture, and I nearly stepped backward from the surprise of it. I'd never seen my mother close to tears. It was jarring. I was suddenly nine years old, telling her about a shattered crystal vase and wanting with all my heart to somehow fix it.
"You're not really going to spend the entire summer with Dody, are you? The novelty will wear off, you know." Her voice had softened. Hot tears stung my own eyes, though I wasn't sure why.
"It might. And when it does, I'll come back." I brushed imaginary crumbs from her spotless counter. "But for now, we're having fun at the beach."
"Fun?" She flicked her wrist, as if fun were an insect to be shooed away. The almost-tears disappeared. Maybe I'd only imagined them. "Well, I'm late for tennis."
And that was that.
I arrived at Penny's house minutes later. She and her husband lived in a beige brick ranch that looked exactly like every other beige brick ranch on the street. I always had to count mailboxes from the corner to make sure I was at the right place.
"Hey, Sade! I've missed you! Come see my new kitchen."
Penny tugged at my shirt and pulled me inside with an easy smile. The relationship with my sister was opposite of what I had with my mother. It was open, sometimes too open. In fact, she'd told me things about her husband, Jeff, that would make a sex therapist blush.
Penny's newly decorated kitchen was black and white, with red accents. Everywhere I looked there were ladybugs. A ladybug cookie jar, ladybug seat cushions, and ladybug throw rugs.
Perspiration prickled on my skin. "What the hell?"
"Isn't it darling? I was bored without you in town so I redecorated."
I didn't even want to set my purse down.
Penny bubbled with laughter. "Oh my God, I forgot about your ladybug thing. You're such a freak."
"I'm not a freak. But we had, like, a thousand of them in our garage that one year, remember?" I shivered and flipped over her ladybug placemats before sitting down at the table.
"Whatever. Do you want some wine or tea or something?" She pulled glasses from the cupboard.
"I was just at Mom's."
She met my eyes. "Wine it is, then."
She poured a goblet of white for me, then iced tea for herself and sat down.
"You're not having any?"
My little sister shrugged. "Not right now. So are you going crazy in Podunk? Have they put in a traffic light yet?"
I sipped my wine, but only because gulping it would be tacky.
"Yes, last year. Apparently it was cause for a parade." I filled her in on my time at Dody's, even confessing my voyeuristic observations of Running Man. This was the sort of thing she usually loved, but today she was acting weird, toying with the iced-tea glass and all but avoiding eye contact. Finally I could take no more suspense.
"All right. What the hell's up with you? You're a bigger drunk than I am so why no wine?"
Penny flushed a lovely shade of pink and glanced around the kitchen as if CIA operatives were about to pounce.
I looked over my own shoulder, expecting to see Secret Service agents guarding the door. None appeared.
"Jeff and I are trying to get pregnant." Her whisper was hoarse with excitement.
"It's about time!" I thumped my hand on the table, almost upending my drink. "Thank goodness. Paige and Jordan would be teenagers if you took any longer." I'd been pestering my sister for years to reproduce. My kids needed cousins. Plus I wanted her to understand the unique joys of parenthood so I could give back all the great advice she'd given me over the years. Because no one is more qualified to give a new mother advice than a twenty-two-year-old coed with no children of her own.
"Jeff is so excited. He keeps talking about one of his swimmers making captain of the fallopian swim team. And the other day I was ovulating so I sexted him a filthy message about coming home for a conjugal visit. He's all about the baby making. But don't tell Mom, OK?"
"That you're texting filthy messages to your husband?"
"No. That we're trying to get pregnant. I don't need her nagging me."
"But if she knew about you, maybe she'd get off my back about Richard."
Penny pointed at me. "Seriously, do not rat me out on this one. I'll tell people when I'm ready. OK? Jeff's family will drive us crazy if they hear about this, so he wants to keep it quiet too."
"Of course. I get it. I promise to keep your dirty little secret."
Penny smiled again, lifting her glass for a toast. "Thank you. In that case, I won't tell Mom you're fantasizing over some shirtless jogger from the beach. Deal?"
"Good. And since your kids are with Richard for the next two days, you can stay here and help me plan the nursery."
I shook my head. "I still have my own house here, you know. And there are a couple friends I should connect with, but I will certainly help you."
I hadn't heard much from my neighbors over the last few weeks and I had lots of catching up to do. So often socializing plans were hatched while we were all out in our yards - impromptu barbeques, trips to the community pool, things like that. So it wasn't terribly odd none of them had called. But I kind of wished they had.