Working in the kitchen, Rosie mixed up Eddie’s favorite gelatin salad and placed it in the refrigerator to set. For Easter she always served ham but only because that was what Zach preferred. Since she no longer had to accommodate her husband’s likes and dislikes, she’d bought a prime rib roast. It was a small act of defiance, one that made her feel—just a bit—like an independent woman who made her own choices.
She began baking her usual Easter cake.
Her heart wasn’t in it, but she persevered for the sake of her children. With the divorce in progress, they had enough upheaval in their lives without her subjecting them to more changes. The roast was enough of a deviation from tradition for this year, but next Easter they might do something completely different, such as take a trip.
The white bunny-shaped cake was Allison’s favorite. Using two eight-inch round cakes, she artfully cut one layer to form ears with the center section serving as a bow tie. After frosting it, she used thin threads of licorice for the whiskers and brown M&M’s for the eyes. In past years the children had helped her with the decorating.
She missed them, despite finally having the private time she’d always craved, which confused her. She was also worried about Allison and Eddie being influenced by their father’s girlfriend. That wasn’t jealousy, she told herself; it was a reasonable reaction.
By the time Zach dropped the children off at the house, Rosie had worked herself into a nasty temper thinking about her husband and his perfect-in-everyway office assistant. He must’ve been in a hurry to get rid of the kids, because he didn’t stay in the driveway a moment longer than necessary, she noted resentfully, peering through the living-room window. The instant the children were out of the car, he pulled away.
“We’re home,” Eddie called as he came in the front door. He shucked off his backpack and dropped it in the entryway.
Allison followed him, her ears covered by a headset as she listened to her CD player. She seemed to be doing that constantly, and Rosie disapproved. She wanted to know exactly what kind of music Allison was listening to, but she wasn’t up to the challenge of confronting her. She’d finally decided that if Allison needed her CDs, she could have them, at least for the moment.
“Did you have a good time?” Rosie asked, injecting some enthusiasm into her voice.
Eddie shrugged. “We stayed at Dad’s most of the day.”
“What about the Easter Egg Hunt the Rotary Club held?”
“That’s for juveniles,” Allison informed her, removing the headphones long enough to snarl a reply. She flopped down on the sofa in the family room, and Eddie headed for his Game Boy, sprawling on the carpet in front of the television.
Okay, Rosie thought. Apparently they didn’t want to talk to her. Well, that was fine, because she wasn’t in a talkative mood herself.
Allison’s eyes were closed and her head bobbed to the beat of her music, whatever it was. After a minute or so, she lifted the headset again and looked at her mother. “What’s for dinner?”
“Your father didn’t feed you?”
Her daughter looked at her as if that was the stupidest question she’d ever heard. “Dad doesn’t cook.”
“You spent the night with him. Do you mean to say he didn’t provide you with a single meal?” And this was the man who’d criticized her for not making cooked-from-scratch dinners!
“We ate breakfast at McDonald’s.”
“Did he take you out for every meal?” Rosie muttered.
“Not really,” Eddie told her.
Allison didn’t bother to answer.
“Dad said we should eat lots of ham for him tomorrow,” Eddie said, keeping his gaze on the television screen.
“We’re not having ham.”
Allison’s eyes widened and she tore the headset off. “Did you say we aren’t having ham?”
“No, I bought a roast.”
“I hate roast,” she shouted.
“We have ham every Easter!”
Rosie’s heart sank. “I thought we’d have roast this year, instead.”
Allison leaped to her feet and scowled at Rosie. “You did that on purpose!”
“Did what?” Rosie asked, barely hanging on to her own temper.
“You know exactly what you did,” Allison said and ran into her bedroom. The house reverberated with the sound of her door slamming.
Rosie looked to her son for an explanation. Eddie rolled onto his side and stared up at her. “Dad likes ham.”
“But your father won’t be eating with us. I thought we’d have dinner a little differently this year. I didn’t think Allison cared one way or the other.”
“She doesn’t,” Eddie told her, rolling back onto his stomach. Without a pause, he returned to his invader game. “She’s just upset with you and Dad about the divorce.”
Rosie sank onto the sofa.
“We had a big lunch,” Eddie continued. “So we aren’t really hungry for dinner.”
Instantly Rosie’s suspicions were aroused. “Lunch?” she asked, nearly biting her tongue in an effort to keep from asking about Janice Lamond.
“Dad took Allison, Chris and me to an all-you-can-eat pizza place.”
Rosie smiled benignly through her outrage. Chris was Janice Lamond’s son and if he was over at the apartment, it went without saying that his mother had accompanied him.
“I need to go out for a while,” Rosie said, struggling to keep her voice even.
Eddie glanced away from the television screen and asked, “Are you going to buy a ham for Allie?”
“Yes,” she said, although the idea hadn’t occurred to her until Eddie mentioned it. Her destination was Zach’s apartment—so she could give him a piece of her mind. On the way home, she’d stop at the Albertson’s store to pick up a small canned ham in order to appease Allison.
Rosie felt as if she might explode before she reached Zach’s building. Normally she left this sort of unpleasantness in her attorney’s capable hands, but this couldn’t wait for Sharon Castor.
No soldier marched with stronger purpose than Rosie did as she made her way from the parking lot to Zach’s apartment. She braced herself, thinking Janice Lamond might be with him that very moment. She certainly wouldn’t put it past him. The two of them might even be in bed together. The thought sickened her, but she didn’t stop to analyze why.
When Zach opened the door to her fierce pounding, he looked stunned to see her. “Rosie! What are you doing here?”
“We need to talk,” she snapped.
“What’s the matter, Zach, do you have company?”
He moved aside, letting her into the apartment. Rosie stepped in and her stomach twisted with an expected knot of pain. His new place was sparsely furnished, but what there was had come from their home. Her husband had brought this other woman into his apartment to sit on furniture Rosie had shopped for, to use the very dishes she’d purchased and cherished and been forced to release.
“What do you want?” Zach asked, his voice guarded.
“As a personal favor to me,” she said carefully, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t entertain your girlfriend while the children are here—at least until the divorce is final.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Zach glared at her with such ferocity that she barely recognized his face.
“Janice was with you this afternoon.”
“What did you do, drill the children about my activities?” he demanded.
“No, I did not. Eddie said he didn’t want dinner because of all the pizza he ate at lunch with Chris.”
“And your point is?”
“I believe I’ve made that abundantly clear. If I need to bring up this matter with Sharon, then I will.”
“Go for it,” Zach said, a smirk on his face. “Make an even bigger fool of yourself than you already have. Personally, I couldn’t care less.”
Rosie refused to stand there and exchange insults with him, but it wasn’t beneath her to get in one last parting shot as she turned and started for the door. “I’d have to go a long way to top you.”
Zach slammed the door after her and she went back to the parking lot. Climbing into the car, Rosie found that her hands shook so badly she had to calm herself before driving.
Holding the steering wheel tightly, she squeezed her eyes shut in a desperate effort to keep from dissolving into tears.
Maryellen stepped into the A-line skirt and raised it over her hips only to discover she could no longer fasten the button at the waistline. She wasn’t even six months pregnant, and her normal clothes had already stopped fitting. It was all too clear that she needed to buy a few maternity outfits.
“You want the whole town to know, don’t you?” she said to her baby, placing a hand over the slight mound. Her doctor was paying special attention to this pregnancy because of Maryellen’s age. At thirty-five she was older than most of Dr. Abner’s first-time patients.
It wasn’t only her wardrobe that was about to change, but her entire life. She glanced around her home and envisioned what it would be like in a year’s time. Where her bookcase stood now there’d soon be a baby swing or a playpen; she didn’t know which. She’d need to find room in her compact kitchen for a high chair. Her second bedroom, which she now used as an office and craft room, would become the baby’s.
A sense of excitement filled her, unlike anything she’d ever experienced. This was her baby, her very own child. This time she’d do everything right. This time there wasn’t a man standing in the way.
High on enthusiasm, she reached for the phone and dialed her sister’s number. She felt closer to Kelly than she had in years. The weekend getaway had brought them together again, all three of them. How wise her mother had been to arrange it.
“I didn’t get you up, did I?” she asked when her sister answered.
Tyler bellowed in the background. “That’s a joke, right?”
Maryellen smiled. “You doing anything special for lunch?”
“Nothing in particular. What do you have in mind?”
“Can you meet me at the Potbelly Deli?”
Kelly had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mother. Paul and Kelly had waited years for this baby and were determined to make whatever sacrifices were necessary. That option—staying with her baby—wasn’t available to Maryellen. She’d have to find quality day care and wasn’t sure where to even start.
Just before noon, Kelly arrived at the gallery, pushing Tyler in his stroller. At nine months, the little boy sat upright, waving his chubby hands, cooing happily and directing the world from his seat.
“Let’s grab some soup from the deli and eat down by the waterfront,” Kelly suggested. It was a lovely spring day after a week of rain, and the fresh air would do them all good.
“Sounds like a great idea,” Maryellen told her. Practical, too, since it would be easier to amuse Tyler at the park than in a crowded restaurant.