“Would you like to sign up for the sock class?” Lydia pressed. “I’m sure you’d enjoy it.”
Again Elise’s spirits lifted at the other woman’s friendliness. “Yes, I think I would.” She opened her purse and removed her checkbook. “How many will be in the class?” she asked as she signed the check.
“I’d like to limit it to six.”
“Has there been a lot of interest?”
“Not yet, but I only put the ad in the window Tuesday morning. You’re the first person to join.”
“The first,” Elise repeated, and for reasons she could only guess at, being first gave her a sense of pleasure.
She decided to buy those flowers for Aurora, after all.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Bethanne Hamlin lamented as she pulled into the driveway of her Capitol Hill home. The house, built in the 1930s before it was deemed unsafe and unfeasible to use brick on top of an earthquake fault, had been her dream home. She’d fallen in love with it the moment she saw it. The short steep driveway ended at the basement garage. Concrete steps led to a small porch, and the front door was rounded, like the door to a fairy-tale cottage, she’d always thought. A gable jutted out from the second-floor master bedroom. The window seat there overlooked the entire neighborhood. Bethanne had often sat in that window and read or daydreamed. It was in this beautiful home that she’d once lived her perfect life. Her fairy-tale life…
She turned off the engine and sat in her five-year-old Plymouth, searching for the resolve and the strength to enter her house with a smile on her face. Taking a deep breath, she slid out of the car, reaching into the backseat for her groceries.
“I’m home,” she called out as she opened the front door, doing her best to sound cheerful.
She felt relief when silence greeted her.
“Andrew? Annie?” She placed the grocery bag on the kitchen countertop, filled the teakettle and set it on the burner. Before the divorce she’d never been much of a tea drinker, but in the last year she’d become practically addicted, drinking two or three pots a day.
“I’m home,” she announced a second time. Again, no response.
After a few minutes, the kettle began to whistle, and she poured the steaming water over Earl Grey tea bags in the ceramic pot that had once belonged to her grandmother. Then she carried it to the breakfast table.
Sitting in the small alcove, she tried to make sense of her life. Tried to make sense of everything that had happened to her and her children over the past two years. Nothing felt right anymore. It was as if the seasons no longer followed each other in proper succession. Or as if the moon had suddenly replaced the sun…She still had trouble understanding what had happened—and why.
It’d all started sixteen months earlier on the morning of Valentine’s Day. The kids were awake and banging around inside their bedrooms, getting ready for school. A little earlier, when she could hear Andrew and Annie squabbling over the bathroom, she’d thrown on her housecoat and started down to the kitchen to make breakfast. Then, as she reached the door, she’d noticed her husband sitting up in bed, knees bent, face in his hands. Bethanne’s first thought was that Grant had the flu. Any other morning, he was already up and dressed for work. He loved his job as a broker for a successful real estate company. He earned enough so that Bethanne could stay home with the children; from the time Andrew was born, and Annie thirteen months later, she’d felt the children should be her career. Grant had supported her decision. He liked having her home, accessible to him and the children, and appreciated the elegant business dinners she frequently prepared for him and his colleagues.
“Grant?” she’d asked, completely unsuspecting of what was to follow.
He’d looked up and Bethanne had read such pain in his eyes that she sat down on the bed and placed her hand on his shoulder. “What is it?” she’d asked gently.
Grant couldn’t seem to speak. He opened his mouth as if to begin, but no words came.
“Mom!” Annie shouted from the bottom of the stairs. “I need you.”
Torn between her husband’s needs and those of her children, Bethanne vacillated, then squeezed Grant’s arm. “I’ll be right back.” Actually it took ten minutes, and both kids had left the house by the time she returned.
Grant’s position was unchanged when she walked into the bedroom, his expression just as bleak.
“Tell me,” she’d whispered urgently, her mind whirling as she wondered what could possibly be wrong. Grant had been to see the doctor for a physical the week before; everything seemed fine, but there’d been the routine tests. Perhaps Dr. Lyman had found something and Grant was only now able to tell her. She sat down next to him again, the mattress dipping slightly under her weight.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Grant had announced in a voice so hoarse that he didn’t sound like himself.
She’d kissed his cheek and felt him stiffen. “Grant, please—tell me what’s wrong.”
He’d started to weep then, huge sobs that shook his whole body. In the twenty years of their marriage, she could only recall a handful of times that her husband had revealed such deep emotion. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he cried.
“Just tell me!”
He gripped her shoulders, his fingers digging painfully into her flesh. “You’re a good woman, Bethanne, but…” He faltered. “But I don’t love you anymore.”
At first she could only assume this was a hoax and she giggled. “What do you mean, you don’t love me anymore? Grant, we’ve been married for twenty years. Of course you love me.”
He closed his eyes as if he couldn’t bear to look at her. “No, I don’t. I’m sorry, so sorry, but I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried. I can’t carry on with this…this charade any longer.”
Bethanne was dumbstruck, staring at Grant. This was the man she’d loved and slept with all these years and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, he’d become a stranger.
“What happened?” she asked uncertainly.
“Please,” he begged, “don’t make me say it.”
“Say what?” At that moment she was more perplexed than angry. Rather than take his words personally, Bethanne immediately went into her problem-solving mode. Whatever was wrong could be fixed, the same way you’d have a broken faucet or a faulty outlet repaired. You just called a plumber or an electrician. Whatever was wrong simply needed the appropriate attention and then everything would go back to working as it always had.
“There’s a reason I don’t love you anymore,” her husband said from between clenched teeth. He tossed aside the comforter and got out of bed. His obvious irritation took her aback.
“Grant, what’s gotten into you?”
He climbed into his pants, hiked them up and closed the zipper. “Are you really this dense, or do I need to spell it out?”
In a matter of seconds he’d gone from tears to tyrant. “Spell out what?” she asked, innocently turning up her hands to receive whatever he had to tell her. She was more shocked by his rudeness than by what he was saying.
He paused, one arm in the sleeve of his shirt. He spoke without looking at her and without emotion. “There’s someone else.”
It hit Bethanne then; she finally understood. “You’re having an…affair?” She went numb and her mouth was instantly dry. Her tongue seemed to swell to twice its normal size, making speech impossible. In no way could this be true. She refused to believe it—Grant would never betray her like this. She’d know if he was cheating. Men had affairs in movies and in books. It was the sort of thing that happened to other women, other marriages, not hers. She’d clung to a surreal sense of denial for those first few minutes as he continued to dress for work.
“When? How?” she managed to stutter.
“We met at the office,” Grant said. “She’s another agent, recently joined the company.” He sighed heavily. “I tried to make it work with you and me, but it’s no good. I didn’t mean for this to happen.” There was a pleading quality in his voice, quickly replaced by anger. “Damn it, Bethanne, don’t make things any more difficult than they already are.” As if he’d planned this for days, he opened the closet door and extracted a suitcase, which he set on the bed.
He answered by opening his dresser drawers and lifting out his clothes. Bethanne winced as she watched him drop a stack of neatly folded undershirts on the bottom of the suitcase. Grant was extremely particular about his T-shirts, which had to be folded just so. He was meticulous about every aspect of his personal appearance and that perfectionism extended beyond his hair and clothes.
“Where…where will you go?” Her head was crowded with questions, and it seemed the most inessential ones rose to the surface first.
“I’m moving in with Tiffany,” he announced.
“Tiffany?” she repeated, and why she should find humor in the midst of the most horrible moment of her life, she would never know. All at once she was laughing. “You’re leaving me for a woman named Tiffany?”
He glared at her as if she were truly demented and just then perhaps she was. “Go,” she said, almost flippantly, dismissing him with a wave of her hand. “I just want you to go.”
As if to prove her point, she’d marched all the way down to the basement and collected a second, even bigger suitcase, which she hauled to their bedroom. As she climbed down and then back up the stairs, she racked her mind, trying to remember if she’d ever met this Tiffany. To the best of her recollection she hadn’t. Grant’s office was filled with women, but she’d never suspected he was capable of such treachery. Although she was panting by the time she’d dragged the large suitcase up two flights of stairs, she didn’t pause for breath, her anger carrying her.
She flopped the empty suitcase carelessly on the bed, and a cloud of dust spread over the white comforter, which she ignored. Then she threw open the closet door, grabbed his suits around the middle and yanked them out, still on their hangers. Unceremoniously, she shoved them into the suitcase.
“Bethanne!” he shouted. “Stop it.”
“No,” she bellowed at the top of her lungs. Then, more quietly, she asked, “How long has this thing with you and Tiffany been going on?” When he didn’t reply, she demanded, “How old is she, anyway?” Once she’d started on this line of questioning, she couldn’t stop. “Is she married, too, or am I the only one being tossed aside?”
Grant refused to meet her gaze.
Again Grant refused to look at her as she packed his suitcases. She’d begun just throwing in his clothes but had quickly reverted to habit—folding, straightening, arranging.
“A month? Two months? How good is she in bed?”