There was Ruby, whom he met on the Sunset lot. And then there was Joy, a friend of Ruby’s. They meant nothing to him and so he saw no real betrayal.
But then, Veronica. And oh my God, Veronica.
Black hair, olive skin, green eyes, a body that set the standard for hourglasses. He’d fallen again, despite every attempt to keep his heart out of it. He fell for her crimson smile and the way she liked to make love in the open air. He fell for her slinky dresses and her sharp wit, for the way she refused to be intimidated by him, the way she made fun of him. He fell for just how famous she was getting, maybe more famous than him, when she starred in a hit domestic thriller called The Porch Swing. Her name was above the marquee in big bold letters and yet still, in the quiet of the night, it was his name she called out.
He could not get enough of Veronica Lowe.
And June knew exactly what was happening.
When Mick didn’t come home until four in the morning, when Mick had a tiny trace of lipstick behind his ear, when Mick stopped kissing her good morning.
Mick started having dinner with Veronica in public places. Sometimes, he stopped coming home altogether.
June had her hair done. She lost weight. She humbled herself to the level of asking her girlfriends for sex tips. She made his favorite roast beef. In the rare moments she held his attention, she tried to subtly remind him of the duty he had to his children.
And still, he could not be torn away.
Mick told himself he was nothing like his own father. His own father who would come home smelling like other women’s perfume, his own father who would leave for weeks at a time, his own father who would smack his mother for asking too many questions.
He told himself he’d done right by marrying June, a woman nothing like his own mother, who would smack his father back. But he was lost in Veronica’s hair, the way it smelled like vanilla. He was lost in her laugh. He was lost in her legs. He was lost.
And then one night, when the boys were ten and eleven months old, Mick came home at four in the morning.
He was drunk but he was unconfused. He bumped into his nightstand pulling out his passport. The lamp crashed onto the floor.
June woke up and saw him there, hair flopping in front of his face, eyes bloodshot, jacket draped over his arm. There was a suitcase in his hand.
“What’s going on?” she said. But she already knew. She knew the way people know they’re about to be robbed, which is to say acutely, right at the last second.
“I’m taking Veronica to Paris,” he said, before he turned and left for the door.
June chased him to the driveway in her sheer nightgown. “You can’t do this!” she screamed. “You said you wouldn’t do this!” She mortified herself, begging for something she never wanted to beg for.
“I can’t be this person!” Mick yelled at her. “Some family man or whatever it is that you thought I was. I’m not! I’ve tried, all right? And I can’t do it!”
“Mick, no,” June said as he shut the car door. “Don’t leave us.”
But that’s exactly what he did. June watched him back up the car. And then she crumpled down onto the driveway, heavy and dead, like an anchor tied to nothing.
Mick drove away, headed to Veronica’s house in the hills, where, he told himself, he could finally get things straight. With Veronica, he would do better.
He was not a good man. Not an honest man. It was how he was born, how he was raised. But a good woman could save him. He’d thought that was June, but he now understood, it was Veronica. She was the answer. His love for her was strong enough to cure him. He’d call his kids once things settled down. Years from now, when they were old enough, they’d understand.
June cried in her driveway for what felt like a lifetime. Cried for herself and her children, cried because of how much of herself she had compromised in order to keep him, cried because it had never been enough to make him stay.
She cried because she was not surprised that he had left, only that it was happening now, in this moment. And not tomorrow or a month from now or ten years from now.
Her mother had been right. He had been too bold a choice, too handsome a man.
Why were all of her mistakes that had been so hidden from her as she was making them so clear to her now?
And then, for one brief second, she gasped and broke down, thinking of the fact that, if he was truly gone, there might never be another man who could touch her the way he did. He took so much with him when he went.
The sun started to rise and June caught her breath. She walked back to the house, determined. She would not be shattered by this. Not in front of her children.
She walked into the kitchen and put two cold spoons on her eyelids, trying to reduce the puffiness. But when she caught a glimpse of herself in the side of the toaster, she looked just as frightful a mess as she’d feared.
June poured herself a glass of orange juice and then popped the top of the vodka she kept in the cabinet and tossed that in, too. She smoothed her hair, tried to summon the dregs of her dignity.
“Where Daddy go?” Nina asked, standing in the doorway.
“Your father doesn’t know how a man’s supposed to act,” June said, walking past her. She grabbed Mick’s albums off the record player and threw them into the trash, his cocksure face staring back up at her.
She poured the rest of the carton of orange juice over it all. “Wash your hands and get ready for breakfast.”
June and her three children ate eggs and toast. She took them all down to the sand. They spent the day in the water. Nina showed June she could sing the alphabet all the way through. Jay and Hudson had both started pulling themselves up. Christina came by around lunchtime with tuna melts and June pulled her aside.
“He left, Mama,” she said. “He’s gone.”
Christina closed her eyes, and shook her head. “He’ll come back, honey,” she said, finally. “And when he does, you’ll have to decide what to do.”
June nodded, relieved. “And if he doesn’t?” she asked. Her voice was small and she could barely stand to hear it.
“Then he doesn’t,” Christina said. “And you have me and your father.”
June caught her breath. She looked at her children. Nina was building a sandcastle. Jay was about to eat a handful of sand. Hudson was sleeping under the umbrella.
I will be more than just this, June thought to herself. I am more than just a woman he left.
But when the lights went out that night, and all of them lay in their separate beds, staring at the ceiling, June knew that she, and Nina, and Jay, and Hudson all had lost something. They were now living with a different-sized hole in each one of their four hearts.
Nina stood in the packed kitchen as the three cooks managed the oversized grill and two fryers. She quietly began what was arguably her most important task at Riva’s. She grabbed a few handfuls of fried clam strips, a bowl of cold shrimp, a bottle of tartar sauce, three slices of cheese, and four rolls. And she began making each one of her siblings what they all called “the Sandwich.”
It was a mess of cold seafood, smooshed between bread. One for each of them, hers with no cheese, Jay’s with extra sauce, Hud’s with no clams, Kit’s with a lemon wedge.
The Sandwich didn’t exist without Nina. When Nina was sick, she still went in and made the Sandwich. When she was out of town on a shoot, no one ate the Sandwich. It would never have occurred to Jay, Hud, or Kit to make the Sandwich themselves, to make the Sandwich for Nina.