Authors: Brenda Kennedy
Book Two of the FreedomTrilogy
By Brenda Kennedy
John and Doris Kennedy
Copyright 2015 by Brenda Kennedy
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Chapter One: Beautiful Lies
I cup her cheek with my hand and caress hercheek with my thumb. “I understand. Don’t be afraid of me. Emma, Ilove you, I won’t hurt you.”
“I love you,too.”
I kiss her soft lips. I back away so she canget into the car.
We drive the short distance to my house. Emmahas never been here. No one but Molly has ever been here. I openher car door for her and she smiles. We walk hand in hand into thedark house. Once we are inside, I turn on a lamp in the familyroom. “Do you want a drink?”
I walk over to her and bend down to kiss her.When she reaches up to wrap her arms around my neck, I lift her offthe floor and she squeals. She wraps her legs around me, and I kissher harder. When she moans into my mouth, I reach my hands aroundher body and squeeze her butt. My dick turns rock hard when Irealize she is wearing a thong. I moan in her mouth and I can feelher smile. With me still holding onto her, she reaches behind herand I hear the zipper of her dress. I pull away from her mouth andkiss her ear, then her neck. The dress falls from her shouldersexposing her red silk and lace bra.
I raise my head so I can see. “Oh, God, Emma.You are so sexy.” I kiss her again.
Her breathing picks up and she whispers,“Please, make love to me.”
I walk down the dark hallway, still holdingonto her bare butt. She is kissing me and removing my tie andunbuttoning my shirt. I bump into the door and she laughs. Onceinside the bedroom, I bump into the dresser and something falls tothe ground.
“Ouch,” Emma giggles, “and Ithought I was out of practice.”
“Sorry,” I say. “It reallydoes look like I’m out of practice, too.”
I turn on the lamp and we both startle when avoice says, “Are you going to introduce your little friend to yourwife?” I look at the half-naked woman lying across my bed — it’sMolly.
“WHO IN THE HELL LET YOUIN?” I yell.
“Is that anyway to speak toyour wife?”
Emma clears her throat and starts adjustingher dress so she can fasten it. I realize I am still holding ontoher bare butt. While carefully removing my hands, I make sure sheremains covered before I gently lower her to the ground.
“Well, is it?” Molly asks,sitting up slightly on the bed. I look over at her and she iswearing a black bra and panties.
“My wife? Raelynn and Ihaven’t seen you in almost a year! We are two weeks away from beingdivorced!”
“You’re married?” Emmawhispers.
It dawns on me that we have never had thistalk. I have never told her the story of Molly and me. I look overat Emma — she is standing still and staring at me. “No, yes, maybe,no.” I crack my knuckles and say, “Only on paper.”
“In case you’re wondering?That means yes, we are still married, and I have got to say, Alec,I’m a little hurt that you would bring another woman into ourbed.”
“SHUT UP!” I yell at Mollyand I can see Emma jump out of the corner of my eye.
“I… I need to go,” Emmastutters. She begins to walk away fromme.
“Emma, don’t go.” I reachout and grab ahold of her arm.
“Alec, let her go. We havesome lost time to make up for,” Molly says, running her handsthrough her long dark hair.
“I said, SHUTUP!”
I look at Emma and she looks at me and thenat her arm. I realize I am still holding onto her. “I’m sorry,” Isay, as I release my hold.
“I need to go,” Emma says asshe walks past me and out the bedroom door. I look at Molly beforeI go after Emma.
Emma stops only when she reaches thedoor.
She turns to look at me with tears streamingdown her face. “Oh, Baby, don’t cry,” I say, walking closer toher.
I stop in my tracks.
“Yes or no, Alec. Are you oraren’t you?”
“YES OR NO?” She screams thequestion.
“Yes, but Emma, please letme explain.”
“Explain? Let you explain tome that you’re married? I think that is pretty self-explanatory,don’t you? I’m leaving and don’t you dare come afterme.”
“Emma!” I say sternly. “Ifyou think I am going to let you walk out the door and walk home,you have another thing coming. I’ll take you.”
She turns to look at me withsadness in her eyes. “No. I amnotgetting into a car with you!”
“Baby, look. I’m taking youor you are taking my car. It’s your choice, but you are not leavinghere walking.”
“Fine, give me the damnkeys.”
I reach for the keys in the glass bowl on thefoyer table. “Here, and this is not what it looks like.”
“Really? Because it lookslike your wife is in your bed waiting for you to join her,” shesays as she slams the door shut.
I walk out the door and Ican barely see through the tears. I start up his car and quicklypull out of the driveway.I have nointention of waiting and letting him drive me home.He’s married! How could I not have knownthat?
I try to remember past conversations — have Iever asked him if he is married? I remember a conversation I hadwith Raelynn.
“Hi, Raelynn. How was yourThanksgiving?”
“Fine, we put up theChristmas tree at grandpa and grandma’s house.”
“That sounds likefun.”
“It was, but mommy wasn’tthere this year.”
“Oh, did she have to work?”I ask.
“No, I don’t have a mommyanymore.”
I never actually asked him if he was married;I just assumed he wasn’t.
I walk into my dark house and go straightinto my bedroom. Usually I turn the lights on, but not tonight. Thedarkness is consuming me. I follow the muted lights burning fromthe nightlights into my bedroom. I change into Max’s sweats andcrawl into bed. His clothing no longer smells of him. They smellmusty from being in storage. I don’t care, I feel better just beingwrapped in something of his. He is the one man who would never hurtme. I should have known that finding love like that twice in mylifetime was too good to happen. My cell phone chirps to alert methat I have a new message, and then it rings. I reach over and turnit off without looking at the message.
I cry myself to sleep and I dream ofcheaters, liars, and Alec, and then I dream of Max.
“Em, Emma, wakeup.”
I blink a few times andsmile. Max is lying beside me on the bed. He smiles and his clearblue eyes are beautiful. “You’re here?”
“I am, I have missed you,”he says, leaning over to kiss the tip of my nose. He gentlycaresses my earlobe like he always does. I love you somuch.”
“I love you and I havemissed you.”
“I know, Em, I want you toknow that things aren’t always what they seem.”
“What do youmean?”
“Sometimes you have tolisten with your heart and sometimes you just have to justlisten.”
“Max, I don’t understand.” Ilean over and touch Max’s scruffy face.
“Em, just open your heartand you’ll get the answers you’re looking for. Just remember, noone is perfect.”
“I love you and you wereperfect,” I say, trying to put his sweet face tomemory.
“Em, I was not perfect but Ilove you, always and forever?” He smiles.
“Forever and always,” Icorrect.
I wake up to an empty bed.No Max, just a memory: a dream. I lie there and think about Max andAlec. Max would never have hurt me — how could I have been such abad judge of character when it came to Alec? I try to not rememberAlec’s wife lying across his bed wearing that sexy black lingerie.I think of Raelynn and her words come back to me:“No, I don’t have a mommy anymore. I don’t have amommy. I don’t have a mommy.”Her wordsrepeat over and over in my head. Why would she say that? Thedoorbell chimes and I remember I have Alec’s car.Great,I think tomyself.
I storm straight to the door, grab Alec’s carkeys off the table, and throw open the door. “Here’s your damnkeys.”
“Well, and a good morning toyou, too, sunshine.”
“Sorry, Brooke, please comein.”
Brooke walks in, carrying her empty coffeecup. “Haven’t had your coffee yet either, I see.”
“No, I was just starting tomake a pot.”
“I thought Mr. Kung Fu spentthe night.”
“If you thoughtAlecspent the night, whyare you over here so early?” I ask, walking to the coffeepot.
“I wanted to see what allthat yumminess looked like without a shirt on,” she laughs. “Wait aminute, wait just one minute,” she says, walking over to me.“What’s going on?”
I fill the coffee pot up with water andignore her.
“Emma, what did he do toyou?”
“Emma, don’t give me that.You’re wearing Max’s clothes and you cursed when you answered thedoor. Your eyes are swollen and your face is all red and blotchy.Tell me, what did he do to you?”
I slowly turn around, and mynose is already tingling. “Brooke, he didn’t do anything to me,” Isay, walking to sit at the bar to wait for the coffee to get done.“It’s allergies, I was cold, and if I want to say ‘damn’—I can.”
“Emma,” she says, walkingover to sit with me at the bar. “I am your best friend and I knowwhen something is wrong with you.”
“Fine, he’s married,” Iblurt out, not meaning to.
“What? What did yousay?”
“Brooke, it’s true. I sawher with my own two eyes,” I say,wipingthe tears from mycheeks.
“Emma, I don’t know what tosay.” Brooke looks right at me, as if she is trying to read mythoughts.
“Whatcanyou say? What can anyone say?” Istand and walk to the coffee maker.
“Emma, something isn’tadding up. Something isn’t right about this.”
“God, Brooke, she was in hishouse last night. She was there in the flesh, half-naked, lyingacross his bed, and he actually admitted to being married.” I pourmyself a cup of coffee before turning to fill Brooke’s mug. Once Iput the coffee pot back, I return to my seat across fromBrooke.
“Emma, think about this. Ifhe was married, why would he take you to his house? And it musthave been getting pretty serious if you went into hisbedroom.”
“I don’t know, maybe hethought she was out of town.” I take a drink of my coffee andponder her words. It was getting very serious lastnight.
“What are you going to do?”she asks, taking a sip of her coffee.
“What choice do I have? He’smarried, and that goes against everything that I believein.”
We finish off the pot ofcoffee and talk about James’ birthday party coming up next week.It’s a welcome distraction, and it’s hard to believe my little boywill be five on March 8th. We name a few places wherewe can have his party, but I’ll let James decide. I’m certain he’llpick Chuck E. Cheese. I look at the clock and it’s 8:11 am. I alsolook out the window, thinking that Alec should be here any minutenow to get his car. He also owns a truck, but I mostly see him inhis car.
“I hope he comes while I’mhere because I’m going to kill him,” Brooke says, as she walks tothe sink to rinse out her coffee mug.
“Brooke, just kill him afterI leave to get James; I don’t want to be a witness.”
“Ok, whatever you wish. Ihave to go and get the boys ready.”
“The grocery store if youcall that fun,” she says, walking towards the front door. “Love ya,Boo, and call me if you need me to whiphisorherass for you.”
“Forever and always, andthere will be no ass whipping today.”
“I’m available tomorrow,too,” she says, closing the door.
I shower and dress in ahurry. I decide on a simple red and white gingham sundress with awhite sweater. I want to be gone before Alec arrives to get hiscar. I leave his car keys on the small bistro table on the frontporch. I debate on leaving a note, but I have nothing to say tohim. I love you and miss you and I reallywish you weren’t married.Better off to notsay anything.
I drive to Max’s parents’ house to get James.I try to forget about my broken heart, but the vision of thedark-haired beauty is fresh in my mind. Danny and James are outsideplaying football, and Cheryl is on the front porch, watching. Ismile as I see my little boy run across the yard carrying thefootball. “Touchdown!” Danny yells, giving James a high five.
I park the car and get out, smiling at mylittle boy. “Good boy, James. I saw that perfect touchdown youmade.”
“Momma,” he yells, and thenhe runs over to me.
I bend down so I can hug him. “I missed youso, so much.”
“I miss you, most.” Hesmiles.
We walk up to the porch where Cheryl is nowstanding. “How was he?”
“He was an angel, asalways.” Cheryl beams.
We all walk into the house and I can smellCheryl’s famous spice cake. “Oh, you’re baking. It smellsdelicious.” My mouth waters, and I have to swallow.
“It’s almost done. Anotherhour or so, it’ll be ready to eat, if you want tostay.”
“That would be nice, butonly if you are sure.”
“Don’t be silly and we stillneed to talk about James’ birthday party.”
“Come on, James. Let’s getwashed up,” Danny yells from the hallway restroom.
“Coming, granddad.” Jamesskips down the hall and his skipping reminds me ofRaelynn.
“How was your date lastnight, Emma? He sure seems like a nice young man.”
“Thank you, Cheryl. It wasvery nice.”Until his wife showedup. I won’t tell her that part. I’m afraidI’ll start crying and won’t stop. “Do you want to help plan James’birthday party?” I ask, hoping to change thesubject.
“We would love to. Let meget a tablet and a pen.”
While she is gone, I look for my phone and Irealize I left it on the nightstand at home. James runs down thehallway and sits beside me. I ruffle his blond hair. “Are you readyfor your birthday party?” I ask.
“Excuse me?” I ask, lookingdown at him.
Cheryl returns from the other room, and says,“I found a pen and a notebook. Come on, Danny. I don’t want you tomiss it.”
We sit around the table andjust as I had suspected, James wants his party at Chuck E. Cheese.Danny offers to have the party at their house and even have abounce house. Danny tells James he can invite all the kids in hisclass. I am pleasantly surprised that James agrees to have theparty at his grandparents’ house, instead of Chuck E. Cheese. Heloves the game room and the pizza at Chuck E. Cheese.He must love his grandparentsmore.
“Come on, slugger, let’s goplay some baseball while momma and grandma figure out themenu.”
Once Danny and James are outside, I doublecheck with Cheryl to make sure they really want to open up theirbeautiful home to a bunch of five-year-olds, and they do. Wediscuss the menu, drinks, and decorations for the party. This is awelcome distraction from my heartache. After everything is planned,we sit outside on the lanai and have our cake and coffee. Jamestells me about his slumber party with his granddad and grandma. Ismile at his innocent little face. My baby will be five next week.It is hard to believe.
“What theme do you want foryour party this year, James?”
“Ninjas, please, momma, andI want Briley and Braden and Rae to come.”
My hearts skips a beat when I hear Raelynn’sname.
“Is Rae someone he goes toschool with?”
“Raelynn is Alec’ssix-year-old daughter.”
“Oh, we didn’t know he had adaughter. We would love to meet her,” Cheryl says as she takes adrink of her coffee.
“Grandma, she’s a ninja,”James says, as he scoots further back into his seat.
“Oh my, a ninja. Now that issomething.”
I explain that she also takes taekwondo. Ihelp with the cleanup, and then James and I head home. First, westop by the grocery store and get what we need for the week. “Whatwould you like for dinner tonight, James?”
“Tacos sound good,momma.”
“Yes, James. I think itsounds like a good choice for dinner.”
James and I drive home and I am surprised tosee Alec’s car still sitting in the driveway.
“Look, momma, Rae and Alecare here.”
I look at James, who is pointing to the frontporch. I slowly look over to the front porch and Alec is holding asleeping Rea in his arms. He looks exhausted with dark circlesunder his eyes. My stomach turns at the thought of him making loveto his wife all night.
I look over at my son and say, “James, whenwe get in the house, I want you to go straight to yourroom.”
“Do you hear me? I need tospeak with Alec about some adult stuff.”
I get out of the car and grab as many grocerybags as I can from the trunk of my car and walk slowly to theporch. I look at the ground, although I want to look at Alec. Myheart breaks a little just thinking about the talk that is about totranspire.
“Hi, Alec,” James says, alittle too happily.
“Hi, James. Hello, Emma,”Alec says.
“Alec.” That is all I say asI unlock the door. I place the groceries on the table and look atJames.
“I’m going,” he says,walking to his room.
“James, it’s just for a fewminutes and then we’ll fix dinner.”
“Yay, tacos,” he says,excitedly. “Can Raelynn and Alec stay?”
“We’ll see.” I walk to theporch and look at Alec who is standing holding Rae. “I’m surprisedto see you here.”
“We need totalk.”
“Really? About what?” I ask,walking off the porch to get the rest of the groceries.
I look behind me and he is in the house. Icontinue to walk to my car and I soon hear footsteps behind me.When I look back, Alec is running to catch up to me.
“I laid Raelynn down on thecouch — we need to talk.”
“Baby, I’m not leaving hereuntil we talk.”
I open the trunk of my car and he reaches inand grabs the rest of the groceries. My heart breaks a little whenhe called me ‘Baby.’ I have never had a pet name before. Max usedto call me Em, and I thought that was sweet enough. I close thetrunk of the car and stand there.
Alec walks towards the house and looks behindhim, “We’re not talking out here.” He holds the door open and waitsfor me.
I know him well enough to know that if hewants something, he’ll get it. We walk in the house and I look inon Raelynn; she is sound asleep. I also check on James. He issitting on the bed, coloring.
“Are you doing all right?” Iask.
“Just let me put thegroceries away, and I’ll start dinner.”
I walk into the bedroom to get a throwblanket to cover Raelynn up with. As I walk past the kitchen, I seeAlec is putting the groceries away. Once I cover Raelynn up, Ibrush her hair away from her face and just look at her. A tearfalls onto my cheek as I think of how much I will miss her. I bendover and kiss her before going into the kitchen.
Alec is putting the rest of the items awaywhen I get in there. “Leave the hamburger out; we are having tacosfor dinner.”
“Emma, we need to talk, butI need to have your undivided attention. This may take a while forme to say everything I should have already said.”
“I honestly don’t think wehave anything to talk about. I have a son who is hungry and youhave a wife waiting for you to return home with her daughter,” Isay as I walk over to wash my hands.
“Ouch, I deservethat.”
He reaches down and gets a pan out for thehamburger. “Emma, look at me.” I open the pack of hamburger andignore his statement.
“Baby, I said to look atme.”
I turn around and look at the wall behindhim. He slowly walks over to me. “Emma, I said to look at me.”
He is wearing jeans and a blue button up witha gray zip-up hooded sweatshirt. His hair is messy, he is unshaven,and his dark circles under his eyes are even darker than before. Hehas stress lines in the middle of his forehead that I seldom see.He stands in front of me and lifts my chin so I am looking up athim. I am wearing sandals and I curse myself for not wearing heels.I hate when there is so much of a height difference between us. Itmakes me feel inferior to him. I always wear heels when we aretogether, but today, I was with James.
“God, you’re beautiful,” hesays, looking from one eye to the other.
“Emma, do you honestly thinkfor one minute that I could hurt you?”
“Alec, you have a wifeand…”
“Answer me, Emma. Do youhonestly feel in your heart that I would ever hurt you? If you canhonestly answer yes to that, I will walk out that door and neverreturn, I give you my word on that. Do you really believe that Icould ever hurt you?”
I think about what he saysand he has never hurt me before. What did Max say to me in mydream?“Sometimes you have to listen withyour heart and sometimes you just have to just listen.”My heart tells me Alec would never hurt me, but Iknow what I saw. He’s married, for God’s sake.
I look at him and he looks so sad. I have tolook away from him. “No, but you’re married. Alec, and that changeseverything. And that is what hurts.”
“I understand that, andEmma, I never meant to hurt you or to mislead you. We’ll havedinner and then we’ll talk. Maybe then you’ll be able to understandwhere I am coming from.”
“Momma, are the tacos done?”James asks.
Alec backs away and I lookat my hungry boy. “Momma’s cooking now; do you want tohelp?” Andjust like that, my first and main priority in my life comes intoview.
“No, thank you. I want toplay with Raelynn.”
“James, let’s go and see ifRae’s awake.” Alec puts his hand on James’ shoulder and leads himinto the living room.
I watch as they both leave the room. I startcooking the hamburger and get the tomatoes, cheese, and lettucecut. Alec walks into the room; although I don’t see him, I can feelhis presence. As I continue to chop the tomatoes, I say, “I reallydon’t think there is anything you can say that will changeanything.”
“If you still feel that wayafter we talk, then I’ll leave. My life has many gray areas, Emma.What is black and white for others isn’t like that for me. If youcan’t understand that after we talk, you’ll never have to seeRaelynn and me again.”
I can’t say anything and I can’t imagine mylife without either of them. Just the thought of never seeingeither of them again brings tears to my eyes. I hear giggling asJames and Raelynn run down the hallway towards his bedroom. “Wouldyou turn the hamburger over for me?” I ask.
After a dinner of tacos with two gigglingchildren, I am grateful that they are able to lighten my sombermood. Dinner is carefree and light with the kids at the table. Wehave ninja cupcakes and milk for dessert. When Alec looks at hiswatch, I wonder whether he needs to get home to his wife. Thethought of that make me sick to my stomach as I stand up and beginto clear the dishes from the table.
“I’ll be back in a fewminutes,” Alec says, and then he walks out the door.
I continue to clean up the table. I want tolook to see where he is going, but I don’t. James and Raelynn skipdown the hallway towards his bedroom. I wipe off the table and putthe food away before Alec re-enters the house.
“Emma, let’s go for a walk,”Alec says.
I look up and Brooke is standing beside him.“I’ll watch the kids,” Brooke says as she walks down the hallwaytowards James’ bedroom.
He reaches for my hand, and like a fool, Itake it. I always take his hand. We have been a perfect couple formonths and this has been the norm for us. We walk and we holdhands; today is no different. We walk to the beach and he leads meto the empty bench. The sun is low on the horizon and there is achill in the air; I shiver. He wraps his arm around me and asks,“Are you cold?”
“No,” I lie. I don’t wanthim holding me. He’s married and he belongs to someoneelse.
He turns to face me and with a sad smile hesays, “I am married. I should have told you before, but Emma, mymarriage isn’t like everyone else’s.”
I just look at him. I can’t speak, but I wantto. God knows there is plenty I want to say, but the lump in mythroat won’t allow me to speak.
“I met Molly while workingat the hospital. I was doing my internship and she was an R.N. onthe medical/surgical floor. We had an immediate attraction andstarted dating shortly after. She was beautiful, fun, andsmart.”
“Alec, I’m done listening tothis.” I start to stand and he reaches for myhand.
“Emma, wait and listen tothe rest and you’ll understand.”
I sit down, although I want to run.
“We dated and got marriedshortly after. Life was great. After a year, we had Raelynn and mylife was right where I wanted it. A great career, a job, abeautiful wife, and a beautiful daughter.”
“Wait, I’m getting to thegood part. After Rae was born, Molly changed. She became irritable,moody, she would be happy, extremely happy, and then she would below, so sad that she would just cry for no reason. She would callin sick at work, or just not show up at all. It got so bad that Iwould have to hire childcare for Raelynn, even when Molly was home.I couldn’t trust my wife to care for our daughter. Do you have anyidea how that feels?”
I stare at him and shake my head. I hear whathe is saying, but I can’t believe it. He cracks his knuckles beforespeaking again.
“Molly was letting herselfgo, she stopped eating, bathing, caring. I had no idea what waswrong with her, The Molly I loved and knew was gone.” Alec crackshis knuckles before speaking again. “Her long brown shiny hair wasmatted and dirty, her flawless skin was bruised and covered insores, she was so thin, and I remember seeing her hip bones whenshe stood up. I honestly had no idea what was wrong with her. Ithought she was sick. She refused to go to the doctors. I triedeverything to help her. I honestly did.”
He takes a deep breath and wipes a tear fromhis eye before saying. “I was at work doing rounds one day when Igot called into a meeting. I walked into the conference room andwas shocked to see Molly was there with upper management. That iswhen I learned that Molly was caught stealing and takingprescription painkillers from the hospital. It wasn’t a meeting; itwas an intervention.”
“Oh, Alec.” That is all Ican say.
“The hospital pressedcharges. They immediately initiated a drug intervention. Molly hadto do 28 days in a drug rehabilitation and treatment center. Mollywent straight from the hospital to an in-house drug-rehabprogram.”
I look at him and for the first time since wemet, I see tears in his eyes. I hold his hand and offer what littlesupport I can.
“Anyway, to make a longstory short, she signed herself out of the treatment center after afew days and has since upgraded her drug of choice fromprescription drugs to intravenous heroin, cocaine, and even crack.”He looks at me and says, “I swear to you I haven’t seen Molly inalmost a year. She had ran off with some guy last year and Ihaven’t seen her since. I went to a divorce attorney before I metyou and my divorce is going to be final in two weeks.”
“Last night was the firsttime I saw her in ten months. Emma, I swear to you. I had no ideashe was still around. I should have told you my sad and patheticstory from the beginning. But you are so innocent that I didn’twant to taint you with my life.”
I look at him and I can see the pain evidenton his face. He has dark circles under his eyes and stress lines onhis forehead.
“Baby, look at me.” I lookat him and he gives me a sad smile. “I want you to know, I willnever hurt you. Please tell me you know that.”
“I know that. But when shewas on your bed dressed like that and she said she was your wife,what was I supposed to do, to think?”
“Honestly, I would have doneand believed the same thing.”
“Where is she now?” Iask.
“She’s in the hospital. Sheoverdosed last night at the house, after youleft.We got into ahuge fight and she went into the restroom. I later found her on thebathroom floor, unconscious. She still had the needle stuck in herarm. I called her mom and dad and they met us at thehospital.”
“Oh, my God, I had no idea.I am so sorry.”
“The doctor said she’ll befine. As soon as she is well enough, she’ll sign herself outagainst medical advice. This is my guess anyway. This is theroutine and sadly, I don’t see that changing.”
“She’s done thisbefore?”
“Many times. She is insearch of that ultimate high.”
“Ultimate high? What do youmean?”
“It’s the best high of yourlife or you die trying to find it.”
I shiver before saying,“What are you going to do?” I hold his handsin both of mine.The ultimatehigh.I shiver again just thinking aboutit.
“Well, I have work tonight.I’ll take Raelynn to my parents’ house and I’ll check in on Mollythroughout the night on my breaks, assuming she is still there. Ihave a meeting in the morning with my attorney and will see if thischanges anything concerning my divorce.”
“The house is in both ofyour names, correct?”
“No, it’s in my name. I’lloffer her a large sum of money and she’ll be excited to haveit.”
“This is what I think weshould do.”
“I’m listening,” hesays.
“I’ll keep Raelynn while youwork. I can drop her and James off at school on my way to work inthe morning. You go to work and don’t worry about Rae. Call me onmy cell phone after you see your attorney in themorning.”
“Are you sure?” he asks. “Idon’t want to put you out.”
“Alec, I love you. You arenot putting me out; I love Raelynn and I want to help anyway Ican.”
He stands up and pulls me up with him. “God,I love you.” He holds me close to him. We walk home holding hands,and we decide we won’t do anything drastic until after we talktomorrow evening. We need to at least wait to hear what theattorney says.
I walk in to work and thefirst thing I do after getting report is to see if Molly is stilladmitted. I know she should be, but I am not surprised to see thatshe isn’t. I work well with the charge nurse on night shift andtext Emma in the middle of the night to check on things. It is thefirst time she has kept Raelynn, and I just need to make sureeverything is all right. I am more thansurprised when she texts me back in the middle of the night.As I knew it would be, everything is fine.
I meet with the attorney first thing in themorning after I complete my shift. I go over with him that Molly isback and I have no idea for how long or where she is. I still havea court date in two weeks and unless Molly shows up to contest it,everything will be fine. Sadly, I can’t imagine Molly staying soberlong enough to show up for court. The attorney said they will needto attempt to get ahold of Molly to let her know about the courtdate for the divorce. Although they have made many unsuccessfulattempts, they’ll need to try again.
Once I am home and showered, I textEmma.
Alec: Hi, Baby, I’m home.Everything went well with the attorney.
Emma: That’s good. I was beginning toworry.
Alec: I’m sorry. It tooklonger than I thought. I just showered and I’m going to lie downuntil I have to get Rae from school.
Emma: I should have givenyou the house key. You could have slept at myhouse.
Alec: That would be nice,but I would rather sleep there when you are there withme.
Emma: I doubt that we wouldsleep at all.
Alec: I’m sure you’reright.
Emma: I have to go. I have acustomer. Sweet dreams. xoxo
Alec: See you soon, Baby.x
I go to sleep, but I am startled awake by apair of arms wrapped around me. I jump out of bed and see thatMolly is in bed with me.
“Jesus, Molly!” I look downand I am forever grateful I have my boxers on.
“What’s the matter withyou?” she asks. She is covered with a sheet to her chest, but itlooks like she is naked beneath the sheet.
“You! That’s what the matterwith me.”
“This is still our house andour bed, and you are still my husband. Don’t you remember the goodtimes we had?”
“Really, Molly? How longhave you been gone? You think you still have rights to me? And no,I don’t remember the good times.” I pull out a pair of sweat pantsfrom my dresser and quickly put them on along with a teeshirt.
She sits up in bed and the sheet falls to herwaist, exposing her bare breasts. I quickly look away. I grab mywallet, phone, and car keys from the nightstand and walk towardsthe bedroom door.
“You’re leaving? I just gotback.”
“What is it you want? Thehouse, everything in it, the car?”
“Some money would be good,for starters.” I watch her and she starts to scratch her arms; thisis a classic sign of detox. While coming off drugs, drug addictsoften complain of feeling that things are crawling onthem.
“I’m not giving you money tosupport your habit. You need help. If you want help, I’ll helpyou.”
“Screw you and your help.How about that?”
I walk out the house and slam the door shutbehind me. I text Emma and ask her if I can go to her house forawhile. I also tell her about the uninvited guest at my house. Istop by her work to get the house keys from her. Brea is in therewith a Pack ’n Play set up with a sleeping baby in it and Sara isat her desk on the phone. Emma stands as soon as she sees me andsmiles. Her smile is very welcoming.
“Hi,” she smiles.
“Hi, Baby, sorry abouthaving to come over here. I don’t have a key.”
She reaches into her desk drawer and pullsout a single key. “Now you do. I had one made for you thismorning.”
I smile at her, take the key from her, andpull her closer to me. “That is why I love you.”
“Because I give you housekeys?” She giggles.
“Well, that, too. But mostlybecause you are always on top of things. You know what needs donebefore I even know there’s a problem.” I kiss her and I can feelher smile.
“You better go, I still havework to do.”
“Emma, if you want to callit a day, you can go,” Brea says, standing at the coffee maker. “Assoon as Arturo wakes up, we’ll be leaving, too. Maybe you guys canhave lunch together before you pick up the kids.”
“Are you sure? I don’t mindstaying while you both leave.”
Sara hangs up thephone and smiles. “Go on and enjoy the sunshine. Business is slow,and there isn’t any need for allof us tostay. ”
Emma smiles at me and gets her purse fromunder the desk. “Do you have everything?” I ask.
“I do, Alec, and thank you,guys. I’ll see you both tomorrow,” Emma says, wavinggoodbye.
“Thank you and have a goodday,” I say to Brea and Sara. I take Emma’s hand as we walk to hercar.
“So you had company at thehouse, huh?”
“I’m afraid so. I guess Ishould have changed the locks on the doors.”
“Is she planning on stayingthere, Alec?”
“Baby, I have no idea. Shesaid she wanted money and I left. She’ll sell anything of any valuein there that she finds, including Raelynn’sthings.”
“What are you going todo?”
“I’m not sure.” I open hercar door for her and she gets in. “I’ll meet you at home and we cantalk about it,” I say as I close her car door for her.
I follow Emma to her house and use my key toopen the door. I smile when the door opens with the key. “Look atthat, a perfect fit,” I say, holding the door open for Emma to walkthrough.
“Did you think it wouldn’tfit?” She laughs.
“I think I’m just excited tofinally have a house key, that’s all.” I close the door behind usand lock it.
“You do know that you couldhave had a key to my house anytime you wanted it.”
“I have never needed oneuntil now. So this is perfect timing, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Do you wantto sleep while I go and get the kids from school?”
“We need to talk about whatthe attorney said today.”
“Is it bad news?”
“Good, then we can talklater. Go take a nap and I’ll get the kids fromschool.”
“Are you sure you don’tmind? Emma, I don’t want to put you out.”
She gets her car keys and her purse and leansover to kiss me. “I have to get James anyway, so it’s no bother,but I’ll need your school’s car pass to pick her up. They won’trelease her to me without it.”
Florida schools require all car riders tohave a car pass to pick up their children from school. It’s a cartag that hangs from the rearview mirror with the child’s namewritten on it. Florida is the only state that I know of thatrequires this.
“It’s in my car. I’ll walkyou out to get it and thank you so much.”
Chapter Two: Betrayal and Marriage
I pick up James before Raelynn since James’school gets out first. Alec reluctantly agreed to take a nap sincehe has another shift at the hospital tonight. Hoping that Alec canget some sleep, I decide to take the kids to the park before goinghome.
“Hi, Emma. I thought daddywas picking me up from school. Hi, James,” Raelynn says, fasteningher seatbelt.
“Hi, Raelynn,yourdaddy is stillasleep. He worked last night, and he has work again today. Ithought we could go to the park. How’s thatsound?”
“Yay,” both kidsyell.
Once we are home, I make lasagna and a saladfor dinner, while the kids sit at the table to do their homework. Ihear the shower running and I know Alec is up. The kids and I setthe table and make some sweet tea for dinner. I walk into thebedroom to make the bed, and I am surprised to see that Alec hasalready made it.
I hear singing as I walkpast the bathroom door and stop to listen to it. Alec is singingLuke Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night to End.” I stand therelistening until the door opens and Alec is standing there in atowel wrapped around his waist. His hair is wet and mussed andwater droplets are on his chest. I look at his eyes, then look downat his chest, abdomen, and the towel —oh,God, that towel! —and then my eyes slowlytravel up his wet body. He smiles and says, “Is there something youwant, Emma?”
“Um, uh, um, I heardsinging,” I stutter and walk quickly down the hall to the kitchen.I stop only when I get to the sink. I place my hands on the sinkand look out the window. I try to get my breathing under controland lick my dry lips.
The timer on the oven goesoff and I shake my head to try to clear it of Alec’s body,glistening in water, covered only by a towel.Lucky towel, I think tomyself.
“Smells delicious inhere.”
I jump at the sound of Alec’s voice. “I’msorry, Baby,” he says, wrapping his arms around my waist. “I didn’tmean to scare you.”
He smells of spice and musk. I take a deepbreath and rest my head against his chest. He kisses the top of myhead and whispers, “I think I could get used to this.”
Raelynn and James run past the kitchen,yelling, “Yuk, they have cooties.”
I lean forward and turnaround and smile. “They must be talking about you. If you are goingto be staying here, we’ll need to take care ofyourcootieproblem,” I say, trying to hide my smile. Alec is standingthere barefoot, wearing jeans and a tee shirt. His hair is wet andunruly.
“Sorry, Emma, but they said,‘Yuk,theyhavecooties,’ not‘Hehas cooties.”’
“They did, didn’t they? Iguess we’ll just have cooties together.” I lean in and kisshim.
“I like thatplan.”
I remove the lasagna from the oven and set iton the stove. “Salad is already on the table if you want to findour kids and start eating.”
“They are probably hidingunder the beds or something.”
“Probably, just keep yourcooties to yourself.”
“I’ll try and that reallydoes smell delicious.” He smiles and walks to the table. “Come on,kids, dinner’s ready, and don’t forget to wash the nasty lil’ germsfrom your hands first.”
I follow Alec into the dining room and placethe lasagna on the table. “That’s how you get our kids ready fordinner?” I smile.
Raelynn and James both come skipping down thehallway.
“It worked, didn’tit?”
Alec pulls out a chair and lifts James intoit, then he pulls out Raelynn’s chair, and then he pulls out mychair before taking a seat himself. We have salads first and thenthe lasagna. We talk about what the kids did at school today, howAlec’s night went at the hospital, and James’ birthday party onSaturday. When I mention it’ll be at Max’s parents’ house, Alecdoesn’t seem to mind.
“Do you think your parents,brothers, and sister will want to come with theirkids?”
“Do you think that’s a goodidea? Maybe you should check with James’ grandparents first. It maybe a problem for them. You know: Their daughter-in-law moving onwith another guy and his family.”
“I didn’t think about that,but really, I can’t imagine they would mind.”
“I would double check withDanny and Cheryl first, and then I’ll call my family and invitethem. I’m sure they would love to come.”
“It’s gonna be a ninjaparty, huh, momma?”
“It sure is, James, andthere’ll be a jump house there, too. Raelynn, I think you’ll havefun in the jump house.”
“I like jumphouses.”
Once the kitchen is cleanedup, Alec and I bathe the kids and tuck them in bed. James takes thebottom bunk and Rae takes the top bunk. I am surprised that Alecand I have the same bedtime ritualsfor thekids. Bath, brush teeth, prayers and then bedtime.
Once we are sure both kids are asleep, wetalk about Molly showing up at the house and everything theattorney said. I tell him that I would like for him and Rae to staywith us until we figure out what to do. I also confess I don’t likethe thought that Molly can show up at his house whenever shewants.
“I’ll need to go by thehouse and get some clothes for Raelynn and me.”
“She’ll also need some ofher toys and things. I want her to feel at home while she ishere.”
“Emma, you don’t need to doall this. My parents’ house is big enough for us. We can gothere.”
I think about what he says and I wonder aboutthat. We have never made love and I wonder if this will be weird.Will we sleep in the same bed? Will we make love for the first timewith the kids in the next room? What will James think of seeing aman in my bed?
“What are youthinking?”
I take a deep breath as he watches meclosely. I’m not sure how to voice my concerns to him.
“Are you thinking aboutsleeping arrangements for us?”
I nod and swallow, without taking my eyes offhis.
“Emma, if Raelynn and I stayhere, I think you and I need to remain in separate bedrooms.Legally I am still married and I don’t want anything to jeopardizethe divorce. Most importantly, I don’t want to confuse thekids.”
“That’s right, and there isthe problem with the cooties we still need to take care of,” I sayto lighten the conversation.
He pulls me closer to him and I rest my headon his chest. “Do you think bug spray, mouthwash, or something likethat will kill cooties?”
“I don’t know, you’re thedoctor.” I giggle.
“Right, I’ll look for cootiespray at work tonight.”
Alec kisses the top of my head and I snugglecloser to him.
“I’ve been needing a bedroomsuite for the spare room anyway. Maybe we can go shop for one thisweek.”
“I’m off tomorrow andWednesday.”
“We have taekwondo tomorrow,but we can look Wednesday.”
“Sounds good, roomie. Walkme to the door, I have to get going.”
“I hate that you’ll beworking all night.”
“Me too, swing shift used towork for me, but now that I have you, I would rather only workdayshift.” Alec stands and he pulls me up with him. We walk to thedoor with my arms wrapped around his waist.
“Lock up and call 911 if youhave any problems; then call me on my cell phone.”
“Alec, I’m a grown woman andthis isn’t my first time staying home alone.”
“I know, but I want to makesure my family is safe. I love you, and call me if you needme.”
He called us his family and I want to cry. Mynose tingles and I rub it to make it stop. “I will and I love you,too. Be careful and have a great night.”
“I will. Make sure you lockup, Emma.”
I shower before getting the kids up forschool. I decide on a white sweater dress with black heeled boots.I leave my long blond hair down and straight. I am shocked when Iwalk out of the bedroom and Alec is home. He is in the living roomtalking to Raelynn about staying with us for a while. He speaksvery sweetly to her and tells her how much he cares for me andJames. I don’t interrupt, and I stay back and listen to theirconversation. Rae asks will I be her new mom, and I can’t hear whathe says. I clear my throat before walking in the room where theyare.
“There you are.” I smile asI walk over to Raelynn. “I didn’t expect you home so soon,” I say,smiling at Alec.
Alec stands and kisses me. “I rushed homeafter work. I even had time to stop by the house to get some thingsfirst. You look gorgeous.”
“Thank you, I hope you gotthe taekwondo uniforms for tonight?”
“Yep, it’s the first thing Igrabbed.”
I sit down beside Rae and give her a goodmorning hug. “Raelynn, would you and your dad like to stay herewith James and me for awhile?”
“Can I sleep in James’room?”
I look back at Alec and he has a raised brow.I ask Rae, “Do you want to sleep in James’ room?”
“Yep, he’s going to be mybrother.”
“Well, then, yes, you cansleep in his room,” I say and then add, “Raelynn?”
“Raelynn,” Alec says,clearing his throat. “Don’t tell anyone about James being yourbrother, just yet.”
“Ok, daddy. Can I wake up mybrother, now?” she asks, as she stands up and skips out of theroom.
I look at Alec and he looks at me. “What justhappened?” I ask.
“I think Rae just proposedto you for me.”
“Either that, or she justadopted James into your family.”
“I’m good with either ofthose.” Alec stands and walks out of the room.
I stand there and I try to figure out whatjust happened. I decide I better go and get James ready for school.When I walk into James’ bedroom, Alec is standing at his closet.“What do you want to wear today?” Alec asks while looking in thecloset.
James walks over to his closet and Alec pickshim up so he can see his shirts. I stand back and watch as Aleclets my son select his clothing for school. Rae watches.
“Daddy, James should wear aBatman shirt.”
“James, do you have a Batmanshirt?”
“Um… it’s right here.” Jamespicks up the Batman shirt and looks at it.
“You should wear that shirt,James,” Rae says, excitedly.
“Ok, I likeBatman.”
Alec puts James down and removes the shirtfrom the hanger. He slips it over James’ head and smiles. “James,you are definitely cool.”
I walk further into the room and smile. “Thatis very cool, but I think you may need some pants with that to bereally cool.”
James look down at his bare legs and Raescreams, “He’s naked, he’s naked!” before she runs out the bedroom,laughing.
We all laugh. I lift up James’ Batman shirtand look at his Spider-Man underwear and say to Alec, “You go andget her dressed and I’ll finish up in here.”
“We’ll meet you in theliving room when you’re done,” Alec says.
“Ok, and please let her knowhe isn’t naked.” I laugh.
Once James is dressed and he is brushing histeeth, I go and make some oatmeal and toast for breakfast. We alleat together as a family and it feels right. I tell Raelynn thatI’ll pick her up after school, just like I did yesterday. I alsotell Alec; it’ll give him some time to do some running around todayor to get some much-needed sleep.
Alec insists on dropping the kids off atschool since I am picking them both up. I make it into work alittle early and for the first time, I beat Sara and Brea. Breacomes in first, wiping off her shirt with a napkin. “I thoughtbreastfed babies didn’t spit up,” she says.
“They do, but not as much asformula fed, if that makes you feel any better.”
“You mean, this could beworse?”
I walk over to her and see a small wet spoton her black sweater. “Yeah, that’s nothing.”
“You’re here early. Wait?Why are you here early?” She stops and looks at me. Her long redhair is pulled up into a high ponytail.
“No reason, I had some extratime this morning.”
“James didn’t have schooltoday?”
“No, he had school. Alecdropped him off for me.”
“He did?” She beams. “Isn’the a great guy?”
Sara walks in last and also looks surprised,“Am I late?” She is wearing a black pencil skirt with a whiteblouse. Her blond pixie haircut perfectly suits her small petiteface.
“No, I’m early, and don’task.”
“Dr. ‘McDreamy’ took Jamesto school this morning, so she had a little extra time,” Breasays.
“If I were you, I would havestayed in bed with him a little longer this morning. He’s onegood-looking man.” Sara laughs.
“He worked last night andshut up or I’ll go home sick.”
“Ok, ok, sorry. I was justteasing.” Sara looks over at Brea and asks, “What did you call him?Dr. McDreamy?”
“The name suits him.” Breasmiles.
We all laugh and enjoy a cup of coffeetogether before the phones start ringing. Angel stops in aroundlunch time with her wedding photo album. She hands all of us alarge envelope; I am shocked to see several 8x10 pictures of Jamesin his suit and tie. Angel also has pictures of Alec and me andJames, and of me and Alec. Some are poses and some are just takenrandomly of us dancing and eating dinner.
“Angel, thank you. These arebeautiful.”
“Doesn’t James look handsomein them?”Angel asks.
“Yes, he does; he looks sogrown up.”
I look at Angel and smile. “He’s good; he isgetting so big.”
“I feel bad I didn’t getthese to you sooner. Mason and I couldn’t decide what pictures wewanted to order from the wedding, so we ordered themall.”
Brea speaks up and asks,“You guys boughtallof the pictures from your wedding?”
“It wasn’t my idea, but ifyou remember, we missed most of the reception.”
“That’s right, somethingabout Mason wanting to get the honeymoon started,” Sara says as shewalks closer to Angel.
“That’s right, I was luckythat he stayed long enough to cut the cake.” Angel laughs andsniffs, “Who’s wearing Victoria’s Secret, HelloDarling?”
“I am, but I put it on earlythis morning. I’m surprised you can still smell it.” I say,smelling my arm to see if I can smell anything.
“It smells good. I love thatstuff.” Angel grabs her purse and photo album and walks to thedoor.
“Wait.” I hand Angel and theothers invitations. “James has a birthday on Saturday, and he wantsto invite everyone to his party. If you don’t want to come, Iunderstand.”
Angel smiles and says, “And miss my buddy’sbirthday? Count this as my R.S.V.P.”
“Ours, too. Arturo and Iwill also be there.”
“I’ll be there, too,” Sarasays, opening the party invitation. “I always wanted to besurrounded by ninjas,” she jokes, holding up the ninjainvitation.
I text Emma to tell her I am already up, andI’ll get the kids from school. I swing by my house first because Iwant to get some more clothes for Raelynn and me. I slowly walkinto the house not sure what to expect. I call Molly’s name, hopingthat she is not here. The large TV in the family room is gone; I amnot surprised. I walk throughout the house and look for otherthings that are missing. The TV in my bedroom is also missing. Itake some pictures in case my attorney needs them. I already knowthat it was Molly. When she is back in the house, things startcoming up missing.
I pack some more clothes and some extra toysfor Raelynn. I also pack up anything of value that is left in thehouse. Everything else, Molly can have.
On my way to get the kids from school, I callMason’s sister, Madison. She is one of the best Realtors in thearea. I make an appointment to meet with her to put the house upfor sale. I’ll be one step closer to being able to move on.
I get a text from Emma,asking if I can keep James for about an hour. She said she needs tostop by Cheryl and Danny’s before coming home. I stop by and getJames first and then Raelynn from school. A memory returns: Emmaonce told me I can make dinner for her anytime I want. The kids andI go to the store and I get everything I need to make chickenMarsala, including, of course, Marsala wine.This dish sounds fancy, but it takes only 10 minutes ofpreparation and 20 minutes of cooking time. I use Emeril Lagasse’srecipe, which I found on foodnetwork.com. He rates the recipe levelas Easy.We walk through the bakery andRaelynn sees princess cupcakes she wants for dessert. James looksaround for something with ninjas on them and is disappointed whenhe doesn’t see them.
I decide since we arealready at the store, we should get groceries for the week. I haveno idea what Emma shops for, so this will be fun. I push the kidsin the double-seated food cart and walk up and down each aisle. Iknow what Rae and I eat, but I have to ask James what he and Emmaeat. I get the impression from James that he and Emmamostly eat sweetened cardboard, aka junk food,although he calls it good food, not junk food.This surprises me. Emma seems like the kind of person whoenjoys eating pizza but is careful to eat salad with it. I simplycannot imagine Emma with Cheetos dust in the corners of her mouth.I put some of what James wants in the cart.
“James, are you sure mommafeeds you this for breakfast?” I ask, holding up the donuts, PopTarts, and the Toaster Strudel.
“Momma and I likethose.”
We get to the register and I soon realizejust how many snacks we have.
“Rae, did you put extraitems in the cart?”
“No, daddy,” she says, butdoesn’t look at me. She is looking at James.
“James, did you put extraitems in the cart?”
“No, daddy,” he says,looking at Raelynn.
We all bust out laughing as I continue tounload the cart at the register.
“That’ll be $265.87, sir,”the cashier says, smiling.
I cough and clear my throat before gettingthe credit card out of my wallet.
“First time shopping, sir?”she asks.
I look up, smile, and say, “First timeshopping with these two together.” I swipe my credit card and entermy pin number.
“Oh, I understand now. Thankyou and enjoy your snacks.” She smiles while looking at the kids inthe cart.
I also look at them and they are laughing.I’ll have to remember to not bring them shopping together withoutEmma.
We beat Emma home and I make the kids helpcarry the groceries into the house, since they picked most of itout.
“Which one of you guys isgoing to explain to Emma about all the snacks webought?”
“I will, daddy, I’ll tellher you didn’t know what to buy so you bought snacks.” Raegiggles.
“And I’ll tell momma thatyou like snacks.” James also laughs.
“And I’ll tell her that yousaid this is what she feeds you all day, and that Rae snuckgroceries in the cart when I wasn’t looking,” I say, tickling bothkids at the same time.
Emma walks in, smiles, and asks, “What’sgoing on in here?”
The kids and I look up and they both take offrunning. “Hi, Emma; bye, Emma,” Rae says, running pastEmma.
“Hi, momma; bye, momma,”James says, also running past her.
“Hi and bye to both of you,too. What was that about?” She walks over to me to kissme.
I kiss her back before answering. “We went tothe grocery store.” I nod in the direction of the counter where allthe snacks are.
She laughs and walks over to the too-fullcounter. “You bought all this stuff?”
“Well, I paid for it, but Ididn’t put it in the cart.”
“Alec, there must be $300worth of snacks here.”
“Close, it’s $265.87 to beexact,” I say, holding up the receipt.
“Well, I can tell you whatJames picked out.”
“I didn’t realize that youhave such a sweet tooth,” I say, looking at Emma.
“What are you talking about?I like some things, but I am very strict with sweets being in myhouse.”
“You mean that you and Jamesdon’t eat Pop Tarts, donuts, and Toaster Strudels forbreakfast?”
She stops what she is doing and asks, “Isthat what James told you?” She doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Oh,the little booger.” She calls sweetly, “James, could you come here,please?” I almost feel sorry for him.
“Honey, what did you eatthis morning for breakfast?” She asks, kneeling down to look him inthe eye.
“Um, we had oatmeal and abanana.”
“And yesterday, what did wehave yesterday?”
“Why would you tell Alec Ifeed you junk food for breakfast?”
“I didn’t. I said you and Ilike those.”
I think back on what James said and he iscorrect. “I stand corrected; he did say that, Emma.”
“James Maxwell, you are inso much trouble.”
“James, why don’t you go toyour room with Raelynn? Your mom and I will put the junk food, Imean the groceries, away.”
James leaves without saying anything and Ihear Rae and him giggle from the bedroom.
Emma and I stand at thecounter and she starts picking out the goodies that James likes andI start picking out the goodies that Raelynn likes.Some things are favorites of both Raelynn andJames.Once we are done, we bothlaugh.
“Well, it looks like youhave been had by both kids.”
I look at the piles of junk food; the junkfood is almost divided up equally.
“It looks like I’m asucker.”
“Please tell me you did buysomething healthy we can eat?”
“I did, I bought fish,chicken, and some fresh fruits and vegetables.”
“Good, but from now on I’llshop with you.”
We put the rest of the food away and shemakes a junk drawer in the kitchen for all of the junk food. Shealso has to add a junk shelf in the pantry. Once we get dressed, weall drive to taekwondo together.
As soon as we get home from taekwondo, Istart the chicken for dinner. While I cook dinner, Emma sets at thedinner table and helps the kids with their homework. I smile andrealize that I like being here. I haven’t cooked for someone otherthan Rae and me in a long time.
“What are you smilingabout?” Emma asks, as she wraps her arms around mywaist.
I turn around and return her hug. “You, Ilike being here with you and our kids.”
“Me, too. This feels sonormal. I forgot to tell you that Cheryl and Danny think it is awonderful idea that we invite your family to James’ birthdayparty.”
I look at her and she is smiling. “Ok, I’llcall mom later and let them know what time and give them thedirections.”
“I already did. She is alsogoing to let your sister and two brothers know.”
After dinner, baths, and bedtime, I help Emmaclean up the kitchen. She tells me about Angel coming into work andshows me the pictures from Angel and Mason’s wedding. I smile athow happy James and Emma look. I also smile at how happy Ilook.
“I’m going to frame them andput them around the house,” she says, putting the pictures backinto the envelope.
“That’s a goodidea.”
“I think we need to get ourpictures taken with Raelynn. I wish she was in theseones.”
“You mean like a familyportrait?” I ask.
“I did. Do you think it’stoo soon? I’m sorry, maybe that isn’t such a good idea.” She looksup at me with a sad smile. “I don’t want her to feel left outbecause she isn’t in these wedding pictures.”
I touch her cheek softly. “I think that is awonderful idea. We need a picture with all of us in it.”
“Really? You don’t thinkit’s too soon?”
“No, I think now is aperfect time.”
I get a pillow and blanket and help Alec makehis bed on the couch for the night. I kiss him goodnight and go tobed, alone.
When I walk into the bedroom, there is a noteon my bed with Alec’s handwriting on it.
Baby, although I am in thenext room, I feel like I am miles away from you. Sleep well anddream of me. I love you, Alec
The next morning, I kiss Alec goodbye anddrop Raelynn and then James off at school. I left a little earlybecause I didn’t want to take the chance of being late forwork.
I pull into the parking lot at work and I amsurprised to see that I am the only one here. Before I can unlockthe office door, someone calls my name.
I turn around and I am surprised to see Mollystanding near the corner of the office building. She is wearing apair of old jeans and a tee shirt. I look around and I don’t seeanyone else with her. “Yes?” I say, as I slowly walk over toher.
“How does it feel to be ahome wrecker?” she asks, and I think her words areslurred.
“Excuse me?” I ask, becauseI can’t believe what she just said.
“You heard me. I have beenwatching you playing the wife to my husband and the mommy to mylittle girl. How does it feel to know that you destroyed my home,my family?”
“You think I’m the reasonyou and Alec aren’t together?”
“Yes, and don’t believeeverything he says — he’s isn’t the man that you think heis.”
A voice calls from behind me, “Emma, iseverything all right?”
I turn around and see Sara getting out of hercar. I try to smile at her as I say, “It’s fine.”
I turn back around to ask Molly what shemeans by that, but she is walking away. I get a cold chill and walkback to where Sara is standing.
Oh, she doesn’t know that is Alec’s wife.“Just someone asking for directions,” I lie.
We work well into lunch andI get a text from Alec, saying he’ll pick the kids up from school.My mind drifts back to Molly and her chilling words.“Don’t believe everything he says — he isn’t theman that you think he is.”I get anotherchill and run my hands up and down my arms. What did she mean bythat?
I sit at my computer and use Google to searchfor information about Molly Collins. Several articles and somepictures come up on my screen. I click on the first one and itsays, “Nurse arrested for drug abuse.” I look over my shoulder tomake sure Sara and Brea are still at their desk. I read it quicklyand it says she was arrested while stealing drugs at work. Justlike Alec said. I read some more and I see a mug shot of Molly fromwhen she was arrested.
I startle and look up. Sara is standing overme, looking at the computer screen. “Is that Molly? Was Molly thewoman who was outside this morning?”
Brea stands up and walks over to where weare. “Molly, as in Alec’s wife or his ex-wife?”
“Yes, she was outside when Ipulled up this morning,” Sara says, with only concern in hereyes.
Brea looks at the computer screen, and Isuddenly feel ashamed for looking her up.
“Emma, did she threatenyou?” Brea asks.
I click off the screen and turn my chairaround so I can face them. “Do you guys know her, or him for thatmatter?”
Brea sits in the chair across from me andSara sits on the edge of my desk. “I don’t know her at all, but Iknow him through Vincent. They all play golf and racquetballtogether. What did she say to you this morning?” Brea asks.
I look at both of them and I don’t want totell them what she said. What if he isn’t the person I think heis?
“Emma,” Sara says, softly.“I don’t know her either, but from what Donovan says, she isn’t avery nice person. If she continues to show up here or if she isharassing you, you need to call the police.”
“She isn’t harassing me;this is the first time she has confronted me,” I say,honestly.
Brea looks outside and stares across thestreet. “Is that her?”
I stand up and we all walk to the window tolook where Brea is looking. Sara doesn’t say anything, I think Sarais waiting for me to speak. “It looks like her, but what is shedoing?”
A car drives off, and Molly puts something inher pocket.
“Buying drugs is my guess,”Brea says, seriously. “I knew she was in some trouble for drugabuse awhile ago, but I didn’t know she was stillaround.”
“She showed up a few daysago at Alec’s house,” I admit. “She called me a home wrecker, toldme that Alec isn’t the man I think he is, and said that I shouldn’ttrust him.” I continue to watch outside as she disappears behindthe building.
“Listen to me,” Brea says,turning me to face her. “If you are questioning what she said toyou, you need to talk to Alec. He’s the only person who can answeryour questions. I personally wouldn’t believe anything shesaid.”
Sara looks at me and says, “Emma, go home andtalk to him. If you have any questions, he is the only one who cangive you the answers you deserve.”
I nod and my nose begins to tingle. “You’reright, I’ll ask him tonight after dinner.” Just the thought of himbeing anything but honest with me turns my stomach. I look out thewindow again, and I see Molly stumble across the parking lot. “Doyou think people are really dealing drugs across the street fromus?”
Brea and Sara both look out the window, “Ihate to say it, but it sure looks like it,” Sara says, walking backto her desk.
“I’ll call the policedepartment to see if they can monitor the area. We need to put astop to it before it gets out of hand,” Brea says, picking up theoffice phone.
I text Alec and tell him I’ll pick the kidsup from school. When we get home, the house is clean and theblankets Alec used to sleep on the couch are folded and put away.Music is coming from the kitchen, and the house smellsdelicious.
“Yay, daddy’s makingspaghetti,” Raelynn says, skipping through the house, carrying herbook bag.
James and I both inhale deeply. “Smells good,huh, James?”
“Go put your book bag inyour room and wash your hands. I’ll see how long before dinner’sready.”
“Hi, Alec,” James says,walking past the kitchen to get to his bedroom.
“Hi, James, how was schooltoday?”
“It was good, thankyou.”
I walk into the kitchen and Alec is bendingdown to kiss Rae. He is dressed in a pair of jeans and a plainbrown tee shirt. Behind him on the stove are two very large potswith steam coming from them. He stands and looks at me and a smileautomatically forms on his lips.
“Put your book bag up andwash your hands, Rae. Dinner will be done very soon,” he says,never taking his eyes off mine. He saunters over to me and kissesme sweetly. “How was your day today?”
I kiss him back because I can’t help it. Heis so sweet and sexy. “Interesting,” I say, honestly. “How was yourday?”
“I had a good day. I cleanedthe house and made dinner for my favorite family.”
“It smells delicious.Pasta?”
“It’s homemade marinarasauce; I hope you like it.” He stirs the pot of sauce and lets melick the sauce from the wooden spoon.
“Oh, Alec, this isdelicious.”
“Good, it’s almost ready. Ihope you’re hungry.”
“I’m starving; let me getwashed up and then I’ll set the table.”
“Just get washed up, and thekids and I will set the table.”
We have dinner together and share the eventsof the day. Alec is quiet and listens to the kids tell theirstory.
“What did you do today,daddy?” Rae asks.
“I actually went to thehouse today and got the rest of our clothes, some personal items,and your toys.”
I didn’t notice any other toys in James’room. Rae must have put everything away. My stomach turns justthinking about the conversation Alec and I will have thisevening.
“Emma, are you all right?”Alec asks.
“I’m fine, sorry. Just alittle preoccupied, I guess.”
Once the bedtime ritual is completed, Alecand I sit outside on the lanai. I have hot tea and he has a beer.He moves his head side to side and massages his shoulders.
“We were supposed to go lookat bedroom suites this evening. I forgot all about it, I’msorry.”
“That’s ok, you seemed tohave something on your mind. Do you want to talk aboutit?”
I take a deep breath and say, “I had avisitor at work today.”
He leans up and rests his elbows on hisknees. “Do I know who it was?”
“Molly was outside theinsurance company this morning when I pulled up.”
“Emma, did she hurt you?”Alec leans further up in his chair and cracks hisknuckles.
“No, she didn’t hurtme.”
“What did she want?” heasks, searching my eyes for the truth.
I just look at him. I don’t know what to sayto him.
“Emma, what did shesay?”
My nose tingles and I close my eyes. “Shetold me that I’m a home wrecker and that I’m the reason you twoaren’t together.”
Alec scoots closer to me and holds my hand.“Emma, you know that’s not the truth. You have nothing to do withus not being together.”
“She also told menot to believe everything you say and that you’renot the man that I think you are.”
He leans back in his chair and downs the restof his beer. “What did you say about that?”
I can see the hurt in his eyes. “Sara showedup, and when I turned back around Molly was walkingaway.”
Alec leans up in his chair and takes both ofmy hands in his. “Emma, I need to know. What do you think aboutwhat she said?” he says, stroking my hands.
“Alec, I don’t know. Ididn’t even know you were married until last week. Now I’m beingaccused of breaking up your marriage and she tells me you’re notwho I think you are.” A stray tear slides down my cheek. “Why wouldshe say something like that to me?”
“I don’t know. I told youthat up until last week, I thought she was dead. I honestlybelieved that. Because I am a doctor, Molly felt that I should havebeen able to help her. I wish I could have helped her. Emma, Iwanted to help her and God knows I tried to help her. But it wasuseless. You can’t help someone who won’t helpthemselves.”
“I’m sorry. I think she wasbuying drugs across the street from the office,” I say, and anotherstray tear slides down my cheek.
“She probably was. I didn’ttell you, but when I was at the house yesterday, some things weremissing.”
“Things? What kind ofthings?”
“Both of the televisionswere gone. I took everything I could yesterday and I went backtoday to get the rest of my and Rae’s things.” He cracks hisknuckles and adds, “Molly can have everything else that’s left inthe house. I just wanted to get everything that Rae owned out ofthere. I don’t want her affected by her mother’sactions.”
I stand up and walk over to him. “I’m sorry,I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like for you and Raelynn.”He takes my hand and I sit on his lap.
“God, Baby, please justalways listen to your heart. I will never lie to you. Please tellme you know that.”
“I do, and I am sosorry.”
“I also met with Mason’ssister today. Madison is a Realtor, and she is going to sell thehouse. I also went to see Molly’s parents today. I told themwhatever was left in the house Molly can have. They said theyhaven’t seen her, but they are going over tomorrow with a U-Haul toclear the house out.”
“Alec, there isn’t anythingin there you want?”
“I have everything I want:my daughter.”
I change for bed, putting on a pair of blackyoga pants and a white tank top. I help Alec put the sheets andblankets on the couch for him to sleep on. Once it is made up, Ilie down with him. He scoots back as far as he can and I snuggle upwith him. “Emma, promise me, if Molly tries to talk to you, you’llwalk away. Baby, she is nothing but trouble and I don’t want youanywhere near her.”
“I will, so don’t worryabout me. I can take care of myself.”
I take the kids to school before heading towork. Emma and I decided tonight we’ll take the kids out for dinnerand shop for a bedroom suite for her spare room. She slept allnight on the couch with me, and I know she also woke up with acramped neck. Around 1:00 pm we get a call they are bringing in afemale who overdosed on heroin. She has coded once during transportand her vitals are dangerously low. I say a silent prayer that itisn’t Molly, although I expect it will be. When they bring her in,I am relieved to see it isn’t Molly, but my heart breaks for thedeceased woman’s family. She coded again during transport and waspronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. After shecoded, even C.P.R. wasn’t enough to save her.
I walk into the waiting area and severalfamily members are huddled together, crying. I clear my throat andthey walk towards me with tear-stained cheeks. The petite,dark-haired woman is holding onto a man. Two other girls and a boy,all in their late teens, are standing nearby.
“Are you the family ofElizabeth Edwards?”
“I’m her father, this is hermother, and these are Lizzy’s brother and two sisters. How isLizzy? Can we see her?”
“I’m sorry to have to tellyou…”
“No, God, please, no. Not mylittle girl.” The woman cries.
I try to swallow the lump in my throat beforespeaking again. I hate this part of my job. There is nothing worsethan to have to tell someone that their loved one didn’t makeit.
“I’m sorry. We dideverything we could for her.”
The man tries to comfort his wife andchildren as he attempts to hold himself together. “Can we see her?”he asks in a cracked voice.
“Of course. Just give us afew minutes and I’ll send someone out to get you.”
“Thank you.” Tears slidedown his cheek as he turns to sit with his family.
I walk back into the room and tell the nursesthat as soon as they are done, the family would like to see her. Ilook at the deceased patient and see that she has needle tracksrunning up and down the length of both of her arms. “Please, if youcan, make sure her arms are covered up. They don’t need to seethose.”
A nurse looks at me and follows my eyes tothe patient’s arms. “Ok, Doctor, we’ll take care of it.”
Florida has a terrible drug problem withillegal and prescription drugs. Because Florida is so close tointernational waters, Florida highways and the Interstate HighwaySystem prove to be a great source to transport drugs from othercountries into the United States.
I do some charting and watch as the familywalks into the exam room. I hear loud crying, and I give them sometime alone. When the crying calms, I walk into the room and offerthem water, coffee, and soda. The mother walks over to me, hugs me,and thanks me for everything I did for her Lizzy. They watch asElizabeth’s dad holds her hand and the children sob as they mournthe death of their older sister. They begin to share stories ofElizabeth in happier times. I learn that she was a cheerleader inhigh school and an A/B honor student. The kids tell stories abouthow their older sister would watch them and play games and readstories to them.
A teenage girl who was Elizabeth’s sistersays, “I remember when Elizabeth invented Monster Spray. When wewere young, we were afraid of monsters in the dark, so Elizabethsprayed Monster Spray in the bedroom to keep the monsters away fromus. When we were older, we learned that Monster Spray is plainwater in a Windex spray bottle. Elizabeth made a Monster Spraylabel to cover up the Windex label.”
I think: Apparently, almost anyone can starttaking illegal drugs. As comedian Bill Hicks has said, all it takesis the wrong boyfriend or girlfriend, the wrong friends, and/or thewrong bar.
The nurse wheels in a cart with fresh fruit,snacks, juice, and coffee on it. I stand with the nurse and tellthem to take all the time they need. I also tell them that if theyneed anything, ask. I nod and make eye contact with everyone beforeleaving.
I give a very somber report to the oncomingshift before I shower and change before going home. I call Emma onmy way home and tell her about my day. Some days you just need todebrief and some days you don’t.
I pull up at Emma’s; she is waiting for me onthe front porch. She is wearing a yellow sundress and black heels.She smiles when she sees me — it is just what I needed. James andRaelynn come running off the porch with their arms open for me. Ikneel down and hug them both as tight as I can without hurtingthem. I stand and carry them both up the stairs and kiss Emma. Raeand James giggle, kick, and start screaming something aboutcooties. I lower them to the ground and they take off running inthe house.
“Did you bring cooties homeagain, Doctor?” She smiles.
“I guess Idid.”
“I’m sorry about yourday.”
“Thank you. I’m just glad tobe home.”
“You look beat. Do you wantme to cook and we can shop for a bed some othertime?”
“No, I’m fine with shopping.I don’t think my neck can take another week on that couch ofyours,” I say, moving my head side to side.
“Would a massage help?” Shesmiles.
“Is that anoffer?”
“Now that I think of it,maybe I can keep sleeping on your couch.” I laugh.
The kids, Emma, and I go to dinner at Yoder’sRestaurant in the Amish Village in Sarasota. It’s small and quaintwith delicious food. We all have the baked chicken, mashedpotatoes, noodles, and their homemade bread with apple butter.Mason’s mom and dad walks in and I introduce them to Emma andJames; they already know Raelynn. Mason and I share the same socialcircle.
When the food comes out, I am quicklyreminded about the large portions that make up their meals. No onewas able to finish our meals, so we got the rest to take home withus. Sometimes I think that one serving of Yoder’s sweet-potatofries weighs three pounds.
Once I settle up the check, we go to BearsFurniture, which is also in Sarasota. Emma and I decide on amasculine mahogany queen-size bed, dresser, chest of drawers, andtwo night stands.
She stands at the register with her creditcard in hand. “Emma, what are you doing?”
“Alec, I’m paying for thebedroom suite. It’s my house, and I have needed it for a longtime.”
“Emma, put your credit cardaway.”
Emma looks at the salesclerk and hands himher credit card. I clear my throat and shake my head at thesalesman. He hands Emma back her card, then takes mine.
I sign the receipt and put arush on the delivery. Next we go and pick out bedding and curtainsfor the bedroom. Emma and Raelynn decide on pink and lavendercircleswhile James decides on ninjas and Ipretend to agree with him. Actually, I like a black sheetset.We leave the store empty handed sincewe can’t decide on one set we all like.
At home, we help the kids with theirhomework, baths, and bedtime prayers. Emma and I talk about my dayat work and the death of the young girl who overdosed. I admit toher I was afraid it was Molly they were bringing in when we got thecall. I explain to Emma that Raelynn and I never talk about Molly.I try hard to avoid all conversations about Molly when Rae isaround. Rae knows her mother was “sick” and that is all she knows.I explain to Emma that I don’t love Molly, but I don’t want herdead either.
“Do you remember that I toldyou I saw Molly buying drugs across the street yesterday?” Sheholds my hand.
“Yes, I remember. Was shethere again today?”
“No, Brea called the policedepartment and asked if they could start patrolling the area moreoften, and they did.”
“That’s good. I didn’trealize that was a traffic area for drugs,” I say sadly.
“If I didn’t see Molly, Inever would have known what was going on. It’s sad to think thatdrug abuse happens so close to home,” she says.
“I see it pretty often atwork but you… you are so innocent. You have probably never beenaround it, or seen it.” I tuck a strand of her hair behind her earand caress her cheek.
“I don’t think I’m thatinnocent, but I have never been exposed to drugs before. I was veryblessed. I met Max in high school, and he was such a good person. Ireally hung out only with him.”
“See, you arevery innocent.” I smile and she leans intome.
Chapter Three: Facing the Truth
Raelynn and I go to Max’s mom and dad’s houseand start to set up for James’ birthday party while Alec takesJames out to pick up his cake and some balloons for the party. Icalled and asked Alec’s mom and dad to come to the party earlybecause I want them to meet Cheryl and Danny before everyonearrives. It is very important that John and Doris understand myrelationship with Danny and Cheryl. I love them, and they willalways be my family — no matter what.
John and Doris pull up, and Raelynn runs tothe car to meet them. Danny and Cheryl remain on the front porchwhile I walk to the car to greet them. I hug them both and Raetakes John’s hand and walks him to the porch. I introduce everyoneand watch as they make pleasantries. John tells them he and Dorisare very sorry to hear of their son’s passing.
“Thank you, we appreciatethat. He was a wonderful son, husband, and father,” Cheryl sayssadly.
“I assume the gold starbanner in your flower bed is for Max,” John says.
“You must be a military man,for you to know that.” Danny smiles.
“I served four years in theAir Force,” John says proudly.
Cheryl asks, “Doris, would you like to seethe flower garden? It’s a tribute to our son, Max.”
“Yes, I would love to. Thankyou.”
“I have a feeling they aregoing to start talking about the military,” Cheryl laughs as shewalks off the porch with Doris behind her.
John and Danny get a beer and sit outside inthe shade while Raelynn and I fill the rest of the party favorbags. I am happy to see that Danny and Cheryl have accepted Alec’sparents. I love Alec, and I will always love Danny and Cheryl. Theyhave shared the worst time of my life, and I will always be a partof their family. Even if Max is gone and I remarry, they willalways be my family.
The party is an exercise incontrolled chaos. Alec’s sister and both of his brothers came withtheir families. Brea, Sara, and Angel also came, along with somekids from James’ school and taekwondo. Brooke, Brice, and the boysare also here.Good thing we had it here.My house is too small for all these people.Some of the kids are in the jump house, and some are stilleating pizza. I am surprised to see how well everyone is minglingand fitting in. At one time, Cheryl threw lots of parties and sheeven had a party-planning business. But after Max’s death, sadnessconsumed her. She stopped working and stopped hosting parties.Today she is laughing and smiling. People are complimenting her onher home and artistic talents. I can see the old Cheryl begin tocome back to life.
I sit back and smile.
“This is some party,” Alecsays, kissing the shell of my ear.
“It sure is. Did you happento notice how well everyone is getting along?”
“I did. It looks like mydad, your dad, and Max’s dad are getting along verywell.”
I laugh, “That is a lot of dads.”
“I’m sorry, Emma, butsomeone is at the door for you,” Cheryl says, passing by to fillthe punchbowl up with more juice.
“It must be someone’smother. I’ll be just a minute.”
“Ok, I’ll monitor the jumphouse. Is there a weight limit or a capacity limit onthat?”
“I’m sure there is, but thekids shouldn’t exceed that,” I say, walking away.
“It’s not the kids I’mworried about; my brothers and Brice are in there.”
“As long as they don’t bustit, we are in good shape.”
I get to the front porch and a woman has herback to me. I say, “Hi, may I help you?”
She turns around and I take a step back.Molly is standing in front of me. Her dark hair is dirty andmatted, her clothing is dirty and wrinkled, and her skin is pale.“What do you want?” I ask.
“I think you know exactlywhat I want.”
“How did you find mehere?”
“I told you, Emma. I havebeen watching you.”
“Molly, you need to go. Thisisn’t a place for you.”
“My husband and daughter arehere. I think that makes it a place where I should be. Don’t you,you little home wrecker? I think most of the people here would liketo know what you are.”
“Molly, you are not welcomehere.”
“Why? Because you don’t wantpeople to know what kind of person you are? You think Alec is sucha great catch? You are sadly mistaken. I told you that he isn’t theman you think he is.”
“Emma, Cheryl thinks it’stime to cut the cake,” Brooke says. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realizeyou have company.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I musthave the wrong house. I hope I didn’t interrupt your son’s party.”Molly gives me an icy stare.
I get a cold chill and run my hands up anddown my arms. “You definitely have the wrong house.”
Molly walks away, and I just watch her. Ican’t move.
“Emma, go and tend to thecake and I’ll find out what Molly wants,” Brooke says, walking offthe porch towards Molly.
“Brooke, wait.” I watch herwalk down the street after Molly.Oh, thiscan’t be good.
I walk to the backyard and see James sittingin front of his ninja-shaped birthday cake, smiling.
“Is everything all right?”Alec asks.
I look at him and say, “Molly’s here andBrooke went after her. They are out front in the street.”
He doesn’t say anything but quickly walksaway in the direction of the front of the house.
“Emma?” my momyells.
I look up — everyone is looking at me. Jamesis sitting on his knees, and Cheryl and my mom are standing by thecake lighting his birthday candles. I smile and walk over and standnext to James. “That’s a lot of candles; do you think you can blowthem all out?”
“Momma, I’m big. I can blowthem all out — watch me.”
“All right. I will. Rememberto make a wish first.”
We sing “Happy Birthday” and I watch my sonas he excitedly looks at his candles and takes a deep breath. Hecloses his eyes tightly before he blows out all of his candles atonce. I smile brightly and we all clap once all the candles areblown out. James hugs me and then hugs his grandparents. I lookaround the yard and when I don’t see Brooke or Alec, I walk over toJohn, Alec’s dad.
“Quite a party, huh,Emma?”
“It sure is. John, Molly isout front with Alec and Brooke. Would you mind going to see what’sgoing on?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing. Justgive me a few minutes and we’ll be back.”
James is almost finished unwrapping his giftswhen John, Alec, and Brooke return to the party. I don’t leaveJames’ side. I look at Alec, and he smiles at me. I can’t becertain whether or not it’s a genuine smile. I look at Brooke, butshe doesn’t look at me while she walks over to join her husband andsons. I can usually read Brooke, but I need to make eye contactwith her.
“Is everything all right?” Iask, when Alec stands near me.
“It’s fine. I gave her moneyand she left. I’m sorry you had to be exposed tothat.”
“I’m fine, but I’m worriedabout you and Raelynn.”
“Don’t worry about us.” Hewraps his arms securely around me and I feel safe.
He kisses the top of my head and says, “Ilove you, too.”
“Some gifts for Raelynn areon the table,” I say, looking over to Alec.
“Someone brought gifts forRaelynn? That was really nice of them.”
We watch as Raelynn and James open the lastof the few gifts left on the table. Raelynn smiles when she opens ababy doll from Danny and Cheryl, a karaoke machine from my mom anddad, and a Barbie doll and clothes from Alec’s mom and dad.
Once the gifts are all opened, the kids allplay in the bounce house while they wait to be picked up. Sara,Angel, and Brea leave first, then Alec’s sister, brothers, andtheir families leave next. Alec’s parents are last to leave rightafter Brooke and her family.
Danny, Cheryl, mom, and dad are all going togo to dinner together. Alec, Danny, and dad load up Alec’s pick-uptruck with all of James’ gifts and James and Raelynn fall asleep inthe truck while we wait for them to get everything loaded.
I look in the back seat and cover them bothwith a blanket that Alec keeps in his truck. Alec gets in, smiles,and says, “Are you ready?”
“Yes, he sure got a lot ofstuff for his special day.”
“He sure did. I thought itwas really nice of all the parents to get Raelynn something. Ididn’t expect that.”
“Neither did Raelynn,judging from the excitement on her face. James is the onlygrandchild in our family. I guess I’m not surprised they wouldinclude her as well.”
As we drive home, nothing issaid about Molly. I know that Alec never mentions her in front ofRae. Alec carries both kids into the house, and I start unloadingthe truck. He thinks the kids are too heavy for me to lift. Onceeverything is in the house, I am surprised to see all the thingsJames got for his birthday: a remote control car, another trainset, and even Wii games.Plus, of course,clothing.I was busy during part of thetime he unwrapped his presents and so I did not see everything hegot.
Alec hands me a glass of sweet tea as he sitsbeside me with a water bottle in his hand. He has changed fromjeans into a pair of gym shorts.
He reaches for the pack of batteries and abattery-operated airplane. “I’m sorry about Molly showing up today.I have no idea how she knew where we were going to betoday.”
“Don’t be sorry. I don’tblame you for her showing up. Did she say what shewanted?”
“She wanted money. Brookewas ready to beat her down when I got there.”
“I’m glad you got there whenyou did.”
“I’m sorry, Emma; it won’thappen again.”
“Emma, do you mind if I gofor a run on the beach?”
“No, of coursenot.”
“I’ll just be an hour orso.”
“Take as long as you want.I’ll start dinner while you’re gone.”
“Ok, sounds great. You knowI love you, right?”
“I do. Are you allright?”
I bend down and kiss her. “I’m fine, I’ll behome soon.”
“Home, I like when you saythat.”
“Me, too; call me if youneed me.”
I go for a run and try to clear my thoughtsof the events of the day. Molly showing up at James’ birthday partycould have been a disaster. Only three people know the real reasonwhy Molly was there and her true intent. I just pray Brooke nevertells Emma.
I remember a conversation Ihad with Max’s dad when I first realized I was in love withEmma. I also want you to know that if youhurt her, I will find you and when I do, it won’t be pretty. Do notplay with her or her emotions.
I run further than I anticipated and callEmma and tell her I am on my way back. I also call Molly’s mom,Bridget, to see if she’ll keep Raelynn tonight while I work. I runback to Emma’s house; she is in the kitchen making dinner and thekids are both on the floor playing with James’ new birthday toys.He has his cars, trucks, and trains spread all over the floor andRaelynn is playing with her new doll baby. The karaoke machine iseven on the coffee table, next to the Barbie doll and Barbieclothes.
“Thank you. James wantedhomemade pizza for his birthday dinner.”
“I’ll shower and then I canhelp you.”
“Go and shower — this isalmost ready.”
I shower before dinner andplaster on a happy face. Although Emma looks over at me severaltimes, she doesn’t question my silence. I feel torn and I need tomake therightdecision. I’m not even sure what the right choiceis.
“Raelynn, grandma called.She wants you to stay with her tonight. She said she misses you,” Ilie.
“I miss her. Can I take mynew Barbie doll with me?”
“The kids have schooltomorrow. I can watch her,” Emma says, softly.
“Molly’s mom,Bridget,hasn’twatched her in a while, and it’s the only time Raelynn gets tospend time with her grandparents,” I whisper.
“I see, and, Raelynn, Ithink your grandmother would love to see your new Barbie,” Emmasays.
After dinner I help Emma clean up and Irealize she is more quiet than usual. “If you’ll excuse me, I needto give James his last birthday present for today.”
“Oh, did we forget agift?”
“No, it’s a letter from hisdad. Max must have known he wouldn’t survive his tour of duty andwrote James letters with specific instructions to open them oncertain dates. He has one for his 5thbirthday. I just need a fewminutes with James alone. As you can imagine, it’s veryemotional.”
“Emma, Raelynn and I need toget going. I want to have her over at her grandparents’ housebefore dark. It’ll also give you some alone time withJames.”
“It’s still too early foryour shift; are you coming back?”
“No, I’m going to go by thehouse and make sure it’s cleared out. Madison is putting it on themarket tomorrow, and I just want to make sure it’s ready to belisted.”
“I understand.” Emma helpsto pack Raelynn’s overnight bag and she also tells her to get ajacket. I kiss James and wish him a happy birthday before I leave.I kiss and hug Emma longer than I normally would. “I love you, andI’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I love you,too.”
When I take Rae to her grandparents’ house,Bridget and I walk through the garage and she shows me everythingshe took from the house. She also tells me that when I want or needit, everything will be here waiting for me. She tells me sadly thatshe still hasn’t seen Molly, but she’ll call me if shedoes.
I drive around Bridget’s neighborhood,looking for Molly. I am pleased that she isn’t there. I also drivearound Emma’s neighborhood looking for Molly there, too. I seeBrooke, and she waves at me. She knows what I am doing. She wasthere when Molly made her threats. I swear I could have… well, it’sa good thing my dad showed up when he did.
Before work I do a walk-through of the houseand it looks like a cleaning company has been here. The house isspotless and ready to be sold. I slowly walk through each room andmemories flood my mind. Good, happy memories of Molly, Raelynn, andme. This is our family home, the only home that Raelynn has everknown.
I call Madison on my way to work and tell herI’ll meet her at the house tomorrow at 11:00. I also have to meetMolly at the attorney’s office at 9:30. I am buying her share ofthe house. It was a quick decision I made at James’ birthday party.I remember that dad and Brooke looked at me like I was crazy, but adesperate man will go to desperate measures to get what he wants orto get rid of what he doesn’t want.
“Are you ready to read yourletter from your daddy, James?”
James and I go into his dresser and get theletter on top of the stack of unopened letters from Max. We walkover to his bed and I carefully open the envelope. My hands beginto shake when I see Max’s handwriting on James’ letter.
Happy fifth birthday to my big soldier. Ihope you are being a good boy for your momma. Have you beenbuilding sand castles and star gazing lately? When you look in thesky, I will be the biggest and brightest star that you see. I willalways be watching you and wishing that I was there to kiss, hold,or just be near you. I am so proud of you and I miss you and yourbeautiful momma every day. I’ll visit you in your dreams, James,and I love you always and forever.
The next day Molly shows up at the attorney’soffice high. She is also there with a man. Molly, my attorney, andI sit around a round table, while her friend waits in the waitingroom.
“Molly, Alec would like tobuy your portion of the house,” my attorney says, never taking hiseyes off of Molly.
“Sounds good to me.” Shelooks at me and not at the attorney.
“He also wants you to signoff on these divorce papers, while you’re here.” He slides thepapers towards Molly.
She looks down at the stack of papers, smilesup at me, and slides them back to my attorney. “Nah, nottoday.”
“Very well. Is there acurrent address we can have for you? The one we have on file is anold one.”
“Nah, I don’t have anaddress; I’m staying here and there.”
I take her house key fromher and write her a check for the house, and she quickly leaves theoffice. That amount of money is certainly enough to find theultimate high.
Later, I meet with Madisonand give her the keys to the house. She tells me she already has ashowing for it and she is excited that I chose her to list it. Shealso tells me this is a great neighborhood and she anticipates thatthe house will sell quickly. I call Marjorie’s Floristand Gift Shop and have a bouquet of lilacsdelivered to Emma’s workplace for her.
I meet with my dad at lunch and talk to himabout Molly and her threats. I want to make sure I do the rightthing. If I make the wrong choice, people will be hurt, and if Imake the right choice, people may still be hurt. He tells me thepros and the cons of my choices, but he doesn’t tell me what Ishould do. He wants me to make my own decision, and he wants me toknow that he’ll stand behind me no matter what choice I make. Bythe time I leave my dad, I am pretty sure what I need to do. I’mcertain my decision is the right one for everybody.
On my way home, I text Emma and tell her I’llget the kids from school and that I’ll also pick up something fordinner. I haven’t been to bed yet and I am grateful that I work themorning shift tomorrow. Since I didn’t sleep today, I’ll have to goto bed early tonight. I go to Emma’s and shower before getting thekids from school.
I get the kids from school and pick upChinese food from the Far East Restaurant. The kids want sweet andsour chicken, and I get Emma and me General Tso’s chicken. When thekids and I get home, the furniture truck is there and Emma is inthe spare bedroom. The guys are putting the bed together, and Emmais putting the light bulbs in the lamps.
“The furniture looks good inhere,” I say, walking further into the bedroom.
“I think so, too. It’s sobig and masculine.”
“It does fill the space up.”I walk over to kiss her. She wraps her arms around me and tells meshe missed me.
“I went to the store andbought some sheets and a comforter so you won’t have to sleep onthe couch tonight.”
“That was thoughtful of you.Will I be sleeping like a princess on purple and pink princesssheets tonight?” I joke.
She looks up at me and smiles. “You’ll bevery pleased to know that no, you will not be sleeping like aprincess on princess sheets.”
“All done here, Ma’am,” oneof the delivery guys announces.
“Stay here, I’ll walk themout,” I say, as I bend down to kiss the tip of her nose.
“Good, I’ll get your ninjasheets on the bed for you.”
I look at her and she smiles. “Gotcha,” shesays, giggling.
I smile at her and say, “Yes, Emma, youdid.”
I walk back into the bedroom and Emma isputting a gray and white comforter on top of a set of black sheets.“Wow, this is very distinguished looking.” I walk over to the otherside of the bed and help Emma put the oversized comforter on thebed.
“Good, I’m glad you like it.I also bought black curtains for the windows. I thought it may helpyou sleep on the days that you work nightshift.”
“Emma, that is verythoughtful of you.”
“It’s not a big deal. I wasactually able to look around the store since you had the kidstoday.”
I walk over to her side of the bed and kissher. “Thank you, you are amazing.”
“I’m amazing because Ididn’t buy you princess sheets?”
I lower her to the bed and she giggles. Ikiss her and the kiss becomes serious. She moans and I roll over onthe bed so she is lying on top of me.
“Daddy, can we eat now?”Raelynn asks from the hallway.
“I almost forgot about thekids.” Emma stands up and straightens her red dress. She reachesher hand out for mine and I take it.
“I’ll be right there, Rae.You and James get washed up for dinner.” I stand up and look atEmma.
“Baby, would you go out todinner with me tomorrow night?”
“It’s Tuesday, we havetaekwondo,” she reminds me.
“What if I find someone tocover me, you skip a class, and we see if Brooke can take the kidswith her and the boys?”
“Alec, I would love to havedinner with you tomorrow night.”
I left work a little early so I could getready for dinner with Alec. He didn’t say where we were going and Ihave no idea. I curl my hair in big loose curls and decide on ablack form-fitted dress. I do a little extra makeup with smoky eyeshadow and red lipstick. I choose diamond-studded earrings, blackheels, and a black clutch to complete the outfit. Alec called andsaid he’ll be a few minutes late and that he showered and dressedat work. Brooke also called to say she got the kids from school andis taking everyone out for pizza before going to their taekwondoclass.
I pick up the house and try to calm thebutterflies in my belly. When the doorbell rings, I double checkmyself in the mirror before answering it. I look outside and seethat Alec is standing there in a black suit. I smile and open thedoor. “Hi, you don’t have to knock.” I open the door for him tocome in.
“Tonight we are on a date —we are not roommates. You look lovely thisevening.”
“All right, thank you andplease come in. You look very handsome.”
“Thank you, and these arefor you.”
Alec hands me a beautiful bouquet of lilacs.I take the vase of flowers from him and smell them. “These smell sogood, thank you.”
“You are more than welcome.Are you ready?”
“I am, where are we goingtonight?”
“It’s a surprise; are youready?”
I look at Alec, who issmiling at me. I can’t help but smile back. “I am.Where did you get the suit? Do you have anapartment I don’t know about?” I joke.
“No, I took the clothes towork with me. I didn’t want to get ready with you. I wanted this tobe special.”
“It still would have beenspecial, no matter where you got ready.” He opens the door for me,and I take his hand after he locks up. We walk to the car insilence. When he opens my door, I look up at him.“If I forget to tell you later, I had a reallygood time tonight.”
He waits for me to get situated beforeclosing my car door. I watch him walk in front of the car to thedriver’s side. He stands tall and confidently. He squares hisshoulders and looks around before getting into his car. We fastenour seatbelts at the same time and he looks over at me and smiles.I get butterflies in my belly — I can’t be certain why. This isn’tour first date, so why do I feel like it is?
“Are you ready,Baby?”
I nod. Just the way he says that increasesthe flutter in my belly. I look away from him when I feel the blushrise to my face. Am I ready for what? It’s just dinner, right?Again, I feel like this is our first date. He reaches over theconsole and takes my hand.
I look over at his handsome face; he winks atme before looking back at the road. He is clean shaven, and hishair is neatly combed. Alec has put a lot of thought into this datetonight. His suit looks new, and his shirt looks like it has beenstarched. I look at my dress and smooth it out. I hope I look asgood as he does. All of a sudden, I feel underdressed.
“Emma, you look stunningtonight.”
He always knows what I am thinking. “Thankyou, but I feel underdressed. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn somethingso snug?”
He looks over at me and squeezes my hand. “Ithink it’s perfect for this evening.”
All of a sudden, I feel perfectlydressed.
We pull up to the valet parking at CaféL’Europe at St. Armands Circle.
Alec says, “I’ll get your door for you.” Iwatch Alec as he gets out of the car and shakes hands with thevalet attendant. He carefully places the valet ticket in his insidejacket pocket before opening my car door for me. I stand and smoothmy dress out before taking his hand.
We walk hand in hand into the crowded foyerof the restaurant. “Hello, Dr. Collins, we have your table waitingfor you. Please follow me.”
I hold Alec’s hand as we follow the hostessthrough the crowded restaurant to a secluded table for two in backof the room. The table is small and intimate. A single white rosesits in the center of a round white linen cloth-covered table. Thelights are dim, and soft music plays in the background.
Alec pulls my chair out for me as the hostessstands close by. Alec takes the only seat across from me beforeunbuttoning his jacket. He smiles at me and then smiles at thehostess.
“Your server will be rightover.”
“Thank you, Theresa. Iseverything ready?”
“It is. She is getting yourdrinks for you now.”
I watch as the hostess leaves and I look overat Alec. He is watching me with a slight smile on his lips. “Let meguess, call-ahead seating?” I say, joking.
“No, Emma, I put a littlemore thought in it than that,” he says, reaching across the tablefor my hand.
“I can see that. What’s thespecial occasion?”
The waitress comes over with two glasses anda bottle of champagne. I try to release the hold of Alec’s hand buthe tightens his hold on mine. I look up at him and he is watchingme. The waitress pours the champagne and leaves immediately after.I was expecting her to tell us the specials or at least give usmenus.
“Is this our anniversary?” Ifinally ask.
He smiles, “No, Baby, we don’t have ananniversary, yet.”
“Did you do something thatyou need to apologize for?”
“This is Tuesday night,right?” I ask, as I place the white linen napkin across mylap.
“Yes, Emma, it’s Tuesday. Atoast?” he asks, raising his champagne glass.
I raise my glass to his. “Tohappiness?”
He clinks his glass to mine, “To a lifetimeof happiness,” he says.
The server comes back and places twobeautiful green salads on the table with some bread and dippingoil. “Fresh ground pepper for your salads?” she asks.
We both decline and she smiles andleaves.
I watch Alec as he places his napkin on hislap. “They make a wonderful Italian dressing. I also went ahead andordered our meal. I hope you like everything.”
“It smells wonderful, and Iam sure I will.” I cut my salad and take a bite. “It is delicious.”I decide to just go with the events of the night. Alec has put alot of time and thought into it, and he has excellenttaste.
The waitress comes by the table to refill ourchampagne several times throughout the meal, but she never lingersfor too long. I’m sure those are strict orders from Alec.
Our meals arrives and it is filet mignon,rosemary rice, and fresh snow peas. It smells delicious and mymouth begins to water. I close my eyes and inhale again. When Iopen my eyes, Alec is smiling at me. “It’s as good as itsmells.”
“I’m sure it is.”
He watches me as I cut my steak and take thefirst bite. I close my eyes again and Alec laughs, quietly. “ShouldI give you a moment?”
I open my eyes and smile. “Yes, please. Thisis so good.”
I look at his untouched plate. “You haven’ttasted it yet.”
“I don’t have to. A greatchef always cooks to perfection. I’ve been here enough to know thatthis will be just as delicious as it was the last time I washere.I am savoringthe anticipation.”
“You do have excellenttaste.”
“Thank you. You lookabsolutely beautiful this evening, Emma.”
“I was talking about thefood, but thank you. I wish I had known we were coming to such afancy restaurant. I feel underdressed again,” I say, sitting up alittle straighter and flattening out my napkin on mylap.
He just watches me and says, “You lookstunning.”
As we eat our meal, we talk about families,vacations, and holiday traditions. Alec keeps the conversationlight and positive.
After our delicious dinner, the waitressbrings out a piece of lemon torte, two forks, and two cups ofcoffee. I watch as Alec nods slightly to dismiss her. He squareshis shoulders and leans up slightly in his chair. “They haveexcellent dessert here; however, I thought we would both be toofull to have dessert, so I thought we could share a piece. I wantedyou to get the full experience of this meal.”
“Thank you. Alec, this wholemeal was wonderful. Even without the dessert, I would say I got thefull experience.”
“You say that now, but youhaven’t tasted the torte yet.” He lifts both forks and hands meone.
I take the first bite and a moan escapes mymouth.
“Now, you have justexperienced the full meal,” he says, laughing.“I almost think that you and that torte should get aroom.”
After dessert, Alec reaches for my hand andsmiles. “Emma, I hope you know how much I love you.”
“I love you, too.” I searchhis eyes — they are dark and mysterious.
He leans up in his chair and squares hisshoulders, and then he gently caresses my fingers. “Over the pastcouple of days, I was forced to make a decision. When Molly showedup at James’ birthday party, I was forced to come to terms with mylife and the effects that it will have on you and James. I wasfooling myself when I thought I could keep my past away from thepresent.”
“Alec, I don’t understand?What kind of decision?”
“I know you don’t understandand I don’t expect you to. I want you to always trust me to do theright thing. I will never ever lie to you or put you or James inharm’s way.”
“I do, I trustyou.”
He reaches into his jacket packet and pullsout a velvet box. He gives me a slight smile and my heart skips abeat. I open my mouth to say something and nothing comes out. Ilick my dry lips, without taking my eyes off of the smallbox.
“No, Emma, it’s not what youthink it is.” He hands it to me and adds, “Not yetanyway.”
I let go of his hand and take the beautifulvelvet box from him and slowly open it. Inside is a stunningplatinum, infinity symbol pendant necklace. I move the box slightlyside to side and watch it shimmer under the muted lighting.Smiling, I lightly touch it and admire its beauty. “This isgorgeous.”
“It’s a symbol to representthat I willalwaysput you, James, and Raelynn first. I want you and James in mylife, forever.”
I look at him and a tear slides down mycheek. “Oh, Alec.” I stand and walk over to him. He pulls me ontohis lap and I immediately kiss him. I pull away, only long enoughto say, “I love you.”
I gave Emma an infinity symbol necklace onlybecause I couldn’t give her an engagement ring. My divorce isn’tfinal yet and my heart won’t allow me to be engaged to one womanwhile being married to another, even if the marriage is only onpaper. Emma kisses me while sitting on my lap in a crowdedrestaurant — I don’t care who is watching. I return her kiss withjust as much passion.
I take the necklace from her and ask, “MayI?”
She stands up from my lap and I stand withher. While I remove the necklace from the box, she lifts her hairfor me away from her neck. I reach around her and fasten thenecklace. She raises her hand to touch it before turning to faceme. I just smile at her beauty: her blond hair, her fair flawlessskin, and her big blue eyes. “Beautiful,” I say, talking about herand not the necklace.
“Thank you, I love it.” Shestands on her tiptoes and kisses my cheek.
“Don’t you need to pay thebill first?”
“I already took care ofit.”
She looks up at me and smiles. “Oh, you’resmooth.”
I wink at her and she takes my hand.
On the drive home, she holds my hand like shealways does, before she reaches for her phone and texts someone.She doesn’t say anything and I don’t ask. When we get home, I amsad to think that our night is coming to an end. I look over at herand say, “Thank you for a wonderful evening.”
She holds my hand and smiles. “Thank you, itwas a perfect night. Everything, the restaurant, dinner, dessert,and my stunning necklace.” She reaches up and lightly touches theinfinity symbol.
“You are more than welcome.As they say, all good things must come to an end. Are you ready toget the kids? Being a school night, I’m certain Brooke has them inbed.” I look over and Brooke’s house is dark.
I look back over at Emma, “What isit?”
“I asked Brooke to keep thekids all night. I’m not ready for this night to endeither.”
My dick twitches at the thought of what thismight mean. “You want the kids to stay all night at Brooke andBrice’s house?”
“If that is all right withyou, yes.”
“It’s just you and me,together, all night, alone.”
She giggles and says, “Yes, if that’s allright with you.”
“I’ll get your door foryou.”
I get out of the car and adjust myself beforewalking over to open Emma’s door for her. She reaches for my handbefore I have time to offer it to her. She graciously stands andlinks her arm in mine. We walk down the sidewalk and up the stairsleading to the porch. I use my own house key to open the door forher.
Once we are inside the dark house, I securethe door and look at her. She is looking at me and biting herbottom lip. I gently caress her cheek with my thumb, “Are you surethis is what you want?”
She smiles and leans her cheek into my hand,“Alec, I am certain that this is all I want.”
I smile and bend down to kiss her. Sheresponds to my kiss, and I swoop her up in my arms. Without turningany lights on, I walk her through the dark house, down the hallway,and into the master suite. I set her down on the floor withouttaking my eyes off her. I cup her sweet face in my hands and kissher. “God, I love you so much” is all I say before kissing heragain.
She reaches behind her and unzips her dress.I raise up and her black dress fall from her gorgeous body andgathers on the floor around her feet. Emma stands there in a blacklingerie set, garter belt, and black high heels. My eyes are lustfilled and I can’t take my eyes off her. I take a step back so Ican get a better look. “Oh, God, Emma, you are beautiful.” I takeher hand and spin her around slowly. I look up and down the lengthof her body and smile.
She stops in front of me, facing me. “I loveyou so much,” she says before standing on her tiptoes to kiss me.My dick now has taken on a mind of its own and is rock hard. Ishould say something, but I’m afraid if I speak, the words willsound like that of a four-year-old. I return her kiss, scoop herhair up and fist it with one hand while I cup her breast with myfree hand.
I moan and I think she moans, too, but Ican’t be certain. My mind is on my painfully hard dick, her breast,and her perfect body. I am thinking I am going to be inside her forthe first time and I finally get to make love to my girl forhours.
She pulls away from me breathless and slowlyscoots back on the bed. My eyes travel up her body, lingering onher black heels, her long smooth legs, lacy black panties, her lacybra, and her beautiful face. My smile matches her smile, as Islowly crawl up her body. She opens her legs for me and I kiss herslowly.
“Please, make love to me,”she says, in between kisses.
I am a nurse, married to adoctor, and we have a beautiful daughter we love more than life. Ihave just given birth and Alec wants our daughter to be named afterthe both of us. We decide we will name our beautiful daughter aftereach of our middle names. Luckily, the two names go well together.Alec Ray and Molly Lynn: Raelynn. If we had had a son, we wouldhave named him after Alec.
“Raelynn, my new favoritename,” he beams, holding our daughter in his arms.
I wake up to the sound of a car doorshutting. I peer over the steering wheel of my dark car and watchas my husband opens the car door for his girlfriend. The way helooks at her reminds me of the way he once looked at me. I watch asthey both walk arm in arm inside her house.
I have been watching her long enough to knowthis is her house. I made it my business to know everything I canabout her. Now I have stalker tendencies. Drugs have done crazythings to me. What in the hell happened to me? I had everything Iever wanted and screwed it up. Now I do drugs to try to forget whatI no longer have. I use drugs to take away my heartache. When I amhigh, I am able to forget about my problems. I focus on findingthat ultimate high — we are all in search of it. There is nothingbetter than the feeling of euphoria. I know death may be aconsequence, but it is one I am willing to take.
“Come on, Doll, can we gohome now?” I look over in the passenger seat and my friend Bobby isslouched there. He smells of day-old beer and cigarettes. I lookback at the house my husband walked in — it remains dark. Mystomach does a flip flop at the thought of Alec in the house,making love to his girlfriend. My head and thoughts immediatelyfill with rage and I want to go in there and claim what is mine,what was once mine.
The drugs I do have distorted my thinking.It’s hard for me to tell the difference from the truth and fiction.When I am sober, I know the painful truth. The drugs allow me toblame others for my wrongdoing. They allow me to forget what I oncehad — what I will never have again.
I scratch my arms to relieve the tinglingsensation that now consumes my thoughts. I scratch my arms so hardI draw blood just trying to find some relief from the itch. I lookover at Bobby, who is already filling the syringe with mymuch-needed dose of heroin. This is just what I need to make meforget and to take my mind off of my real problems. I know this isthe reason for my problems, but right now, I am solely focused onmy next high.
“Is this what you need,Doll?”
I smile and lean over to kiss him. Bobby ismy only friend. He is a large man and at one time, I can tell hewas very good looking. He saved me from some thugs a long time ago,and I will always be grateful to him. I always feel safe when I amwith him.
Chapter Four: A New Beginning
I wake up and I am hot, way too hot to sleep.I blink a few times and memories of last night come rushing back tome. My night with Alec; our first time together. I close my eyesand try to remember every last detail.
I am cradled safely in Alec’s arms. “Goodmorning, Emma.”
I look up at him and he gently brushes myhair from my face. “Good morning, Alec. Did I wake you?”
Alec leans into me and kisses me sweetly,“No, Baby, you didn’t wake me. I was just watching you sleep andremembering last night.”
“Mmm, last night was prettyspecial.” I kiss him back just as sweetly.
“Yes, it was; it was just asamazing as I knew it would be. I wish we could stay like this allday,” he says,scooting closer tome.
I cuddle into him and ask, “Why can’twe?”
“Baby, I’m glad I was ableto make you forget, but we have work today.”
“Work! Oh, God, I forgot allabout that,” I say, trying to sit up in bed.
“Not so fast, Emma, we haveplenty of time. I’ll start breakfast and get the kids from Brooke’swhile you shower.” He kisses me again before he stands up from thebed and slips on his boxer briefs.
“Yes, Baby,” he says,watching me intently.
He winks at me and walks out thedoor.
I shower and let my hair dry naturally. Alittle mascara, lip gloss, body spray, a gray dress, and heels. Iam now ready for the day. I hear laughter and I know the kids arehome from spending the night with Brooke.
I walk out of the bedroom and the kids aredressed and sitting at the table eating their oatmeal and a banana.I grab a coffee before joining them at the table. I kiss Raelynnand then James. Alec smiles and stands to pull out my chair for meto sit down. He whispers in my ear, “You look beautiful.” And justlike that I get those butterflies low in my belly.
After breakfast, Alecshowers and is dressed for work after only a few minutes.It must be nice being a man.He walks out of the bedroom in his dark blue scrubs and smileswhen he sees me.
“I’ll take the kids toschool on my way to work,” he says.
“All right, I’ll pick themup from school. Do you want to eat dinner out after we go totaekwondo?”
“Sounds perfect. Come on,kids, get your book bags,” Alec yells to the kids, who are both inthe bedroom.
The next two weeks go by, and we fall into acomfortable family routine. Alec helps with the kids, thehousework, and dinner. We spend a lot of time at home just being afamily. I am happy that we haven’t seen or heard anything fromMolly. Alec has court tomorrow, and we are anxious to see if Mollywill show up to contest the divorce. We both are hoping to be ableto move on with our lives once it’s final.
Alec and I still sleep in separate bedrooms;he doesn’t want to do anything to hinder his divorce. Aftereverything Molly has done, this is nothing. I don’t think it willmatter whether we share a bed or not. Once the kids are in bed andasleep, Alec and I lie in bed together and talk about his courtdate tomorrow and what it will mean for us and for ourrelationship. I see a spark in his eyes that is usuallymissing.
“The chance of her showingup tomorrow for court is very slim. I don’t think you have anythingto worry about,” I say, trying to relax him.
“There is always that smallchance she will.”
“And if she does, the judgewill award you the divorce that you deserve.”
Alec looks at me and gives me a half smile.“Have I told you how lucky I am to have you?” he says, cupping mycheek.
I smile and lean into his hand. “You alwaystell me, and it never gets old.”
He leans over, kisses me, and breaks awayonly long enough to say, “Good, and I love you so much.”
I want to say,I love you, too, but, heis already kissing me again.
The next morning I wake up before Alec does.Since we sleep in separate bedrooms, it’s easy to not wake him. Iwas going to take the day off work to offer moral support, but hethought it would be best if I went to work. I shower and dress in ared above-the-knee-length dress. After I make the bed, I start thecoffee and begin making a big breakfast for everyone.
I hear the shower and I know Alec is up. Heoften showers first thing in the morning. Before he sees me andeven before his first cup of coffee, he showers for the day. I hearsinging and I smile. Alec always sings in the shower. When thebacon and pancakes are done, I wake the kids up before making theeggs.
Alec comes up behind me and hugs me. “Goodmorning, you’re up pretty early this morning.”
I lean into him and say, “Good morning, Iwanted to make everyone a nice breakfast before I left forwork.”
“Is there a specialoccasion?” he asks, while pouring himself a cup of coffee. He isdressed in a grey suit, white shirt, and black tie. He looks morelike an attorney than a doctor.Dressed toimpressthe judge,I think to myself.
“I don’t need a specialoccasion to do something nice for my family.” I flip the eggs andAlec hands me a plate.
“Momma, can I wear thisshirt?” I turn around and James is standing there holding a redSpiderman shirt.
“You didn’t like the shirt Ilaid out for you?’ I ask, walking closer to him.
“I like thisone.”
I take the shirt from him and slip it overhis head. He slides his arms through the armholes and smiles at me.I tell him, “There you go, handsome as ever.”
“Thank you, momma.” He hugsme and turns to walk back into his bedroom.
After breakfast, Alec walks us to the doorand kisses and hugs both kids before kissing me. “I’ll call youaround noon to let you know what happened.”
“All right and good luck.” Igive him my best smile before walking off the porch with thekids.
I turn back around and look at him. “Yes,Alec.”
“I love you, and I’ll talkto you soon.”
“I love you, too. Don’tworry, it’ll be fine.”
“I know,” he says, but hedoesn’t sound convinced.
As soon as court is over, I am surprised tosee the time. It definitely took longer than I expected. I callEmma to tell her the news, but the phone goes to voicemail. I callmom and dad before trying Emma again. I look at my watch and it’s12:45. I decide to drive the short distance to her work to tell herthe news in person. I can’t wait any longer.
I pull up outside of R.K. Insurance Company,but Emma’s car is gone. I try her number again and it goes tovoicemail again. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel. Emmaalways has her phone charged and on her. Brea walks out of theoffice and waves when she sees me. I roll down the window and shewalks over to me. “Hello, Brea, is Emma at lunch?”
“She ran down to the deli;she should be back at any moment. Sara’s inside, if you want to goin and wait for her.”
“Thank you, but I think I’llwait out here.”
“Well, the offer stands ifyou change your mind.” She smiles and waves as she walks to hercar. She says, “Would you tell her I had to leave and that I amsorry to miss lunch?”
“I will and be careful.” Iwait a few more minutes before panic hits me. Molly’s threats comeback to me full force. I pick up my phone to call Emma again, butthen she pulls up beside me. I am already getting out of the carwhen she looks up at me and smiles. I try to give her a smile, butI know that fear is prevalent on my face. I close my eyes and takesome deep breaths to try to calm myself.
I open my eyes and the real reason I am herecomes back to me. Smiling, I walk to her car and hold the door openfor her. She gathers the last bag of food and stands away from thecar. I lean down to kiss her and to remind myself that she issafe.
“Hi, I’m glad to see you,but I thought you were going to call me?”
I close the door behind her before saying, “Idid call, but the call went to voicemail. Is your phonedead?”
“No, it was fully chargedwhen I left the house this morning. Did everything go all rightthis morning?”She looks me from one eye tothe other.
“It did and it’s a longstory, but you are looking at a free man.” I beam.
“You’re divorced?” she says,smiling.
“You’re a single man withfull custody of Raelynn?” she asks, with wideeyes.
“I am a single man, and I dohave full custody.”
She stands on her tiptoes and kisses mepublicly. I pull her closer to me and she giggles. “Do you knowwhat this means?” I ask.
“Yes, it means you are nolonger married.” She smiles, brightly.
“It also means that we nolonger have to sleep in separate beds,” I say, laughing.
She laughs, too. “Come on. I have to get thisfood in here. Traffic was terrible at lunch today.”
“Brea said she had to leave,and she is sorry to have to miss lunch.”
“Oh, Arturo was running afever this morning. I hope he’s ok. I got her a deli sandwich; youshould come in and have lunch with us.”
“I don’t know, I shouldprobably go.”
“If you don’t eat it, it’lljust go to waste. And you know how I hate to wastefood.”
“That is a very good point.”I take the three bags from Emma and I hold the office door open forher. I haven’t spent much time with Sara, but she seems very nice.She talks openly in front of me and I can see what Donovan sees inher. She has short blond spikey hair and stands about 5’2”; she issmall and petite with a wonderful personality. I like her and it’sreassuring to know that Emma works with some wonderfulpeople.
Later that night, we have dinner at home. Ifeel happy and relaxed for the first time in a long time. The kidstell us about their day.
“Daddy and Emma, some littleboy pulled my ponytail today at school and it hurt. Heather said hedid it because he likes me. Boys are gross and they havecooties.”
“I’m a boy, and I don’t havecooties,” James says.
“Not you, you’re mybrother,” Raelynn says, taking a bite of her corn.
Emma and I just look at each other and smile.I like it when Rae calls James her brother.
“You know what happened tome today?” James asks.
“What, did you poop yourpants?” Rae giggles.
We all laugh, including James. I clear mythroat and use my daddy voice. “Raelynn, that isn’tnice.”
“Raelynn, if I did that,that would make me have poopy pants.” James laughs as loud as Ihave ever heard him. We all laugh and I look over at Emma. She istrying to cover her laughter and smile with her hands.
“Hey, hey, they’ll be notalking about poop at the dinner table.” Emma tries to use hermommy voice.
Young kids are fascinated bypoop. They even read books about it:Where’s the Poop?by JulieMarkes,The Truth About Poopby Susan E. Goodman, andEveryone Poopsby Taro Gomi. Later,they become less fascinated. The father of a friend of mine workedat IBM. This embarrassed his daughter, who thought of IBM asforming a sentence: I BM — that is, I have a BowelMovement.
“James, what happened withyou today at school?” I finally ask.
“When I put my book bag inmy cubby at school, there was a frog in there. Dillon said he sawit jump in from the open window.”
“Eww, did you touch it?”Raelynn asks.
“No, they have cooties.Charlie picked it up and took it outside,” Jamessays.
“That’s nice, James, but canwe talk about something other than cooties?” Emma says,smiling.
“Emma, how was your day,today?” I ask, to try to change the subject from poop andcooties.
“I had a great day, until Irealized my phone quit working.”
“Well, that explains why itwent to voicemail when I called you today.”
“It was working just fineyesterday.”
“We’ll need to get youanother phone in the next few days. I don’t like you not having aphone.”
“My contract is almost up,so this is a good time to get a new phone. How was your day today,Alec?”
I think back on my day and smile. I can’tshare with the kids about the day I had in court. “I had a greatday.”
“What happened to you today,daddy?”
“Daddy found out thatsomeone made an appointment to look at our house.” I look atRaelynn and then at Emma. With all the excitement about thedivorce, I forgot to tell her.
“Are they going to buy it?”Rae asks.
“It means someone likes ourhouse and would like to see it.” I look at Rae, James, and thenEmma. Emma is smiling. She knows this will be closure for me. Ismile back at her and reach for her hand. She readily takes it,like she always does.
“Can we buy a new house onthe beach?” Raelynn asks.
“With a big yard and ajungle gym?” James adds.
“We’ll see; I can’t make anypromises.”
After dinner and our nightly bedtime routine,Emma opens a bottle of champagne and we celebrate.
She holds up her glass of champagne and asks,“Would you like to make a toast?”
“To freedom,” I say, holdingmy glass to hers.
“To freedom,” she says,clinking her glass against mine.
We sit on the lanai and drink the entirebottle of champagne.
“Molly showed up at courttoday,” I finally admit.
“Oh, how was that foryou?”
“She stumbled into thecourtroom with another man. They both looked like they were wearingweek-old dirty clothing.”
“Alec, I’m sorry,” she says,sympathetically.
“When they called her up tothe stand to contest the divorce, she fell down and the bailiff hadto come over and help her up.”
“Oh, Alec.” Emma reachesover and touches my arm softly.
“It’s all right, Emma. Whenthe judge asked her if she was under the influence of alcohol ordrugs, she denied it. Then the judge asked her if she was willingto take a drug test, and that’s when it gotinteresting.”
I look at Emma and she looks sad. I know it’spainful for her to hear. Nobody wants to see or hear about someonein that kind of drug-induced state.
“She mumbled some obscenewords and the judge told her if she didn’t leave on her own, hewould find her and her friend in contempt.”
Emma looks very sympathetic as I tell her thestory. I decide that I have shared enough with her.
“I’m just glad it’s overwith, and you have a showing scheduled for the house,” shesays.
“That was definitely anadded bonus today. With all the excitement about the divorce, Iforgot to tell you that Madison has scheduled her first showing ofthe house for this week.”
“I told you everything wouldwork out,” she says, standing up from the chair.
“Yes, Emma, you did. Remindme to listen to you more often.” I also stand and grab the emptychampagne bottle and the two glasses.
“Now, that is something youcan count on.”
I look through blurredvision and I think I am at my old house. I have no idea how I gothere. I remember going to court and being asked to leave, buteverything after that is a blur. I stumble closer to the house andread the large sign in the yard:FORSALE.My alreadybroken heart breaks a little more. I take a drink out of the bottleof Jim Beam that I am carrying around with me.If I stay high, I’ll feel less pain,Iremind myself.Itake another long gulp and wait for it to work. It’s not workingfast enough, so I reach in my pocket and take out some pills thatBobby gave me earlier and chase them with another swig of Jim Beam.Pain pills never let me down. I just have to wait forit.
I lean against the post thatdisplays the FOR SALE sign in the yard of my old house, and then Ilower myself to the ground.My, Alec’s, andRaelynn’s home. I was so happy once. What happened tome?
The smiles and happinessflash through my head. I am standing there in my wedding dress nextto Alec. He is standing tall in a black tuxedo.Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep herfor better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and inhealth, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, so longas you both shall live? I do.He made apromise to God, but he did not keep his promise. He is not the manhis girlfriend thinks he is. A tear slidesdown my face, and it reminds me that I can still feel the pain. Idown the rest of the bottle and wait for oblivion to claimme.
Alec is finally relaxed andhappy. I watch from the porch with Brooke as he, Brice, and all thekids play on the yard. They are playing touch football and it ishilarious. Brooke and I stop writing and watch and laugh as Briceand Alec show Rae how to play. We are working on plans toaccomplish another item from Max’s bucket list. Item number 10:Have a huge partywith the platoon and celebrate our freedom.
Brooke and I have decided tohave a huge party on July 4th. It is still a couple monthsaway, but with everyone spaced so far away, we need to startplanning it now. Luckily, Brice still stays in contact witheveryone in his old platoon. He says that Max is the link thatholds everyone together. We fill out the invitations, and I evenphotocopied the letter from Max so I can give everyone a copy. Iwant them to know this is Max’s wish for them.
Screaming is coming from the yard, and Brookeand I look up. Raelynn has the flag and is running as fast as shecan through the yard. I stand up and start to shout for her to run.Brooke also stands and starts screaming. I look over at Brooke andshe laughs and says, “Girl power.” I nod and we root for Rae untilshe makes a touchdown. Brooke and I high five each other, and I letRaelynn know that she did a great job.
We sit back down and seal up the invitationsbefore adding the postage. “It’ll be nice having everyone togetheragain,” I say, honestly.
“It will. It’s been fiveyears since we were all together. Do you think they’llcome?”
“Only time will tell. We’lleither have the biggest party ever, or it’ll be just us. Who knows?Either way, we’ll party and celebrate our freedom forMax.”
Later that night Alec and I get ready to meetAngel and Mason for dinner. Before dinner, we drop off the kids atAlec’s parents’ house for the night. His parents are excitedbecause this is James’ first time spending the night with them. Idon’t worry because I know he’ll do fine there.
“Emma, you look stunningtonight. The dress fits you perfectly.”
I decided on a black, above-the-knee dresswith a sweetheart-cut neckline. I look over and smile at Alec.“Thank you and you look very sharp tonight, doctor,” I say,straightening his tie. He is dressed in a black suit and graytie.
We pull up at the restaurant and are led to atable in the back of the room. Mason and Angel are already at thetable waiting on us. Mason and Angel stand as soon as they see us.Mason shakes Alec’s hand first and then he leans in and gives me afriendly hug. “It’s good to see you again, Emma.”
“Thank you.” I hug Angel andthen Alec hugs her.
“Please, sit down,” Masonsays, pointing to the empty seats at the table.
Alec pulls my chair out for me as Mason doesthe same for Angel. Mason raises his hand, and the server comesover immediately.
Mason asks us, “Would you like a drink whilewe wait for Sara, Donovan, Brea, and Vincent?”
Alec orders me a glass of white wine andorders himself a Corona with lime. I look over at Angel and noticethat she isn’t drinking. Sara, Donovan, Brea, and Vincent walk intogether and we all stand to greet them. This is a friendly group,and it feels good to be a part of it. We make pleasantries beforesitting down. Although I don’t know Vincent or Donovan well, I dolike them. I don’t know Mason very well either, now that I thinkabout it.
Alec squeezes my hand and I wonder if I wasstaring. When I look up at him, I am happy to see he is engrossedin a conversation with the guys about racquetball. Alec holds myhand under the table, and I watch as Mason keeps a protective armover the back of Angel’s chair.
Angel tells us about a new client she pickedup for her home interior business and Brea shares about how excitedshe and Vincent are to be out of the house without the baby. Alecand I laugh because we feel the same way.
Mason orders several different appetizersfrom the menu for everyone and drinks for those who need them. Hecarries such authority. I wonder if he doesn’t have one serverreserved just for his table. She always seems available when hewants her.
Sara and Donovan announcethey are training for a full marathon — the purpose of thismarathon is to raise money to fight prostate cancer. We all makeour monetary pledges and offer our support in any way we can. Ialso learn this will be their 2ndfull marathon.
Brea smiles and says, “Arturo ran his first5k race with them last weekend. He came home with his firstribbon.”
Donovan smiles, “He really trained hard forit, too. Sleeping in the running stroller was quite a workout. Heeven managed to get a poop in during the run.”
We all laugh and I think that we can’t evenhave dinner with adults without talking about poop — not when theadults have young children.
“Angel and I have some newswe would like to share with you all.” Mason speaks loudly andclearly.
Everyone at the table sets their drinks downand gives Mason and Angel their undivided attention. I look at themboth and I can’t tell if it’s bad news or good news. Alec squeezesmy hand under the table; it tells me that he isn’t sure either.
Angel clears her throat, sits up a littlestraighter in her chair, and says, “I went to the doctor last week,and Mason and I are expecting.” She smiles and Mason smiles evenbigger if that is possible.
“Oh, my God, you’re going tohave a baby,” Brea squeals.
Angel and Mason just smile as the tableerupts with noise and laughter. Sara and Brea start discussinggiving Angel a baby shower and the guys talk about going golfingwhen the shower takes place. Alec and I just sit back and laugh.This is great news, and I feel special to be included in this veryprivate announcement.
Mason clears his throat to try to quiet thetable. “Hold on a minute, there’s more.” The table suddenly fallsquiet and all faces become serious. “Beauty, would you like to tellthem the rest?”
“Wearepregnant, but we are pregnant withtwo babies.”
“Two babies,” Mason repeats,as he holds up two fingers. He is smiling a dimpledsmile.
“What did you say?” Saraasks.
“It’s true, we are havingtwins. They — well, we — heard two heartbeats during my checkup,”Angel says, leaning into Mason. Mason strokes her bare shoulderwhile keeping a protective arm over her chair.
Mason adds, “We won’t know anything for sureuntil next week when they do the first ultrasound.”
“And we are just now findingout about this,” Sara says, looking from Mason toAngel.
“I wanted to tell yousooner, but Mason wanted us to wait until I was three monthspregnant.” Everyone at the table nods in understanding and Angeladds, “Guess who is already three monthspregnant?”
I smile and look over at Alec. He squeezes myhand and we all stand to congratulate the couple on the great news.The girls all huddle together, feeling Angel’s slight baby bumpwhile the guys congregate, talking about golf, sports, or whateverelse guys talk about. I look over a few times and see that althoughthe guys are all talking to each other, they are keeping a watchfuleye on us.
Angel announces she has to go to the bathroomand Mason is at her side ready to escort her. Once they are out ofview, I ask, “Why is Mason so protective of Angel?”
Vincent speaks first and says, “Angel was inan abusive relationship before she met Mason.”
Brea adds, “He stalked her and almost killedher. We didn’t think she was going to make it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I had noidea.”
“Your boyfriend saved herlife,” Sara says, looking up at Alec.
“No, I wouldn’t say that. Iwas her doctor while she was in ICU.”
Brea asks, “Why are doctors so noble aboutsaving lives? If it wasn’t for you, she… well, the outcome wouldhave been much different.”
“Brea, many people wereinvolved with Angel’s care at that time. I was just one of many.Mason was actually the first doctor to see her.”
“Mason was her doctor in theE.R?” I ask.
“He was the attendingphysician on duty that day,” Brea says.
“Did you know her beforethat?” I ask Alec.
“I knew Mason, but I didn’tknow Angel. Actually, the first time I saw her after she recoveredfromthe accident was that night when wewere all at Gecko’s.”
“I remember that night. It’sthe first time I met you.”
“What are you guys talkingabout?” Angel asks, as she takes her seat. Mason stands tall behindher and pushes her chair slightly in.
“We were just talking abouthow you knew Alec,” Brea states.
Mason quickly looks over atBreaand gives her an icy stare.
“I certainly owe Alec mylife and Mason, too, for that matter.” Angel looks over at Alec andsmiles. Mason sits down and Angel takes his hand. He smiles at herand she says, “That car accident almost killed me. That large blackSUV hitting my small yellow sports car. I didn’t have achance.”
“Wait a minute. Are youtalking about the car accident on Midnight Pass Way?” I ask. I geta cold chill and I shiver. Alec rubs his hands up and down my armto warm me.
“Yes, that’s the one. Howcould you know about that?” Mason asks, as he sits up further inhis chair.
I look around the table and all eyes are onme.
“You were there,” Angelsays, watching me intently. “It was you, wasn’t it? You were theone who called 911. Emma, you are the woman who stayed with meuntil help arrived.” Angel takes a deep breath and wipes away thetears from her cheek. “I remember you held my hand and told me itwould be all right, just before I lostconsciousness.”
I stare at Angel and tearsfill my eyes as I remember that dreadful day. I just nod as Iremember that black SUV that left the scene of the accident and Iget another cold chill. I didn’t actually see the accident;however, I did see the aftermath. Someone hands me a tissue and Ican’t see who it is. The tears are blurring my vision. “I didn’thave your name and when I called the hospital to check on you,theycouldn’t give me anyinformation.”
Angel stands up and hugs me tightly. We bothcry and she thanks me for staying with her. She tells me that shedidn’t know who I was either, but the police told her a woman wasthere holding her hand when they arrived.
Once we stop hugging, I go to the bathroom tofreshen up. When the blotchiness leaves my face, I walk out to joineveryone at the table. I spot Mason leaning against the wall nearthe restroom. I look around the room for Alec, but only Mason isthere. He pushes off from the wall when he sees me and walks overto me.
“Emma, may I speak to you inprivate?” he asks.
I follow Mason to the other side of therestaurant to a secluded corner of the room. He turns around andlooks at me.
“I’m sorry I know this seemsodd, but I just want to personally thank you for what you did forAngel that day. We went to the police department to try to get yourname, but they wouldn’t share your personal information withus.”
I give him a sad smile, and say, “You’rewelcome. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories; I’m sorry aboutthat.”
“Please, there is no need toapologize. Angel has been wanting to find you so we can properlythank you.”
“Mason, I appreciate that.I’m just glad I was there and that she is allright.”
“I also want you to knowthat it gave me some peace to know that she wasn’t alone that day.She was run off the road and left to die and I can’t thank youenough for calling 911 and for staying with her. Truly, I amforever grateful to you.”
I don’t know what to say to him. He ispouring his soul out to me. If I didn’t know what Angel meant tohim before, I know now. “You are very welcome.”
“Emma, if you or James everneed anything, anything at all, please let meknow.”
I’m not sure what to say tothat.What could I possibly everneed?“Thank you, Mason, I appreciatethat.”
“We better get back beforeyour boyfriend starts to worry.”
He leads me through the packed restaurant.The atmosphere has already changed at our table: Everyone is nowtalking about a baby shower and baby names. Alec stands when he seeme and pulls my chair in for me. Once I am seated, Mason and Alecboth sit.
The rest of the dinner is happy, upbeat, andloud. We order our dinner, Mason keeps the drinks coming foreveryone, and he also makes sure Angel has plenty of juice andwater to drink.
I watch the way Mason looks at Angel, and Ihave to smile. He is a man in love. Alec caresses my shoulder withhis fingers, and I get goose bumps. “Are you cold?” he asks,sincerely. He has no idea he is the reason for the goosebumps.
I look over at him and smile. “No, I’mfine.”
On the drive home from dinner, we talkexcitedly about Angel and Mason’s pregnancy.
“I have known Mason for along time, and I never thought he would settle down. Now he’smarried with almost two kids.”
I laugh at Alec’s comment about Mason havingkids. “Really? He looks very content and happy to me.”
“Yes he does. I guess theright girl will do that to a person.” Alec looks over at me andsmiles. “Angel is definitely the right girl forMason.”
“They do seem like they getalong very well. Now I understand why he is so protective ofher.”
“Yes, he is. I guess notbeing able to protect your girl will put any man on guard. Theyhave been through a lot since they have been together. It’s good tosee them both happy.”
Later that week, I learnthat Raelynn has a birthday on Sunday, May1st.Alec tells me they usually go to Orlando for her birthday to one ofthe dinner shows there. I was thinkingBeauty and the BeastorCinderella, so I am verysurprised to learn she wants to go toMedieval Times.
“That’s the place with thejousting and the horses, right?”
“That’s the place. My familyusually meets us there; it’s someplace where all the kids can beloud and have a good time. I think James will likeit.”
“When you said a dinnershow, I was thinking something a little more…?”
“Feminine or girly?” heasks.
“Yes, that’s what I wasthinking.” I look over at him and smile. “I think James will loveit.”
“Good, if you want to askyour mom and dad and Danny and Cheryl to come, that might be nice,”Alec says, stroking my hand. “We also are inviting Molly’s mom anddad, Bridget and Sam. You haven’t met them yet, but they are reallynice people. They love Raelynn, and I don’t know what I would havedone without them, this past year.”
“You wouldn’t mind if Max’sparents came?”
“No, not at all. They likeRaelynn and they are an important part of your family, so they mostdefinitely should be included in Raelynn’s birthdaycelebration.”
I smile before leaning in to kiss him. “Youknow, my husband would have loved you.”
He kisses me back and says, “Emma, I don’tthink your husband would have liked me at all. Men don’t like othermen who kiss their wives.”
I lean back away from him and think aboutwhat he just said. “You know what I mean. How long do you thinkthat I can refer to Max as my husband?”
“Emma, I think you can referto Max as your husband up until the time you remarry. Then I maybecome a little jealous hearing you call another man yourhusband.”
The thought of Alec and I being marriedbrings a smile to my face. After Max’s death, I never thought Icould love another man or ever be happy again, but Alec has provenme wrong. I think it’s still too early in our relationship toconsider marriage, but we are heading in the rightdirection.
We meet everyone in theparking lot ofMedieval Timesan hour before the show starts. Brooke, Brice, andthe boys followed us down in their own truck. Raelynn and the kidsare already super excited. Cheryl and Danny came and are talking tothe other parents. I am thrilled to see Molly’s parents, Bridgetand Sam, pull into the parking lot. I introduce them to Emma andJames and they greet them warmly. My brothers, sister, their kids,and even their spouses also come.
When I made thereservations, I booked the entire first three rows of the Yellowsection. My family never RSVP to anything; they just show up — ornot. I had no idea how many people would actually be here forRaelynn’s birthday celebration. I am happy to see that so manypeople made the one-and-a-half-hour drive to celebrate with us. Imade arrangements with the staff for us to set up for the party.Just some balloons and a cake is all we brought. Youcannothave a birthdaywithout balloons and a cake — they are a must for any birthday.This was Molly’s rule, and we always follow it. Molly was wonderfulin the beginning. I shake my head to clear it from the thoughts ofMolly.
While Mom, Cheryl, Bridget,and Millie go in to set up for the birthday party, the rest of ustake a tour through the 11thcentury-style castle. We seethe blacksmith shop, and even the torture chamber.
“Do you think they actuallyput people in those metal body cages to torture them?” Emma asks,not taking her eyes off the cages.
“Yes, I’m sure they did.Back then, they beheaded and hung people for doing almost nothing.”I whisper because I don’t want to scare the kids. “Executing peoplewas cheaper than keeping them in prison.Today, the cost of keeping people inprison is less than the cost of executing them because of legalfees and appeals.”
We go inside and the kids get their picturetaken with the King and Queen. We all get a yellow flag so we canwave to our knight during the jousting. Once we are seated and theshow begins, the kids sit quietly and watch the tournament. We areserved a feast we must eat with only our fingers and the kids thinkit is awesome. First we feast on garlic bread, tomato bisque soupthat we drink from a bowl, roasted chicken, spare ribs, herb-bastedpotatoes and apple pasties for dessert. We eat, if we want to, fromthe time the tournament begins to the time it ends. It’s a one anda half hour tournament from start to finish.
The King and Queen honor Raelynn by callingher name during the birthday announcements, and she stands up andbows. Everyone in the arena applauds, and Rae waves tothem.
I sit back in my seat andwatch Emma and the kids. Rae and I have been here several times, soI watchEmma’s and James’expressions as they see this for the first time.This is a pretty impressive show. This is a great birthday forRaelynn. The knights and the staff put on a good show. The swordsthey use look real, but they are made of strongcardboard.
After we say our goodbyes, we head home.“Daddy, this is the best birthday ever. Can we come here for yourbirthday?”
I look in the back seat and smile. “Raelynn,I’ll think about it.”
“When is your birthday?”Emma asks.
I look over at her. “Mybirthday’s September 1st. When isyours?”
“Not until August15th.”
“That might come in handyone day,” I joke.
We pull up at home and Emma checks the mailwhile I wait for her by the car. She returns and we each carry asleeping child into the house. Once the kids are in bed, Emma has aglass of wine and I have a beer.
“Alec, thank you. Today wasa perfect day for not just Rae, but for me and James, too. Wereally had a great time.”
“I’m glad you had a goodtime. It’s one of Raelynn’s favorite places togo.”
“She did enjoy herself. Ithought it was nice that everyone showed up for herbirthday.”
I smile at the memory of everyone beingthere. “Very seldom does everyone you invite show up to an event. Iwas also surprised to see everyone there.”
I watch as Emma and Alec pull up into thedriveway. Emma checks the mail, and I contemplate running her overwith my car. She thinks she is so special, spending the day with mydaughter and husband on my daughter’s birthday. I want to seeRaelynn, but Alec carries her into the house. I smile at thethought that my baby is asleep. I wonder how she spent her birthdaytoday.
“Doll, let’s go. I don’twant to spend another night in jail. You are becoming obsessed withthis.”
“Not yet.” I look over atBobby; he is resting his head on the seat with his eyes closed. Iam reminded just how much I hate my life. I look out the window atthe brightly lit house my husband now calls home. My thoughts driftback to when I was working at the hospital.I had a terrible headache and another nurse offered me aprescription pain pill to take. I thought it was hers until we wentinto the narcotics cabinet and she signed it out under a patient’sname. I remember thinking I can’t take that, it’s wrong. She toldme all the nurses do it, it’s not a big deal. She also told me if Iwanted it to work quickly to crush it up and snort it. I watch asshe did it and she seemed to have instant relief. I did it, too,and that is what got me here today. After a while, the snortingstopped working as quickly, so I started shooting up.I wipe away the tears that fall and Bobbymoans.
“Let’s go, Molly. Why do youwant to watch this? He is stupid to have ever let you go. You don’tdeserve the pain he causes you.”
He smiles and I can see thatat one time, Bobby was nice looking. He is tall and he used to bevery muscular. He used to be a boxer. When I first met him, he wasa lot stronger than he is now. Muscle-wasting is another sideeffect of drugs. His hair is oily and his clothes are dirty. He hasa long-sleeved shirt on to hide the marks on his arms. I close myeyes and pray to be someplace else, anyplace else. I hate my life.I want to change, I really do. I swallow thevomitthat threatens torise.
My arms begin to itch and I am reminded it istime for me to use again. I viciously rub my arms to make thatprickling-needle, creepy-crawly feeling go away. I could stop usingtoday, if it weren’t for the detoxing. That is the hardest part.The nurse who introduced me to snorting pain killers failed to tellme about the crawly skin you get when you don’t use. She alsoforgot to tell me about the constant nausea, vomiting, and diarrheathat lasts for days. If she wasn’t already dead from overdosing, Iswear I could kill her myself.
The lights go off in thehouse, and I am reminded that my husband will be sleeping withanother woman tonight. I put something in the mailbox before Istart the car and pull off to go to the land of the livingdead.When I don’t use to numb the pain, Iuse to stop the sickness.
Chapter Five: Expect the Unexpected
I wake up to the smell of bacon and the soundof giddy children. It is another reminder that life is good. Ibrush my teeth before joining my family in the other room. Alec issitting at the table staring at the stack of mail on the table. Iget a cup of coffee before joining him at the table.
“Whatever you are staringat, it must be pretty interesting.” Alec looks up at me and taps apiece of mail on the table. “What is it?” I ask.
He looks at me but doesn’t say anything.
I take the mail from him and read theenvelope. It is addressed to Raelynn and the sender is “Mom.” I putthe card on the table next to Alec.
“She hasn’t seen her in ayear, doesn’t ask about her, has never even called her, nothing.Now she puts a card for her in the mailbox.”
“Are you going to openit?”
He taps the card on the table a few moretimes before looking at the card again.
“There’s no return addressand no postage, which means she brought it here and dropped it offsometime yesterday. She’s stillstalking usor you or Rae or a combination of us.” I watch him stand up andwalk to the front door. He opens the door wide and walks out ontothe front porch and looks up and down the street. When he issatisfied no one is out there, he comes back into the house andlocks the door.
“Alec, I think you shouldopen it. Maybe she is trying to change, just maybe she is trying todo right by her daughter.”
Alec looks at me with a half-smile. “Emma,you always try to see the good in people. You really are the mostinnocent and purest person I know.” He taps the card on the tableagain and says, “I would really like to think she is trying tochange and to be the kind of mother that Rae deserves.”
I hear the kids in the bedroom and I stand tocheck on them. “I’ll be back.” I put on a fake smile before walkingin the bedroom where James and Raelynn are playing. “Good morning,are you hungry?”
“Good morning, momma,” Jamessays as he runs up and hugs me.
“Good morning, Emma,”Raelynn says, also hugging me.
“Come on, let’s go and eat.”I follow the kids out of their room. Alec is standing up near thewindow, looking outside. The mail has been cleared off the table,and there is no sign of the card from Molly. “Go sit down and I’llget your breakfast for you. Would you like milk or orange juice todrink?”
“Milk, please,” they say inunison.
After a hearty breakfast,Alec and I talk quietly about the unopened card. When he is ready,he slowly opens it and reads it out loud.It is just a plain and simple birthday card.Innocent enough,I thinkto myself. Molly signed it, “I love and miss you.Mommy.”
“I think you should spendthe day with Raelynn and show her the card. Let her know that hermother is thinking about her.”
“I know she has a right tosee it, but I don’t want to introduce Molly back into our lives andhave to sit here and watch my daughter’s heart break all overagain. Raelynn was devastated when Molly left; that’s why we don’teven talk about her. I don’t want to put her through it again.” Hecracks his knuckles and runs his hands through his hair.“This person is not the woman I married, and thatis why I divorced her.”
“Alec, I will support you nomatter what you decide. If you want to wait and think about it,take all the time you need — there’s no hurry.”
“I’ll take some time andthink about it. We still have the issue about Molly stalking you,Raelynn, or us. I’m not sure what her motive is or whom she iswatching.”
“I’m not worried about her;what could she possibly do?”
During the day we stay home and get caught upon some cleaning, laundry, and yard work. I make a roast, potatoes,and carrots for dinner and Cheryl brings over one of her homemadespice cakes for dessert. Alec tells me that he spoke with his mom,and she agreed with me about letting Raelynn have her birthdaycard.
James takes a nap, and I give Alec and Raesome time alone. I go into the bedroom and start straightening theclothes in the dressers. Before I am done, Raelynn walks into theroom, carrying her birthday card from her mom. I look at Rae, thenAlec, and then Rae again. “What’s this?” I ask, sitting on the edgeof the bed. I already know what it is, but I don’t know what elseto say.
“Look, Emma, my mommy sentme a birthday card.” She walks over to me and holds the card outfor me to see.
I smile and take the cardfrom her. I read the card to her although I know Alec already has.“Happy Birthday to my beautiful daughter.” The outside of the cardhas a woman and a girl all dressed up and sitting in front of a teaset, drinking tea. I open the card and read what is on the inside.“Today is your special day. Happy Birthday and I hope you have awonderful day.I love and miss you. Mommy.”I open and close the card before handing it back to her. “This is avery nice card.”
“Me and mommy used to havetea parties when she was here.” I pick up Rae and set her beside meon the bed. Alec is leaning in the doorway and watching us; helooks exhausted.
“I’m sure she misses youvery much.”
“Daddy said she’s sick,” Raesays, sadly.
“Do you think we could makeher a get-well card?”
Alec speaks up and says, “Rae, we don’t knowwhere she is. How will she get the card that you make forher?”
“Daddy, the mailman knowswhere she is. He brought me the birthday card from her. We’ll putit in the mailbox, and he will take it to her. It will make herfeel better.”
I look at Alec, and he smiles and shakes hishead. His daughter is a genius.
Alec walks further into the room and kneelsdown in front of his daughter. “Raelynn, this may not work. He is avery busy man and he may not remember where she is.”
“We won’t know if we don’ttry,” she says, looking at him with her big blue eyes.
“We’ll try it, but I don’twant you to get your hopes up.”
I say, “All right, let me get the arts andcrafts out, and you can make her a card.”
Raelynn hugs me, “Emma, you’re the best.”
I hug her back and kiss the top of her head.“I love you.”
When Raelynn is finished making the get-wellcard for her mother, she immediately wants to mail it. I watch asAlec walks her the short distance to the mailbox. She places it inthe mailbox as he looks up and down our street. He shows her thatfor out-going mail you need to raise the red flag on the mailbox toalert the mailman there is mail.
Alec showers and gets ready for his midnightshift at work. We are in the bedroom when Alec asks, “Why do youthink Molly sent Rae a card now?”
“I think she truly missesand loves her.”
He looks at me. “But, why now? Why didn’t shereach out to her over the past year?”
I brush his hair away from his sweet face. “Iwish I could answer that. Maybe she wasn’t around then or maybe sheis trying to get help now. I have no idea.”
“I hope Raelynn doesn’t gether hopes up. I have a feeling this isn’t going to benefit Raelynnat all.”
“The worst case is that nowRaelynn knows that her mom was thinking about her on herbirthday.”
He smiles at me and says, “You’re right, shewas pretty excited about that card.” He looks at his watch andsays, “Walk me to the door, or I’ll be late for work.”
I kiss and hug him goodbye and he reminds meto lock up and to call 911, if anything happens. I laugh, but Ilock up before going to bed.
“Em, Emma, wakeup.”
I blink a few times andsmile. Max is lying beside me on the bed. He smiles and his clearblue eyes are beautiful. “You’re here?”
“I am, I have missed you,”he says, leaning over to kiss the tip of my nose. He gentlycaresses my earlobe like he always does. “I love you somuch.”
“Where have you been? Youused to visit me more often.”
“The less you need me, theless I need to come.”
“But I’ll always need you.”I lean over and touch Max’s scruffy face.
“Em, I’ll always love you. Ijust want you to be happy. Are you happy?”
“I am. Alec is good to meand to James. But I still love you.”
“Good, that’s all I careabout, and it’s ok to love both of us.”
“You have no reason to feelbad for that. You have been blessed to find love twice in yourlife. Some people never find it at all. I just want you to be happyand to love again.”
“Em, there is going to be atime when someone you meet will need your help.”
“Who? I don’tunderstand.”
“When the time comes, youwill understand. Em, I love you, always and forever?” Hesmiles.
“Forever and always,” Icorrect.
I wake up and my heart hurtsfor Max. I think about him everyday, but when he visits me in mydreams, it makes me miss him that much more.The less you need me, the less I need to come.Soon he will stop showing up at all. A tear slidesdown my cheek.It’s ok to love both ofus.Max is giving me permission to move onwithout him. He understands that I can still love him and someoneelse. I know that Max watches me and he knows that Alec has adaughter. Max and I once spoke of having more children. Max wantsme to be a mother to Raelynn — she needs my help, the help of amother.I pick up my phone and textAlec.
Emma: I missyou.
I lay my phone down, not expecting him toreply. I am surprised when my phone chirps with a text messagealert.
Alec: I miss you, too. Iseverything all right?
Emma: I’m fine, I can’tsleep.
Alec: I can’t sleep,either.
I giggle at his playfulness. Of course, hecan’t sleep. He is working.
Emma: Well that’s a goodthing — it is hard to sleep when you’re savinglives.
Alec: I’m no hero tonight;the most heroic thing I have done so far is toast a bagel withoutburning it. Go back to bed and dream of me.
Emma: Stay awake and think of me.
I am able to go back to sleep and I dream ofAlec. I wake up before the alarm and shower before getting the kidsup for school. The kids get dressed, and we eat breakfast togetherbefore leaving for work and school. I text Alec and tell him tohave a good sleep, and then I drive to work after dropping the kidsoff at school.
Sara, Brea, and I work well into theafternoon before stopping for a break. Angel walks in, carryinglunch for everyone.
“I hope I’m not too late andyou guys haven’t already eaten lunch,” she says, closing the doorbehind her.
Sara stands up to help her in with the food.“No, we haven’t had a break yet. We didn’t expect to see you heretoday.”
“I know. Mason and I wantedto do something nice for you guys.”
Brea and I also stand and follow everyoneinto the break room. Angel and Sara place all the food on the tableand we begin to dig in.
“How are you feeling,Angel?” I ask, looking over at her.
She smiles before answering.“I feel great. The morning sickness is about over and my boobshurt. They are getting bigger. Mason says that the Titty Fairykeeps visiting me.But, other than that, I feel great.”
“When is your ultrasoundscheduled?” Brea asks.
“Tomorrow morning, we arethe first appointment. We won’t find out the sex tomorrow, willwe?”
“No, not yet. It’s too soon.Your babies will still look like peanuts. Babies? I can’t believeyou are having twins,” Brea says excitedly.
Angel pats her small baby bump. “I know,every time I think about it, it’s like the first time I am hearingit. I think I am still in shock.”
“I loved being pregnant,” Isay, sadly. “Max was so loving and sweet during my pregnancy. Wealways said we wanted three kids. Feeling your baby kick you wasjust amazing.”
I feel the tears start to build up in my eyeswhen Brea says, “She’s right, it’s the most amazing feeling in theworld.”
Angel sniffles and says, “Mason touches mybelly every day and he talks to the babies like they can hear him.It is so sweet and caring. He will make a great dad.”
The phone rings and reminds us we are stillat work.
“I need to get going,” Angelsays as she stands up.
We clean up, thank Angel forlunch, and say our goodbyes. Later that day, I get a text from Alecsaying he’ll get the kids from school. As soon as I arrive home, Icheck the mail and I am excited to see that some of the platoonmembers have returned their RSVP for the July4thparty. I call Brooke to let her know the party will definitelybe taking place.
On June17th,the 5thanniversary of Max’s death,I take theday off from work and do nothing. It’s been five years since hisdeath, and it is still very painful. I am moving on with Alec, butthat doesn’t mean that I don’t miss and love Max.
When Alec comes home from his morning run, henotices my eyes are red and swollen. He comes up and kissesme.
“I’m sorry, Baby. I know youmiss him.” He holds me close to him.
“I love you, but I do missMax. I know that sounds like it can’t be possible, but it is.” Hehugs me back, and I rest my head on my chest.
“I know that you can lovethe both of us. I wish I knew what to do to helpyou.”
He offers what comfort he can for me. Jamesappears sad, too. Even though he can’t remember his dad, I know hemisses him.
“I have an idea, what wasMax’s favorite meal?” Alec asks.
“It was a clam bake,additional seafood of any kind, and strawberry cheesecake fordessert. Oh, and his mother’s homemade cornbread.Why?”
“I think from now on, onthis date, we should have Max’s favorite meal,” Alec looks from meand then to James. “On the anniversary of his death, I think weshould have a clambake with additional seafood, cornbread, andstrawberry cheesecake to honor him. I also think it may help withthe sadness of losing him.”