They say the wife is always the last to know.
Except that Emily Flemming did know and she'd known for more than a week. Dave, her husband, was involved with someone else. Only Dave wasn't just Dave Flemming. He was Pastor Dave Flemming. The thought that her husband loved another woman was intolerable, unthinkable, unbearable. Dave's betrayal was bad enough, but disregarding his moral obligations to his congregation and his God—she could hardly believe it. This shocking secret was completely inconsistent with everything she knew about her husband.
Ever since the night of their anniversary dinner, Emily had carefully guarded what she'd learned. She'd been in the church office, waiting for Dave, and had reached for his suit jacket, which hung on the back of his door. When she draped it over her arm, a diamond earring had fallen out of the pocket. Later she'd discovered the second one in the other pocket. Emily had certainly never owned anything as extravagant as this pair of large, diamond-studded pendant earrings.
In the beginning Emily had assumed the earrings were an anniversary present; however, she quickly realized they couldn't be. For one thing, they weren't in a jeweler's box. But even if they had been, it wasn't possible. Dave could never have afforded diamond earrings on their tight family budget.
Emily should have asked immediately…and hadn't. She'd been afraid of ruining their special evening with her suspicions. But almost at once, other details had begun to add up in her mind. She could no longer ignore the fact that Dave so often worked late, especially since the private hour they'd shared after dinner had gone by the wayside. It might've been her imagination but he seemed to take extra long with his grooming, too.
Her suspicions doubled and tripled. She held them close to her heart, examining them over and over, trying to make sense of her husband's behavior. Whenever she asked where he'd been, Dave's answers were vague. Another warning sign…
"Mommy, when's Daddy coming home?" Mark, the younger of her two sons, asked as he looked up from his plate. He was eight and his dark brown eyes were identical to his father's.
Emily had the same question. "Soon," she said as reassuringly as she could. Two or three times a week, Dave didn't get home until well after dinner. At first she'd made excuses for him to their boys. Now she didn't know what to tell them.
"Dad hardly ever eats with us," Matthew complained, sitting down next to his younger brother.
Dave's lateness had started gradually. He used to make a point of being there for the evening meal. As she stared into space, Emily couldn't help wondering if he was having dinner with some other woman… some other family. She chased away the thought with a determination that stiffened her spine.
For the sake of her children, Emily dragged out her standard excuse. "Your father's been busy at the church."
Her sons echoed Emily's own dissatisfaction. "It seems so," she returned lightly, pretending all was well as she joined them at the dinner table. They automatically clasped hands and bowed their heads while Emily recited grace. Silently she added a prayer for herself, asking for courage to face whatever the future might hold for her marriage.
"Shouldn't we wait for him at least one night?" Mark said as he reluctantly picked up his fork.
"You two have homework, don't you?" she asked, ignoring his question.
"Your father will eat later."
"Will he get home before we go to bed?" Matthew, her sensitive son, asked.
"I don't know," she said, swallowing hard.
She made a pretense of eating. Her appetite had disappeared the minute she'd found those diamond earrings. That was the start—the wake-up call she'd ignored for months. Naturally, she'd told herself, there could be any number of explanations for those earrings. She'd intended to ask him about it the very next day… and hadn't.
Emily knew what held her back. She didn't want to hear the truth; she simply wasn't ready for it. She dreaded the consequences once she did finally confront him.
She'd questioned her husband, more than once, about his late nights. But Dave brushed aside her concern and offered ambiguous excuses, mentioning people she'd never met and meetings she didn't know about. He almost seemed to resent her asking, so after a while she'd stopped.
She supposed she had her answer. Since the discovery of the diamond earrings, she had a perfectly clear picture of what was happening—what had already happened. Sadly, pastors were as susceptible to temptation as anyone else. Like all sinners, they, too, could be lured into affairs. They, too, could make irreparable mistakes.
If Emily had hoped this was just a misunderstanding, that she'd allowed it to grow out of all proportion in her mind, those hopes had been destroyed. Earlier in the week, she'd run into Bob and Peggy Beldon at the grocery store. They owned the local bed-and-breakfast, Thyme and Tide. As the three of them stood in the middle of the aisle exchanging pleasantries, Bob casually said that he missed playing golf with Dave.
As long as the weather permitted, the two of them had played weekly for the past three years. In a matter of minutes, she'd ferreted out the information she'd been afraid to learn. Dave had given up golfing more than a year ago. A year! Yet every week last summer, he'd loaded up his golf clubs on Monday afternoons and driven off, supposedly to meet Bob. Obviously he'd been meeting someone else.
Emily sighed. She couldn't continue to let her mind wander down this well-traveled path of doubt and suspicion. Half the time she acted the role of the quiet, unassuming wife; the rest of the time it was all she could do to refrain from demanding an explanation. She wanted the truth no matter how painful it might be—and yet she didn't. What wife ever did?
So far she'd remained silent. She was astonished by how good she'd become at pretending everything was fine. None of her friends suspected. What bothered her almost as much as her suspicions was the fact that Dave didn't seem to have any idea that she'd caught on. She wondered if he'd broach the subject. Maybe if he knew she'd figured out what was going on… Perhaps that was what she'd been waiting for. She wanted him to ask her.
But Dave never asked. If she managed to put on a marvelous performance, then so did her husband. Last Sunday he'd actually spoken from the pulpit about the importance of marriage, of loving one's spouse.
Emily felt like the most unloved woman in the world. She could barely stop herself from breaking into heart-wrenching sobs right there in front of the entire congregation. Naturally everyone must have assumed she'd been overcome with emotion, since Dave's sermon, by implication, had honored her. She wanted to tell them that, beautiful though his words were, that was all they were. Words.
It was hard to believe this could be happening to them. Emily had always been so sure they had a solid marriage, and that Dave was her best friend. Apparently she was wrong.
The door leading to the garage opened and to her surprise he walked into the house.
"Dad!" Mark slid out of his chair, running toward his father as if he hadn't seen him in a year.
"Hey there, little man, how's it going?" Dave reached down and swung their son into his arms. Mark was too big to be picked up like a child, but he craved the attention from his father.
Dave kissed Emily on the cheek, then ruffled Matthew's hair before he sat down. "I'm glad I made it home in time for dinner tonight."
"Me, too," Mark said, his eyes glowing.
Despite everything, her own happiness sprang to life again, and Emily got up and brought a fourth place setting to the table.
When she passed him the enchilada casserole she'd made, he took a heaping serving, then grinned over at her. "You fixed one of my favorites," he said. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." She met his look, letting him know with her eyes how much she loved him. Maybe, regardless of the evidence, all her unhappy suspicions were wrong.
"Can you help me with my homework after dinner, Dad?" Mark asked.
Their younger son was the top student in his class, far ahead of the other second-graders. He didn't need any assistance. What he really wanted was time with his father.
"You promised to throw me the football, remember?" Matthew said. Never mind that it was late November and already dark outside, He, too, wanted time with Dave. The children weren't the only ones; Emily needed all the reassurance he had to offer. Hard as she tried to cast aside these doubts, they refused to die. She didn't want to lose her husband. She loved Dave no matter what and was determined to keep her marriage together—or at least make every possible effort.
"Hold on, hold on." Dave laughingly raised both hands. "Give me a minute to catch my breath, would you?"
Both boys stared expectantly at their father. Emily couldn't bear to look at their eager faces. Seeing the love for him in their eyes made her feel like weeping.
"Let your dad eat his dinner," she said.
"After that, I'll help you both, but I'd like a few minutes alone with your mother first," Dave said, glancing at Emily.
A chill raced down her spine, and she was afraid to meet his eyes.
"Aw, Dad," Mark whined.
"It won't take long," he promised. "Eat your green beans."
Emily handed Dave the bowl of buttered beans with sliced almonds. He took a small portion. Green beans weren't his favorite vegetable, either, and this was her way of suggesting he set a good example.
Following dinner, the boys cleared the table, then went to their room for study hour. This had been Dave's idea. Whether they had homework or not, Matthew and Mark were to spend one hour every night reading, writing or reviewing their schoolwork. The television wasn't allowed to be on, nor were video games permitted.
As the boys trudged to their room, Emily made a pot of coffee, keeping her back to Dave as she worked. Asking to speak to her like that was unusual for him. If there was something on his mind, he generally discussed it with her after the boys had gone to bed.
Even before she could finish pouring their coffee, Dave asked her, "Are you happy?" His voice was urgent. Intense. The need to know seemed to burn inside him.
Dozens of possible questions had occurred to her, but this was one she hadn't expected.
"Happy?" she repeated, facing him. Still not meeting his gaze, she carried two steaming mugs of coffee to the table and set them down. "Am I happy?" She shoved her hands in the back pockets of her faded jeans as she contemplated her response.
"I didn't think it would take you this long to answer," Dave said. His dark eyes studied her and he seemed disappointed in her hesitation.
"Is there a reason I shouldn't be happy?" she asked, turning the question back on him. "I live in a beautiful house and I'm able to stay home with the boys the way we both wanted. My husband is madly in love with me, right?" she added, remembering his sermon from the Sunday before—and hoping she didn't sound even slightly sarcastic. Without giving him the opportunity to answer, perhaps because she feared what he might say, she asked, "What about you, Dave? Are you happy?"
"Of course I am." His reply was immediate and impassioned.
"Then I am, too." Rather than join him at the table she started to load the dishwasher.
"Sit down," he said. "Please."
Reluctantly she did.
"You haven't been sleeping well."
So he'd noticed. She fell asleep easily enough, but an hour or two later she'd be wide awake. Then for the rest of the night she'd toss and turn, sleeping fitfully if at all. The scenarios that played out in her mind wouldn't allow her to rest. Her husband might be in love with someone else. He might even be cheating on her.
Emily considered herself an emotionally strong woman, one who remained calm in a crisis. A woman others counted on for guidance and support. Yet when it came to confronting her husband with her suspicions, she was a coward.
"If there's something bothering you, maybe I can help," he said. She recognized his tone, that caring, concerned voice he so often used with others. Only she wasn't just one of his parishioners, she was his wife!
"What could possibly be bothering me?" she asked airily. She didn't expect him to answer.
"I don't know. That's why I'm asking. Are the ladies from the missionary society making too many demands?"
"No." The cookbook committee had wanted her to organize the entire project and she'd told them she simply didn't have the time, which was true. Apparently there'd been more than a few ruffled feathers. The church family seemed to think that because Emily didn't work outside the home, she should be at their beck and call, just like Dave. Emily had no intention of becoming an unpaid employee of the church and had made that clear when they accepted the assignment in Cedar Cove. Her role was to support Dave and mother their young sons.
"You'd tell me if you were upset, wouldn't you?"
"Of course," she said, hoping the act of sipping coffee would hide her lie.
Mark stuck his head inside the kitchen. "Are you finished talking to Mom yet?" he asked his father. "I need help with my math."
Dave looked at her.
"I'm fine," she said emphatically.
He seemed to doubt her. She wasn't expert at lying and hated the fact that she was afraid to voice her concerns. Dave took a sip of his coffee and stood. "All right, Mark, show me what's giving you trouble."
Emily watched her husband and son walk out of the kitchen and swallowed painfully. She'd been waiting for him to ask her a question like that. Are you happy? It was the perfect opportunity to address her suspicions—but she'd been too frightened to say anything.
The problem, she told herself, was that she wasn't prepared. For her own protection, she needed facts and details before she confronted him. He needed to realize she wasn't as naive as he obviously thought.
By nine that evening both boys were in bed and asleep. When Dave was home, getting her sons ready for the night was invariably a smooth, easy process. But anytime she was alone with them—which was most nights lately—they came up with a multitude of excuses to delay going to bed.
Half an hour later, she was in her sewing room, working on a quilt for Matthew. She ironed the fabric squares, pleased with her bargain. Always conscious of cost, she'd bought the material, a bright cotton print, on sale at The Quilted Giraffe. As she turned off the iron she heard Dave come in. He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind. "Alone at last," he whispered, kissing the side of her neck, his lips lingering there.