Back In the Game

Back In the Game

2.8 9
by Holly Chamberlin

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From bestselling author Holly Chamberlin comes a heartfelt novel of love, marriage, and one woman's search for what comes next. . .

Jess Marlowe always sensed her marriage had a limited run. So when a reckless mistake ended it, she was hardly shocked. But since her divorce became final, the surprises have been coming fast and furious. It seems no one in Jess's

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From bestselling author Holly Chamberlin comes a heartfelt novel of love, marriage, and one woman's search for what comes next. . .

Jess Marlowe always sensed her marriage had a limited run. So when a reckless mistake ended it, she was hardly shocked. But since her divorce became final, the surprises have been coming fast and furious. It seems no one in Jess's life is having an easy time adjusting to her newly single status. Most disturbing of all, Jess has no regrets. She knows nobody promised relationships lasted forever. But now she wonders if it's ever right to promise anyone anything. Yet despite Jess's resolve to act with her head from now on, she just may have to accept that the heart has a say of its own. . .

Praise for the novels of Holly Chamberlin

"Nostalgia over real-life friendships lost and regained pulls readers into the story." –USA Today on Summer Friends

"It does the trick as a beach book and provides a touristy taste of Maine's seasonal attractions." —Publishers Weekly on The Family Beach House

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Four divorced Boston women get back in the dating game. Jess had an affair and now wants to figure out what she truly wants from life. Nell's husband of 20 years has finally come out of the closet. Laura wanted children, but her husband did not-so now she's after P.F.M. (perfect father material). And Grace simply can't seem to get her ex off her couch and out of her life. Chamberlin (Living Single; Babyland) showcases four very different women looking for the same thing-happiness. For most chick lit and women's fiction collections. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Back in the Game



Copyright © 2006 Elise Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-1652-6

Chapter One


Recent statistics show that fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce. -Wake Up and Smell the Dirty Sheets: You Will Be Divorced

He said I'd never loved him.

He was probably right.

"I don't know why you married me in the first place."

"Matt," I replied wearily, "we've been through this before."

Matt laughed and it sounded bitter. "No, Jess, we haven't."

He was right again. We hadn't talked through anything, but I'd been asking myself that very question-why did I marry Matt Fromer in the first place?-since the day I started the affair that ended my marriage.

I am Jess Marlowe and I am an adulteress. My crime is of Biblical proportions.

"I'm sorry, Matt." I was. I still am. But I was tired and wanted Matt to hang up so that I could go to bed.

"I don't give a shit," he spat. Matt was drunk. Matt rarely drank even a beer; his inebriated state was clear evidence of just how badly I'd hurt him.

If you didn't give a shit, I thought, you wouldn't have gotten drunk and called me. I said nothing. The divorce had been finalized that day. The papers to prove it lay next to the phone.

"What, you still have nothing to say?" he taunted."I bet you had plenty to say to that kid, what's his name, Seth."

Matt was right, again. I had had plenty to say to Seth; he'd had a lot to say to me. Seth was only twenty-five but he had the toned, brilliant mind of a seasoned scholar. That's what attracted me to him in the first place, the words that came out of his mouth. The physical part just flowed from that.

It was inevitable.

It was wrong.

"You're really a bitch, you know?"

I had wronged Matt. But I didn't have to take this abuse. He was no longer my husband.

"I'm hanging up, Matt," I said. "I wish you the best."

Before he could reply with a scathing remark, I ended the call. I went directly to bed but couldn't sleep.

Guilt is a very noisy companion.

Chapter Two


Understand this: Approximately ninety percent of the sympathy you are shown is false. Your failure serves only to highlight another's smug sense of success. -They're Talking About Me: Surviving Your Friends, Family, and Colleagues Post-Divorce

The day Richard and I got married it rained. Cats and dogs, my father said. The man loved a cliché.

The July sky opened up around three that afternoon and dumped rivers of rain on us until after midnight. When the reception was over, the rain finally stopped.

They say that rain on your wedding day is a good thing, a sign of luck, assurance of a blessed union.

For a little over twenty years our luck held, Richard's and mine. It held through good times and bad. It held through the birth of our two children, Clara, then two years later, Colin. It held through colds and chicken pox and scraped knees, through Richard's promotions and my ovarian cancer scare, and through the kids' graduations from high school. Our luck even held through the deaths of my parents in an awful car crash, and through Richard's mother's slow descent in Alzheimer's and then his father's fatal heart attack.

It held through the fabulous trip to Europe we took to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary.

But, as my father was fond of saying, all good things come to an end. Our union, blessed for so long, fell apart in a spectacular way the night I found evidence of Richard's affair-the night he admitted to being in love with someone else.

A man named Bob Landry.

My life as I knew it exploded that night. Almost a year later, I'm still finding bloody shards in unlikely places.

Like in the U.S. mail.

I'd spent most of the early spring afternoon walking, wandering really, with no goal in mind other than to eventually wind my way home. I was tired when I got back to the apartment but it was a good tired, the kind you feel in your bones. I hoped I would sleep well that night; since the divorce, sleep had been a hit or miss activity.

I shuffled through the mail I'd retrieved from the box in the lobby. A few bills. A letter from a colleague on the MFA's Annual Fund committee. A letter from my doctor, confirming what the technician at the hospital had already told me, that my mammogram was clean.

And then ... I held the chunky envelope in fingers that were suddenly shaky.

Interestingly, some people still hadn't heard about Richard's emergence from a lifetime of secrecy and lies. Take, for example, the Smiths, a family who used to own an apartment in the building next door but who'd relocated to Connecticut five years earlier. Clearly they didn't know that Richard and I were no longer "man and wife" because there it was in my shaking hand, a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Allard.

Mrs. Richard Allard. The name mocked me; it mocked everything I had thought I had and was and would be until the end, until death parted Richard from me.

After the divorce I'd gone back to using my maiden name, Keats. Maiden name. An accurate term in my case as Richard was the first and only man I'd ever had sex with, and not really, not entirely, until after we were married. Until after the church sanctioned our union and we promised to love and cherish each other and to accept children willingly from God. Not until after we were made to listen to all that other crap Richard's Catholic church demanded we listen to.

Nell Keats. I am once again who I was a long, long time ago. Except that now, Nell Keats is a forty-two-year-old divorced woman, mother of twenty-year-old Clara and eighteen-year-old Colin, my children who still have their father's name, who in that way and more still belong to him. I could throw off the burden of Richard's name, the mark of his possession, but I couldn't ask my son and daughter to do the same.

Nell Keats. In what relation do I stand to those three Allards?

I tossed the wedding invitation from the Smiths on the hall table. It would have to be answered. I would have to explain yet again what I was so tired of explaining. And then would come the inevitable questions.

How are you feeling?

Like hell.

Are you okay?


Did Richard at least take care of you financially?

Oh, yes.

A wild thought came to me then. Upon learning that Richard and I were no longer married, would the Smiths choose my ex-husband and his lover over me? Would Richard and Bob be invited to the Smiths' yearly Summer Splash pool party? Would I be left off the guest list?

Stranger things had happened to me since that eye-opening night when I found the scrap of paper in Richard's pants pocket as I sorted the laundry for clothes to be taken to the dry cleaners. I unfolded the scrap, thinking it might have been a receipt Richard might need to record, and instead found a note in a man's handwriting-I can always tell a man's from a woman's-and what it said exactly modesty forbids me to repeat.

I sat heavily on the edge of the bed. Richard wasn't home; he'd said he was working late. When Richard walked into the apartment at almost eleven, I was still sitting on the edge of our bed, numb. It never occurred to me, not for one moment, that the note was a piece of trash Richard had picked up from outside the building. Richard was always tidying up. Somehow, I just knew this note was evidence of something far more unpleasant than trash.

Richard came into the bedroom, smiled, opened his mouth to say, "Hi, Nellie." But nothing came out of his mouth. He saw the look on my face, saw the note I held in my hand, and knew the game was over. Thankfully, he didn't deny his culpability.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. He looked ill, scared.

I said nothing that night, I couldn't, but oh, by the next night the words were flying out of my mouth, questions, insults, protestations, cries for mercy.

Mercy. I felt like a victim, powerless, confused. Why me?

Eleven months later and I was still asking, why me?

I stared down at the Smiths' wedding invitation on the hall table. Let Richard handle it, I thought. Let Richard do the explaining.

I'm through.

Chapter Three


Everybody loves a victim. Be sure to embellish the tale of every domestic squabble to include his punching you in the nose. -After the Divorce: Lies to Tell Your Family, Friends, and Co-Workers

Candace. Yes, Candace was a good name for a girl. But wait, I thought. People will be tempted to call her Candy, and no daughter of mine was going to have a name that was better suited to a porn star.

No daughter of mine.

I wanted, I needed to find just the right names for my children. And I wasn't even pregnant, not even divorced from Duncan Costello, my husband of eight years, the man who refused to give me my children, little Annabelle or Leon.

"Mrs. Costello?"

I looked up at the lawyer, startled back to the moment.

"I'd prefer if you called me Ms. Keats," I said. "I'll be going back to my maiden name."

That is, until I get remarried. Then I'll be Mrs. Lumia or Mrs. Makepeace. I really hope I meet a guy with a good last name!

The lawyer nodded. She had a nice face and a nice office. I'd found her in the Yellow Pages. One of my colleagues at the business and computer training school where I work as an administrative assistant teased me for using the phone book and not the Internet to find a divorce lawyer. But in some ways, I'm kind of old-fashioned. I might work for a school that trains people to build and repair computers, but that doesn't mean I want to build and repair them myself !

"Ms. Keats, then," she said. "Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with the divorce? Because your husband will be served the papers today."

I thought about my babies, the babies Duncan said he didn't want, and said, "Yes, I'm sure."

I left her office a few minutes later and took the elevator to the lobby. I walked out into the afternoon. It was early April. The winter had been really long and hard, with lots and lots of snow. But now that it was getting warmer, you could feel people's excitement. I felt my own excitement.

It was really happening. If Duncan came through on his promise not to be horrible, I could be officially divorced in a matter of months. On my own, single, back out there, back in the game and looking for love.

I stumbled. I suddenly felt really dizzy. What was I doing? Was getting a divorce worth it? Was it worth ending an eight-year marriage to a nice guy, someone I had fallen in love with completely, someone I'd been pretty happy with until ...

I took a deep breath and felt a little better.

A marriage to someone I'd been pretty happy with until I hadn't been pretty happy with him. Until not long after the sudden death of my parents, until not long after my sister Nell's husband had announced that he was gay. That's when it dawned on me that what I wanted most in life was not Duncan but children. At least two children, hopefully a boy first and then a girl.

I took another deep breath and headed for the corner.

It isn't an unreasonable desire, you know. It's not like I'm crazy or something. I mean, every woman deserves a child, even if it means leaving her husband to get one.

As I waited for the light to change to green, I ran through our past, Duncan's and mine, just to be sure I'd gotten things right, though I knew of course that I had.

Duncan and I met at a club. We liked each other right away and went on our first date the next night. Or was it the night after that? Anyway, we had a lot of fun and the next thing you know, we were an exclusive couple.

The subject of having a family didn't come up for the first six months of our relationship. I mean, we were having fun! And when the subject did come up, when one of Duncan's friends got his girlfriend pregnant and things got explosive, Duncan and I decided that neither of us really wanted children all that much. But neither of us rejected the idea completely. I mean, we just thought, what's the rush? We don't want kids now, so what's the point of talking about them?

I think Duncan and I had been together for almost a year and a half when we got married. It was a really fun wedding. I still remember how yummy the cake was and what really cool stuff the DJ played. My parents paid for most of it, which was really nice of them considering Duncan wasn't making tons of money and I certainly wasn't!

But that was my parents. Always doing nice things for their daughters.

I guess about a year after our wedding the topic of kids came up again, this time when one of my colleagues was struggling through a messy divorce and battling her soon-to-be-ex for full custody of their little girl. Once again, Duncan and I agreed that we were still up in the air about the whole "kid thing." That's what we called it. The "kid thing."

I started to cross the broad street, from one side of Boylston to the other. I don't like the word "kid" anymore. I like the word "child" better. It seems nicer and more mature, doesn't it?

Anyway, before you know it we were celebrating our fifth anniversary. And then the subject of children started to come up every month. I'd get my period and say, "Still just you and me, honey." Duncan would wipe his brow with the back of his hand, say, "Whew!" and we'd laugh. See, we weren't trying to get pregnant. We were trying to stay not pregnant.

And then it was year six. Duncan and I still hadn't come to any definite conclusion about the "kid thing." We'd end every conversation by saying things like, "Let's think about it some more" and "Let's wait until after Christmas to decide."

We were both pretty happy.

And then my parents, Mary and Lucas Keats, married over forty years, were killed instantly when a suddenly out-of-control tractor-trailer smashed into their small Honda. They were on their way to Florida for a week's vacation at Disney World. They loved Disney World. They went there every year. I have a whole collection of pictures with my parents and Mickey Mouse.

Not long after that terrible crash, I knew. I told Duncan that I wanted children. I told him that I needed to have children. He said, "Let's think about it some more." I said, "No more thinking." And then he said, "I'm sorry, Laura. I can't."

Well, it was a little more complicated than that, of course. There were a lot of big fights and I even begged him, but nothing would change his mind. He wouldn't say yes to starting a family even though it meant losing me.

I came to a dead stop in the middle of the street. My heart hurt. I felt all dizzy again. I wondered if I was having a panic attack.

"Lady! Move it or lose it!"

I don't know why people have to be rude.

The taxi driver's shout got my feet moving and I reached the sidewalk safely. I thought about going into Marshall's to browse the children's section. I remembered all the cute outfits I'd bought for Nell's children when they were little. I love being the adoring aunt.

Nell is smart; she always has been. She had Colin and Clara in her early twenties. And now that a bad thing has happened, now that Richard, the love of her life, has left her for a man, the love of his life, Nell still has Colin and Clara. She isn't alone, not really, the way I would be someday if I didn't hurry up and have a baby.

I turned left and hurried down the sidewalk to Marshall's.

Chapter Four


If love means always having to say you're sorry, divorce means finally getting to say, "It's all your fault, you idiot." -Looking on the Bright Side: One Hundred Great Things About Divorce

My mother used to tell me that I was a pushover. "Grace," she'd scold, shaking her head, a look of keen disappointment on her face, "you're a pushover. You're just a ball of fluff being tossed around by the wind."

She was right. I was a spineless creature. I saw that about myself from the start.

My mother, however, didn't share my consciousness. As much as she hated my tendency to comply, she never saw the same tendency in herself. My mother, Eva Lynch Henley, was the classic pushover, the woman anyone, especially a man, could get around with nothing more than a smile, a caress, a puppy-dog look.

I should note that I never took advantage of her the way other people did, probably because even as a child I was already professionally pleasant.

But my mother, oh, she'd warn me that I would be hurt out there in the big bad world unless I toughened up. "Grace," she'd say, "where has your self-esteem gotten to?"

I never told her that my self-esteem hadn't bothered to show up in the first place.

And I never, even when I was in college and hating her, I never pointed out that my behavior was almost an exact copy of hers. I never pointed out that I had been her trainee.


Excerpted from Back in the Game by HOLLY CHAMBERLIN Copyright © 2006 by Elise Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Holly Chamberlin was born and raised in New York City. After earning a Masters degree in English Literature from New York University and working as an editor in the publishing industry for ten years, she moved to Boston, married and became a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband now live in downtown Portland, Maine, in a restored mid-nineteenth century brick townhouse with Betty, the most athletic, beautiful and intelligent cat in the world. Readers can visit her website at:

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