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Never Too Late
By Robyn Carr
MIRA Copyright © 2006 Robyn Carr
All right reserved.
Clare drove through the March rain to the house that had been hers, the house she left when she separated from her husband, and she felt a little guilty. Her trip was another of those nighttime forages for things she missed, something she only did when she knew Roger was going to be away. At least this time she'd brought a birthday card to leave behind.
Maybe she was too easy on Roger, as their son, Jason, maintained. Her leniency also dismayed her sisters. Maybe she should try to be tougher, less tractable. Maybe everyone was right -- he didn't deserve it and she was a fool.
Today was Roger's fortieth birthday, and she felt a little sorry for him. He was clearly having a problem with aging, as someone like Roger would. He'd said as much. So Clare, being the accommodating almost-ex-wife that she was, had offered to make him dinner for his birthday. It would give Roger a chance to spend a little time with Jason, which Roger very much wanted even if Jason did not. But Roger said he had to be out of town on business, holed up in a hotel alone after some boring meeting.
It was probably for the best that the dinner hadn't worked -- Jason was still so angry. She had forced Jason to sign the card, and would leave it on the breakfast bar for Roger to find when he got back to town. She had wanted Jason to come along tonight, butit turned out that signing the card was as far as he could go.
Right before dropping Jason off at his friend Stan's house for the night, he had said, "You're going to get back with him, aren't you?" There had been such vitriol in his tone, she didn't even dare to respond. Which only led him to accuse, "You are!"
"No!" she had insisted. She had said it as strongly and firmly as she could, adding, "But I think it would be good for all of us, especially you, if we just get along."
"I don't want to get along with him! I hate him!" Oh, how that caused her gut to clench.
Roger had brought it upon himself. In his naivete he'd imagined that his adultery would be a secret from his son forever; that Clare would be the only one hurt by his actions. He'd really screwed up with Jason and it was a pity. For both of them.
Jason was fourteen. Just budding into manhood, struggling with puberty, freckles giving way to pimples, his overly tall, big-footed form gangly and awkward. And he was, to say the least, pretty touchy. Take one irritable teen, one self-centered and adulterous father, mix, watch explosion in a matter of seconds.
A plethora of responses had sprung to her mind, but she squelched them. She had some experience with these comebacks, and knew they didn't work anyway.
You might not always hate him. No matter what you might think, he doesn't hate you. He screwed up, he knows it, and he's sorry, Jason.
Clare didn't care that Jason was mad at Roger -- Roger deserved it. But this hate. This wasn't good. She didn't want her son to be in pain. So when Jason had refused to even go by the house with her to drop off the birthday card, she had said, fine. I'll do it. No big deal. I'll drop you at Stan's on the way. Call later, before you fall asleep. If you think of it.
Clare admired her old house as she pulled into the drive -- it was a fine-looking, two-story brick, carriage lights shining at the three-port garage and around the walk to the front door. She sat in the car, gazing at it, thinking. Thinking how much she missed it.
This was her fourth separation from Roger. She thought it would get easier, since the reason never changed. Roger was habitually unfaithful. This time when Clare caught him with someone else, she had decided to be the one to leave. She thought she'd finally had enough. She was pushed so far that she didn't even want to stay in the house she had shared with him, though she loved the spacious four-bedroom home. She thought a fresh start would do her good, but this had been harder than she expected. She had labored over every detail of the interior, having done all the decorating herself, and it was like parting with an old and dear friend.
Right on cue, Roger had immediately started making noises about wanting his family back and a chance, one last chance, to start his life over and make amends with Clare and Jason and all the peripheral people wounded by his behavior. "I'm about to be forty, Clare, and it's pretty traumatic," he had said. "Don't think I don't know what I've done, how stupid I've been. I do. And I'm going to prove to you that I can change. I'm going to get help. I'm in counseling now."
"I don't think I have one more chance in me," she had returned. "And even if I did, my family doesn't. Our friends can't even take any more."
"That's your doing," he had shot back. "You haven't been able to keep even our most private problems to yourself!"
Well, that was true. But if Roger thought that was hard on him, he ought to try being her. Once people knew what he'd done, they couldn't believe she'd taken him back again. And again. And again. Their recrimi-nations had run from astonished disbelief to what felt like a crushing lack of respect. Needless to say, the people she loved most had all but given up on her. In this relatively small town of only fifteen thousand, she was sure everyone knew.
And why had she caved in and taken him back, anyway? Because there were things about Roger. He was handsome, funny and very often kind-hearted. He was generous and a wonderful dancer. There were times in her life when she'd been shattered -- like when her mother died and her little sister, Sarah, had plummeted into a frightening depression -- and Roger had been completely there for her. He'd always been a good provider and while not a doting father, he loved Jason. He'd never been a coach or Boy Scout leader, but he'd enjoyed his son's games and achievements. Truthfully, Roger only had one screwup -- it just happened to be about the biggest one available.
She just couldn't seem to get past the notion that this was all her fault. Her inability to make her marriage work; her failure to leave it. She couldn't keep him from straying and she couldn't seem to keep herself from letting him back in. She wasn't sure if trying to keep the family together had been a good thing for Jason, or the opposite. Clare just couldn't win.
She had officially moved out three months ago, right after Christmas, and into a town house the perfect size for herself and her son. She had taken only what she needed, but over time she transferred more of her things. She retrieved them in small increments on days and nights like this, when Roger had said he'd be away from the house. If he noticed the linen closet or kitchen getting emptier, he never mentioned it. Tonight she was in pursuit of a Bundt pan, slow cooker, her favorite red-trimmed dishes, the kitchen rug from in front of the sink and a bunch of Williams-Sonoma dish towels. Leaving the card on the breakfast bar would give her secret away, but that was all right. It was time Roger figured this out. Time to make this split official with the big D.
With a sigh, she turned off the engine and stepped out into the cold drizzle. She pulled the collar of her jacket up around her neck and shivered -- possibly from the cold, or from the prospect of stepping back into the house she loved. Clare was a little surprised that the house alarm wasn't set, but then Roger had never worried about things like that in this nice little town. The only lights were those built into the walls of the foyer and hall, but that was all she needed. She knew every inch of the house; she'd obsessed over every counter-top, cupboard, baseboard, floor covering. She'd just go straight to the kitchen, prop the card on the breakfast bar, get her things and go home. No lingering. No looking around. Seeing the house perfectly tidy always depressed her a little. It was kind of hard to see Roger getting along so well, especially given all his protesting that he needed her back in his life.
This house, after all, had been her domain. All the more reason to leave it in the past and start over.
She heard a squeak and froze. A creaking floorboard upstairs? Her heart pounded. Was someone in the house? A burglar? Then she heard another noise, kind of like that high-pitched moan the water pipes made when the backyard faucet was turned on. She thought about bolting. Then she heard it again, louder. This time it was followed by an undeniably female giggle.
The son of a bitch!
She was enraged on so many levels, but star billing went to the fact that she had asked Jason to come with her! My God, how much counseling would it have taken to get him past this?
She crept up the stairs without making a sound and saw the slit of light coming from the master bedroom; the double doors were just slightly ajar. She peeked inside and saw the long slim back of a blonde riding Roger. The woman rocked back and forth while beneath her Roger moaned. The woman giggled again. At the foot of the bed was a wine bucket with an opened bottle sticking out of it; on the bedside table, two glasses.
She gently pushed the door open and stood there, watching. She cleared her throat. It took a moment for them to realize they were no longer alone. The woman glanced over her shoulder, spied Clare and dived off Roger and under the sheets. She only glimpsed her but at least she wasn't someone Clare knew. Thank God.
Roger, at a disadvantage, struggled to prop himself up on his elbows. "Clare..."
She walked toward the bed. "How's that boring old business trip going, Rog?"
"Clare, it was cancelled. At the very last --"
"Oh, shut up, Roger," she yelled.
"But Clare, we're separated, and I figured --"
She plucked the wine bottle out of the bucket, tossed it on the carpet and lifted the bucket full of melting ice and water off its stand. She doused Roger and company. He was lifted off the bed with a yelp of pain and the woman under the sheets screamed.
Clare turned and fled the house, deliberately leaving the front door standing open, hoping there had just been an escape from the zoo and several lions and tigers were loose in the neighborhood. Or maybe a serial killer would be passing by and see a prime opportunity.
She jumped in the car and screeched out of the driveway, changed gears and zoomed down the street. And she cried.
She didn't cry because she loved him so much, but rather because she was so bloody sick of being humiliated like this. When would she learn?
Despite the fact that Roger had no discretion whatsoever, this was the first time she'd actually caught him in the act. She'd found evidence, like hotel charges, receipts for gifts not given to her. There had been strange phone messages and there was that time a woman had called and begged Clare to free him. Once confronted, he'd always come clean. He was a charmer, a flirt, a philanderer and a lousy liar.
She'd asked him more than once why he didn't just embrace bachelorhood. "Seriously, Roger -- why not just be single? You act like it anyway. Just go for it. Knock yourself out."
Then he would hang his head and say, with pathetic sincerity, "Because I love you, Clare. I've always loved you. I know I'm screwed up, but I just don't think I can get beyond this without you."
She hit the steering wheel in blind fury. That's when she saw the flashing lights in her rearview mirror and looked down at the speedometer. Damn it all, she was speeding.
She slowed down and pulled to the curb, then she let her head drop and she fell apart, crying painful tears. Familiar tears.
Excerpted from Never Too Late by Robyn Carr Copyright © 2006 by Robyn Carr. Excerpted by permission.
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