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In the car lot of life, Amanda Sheridan decided, she was a Volvo station wagon with about eighty thousand miles on it.
People said a woman should look at how a man treated his mother when deciding whether to marry him, but Amanda now knew, from painful personal experience, that a man's car-buying habits were a much better indicator.
In her family men bought good quality cars and drove them until they stopped running; they racked up the miles and bragged about their odometer readings. And in most cases, their marriages lasted just as long.
In Rob's family, which Amanda had been a part of for almost twenty years, the men traded up. Every year they chose a new car and passed the year-old vehicle down to their wives. Occasionally a car might last a little longer if there was a teenager in the family; but as a rule, if you were a Sheridan, when your car's ashtray got dirty it was time to trade that sucker in.
Which went a long way toward explaining why Rob was test-driving a BMW Z4 convertible named Tiffany while Amanda, whose bench seats were sagging, appeared headed for the used car lot.
Amanda scooped Wyatt's baseball socks out of the clean-clothes basket and tossed them on his bed then stashed a fresh stack of towels in the kids' linen closet. Pithy car metaphors notwithstanding, Amanda had no idea how she was supposed to get Rob, who appeared to be in the throes of a monumental midlife crisis at the age of forty-two, to come to his senses, and even less idea of how she'd go on alone if she failed.
It was now almost two and a half months since that morning in mid-December when her husband admitted to lubricating another woman's carburetor; two long months since he'd moved out on New Year's day to park his, er, car, in a strange garage.
Amanda had spent the first month in denial and the second in a semi-comatose state from which she roused only long enough to take care of Meghan and Wyatt. She'd steadfastly kept her chin up in public, had even managed to adopt a "men will be boys" attitude that belied the gaping hole she felt in her heart and the knife wound in her back.
Still, despite the evidence to the contrary, she simply could not believe that Rob had stopped loving her when she wasn't finished loving him; could not believe that he'd looked her in the eye and told her that his feelings for her had died. Died! As if they were living breathing things that she'd somehow managed to kill.
Her chest tightened.
Rob had moved out to "look for" himself but as far as she could tell, all he'd found was a fancy town house in a singles complex and the zippy little Tiffany.
In the kitchen she brewed a pot of coffee and pulled out a thermos to take to the ball field. She'd let too much time slide by without resolution and had been spectacularly unsuccessful at forcing Rob to discuss the situation. But she'd been wrong to let Rob call all the shots; wrong to continue living in limbo at the mercy of Rob Sheridan's libido.
If there was one thing she knew about her husband-- and given his current behavior it might be the ONLY thing she knew about him--it was that he would be at Wyatt's season opener tonight. Which meant it was time to straighten her backbone and stop being such a wimp; time to give Rob an ultimatum: her or us; alone or together.
She'd just have to find a way to make him realize what he was giving up and she'd do her best not to include the word "asshole" while she was doing it. But by the end of the evening, one way or another, she intended to regain control over her life.
"Are you ready, Wyatt?" She took a last look in the hall mirror and tried to squelch the butterflies tumbling in her stomach. She refused to dwell on the small wrinkles that radiated out from her eyes, the deepening grooves that now stretched across her forehead and bracketed her mouth. When you were facing forty, you no longer hoped for perfection.
Better to focus on the unexpected weight loss that made her jeans fit the way they were meant to and the new cashmere sweater that she'd bought for the occasion.
"Just have to get my bag and cleats." Wyatt clattered down the stairs behind her and went into the garage. At twelve, he was tall and lanky, already matching her five feet eight and on his way toward his father's six feet two.
Outside, the sun was setting and the temperature had started to drop. In Atlanta, the end of February was tricky; some days felt like spring, other days bit like midwinter. She poured the entire pot of coffee into the thermos and took an extra moment to add cream and sweetener, though the way those butterflies were cavorting, she wasn't sure she'd be able to drink a drop.
"Last chance, Meghan!" she called up the back stairs.
Her daughter's door opened and a cacophony of what was supposed to be music billowed out around her. Meghan leaned over the balustrade, her dark hair falling forward to obscure her face. At fifteen, sarcasm was her friend. "Normally I'd love to go freeze my butt off for two hours just for the thrill of watching Wy play. But I've got a project due tomorrow." She offered a flip smile and a shrug. The beat of the music pulsed behind her.
"Your dad will be there."
Meghan went still. The flip smile fled and was replaced by a look of hurt so stark that Amanda had to look away. "Do you think I should come so he can pretend like he cares about me for a minute or two?"
"You can drive." She held up the car keys offering the ultimate temptation. "And your father loves you no matter what." It was just her he didn't love anymore.
Amanda made herself meet her daughter's pain-filled eyes. She watched Meghan's gaze sweep over her, taking in the new sweater and carefully made-up face.
"I'm not coming, Mom. And I hate to tell you this, but you're wasting your time. He's moved on and I, for one, am not planning to run after him."
Shrugging into her leather jacket, Amanda picked up the thermos and blanket. "No, no running," she promised as she said good-bye to Meghan and headed for the door.
And no begging, she added silently to herself.
Rob was the one who needed to beg their forgiveness and ask to come home.
And if he didn't?
Then she'd find the backbone to tell him to get lost. Right after she shoved his dipstick where the sun didn't shine.
The ball field parking lot was almost full by the time Amanda and Wyatt arrived. It was seven pm and the smell of hot dogs and burgers cooking on the grill outside the concession stand reached them as they got out of the van. There was no sign of Rob's car, but from one of the far fields came the crack of the bat and a huge cheer. Amanda smiled remembering the first time Wyatt had knocked one over the fence. Even all these years later, she could still remember the thrill of amazement at her son's ability, the high fives from the other mothers perched beside her in the stands. Wyatt had been playing at this park since the age of five, and had been madly in love with the game from the first time he stepped up to the tee and made contact with a ball.
Amanda gathered up the blanket she'd brought and cradled the thermos in it while Wyatt put on his cleats and lifted the equipment bag from the back of the van.
"I'll see you down there, sweetie." Amanda watched him walk down the concrete stands toward the dugout, keeping him in her sights until he disappeared from view.
She was tempted to leave and not come back until warm-ups were over and the game had begun, when attention would be on the field, but she was here and she suspected running would feel even worse. She leaned against the side of the van trying to build her courage, but all she could think of was all the hours they'd spent together in this place. They'd always come here as a family and had been part of the crowd whose kids played not only fall and spring but well into summer. They'd spent countless hours in these stands and others just like them, munching peanuts, cheering their children on, and inevitably picking over the latest gossip.
Gossip. She'd watched other baseball families come apart, seen the children walking around wounded, shuttled back and forth.
At games, the parents, and ultimately, their new significant others, would stake out opposite ends of the stands and try to act as if nothing had changed while everyone else tiptoed around them trying not to declare too obvious an allegiance to either side.
She'd observed all this. Selfishly, she'd hated how it complicated the pure joy of baseball, but she had never for a moment imagined it happening to them. She'd never imagined any of the things that they were living through.
Amanda snorted at her own naivete. Straightening her shoulders, she walked directly toward the knot of women already seated in the stands.
"Hello, Susie," she said. "Helen." Amanda knew when the entire row of women stopped talking exactly who they were talking about. Helen Roxboro, whose son Blaine had gone to school with Wyatt since preschool, gave her a small wave. Karen Anderson, with whom Amanda shared team mom duties, gave her a tentative smile. There were some other nods and murmurings, but mostly the other mothers watched her face, their own eyes wide, as if they could hardly wait for the entertainment to begin.
Through sheer force of will, Amanda kept a smile affixed to her lips. As normally as possible, she placed her blanket on the far end of a row and went about settling in as if she weren't suddenly the most fascinating thing in these women's world.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flash of sympathy on the face of the statuesque blonde who was now dating the boys' coach. At any other time Amanda might have found the idea of such a sweet man dating such an apparently sophisticated woman intriguing, but today all she could think was at least Dan Donovan had waited until he was divorced before he started going out with other women.
Scanning the crowd for a glimpse of Rob, she caught Brooke Mackenzie, Hap Mackenzie's dewy-skinned trophy wife, assessing her with interest. Amanda's heart lurched as she realized that this was probably what that Tiffany business looked like--all pampered and polished. Amanda's eyes teared up, and she dropped her gaze, unwilling to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing her falter. As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, and as she'd often reminded Wyatt, there was no crying in baseball.
Swiping the moisture from her cheeks, Amanda checked her watch and then did what she hoped was another casual scan for Rob. She caught Wyatt's attention and sent him a thumbs-up. Wyatt smiled briefly but then his gaze moved past her toward the parking lot. He flinched and turned away.
Unable to stop herself, Amanda turned to glance over her shoulder. Rob was crossing from the parking lot and heading toward the field, his gaze locked on his son. She watched him bypass the stands altogether--he didn't even bother to check for her presence--and trip happily down the concrete steps toward the dugout.
He looked like Rob, but not. He had the same blond hair, the same even features, the same lanky build, but the hip-hugging, bell-bottomed blue jeans, the spotless white T-shirt, and the red sweater knotted around his neck were new. And so was the skip in his step.
The heat rose to her face and her hands clenched at her sides. The rush of blood to her brain was so loud she barely heard her own gasp of shock or the sudden silence that now surrounded her. Because trailing along behind him was what could only be the new Z4 in all her tight-chassis, glove leather glory.
Speechless, Amanda watched them go by. The girl--calling her a woman would have been a stretch-- actually looked like she'd stepped off the cover of a magazine. In this case, probably Teen People.
She had a cloud of blonde hair that moved with her as she walked and a body that made you look even when you didn't want to.
She had perfectly sculpted limbs, high jutting breasts, and an absurdly tiny waist. Her stomach was unfairly flat above her low-slung jeans; it had never been stretched by childbirth and then expected to snap back. Her silk blouse was white and the burgundy leather blazer was beautifully tailored, but it was her face that sucked all the breath out of Amanda's lungs as she passed. It was the most perfect face Amanda had ever seen.
"Holy shit!" The expletive left the mouths of the group of women seated around Amanda; it was torn from their lips and infused with both wonder and horror. Several made the sign of the cross. In their sweats and sneakers, wrapped in their blankets, and bedraggled from an afternoon of shuttling their children all over creation they were a set of serviceable pearls, chipped and unpolished; Tiffany was a four-carat diamond in an antique platinum setting sparkling in the sun.
The theme song from Jaws began to play in Amanda's head. "Da dum . . . da dum . . ."
The appropriately named Tiffany grabbed Rob's arm as they reached the dugout. Stopping at the chain-link fence, Rob leaned forward to say something to Wyatt and the hot flame of anger ignited in Amanda's stomach.
Leaving them had been unconscionable, but showing up here with this . . . child . . . was beyond belief. Amanda's anger built; every move they made, Rob's laugh, Tiffany's flick of her hair, the fact that they were breathing when she could not, stoked that flame into a billowing inferno.
How could he do this? How dare he do this? No longer caring what kind of show they put on for those assembled, Amanda rose and walked down the steps and directly toward her husband. It was hard to see him, what with the red haze before her eyes and all, but she continued to move forward as if some unseen hand pushed from behind. She could not let this travesty continue.
Suddenly understanding the concept of second-degree murder, Amanda imagined the headlines if she were to give in to the bloodlust she felt right now:
DISCARDED WIFE GOES BESERK AT BALL FIELD. BASEBALL MOM BATS CHEATING HUSBAND OVER LEFT FIELD FENCE.
From the Paperback edition.