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A promise to myself: this year is a new beginning for me. A fresh start,in more ways than one. I'm determined to put the divorce behind me.About time, too, since it's been final for over a year. Okay, thirteenmonths and six days to be exact, not that I'm counting ... well, maybe Iam, but that's going to stop as of today.
Michael has his new life and I have mine. I've heard that living well isthe best revenge. Good, because that's what I intend to do. I'm going tolive my life as a successful, happy (or at least, contented) single womanand mother. This is my vow. I will no longer expect another person toprovide me with a sense of worth. I don't need a husband to make mefeel complete. It's been a struggle to let go of the marriage, but holdingon to all that pain and anger is getting me nowhere. I'm sick of the pettiness,sick of fighting and sick to death of the resentment, the bitterness.I just never thought anything like this could possibly happen toMichael and me.
I saw divorce mow down marriages all around us, but I somehowthought we were safe....
It didn't help any that I ran into Marilyn Cody over the Christmas holidays.She hadn't heard about the divorce, and when I told her my husbandhad left me for a twenty-year-oldcorrection, my ex-husband (Istill have trouble remembering that)I could see how shocked she was.Then, apparently thinking she was giving me good advice, Marilyn suggestedI find myself a boy toy (or is it toy boy?)to get my confidenceback. She was actually serious, as though going to bed with a man onlya few years older than my own children would make me feel better. Marilynis a good example of why I can't remain friends with the peopleMichael and I once associated with.
Losing Marilyn as a friend is no great loss, anyway. I read the pityinglook in her eyes, and I didn't miss her innuendo that I could've kept myhusband if I hadn't let myself go. It was all I could do not to get in herface and defend myselfas though that would prove anything. As a matterof fact, I happen to weigh within fifteen pounds of what I did attwenty-five, and damn it all, I take care of myself. If anyone's sufferingfrom middle-age spread, it's Michael. The audacity of Marilyn to implythat Michael's affair is somehow my fault!
How the hell was I supposed to compete with a girl barely out of herteens? I couldn't. I didn't. Every time I think about the two of them together,I feel sick to my stomach.
The journal-writing class has helped. So did meeting Liz, Julia andKaren. They're my friends, and part of my new life. Forming a solid relationshipwith each of these women is one of the positive changes I've made.As the saying goes, "Out with the old and in with the new." I'm glad thefour of us have decided to continue seeing each other, even though theclass isn't being offered again. Thursdays for breakfast was an inspired idea.
Writing down my thoughts is the only way I got through the last sixmonths. This should be a good time in my life. Instead, I've been forcedto start overnot my choice and not my fault! Okay, fine. I can deal withit. I am dealing with it, each and every day. I hate it. I hate Michael, althoughI'm trying not to. The best I can say at this point is that I'm coping.
I will admit one thing. Michael's affair has taught me a lot about myself.I hadn't realized I could truly hate anyone. Now I know how deep myanger can cut ... and I wish to hell I didn't.
My mistakeand I made a fewwas in delaying the divorce as longas I did. Eternal optimist that I am, I clung to the belief that, given time,Michael would come to his senses. I was convinced that eventually he'dsee how much he was hurting me and the boys. An affair with a twenty-year-oldwas sheer madness. Surely he'd wake up one morning and realizehe'd destroyed his entire lifeand for what? Good sex? I doubt she'sthat incredible in the sack.
In retrospect, I could kick myself for waiting so many months to see anattorney. I merely postponed the inevitable, because I was so sure he'dadmit what he was doing and put an end to it. How I prayed, how I longedfor the opportunity to save my marriage. If only Michael would comehome again. If only he'd give us another chance. Little did I understandthat his actions had utterly destroyed the foundation of our lives together.The minute he told me he'd fallen in love with Miranda (sure he had!), Ishould've hightailed it into a lawyer's office and set the divorce in motion.Doing that would have saved me a lot of grief.
At a particularly low point, when I was feeling absolutely desperate,I signed up for counseling. The irony didn't escape me, even then. I wasn'tthe one defiling our wedding vows, yet I was the one making appointmentswith a shrink!
Then, on a particular Thursday morning about a year and a half ago,I got up after another restless, miserable, lonely night. I remember leaningagainst the bathroom sink in such emotional pain I couldn't evenstand upright. I looked at myself in the mirror and barely recognized myown face. Something happened in those moments. Nothing I can preciselyidentify, but the experience changed me. The victim disappeared andthere I stood, straight and tall, glaring back at my reflection, determinedto survive. Michael might want to kill our marriage, but he wouldn't kill mein the process. In retrospect, I realize that was when I'd reached my limit.
I got dressed and marched myself right down to Lillian Case's office.If there's anything to smile about regarding this ugly divorce, it's the miseryLillian put Michael through. Michael repeatedly claimed he wanteda friendly divorce, but as Lillian said, it was far too late for that.
The boys still aren't speaking to him. I'm not sure Mick ever will. Alexwas always close to his father, and I know he misses Michael. We don'ttalk about him. I wish we could, but nothing I can say is going to takeaway the pain of having their father walk out the door. What Michaelfailed to understand was that in leaving me, he abandoned his children,too. He didn't just betray me. He broke faith with us all.
I probably should have figured out what was happeningthat waswhat Marilyn seemed to insinuate. I did suspect something was wrong,but never, ever would I have guessed this. I thought maybe a midlife crisisor boredom with our marriage. Maybe that was how he felt; maybeit's why he did what he did. But he should've been honest with me abouthis feelingsnot had an affair. Bad enough that my husband screwedanother woman, but a friend's daughter?
I can only imagine what Carl would think if he were alive. It's all socrazy. Just a few years ago, Michael and I attended the party Kathy andCarl threw for Miranda's high-school graduation. Our top car salesmankeels over from a heart attack and Michael, being a caring friend andbusiness-owner, helps the grieving widow with the funeral arrangementsand the insurance paperwork. Even crazier is the fact that I actuallysuggested it.
My one concern at the time was that Michael might be getting tooclose to the widow. Only it wasn't Kathy keeping my husband entertainedall those nights. It was her twenty-year-old daughter. I don't thinkKathy or I will ever get over the shock of it.
Michael still doesn't fully appreciate the consequences of what he'sdone. He sincerely believed that once we were divorced, everything wouldreturn to normal between him and his sons. Mick set him straight on thatscore. Alex, too. I know Michael hasn't stopped trying, but the boys won'tbe so easily won over. I've done my best to stay out of it. Nothing will everchange the fact that he's their father; how they choose to deal with him isup to them. I refuse to encourage either boy to forgive and forget, but Iwon't hold them back from a relationship with Michael, either. The choiceis theirs.
Twenty-three years of marriage and I never looked at another man.Damn it all, I was a faithful, loving wife. I could have tolerated an affairif he'd given it up and returned to our marriage. But, no, he
Okay, enough. I don't need to keep repeating the same gory details. AsI said, this is a fresh start, the first day of a new year. I'm giving myself permissionto move on, as my psycho-babbling counselor used to put it.
Part of moving on is belonging to the breakfast groupand continuingto write in my journal. Liz suggested we each pick a word for the year. Aword. I haven't quite figured out why, let alone which word would best suitme. We're all supposed to have our words chosen before we meet nextThursday morning at Mocha Moments.
I've toyed with the idea of beginnings, as in new beginnings, but Idon't want to carry that theme around with me for the next twelvemonths. At some point, beginnings have to become middles and potentialhas to be realized. I guess I'm afraid I won't be as successful asI want to be.
What I really need to do is discover who I am, now that I'm single again.For twenty-three years my identity was linked to Michael. We were a team,complementing each other's strengths and weaknesses. I was alwaysbetter with finances and Michael was the people person. He took a part-timejob selling cars the first year we were married in order to supplementour budget, and quickly became the top salesman. His degree wasin ecology and he had a day job at the town planning office but madethree times the money selling cars. Soon he was working full-time at thedealership and I was stretching every dollar he made, creating a smallnest-egg.
Then we had the chance to buy the Chevrolet dealershipthe opportunityof a lifetime. We scraped together every penny we could. By thetime the paperwork was finished, we didn't have a cent between us, butwe were happy. That was when we-
I can't write about that, don't want to dwell on how happy we werein those early years. Whenever I think about it, I feel overwhelmed bythe pain of loss and regret. So much regret ...
Word. I need a word. Not memories. I can't tie my new identity tothe past and to who I was; I've got to look toward the future. So I needa word that fits who I am today, the woman I'm becoming. The womanI want to be.
Just a minute here. Just a damn minute! Who I was, who I want to be.Why do I have to change? There's nothing wrong with me! I wasn't the onewho ripped the heart out of this family. I was a good wife, a good mother.I was faithful ...
That's it. My word. Not beginnings, not discovery, but faithful. From themoment I spoke my vows I was faithful to my husband, my marriage, myfamily. All these years I've been faithful to myself; I've never acted dishonestlyand I've always put my family responsibilities above my own desires.I don't need to find myself. I found out who I am a long time ago and franklyI happen to like that person. I wasn't the one who changed; Michael did.
This feels good. The burden isn't on my shoulders to prove one damnthing. I'll remain faithful to me.
Happy New Year, Clare Craig. You're going to have a wonderful year. Nofinancial worries, thanks to Lillian Case and a judge who's seen far too manymen mess up their family's lives. Michael will be spending twenty very longyears paying off my share of the dealership. Plus interest. I have the house,a new car every year, health insurance, the boys' college expenses andenough money to live comfortably.
I don't have anything to worry about. I can do whatever I want. I certainlydon't have to work if I don't feel like it.
Hey! Maybe getting a job wouldn't be a bad idea. Maybe I should putmy two decades of experience back into play. Didn't I recently hear thatMurphy Motors was advertising for a general manager? With my experience,I could work any hours I chose. News of my taking that job would reallyget Michael. It's what he deserves. Turnabout is fair play (another ofthose handy sayings). Oh God, it's awful of me, but I love it.
This is what I've been waiting for. It's taken a long time to feel anythingbut horrendous, crushing pain. I'm smiling now, just thinking about the lookon Michael's face when he learns I've been hired by his largest competitor.
Marilyn Cody was wrong, but then so was I. Living well isn't going to teachMichael a thing, is it? Knowing that he's lying awake at night, worrying aboutme sharing all his insider secrets with the Ford dealershipnow, that willgo a long way toward helping me find some satisfaction. And once I'm satisfied,I'll start to concentrate on living well.
* * *
"Mom, can we talk?"
Clare Craig glanced up from her desk to find her seventeen-year-oldson standing in the doorway of the family room. They'd spent themorning taking down the Christmas decorations, as they always didon January sixthEpiphany, Twelfth Nightand getting Mick readyto return to college. How like Michael he looked, she thought with atwinge of sorrow. Michael twenty-five years ago, athletic, handsome,fit. Her heart cramped at the memory.
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" Alex stepped inside, dressedin his soccer uniform. The holiday break was already over; school hadbegun earlier in the week. Mick had left that morning for college inSan Francisco.
Clare capped the end of her fountain pen and set aside the checkbookand bills in order to give her younger son her full attention."What can I do for you?"
Alex avoided her gaze. "We haven't been talking as much as weused to," he mumbled, walking slowly toward her desk.
"I've been busy." The Christmas tree had only come down thatmorning, but she realized he wasn't referring to the last few days; hemeant over the past year.
"I know," he said with a shrug, his eyes darting around the room."It's just that ..."
"Is there something you wanted to tell me?"
He raised his head and their eyes briefly met. Reading her youngerson had never been a problem for Clare.
"How about if we talk in the kitchen?" she suggested. "You thirsty?"
The hopeful look on his face convinced her to abandon paying thebills. She'd get back to all that later.
"Sure." He led the way through the large family room and into thekitchen.
Clare loved her expansive kitchen with its double ovens and largebutcher-block island. Shining copper pots and kettles dangled fromthe rack above, the California sunlight reflected in their shine. Clarehad designed the kitchen herself and spent countless hours reviewingevery detail, every drawer placement, every cupboard. She'dtaken pride in her home, in her skill as a cook and homemaker.
These days it was unusual for her to prepare a meal. Alex had apart-time job at a computer store, and if he wasn't at school or work,he was with his friends or on the soccer field. Cooking for one personhardly seemed worth the effort, and more and more often she orderedout. Or didn't bother at all.
"I'll get us a Coke," Alex said, already reaching for the refrigeratorhandle. Clare automatically took two glasses from the cupboard.
Alex placed the cans on the round oak table. Many a night, unableto sleep, the two of them had sat here while Clare sobbed in pain andfrustration. Alex had wept, too. It hadn't been easy for a teenage boyto expose his emotions like that. If Clare didn't already hate Michaelfor what he'd done to her self-esteem, then she'd hate him for the painhe'd brought into their children's lives.
"Mick and I had a long talk last night."
Clare had surmised as much. She'd heard them in Alex's bedroomsometime after midnight, deep in conversation. Their raised voiceswere followed by heated whispers. Whatever they were discussingwas between them and she was determined to keep out of it. Theyneeded to settle their own differences.
"He's upset with me."
"Mick is? What for?"
Alex shrugged. He seemed to do that a lot these days.
"Brother stuff?" It was what he generally said when he didn't wantto give her a full explanation.
"Something like that." He waited a moment before pulling backthe tab on his soda can and taking a long swallow, ignoring the glassshe'd set in front of him.
"Does this have to do with Kellie?" Alex and the girl across thestreet had been dating for a couple of months. Mick had dated herlast summer and Clare wondered if the neighbor girl was causing aproblem between her sons.
"Ah, Mom, we're just friends."
"If you and your brother had a falling-out, why don't you just tellme instead of expecting me to guess?"
He lowered his eyes. "Because I'm afraid you're going to react thesame way Mick did."
"Oh? And how's that?"
Alex took another drink of his Coke. Clare recognized a delayingtactic when she saw one. "Alex?"
"All right," he said brusquely and sat up, his shoulders squared."I've been talking to Dad."
Clare swallowed hard, but a small shocked sound still managed toescape. She felt as though she'd taken a punch to the solar plexus.
"Are you mad?" Alex asked, watching her anxiously.
"It shouldn't matter what I think."
"But it does! I don't want you to feel like I've betrayed you, too."
"That's what Mick said I was doing. First Dad and now me. Mom,I swear to you, it isn't like that."
"Michael is your father," she said, her mind whirling as shestruggled with her conflicting emotions. Alex would never intentionallydo anything to hurt her. As much as possible, Clare had triednot to entangle her sons in this divorce. When Michael moved outof the family home and in with his under-age sweetheart, the twoboys had rallied around her as if they could protect her from furtherpain. It didn't work, but she'd cherished them for their showof sympathy and support.
"He called ... Dad did."
"When?" Now she was the one avoiding eye contact. She distractedherself by opening the can of Coke and pouring it carefully into herglass.
"Last week at Softline."
"He phoned you at work?" She shouldn't have been surprised;Michael was too much of a coward to risk having her answer thephone here at the house. Naturally he'd taken the low road.
"He invited me to dinner."
"And you're going?"
Clare felt her son's scrutiny. "I don't know yet. Mick doesn'tthink I should."
"But you want to, right?"
Alex stood and paced the area in front of the table. "That's the crazypart, Mom. I do and I don't. I haven't talked to Dad in over a yearwell,other than to say I wasn't going to talk to him."
"He is your father," Clare said, to remind herself as much as her son.
"That's what Kellie said."
Sure Kellie said that, Clare mused darkly. She hadn't seen hermother betrayed and then dumped like last week's garbage. Kellie hadtwo loving parents. She couldn't even imagine what divorce did to aperson's soul or how it tore a family apart.
"I told Mick and I'm telling you. If my seeing Dad hurts you, thenI won't do it."
Clare forced a smile but wasn't sure what to say.
"Kellie thinks I should be talking to Dad," he said, studying herclosely, as though the neighbor girl's opinion would influence her.Clare wasn't particularly interested in what Kellie thought, but sheknew how difficult the last two years had been for Alex, knew howbadly he missed Michael.
"Kellie's right," she said briskly. "You and your father should becommunicating."
"You don't mind?"
His obvious relief was painful to hear. She swallowed and said,"Alex, you're my son, but you're also your father's."
"I can't forgive him for what he did."
"I know," Clare whispered. She sipped her Coke in order to hide thetrembling in her voice, although she was fairly certain Alex had noticed.
Her son glanced at his watch, did a startled double-take and boltedout of the chain. "I'm late for soccer practice."
"Go on," she said, waving toward the door.
"Dad said he might start coming to my games," Alex said, thewords rushed as he hurried to the back door.
"Sorry, Mom, gotta go."
Oh, great! Now she had to worry about running into her ex at theirson's soccer games. And what about his girlfriendwas she going, too?If Alex chose to have a relationship with his father, that was one thing,but Clare couldn't, wouldn't, be anywhere in Michael's vicinity whenhe was with Miranda.
The anger inside her remained deep and real, and Clare didn'ttrust herself to control it. But under no circumstances would she embarrassher teenage son, and if that meant not attending the games,then so be it. Almost immediately, the resentment sprang up, as strongas the day Michael had left her. He'd already taken so much! Howdared he steal the pleasure she derived from watching Alex play soccer?How dared he!
For a long time she sat mulling over her conversation with Alex.She knew how relieved he was to have this out in the open. Alex hadbeen on edge for a while now, and she'd attributed his tension to theupcoming SATs. But it wasn't the tests that were bothering him, orhis relationship with his girlfriend or even his part-time job. It wasMichael. Clare was positive of that.
Once again her ex-husband had gone behind her back.
* * *
I got the job! There was never any doubt I'd be hired. Dan Murphynearly leaped across the desk when he realized what he had. He gaveme everything I wanted, including the part-time hours I requested. He'llgo ahead and hire a full-time manager and I'll be more of a consultant.
Damn, it feels good. I've never experienced this kind of spiteful satisfactionbeforeand I do recognize it for what it is. Until these last twoyears, I had no idea I could be so vindictive. I don't like this part of me,but I can't seem to help myself.
Excerpted from Thursdays at Eight by DEBBIE MACOMBER. Copyright © 2001 by Debbie Macomber. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.