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The first step in our Guide to Moving On was also the most enjoyable. Every other Saturday I spent the entire day at Dress for Success, a gently-used-clothing boutique. I loved dressing these ladies, whose courage inspired and stirred me. Many had come out of abusive relationships or were looking to get off welfare and find their place in the workforce. It was a joy to fit them with a wardrobe that gave them confidence and the hope that they could succeed.
“Would you look at me?” Shawntelle Maynor said, as she studied her reflection in the mirror. She turned around and glanced over her shoulder, nodding, apparently liking what she saw. “This hides my butt good.”
Shawntelle was a good five inches taller than my own five-foot-three frame. Her hair was an untamed mass of tight black curls raining down upon her shoulders. She critically studied herself in the outfit I’d put together for her first job interview.
I found it hard to believe the difference clothes made. Shawntelle had arrived in baggy sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt. Now, dressed in black slacks and a pink Misook jacket, she looked like a million bucks.
“Wowza.” I stepped back and reviewed my handiwork. The transformation was stunning.
“I need help with this hair,” she said, frowning as she shoved it away from her face. “I should have known better than to let Charise cut it. She was all confident she could do it after watching a YouTube video. I was crazy to let her anywhere close to my hair with a pair of scissors.” Her fingers reached up and touched the uneven ends of her bangs, or what I assumed must be her bangs. “I thought it’d grow out, and it did, but now it looks even worse.”
“I’ve already made you an appointment next door.” The hairstylist in the shop next to Dress for Success volunteered to give each woman at the boutique a wash and cut before her job interview.
Shawntelle’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Get out of here. Really?”
“Really. When’s your interview?”
“Your hair appointment is set for ten. Does that time work for you?”
Her smile was answer enough. Shawntelle had recently graduated from an accounting class and was looking for her first job. She had five children and her husband had deserted the family. The agency had gotten her an interview with a local car dealership. She’d gone through several practice interviews, which had given her a boost of confidence. Now, with the proper outfit, she beamed with self-assurance.
“I never thought I’d make it without LeRoy,” she whispered. “But I am and I refuse to let that cheatin’ scumbag back. He’s screwed me over for the last time.”
I smiled at the vehemence in her voice. I was walking this same rock-strewn path. In addition to my volunteer work, I was a substitute teacher for the Portland School District. My degree was in French literature with a minor in education, which qualified me for a teaching position. Unfortunately, no full-time positions were available, so I filled in as needed.
Thankfully, Leanne was available to watch Owen for me and as a backup there was a drop-in daycare center down the street from our apartment building. I eked by financially, in stark contrast to the lavish lifestyle I’d become accustomed to while married.
I had to remind myself I was still technically married. The final papers had yet to be drawn up to Jake’s satisfaction. My husband had made this divorce as difficult as possible, thinking he could change my mind. He’d been persistently begging me to reconsider. When he finally realized my determination to see this through, he’d set up every roadblock he could, dragging out the settlement hearings, arguing each point. Our attorney fees had skyrocketed.
Divorce is hard—so much harder than I’d ever imagined it would be.
“You’ll call after the interview?” I asked Shawntelle, determinedly pushing thoughts of Jake out of my mind.
“You got it.”
“You’re going to do so well.” I gave her arm a gentle squeeze.
Shawntelle turned and wrapped me in a hug. “Them Kardashian chicks ain’t got nothin’ on me.”
“You’re beautiful.” And I meant it.
By five I’d finished for the day and I was eager to get back to my son. Leanne had taken Owen to the park. At nearly four my little man was a ball of explosive energy. I imagined my mother-in-law was more than ready for a break.
I got in my car and started the engine when my phone rang. I drove a ten-year-old Toyota while my soon-to-be ex-husband was in a nearly new BMW, a car I’d bought him with the inheritance I’d gotten after my parents died. That was another story entirely, and one I had to repeatedly push out of my mind. Rule number three: Let go in order to receive.
I frantically searched through my purse until I located my phone. Checking caller ID, I saw that it was Jake. No surprise. It seemed he found an excuse to call me just about every day. I was able to remain civil, but I resented his efforts to keep me tied to him. Friends had been all too eager to tell me he hadn’t changed his womanizing ways. Now that I was out of the house my husband didn’t bother to hide the fact he was a player.
This was supposed to have been his weekend with Owen, but he had a business trip. Or so he claimed. Because of what I knew, I’d become suspicious of everything he said.
“Yes,” I said, making sure I didn’t sound overly friendly. It was difficult to maintain an emotional distance from him, especially when he worked overtime to make it hard. Jake knew all the right buttons to push with me. Through the negotiations for the divorce he’d played me like a grand piano.
“You have the wrong number,” I said forcefully. Every time he used an endearment I wondered how many other women he called “sweetheart.”
“Come on, honey, there’s no need to be bitter. I’m calling with good news.”
Sure he was. “Which is?”
He hesitated and his voice sank lower, laced with regret. “I’ve signed off on the final negotiations. You want a share in the house, then fine, it’s yours, but only when I choose to sell it. That’s what you asked for, right?”
“Right.” Which meant this bitter struggle was over and the divorce could go through. Twenty-five months after I’d filed we could sign the final papers.
“You signed off?” If that was the case I’d be hearing from my attorney shortly, probably Monday morning.
“It’s killing us both to drag this out any longer than it already has.”
From the minute I’d moved out of the house Jake had believed he could change my mind. I’d gladly given up living in the house despite the fact that my attorney had advised me to stay put. All I asked for was my fair share of the proceeds when he chose to sell it.
I wasn’t interested in living in that plush home any longer. My life there with all the expensive furnishings and designer details had been a sham. The memories were too much for me. Sleeping in our bed was torture, knowing Jake had defiled it. For all I knew he may even have made love to another woman in that very bed. Besides, holding on to the house would be a financial struggle. I needed to break away completely and start over. Jake had been surprised when I agreed to move out. I’d used the house along with the country-club membership as bargaining chips in the settlement agreement.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Jake asked.
I wasn’t sure what to say. “I guess this is it, then,” I whispered, staggering against a wall of emotion. My attorney assured me that eventually Jake would cave. It was either that or we would be headed to a meeting with a court-appointed negotiator. I was willing, but Jake had balked. Neither one of us wanted this to go to trial. The attorneys and the divorce proceedings were expensive enough.
“Yeah. It’ll be final soon,” Jake said, his voice so low it was almost a whisper. His words were filled with regret.
“Final,” I repeated, and bit into my lower lip.
“You okay?” Jake asked.
“Yeah, of course.” But I wasn’t. After all this time one would think I’d be glad this bickering and madness were about to end. I should be over the moon, eager to put my marriage behind me. I was more than ready to move on. Instead my heart felt like it was going to melt and a huge knot blocked my throat.
“I thought you’d want to know,” Jake said, sounding as sad and miserable as I was.
“Thanks. I’ve got to go.”
“Nichole . . . Nichole . . .”
I didn’t want to hear anything more that he had to say, so I ended the call. With tears blurring my eyes, I tossed my phone back inside my expensive Michael Kors purse. A purse I’d purchased because Jake insisted I deserved beautiful things. Now I understood he’d wanted me to have it because he’d felt guilty. As best I could figure, I’d bought the purse shortly after he learned Chrissy was pregnant with his child.
Wiping the moisture from my cheek, I put the car in reverse, stepped on the accelerator, and immediately backed into a ditch.
I don’t know how long I sat in my car with my forehead resting against the steering wheel. I was embarrassed and shaken, and it wasn’t only from the accident. My marriage was over. I thought I was ready, more than ready. The reality of it hit me full force; a deep sense of loss and unreality swamped my senses.
“Nichole, are you all right?”
A disembodied voice came at me. When I lifted my head I found Alicia, the hairstylist, standing alongside my upended car. When I didn’t answer right away she knocked against the driver’s-side window.
I lifted my head and nodded. “I am such an idiot.”
“Are you hurt?”
I assured her I wasn’t.
“You’re going to need a tow truck to pull you out of here.”
I figured as much.
“Do you have Triple A?”
I shook my head. It was an added expense I couldn’t afford.
“Do you want me to call someone for you?”
“Please.” Still I remained in the car, praying I hadn’t done any further damage to my vehicle.
Alicia hesitated. “Are you sure you’re all right? You didn’t hit your head or anything, did you?”
“No, no, I’m fine.” I wasn’t. I wasn’t anywhere close to okay, but that wasn’t due to the fact my car was head up in a ditch.
Alicia hesitated and then left me. Breathless, she returned a few minutes later. I remained seated in the car, clenching the steering wheel. She opened the driver’s-side door. “Potter Towing will be here within thirty minutes.”
I nodded. “Thanks.”
“You need help getting out?” She studied me as if unconvinced I hadn’t suffered a head injury.
I sniffled, ran my hand beneath my nose, and shook my head. “I’m not hurt, just a little shook up.”
“Listen, I’d wait with you, but I’m giving Mrs. Fountaine a perm and I don’t want to leave the solution on too long. Denise has gone for the day, so I’m all alone.”
“Don’t worry; go take care of Mrs. Fountaine. I’ll be okay.” I wanted to blame Jake for this but I was the one who hadn’t looked where I was going.
Just as Alicia promised, a tow truck pulled into the parking lot about twenty-five minutes later. By then I had climbed out, had collected my purse, and was pacing anxiously, waiting. I’d called Leanne and told her what happened.
“You’re sure you’re okay?” Leanne asked, and I could hear the concern in her voice.
“No, no, I’m perfectly all right. I just wanted you to know I’ll be later than usual. Look, I need to go, the tow truck just pulled up.”
“Don’t worry about Owen. He’s doing great. Take your time.”
I disconnected just as a hulk of a man jumped out of the tow truck. He had on greasy overalls and a sleeveless shirt. Both arms revealed bulging muscles and full-sleeve tattoos. His eyes were a piercing shade of blue as his gaze skidded past me to my car.
“How’d that happen?” he asked, studying the position of the car.
“I wasn’t drinking, if that is what you think.”
He shook his head and grinned. “You mean to say you did that sober?”
For the first time since I’d ended the conversation with Jake, I smiled. “I guess it does look like I was on something.”
His smile was friendly, lighting up his eyes.
I wrapped my arms around my waist. “How much is this going to set me back?” I asked.
He named a figure that caused me to swallow a gasp. “I’ll need to put it on my credit card.” I had one I used only for emergencies. I’d once been free and easy with money. I could afford to be then, but no longer.
“I can give you a discount for cash,” he told me as he pulled out a thick wire cord and hooked it onto the car’s bumper.
“How much of a discount?”
I did a quick calculation in my head. “What about my debit card?”
“Still got to pay the bank fees with that. Cash only.”
“Will you take a check?” I had a checkbook in my purse.
He paused and glanced over his shoulder. “Is it good?”
I was pissed that he’d ask. “Yes, it’s good.”
“Then I’ll take your check.”
Big of him.
“I know Alicia,” he said as he walked back to his truck. “She said you work at that used-clothing place.” He motioned with his head toward the shop.
“It’s a volunteer position, so it isn’t like a job.”
“Yeah, that’s what she said. She said it’s a shop that dresses women looking for work. Guess you must have a good eye for that sort of thing.”
He didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t give him one.
Once the car was connected to the tow truck, it took only a few minutes to bring it out of the ditch. He waited to make sure the engine started and I hadn’t done any further damage.
I set my purse on the hood of the car and pulled out my checkbook. He took the check, folded it in half. He looked at me and then paused before slipping it into his pocket. It seemed like he had something he wanted to say. I waited and then realized he was probably worried about the check.
“It’s good,” I assured him again, annoyed that he seemed to think I’d stiff him. Maybe he’d gotten stiffed before.
“Anything more I can do for you?” he asked.
“Nothing. Thanks. I need to get home.”
He gave me a salute and said, “It was nice doing business with you, Ms. Patterson.”
“You, too, Mr. . . . ?”
“Nyquist. Call me Rocco.”