On her 50th birthday, Missouri Rothman did not get the Tahiti vacation she dreamed of or the surprise birthday party she expected. Instead, a university student totaled her car, her boss – after 16 years of loyal and excellent service – gave her a letter of termination, and her professor husband of 32 years asked for a divorce so he could marry his post-doc student with the 18-inch waist and perky boobs. Half a century old, jobless, and with only a high school diploma, Missouri must take the lemons that life has thrown her and make the best lemonade ever – even if it means traveling to Italy alone to do it.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.32(d)|
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Happy Birthday, Missouri!
On Missouri Campbell Rothman's fiftieth birthday, she expected her husband Doyle to throw a big, lavish surprise party with her closest friends. She wanted nothing less than some wacky birthday cards, a pile of presents, chocolate cake with fudge frosting and triple chocolate ice cream. Unfortunately, what she got instead was the worst day of her life.
Turning half a century old was a real bitch, Missouri thought, running a comb through her short, curly auburn hair. She examined her face in her rear-view mirror and was relieved to see that overnight she had not turned into a wrinkled old crone. Still, the signs of aging were becoming apparent – the fine lines around her hazel-green eyes, the two creases at the top of her nose and the snugness of her size 18 pants around the waist.
As the light turned green, Missouri moved her foot off the brakes and turned right into the university's North Campus parking deck, only one block from where she worked at the Office of Community Relations. As she lowered her window to insert her key card, the outdoor heat blasted her face. Dang it all, she thought, it was spring, not summer. But she was already sweaty through and through. Was she having another one of those premenopausal hot flashes? The wooden arm rose, and she drove up the ramp of the eight-story deck in search of a parking spot.
She did not see the black SUV until it slammed into her right front fender. Stunned and shaking, she sat in her late model Sentra until a young man peered at her through the driver's window. What a great start to her birthday, she thought. Could this be a bad omen?
"Lady, you all right?" he asked.
Obviously a student, Missouri surmised, noting his jeans, R.E.M. T-shirt and pierced lip. She felt a few trickles of sweat run down her back.
"I'm sorry. I didn't see you." He lowered his face closer to hers. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Missouri nodded. This was her third accident in a campus parking lot in five years. Was there a bull's eye painted somewhere on her car? She sighed loudly. "Nothing's broken." She refrained from screaming out any of the negative words stuck in her throat. She had a feeling that turning fifty and having her car ruined were going to make for a really sucky day.
"I called the campus police, ma'am. Am I glad you're okay."
You and me both, Missouri thought. I didn't want to spend my birthday in the ER.
The young man looked down at her fender. "I don't think you'll be driving this car home."
Exiting her damaged car, Missouri sighed in frustration and dug her cell phone out of her purse. She decided to phone her office – just in case they were planning to surprise her with a birthday brunch or something.
The tow truck driver said the front axle was bent, and the car probably totaled. The insurance adjuster said it would cost more to fix the car than it was worth. They would send her a check for $4,000.
When Missouri finally walked into her office an hour late, no one wished her happy birthday. No presents, cards or flowers. Just a typical work day. Hoping the accident would not throw a monkey wrench into Doyle's plans for her surprise party, she phoned her husband and asked for a ride home.
"Why do you need a ride? Where's your car?" Doyle asked.
Missouri thought he sounded rather irritated. He probably planned to leave work early to pick up the cake and get the house ready for the party. Thank goodness she had given the house a good cleaning over the weekend. That was what she called planning ahead.
Doyle was not happy to hear about the accident. "$4,000 will not buy you another car."
"At least I wasn't hurt, Doyle. Let's be thankful for that."
The silence on Doyle's end lasted so long Missouri thought they'd been disconnected. "Yes ... of course ... the most important thing is that you weren't injured."
When Missouri's boss, Vice President William Winslow, called her into his office at the end of the day, she expected him to wish her happy birthday – or at least thank her for staying late four nights in a row to help him with the annual report.
"Missouri, my dear," Winslow greeted her warmly. Too warmly, she thought. Like right before the dentist announces you need a root canal and a new crown.
"Have a seat and let's chat."
Chat? He'd never used that word with her before. Twelve years and they'd never chatted about anything that she could remember. In fact, he'd never been the chatty type. Missouri felt a twist in her stomach. She wondered if she were over-reacting? She forced herself to smile at her distinguished-looking boss, who was retiring in two more weeks after 35 years at the university. He had always reminded her of Cary Grant in his later years. Thick white hair, hardly any wrinkles and a smiling, friendly face. The thought of breaking in Dr. Cooper as the new vice president was daunting, but hopefully he would be glad to have an experienced administrative associate.
"I hear you had a little fender bender this morning," Winslow said.
"Oh yeah, my car's totaled. The SUV that hit me hardly had a scratch."
Winslow flashed a sympathetic fatherly smile. "Don't you worry, my dear. I'm sure that husband of yours will buy you another one. Especially now that he's been appointed to the Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics."
Missouri raised her eyebrows in surprise at the mention of Doyle's appointment. Her husband, a genetics professor at the university, had failed to mention this to her. He was probably too busy planning her party. Or maybe he was waiting to surprise her. This was a huge deal and it certainly would not have slipped his mind. But Dr. Winslow was right – these appointments came with more money, so Doyle could easily afford to buy her a new car.
"First of all, Missouri, thank you for your many years of hard work, and for all those times you've saved me from roasting myself in some political administrative fire."
Missouri leaned forward, her face flushed with pleasure. "You're so welcome, Dr. Winslow, and you know I've enjoyed working for you, too. You've been a fair and excellent boss."
Winslow looked down at his hands and sighed. "Thank you, Missouri. That means a lot to me." He coughed slightly. "As you know, Dr. Cooper has been appointed as the new vice president, and he will be taking over this position in two weeks." He paused.
"Don't worry, Dr. Winslow. I'll work just as hard for him as I've worked for you."
"I'm sure you mean that Missouri. However, I talked with Dr. Cooper this morning and he told me that he's bringing his own personal staff with him." He shuffled some papers around on his desk and avoided Missouri's eyes.
His own personal staff? Missouri wasn't sure what this meant for her. Would she have to train them?
Winslow cleared his throat. "That is his prerogative, you know."
Missouri frowned. "I don't understand."
"Dr. Cooper will not need your services." With his fingers, he slid a box of tissues on his desk closer to her.
Missouri was aghast. He wouldn't need her? "Then what am I supposed to do?"
Winslow leaned back in his overstuffed chair and clasped his hands. "We do have some options here, Missouri. I spoke with the dean of the law school at lunch and he has an opening for a senior secretary."
Senior secretary? Missouri's eyes narrowed. That job title was several rungs lower than her present position as administrative associate. Missouri opened her mouth to speak.
Winslow raised his hand. "Wait, I'm not finished. Even though that position is lower than your present position, HR assures me your present salary will continue. And although the dean will not be able to give you a raise next year, HR says that you will be first in line for any position that might open up on campus in the future."
Missouri shook her head furiously. She could not believe the new vice president was rejecting her. After her many years of service and dedication, she was being offered a demotion. She jumped to her feet. "That's unacceptable, Dr. Winslow. I don't want to be a senior secretary."
Winslow nodded sadly and handed her an envelope. "I knew you'd feel that way, Missouri. So I typed up a letter of termination, effective in two weeks. I'm really sorry, my dear. My hands are tied. It's nothing personal." He stood up, walked around his desk and placed his right hand on her shoulder. "You know you are the best administrative associate I've ever had. I really hoped we could find you an equal or better position in another department on campus. Maybe something will open up in the next few months. Let me know and I'll be glad to write you an excellent letter of recommendation." He cleared his throat, again. "Also, you might want to talk this over with Doyle. If you change your mind, let me know."
Her fair and excellent – soon to be former – boss gave her a hug. "I'd love to give you a farewell reception, Missouri. Why don't you set a date, reserve a room at the student center, arrange for a caterer and send out the invitations? Now, my dear, you have a good evening. You deserve it."
Missouri was dismissed. Numbly she walked out of Winslow's office. She couldn't believe it. Here she was ... a fifty-year-old work horse ... kicked out to pasture ... headed for the glue factory. She'd read all those magazine articles. She was half a century old. Nobody would hire her to do anything, except for maybe McDonald's – but the high school kids had cornered the burger-flipping market. Or Wal-Mart – but did the greeters actually get paid? Or Disney World – but no way would Doyle move to Florida.
Could she file a suit for age discrimination? Or would she have to admit she was old? Missouri had not been this angry since Doyle came home with that shiny new red convertible six months ago – after he insisted that she buy a used practical car. After all, he had reminded her, he was entitled to a new car since he was the big breadwinner.
Doyle stopped his Lexus at the bus stop outside of Missouri's office, and she got in. During their four-mile drive home, very few words were spoken. When Missouri tried to tell Doyle about losing her job, his hands tightened on the steering wheel, and he clinched his jaw.
After one look at his face, she decided to wait until after her party. It wasn't something she wanted to talk about anyway. After all, today was the first day of the rest of her life.
Entering the house ahead of Doyle, Missouri's eyes searched for evidence of a surprise party. She walked into the kitchen. No chocolate birthday cake in sight. She opened the 'fridge. No wine coolers or party food trays. No double-fudge ice cream in the freezer. "Well, dang!" she said. Then she smiled. Maybe Doyle had planned a surprise dinner party downtown?
Doyle came up behind her and grabbed her elbow. "We need to talk."
Missouri followed Doyle into the living room. He must have hidden her present in the entertainment cabinet. Cruise tickets to Tahiti? The thought excited her. She had been dropping hints for over a year now. Had he heard her? "What is it, Doyle?" Missouri asked, sitting down on the brown leather sofa. "Are we going out for dinner?"
"Wha-at?" He looked at her blankly. "Why would you think that?"
"To celebrate my fiftieth birthday, of course."
Doyle made some sort of strangled sound in his throat.
Missouri smiled. Did he really think that would convince her he'd forgotten her big day?
Doyle fell backward into his recliner, burying his face in his hands. "Damn!" He looked up sadly and shook his head side to side wearily. "I'm so sorry, Missouri, I forgot."
Missouri started opening cabinet doors. "Don't tease me, Doyle. Where have you hidden my present?"
"I haven't hidden anything." Doyle rose from the recliner and pulled her down next to him on the sofa.
Missouri studied Doyle carefully, trying to read his face. Was it really possible that he had forgotten her birthday? How could he? Five years earlier, when he'd turned fifty, she gave him a surprise party on campus – complete with a bunch of bananas, an actor in a gorilla suit and a birthday cake. His fellow professors said it was the best surprise party they'd ever attended. Still not accepting the possibility that he had forgotten her birthday, Missouri looked at him hopefully, fully expecting him to pull an envelope from his pocket with plane tickets to Tahiti. Then he would laugh out loud and exclaim "Fooled you!" But the look of angst on Doyle's face finally convinced her that he really had forgotten. She would not be getting a surprise party. No chocolate cake. No trip to Tahiti.
Doyle sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily. His brown eyes looked solemnly into hers. He cleared his throat. "I don't know how else to tell you this, except to be brutally honest." He paused and swallowed hard. "I want a divorce."
Missouri looked at her husband incomprehensibly. "That's not funny, Doyle. Bad joke!"
"I'm not joking."
She stared at him incredulously. He really wasn't joking. He had forgotten her birthday, and he wanted a divorce. Her eyes widened as shock set in. The truth struck Missouri like a blow to her abdomen. She involuntarily gasped. Her heart pounded in her ears. Shutting her eyes tightly, she covered both ears with her hands and screamed. A long, loud blood-curdling scream.
Doyle's whole body jerked backwards. Then he grabbed her shoulders and shook her until the scream faded into quiet, convulsive sobs. Doyle waited a few moments before releasing his grip. "Missouri? Say something."
"Like what?" She blubbered, the tears flowing from her hazel-green eyes. "I can't believe you would do this to me. Why don't you just grab a kitchen knife, cut out my heart and grind it into hamburger?" She shook her head in disbelief, her auburn curls slinging from side to side.
"Do you have to be so dramatic and emotional? It's not like it's the end of the world, you know. It's only a divorce." Doyle stood up and put his hands in his pocket. "I'm sorry I had to tell you this on your birthday, but it shouldn't come as a surprise, Missouri. You know there really hasn't been a marriage here for years. We're just two ships passing in the night."
Dumbstruck, Missouri opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. How could I not have noticed, she wondered, her throat sending out high pitched squeals of agony. Had there been signs that their thirty-two-year-old marriage was in trouble? All those evenings Doyle worked late? Weekend meetings? More and more frequent out-of-town conferences? His lessening interest in sex lately that she had attributed to his age and low testosterone. Between her full-time job and caring for her invalid father-in-law, John Henry, she guessed she had been too tired and too busy to notice.
Doyle's father, a widower in poor health, had moved in with them ten years ago. Their two sons, Michael and Cody, who were in high school at the time, loved their grandfather. Then last year, John Henry's health began to fail. Missouri spent her own personal leave taking her father-in-law to doctor's appointments. She prepared his special meals, saw that he took his medications, and helped him get ready for bed. He died in his sleep six months before her birthday.
Doyle's voice cut through her thoughts. "Missouri, are you listening to me? I've fallen in love with another woman."
Missouri felt an icy numbness spread throughout her body. She suddenly remembered meeting Doyle for the first time – a tall, handsome Navy ensign in his immaculate white uniform. Doyle had introduced himself to her at a reception at the Navy Officer's Club. Three months later, two days after her high school graduation, she and Doyle married in the military chapel.
Missouri jumped and blinked open her eyes. "What!?"
Doyle stared back at her apprehensively and concerned. A lock of his graying black hair fell across his perspiring forehead. He combed it back into place with his fingers.
Damn him! He was still good looking. A lump rose in her throat. "Who is she, Doyle?" The question came out soft and strangled. "Is she someone I know?"
Doyle straightened up and slowly walked over to the fireplace, propping his elbow up on the mantle and rubbing the back of his head. He turned his head and glanced back at Missouri, his usual in-control face twitching ever so slightly, his jaw tightening and relaxing.
"Tell me, you son of a bitch!" she screamed.
"Pamelynn Atkins," he responded hoarsely.
Missouri's mind raced into high gear, sorting bits of information, searching for a visual with the name. Suddenly, an image clicked into place – a thin, lanky blonde Britney Spears clone who wore near-nothing tops and hip-hugging, ultra-tight jeans to maximize the exposure of her tanned and toned midriff. A post-doc in Doyle's department.
"Pamelynn Atkins?" Missouri screamed out incredulously. She rose angrily from the sofa and stomped over to Doyle. She tried to slap him across the face, but he grabbed her wrist. "She's young enough to be your daughter, Doyle."
Excerpted from "Making Lemonade"
Copyright © 2016 Muriel Ellis Pritchett.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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