RENAISSANCE OF THE HEART
LORI M JONES
"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." -Anne Bradstreet
Six days of relentless self-pity mingled with bouts of guttural sobbing. Pain so persistent her hair hurt. The raw grief now behind her, Amanda recognized the brilliant face of hope poking through her dank mood, offering a piece of relief from the misery. Although an unshowered, disheveled mess, she intended to celebrate hope. The sunshiny face of hope. Her focus now, along with surviving a Saturday night alone, would be getting to the root of why he left, and then fixing the problem.
Three drops of red wine cascaded from the glass's rim, adding another stain to Amanda's sweatpants. Making her way to the sofa, her comforting friend, she tugged at the drooping waistband. One benefit to Derrick announcing the end to their fifteen year marriage one week ago, she mused, was the loss of a few pounds. What a cruel diet plan. She flipped through the movie channels unable to find one she hadn't already seen this week. Enough with the nauseating love stories.
The remote hit the floor as she reached for her cell phone, which alerted her to a new text. Probably another friend checking in or a family member inviting her to a sympathy dinner, she thought.
It was Derrick. His name on the phone screen shot a ball of sickness into her gut. After a quick response, she bolted up the steps to her bedroom, hitting her sister's number on her speed dial on the way.
"Deb, Derrick wants to meet me for a drink tonight. What do you think?" Amanda asked, yanking her pink sweater from the hamper, Derrick's favorite.
"I think maybe he finally got his head out of his ass and wants his perfect life back." Her sister's irritated tone evident and expected. But his life obviously hadn't been perfect here, and Amanda had to know what she did to cause his departure.
With another sigh, Amanda spoke, not really wanting advice or comfort, but just needing her sister's reassuring company. "I'm not sure what's gonna happen, but I'm nervous, really nervous."
"Text me if things aren't going well and I'll come over and key his precious Beamer in the parking lot."
Amanda laughed—a laugh only her sister could create. "That would be wonderful. Thank you!"
"You got it. Hey, because of this snowstorm coming in, Lilly's going to just sleep over. Don will bring her home in the morning if the roads are clear, okay? It's teen horror movie night at the Pucharelli household!"
"Sounds great. Lilly deserves a fun distraction. Thanks again!" Although the thought of her daughter not sleeping in the next room tonight caused a wave of sadness to wash across her heart, she knew she needed to focus on Derrick.
"Good luck tonight, Mand. Be tough."
After dressing, she peered into Lilly's room. What would life be like for Lilly if Derrick stayed away for good? How many other nights would Amanda spend alone in this house? With a hard sigh, she headed to the garage.
In typical Pittsburgh fashion, the gray January sky hung low, the snowflakes increasing in volume. Amanda's impractical choice of pumps over snowboots screamed vanity, but her attempt to look attractive for her husband reflected her desperation and her hope he would come home to her. Praying out loud in her SUV over the blaring courage-building music, she pleaded with God to end this nightmare. With a glance upward into the grayness, she petitioned for her greatest fear to be dispelled; Derrick had found another woman.
Since his departure, her imagination had played out the possibility of infidelity. Pulling into the restaurant's parking lot, her mind traveled there one final time. Perhaps their basically sexless marriage had been a warning of his unhappiness. He had been visiting the gym more often and wearing cologne at odd times. Could those be signs of a new love?
She forced the gear shift into park while sucking in one more breath. She entered the snowy night.
Her eyes, sore from crying the night before, scanned through the trendy restaurant. She moved through the irritating noise of people engaged in conversations and followed the sounds of the Saturday night crowd into the bar. A pungent waft of heavy garlic turned her stomach.
She instantly recognized the back of his dirty blonde hair, shiny with hair products. Derrick turned in his barstool. Dressed as if he had just walked from a Banana Republic ad in his dry-cleaner pressed khakis and lime green oxford, he faced her, looking as handsome as the day they had met in college. She thought it unfair his graying temples only added to his good looks. Locking eyes, she felt the same excited flutter she had when she spotted him in their Greek Mythology class nineteen years ago. Her mind knew his scent before she was close enough for her nose to detect it.
Standing with an exaggerated eagerness, he pulled out a barstool and slid it toward her. She interpreted this as his attempt to avoid hugging her.
"Hey…hi there, Amanda."
"Hi...Hey, Derrick, how are you?"
Their words stumbled over each other's like two people on a blind date attempting small talk, weighted with awkwardness. Keeping the discussion to the topic of Lilly, their only child, they finished half of their beers. Although not typically affectionate with each other in public, she touched his thigh twice during their conversation, reminding him she had been his wife for a long time.
"Look," he said, redirecting his eyes to the dwindling foam on top of his beer.
She tensed. Pushing her long auburn hair over her shoulder, she knew conversations starting with "look" are typically not good.
"I have something difficult to tell you but I think it's something you've known all along."
"What?" Her eyes hit his, and then fell to her glass. Her heart pounded.
"Will you look at me, please?"
She did. In the moment of silence, she studied his flawless face and remembered the times she would joke he had a prettier face than she had. His tired eyes, she thought, seemed to be straining, perhaps trying to tell her his news without having to speak.
He blew a long breath through his lips, proclaiming, "I'm seeing someone."
She knew it. With three words, her fear turned reality.
"Who? What… who?"
"It's not important--"
"Not important? Who is she? How long, Derrick, has this been going on?" His secretary? A woman at the gym?
"It's a man, Amanda. I'm seeing a man. I'm gay. I'm so sorry. I've known for long time--"
"No. No. You're joking…" Her head shook as if it could knock out his words.
"Amanda, I'm sorry. I need to end the lying."
Her breathing paralyzed; her body wanted to faint, to shut down. The blood left her head and her limbs. From deep within her gut, she forced out, "You bastard." A week ago when Derrick walked out of the house with a suitcase he had packed without her knowledge, she thought there could never be a greater feeling of shock than at that moment. But, she had been wrong.
Caught in a nightmare, she needed to escape. She wanted to run, to scream, to grab a vodka bottle from behind the bar and smash it across his beautiful face. Jolted by laughter from a group of men watching the NFC Wild Card playoff game next to her, she started to breathe again.
Questions rattled in her mind like coins loose in a spinning dryer. Voice quivering, she asked, "Why? Why all these years of lying? Why now? Why cheat on me and not be honest? Do I deserve that?"
His face twisted in anguish as he attempted to explain, "It never seemed like the right time to hurt you or Lilly. I was happy, most of the time. You are… my best friend. I do love you, Amanda." His patronizing touch on her arm burned. "I pushed it away. I tried every day to push who I was away so we could have our life. Then I met Jake and I knew I couldn't live this lie any longer. I couldn't face you and Lilly anymore."
Since his words weren't diminishing the sting, she attacked, "I hate you. I hate you so much."
The polished young couple next to them halted their possibly first or second date conversation to look her way in stunned curiosity, causing Amanda to swallow her words. She cursed him internally for doing this to her in public.
Looking away from all eyes, pretending to watch the football game, something she would ordinarily enjoy, she continued in a weak whisper, "You are nothing but a coward and a liar. You stood in a church and promised to love me forever and honor me. You're a liar. Oh my God, you're definitely leaving me. You have a boyfriend! Oh my God…"
Unlike a week ago when his announcement left her frozen, staring at him unable to cry, the tears came easily now. She buried her face into a napkin and watched a mental video of their life together. Then flashed the signs. Signs that should have told her he was gay. He had loved cooking and shopping. Were those signs? Of course not, her mind yelled as she pressed her fingers into her temples. What about a voice inside her whispering that something was not quite right?
Though what he told her clearly ended their marriage, her mind searched for ways to fix the situation. Her heart naively searched for hope. Maybe this was a temporary mid-life crisis?
He touched her shoulder. Pulling her posture upright, she inhaled causing the anger to devour the sadness, creating a strength needed to continue. "Why not do this before we walked down the aisle? You robbed me of fifteen years of my life." Then she saw Lilly's face. If they had not walked down that aisle, there would be no Lilly, no beautiful Lilly.
"I wish I had been brave enough to face who I was back then. I'm so sorry. I loved you and I chose you, Mand. I know I was a coward. I suppose I let society's expectations of me decide my fate. But I'm ready now to start my life over."
Start his life over? So, he rewound the video of his life so he could record a new one, erasing her. Her thoughts froze and she ended the questioning. Outwardly, anyway.
They discussed the cold details of divorce: lawyers, living arrangements and Lilly. Gracious and giving at this point due to his guilt, Amanda doubted he could remain agreeable throughout a divorce process. The Derrick she knew loved a good argument.
Lori lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she writes women's and children's fiction. RENAISSANCE OF THE HEART is her debut novel. She's also the author of children's books, RILEY'S HEART MACHINE and CONFETTI THE CROC, both written with the hope that children will celebrate what make them unique. She's also written award-winning flash fiction pieces and her articles have been featured in various publications.
Lori serves on the Board of Directors for the Children's Heart Foundation and is the president of their Pennsylvania chapter. She visits schools to speak about writing, about the human heart and about embracing what makes you special.
Besides writing and spreading awareness about Congenital Heart Defects, her passions include her two daughters, her husband, Mark, her Pittsburgh sports teams and running in 5Ks. Lori is a member of Pennwriters and she loves her local writing groups! She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and journalism. She also holds a paralegal certificate from Duquesne University and is a former Washington, D.C. paralegal. Visit her website at www.lorimjones.com.
*RILEY'S HEART MACHINE (Guardian Angel Publishing)
*RENAISSANCE OF THE HEART
(Soul Mate Publishing, Spring 2014)
*CONFETTI THE CROC (Winter 2014) www.facebook.com/LoriMJonesAuthor
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