Melissa pulled a white photo album from the top shelf of a bookcase and glanced down at the words emblazoned in silver scrollwork across its cover, Our Wedding Day, then dropped it unceremoniously into the trash bag at her feet.
“Mom?” A soft voice called from the door.
She turned to find Jake standing there, staring down at the bag into which the album had just disappeared. She wondered how long he’d been standing there.
“Brian and I are finished loading the truck,” he said, pulling his eyes up to meet hers. “So we’re going to run this load over and then we’ll be back for more. Sarah’s still in the kitchen. She’s going to stay here and keep packing.”
Melissa smiled and nodded her agreement.
As he left the room, she pulled the album out of the trash and set it in one of the nearby moving boxes. The marriage that brought Jake into her life, she thought, was worth remembering.
Ten minutes later, Sarah entered the room. “I finished packing up your cookbooks,” she said.
“Thanks,” Melissa said. She was now seated, flipping through the pages of a dusty photo album. She held it up to show Sarah a picture of a plump toddler in a bouncy chair.
“Is that Jake?” Sarah asked, pulling the book onto her own lap for a closer look.
“Yep, he used to love that chair.”
“He’s very proud of you,” Sarah said. “For what you’re doing, I mean. He thinks it’s great that you’re brave enough to start a new life for yourself.”
Melissa smiled weakly. “Thank you, for saying that. I know divorce is never an easy thing on the kids.”
“He knew things weren’t going well though between you two. He mentioned it to me even before he went off to school.”
Melissa nodded. “Then, after he left…” She shrugged. “I would never want to say so to Jake-I don’t want him feeling like it’s his fault-but after he left, Marc and I just had no common ground at all.”
“I think he understood that, and I’m sure he knows it’s not his fault,” Sarah said. “He did kind-of wonder if,” she stopped herself, looking suddenly unsure.
“What?” Melissa prompted.
“If your time in West Virginia had anything to do with it,” Sarah said, her gaze now stubbornly fixed on the photo of Jake in the bouncy chair.
“I think so,” Melissa said.
Sarah looked up sharply, apparently surprised by the response.
Melissa had to stifle a laugh. “Not for the reasons everyone seems to think though.”
Sarah’s cheeks turned slightly pink. “I wasn’t trying to say…”
“I know what you were trying not to say,” Melissa put in. “But the truth is, in West Virginia, I felt like I had a purpose, like I was doing something productive with my life. I’ve missed that sense of being needed. When you devote your whole life to raising your kids and taking care of other people, their absence can leave you with a sense of…” she paused, looking for the a way to explain herself, “of ‘Now what?’. Do you know what I mean?”
“I think so,” Sarah said.
She didn’t understand, Melissa knew, not really. But then, how could she? “Tess, on the other hand…” Melissa began again, running a hand through her hair.
“I know,” Sarah said, standing up to pack the photo album into one of the open boxes.
“She keeps referring to my plan as ‘running away from home’. It’s because she’s so close to her father. I can understand that, I guess.”
“She’ll come around,” Sarah said. She turned back toward the door. “What do you need me to do next?”
“I’ve got a few boxes packed upstairs. Could you bring them down and set them by the front door? It’ll save time loading when Jake gets back.”
“Will do,” she said.
After she’d gone, Melissa sat back down and pulled her cell phone from her pocket. Since Marc’s tirade, she hadn’t received a single message from Steve, and all her calls and messages to him went unanswered. She’d hoped that moving forward with her own life would put an end to the infatuation. Now she knew better.
Marc had, of course, blamed Steve for what he referred to as Melissa’s ‘lapse into insanity’. Ironically, she thought, he never blamed it on any of his current or past mistresses. Regardless of the cause, he was certain that she’d ‘come to her senses’, as he put it, before matters got out of hand.
It was not until she actually signed the lease on a small bungalow cottage in nearby Walled Lake that the realization of his predicament finally began to dawn on him. He’d declared loudly and to anyone who would listen that by leaving the house, she was forfeiting her right to it, as though he’d suddenly become an expert on property law. How could she make him understand? She wasn’t interested in his home or his mistresses or any of it anymore. Her relationship with Tess was the only casualty that concerned her, and she felt confident that those wounds would heal in time.
For her, the future was a blank canvas and the prospect was both daunting and thrilling. While she packed, she thought about Steve and what he would say if he knew. Then she thought of Ana, and a wave of guilt and shame crashed over her. She returned her attention to the task at hand.