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Shoulders curled, Marlene dropped a wobbly chin. “How has it come to this?” Leaning back into the kitchen counter, her voice dropped to a whisper.
“Shocking and a long time coming, but I’m not surprised—are you? Hey, this is a nice place. ” Alice peeked into the living room.
Marlene’s chin shot up, brown eyes bulging, accusing. “What are you saying? Not surprised.”
“Easy, sweetie. You have to admit Charlie has been mutating for years—even before you thought he might be fooling around.” Alice flicked pensive, Barbie-Doll lashes over her girlfriend’s anaemic complexion. Child-like hands dropped to narrow hips.
“Mutating.” She sniffed. “Good word. In equal parts, I’m tired of thinking about him and can’t stop. If I wasn’t eligible for the government pension… If my son hadn’t found this place and moved me in to help cut expenses… I don’t deserve this.”
“Nobody does, sweetie.” Alice reached for her sturdier friend. “The kids are grown and making their own way. You will too. The worst is over.” The women hugged; neither spoke. Alice pulled back. “Tea? Sit.”
“Remember the first little house we bought. Charlie was so house proud. Tore down and put up walls, painted, cleaned. And then… Marlene’s mouth quivered. “The babies kept coming and a prouder father you’ve never seen until…” Resolute tears drifted to her chin though she swabbed them with a shirtsleeve. “When did he begin to resent them? Us?”
“Hey. Change of subject—what did the discovery process shake out?” Alice grinned and helped herself to a sip of tea, pushing back into the kitchen chair rails.
“He’s ignoring e-mails, letters, and telephone calls. My lawyer says a court order will force him to hand over financials. Don’t know if he’s hired his own yet. Did I tell you Breann found a wad of bills stuffed into a jar in the basement rafters? I should have pocketed all of it.”
“What?” Alice set the mug on the kitchen table with a thwack. “You didn’t? Not like you—what about for decent groceries for you and Breann?”
“I mock-handed him the jar after I lifted all but $100.00 wrapped around strips of newsprint—I’m no saint.” She snorted into a palm. “Thought he’d have a stroke. Reminded him the stove didn’t work, the furnace needed replacing—it hadn’t worked for three winters—the ensuite toilet didn’t work… Thought he’d hit me. Grabbed the jar hard enough to break but didn’t, and slammed out of the house.”
“I’m your best friend. You never said. What an actress. I wondered why we met in spurts, in coffee shops—how did you stay warm?”
“Electric heaters. Expensive, but I wasn’t paying the stupid bills. The kids left one by one before the first winter was half over. Breann was the last.”
“What if he skips town?” Alice paced the narrow kitchen, her short legs stabbed at the floor like chopsticks at an empty plate.
Marlene shook her head. “He’s hanging on to the house, though it’s falling down in pieces.”
The other woman stopped, hands in her hair. “I’m amazed you hung in so long. What made you cave?”
Marlene rose to plug in the kettle again. Back turned, she shook her head, running plump, ringed fingers over the electrical cord. The silence stretched until the kettle’s noisy heating element sputtered. “I died a little after every lie and every calculated promise till I didn’t recognize him anymore, or me. The screaming fights—you don’t want to know.”
“I knew you were having problems—doesn’t every couple—why didn’t you say? Did you talk to anyone?”
“Yeah. The oldest, Cathy, the one with all the kids. Forcing my children out was the worst. I wanted to leave, but where could I go—no money of my own? Remember when Charlie, Jr. came out? I told you, right?”
Alice nodded, fading copper curls bounced around her creased, waif-like face.
“That man went crazy roaring this was no son of his. Tore up the house, broke everything in his path if it wasn’t already broken.”
“But Junior is his splitting image. What did he have in mind? Send the boy back?” Alice cackled and slapped her knee.
“Worse. My fault, he said. Wished my boy had never been born.” Eyes dull, bruised half-moons sagging underneath, Marlene stared into the distance. “Broke young Charlie’s heart.
“Computers saved me. I took classes at the library. Printed out reams of his chats and he still lied to my face. To. My. Face. My kids were gone, nothing in the house worked, only a microwave for frozen dinners. I’d had it. With only the clothes on my back, I took a cab to Cathy’s and her houseful. Where else could I go?”
“I’m starving. Anything to eat? You’re no mouse. What took you so long?” Marlene stuck her head in the fridge. “Not much here. Let’s order pizza.”
Lips compressed, Marlene gathered bleached hair, snapping on the elastic from her wrist. “Avoiding temptation. Sorry.”
“Oh? Expecting young Charlie for supper?” Alice opened cupboards till she found dinner plates.
“Don’t know. We’re free spirits. Wine?” Not waiting for an answer, she sauntered into the living room. Alice found wine glasses and pulled out her cell for pizza delivery.
“So, how is it on your own—I mean with Charlie, Junior?” Alice grabbed the wine bottle on her way to the living room.
“Fine. You bet I’m mad, though. This isn’t the life I’d pictured.” She snatched the remote and plopped into a chair. “CNN, okay?”
“Wait. Your couch, right? Coffee table. How’d you get them out?” Alice appraised the room and chortled.
“He changed the locks, but the kids and I broke in while he was at work. Took what I needed.”
Alice smiled wide. “Oh-oh. Trouble’s coming. Does the lawyer know?” She leaned to fill her friend’s offered glass.
“Funny enough, I have his blessing. No one suggested we were splitting up before I left. He locked me out. Simple.”
Alice poured what little was left in the bottle and tossed it off. I have a couple bottles in my overnight bag. “Girls’ night. Wait there.” She grabbed her bag by the front door.
“Use the back bedroom on the left, second door.” She heaved herself out of the chair, followed Alice down the hall, and gave her a tour of the rest of the house. Another bottle relieved of its cork, they settled back in front of the television.
Alice swung round as if struck by lightning. “Shh. Turn it up.”
“What?” Marlene sloshed wine over the back of a hand in her haste. She licked it up and thumbed the volume button until the sound blared too loud. She thumbed it down. “No way.” Mesmerized by the image on the screen, she tore her attention away and centered on her friend. Tears obscured her vision though she made no sound. Mascara streaked her cheeks. Alice set down her glass. Grabbing Marlene’s hand, she unpeeled her fingers from the goblet and set it down, too.
“Where’d they get that photograph? Wait. Cathy took it of her father on our 25th anniversary. I thought she’d burned it.” Marlene wavered and would have sunk to the floor had Alice not pushed her into the sofa. Mouth flapping without words, she turned her attention to the television screen.
The words tumbled out of the excited news reporter as if he had to tell it all in five seconds.
This just in. Police stopped a suspicious driver on old Highway 99 as his car wandered from one ditch to the other. No additional traffic on the road at the time. Incoherent when apprehended, his blood alcohol level was well below the limit. On checking the car for drugs, a dead body—not yet in rigor mortis—was heaped like rubbish in the trunk of this man’s Mustang.
A close-up of Charlie in his best suit filled the screen, hair fuller by six years and eyes clearer and present.
“Crap. What about our divorce?”
Alice pursed her lips. “And your assets? He’s given you the shaft again, hasn’t he?”
“No way. I want a divorce before his case goes to trial.”
“Call your lawyer. Now.”
© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.