Tears streamed down Rosemary’s face. She couldn’t believe the words her husband of fifteen years had spoken. Physically and mentally paralyzed, the words slowly penetrated her confused mind.
Anger bubbled inside her stomach and mind and, like a geyser, it exploded.
Her fist slammed into Danny’s chest. "I trusted you! I always trusted you, you son-of-a-bitch! How could you do this to me? To us?" Her fingers rolled in and out of fists, wanting more than anything to hit him again.
"I didn’t plan it for God’s sake!" Danny defended. He stepped back, sensing her desire to hit him again. "It just…happened."
"It just happened…" she parroted. "And I thought they only used that stupid line in lousy movies. That’s crap and you know it. If things were so bad between us—if you were so unhappy with me—you should’ve been man enough to tell me so we could work it out. But no. Instead you got your rocks off with some bimbo in your office! Yeah, that fixes everything, Danny! It fixes everything really well."
Rosemary stared at her husband, a man she no longer knew, the man who had betrayed her in the worst possible way. The man who had destroyed everything she’d lived and worked for over the last 15 years. A man who in one heartbeat she no longer loved.
Danny stepped toward her and tried to take her into his arms. She swung out and hit him in the cheek, the crack from her open hand ringing through the room. "Don’t you touch me! Don’t you ever touch me again."
His hands dropped to his side. "Listen to me. I told you. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. She started working there and…"
Rosemary raised her hand in front of her. "Stop! I don’t want to hear the sordid details. You screwed her, many times. That’s all I need to know."
She plopped onto the couch. Everything in the room was familiar—the couch, the chairs, the fireplace and the pictures on the mantel. Everything was the same, but it was now different, surreal. Everything important is disappearing in front of my eyes. My life, my love, my dreams. Gone. All of it. And why? Because some little twenty-something went to work for Danny and he couldn’t keep it in his pants. They’re all the same. Just looking for the next piece of tail. It was just a matter of time, she told herself. She hated them – hated them all! But mostly, she hated Danny.
Danny looked away. He couldn’t stand the pain he saw in her eyes when she looked at him—the betrayal and pure loathing. He wanted to make the hurt he was causing disappear. But he couldn’t. He could only try to explain. But she didn’t want to hear it. Any of it. He hadn’t intended to hurt her, things just…happened.
He’d loved her once with a passion and all his heart. Rosemary was and always had been a good wife, but she’d become preoccupied with "her kids," the children she taught. When she learned she couldn’t have children of her own, she’d been devastated. They decided against adoption, mostly Danny decided against adoption, and from then on her entire world revolved more and more around her class with less and less time for him. God, was he jealous of a bunch of kindergarten kids?
So he found other ways to occupy his time. He traveled more with the company and, on occasion, Barb traveled with him. They’d become friendly and, well, the rest was history. He’d never meant to hurt Rosemary, but Barb made him feel young and alive again. She gave him back the passion he’d lost over the years with Rosemary.
Danny glanced at the mantle, at a photograph of his wife, still attractive at 35. Jet-black hair curled around her heart-shaped face and eyes almost as dark as her hair gave her a mysterious, sensual air. It was one of the first things that had drawn him to her so many years ago. Now in her rage, so out of character, she looked more beautiful than she had in years.
"How long?" Rosemary’s question jerked him back into the argument. "How long have you and Barb been…" She swallowed. "Together?"
He looked away, unable to look her in the face when he answered her question, knowing it was the end of their life together. "It’s been about two months." He turned back and looked into her glistening eyes, full of tears and the pain he was inflicting on her. "I’m so sorry, Rose. Truly sorry. I’ll pack and be gone tonight. I’ll let you know where I am so you can contact your attorney and get things rolling." He took a deep breath and thought about the future. A future without Rosemary—and he felt regret. But then he thought about all that was possible with Barb, and he tingled with excitement.
"That’s it? No ‘let’s try and work this out?’ No ‘we can make it work if we try?’"
He was caught and he knew it. He didn’t want to work it out. Didn’t want to fix what was wrong. He wanted Barb and now he could have her. It would be painful and uncomfortable for a while, and probably costly, but eventually he’d have it all. A great career and the arm-candy wife.
Rosemary stood up and glared at him. "I don’t know who you are. You’re not the Danny I fell in love with fifteen years ago. You’re a man I sure as hell don’t love or respect right now and could certainly never trust again even if we did try to work it out. In fact, I pretty much hate you." She ran her hand across her nose and sniffed. "Get your shit and get the hell out of here. It makes me sick being in the same room with you." She turned her back on him.
Her shoulders slumped and he knew she was crying again. He wanted to hold her, to tell her it would be okay, but he couldn’t. He was breaking her heart, how could he even think about consoling her? Because it would make him feel better? he realized.
He walked toward their bedroom. The bedroom they’d shared for 13 of the 15 years they’d been in this house after moving in from the tiny little apartment they’d rented when they were first married.
Before he reached the door he turned. "I’ll only take what is mine. The rest is yours. You’ve been a good wife, Rosemary, so I won’t take anything except what I need."
"You’ve been a good wife, Rosemary…" she mocked. "I feel like a damned dog! Good boy. I’ll give you a pat on the head and a biscuit for being such a good wife! Just get out of here. Take what you want and get out. I don’t care. Get out!"
"Just know that I never set out to hurt you. I’d never do that Rose. Never."
"Well, you sure managed to do a bang up job of it – without even trying." She waved her hand for him to go away. He stepped into the bedroom and began packing.
Rosemary slid down in the couch, unable to move. She stared at the drapes on the front window then stared at their wedding picture on the mantle. Her heart was breaking and she couldn’t do a thing to stop it. She stood and crossed to the mantle, lifted the wedding picture in her hand and caressed the glass. Fresh tears began and she let them run unchecked down her face. How can he do this to me? Her fingers continued to slide over the glass, the faces a blur through her tears. She sniffed then pulled her arm back and hurled the photo into the fireplace where it exploded like a small bomb.
She walked to the liquor cabinet and pulled out the bottle of vodka they kept more for guests than themselves. She poured two fingers, recapped the bottle, then opened the fridge and added half a glass of orange juice. If she was going to drink, she might as well enjoy it. Stirring the mixture, she heard Danny coming back down the hall. He stopped, as though wanting to say something, but continued to the front door where it opened quietly then slid closed behind him.
Rosemary raised her glass. "Good riddance! Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out…"
She woke the next morning sprawled on the couch with a hellacious headache. She’d managed to drink four screwdrivers before the orange juice ran out, each drink stronger than the last. Unused to hard liquor, she’d gotten drunk quickly and drifted to sleep in a sea of old scrapbooks and memories. The scrapbooks were strewn about the floor and on top of her belly. She shoved them onto the floor, unable to tolerate even his picture close to her right now.
She stood up, raised her arms and screamed. A feral wail that made her head pound harder. For the first time in her life, she was alone. No family and no husband. She was alone to make her own way.
Thank God he’d had the decency to drop this on her on a Friday night instead of during the week, she thought. At least she’d have the weekend to semi-recover before she had to pick up the pieces of what was left of her life.
She spent Saturday on the couch, nursing her headache and watching old movies, many of which made her cry more. But cleansing is good for the soul, she told herself every time she had a fresh bout of tears. The more she released the easier she’d be able to deal with what came next, right?
By Sunday night she’d managed to watch 12 movies, cry about a million tears, and decided he wasn’t worth it. It was time to get on with it. She shoved the scrapbooks back into the cabinet and cleaned up the mess she’d made over the weekend. No matter how much Danny had hurt her, she would not let it ruin her life. She was young and had a whole lot of living to do. It was time to pick herself up and move on. If not for herself—for the kids.
Rosemary entered the teacher’s lounge the same as she had for the past ten years. But this morning she felt hollow, like a robot on auto, pretending nothing was wrong. But something was wrong, very wrong, and how long would she be able to hide it?
"What happened to you?" her best friend, Joy Applegate, asked. "You look like hell."
Rosemary stared at her friend, trying to figure out exactly how to answer her question. Oh, not much, Joy. Danny left me for some twenty-something bimbo he works with. Or, just blurt it out that Danny left me Friday night for another woman.
"Rose…" Joy hissed. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Rosemary walked to an unoccupied corner of the room, Joy close behind her. She turned and shut her eyes, trying to keep her composure. Folding her hands in front of her, she opened her eyes, took a deep breath and stared into Joy’s expectant face. "Danny left me Friday night for some woman he works with." She couldn’t say anything more or the tears would start again.
Joy’s eyes were huge. "No way! I don’t believe it! What was he thinking?"
"He was obviously thinking with his little head. Said they work together and it just happened. Can you believe that crap—it just happened? I’ve seen better lines in a sleazy romance novel. At least the characters have a little imagination when they dump their wives of fifteen years for a sweet, young thing!" She snorted.
Joy grabbed her hand and led her to the only couch in the teacher’s lounge. "Sit down, you’re shaking. I’ll get you a cup of coffee."
Rosemary sat down, happy to let her friend take care of her. She just didn’t have the energy for anything today.
Joy returned, coffee in hand, and gave a cup to Rosemary. "Tell me about it, if you can. I know it’s got to be tearing you up, so if you can’t talk, don’t."
Rosemary shook her head. "I don’t think I can right now. It’s too fresh and I still hurt too much. She sighed. "I cried all weekend. I thought crying would get it out, make me feel better." She snorted again. "Fat lot of good it did. I feel like I could cry for weeks and still wouldn’t feel better."
Joy rubbed Rosemary’s back then pulled her into an embrace.
"What am I gonna do, Joy? I’m alone. My family is hundreds of miles away. I’m all alone."
"Hey, you’ve got me and Kyle. We’ll always be there for you."
"I know that, but…."
"You’re going to be fine. You’re a survivor and you’ll make it through this—with a little help from your friends. I promise." Joy hugged Rosemary again.
Rosemary pulled out of the embrace and looked up at the clock. "I am a survivor and I will survive this. Regardless of what happens in my personal life, I still have 24 children I’m responsible for. I won’t let them down. So no matter what it takes, I will survive this. I promise."
The phone rang and rang, slowly dragging Rosemary from a deep, exhaustion-induced sleep. She forced her eyes open and looked at the clock. Warning bells sounded. Nobody called her past ten o’clock unless there was something wrong. In the seconds it took to reach over and grab the phone out of the cradle, she imagined Danny was dead or something had happened to her parents. Although she and Danny had been divorced for months now, whether she wanted to admit it or not, she still cared about the bastard.
"Rosemary. Oh Rosemary. Kyle’s dead! He was on his way home from a late meeting when…when." Joy sobbed.
Rosemary felt as though the bed had evaporated beneath her. Kyle was dead? Joy was sobbing on the other end of the phone. "Take a breath. What happened?"
"The State Police just called. They said a truck crossed the median and hit Kyle head on. He’s dead, Rosemary. Kyle is dead! I need you!"
"I’ll be there in 5 minutes." Rosemary hung up the phone, threw on some jeans and raced out the door.
The funeral seemed surreal. Only a year ago they’d all been together, she and Danny and Joy and Kyle. Now only she and Joy were left. She was thinking about the man who had betrayed her when he and his new bride walked through the door to show their respects. Her heart hammered against her chest and she knew her blood pressure was rising. Today isn’t about me and Danny, she reminded herself. It’s about Joy and her loss. I have to be strong for her, regardless of the fact that seeing Danny with that…that…little girl, makes me want to drive a knife through him!
She plastered a smile on her face and walked right toward him. "Hi Danny…Barb," she bit out. "Nice of you to come."
"He was my friend, too, Rose. Don’t act like we don’t have history."
"Oh yeah, I know all about history. You, of all people, don’t need to remind me."
"Forget it. We’re here to pay our respects and then we’re gone. Okay?"
"Be my guest." She swept her hand toward the coffin and walked away, her heart pounding and breaking at the same time.
Rosemary decided to go where she was needed, and that was to Joy. She hadn’t stopped crying since she found out Kyle was gone.
"Hi, honey." Rosemary hugged her friend, who sobbed into her shoulder.
"What am I gonna do? He was my life."
Rosemary grabbed Joy’s shoulders and pushed her away. "No honey, he wasn’t your entire life. He was a big part of it. They’re your life now." She pointed to Joy’s children, standing with Kyle’s parents. Five-year-old Katie was hopping from one foot to the other, anxious to be away from here. And three-year-old Alex was whining about going home to play, unaware his daddy was gone forever.
Joy snuffled and smiled. "You’re right. I have them to worry about, even though I’ll miss Kyle every day of my life. Thanks, Rose, you’re the best."
At least someone thinks so Rosemary thought, watching Danny and his new bride exit the church with Danny’s arm wrapped protectively around Barb’s waist.
The young, blonde woman flounced into the school office, dropped a load of books onto the counter and announced, "Hi! I’m Kristen Wheeler. I’m here to replace Mrs. Conner for the rest of the year while she’s on maternity leave." Rosemary watched from across the room as a smile lit the young woman’s face. Although Rosemary wanted to dislike her because of her youth and the fact that she reminded her of Barb, she couldn’t. Her smile and enthusiasm were infectious. It had been a long time since Rosemary had been that excited about anything.
"Hi! I’m Kristen." The woman’s voice, filled with excitement and enthusiasm, caused Rosemary to look into the face of the new teacher. Bright blue eyes sparkled back at her from a round face with a small nose and thin lips.
Rosemary reached up and shook Kristen’s hand. "Hi, I’m Rosemary Griffin. Welcome aboard."
"Thanks. This is my first real assignment, so I’m anxious to get started. I was student teaching in another district and when this came up, I jumped at it."
Mrs. Archer, the school secretary, stepped around the chest high counter. "Well then, let’s get you down to Mrs. Conner’s class and I’ll introduce you." She led Kristen out of the office and down the hall.
Rosemary sighed. Just what I need, a ditzy little blonde to remind me every day of Barb. She forced herself to remember Kristen was not Barb and had not stolen her husband. Regardless, Kristen was going to take a bit of getting used to.
Kristen walked behind Mrs. Archer taking in everything around her. From behind closed doors she heard teachers giving lessons, children singing, clapping and laughing. Excitement coursed through her. Finally, she had arrived.
Kristen was introduced to an extremely pregnant Mrs. Conner, who in turn introduced Kristen to the class.
"Class, quiet please. This is Miss Wheeler. She’s going to be your teacher for the rest of the year."
"Hello, Miss Wheeler," the class chanted in unison.
"Hello, class. I’m very excited to be here. We’re going to have a wonderful time while I’m here."
Children squirmed and giggled behind their hands as they assessed her. She tried to figure out who was timid and who were the troublemakers.
"I’ll be here the rest of the week showing Miss Wheeler how we do things and I’ll need your help, okay?"
"Yes, Mrs. Conner," the children chirped again.
The day flew by in a whirl of instructions, watching and learning. And Kristen enjoyed every minute of it. Right up until the bell rang.
"I can’t believe the day is already over. It went by so fast," Kristen told Mrs. Conner. "I feel like I just got here."
"I hope you feel that way by the end of the school year. These children can be exhausting."
"I’m up for it. This is what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a little girl when I made little books and played school with the neighborhood kids."
"Well, I wish you luck. Even when I wasn’t pregnant they wore me out!" Mrs. Conner laughed.
"I’ll be fine. We’re going to get along quite nicely," Kristen said, watching the third graders file out the door.
Kristen took over the class with skill and self-assurance the following week, learning all the children’s names within that first week. She loved the children and they loved her right back.
Rosemary didn’t make much of an effort to like the youthful Kristen who reminded her so much of her nemesis, but the younger woman won her over without even trying. She had passion and excitement for life, her job, and the children, firing up something lost in Rosemary after Danny’s betrayal. In the course of several weeks, Kristen wove her way into the hearts of all the teachers on staff, young and old alike, but especially two, Rosemary and Joy. By the time school was scheduled to end for the year, the three were so close they’d been nicknamed "The Three Musketeers." Although Joy and Rosemary were older than Kristen, she brought out their youthfulness and helped pull them back into the mainstream of life after losing their husbands to death and divorce.
"What’s up, Kid?" Rosemary slid next to Kristen at the table in the teacher’s lounge.
"And how’s that bankroll coming?" Joy settled in across the table, her eyes glistening with mischief.
"My bank account is coming along just fine. Thank you for asking."
"How’s that sandwich?" Rosemary pointed to the tuna fish Kristen was eating. "Doesn’t it get old day after day after day?"
"Um, um," Kristen shook her head and finished chewing. "I figure everything I save by bringing my lunch gets me closer to my dream of going to Europe. I could go now, if I wanted to." A huge smile covered her face.
"Now?" Rosemary and Joy said in unison. "How long have you been saving for this dream vacation? Since you were two?" Rosemary asked.
"Go ahead and laugh, you guys. But when I’m jetting off across the ocean, you’ll be jealous that I’m going and you’re staying here!"
"And when, exactly, do you plan to go on this great adventure?" Joy asked.
"Soon. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I already know what I want to see—the catacombs, the Coliseum, and Le Mont St. Michel, to name a few." She batted her eyes and smiled like the Cheshire Cat.
"You have done your homework, Little Girl. Sounds like you have it all planned," Rosemary said. "And who are you taking with you on this grand adventure?"
Kristen looked up and started to say something then snapped her jaws shut. She dropped her sandwich on the table, her eyes wide. "You two! That’s who needs to go with me. You and Joy!"
"What?" Joy and Rosemary cried at the same time.
"Sure, why not? You guys have had a rough year—you both need a vacation. What better way than to just get away from it and go to Europe? What do you think?"
"I think you’re crazy. I have two kids to worry about." Joy looked incredulous.
"Two kids you could ask your parents to take for, say, a month?" Rosemary said with a grin.
Joy turned surprised eyes to her friend, and Kristen yelped with delight. "I knew you’d be game!"
"Now wait just a minute. I didn’t say any such thing," Joy chastised. "I can’t just dump my kids in my folks’ lap and say au revoir, adios, goodbye, for a month."
"But you can ask," Kristen said.
Rosemary nodded. Thinking of the three of them traipsing around Europe for a month excited her like she hadn’t been excited in a very long time. She’d always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and glide along the Seine on one of those tour boats. The Louvre and all its masterpieces suddenly called to her.
"I’m in. I need a vacation and where better than Europe?" Rosemary said. "I’ve got a little extra money from the divorce set aside for a "rainy day." What better way to spend it than on a month in Europe?"
Kristen bounced up and down and clapped her hands. "Come on, Joy. You’ve got to be in, too. Rosemary and I can’t go alone. We need a third. You know, ‘All for One and One for All’?" Kristen grabbed Joy’s hand and squeezed. "Come on, Joy. Say you’ll at least ask. What have you got to lose?"
Joy frowned. "All right, I’ll ask. But I can’t promise."
What more could they ask for?
Joy decided to have a little fun with her friends. "I asked my Mom about keeping the kids. She said a month is just too long." The lunch table where Rosemary, Joy and Kristen were having lunch went still.
"Damn. Damn, damn, damn." Kristen muttered. "I was looking forward to all of us going. Couldn’t you ask Kyle’s parents to split the time with them? I’m sure they’d love to see their grandchildren."
"They’re still grieving. I think seeing the children would upset them too much."
"Oh, I hadn’t thought of that." Kristen’s voice was sad and low.
"Isn’t there anyone else you could ask?" Rosemary wondered aloud.
Joy shook her head and sighed. She was warming up now. "It’s my folks or nobody."
"Damn, damn, damn," Kristen said again.
Joy couldn’t contain her laughter.
"Why are you laughing? This is serious!" Kristen snapped. "We have to go together."
Rosemary eyed her friend and slapped herself in the head. "We are! This twit is playing us!"
"What?" Kristen jumped up. "Are you kidding? Did they agree to watch the kids? You can go?"
Joy laughed harder and nodded her head. "Yes, much to my surprise they agreed to watch the kids. I’m going!"
"All right!" She grabbed Joy’s hand and then Rosemary’s. "The Three Musketeers. One for All and All for One! Look out Europe here we come!"