A girls guide to moving.., p.21
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.21

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  A nurses’ aide took me to the surgery waiting area, where a volunteer sat behind a desk. “There’s no need for you to stay here, seeing that the procedure will take several hours,” the volunteer told me. “If you’ll give me your cell-phone number I can call you if there are any updates. The doctor will want to talk to you following surgery. As long as you’re back between ten and noon you’ll be able to chat with him.”

  I’d assumed I’d just sit in the waiting area, but the volunteer was right. I could be out and about doing something constructive in that amount of time. I left her my cell number and headed toward the parking lot, wondering what I would do. Kacey would love a visit, I knew, but it was still early and I didn’t want to appear on her doorstep before eight in the morning.

  It came to me that perhaps I should check the house to make sure everything was in order for when Sean returned from the hospital. I no longer had a key, but I knew where the spare was kept.

  I hadn’t been to the house since the divorce had been finalized and I’d removed my personal items. We’d built this custom home twenty years into our marriage. It’d been our dream home, situated next to the golf course, with a beautiful view of the clubhouse in the distance. When we first moved in, I had taken great care and pride in decorating each room.

  Sure enough, the spare key was in the fake rock in the flower beds. Sean had hired a lawn service, and while the yard was maintained, I could see that the flower beds were in bad shape. I’d always been the one to see to the care of the flowers. I found it disheartening to see how neglected they were. Not my problem, though.

  I unlocked the door and walked into the home that had once been my pride. I knew Sean had a cleaning service come in once a week. My sense of self-importance had been stung by how easily I had been replaced in his life. A lawn-maintenance company and a cleaning service were all it took. To my shock, the house was an utter mess.

  The kitchen counters were littered with mail, newspapers, empty glasses, and cartons of takeout food. I started there, ready to fill the dishwasher, until I realized it was full of clean dishes. I spent nearly an hour in the kitchen before I was satisfied.

  The bedroom wasn’t much better. Sean had discarded clothes on the floor. He’d always been meticulous when it came to hanging up his clothes. I found the hamper full of dirty laundry and ran a load of whites through the washer and dryer while I stripped the sheets and remade his bed.

  The bathroom and living room were also a mess. I found a pair of women’s black lace underwear under the sofa cushion and rolled my eyes. Taking a pair of tongs from the kitchen, I removed them. They were the skimpiest pair I’d ever laid eyes on and probably cost a fortune. I suspected whoever owned them was upset that they’d turned up missing.

  It took three and a half hours to clean the house. I left in a rush and hurried back to the hospital, afraid I might miss talking to the surgeon. I hadn’t gotten a call, so I had to assume everything was on schedule.

  As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. It was a full hour after my return before the surgeon came to talk with me. I stood as he stepped into the room. He drew me into the hallway outside, where we had a bit more privacy.

  “Your husband came through the surgery without a problem.”

  My shoulders relaxed with relief. “Were you able to get all of the tumor?”

  “Not all of it. What I was able to extract is being tested. We should have the results in a couple of days.”

  “And if it’s cancer…” I could barely get the question out.

  “If it’s cancer we’ll do everything we possibly can. But there’s no need to concern yourself with that now.” I noticed that he didn’t quite meet my eyes as he spoke. It didn’t sound good, but I could be wrong. I hoped I was.

  “Your husband is in recovery now. I’ll have the nurse come and get you so you can see him before you go.”

  “Thank you,” I whispered, feeling uneasy about the white lie.

  He patted my shoulder and turned away.

  I wasn’t in the mood for company, so I didn’t call Kacey the way I’d originally planned. Instead I wandered down to the cafeteria for a bowl of soup. I knew Jake would be wondering about his father, so I contacted him.

  “How’s Dad?” Jake asked as soon as he picked up, his concern obvious.

  “He’s out of surgery and doing the best that can be expected.”

  “Was the tumor cancerous?”

  This, of course, was on all our minds. I knew Jake hated not knowing as much as I did. “We have to wait for the test results. The doctor said it would take a couple of days.”

  “I feel bad I couldn’t be there for Dad. I know he appreciates you going to the hospital.”

  “It’s fine, honey. I don’t hold any ill will toward your father.” I was sure he knew that, but a reminder wouldn’t hurt.

  Jake went silent, and when he spoke again his voice was full of pain. “Mom…”

  “Jake,” I whispered, “you don’t need to worry. Your father takes care of himself physically. He’s going to be fine.” I tried to sound confident and reassuring.

  “I know, I know. This weekend…Listen, Mom, I met Rocco. Is Nichole serious about this guy? Because I have to tell you, he looks like he’s part of a motorcycle gang or something.”

  My son wanted to use me to find out information about his ex-wife. I was having none of it. As much as possible, I tried to remain neutral when it came to matters between Jake and Nichole. “The person you need to ask is Nichole, not me.”

  “But the two of you are close.”

  “Yes, we are,” I agreed. Jake had already used me once to influence Nichole, and I wouldn’t allow myself to be manipulated again.

  “Nichole can’t be serious about him, she just can’t. That kind of guy is a bad influence on Owen. I don’t want my son hanging around a man like that. Is she desperate? Is that it?”

  Knowing some of the women my son had brought into the house, gossip Kacey had been far too eager to share, I found it interesting that he was asking me these questions. “Nichole isn’t desperate,” I said, doing my best to keep the irritation out of my voice. “Furthermore, I don’t believe you have a say in who Nichole sees or doesn’t see, Jake.” I tried to be as nonjudgmental as possible. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been able to bridle my tongue.

  “It about killed me to see her with that guy,” Jake admitted, his voice stiff and angry.

  The double standards of my ex-husband and son astonished me. I found myself lashing back, despite my best intentions. “Did you think it was any easier for Nichole to learn you were cheating on her? Or to hear about the parade of women you’ve brought into the home that had once been hers?” I asked.

  He sucked in a breath. “That was low, Mom.”

  I should have kept my opinion to myself. Jake was angry now; I could hear it in his breathing. His voice was hard when he spoke next. “Let me know what you hear about Dad.”

  “I will,” I promised.

  Jake ended the call before I had a chance to say anything more. It gave me no pleasure to know my son was suffering because of the end of his marriage. Like his father, he’d brought this on himself, but he didn’t seem to recognize or accept his part in the divorce.

  By the time I returned, Sean was out of recovery and had been taken down to his room. I sat at his bedside and read a magazine until he woke. He rolled his head and smiled when he saw me.

  “I knew you’d be here,” he whispered, his eyes shining with gratitude. “How long was I in surgery?”

  I told him. “I didn’t wait at the hospital. I went over to the house and got it ready for when you’re able to go home.”

  Regret flashed in his eyes. “The housekeeper didn’t work out. It was a mess, wasn’t it?”

  I didn’t confirm or deny what he already knew. “Would you like me to hire someone for you?”

  “Please.” He found it difficult to speak, and I reached for the water cup and put the straw in his mouth. He drank t
hirstily.

  When he finished I withdrew the straw and set the cup back on the side table. “I should leave now. I’m teaching this evening.”

  I could see by his look that he wanted me to stay.

  “I’ll be by tomorrow,” I reassured him. “You might have the test results back by then.”

  He shut his eyes and whispered, his voice emotional, “Thank you, Leanne. I don’t think I could have made it through this without you.”

  I bent forward and kissed his forehead. As I left the hospital, my cell rang. Caller ID told me it was Nikolai.

  “Hello,” I said.

  “How is Sean?” he asked, concerned and caring. “I pray this morning. I light more candles and ask God to be merciful.”

  “Thank you.” My heart swelled with love, knowing he’d prayed for my ex-husband. “Sean came through the surgery fine. He’s pretty much out of it just yet, which is what I expected.”

  “And cancer? You no have answer?”

  “Not yet but soon.”

  Nikolai hesitated, as if he wasn’t sure he should ask. “I see you before school?”

  After the day I’d had, I was eager to see Nikolai. “I’d like that.”

  “I like, too. We meet for dinner before class, okay?”

  “Okay.”

  We set a time and decided on a small restaurant not far from the Community Center.

  By the time I arrived a few hours later, Nikolai was outside waiting. As soon as he saw me, he walked toward me and hugged me close. His eyes held mine and his look was dark and intense.

  “Is something wrong?” I asked as we entered the restaurant.

  He didn’t get a chance to answer before we were led to a table and handed menus.

  “Nikolai?” I asked again.

  He read the menu. “I embarrassed to tell you.”

  “What is it?”

  He waited a couple of long moments before he answered. “Mr. Jealousy stayed with me all day.” He planted his hand on his chest. “You in my heart all day I think of you. I know you with Sean and he need you and I feel like I have no compassion. I tell myself I need to be bigger man.”

  “Nikolai,” I said, stretching my arm across the table and taking hold of his hand. “You were in my heart all day, too. You.”

  “But you were with Sean.”

  “Actually, I wasn’t. He was in surgery for several hours, so I drove over to the house. I wanted to be sure it was clean for when he got out of the hospital.” I knew I was chattering, but I couldn’t seem to stop. “It was a good thing I did, because the house was a dreadful mess. Apparently, his housekeeper didn’t work out. He asked me to hire someone for him.”

  Nikolai jerked his hand away and his face tightened. “You clean for him?”

  “Yes. The house was in terrible shape. I couldn’t let Sean come home from the hospital to that filth.”

  Nikolai scooted back his chair and started pacing next to the table, his mood brooding and dark. He yanked his splayed fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair and mumbled in his native tongue.

  “Nikolai, what is it?” I asked, watching him.

  He leaned forward and braced his hands against the back of the chair, his fingers curving around the wood. “This not right. You clean for him is wrong.”

  I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was necessary for Sean’s well-being. I didn’t dare let Nikolai know that I’d told the hospital that I was Sean’s wife in order to see him before his surgery. If Nikolai found out about that, he’d blow a gasket.

  “Nikolai, please don’t be upset with me.”

  He sat down and covered his face with both hands. I could see he was working hard to hold himself together.

  Apparently, what I’d done was akin to serving Sean the bread Nikolai had baked for me.

  The waitress chose that moment to come to the table for our order. I hadn’t even looked at the menu yet.

  “I no eat,” Nikolai muttered.

  The truth was I wasn’t hungry, either.

  The woman left and Nikolai stood. “It not good that I be here right now,” he said as he reached for his coat on the chair next to mine. I need to think.”

  I felt dreadful. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. I didn’t consider helping Sean by cleaning his house would be a cause for concern, but clearly it was. “Will I see you at school?” I asked.

  Nikolai hesitated and then nodded. “I see you then and try to forget you like maid for this man who no loves you.”

  Thanksgiving Day was a blast. I arrived at Cassie’s and Steve’s late Wednesday afternoon with Owen and Kaylene. I really hated leaving Rocco behind, but he’d be joining us Saturday morning in time for the wedding later that afternoon. I felt mildly guilty about him spending the holiday working and alone, but he insisted. We texted back and forth all day.

  Me: Miss you.

  Rocco: A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

  Me: Turkey is yummy, best stuffing ever.

  Rocco: UR an evil woman.

  Me: Take that back. I saved you some.

  Rocco: Got anything else for me?

  Me: Pecan pie?

  Rocco: I was thinking of something more personal.

  Me: Like?

  Rocco: Better delivered in person than texted.

  Me: Can hardly wait.

  Rocco: Grrrrrr.

  Smiling to myself, I tucked my phone back inside my apron pocket and brought down the dishes to set the table with the help of Kaylene and Amiee. The girls were getting along great. I could hear them chattering away; they’d been up half the night talking. Cassie and I were in the kitchen cooking at eight Thanksgiving morning and dinner was on the table by three.

  My parents died within a short time of each other. Basically, Mom was lost without my father and didn’t feel she had anything to live for any longer. It was hard to lose them both so quickly.

  Although it’d been several years now that they were gone, it seemed they were with us this Thanksgiving. It was the first one I’d spent with Cassie since I was thirteen. Together we cooked the recipes from our childhood, ones handed down from our mother and grandmothers.

  After the meal we leaned back in our chairs, stuffed and happy. When we were children we would go around the table, each one mentioning something we were most grateful for that year. It was so nice to do that again, especially when we had all been so blessed.

  It’d been a hard year for me with the divorce and all. I’d learned a lot about myself. I was much stronger emotionally than I realized. Of course I’d had help, mainly Leanne and the guide we’d created. As the youngest in my family, I’d been spoiled, and after I’d married Jake he’d pampered me. This was the year I’d learned to pull myself up and wear my big-girl panties. It hadn’t been easy. I hadn’t quite decided which one thing I was most grateful for when it became Kaylene’s turn.

  “I’m most grateful for Nichole,” she said, surprising me. “And not because she helped me buy a dress and gave my dad dancing lessons, although that was way cool. I’m grateful to her because she makes my dad happy. He whistles now and he never used to.” She blushed and looked over to Amiee.

  Amiee looked around the table as a slow grin came into play. “I’m grateful for Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

  “Amiee,” Cassie protested.

  “Just kidding, Mom,” she said, giggling. “I’m grateful for my cousins and for new friends.” She looked at Kaylene. “Just think, if your dad marries my aunt Nichole, we would be cousins.”

  “Cool,” Kaylene whispered.

  “Nichole,” Cassie said, looking at me. She sat next to Steve and the two held hands. I watched as Steve brought her hand to his lips for a kiss.

  “My turn,” I said. “I’m grateful to be surrounded by the people I love, who have encouraged and supported me through this last year. I am blessed.”

  “And loved,” Cassie added.

  —

  We all helped with the cleanup. The girls cleared off the table and
Cassie put away the leftovers while I stacked the dishes in the dishwasher. Owen tried to help, but he removed the silverware from the dishwasher as fast as I could place it inside. Steve shooed everyone out and washed the serving dishes by hand.

  Once cleanup was finished we collapsed in front of the television. The kids were in another room watching a movie. Owen went with the girls, who thought he was adorable. Steve wanted to catch a football game, and that was fine with Cassie and me. Cassie was more interested in taking a nap, and I wouldn’t have minded that myself. Steve took the recliner and Cassie was at one end of the sofa and I was at the other. We used to share a sofa like this when we were kids.

  My phone pinged and I looked to find a text from Rocco.

  Rocco: Kaylene said dinner was great and she enjoyed the sharing time.

  Me: Do I make you happy?

  Rocco: Is that what she said?

  Me: Yup. Do I?

  Rocco: More than you know.

  Me: You make me happy, too.

  Rocco: Good to know.

  Me: I so wish you were here.

  Rocco: Me, too, baby. Me, too.

  —

  Friday was a blur as Cassie and I got ready for the rehearsal dinner. Karen and her family arrived midafternoon and the rest of the day was spent with kids running wild in happy chaos. The dinner went off beautifully at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in downtown Kent that was Cassie and Steve’s favorite. They rented out the entire place to the wedding party and friends. The margaritas flowed freely and there was music, singing, laughter, and good-natured razzing. The owners joined in. By the time the evening was over I was more than a little tipsy.

  As soon as I got to the house I texted Rocco, who was leaving first thing in the morning.

  Me: heLLo.

  Rocco: Dinner party over?

  Me: YuP n bed R now.

  Rocco: How many margaritas did U have?

  Me: dONT now.

  Me: NOW.

  Me: Know. Friggin spell check.

  Rocco: You’re killing me, babe.

 
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