A girls guide to moving.., p.3
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.3

           Debbie Macomber
 

  I became pregnant just a few weeks after we were married and Sean wanted me to be a stay-at-home mother for our son. He assured me that he needed me to be his emotional support and he didn’t want to entrust our child’s upbringing to a daycare worker. As his career advanced he seemed to rely on me more and more, as did Jake. I became involved as a school volunteer and chauffeured our son to sports and Scouts, church activities and tennis lessons, and never did take a job outside the home.

  Over the years I discovered Sean’s involvement in a number of affairs. It didn’t take long before I was able to pick up on the signs that there was another woman in his life. The late nights, the extra care he took in his grooming, the unexplained charges on our credit cards. All the while I was praying desperately for a second child. Foolishly, I believed that if I was able to give my husband more children he would love me and wouldn’t crave other women’s affections.

  When I look back on those years I want to slap myself. I did everything within my power to hold our lives together, to perpetuate the lie that we had a strong marriage. It was a fluke when I learned that Sean had a vasectomy, making it impossible for us to have more children. He’d had it done without me knowing, after a close call when he thought he’d gotten one of his women pregnant. All those years I’d been living in a dream world.

  It wasn’t until Jake entered college that I gathered the courage to threaten divorce. I was serious and even filed. Sean knew that I’d reached my limit, and he begged me to reconsider. He swore on the life of our son that he would never cheat on me again. Fool that I was, I took him at his word. For six months I believe he made a sincere effort to remain faithful.

  Six months was all it took. Then it started up again and I knew. And Sean knew that I knew. I moved out of our bedroom and into the spare room, and emotionally distanced myself from him. To the outside world I pretended all was well. It wasn’t. My self-esteem was shredded and my pride was eaten up with the acid of my husband’s infidelity. For ten years before the divorce we’d basically lived separate lives, but to our country-club friends we were the same happy couple.

  The brightest spot in those years was when Jake married Nichole. She became a daughter to me. As far as I was concerned, Jake couldn’t have married a better woman. Her own mother was gone and Nichole often looked to me for advice. I came to love her, and after Owen was born my grandson became the center of my world.

  It wasn’t until I happened to overhear a conversation between my husband and Jake that I learned that my son had followed in his father’s shadow.

  “Dad, I have a little problem I need your help with,” Jake had said, keeping his voice low, barely above a whisper. I was in the hallway outside our bedroom, putting away towels in the linen cabinet. Funny how little details like that stick in one’s mind.

  I assumed what Jake wanted to discuss had to do with finances. In the early years of our marriage, Sean’s parents had helped us out a couple times. I thought this little heart-to-heart was about money.

  I was wrong, so very wrong.

  Our son had gotten another woman pregnant. I stood frozen in place, sick at heart, hardly able to breathe, while Sean gave our son the contact information for a doctor friend of his who would perform an abortion.

  For days I pretended to have the flu while I confined myself to the bedroom. My mind raced with what to do. I couldn’t tell Nichole. This news would devastate my daughter-in-law. At the same time I couldn’t keep quiet, either. I was consumed with guilt, knowing that by looking the other way, ignoring Sean’s affairs, I’d given our son tacit permission to cheat on his own wife. This had to end, and it had to end with Jake because I refused to let this behavior continue into the next generation.

  I knew that Nichole wasn’t as naïve as I’d been. It would only be a matter of time before she’d figure out Jake was cheating. I didn’t want to be the one to tell her, but in the end that is what I did. The price of pretending to not know, of looking away, was far, far too high. For her and for me.

  Seeing that Jake had followed in his father’s footsteps, I had to believe that when the time came Owen would as well. My grandson would grow up and think fidelity and marriage vows were mere suggestions rather than heartfelt, meaningful commitments.

  The hardest thing I’ve ever done was tell Nichole about Jake’s affair. I had to admire my daughter-in-law for the way she took the news. Like I’d been all those years earlier, she was shocked and broken. I watched her crumble right before my eyes. But unlike me, she regrouped quickly.

  That same afternoon she’d looked at me and said there was only one thing to do.

  Her strength and courage caught me by surprise. How I wish I’d had the foresight to take hold of my life when I first learned of Sean’s affairs. It was then that I realized I wasn’t dead. It wasn’t too late. All that was left of our marriage was a thin shell. If Nichole could take action, then so could I, and I did.

  Because of Sean’s repeated offenses, Nichole had no reason to believe Jake could be any more faithful than my husband had been to me. Unlike me, Nichole wasn’t willing to give Jake a second chance. As far as she was concerned, her husband had shattered her trust and there was no going back.

  My divorce was smooth sailing. Sean seemed to be expecting me to file. It was almost as if he’d mentally prepared himself for the dissolution of our marriage. He made it as painless as possible, giving me half of everything. I would have no financial worries; he’d been the one to insist I remain at home with our son, and he paid dearly for that. My attorney saw to a fair and even distribution of our assets.

  What I hadn’t been prepared for was the vindictive attitude that followed just before we signed the final papers. Sean made sure to let me know he saw me as unattractive and old. He took pleasure in telling me that my sagging breasts and body were a complete turnoff. He’d gone so far as to say I’d gone to seed. Although I no longer loved my husband—he’d destroyed that love when I’d learned about the vasectomy—his words hit their mark. I’d been crushed by his cruelty and found it hard to look at myself. I felt old, dumpy, and past my prime.

  Jake didn’t take Nichole’s decision nearly as easily. I had to give my son credit. He didn’t want to lose his wife and son, and had gone to great lengths and expense to delay the divorce. I wanted to believe Jake was sincere and that he would change this need he seemed to have to seek out other women. Sadly, I had no way of knowing if he could. Evidence and experience said otherwise.

  At one point, Sean had tried and been unable to change. I had to accept that Jake could take after his father in more ways than appearance.

  Nichole and I moved into downtown Portland. The first few weeks we muddled through each day, depressed and uncertain.

  One afternoon, in those early dark days when we were floundering in our misery, we wrote up a list…a list to help us move on and make a new, better life for us individually and for Owen. We listed only four items because we didn’t want to overwhelm ourselves. It was one step at a time. One day at a time. It helped tremendously that we were in this together.

  The first item on that list was to ease the pain with a distraction, by giving to others. With me, that was teaching.

  I’d graduated from college with a master’s in education, but I’d never taught. I wasn’t looking for a full-time position, so I found a volunteer job, an evening class two times a week, where I taught English as a second language.

  It proved to be a good choice. I enjoyed my students and admired their determination to tackle the complicated idioms and slang of the English language. I had ten students that had immigrated from all around the world.

  More and more I found myself looking forward to teaching my class. A large part of the satisfaction I derived came from one of my students named Nikolai Janchenko. At my best estimate Nikolai was close to my own age and from Ukraine. By far he was my most enthusiastic student. What I enjoyed about him most was his ability to make me laugh.

  —

  Mond
ay night I parked in the Community Center parking lot. As soon as I pulled into the designated slot, I noticed Nikolai standing outside the center’s front door. He was a fine-looking man with a thick head of salt-and-pepper hair. From our conversations I knew he worked in a deli as a baker. His shoulders were broad from all the upper-body work he must do. He wasn’t a large man by any means, average height with strong but blunt Eastern European features. From what his school file told me, he’d been living in the States for five years and had recently acquired citizenship.

  Nikolai must have recognized my car because he hurried across the street to meet me. By the time I’d reached for my purse and books, he had the driver’s door open and offered me a hand to help me out. I enjoyed how much of a gentleman he was.

  “Good night, Teacher.”

  “It’s evening, Nikolai. We would say ‘good evening,’ versus ‘good night.’ ”

  “Good evening, Teacher.”

  “Good evening, Nikolai. It’s good to see you.”

  “It’s very good to see you,” he said. His eyes sparkled with warmth as he proudly handed me a loaf of bread. “I bake for you.”

  The loaf was still warm from the oven and the aroma was heavenly. I raised it to my nose, closed my eyes, and inhaled the scent of yeast and flour.

  “This is bread made with potato.”

  “It smells delicious.” I would enjoy toasting a slice for my breakfast and planned to share the loaf with Nichole and Owen.

  “I make it special for you.” He walked alongside me, his head turned toward me, watching me closely.

  “I’m over the moon.”

  He stopped abruptly and frowned. “Over the moon? What does this mean?”

  “That’s an idiom, Nikolai, and what we’re going to be discussing in class this evening.”

  “You explain this moon. You jump over it like cow in school rhyme?”

  “No.” I had to smile. I found myself doing that a good deal whenever I spoke to Nikolai. His mind was eager to soak up everything I had to teach. All my students were keen learners, which made these two classes the highlight of my week.

  It wasn’t a surprise to see Nikolai take a seat at the table at the front of the class. He chose the spot front and center each time and hung on my every word.

  I put my purse and books down on my desk. Moving to the front, I leaned forward and placed my hands against the edge as I looked out over my students.

  “Good evening,” I said.

  The class returned my greeting in a mingling of different accents.

  “Tonight I want to talk about idioms.” Knowing that some of my students needed to see the word written, I walked over to the board and wrote idiom in large letters for them to see and copy down.

  “Idioms are part of every language,” I said. “It is a word or phrase that isn’t meant to be taken literally. For example, if I say I am over the moon, that means I’m thrilled or happy.”

  José raised a timid hand. “Then why not say you’re happy?”

  “I did. Only I said it in another way. Here’s a second example. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase ‘It’s raining cats and dogs.’ It doesn’t mean cats and dogs are literally falling from the sky.”

  Titus raised his hand. If I remembered correctly, he’d come from South Africa. “We have a similar saying in Africa. We say it’s raining old women with clubs.”

  The discussion turned lively after that, as the other students shared idioms from their own cultures. Some I found hilarious, and soon we were all laughing and sharing.

  It always surprised me how quickly the class time passed. Before I realized it was even possible, our session was up. As had become his habit, Nikolai was the last to leave. He waited so he could walk me to the parking lot.

  “Do you understand now what I meant when I said I was over the moon?” I asked as I collected my purse and books.

  “Yes, Teacher. You say you are happy I bake bread.”

  I felt a little silly having him call me Teacher all the time. “Nikolai, you can use my name if you prefer.”

  His eyes widened slightly.

  “My name is Leanne.”

  “Leanne,” he repeated, pronouncing it as if it were foreign on his tongue, which it probably was. At the same time, he said it as if he were speaking in church or a library, slowly, with a low voice, like a prayer. “Leanne is a beautiful name.”

  “Thank you,” I said as we walked out of the classroom.

  “A beautiful name for beautiful woman.”

  I must have given him a startled look. After the ugly things Sean had said to me, I didn’t think of myself as beautiful.

  “You no believe?” Nikolai asked, shocked. “You no believe you beautiful?”

  Embarrassed, I looked away, unable to answer.

  He frowned and, reaching up, he ran his finger slowly, deliberately down the side of my face, easing it over my chin and down my neck in a gentle caress. I inhaled sharply at the electric shock that went straight through me. It’d been so long since a man had touched me that my body reacted instantly. Nikolai locked his gaze with mine and spoke softly in Ukrainian. I didn’t understand a word. Whatever the meaning, it sent a series of chills racing down my arms.

  With effort I pulled my eyes away and picked up the pace, walking toward the parking lot, my steps hurried. Nikolai followed and he, too, seemed eager to move beyond whatever had transpired between us.

  “Thank you again for the bread,” I told him, unlocking my car door.

  “I am raining-cats-and-dogs glad to make it for you.”

  I smiled, unwilling to correct him. “Did you get it from the bakery?” I asked, knowing he rose in the wee hours of the morning to bake for the deli.

  “No, no,” he said emphatically, shaking his head. “That bread comes from machine. I make with my own hands this bread to show you thanks. As I knead dough I think of you, think of you eating my bread, enjoying the taste of my bread. I think of you smiling when I give you my bread.”

  “I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” I told him.

  His smile was wide and warm. “I bake you more.”

  “Nikolai, I am only one person. It will take me several days to eat all this bread.”

  “Still I bake you more. I bake you bread every class. You will eat and enjoy my bread and I will remember your smile. Your smile make me smile here.” He tucked his hand over his heart.

  I hated to squelch his enthusiasm by explaining I couldn’t possibly eat that much bread living alone; I would need to share it. I set my purse on the passenger seat and was ready to slide into the car. “You know the class is going to think you’re the teacher’s pet.”

  A shocked look came over him as he stepped away from me. “You treat me like dog?”

  “No, no,” I said, unable to hold back a smile. “It means you’re my favorite student.”

  Immediately his look softened. “This is another idiom you say.”

  “Yes, another idiom.”

  His smile blossomed. “I see you Wednesday, Leanne.”

  He stepped back from the car and raised his hand in farewell. As I backed out of the parking space, he walked alongside my car. Before I pulled away he knocked on my window. I rolled it down and he looked at me, his eyes dark and serious.

  “I come again on Wednesday with more bread.”

  “You must be Kaylene,” I said. Rocco had arranged for me to meet him and his daughter Tuesday afternoon at the Lloyd Center. His daughter was tall, thin, and straight as a toothpick. I remember being fifteen and wanting so badly to be as beautiful as my sisters. It was an awkward age before I started to develop. One look told me Kaylene was on the cusp. She was a lovely girl who’d inherited her father’s height and bone structure. It wouldn’t be long before she blossomed into a woman. I understood her need to be noticed, and her father’s fears that she would be.

  The dance was the first one of the school year and was set for that Friday night.

  Kaylene stood with her arms folde
d across her chest; her feet were braced apart and her face held a hard look of defiance. She didn’t respond until her father nudged her with his hand. She stumbled forward a couple of steps. “Yeah, I’m Kaylene.”

  “I’m Nichole. I understand you’re looking for a dress for the school dance.”

  She squinted her eyes up at her father. “I already have a dress, but my father thinks it shows too much skin. In his words, it makes me look sleazy.”

  I met Rocco’s gaze. He might have been a bit more diplomatic. No wonder Kaylene was upset.

  “My friends and I spent a lot of time picking out that dress. It isn’t like I’ve got a date or anything. It’s just a bunch of us girls going, so I don’t see what his problem is.”

  “Are boys going to be at that dance?” Rocco asked.

  “You know they are.”

  “Then you’re not wearing that dress.”

  I could see this was fast disintegrating into an argument between father and daughter, and I had best put an end to it now. “Why don’t we check out a few of the stores and see if we can find something more to both of your liking?”

  “I like the one I have.”

  “You mean the one you’re not wearing?” Rocco returned.

  “It doesn’t hurt to look, Kaylene,” I said, hoping to be the voice of reason.

  Her shoulders sagged, accepting defeat.

  “Then let’s get started,” Rocco said.

  “Just a minute,” Kaylene cried out, and came to an abrupt halt. “No way are you coming with us.” She glared at her father.

  “How else am I going to approve your dress?”

  “Dad. It’s not happening.” Her horrified look intensified.

  “Listen here, Kayl—”

  I cleared my throat in an effort to get their attention. I didn’t intend to stand between a father and daughter, or to get caught in the middle of this exchange, but clearly someone had to say something.

  “Rocco,” I said before their argument escalated further. To help him to look my way I laid my hand over his forearm.

 
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