A girls guide to moving.., p.5
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       A Girl's Guide to Moving On, p.5

           Debbie Macomber
 

  We continued the lesson on idioms. With each one we discussed, Nikolai took notes in a small pad he tucked in his shirt pocket as if to keep it close. He also had a list of idioms he didn’t understand that he brought to class for us to discuss.

  Again, once class was dismissed, he waited until I was ready to leave and then walked with me to the parking lot.

  I was beginning to feel mildly guilty that he stayed because of me. “Nikolai,” I said softly, not wanting to hurt his feelings, “I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but you don’t need to escort me to and from the parking lot every class.”

  As I feared, his face fell. “You no like?”

  “It’s thoughtful of you, but it isn’t necessary.”

  “I keep you safe.”

  I didn’t need a bodyguard. The neighborhood was decent and I hadn’t heard of any crimes taking place close to the Community Center.

  “It is my honor, but if you no want…”

  I didn’t mean to offend him, and from his expression I could see that I had. “Nikolai,” I said, starting again. “I know your job requires you to be at the deli early in the morning. I hate the thought of you losing sleep when you could be heading home instead of waiting for me.” There’d been a couple times that it was close to nine-thirty before I was able to leave class.

  “I sleep like tree every night. No worries.”

  Like tree, I thought, confused, until I remembered this had been an idiom we’d discussed in class. “Oh, you mean you sleep like a log.”

  “Yes, yes. Like log, not tree. I can still walk with you, okay?” His face was full of hope.

  “If you want,” I said.

  His smile became huge, as if I’d just announced he’d won a million dollars in the state lottery.

  He stepped back when I opened my car door.

  “Teacher…”

  “Leanne,” I reminded him.

  “Yes, Leanne. You look…” He paused and searched for the right word and then shook his head at a loss.

  Knowing I would be meeting Sean, I’d taken extra care, dressing and applying makeup. “Pretty,” I suggested.

  Again he flashed me one of his big smiles. “Yes.”

  I was far too old to blush, but I felt the heat seep into my cheeks as I accepted his compliment even though I’d given him the suggested word. The appreciation in his eyes stayed with me as I hurried to meet Sean.

  By the time I had parked and walked to the lounge it was a few minutes past nine-thirty. Sean had chosen well. I was afraid the bar would be busy and loud. Instead the atmosphere was subdued and low-key. While the room was crowded the noise level was held to a minimum.

  Sean stood when I entered and then walked around the table to greet me, holding out his hands.

  “Leanne,” he said, eyeing me appreciatively. “You look stunning.”

  I smiled and took my seat. Compliments rolled off his tongue with practiced ease and I was never sure how sincere they were.

  “You’ve lost weight.”

  I had, but I doubted that he would notice the five pounds. However, I wouldn’t keep that weight off if I continued to eat Nikolai’s delicious bread.

  Sean already had his drink—a dirty martini. He held up his glass for the waiter, who immediately stepped over to our table. I ordered a glass of white wine, which was more to my liking. Sean had never approved of the fact that I didn’t appreciate hard liquor. He would have preferred if I drank martinis or some fruity cocktail. I imagine his latest conquest slurped those down with no problem.

  We made small talk until our drinks arrived.

  Sean’s easy smile disappeared, replaced with a troubled look. “I asked to see you because I’m worried about Jake.”

  “How do you mean?” I leaned forward, holding on to the wineglass by the stem, concerned for our son.

  “He isn’t doing well, Leanne. I found him drunk earlier in the week. You know that isn’t like Jake. He was angry when I confronted him and then he broke into sobs. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him like this.”

  “I know that recently he and Nichole have reached a final settlement agreement,” I supplied. My heart ached for Jake; I knew he didn’t want this divorce. As much as possible I had stayed out of it, refusing to take sides. I wished with all my heart that I could believe Jake would remain faithful from here on out, but I had my doubts, not that I shared those with Nichole.

  Sean nodded. “That must have been what set it off. Jake is a broken man. He doesn’t want this divorce. He’ll do anything to get his wife and son back, and it’s breaking his heart.”

  “What about his…little friend?” I asked, carefully choosing the term for the woman he’d been involved with.

  Sean answered with a shake of his head. “Jake was never serious about that woman. She meant nothing to him.”

  “He got her pregnant,” I reminded him, stiffening.

  Sean signed. “He took care of that, and the girl. She’s out of his life. Jake knows he made a mistake.”

  “A doozy,” I said, and sipped my wine. “The fact that he got rid of ‘the mistake’ doesn’t matter to Nichole. Jake was unfaithful and she doesn’t think she can ever trust him again.” I knew from experience this was a key issue in any possibility of a reconciliation.

  Sean hung his head, as if the weight of his own failings fell heavily upon his shoulders. “I blame myself…”

  “It doesn’t do any good to cast blame now.” I carried my own fair share. If I could help our son I would. “What would you like me to do?” Although I asked, I knew.

  He raised his head, sighed, and said, “Will you talk to Nichole?”

  Just as I thought, but I felt at a loss as to what I could possibly say. “What do you suggest?”

  “Just what I’ve told you. Jake wants his family back and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Nichole will listen to you.”

  He made it sound as if this decision rested with me instead of with Nichole. “It isn’t as cut-and-dried as it seems.”

  “Nichole admires and respects you. You’ve been like a mother to her,” he argued. “If anyone can get through to her, it’s you.”

  I’d always wanted a daughter, hungered for a second child. At one point I’d suggested we adopt, but Sean refused. I’d gone so far as to contact a couple agencies, thinking if my husband understood how badly I wanted another baby, he’d give in. I’d been wrong.

  Sean must have seen the pain in my eyes because he leaned forward and placed his hand on my knee. “Leanne, I know that I’ve hurt you, and, God help me, I couldn’t be more sorry. What I’m asking isn’t for me. This is for our son.” His eyes searched mine and I could see the sincerity in him. “Will you talk to Nichole?”

  I knew it hadn’t been easy for Sean to reach out to me. He never would have if not for our son’s sake. I didn’t like the thought of Jake agonizing over his divorce any more than Sean did.

  “Will you?” he repeated.

  Slowly, I nodded.

  His relief was instantaneous and his shoulders sagged as if he’d been holding in his breath. “Thank you,” he whispered.

  “I’m not making any promises.”

  “I know.”

  “I’ll talk to Nichole, and if she’s willing to hear him out one last time then it’s up to her to get in touch with Jake and arrange something.”

  “That’s all I ask.”

  I set my half-full glass of wine aside.

  “It was good to see you, Leanne,” Sean said, and as far as I could judge, he meant it.

  “You, too.”

  He relaxed. “So you’re teaching?”

  “English as a second language at the Community Center. It’s not far from here.”

  “I bet your students love you.”

  I smiled. “They’re wonderful.” My mind immediately went to Nikolai and the caring way he looked after me. His appreciation was huge. He couldn’t seem to do enough for me.

  We finished our drinks, and then
Sean paid the waiter. We left together and stood outside for a couple of minutes.

  “Where are you parked?” Sean asked.

  “Around the corner.” I’d been fortunate to find a spot relatively close.

  “I’m across the street,” he said, and leaning forward, he kissed my cheek.

  I walked alone to my car as Sean looked both ways and then jogged to the other side of the road. We took off in different directions as we had most of the years of our marriage.

  My attorney mailed the final divorce papers and all that was left to do was sign my name. I read them over, even though I knew my lawyer had already scrutinized every detail. I set the thick manila envelope aside.

  When I married Jake I thought it would be forever, until death do us part. I believed with every fiber of my being that we would grow old together. I took my vows seriously. In the five years we’d been married I never once looked at another man. Oh, I admired a few—who doesn’t?—but never with any intention of doing anything more. My appreciation was more cursory glances than actual interest. My faith and trust in my husband were total.

  I could remember once shortly after our wedding, Jake and I talked about his father and the fact that Sean had often strayed. Jake had seemed appalled and embarrassed by his father’s behavior. Yet it seemed that barely five years into our marriage Jake had fallen into the same pattern of cheating on his wife. Cheating on me.

  With a heavy heart I collected Owen before leaving for work at the Portland High School. I’d been fortunate enough to have gotten a three-month substitute job teaching a sophomore English class for a teacher who’d broken her leg and required surgery. Mrs. Miller had taken a three-month leave of absence.

  I was happy to get the job, particularly for the extra income. I needed a new car, but wanted to save for a substantial down payment before I seriously started looking.

  I hadn’t been at the school more than a few days when I discovered Kaylene Nyquist was a freshman there. We passed each other in the hallway one day and I immediately recognized her. Not wanting to embarrass Rocco’s daughter by singling her out, I smiled. She did a double take and moved on. The second time we happened upon each other she waved. I smiled and waved back. I wanted to ask her about the dance, but waited for her to approach me.

  When school was released for the day I checked my text messages and saw that I had one from Shawntelle Maynor.

  I didn’t get the job.

  I sighed with regret. I’d connected with Shawntelle. I loved her wit and the way she viewed life. That girl called a spade a spade and didn’t hold back. I wanted to hear every single detail, so I pressed the button to connect us. Shawntelle answered after the first ring.

  “What happened?” I asked. She’d told me how prepared she’d felt after the practice interviews.

  “I thought I was going to blow them away, too.”

  “Oh Shawntelle, I’m so sorry. Don’t let this discourage you, you hear me?” I hated the thought of her getting down on herself because the employer didn’t appreciate her potential. All she needed was a chance to prove herself.

  “Those suckers are losing out,” Shawntelle insisted.

  “Yes, they are. How about I take you to lunch on Saturday and you can tell me all about it?”

  “You’re treating?”

  “That’s what I said.”

  “Okay, sounds good.”

  “Great. I’ll see you Saturday.” We set up a time and place. Going out would mean that Leanne would need to watch Owen. She’d do it because I’d let her talk me into going out to dinner with Jake. I’d hesitated, unsure seeing Jake was the right thing to do, but in the end I’d agreed. I knew he was hurting, but then so was I. Leanne was in a difficult position, wanting the best for both of us. The only reason I decided to go was because Leanne had asked.

  Shawntelle and I chatted for a few minutes longer. I’d started toward the teacher’s parking lot when I heard someone call my name. I turned around and saw that it was Kaylene Nyquist.

  I held up until she joined me. “Hey,” I said.

  “Hey.” She clenched her hand around the strap of her backpack and drew in a deep breath.

  “I’ve wanted to ask you about the dance. How was it?”

  Her eyes brightened. “Fun. I had a blast, and Dad didn’t go all hyper on me.”

  “Did he like the dress?”

  “I guess. I showed it to him and he didn’t tell me to take it to the trash barrel and burn it. We don’t actually have a trash barrel, but he says that when he hates whatever I’m wearing.” She paused and then added, “He says that a lot. If he chose my clothes, I’d look like a nun.”

  “So if he doesn’t want you to burn something, that’s his stamp of approval?”

  “Yeah.”

  I grinned. That sounded like Rocco.

  Kaylene looked down at her feet. “Do you have a minute?”

  “Sure.” I needed to collect Owen from the daycare center, but I could talk.

  Once more Kaylene hesitated. “I’ve got a problem with my dad,” she said, “and I don’t know what to do.”

  “Oh, is he being a dad again?” I meant it as a joke, but she took me seriously.

  “I’m in this group of girls around my age that my dad wanted me to join. It’s part of Boys and Girls Club and it’s for daughters being raised by single fathers. We go over things that mothers would normally tell their daughters, and other stuff, too. I’ve made a lot of friends in the group.”

  “Cool,” I said. It sounded like a great program.

  “The leader decided it would be a good bonding experience to have a dance for fathers and daughters. All of us are excited about it. I have my dress from the school dance, so Dad wouldn’t need to buy me anything new.”

  If she told me Rocco wasn’t willing to take his daughter to the dance I would be terribly disappointed in him. “Your dad doesn’t want to go?”

  Kaylene’s face tightened and for a moment it looked as if she was struggling to hold back tears. “Dad said he’d go if he had to.”

  Such enthusiasm.

  “But he said no way was he going to dance.”

  “What?”

  “Dad says he doesn’t dance.”

  “Oh Kaylene, I’m so sorry. What would you like me to do?” I’d try to help her, but I wasn’t sure there was anything I could say that would change Rocco’s mind.

  “Would you talk to him?” She folded her hands as if praying. “Please, Nichole, you’re my only hope. Dad thinks you’re classy. He said he never knew a woman who ate pizza with a knife and fork.”

  I struggled to hide a smile.

  “Will you?”

  I hesitated, but not because I wasn’t willing to help; I didn’t know what to say other than that this dance and this group of friends were important to his daughter and he should reconsider.

  “I’ll do my best, but I don’t know what I can do other than talk to your dad.”

  “You have to, you have to convince him,” she said. “It’d be horrifying if my dad sat through the whole night while all the other girls were dancing with their dads.”

  I agreed. Kaylene would be embarrassed in front of her friends and the group leader.

  “I don’t know that your father will listen to me,” I told her, “and I don’t know that he’d appreciate me butting into your family business.”

  “I’ll tell him I asked you to talk to him, so if he gets mad it’ll be on me.” Her eyes were wide with appeal and hope.

  I could see how important this was to her. “All I can do is try,” I said. “I’m not making any promises, but I’ll do my best.”

  She smiled and then, catching me by surprise, she tossed her arms around me and gave me a hug. “Thank you, thank you. I knew you’d help. Dad will listen to you.”

  I wasn’t nearly as convinced. “Tell your father I’ll be at the dress shop on Saturday and ask him to stop by before four. He knows where it is.”

  “Okay,” she said, walking ba
ckward. “You don’t want to call him?”

  Strategizing, I bit down on the corner of my lip. “It’ll work best if I talked to him in person.”

  “Thanks again, Nichole. This means the world to me.”

  All I could do was hope that confronting Rocco would make a difference.

  —

  Saturday afternoon Shawntelle met me at the shop and we left for lunch. “Tell me about the interview,” I said, once we were seated and had placed our orders.

  “The interview went good, I thought,” she said, fiddling with the paper napkin. “That woman from human resources asked every single question I’d practiced. I nearly stopped her to say I could ask and answer the questions if she wanted, but thought better of it. I didn’t want to intimidate her with how smart I am.”

  I silently agreed. My biggest fear was that Shawntelle wouldn’t be able to keep her mouth shut. “Alicia styled your hair?” Although it’d been several days, Shawntelle’s hair still looked great. What a difference a decent haircut made.

  Shawntelle gave me a limp-wristed wave. “My hair has never looked better. With my wild curls she had to use enough hair product to sink an oil freighter. I told that woman from HR that she shouldn’t expect me to look this gorgeous every day because I’d had it done up special for the interview.”

  I couldn’t help it; I laughed out loud. “Did you really?”

  “Sure I did. And look at these fingernails, girlfriend. They are a thing of beauty.” She held out her hands for me to examine. Shawntelle was right. They were painted a bright, bold shade of red with tiny white daisies in the corners.

  “Alicia?”

  “Naw, it was a friend of hers who’s training. She used me to practice on.”

  I’d thank Alicia later.

  “I walked in that car dealership like I owned the place.” Shawntelle slapped her hand on her hip and raised her chin, giving me a demonstration.

  I was beginning to get the picture and it wasn’t necessarily a good one.

 
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