The wife, p.1
Broken Fairy Tale Series
Dust to Dust
His Jar of Hearts
Secrets of Shadow Hill Series
Always and Forever
War of Wizards
For my husband, who makes me proud to say I’m his wife.
I stare out onto the moonlit grass of the prestigious golf club below, trying to find some solace from the chaos of the party going on behind me. I’m at yet another work function for my husband’s company, hobnobbing with a group of people who always make me feel like an outsider. Mike and I moved from New Jersey to a small, upscale community in California a little more than ten years ago and I still don’t feel at home here. Here, everyone is kind to your face, but I know the second I walk away, people critique every inch of me and my marriage. At least back home, I know where I stand, and if people had a problem with me, they’d have the balls to say it.
Here, everything is different.
My thoughts are disrupted by cheers and hoots from the house behind me, and as each moment passes, I pray for some sort of escape. Being here with these people is exasperating, and the fact that Mike has virtually ignored me this entire evening has only made me regret my decision to join him here tonight. Instead of being escorted around the party, arm in arm with my husband—as we had done not too long ago—tonight Mike has been MIA, and I’ve been stuck listening to tales from the Housewives of Orange County. I’ve heard about everything from the healing powers of the essential oils they’re using to the new cleansing diet they’ve been on—all excuses for the drastic changes in their appearances caused by plastic surgery—and I can’t take another moment of this torment.
It’s all bullshit, and the pretending gets more difficult as each day passes in this town. I’ve tried my best to adjust to this lifestyle. I’ve tried to be the wife he wants me to be when we attend dinners like these, but with each fake smile I can feel my dignity fade away.
Before my thoughts become sucked back down in the tunnel of despair that has taken over far too often, I focus my attention at the calming scene before me. I watch as a flock of white-tailed kites swoop gracefully over the grand oaks that line the majestic golf course below. How are they all able to move in perfect unison with each other without any sort of communication? Once, my husband Mike and I did the same: we used to be so in sync with each other. There was a time when he would’ve sensed my sadness tonight and have come right to my side and done anything to make me happy again.
But tonight, he doesn’t seem to notice anything but his phone. I’m his wife, a symbol of stability and loyalty for all his clients, rather than a person he loves and cherishes.
I watch in awe as the beautiful creatures fly toward me and hover above me, as if they are about to ask me something. I smile; I used to love taking pictures of these birds when I first moved to California. They seemed so graceful and confident, flying above their prey and waiting for just the perfect moment to attack. Taking pictures of nature had always been a passion of mine. A passion I rarely indulge in now. Passion is something I don’t experience much in any aspect of my life anymore.
It’s as if these beautiful birds can sense the emptiness I’m feeling by the way they continue to hover protectively around me. I imagine for a moment that I can sprout strong, feathery white wings like theirs and fly away from it all with them. I watch the graceful, almost peaceful way their feathers move mightily back and forth, as I try to calm my nerves before having to face the people back inside the party.
I hear my name float through the air, and for an instant I wonder whether the birds are calling to me.
I hear the soft patter of footsteps on the deck of the pool behind me, but don’t turn. I already know who it is.
“Alexa, is that you?” A familiar voice calls my name again, and although it’s louder, I can tell that he’s still trying to whisper my name so as not to draw unwanted attention from the guests to my pout-fest outside.
I close my eyes, not wanting him to know I’m actually rolling them under the lids. Mike walks up beside me, reeking of whiskey; his glass is held up to his chest, as if he needs it to keep him from falling down. I smile a little to myself as I imagine him tumbling into the pool behind us.
“Alexa, what are you doing out here all by yourself? I’ve been looking all over for you. I have a few people I’d like to introduce you to.” He forces a smile at me as he takes my hand in his, trying his best to pretend that he still loves me.
I know he doesn’t.
The feeling of his skin on mine fills me with sadness, so I slide my hand out of his and straighten his tie so he doesn’t notice my need to be free of his touch. I don’t know why I try to not let him know my sadness, but until I know what to do about our marriage myself, I just don’t want to deal with it.
I give the knot of his tie a pat and force a smile. “I was just getting some fresh air.”
He takes my hand once more and leads me back into the party without another word. That’s how life between us has been for months now. He barely speaks to me. He’s always at work, brokering a new deal or meeting with clients. Any time I ask him to cut back on work so he can spend more time with me and the boys, he snaps back that his late nights are what allows us the extravagant lifestyle we have developed. We have more than I could’ve ever asked for and then some. We have a large home in an exclusive neighborhood, three luxury cars, and a cabin in Big Bear. We have more than I know what to do with, and none of it means anything if our family falls apart. The truth is, I was happier when he was working for a commercial real-estate company in New York City that required fewer hours on the job, with weekends and nights off to be with me and our kids. This country-club lifestyle is nothing I’ve ever wanted and would give away in an instant if it meant I’d have my husband back.
When we enter the back of the house through the massive French doors, we are greeted by two young, good-looking men surrounded by the Housewives, looking the true definition of cougars. The men look up at Mike and me as if we’re their saviors when we approach. I take a deep breath to prepare myself to play the part of the wife.
“Tom. Frank, this is my wife. She’s the creator of the design for the entire Wheaton Estate project.” He smiles at me proudly and for a moment I believe it’s true.
I’ve always been interested in art. It began as a love for painting and photography as a child that bloomed into love for interior design in college. A little over a year ago, Mike needed help with a property he was working on because the designer he hired quit unexpectedly. Over the years, I had taken on smaller projects for him, but nothing as major as the Wheaton Estate Bed and Breakfast. That project brought me acclaim and reignited my desire to work in interior design full-time again. I was even featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. A glimmer of hope flickers through me for an instant, but is quickly diminished when I notice Mike is searching the room frantically instead of focusing back on me. “Gentlemen, let me leave you to get to know my wife for a moment.” He doesn’t make a move to kiss my cheek as he would’ve not long ago, and is gone before any of us can react.
When Mike refers to me only as his wife again, without using my name, I can’t help but cringe.
What is it about the term wife that makes me want to cry? The way he says it makes me feel as if that term is holding me underwater, drowning in a life filled with what-if’s. It’s a word that once made me swoon and filled me with so much happiness; at times it made me feel as if I would burst. It made me feel so safe. So confident. So loved. Now, it makes me feel as if each letter of the short word…wife…is like a barbed wir
Mike stole my heart years ago; he nurtured it like a delicate flower, grooming it at first as if it were the most precious gift in the world. But just like a flower, I need love and nurturing to keep me alive, and at times it seems as if Mike is content with watching me wilt and shrivel away. Over time, as my heart has been neglected, I’ve had to grasp at any bit of sunlight he sends my way in hopes it will bring our marriage back to life.
I put on the smile that I know Mike loves, and hold my hand out to greet the gentlemen, making no attempt to cover for my husband’s abrupt departure. “I’m Alexa.”
Tom takes my hand and looks at me with his dark brown eyes that instantly intrigue me. “That’s a beautiful name. Fitting for a woman such as yourself.”
I recognize the way his words are clipped in certain areas, sounding more like someone from back home than here, and I smile.
Frank slaps Tom’s hand away and looks at him with disgust. “That’s about the cheesiest thing you’ve ever said. Go get us a drink while I try to save face with Mrs. Brock.”
Tom walks away without hesitation and Frank smiles back at me apologetically. “I’m sorry. After a few drinks, it seems Tommy forgets we’re not in a bar in Manhattan.”
My body relaxes when I look up into his warm blue eyes that seem filled with sincerity. “Oh, please, I’ve got thicker skin than that.” I take a sip of my wine and lean back against the wall behind me. “Where are you guys from?”
“We’ve been based in New York City for the past fifteen years, but moved to California about a month ago.” He nods over to a large group of people laughing loudly at something or someone in the corner. “C.J. over there is not only the pretty face behind our brand, but I’ll be damned that he’s also the brains.” He smiles to himself as if it’s an inside joke.
I look around, not seeing any sign of Mike, and smile back at Frank. “What is it you do again?”
“I’m operations manager for the C.J. Fox Company, and Tommy is VP, if you can believe it. Your husband’s about to help us open two new restaurants in Southern California.”
I can’t hide my irritation; this will be another excuse for Mike to abandon our family. “Well, isn’t that wonderful.” The sarcasm in my voice doesn’t go unnoticed and Frank shoots me a questioning glance.
“We’d also like to talk with you about our vision for the design of the restaurants. Tommy and I loved what your husband showed us from your portfolio.” I appreciate the way Frank can so effortlessly turn the conversation back on a positive focus, but I’m also not so sure I like how easily he could tell my frustration with my husband.
He holds his glass up to mine with a sideways smile and gives it a gentle tap. “I don’t want to bog you down with business tonight. I’ll get a meeting set up for next week.”
Just when I start to feel excitement over another opportunity to work with my husband, another chance to show him how special our life together is, I look over Frank’s shoulder to see him leaning in to that blonde again, clearly not caring how his close proximity to this other woman could appear to others.
“It’s only a friend,” I whisper under my breath reminding myself of all the times my therapist has reminded me that my jealousy is driving a wedge between Mike and me. Frank follows my gaze. His glance meets mine with sympathy again and I cringe. I’m not someone to be pitied and I hate that Mike’s actions make it so.
Before I can even try to make an excuse for his behavior, I hear Tommy’s name called from the crowd of laughing people, and I freeze.
It’s Irish, I think. It sounds like a voice that used to be able to make me feel as if I were the most important thing in the world. A voice I haven’t heard in years. A voice that broke my heart.
Frank smiles at me. “Looks like Tommy’s gotten himself in to trouble while getting our drinks.” He takes my hand in his, kissing the knuckles politely. “I’ll be right back. I think C.J. needs me to save him from Tommy’s escapades.”
I nod and smile brightly, trying to see who that familiar voice belongs to because the visceral, fervent feeling that swept over me at just the sound of that voice makes it impossible for me to ignore. Before I can follow Frank over to the group of laughing people surrounding the voice, Mike steps in front of me, his hair disheveled, and top button open.
My smile fades.
“Hey, babe. I called a car for you. I’ll be home a little later.” He takes me by the waist and leads me to the door without explanation.
I don’t expect one anymore. He expects me to be the obedient wife who disappears after I’ve served my purpose. Clearly I have for tonight.
I don’t ask questions anymore because I’ll only get more lies, so I begin to follow his lead toward the door.
Just then, another burst of laughter erupts from the crowd of people. I turn around to see whether I can get a glimpse of the voice that garnered my curiosity moments ago. I can see the back of a tall man in the center of the crowd, with long, dark waves brushing the collar of his broad shoulders, laughing along with the group as Tommy entertains them with an animated story. A spark of hope flickers in the coals of my heart when I sense a familiarity of this mysterious man other than his voice; I snuff it out, knowing that it’s my sadness searching for salvation.
Frank said the familiar man’s name was C.J., and I remind myself that I don’t know a C.J. The idea that the man I knew so long ago would be here, in a small town in Southern California when he went back to Ireland, leaving me alone and broken, is ridiculous. I wonder whether my feeling of hopelessness in my marriage is starting to make me wish for things that I know could never happen.
I look back at my husband and want to cry with disappointment when I hear the group erupt with laughter again, wishing he wanted me here with him, joining in the fun like the others, rather than hurriedly trying to make me leave so that he can surely have his own fun. Without me.
When I hear his deep, raspy laugh again that is so unique and familiar when Mike is stopped at the door by another guest, I decide I can’t ignore the ping in my heart. I decide I need to put an end to the hope flickering inside me, so I pull away from Mike to walk over to the group and prove for myself who this man is.
I don’t wait for the story that Tommy is telling to end; I simply walk up and tap this mysterious man’s sturdy shoulders. When I do, something so unexpected happens—I can’t believe it’s real. An overwhelming emotion takes over me before I can say a word. With just one touch from this faceless man, it feels as if I’m being shot through time—to a time so long ago, that it almost doesn’t seem real. Once upon a time, there was only one man—boy, really—who could make my body react this way with just a touch. I’m sent back to a time when life was simpler, when love was new and true. Just when he seems to realize that I’m trying to get his attention and finally starts to turn around, Mike’s there, pulling me away and stealing me from my discovery.
“Christ, Alexa, your car is waiting.” Annoyed, he takes my hand and drags me away, but before he shuts the door behind me, I steal one last glance over my shoulder to see whether I can see his face and rid my mind of the impossible.
It’s as if this man senses my need to have my question answered, because at the same moment, he glances casually back over his shoulder toward me as he laughs along with the group. When his bright green eyes meet mine, my heart stops.
All I can see is the way his eyes sparkle with recognition. Without hesitation, he walks away from the group and stalks toward me with an intensity that makes me go weak in the knees, bucking into my husband.
When I hear him call me Lex, I know it can only be one person.
“Jamie?” I say in a whisper of disbelief as Mike pulls me out the door and away from a ghost of my past.
“Lex, toss me a towel, would
I looked down at my boyfriend and couldn’t imagine how I’ve gotten so lucky. I’m in love for the first time and everything he says or does makes me fall harder.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m an eighteen-year-old virgin. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s calling me “his treasure” in Gaelic, but I’d been head over heels in love with Jamie since I first met him last summer. We met when we were put together with a group of other seventeen-year-old artist wannabes from around the country who were all trying to earn scholarships offered to counselors of this prestigious art camp hidden away in the Catskill Mountains. I’d always thought fate brought us together: two people from different worlds meeting in an unlikely place and falling helplessly in love.
I met Jamie on our first day at camp last summer when we were both assigned to lifeguard duties. It was the one and only time I was thankful my parents enrolled me in Junior Lifeguards as a kid every summer at Point Pleasant on the Jersey Shore. When we were introduced, he shook my hand and informed me that we were now best friends. I remember his deep dimples when he smiled, and the honesty that shined through his magnetic green eyes. He was a lot taller than me, at least six foot three, with muscles that seemed as if they were going to explode out of his tight black t-shirt, like the Incredible Hulk. His dark, shaggy hair brushed over his dark eyebrows, adding a sense of mystery to this foreign creature when he took my duffel bag and carried it to my cabin, making easy conversation with me as if we’d known each other for years. From that moment forward, we spent the entire summer together. We worked together, ate together, and went to all social activities together. Most of our other friends at camp thought there was something going on between us, but much to my dissatisfaction, Jamie kept our relationship strictly in the friend zone that first year.
When he kissed my cheek good-bye last summer, I felt it in places I didn’t know existed. That simple kiss on the cheek did more to me than any other kiss I’d ever experienced, and when he looked at me that day, his eyes said he felt the same.