Round Four Edits
Chapter One-End of January
Valerie Cooper’s cell phone jingles to life in the middle of the pop aisle at her local Hugemart. Swiping her finger across the screen, she reads the text from her husband. ‘I’m moving out.’
Ha! Auto-correct, the technological version of that telephone game the kids play. Valerie’s thumbs wrestle with the touch screen of her phone to send her reply. ‘I think auto-correct got you. Lol!’ She tosses her phone back in her purse and moves on to the next isle where she is greeted by the scent of roses. I love roses.
Moments later a few cheerful jingles announce his response. ‘No. It didn’t. I’m moving out of the house, and in with Wendy.’
The corners of Valerie’s eyes crinkle and she purses her lips as she waits for the punch line in this bizarre joke of her husband’s. ‘ Curtis as far as jokes go, this one sucks, babe.’ She doesn’t throw her phone back in her purse this time. Instead, she stands fixed in the aisle almost rooted to the spot waiting on his retort. The humor of his joke must be over her head.
‘It’s no joke, Valerie, but believe me we’re getting quite the laugh out of it.’
Valerie gapes at her phone as tiny messages full of dread pop up one after another. What the hell is going on? I must be dreaming, this is too crazy to be happening. But if it’s a dream then why does it make her heart weep.
Valerie stares from her phone to her cart full of groceries her family would need to get through the week. Her eyes linger over the sports drinks that Curtis takes in his lunch box and the snack bars he eats before he plays basketball with the guys. Was he actually playing basketball with the guys? If he wasn’t what was he doing? Wendy, whoever that is? Was he doing Wendy when he was supposed to be with the guys?
An awful truth dawns on Valerie causing her mind to swirl. She braces herself against the cart to keep from toppling over. If this isn’t a joke then he’s leaving me too and by choice. Curtis is leaving me for someone else someone named Wendy. It has to be a joke, a very messed up sick joke.
This morning when Valerie dropped her daughters off at school, she felt the loneliness of her youngest’s requirement to attend school all day, every day, like every other child in the country. This requirement sentenced Valerie, to ramble around in the house on her own with no companions throughout the day. But her daughter didn’t choose to leave her though. Curtis was. No it can’t be true. I don’t believe it. I won’t
It has to be an awful joke but what if it isn’t? What if it is true? Her hands tremble so much it becomes a struggle to maintain her grip on her phone, a large swig of coffee helps settle them and its aroma covers her in reassuring embrace. But her stomach still churns around like that time she ate bad sushi.
Valerie’s eyes dart around taking in her surroundings, looking for the exits. A tear escapes her resolve and slithers down her cheek; its traitorous behavior threatens to give away the turmoil bubbling under her composure. She uses a shaky fingertip to remove it with as much affection as any executioner has for a prisoner bound for the block. She must leave before she gives all the lookyloos something to talk about this week. Her ruined life concerns no one but her. But what about my cart?
Straightening her back, Valerie attempts to remain as poised as always as she pushes her cart to the front of the store. Once at the service desk, she out right lies, saying that she left her wallet at home. All around her people go about their lives as if nothings happened. They act like nothing is different, but everything may be different for Valerie, and her girls now. Pleading with her eyes she begs forgiveness and receives an understanding sympathy from the cashier who admits she too has left her wallet at home before. The woman prattles on about each instance as Valerie stews in visions of Curtis under the covers with another women. Did he bring her to our house? Valerie Cooper, stop this right now. This is all a misunderstanding. Some twisted joke.
But what if it isn’t? Valerie clears her throat, pushing back a lump of uncertainty that if addressed further would make her cry buckets right here on the spot. Her pride seems to be all she has left, and after this gets out she may not even have that. She nods thanks, and excuses herself to find her wallet, but she doesn’t bother to promise to return. She can find another Hugemart’s to shop at she may never return to this one.
On her fifteen minute drive home, Valerie travels through the picturesque town of Briarton. The town could be straight from the set of any Made for TV Movie with it’s small trendy shops, proximity to a larger city, and abundance of fresh air. . The fact that it’s situated next to a small meandering river only added to its charm. And if someone were to watch close enough, they might catch a glimpse of the areas local wildlife on the tree-lined banks of that river. The final thing that cemented its Made for TV charm arises on any day of the week the sun shines, people flock to the town to visit its outdoor spaces and bicycle paths.
Valerie loves Briarton, it has played a large role in her vote for their home. If it hadn’t been for Briarton’s appeal, she may have chosen the house closer to Curtis’s parents back when they were searching. She often brings her girls to town to experience that appeal. They would eat lunch at one of the sixties style dinners. After lunch, they would wonder the streets window-shopping, and waving to the cyclist. Will I still live here if … this isn’t a joke?
Valerie’s heart races as she nears the country home that Curtis and her bought for their family. It sits far enough away from Briarton to see the stars at night but close enough to reap the benefits of city life. Meaning that once she left the city limits sign it would only be a few minutes until she reached her destination. Her palms wouldn’t seem to stop sweating so she wipes each of them in turn on her pants while the other mans the wheel. Going home never effected her like this before.
A large yard and swing-set had been her sole requirements for their family home to the realtor; this home didn’t have one so Curtis built one that rivaled the best playgrounds around. At the time her heart sang his praises at the love he showed his family with his hands. Would she lose all of that now?
As the small creek that runs by the house comes into view, Valerie’s heart quickens it pace even further. She fears that if it beats much faster she may pass out. Parking in her driveway, Valerie approaches her home, taking each step with care as if she may shatter the well worn pavers under her feet if she steps on them wrong. This house, their refuge from the hustle of life, the place their girls have sleepovers, and birthdays was supposed to be a happy home, or so she had thought. Stop it, is a happy home, is.
How can this be happening? My Curtis wouldn’t leave his family. His attachment to duty wouldn’t let him. Curtis once went back in a fast food restaurant to pay for an extra fry they received and didn’t order. Valerie often joked with him that under straight-laced in the dictionary, Webster, put a picture of him. But he never laughed. Valerie slows her tiptoed approach as the wheels in her brain start turning.
But he had been acting strange recently more relaxed about that sort of thing. He had told Amelia to keep a necklace she found at school instead of turning it in to the lost and found. Amelia argued that as much as she wished it was hers it wasn’t and if she ever got one and lost it she hoped that the person who found it would turn it in so she could get it back. These thoughts cause Valerie to freeze and her hand jerks to cover her mouth with wide panic-stricken eyes realization dawns on her. He had been acting strange for a little while now. He wasn’t as uptight and righteous as usual.
No. This can’t be. She straightened her spine and squared her shoulders. This isn’t our life. We aren’t like that. Other people divorced, and other people separated all the time, but not her and not her husband. Divorce happens to people that claim to fall out of love with each other and people who spend more time at work then with their family, but not Curtis and her. Yes, she’s the proverbial soccer mom always running a kid here or there and he’s the fifty-hour a week provider. But they have family night where they eat dinner together and play board games. They go to the zoo together and the aquarium. Doesn’t that prove we love each other? People who don’t love each other wouldn’t spend time together. Would they?
Besides, Curtis looked down on people who couldn’t stick it out for the kid’s sake. He always claimed to not understand how they could be so full of themselves to ruin everyone’s lives around them with a simple whim. Trying to plan sleepovers for their daughters helped bring this point home, several of the little girls her daughters were friends with had divorced parents. They could never get all the girls together on the same night. If this is real my Amelia and Paige will fall into the divorced parents group now. Valerie sniffs back the tears that still threaten to overtake her and continues forward down the walkway. It can’t be real. It just can’t.