This major tense rewrite is complete.
I was almost ready to publish this for pre-order and then I decided to rewrite it. I had went out on a limb and wrote it in present tense. After much thought and advice I decided to change it.
This version needs to run through my editor. So typos may be present.
Chapter One-End of January
Valerie Cooper’s cell phone jingled to life in the middle of the pop aisle at her local Hugemart. Swiping her finger across the screen, she read 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 wrestled with the touch screen of her phone to send her reply. I think auto-correct got you. Lol! She tossed her phone back in her purse and moved on to the next aisle where she was greeted by the scent of roses. Umm. I love the scent of roses.
Moments later, a few cheerful jingles announced his response. No. It didn’t. I’m moving out of the house, and in with Wendy.
The corners of Valerie’s eyes crinkled and she pursed her lips as she waited for the punch line in this bizarre joke of her husband’s. Curtis, as far as jokes go, this one sucks, babe. She didn’t throw her phone back in her purse this time. Instead, she stood fixed in the aisle, almost rooted to the spot while waiting on his retort. The humor of his joke must have been over her head.
It’s no joke, Valerie, but believe me we’re getting quite the laugh out of it.
Valerie gaped at her phone as tiny messages full of dread popped up one after another. What is going on? I must be dreaming. This is too crazy to be happening. But if it was a dream then why did it make her heart weep?
Valerie stared from her phone to her cart full of groceries that her family would need to get through the week. Her eyes lingered over the sports drinks that Curtis took in his lunch box and the snack bars he ate before he played basketball with the guys. Was he, in fact, playing basketball with the guys? If he wasn’t, what was he doing? Was he doing Wendy, whoever that was, when he was supposed to be with the guys?
An awful truth dawned on Valerie, causing her mind to swirl. She braced herself against the cart to keep from toppling over. If this isn’t a joke, then he’s leaving me, and by choice. Curtis is leaving me for someone else; someone named Wendy. She shook her head unwilling to except that reality. 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 the house on her own with no companions throughout the day. But her daughter didn’t choose to leave her. Curtis was. No. It can’t be true. I don’t believe it. And I won’t.
It has to be an awful joke, but what if it isn’t? What if it is true? Her hands trembled so much it became a struggle to maintain her grip on her phone. A large swig of coffee from the foam cup nestled in the cart’s basket helped settle them, and its aroma covered her in a reassuring embrace. But her stomach still churned around like that time she ate bad sushi.
Valerie’s eyes darted around, taking in her surroundings, looking for the exits. A tear escaped her resolve and slithered down her cheek; its traitorous behavior threatened to give away the turmoil bubbling under her composure. She used a shaky fingertip to remove it with as much affection as any executioner had for a prisoner bound for the block. She must leave before she gave all the lookyloos something to talk about this week. Her ruined life concerned no one but her.
Straightening her back, Valerie attempted to remain as poised as always as she pushed her cart to the front of the store. Once at the service desk, she outright lied, saying that she left her wallet at home. All around her people went about their lives as if nothing’s was happened. They acted like nothing was different, but everything may have been different for Valerie and her girls now. Pleading with her eyes, she begged forgiveness and received an understanding sympathy from the cashier who admitted she, too, had left her wallet at home before. The woman prattled on about each instance as Valerie stewed in visions of Curtis under the covers with another woman. 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 cleared her throat, pushing back a lump of uncertainty that, if addressed further, would make her cry buckets right here on the spot. Her pride seemed to be all she had left, and after this got out, she may not even have that. She nodded thanks and excused herself to find her wallet, but she didn’t bother to promise to return. She could find another Hugemart to shop at; she may never return to this one.
On her fifteen minute drive home, Valerie traveled through the picturesque town of Briarton. The town could have been straight from the set of any Made for TV Movie with its small, trendy shops, proximity to a larger city, and abundance of fresh air. The fact that it was 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 area’s local wildlife on the tree-lined banks of that river. The final thing that cemented its Made for TV charm was that people flock to the town to visit its bicycle paths on any day it wasn’t raining.
Valerie loved Briarton and all its charms. It played a large role in her vote for their home here. 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 brought her girls to town to experience that appeal. They would eat lunch at one of the sixties style diners. After lunch, they would wonder the streets, window-shopping and waving to the cyclists. Will I still live here if … this isn’t a joke?
Valerie’s heart raced as she neared the country home that Curtis and her bought for their family. It sat far enough away from Briarton to see the stars at night, but was close enough to reap the benefits of city life. Once she left the city limits sign, it would only be a few minutes until she reached her destination. Her palms couldn’t seem to stop sweating. She wiped each of them in turn on her pants while the other manned the wheel. Going home never affected 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 the swing-set, 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 ran by the house came into view, Valerie’s heart quickened. She feared that if it beat much faster she may pass out. Parking in her driveway, Valerie approached her home, taking each step with care as if she might 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 had sleepovers and birthdays was supposed to be a happy home, or so she had thought. Stop it. It is a happy home.
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 slowed her tiptoed approach as the wheels in her brain started turning.
But he had been acting strange recently. More relaxed about that sort of thing. He had told Amelia, their daughter, 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 froze Valerie to the pavers, her hand jerked to cover her mouth, wide panic-stricken eyes cover her face, as realization dawned 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 her husband. Divorce happened to people that claimed to fall out of love with each other, and people who spent more time at work then with their family, but not Curtis and her.
Yes. She was the proverbial soccer mom, always running a kid here or there, and he was the fifty-hour a week provider. But they had family night where they ate dinner together and play board games. They went 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 kids’ 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. Because Sally had to be at her Dad’s this weekend but Megan had to be at her Dad’s the next. Poor Tessie lived with her Dad every weekend and he was not willing to share her at all. Isabelle was the only one whose parents were married and was able to come almost any weekend. Now, her Amelia and Paige would fall into the divorced parents group.
Valerie sniffed back tears that still threatened to overtake her and continued forward down the walkway. It can’t be real. It just can’t.