Road of Change

Road of Change: Georgia to Florida

The trip across South Carolina went quickly and mostly in silence.  The traffic increased as we neared the Charleston exit.  

Seven hours in the car and we were both still alive.   But, that’s all I can say about it.  I watched trees, listened to Chris complain about the road construction and felt generally miserable about this entire trip.  Why didn’t he just move out of my house and in with Kathy?  Why did Lillian make us do this?

“He is in so much trouble,”  Chris said, suddenly.

“Who?”  I asked, whipping my head around to face Chris. I stilled fumed at him and his lack of responsibility and had no clue what he was talking about.

“That guy in the pick-up in front of us.  He has a dresser back there that isn’t tied down and the drawers have come open.  Stuff is blowing out.”

I watched a pair of jeans fly out of the back of the truck and land in the weeds beside the road.  Then, a sequined blouse came out of the drawer to flutter down and get snagged on a tree.

“I hope she has clothes somewhere else, or she will end up naked,” I said.

“Look! A suede jacket,”  Chris said.

“Oh, my,”  I said.  Then, a red peignoir flew out of a drawer.  “No sexy nighty for him.”  I held up my phone and began taking pictures every time a clothing article flew out of the back of the truck.  

“There goes a pink lace bra,”  he said.

“That guy has no idea this is going on behind him,”  I said, as a pair of black lacy panty hose flew out of the dresser.

“It could be his clothes,”  Chris said and in spite of my anger, I laughed out loud.  Every time another clothing article flew out of the dresser, Chris and I laughed.  We watched bras, panties, blouses and jeans fly away.

Several miles passed and just as I was going to announce the dresser was finally empty, a fuzzy white sweater blew out of the back of the pick-up truck, sparking another round of hilarity.  Even though the laughter had an hysterical edge, it felt good.  Little in my life seemed funny for more than a month.  The man exited at the interchange for Brunswick.  So went our entertainment.  

“You would think he would turn around once in awhile,”  Chris said.

“Or at least look at his mirrors,”  I said.  “But, it was really funny when that peignoir got hung up in a tree and that blue sequined blouse.”

“It will be even funnier when she makes him go back to get everything,”  Chris said.  

“He is in for a long night,” I said. We laughed again.

After a few more miles, Chris said, “I am stopping at the first hotel in Florida.  We need to figure out where we are going from there.  Maybe we can share a pizza.  Lillian only gave us one credit card for the trip and I can’t eat a whole delivered pizza myself.”

“Okay, but we are getting separate rooms.  Plus it has to be a hotel that accepts pets.  Snow stays with me.”

“Fine by me,”  he said as he pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road so we could take another selfie at the Welcome to Florida sign.  This time, we had small smiles that didn’t reach our eyes.  Snow barked at a car that passed because a Blue Tick Hound had his head stuck out of the window and his tongue hanging out.  Just saying howdy to the passersby. Maybe she was interested in him.  Don’t do it, Snow.  Men are nothing but trouble.

Florida

Road of Change

Road of Change: South Carolina to Georgia

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“So if you knew about her three months ago, why didn’t you say something, then.  Why wait until four weeks ago?”  Chris asked me.

“Say what?  Would anything have made a difference?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  It just kind of happened.  At the reception for the Waterman Apartments, she put her hand on my arm.  I noticed she put her hands on me every chance she got.  She smiled at me.  Winked at me.  Paid attention.  You spent the entire reception schmoozing with Waterman and his wife. I could have fallen in a hole and you wouldn’t have known.”

“Chris, the only reason I was schmoozing was because you didn’t.  You had just won a huge contract and it was your job to welcome Mr. Waterman and company, but instead of that, you invariably hid in a corner or behind a bush. Just like always.”

“You know I don’t do well in those situations.  Forced socializing.  I never know what to say.”

“Which is why Ben and I always had to do the schmoozing.  Now, you are saying that’s the reason you and Kathy Skank got together, because I paid attention to your client just like you wanted me to do.”

“You always had something else to do.  You took Lily to dance classes, you worked in your store, you did the shopping, the cooking.  You never paid attention to me.”  Did he really just say that?

I attacked.  “You seemed to think if you brought a paycheck home once a week you did everything necessary to contribute to a happy home.  Things had to get done and waiting for you to do anything is impossible.  If I didn’t ride herd on the lawn service, the grass would be tall enough to hid a car.  If I didn’t cook, you and Lily would starve. You don’t even take out the trash. Your sins of omission are piled as high as the ceiling.  I refuse to take responsibility for your indiscretions.  Kathy in your bed is not my fault.”  Maybe if I said it often enough, I would start to believe it.

“So you’re saying it’s my fault?”

“Of course, it’s your fault.  I am not sleeping with Kathy Skank.”

“Don’t call her that.”

“Kathy Skank.  Kathy Skank.  Kathy Skank.”

“That’s real mature,” he accused.

“I was the mature one for our entire marriage.  You have never taken responsibility for anything that went wrong.  You ran out of gas in your car, a car I never, ever drive and you came home, foaming at the mouth because somehow I didn’t put gas in it.  You remember that?  You left the blueprints for the Benson project on your desk in your office and went off to the meeting without them. You called me an hour later and yelled at me for ten minutes because the blueprints were in your office.  I had nothing to do with that, but you blamed me all the same.”

“Well, you’re no prize to live with.  You’re always too tired for sex.  Most of the time, you go to bed before me and if I try to wake you up, you yell at me.”

“Did it ever occur that I fell asleep so early was because I was doing my job and yours?  Did you ever think that maybe I was really tired?”

“Still, once in a while wouldn’t be too much to ask.”

My fury rose higher and higher.  This conversation wasn’t productive, but maybe we were getting some of the buried stuff out in the open.

“You know what?  You’re absolutely right.  What was I thinking?  Your massive-three-minute-in-the-sex-department effort wouldn’t have been too much to ask.”

“Kathy never complains,”  he said, defensively.

“She wants something from you and you are too stupid to see it.”

“What could she want from me?”

“Let me see.  She is twenty with a receptionist’s job and you have a stable career, a nice car, a nice house, credit cards, a swimming pool, a boat, vacations in the Caribbean.  In one instant she can achieve the American Dream: Cars, cash, credit cards, maybe a condo.”

“She is twenty-three,” he said.

“You are impossible.  Absolutely impossible,”  I said and turned my head to watch the pine trees out of the window at my shoulder.  

During all of our sniping, neither of us realized we missed the real reason we were at odds.  It all had to do with Trip, our son who died two years, previously.  Neither one of us had dealt with that death and suddenly, we had Lillian’s death to deal with, too.

Once again, Chris pulled the Cayenne over and we took the selfie of the Welcome to Georgia sign.  Snow peed on Chris’s foot, which made me giggle.  He looked down at his soggy sneaker and said called Snow a very ugly name.  And he said I am immature.

Road of Change

Road of Change: North Carolina to South Carolina

 

Driving through North Carolina on Interstate 95 seems to take forever, especially if you are in a car with pouty man who is ticked off because he has to spend the summer driving his wife all over the country instead of lounging in the arms of a blond twenty year old receptionist. Poor, poor baby.  

At least Snow is happy about going on the trip.  I wonder if she will feel the same in a few days.  Or weeks.

As for Chris, he hasn’t taken a single minute to think about what the trip has done to me.  I own a small store that sells yarn, crochet and knitting books, and every accessory anyone needs for a knitting or crocheting hobby–from tote bags to carry yarn, to crochet and knitting kits that come complete with yarn, directions and even the appropriately sized hook or needle.

My store has never made a fortune, netting only about $10,000 to $15,000 in profit each year, but it is a neighborhood fixture.  It is a piazza where knitters and crocheters come to socialize, knit and crochet, and drink freshly brewed coffee.  Abigail Grint came to work with me almost three years ago and proved to be a master at teaching needle arts.  She conducts several classes a week, orders supplies and generally keeps things running.  Leaving her for the summer months didn’t seem a hardship as that is a slow time in my business, anyway.  I gave her carte blanche to open and close when she felt like it.  I gave her a raise, a hug and left my store in her care.  I hope it would still be there when I return.  Still I worried about what changes she would wrought in the store that I opened and ran alone for almost ten years before her arrival.  Would she change displays, order coffee from a different vendor, change my inventory of yarn to the more exotic textures and colors?  A small business owner is crazy to just leave their store for several months.  While the cat’s away, and all that.

Chris steered the Cayenne into a convenience store along the interstate.  I went inside the store catering to travelers, by offering several fast food options, souvenirs, clothing and thankfully, a restroom.  I bought a fizzy drink and a burger before returning to the car.  Chris emerged from the store to light up a cigarette.  He stood outside to smoke and did not try to smoke in the car.  If he had done it, he would have to finish this journey on his own.

I put the leash on Snow and took her to a grassy area to pee and then we returned to the car.  I gave her some water and then she settled back onto her bed.

When Chris slid into the driver’s seat, he smelled of smoke.  I opened the window on my side of the car and endured his glare as he pulled out of the parking spot and back into the traffic on the Interstate.

“You going to give me a blast of crap about my smoking?”  he asked me.

“No.  I just opened the window because I do not like the way it smells.  I never have.  I never will.  And you smell like smoke.”

“Love me, love my cigarettes.”

“I don’t love either right now.”

His face fell and his face moved from a surly expression to a child who broke his favorite toy in less than a second.  “You don’t love me?”

“Yes, I love you, but I am so angry with you.”

“That’s why you keep saying things to deliberately hurt my feelings.”

“What did you expect from me?”  I demanded.

“I expected you to be understanding.”

“Are you kidding me?  Understanding?  Just let you go on with your affair without saying anything?  Just let you spend night after night with your girlfriend, who is nearly as young as your daughter?  Just let you spend money taking her to fancy restaurants and buying her a very expensive diamond bracelet?  Is that the understanding you are talking about?”

He took a deep breath and then said,  “I didn’t know you knew about the bracelet.”

“I am the one who pays the bills, genius.  I saw the credit card bill for a bracelet and what a surprise.  You didn’t give it to me or to Lily.  You didn’t even try to cover your tracks.  I paid the credit card bills for the dinners, lunches, hotel rooms.  Everything.  I have a record of your journey into that sordid affair.”

“Is that what first tipped you off?  American Express?”

“American Express just confirmed it.  All those times you told me you were working late.  Imagine my shock when I took a pizza to your office on one of those nights you were working late and the office was closed up, tight as a drum.”

He fell into another sulk breathing sharply in and out.  Fine with me.  I wasn’t in the mood for talking, either.

I actually discovered his affair, accidently.  When I asked him why he wasn’t at the office when I took the pizza there, he told me he and Ben went for a drink after they finished working.  He apologized and I believed him.  

Two days later, I saw Chris and Kathy just as they were leaving a restaurant during the lunch hour.  Again, I didn’t make the connection right away.  I walked towards them to say hello until I saw him take her hand while they walked to his car. He leaned over to kiss her before he pulled out of the parking lot.  I went back to my car and sat in there for several minutes, dumbfounded.  After that incident, I started looking and the clues were everywhere. I found love letters from her and condoms in his briefcase. He put a framed picture of her in his desk drawer in his home office.  He even left a pair of her underwear in the pocket of his suit jacket.  How could I have been so blind to the signs?  

The worst thing that happened when I discovered his girlfriend was the complete loss of trust.  I found myself examining every word, every conversation for lies.  Every memory changed from marital bliss to suspicions.  Suddenly, I trusted nothing he said or did.  He would go into the bathroom at home, and I assumed he texted her while doing his business.  The longer it went on, the more distrustful I became.

Innocence lost in that one act of watching him kiss another woman. I changed in that instant from a happy wife to a raging shrew.   

I alternated from anger to depression and back to anger.  Depression because I felt responsible for his wandering eyes.  I watched myself in the mirror, making comparisons between her and me.  Younger than me, she wore a youthful glow.  Her abdomen lay flat as a carpet.  One of those size zero girls.  

I, on the other hand, wore a size sixteen.  Not enormous, rather curvy.  Scrutiny in the bedroom mirror did nothing to assuage my inferior feelings.  Heavy thighs, bulge on my tummy from childbirth, drooping boobs from breastfeeding.  I wore my hair in a casual short cut for comfort and ease of care.  A few gray strands stood in stark contrast to the dark blond waves.  My blue eyes, made bluer with my contacts, seemed to be the only redeeming feature, but even they sported wrinkles in the corners.

In comparing myself to Kathy, I fell short in every aspect.  Fatter, older, grayer, more wrinkled.  What did Chris ever see in me?  Other than pregnancy, I never gained huge amounts of weight.  I weigh now nearly what I did when we married.  Maybe he never really loved me at all.  Maybe he only married so he would have someone to wash his skivvies and make his dinner.  A mother.  Not a wife.

Chris pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road and at the Welcome to South Carolina sign, I took a selfie of the two of us, both of us frowning badly.  Without a word, I walked back to the Cayenne, slammed the door, fastened my seatbelt and emailed the photo to Mr. Cartwright.

usa-welcome-signs-south-carolina

Road of Change

Chapter 3 continued…

We didn’t leave for three days.  Carolyn picked up Lily on Friday afternoon and Chris and I started the journey on Saturday.  The Cayenne’s storage in the back was large enough for the suitcases, food for Snow, water, snacks, and the urn with Lillian’s ashes.  I packed a copy of the will for Matthew, made sure I had medical insurance cards, and about $1000 in cash, just in case we ended up somewhere that didn’t take a credit card. I grabbed my phone charger, my laptop, and my prescription sunglasses.

We drove my car to Lillian’s house, made certain everything was locked and the refrigerator cleared out completely.  I talked to Jeff Richardson, her neighbor, about watering the roses for the summer and keeping the grass cut.  He said he would keep and eye on things plus he would start my car periodically to make sure the battery didn’t die.  I gave him my cell phone number and told him to call me if anything happened.

When we got to Sante Fe, Matt would let us know what of Lillian’s personal items he wanted and I could ship things to him.  Lillian generously provided all of us with gifts of her possessions years before she died, so likely there wasn’t much remaining that he would want.

We transferred our things from my CRV into the back of the Cayenne and Snow hopped into the back seat.  At least one of us was eager to get started. I put her doggy bed on the back seat and she climbed in, walked in circles for a few minutes and finally settled down for the 14,000 mile journey.

The trip started badly.  Chris backed the car into Lillian’s mail box.  He muttered under his breath while he got out to survey the damage. The mailbox lay on its side, half in the road and half on Lillian’s property.  “It’s not really a problem,”  I said.  “Lillian doesn’t need it.”

“Real funny, Anne.”

“She could have had her mail forwarded to Santa Fe. That’s where her ashes will end up”

“Still not funny, Anne.”

“You put a dent in the back of her Cayenne,”  I pointed out.

“We’ll never get this trip started at this rate,”  Chris complained.

Lillian’s neighbor Jeff strolled over to look at the destruction the Cayenne had wrought. “Yep, it looks bad,”  he said.  “You two are eager to get going, so I can fix the mailbox.  Not like she’s going to be needing it.”

Chris shot a look at Jeff and said, “Everyone’s a comedian.”

“Except for you,”  I said and I received his evil eye.

“Get in the car,”  Chris said as he pulled open the driver’s door.

I kissed Jeff’s cheek and said, “Thank you for fixing the mailbox.  I left the key under the mat and you know where the key to the shed is.  Here is the key to the Honda.  Help yourself to anything you like while we are gone.”

“I’ll keep an eye on the place, Anne.  Don’t you worry.”

“See you when we get back.”  I said, and opened the passenger door.

The dark blue Porsche wore the new badge of honor on it’s right rear fender and for twenty miles, Chris complained endlessly.  “This car cost $68,000 brand new.  You would think the engineers could make one without a blind spot.  That could have been a cat or a child and I would never have seen it.  This car is nothing but a piece of crap.  It drives like a tank.”

I grew tired of the tirade, so I said,  “Give it a rest, Chris.  I don’t want to hear you complain for the next 14,000 miles.”

“Do you have any idea how that kind of mileage is going to reduce the value of this car?  It won’t be worth half of that $50,000 by the time we get it to Santa Fe.”

“What are you really pissed off about?”  I asked him in an unkind tone of voice.

“I am pissed about this trip, that’s what I am pissed about.  If my mother wasn’t dead, I would kill her.”

“You hear that, Lillian?”  Directed my voice to the back of the car where her urn rested between a case of water and a suitcase.  “He said he wants to kill you.”

“I didn’t say that,”  he said.

“You are lying to your mother?”

“Come on, Anne.  She’s dead.  No one can lie to her, again.”

“You hear that, Lillian?  He says it doesn’t matter if he lies in front of you.”

“I didn’t say that, Mom,”  Chris said, addressing the urn.  “It’s just that Anne make me crazy.  She makes me want to pull my hair out, she is so irritating.”

“Lillian wants to know how I am irritating?”

He glanced at me and then fiercely concentrated on his driving for several miles.  “You never take my side.  You always gang up against me with your mother and with Lily and even with Lillian.”

“Gang up on you?  How?”

“You tell Lillian everything I do that is wrong.  Or what you think is wrong.”

“No, I don’t.  I don’t tell Lillian half of what you do wrong.  And if I ganged up against you with my mother, we would have never gotten married.  She always tells me to leave you.  So far, I’m still here.  As for ganging up on you with Lily, have you noticed that your daughter has a mind of her own and will never gang up with someone she thinks is wrong.  Lily thinks you are very wrong for cheating on me with a skank.”

“She doesn’t understand and neither do you,”  he said and then sulked for several miles.

The sign for North Carolina appeared on the right so he pulled the Cayenne over to the shoulder.  “Let’s get this over with.”  We stepped on the grass in front of the sign and I held the phone up in order to capture his face and mine and the sign that read “Welcome to North Carolina” behind us.  Snow jumped out of the car and peed next to the welcome sign before hopping back into the back seat and onto her dog bed.

Neither of us smiled in the photo and we stood about a foot apart.  The sign ended up between our heads in the photo.  I emailed it to Mr. Cartwright.  

The journey had officially begun.

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Road of Change

Road of Change Chapter 3

Chapter Three

Virginia to North Carolina

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The next morning, I pulled up a map of the United States on my computer and quickly realized deciding a route, myself, would take forever.  I borrowed information from a professor who had done the algorithm for the most optimal way to drive around the United States.  Within minutes, I had the list ready. Subject to change, of course.

Deciding what to take was the next issue. A shopping trip was definitely in order, to buy some roadtrip clothing.  I needed some items that can be stored easily, wrinkle resistant and can be washed out in a hotel bathroom and hung in the shower to dry for the next day.  I went to a local sporting goods store and the saleslady helped me find three pairs of pants, five pull-over shirts, a jacket, and two sweaters, and two dresses for the trip. I owned socks and underthings already, so no issue there.  I just wanted clothing as maintenance free as possible to avoid having top stop at laundry facilities.  Besides, my days of trying to impress Chris with my style of dress were well and truly gone.  I look terrible in skater skirts.

At a department store, I bought travel size toiletries and a tote to fit them in.  I bought a first aid kit, five cases of water, a variety of snacks and food for Snow.  My Honda CRV was pretty well filled by that time.  As for what Chris was going to take with him, that was entirely his decision.  I had no intention of packing a bag for him.  In fact, I may never do anything for him again.  He could drive around the country naked for all I cared.

When I got home, I put all of my new clothes plus two pairs of blue jeans in a suitcas.  I left out a pair of North Face pants and shirt for the day we actually left.  I planned to leave within just three or four days and Chris had just better be ready when I was.

I called Carolyn to ask her if Lily could spend the summer.  When I told her everything that had happened, she was more than agreeable.

She told me,  “Mom called and said she couldn’t take Lily, which was the same thing as saying she didn’t want to be bothered.”

“What a piece of work she is. She didn’t call me to tell me.  I guess I was supposed to figure it out on my own.  So, can Lily stay with you?”  I asked.

“Sure.  I would love to have her.  Maybe those boys will behave a little better if she is around.  She can help me kick butts and take names.  We live outside your school district, but I can drive her until the last day.  And if you’re not back by the time school starts again in September, I will take her school clothes shopping.  It’ll be like having my own daughter.”

“Okay.  I’m not sure when we are leaving.  I am hoping in a couple of days.  The sooner we get started, the sooner we will be done with it and he can get back to the skank.”

“Skank?  Where did you hear that word?”

“That’s what Lily called his girlfriend.”

“She’s right.  Any woman who dates a married man is a skank.  You would think they would know better.”

“I know, right?  I will call you when I know what we’re doing on our end.”

“Ok.  Hugs.”

I disconnected the phone and headed downstairs to think about dinner for Lily and me.  Chris could eat at McDonald’s or make himself a peanut butter sandwich. He lost a lot of rights in my house, in my opinion.

Surprisingly, he came home a few minutes later.  He plopped his briefcase on the dining table.  “I am taking the summer off.  I turned my project over to Dan.  Kathy is pissed that I’m leaving for the whole summer.”

“I could care less what Kathy thinks.  She is not part of this equation.”  I told him.

“Don’t be like that,”  Chris said.

“How should I be?  Should I invite her to dinner?  Should we go shopping together?  Am I supposed to give you and her my bed and then sleep in the recliner?  Just what kind of plans do you have for this threesome?”

“I’m just saying you don’t have to act ugly.”

“Yes, I do, Chris.  I am not going to pretend I am happy about this and I am not going to make it easy for you by keeping my mouth shut.  Sleeping with Kathy is wrong, no matter how short her skirts are.  You are still married.  To me.  Yes, Christian, I have every right to be angry.”  Taking a page from my mother’s book, I said the word Christian like it is a swear word.

“Whatever,”  he said.  “What’s for dinner?”

“Whatever you decide to make for yourself,”  I snapped.

“So, it’s going to be like that?”  

“It has been like that since your mother died.  Oh, but you haven’t been home in the evenings, so you didn’t realize I don’t cook for you anymore.”

“I’ve heard enough.  First, I get a bunch of crap from Kathy because I’m going to be gone for awhile and then I get crap from you.”

“I don’t feel sorry for you.  I’m leaving in the morning, so you better be ready to go.  I want to get this over with probably more than you do.”

“I doubt that.”  He stamped out of the kitchen.

Snow chose that moment to trot into the kitchen to beg for a scratch.  Absently, I caressed her ears.  “Well, Snow.  It looks like you can come with Chris and me.  I can’t leave you here and Carolyn owns about four hundred dogs.  Or at least those two she owns seems like four hundred.”  She wagged her floppy tail, furiously.  She traveled very well, so no worries on that account.  “You will probably have to referee the whole way. Just make sure I am the first one you kiss every morning.”  She wagged her tail even more.

500 Words, Road of Change

Road of Change, Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Hampton VA

“We don’t normally have a formal reading of the will, you know with everyone sitting around a table and the lawyer making shocking announcements to the family,”  Lillian’s stodgy lawyer told me. “You only see that on TV.  I think Perry Mason had something to do with that idea.”  Mr. Cartwright sat at my dining table on my left and Chris sat on the right.  “Because you two are the only relatives in the area and much of what is in here concerns you, I can give you each a copy to read for yourselves.  There’s a lot of legal jargon, so I can interpret it you need it.”

He opened a folder and removed two copies of Lillian’s will.  

“Mr. Cartwright, is this correct?  She signed this version only two days before she died?”  Chris asked.

“Yes.  She called me to her house, said the revision was urgent and asked me to come right over.  She looked healthy enough, so I don’t know if she had some kind of premonition, or not.  She was 94, afterall.  Maybe she was just making sure of her wishes considering she could go at any time.”

I nodded and read through a lot of party-of-the-first-parts and other legal wording until the section that concerned me the most flashed on the page.  Chris and I were to inherit her house, a stately Victorian on the James River.

“Am I reading this right?”  Chris asked.  “We get the house, but only after we deliver her car and her ashes to Matt in Sante Fe.  And we have to drive there through each of the forty-eight contiguous states. That could not be a less direct route.”

“Yes, Mr.  Archer.  Those are her instructions.  If you do not comply, then I am authorized to sell the house and donate 100% of the profits to the American Cancer Society.”

“And the rules state Anne and I have to go together for the road trip through all forty-eight states.  And we have to take a time stamped selfie of the two of us together in front of every state’s welcome sign.”

“Yes.  She has also provided you with this.”  This was a GPS tracker that could record the entire road trip. “It will record the journey and I will have to check it before I can turn the deed to the house over to you.  You must cross into every one of the lower forty-eight states. Together.  And the selfie at the welcome signs must be of the two of you together.”

“She was serious about this?” Chris demanded.  “A trip like that would take months.  We would both have to quit our jobs.”

“Lillian said these were her terms if you want her house.  You can, of course, refuse and in which case I will arrange for the sale of her house as soon as possible.”

Chris looked over his shoulder toward the living room where Lily played a video game while wearing a headset.  He lowered his voice,  “You realize Anne and I are planning to separate after we get all this stuff with Mom straightened out.”

“And you still can, Mr. Archer.  After you have complied with Lillian’s wishes, you can sell her house and split the money, you can rent it out, you can move in.  It will be yours, and all the contents, less the few things that are supposed to go to Matthew and his three children.”

“We get the house, and Matt gets the car and the money?”

“Yes, that is the will in a nutshell.  You were not slighted in anyway, Mr. Archer.  The house and the property it rests on is worth over 3 million dollars and there is only a little over a million in her liquid assets, after all her debts are taken care of.  Her Cayenne is worth about $50,000.”

“I wasn’t worried about that.  That house is a drafty old barn.  We would have to sell this house to be able to afford the upgrades on that one before we can sell it.”

“Chris, do we really want to sell it?”  I asked.  “Also, I can let Abigail run the store while I am away.  You can talk to your partner and I am sure he will let take some time off for this.  You own the firm and architecture is not brain surgery.  You won’t be missed by your partner if you go on the road for a few weeks.”

“I don’t know, Anne.  I just don’t know what I want.  I know I don’t want to spend six months in a car with you.”

“In reality, Mr. Archer, if you plan your trip correctly, you would make the journey in just a couple of months.  If you average 500 miles a day, you could do in a month,”  Mr. Cartwright said.  “Lillian has left a prepaid credit card to cover the expenses on the trip.  Hotels, food and the like.  I will leave you now and give you a few days to think about it.”

“Wait,”  I said.  “Do we have to drive the entire way in the Cayenne?”

“According to the rules, you just have to make the road trip in one shot.  Beginning to end. Sante Fe would be your final stop.  You can buy another car for the trip home, or perhaps fly back.  There is enough money on the card to do either.”  Mr. Cartwright said and he vanished out of the front door.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

500 Words, Road of Change

Chapter One conclusion

I picked up my cell phone and called Matthew to let him know.  How many people would have to be told? No tangible number popped into my head.  Matthew answered,  “It’s the Anne Archer.  How did you get my number?”

He always said the same thing when he answered my calls, referring to the actress Anne Archer. My stock response:  “Not the Anne Archer.  Just an Anne Archer.”  

“What?  Your mother hate you?  She gave you two first names.  An Anne.”  Also part of our ritual.

“Matthew, I have some very bad news.  It’s about Lillian.”

“Uh oh,”  he said to me.

“She passed on just a few moments ago.  I was… still am with her.”  I managed to say it without my voice cracking.  “The doctor said it was heart failure.”

A long pause followed.  Finally, Matt said,  “Hard to believe.  I thought the old dear was immortal.”

“As did we all.”  My voice sounded tired.

“How is Chris doing?”  Ever the older brother.

“He walked out of the hospital and went outside to smoke.”

“Stupid man.  When did he start smoking, again?”  

“About a half an hour ago.”

“At least Mom doesn’t know that.  Anne, I am so sorry.  I know Chris will make you take care of all the arrangements.  Do you know what she wanted?”  Matt asked me.

“She wants a wake.  Not a funeral or a church service.  She will be cremated.  Nothing too complicated,”  I said.

“How soon?”  Matt asked.

“The wake can be just about anytime.  We could do it today, if I could get enough people together.  What about you?  Will you be able to come to her wake?  I can schedule it around you.”

I could almost see him shaking his head.  “I’m not going to try it.  The drive to Virginia is at least a couple of days.  I can’t leave Barbara that long and there is no way she can make the trip.  Also, you know I won’t fly.”

“How is she doing?”  I asked.  Anything to get my mind off of Lillian.  

“Barb’s chemo is beating her up.  She can’t eat or sleep or even concentrate long enough to watch a TV show.  She has another month of this, then she will have to recover from the effects of the chemo.  We are hoping she won’t have to do this again.”

“I am so sorry, Matt.  Tell Barbara I love her. I will call you.”

“Righteo,”  he said and then he disconnected the call.

I waited for Chris to return to the hospital room and after a half hour, I realized that likely wouldn’t happen.  I walked to the nurses’ station and asked them what I should do next.  The RN told me a counselor waited for me in a conference room across the corridor.  

The woman in Conference Room F wore a mask of too much makeup, and her smile was thin and forced. She looked up from her tablet when I entered.  “Mrs. Archer, I am Sunny Rivers.  I am very sorry for your loss.”  Sunny Rivers? Really? I refrained from making a joke she had probably heard about ten thousand times.  

When I said nothing, she continued,  “First, I would like to inform you that this hospital offers a complimentary grief counseling session, if you are interested.  You can call me and I will set it up for you.”  I took the proffered card that she slid across the table.  She continued her rote speech that sounded hollow and rehearsed.  “Are you aware of any arrangements Lillian Archer may have had?”

“Yes,”  I said.  “She wished to be cremated.  She has a prepaid plan at the funeral home on Market Street.”

“Very good.  We will arrange to have her remains transported later today.  Is there anything I can do for you?”  What a question.  Her tone made it sound like she had no intention of actually doing anything beyond her basic job description.  For more than one reason, I welcomed Chris’s absence as I pictured his temper tantrum when he saw the shallow female in the room.  Chris worshiped his mother and could not honestly understand when someone else didn’t.

“No. There is nothing.”

Sunny Rivers stood from a white plastic chair that was one of six around a small table and hurried out of the room with a toss of her blond hair and a swish of her short skater skirt.  

I returned to the nurses’ station and requested the RN inform Chris that I left if he should return.  I didn’t try to call him or to text him.  Maybe he acutely felt the loss of his mother, but that was no reason to leave me entirely on my own to handle it.  Coward.  Besides, I assumed he went to find comfort in the arms of his co-worker.  Another tiny blond with short skater skirts.

“Maybe you’ll chain smoke yourself to death,”  I muttered while I waited for the elevator. Finally, I left the oppressive building, found my car and climbed in.  

The sun crept across the sky, a light breeze rustled leaves on the trees, cars came and went in the lot.  Still, I hesitated to start my car.  Nothing crossed my mind other than the sure knowledge that my life changed forever.  And I suspected not for the better.

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Photo by Breather on Unsplash

I glanced at my watch. Time passed without my noticing.  Three hours since I sat in the room with Sunny Rivers.  Lily would be home from school in an hour and I couldn’t chance Chris telling her about Lillian. I started my car and drove toward our house.

Thankfully, I didn’t see Chris’s car, so I could tell Lily, myself, knowing Chris generally made a mess of things.

The house looked exactly the same as when I left it earlier.  My coffee mug sat on the kitchen counter, the magazine I threw at Chris that morning lay with wings spread open like a dead bird on my living room floor.   Dirty breakfast dishes cluttered the sink and the dog’s food bowl stood empty. She looked up at me and her tail slowly flopped back and forth.  “Snow, I didn’t mean to forget you,”  I told the solid white German Spitz.  Snow was only two years old and I loved her dearly.  Her manners were impeccable and her disposition very sweet.  As a bonus, she completely adored me.

I poured some dog crunchies into the ceramic bowl shaped like a Chinese take-out box and freshened her water.  Oblivious to the human emotions around her, she crunched the food noisily.  

“You’ve got it right, Snow.  Just ignore everything except food and water.  In the grand scheme of things, what else do we truly need?”  I made another pot of coffee and waited in the kitchen while it brewed.  Before the carafe filled completely, I poured coffee into my mug, sat at a bar stool and settled in to wait for Lily to come in from school.

500 Words, Road of Change, Writing

Chapter 1 continued

I complained about Chris to her that day.  We sat in her sunroom, drinking strong coffee and she said,  “Anne, my dear, Chris was a spoiled baby, a spoiled child, a spoiled teenager and a spoiled man.  He is the reason Matt and I kept going after Mr. Archer died.  We raised him together and gave him everything he wanted. He grew up feeling very entitled. He grew up thinking he didn’t have to work for anything.  You, my dear, have made remarkable strides with him.  A couple more years and he will be a human being.”  She reached across the coffee table and gave my hand a pat.  “I have watched the two of you grow up together.  You were so young when you married him.  In many ways, Chris was very young, too, even though he is ten years older than you.  Try to be patient with him.”

“Patient, you say?  He is seeing a woman he works with.”  I blurted out the issue between us.  I meant to keep it quiet, feeling somehow that I failed him.  If I was a better wife, he wouldn’t need the company of another woman, right?

The woman who spoiled him terribly gave me a sad smile. “He is not perfect, Anne.  Christian Matthew Archer Junior is as flawed as his father.”  She took a dainty swallow of her coffee that she served to us using her Royal Doulton’s Old Country Roses coffee set.  “I think the two of you need to spend some time together.  You have a daughter who became your sole focus when Trip died and now she is nearly ready for college. That’s just a couple of years away. You and Chris both forgot to love each other because you both hurt so badly over the death of your son.  Things will be alright.  You’ll see.”  The cup rattled on the saucer when she set it down, possibly the first sign of frailty.  A sign I missed at the time, so wrapped up in my own hurt and anger.

Old Country Roses

That day Lillian gave me a handkerchief so I could wipe away tears.  We spoke of only pleasant things after my grand confession.  We walked in her garden and she told me how she cares for her roses.  She showed me the new birdhouse she built from scrap lumber and her well-used power tools.  She pulled some offending weeds away from her roses then made me promise to see her the next week.

I kept my promise by sitting by her side in the hospital room.  Lillian, the glue that kept my little family together, slipped away from me while I held tightly onto her hand, never opening her eyes.

The monitor beeped loudly and a nurse entered the room.  She checked Lillian’s vital signs, turned off the monitor, then told me the doctor was on his way.

A man who didn’t look old enough to drive entered the room, checked Lillian’s vitals and then announced she had passed.  He squeezed my shoulder and said,  “You can spend some time with her.”  He walked out of the room just as Chris walked back in.  

Chris watched me for a moment, then drew his own conclusion. “I was outside smoking when she died.  Smoking.  A thing she hated because it killed my father.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Chris.  There’s no way you could have know she would die right then.”

Chris looked down at his mother, said, “You’ll have to take care of this.  I just can’t,”  and he left the room.  He left me alone to deal with her remains.  He left me alone to face the hurt on my own.  Just like always.

500 Words, Road of Change

500 Words: Road of Change: The Beginning

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Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Chapter One  Hampton Virginia

The hospital smelled antiseptic and felt cold and lonely, like an unlived-in house with dusty sheets thrown over all the upholstery. Three ward clerks, two elevator rides, and I finally arrived at Lillian’s room.  Private accommodations resembling the five star hotel of your choice.  Chris sat in a chair beside her bed, dejected as a lost toddler.

No one told me anything prior to my arrival so I didn’t know what to expect.  Chris’s text sent less than an hour ago said, simply, “Mom’s in the hospital.  It’s bad.”  Because of my anger, I didn’t try to call him to find out more details.  Punishing him by punishing myself.

The text surprised me for two reasons.  Chris and I argued terribly for the past three weeks and just this morning, he stormed out of our house yelling through the slammed front door, “I will never set foot in this hell hole, again.”  An hour later, I received the text about his mother, a woman with a presumed lifespan roughly equal to a bristlecone pine.  Two shocking events to shatter my already shattered day.

Lillian’s frail body, grey skin, and multiple tubes and wires told a horrible tale.  “She collapsed in the grocery store,”  Chris said.  “The doctor said it is heart failure.”

“Chris, I’m so sorry,”  I whispered. Sorry for what?  Of course, I felt sorrow for his mother, but did the sentiment mean I forgave his behavior?  Not time for that, yet.

“She isn’t going to make it.  She is going to die.”  Chris dabbed the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand.  “What am I going to do?  I can’t lose my mother and my wife in the same day.”

“You haven’t lost me.  I am just…”  Just what?  I wondered for several moments while Chris watched me expectantly.  He waited for my answer.  “I am just angry.”

He looked relieved.  “I know what I said this morning, Anne, but I need you.  Can I come home?”

“Yes.  You can’t sleep on a park bench.”

“Technically, I could.  I just don’t want to.”  He tried to smile.  Chris stood and said,  “Have a seat.  I’ll find another chair, plus I feel the need to smoke after all these months completely smoke free.”  

Are we to share anything?  Even this?  I watched his back as he left the room. Leaving me alone with his dying mother.

I turned my attention to Lillian, a woman I had grown to love deeply over the past seventeen years.  Lillian gave birth to Chris at the age of forty-seven. She and her eldest son, Matthew, raised Chris together because Chris’s father died on the day of his birth.

Lillian told me about Chris’s father shortly before our wedding. “Mr. Archer hung on as long as he could, actually waiting until he saw the baby before he fell into a coma and died about four hours later.  Late stage lung cancer from smoking five packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes every day for over forty years.  Stupid old bastard.  Left me and Matt to raise Chris and I think we did a good job.  You must think so, too, if you are planning to marry my son.”

Lillian was already seventy-seven when Chris and I married.  Seventeen years later, the ninety-four year old woman lay in a hospital, life rapidly slipping away.  Before her collapse, she lived alone in a grand old house that she cared for herself.  She even mowed the grass herself and repaired her dishwasher just two weeks ago.

“Oh, Lillian,”  I said as I gripped her hand hard enough to make my hand ache.  “Don’t leave us alone.  We need you something fierce, Chris and me.  We won’t make it as a couple without you.  Don’t go.”  And the tears wet her hand and mine.  The woman seemed as solid as Mount Rushmore the previous week when I visited her.

NOTE:  A couple of notes about this story.  First, the title is just a working title and may change.  Character names may change.  In fact, at this stage, anything can change.

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