Chapter 1 – Samantha
I wake by hearing the kids moving about. Glancing at my clock, I realize my alarm was never set. Shit! I frantically dash out of bed, grateful for the alarms in each of their bedrooms. Maddie is already dressed and eating cereal in the kitchen. I hear Declan in the shower, and Frankie is dressed and watching cartoons. The bus will arrive in thirty minutes, so I dash into the kitchen to finish putting their lunches together.
“Frankie, have you eaten breakfast?” I ask as I make my way past her.
“Yeah. I had Lucky Charms. Can I have PB&J for my lunch today?”
She always has PB&J. Does she think I’ll suddenly forget? “Sure thing, sugar. Do you want an apple or a banana today?” I say in my best morning voice.
“Apple. Can you slice it? Oh, and Ava wants me to come over today after school. Can her mom take me to ballet and you pick me up?”
Ava is Frankie’s best friend. Thankfully, I already planned this with Ava’s mother so I could be here if my contractors are able to start the kitchen remodel this afternoon. “That’s the plan, Stan. I’m going to pick you up from ballet first then we’ll grab Dec and go to Maddie’s match. We’ll grab dinner out tonight since I don’t know if we can cook at home with the contractor coming.”
“Okay, Mama. Sounds good.” Frankie takes her lunch and puts it into her backpack. Though she’s my youngest at eight years old, Frankie has been the most resilient of my three kids. She has somehow found a way to accept our new “normal” and has adjusted to the recent changes in our family with ease.
Declan, my ten-year-old shouts from the stairs, “Hey, Mom, did you wash my practice uniform for soccer? It’s not in my bag.”
Crap. I must have left it in the dryer. I’m so off my routine this morning. I holler, “Check the dryer,” up the stairs so he can get it himself.
“Thanks, Mom. Got it.” I hear drift through the house a few seconds later.
Maddie removes her earbuds as she gets up from the table to put her dish in the sink from breakfast. “Hey, Mom, you’re going to make it to my match tonight, right?” Maddie is a freshman and managed to make the varsity volleyball team. She doesn’t get a lot of playing time, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
“There’s no way I’d miss it, Mads. I’m picking everyone up and we’ll be there on time. Promise.”
She comes over and gives me an unexpected hug. “I know, Mom. I’m just not sure if Dad will make it, so I want to make sure you’re there.”
“Don’t worry. Even if he can’t make it, I know he’d want to be there.” I glance to the clock and find they have five minutes to make it to the bus. I holler for everyone to hear, “Okay, guys, time to get going! The bus will be here any minute. Maddie, so will your ride.”
I rush each of them out the door and realize I have less than an hour to get ready to meet with the contractor. One of the benefits of owning my own business is I can work from home today. I’ll have to fit reviewing a manuscript in at some point. Who needs sleep, right? At least I can do most of my work with my laptop or e-reader if I’m just reading for content. I can work from just about anywhere. Before I shower, I start the coffee pot. It feels like I will need an extra dose of caffeine today.
I’m just settled at the breakfast bar with my coffee and my computer, ready to check emails and review my calendar, when I hear a knock at the door. Lorenzo Harper, my contractor, greets me. He’s an older man but has kept himself in great shape over the years. His dark hair is thick and barely showing any gray, just a little around his temples. He has a warm smile on his face that lights up his green eyes.
“Morning, Samantha!” he greets me warmly. “Are ya ready to show me what needs to be done around here?”
“Thanks for coming, Lorenzo,” I eagerly welcome him into my home. “I can’t wait to get things started!”
Lorenzo has done some work for us in the past. He’s the guy who comes out to write the bids and sets everything into motion for his crew, then manages it as the project continues, even though he may have multiple projects going on at once. He has been in business for years and is nearing retirement age, but he’s not ready for that to happen anytime soon. He claims he’s a people person and knows how to get the job done right. I walk Lorenzo around my kitchen, family room, and dining room, discussing the final plans for the changes being done. He verifies the timeline for how long everything will take. He’s already been to my home, and we’ve discussed the project on the phone, so the proper permits have been filed and the renovation should begin shortly. I know when it’s finished, I’ll be more than happy with it.
When we’re done touring, Lorenzo opens his computer and taps out a few things. A few minutes later, he stops and looks at me with a huge grin. “Well, darlin’, you’re in luck. One of my crews just finished a job early and we can be over here as soon as tomorrow to begin demolition. We’ll start in the kitchen so we can get it back to functioning for you as soon as possible. You should only be without your appliances for about a week or so if your order comes in on time.”
Relieved he can get started right away, I nearly hug him. “Sounds great. While the crew is here, I’ll work from home and try not to get in your way.”
Lorenzo gets up to leave. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then. You’ll have to empty out those cupboards since we’ll be starting there.” He grins ruefully as he knows it will take me some time today to clear those out.
“It’s a good thing I’ve bought boxes then, isn’t it?” I smile back at him.
After spending the day packing up my kitchen, I pick up Frankie from ballet and Declan from soccer practice, then rush to Maddie’s volleyball game. Realizing we only have about ten minutes until Maddie’s match starts, I speed into the parking lot at the high school and the tires screech as I come to an abrupt stop in the first open spot I see. I quickly unload everyone and briskly walk across the parking lot, stopping dead in my tracks when I see Devin, my ex, helping a pixie-like woman out of his car. He places his hand on the small of her back and escorts her to the gymnasium. He doesn’t see me at first, so I have a moment to school my features before I meet who I assume is Aubrey, his new girlfriend.
Unfortunately, I don’t get much of a chance to pull myself together because Frankie notices her father immediately. She squeals, “Daddy!” as she rushes toward him. I see Devin startle, his body instantly frozen in place, but eagerly turns and scoops her up into his arms for a gigantic hug.
Our divorce has had its challenges and not all of us are as eager as Frankie to greet one another. I straighten my back, lift my chin, and make sure to have a smile on my face as I do my best to greet him warmly. Devin still wants to have an active role as a parent, so I do all I can to keep things positive. I’ve never been one to hold onto grudges or play into bitterness; I simply don’t have time for that. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to have a real conversation with him again that doesn’t feel forced.
“Hey, Devin. Maddie will be so happy you’re here for her match.” I somehow manage to make my voice sound smooth and unaffected by him.
An indescribable emotion flits through Devin’s eyes for a moment before he replies. “Yeah, I’m glad I could make it. Aubrey and I just got back into town from a business trip.” He politely smiles in my direction before gesturing to the blonde beside him and states, “Aubrey, this is Sam. Sam, this is Aubrey.”
For a split second, Aubrey looks a little nervous as she looks me over, but quickly recovers by sticking out her hand and saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard lovely things about you.” A slow smile spreads across her face, as I instinctively push my hand out to meet hers.
I can’t help but look at Devin to make sure my ears weren’t deceiving me. Not that he makes a habit of bad mouthing me, but I have to say, I’m surprised. Well, at least he hasn’t been a complete asshat, I’ll give him that. I guess things could have been much worse. I inwardly shrug. I briefly look to Devin with a flash of surprise before I remember my manners. “Nice to meet you, too.”
Aubrey then turns to Declan and asks encouragingly, “How was your soccer game last weekend? I heard you scored in the last game.”
Declan quickly tries to gauge my reaction. He’s very aware of my feelings and has become a bit protective of me. I give him my best supportive smile and he sighs. “Yeah… it was amazing. I scored from the backfield with only a few minutes to go. We’d been tied, so I got the winning goal.” He looks pointedly at his father before adding, “Sorry you missed it.” I inwardly cringe at his disappointment.
“I’m sorry, too, bud,” Devin states sincerely as he ruffles Declan’s wavy brown hair. “I’ll be there tomorrow night. You know how things go with the business. I had to fly to New York to pitch that new ad campaign. I’m pretty sure we nailed the pitch, so I won’t have to leave town again for a few more weeks.” Devin puts his arm around Declan and pulls him in for a side hug.
Devin owns his own advertising firm. He’s worked hard over the years and has made a name for himself. He has quite a few employees who usually do the traveling, but occasionally, there’s a client for whom he needs to do the pitch. Travel was never a problem while we were married, until one day it was. He didn’t meet Aubrey until after we were divorced, so I shouldn’t have any animosity toward her, at least in that regard.
Before anyone can say anything else, Frankie exclaims, “Let’s go watch Maddie! Dad, you can sit with us, right?” She suddenly looks at me to see if it’s okay.
Great. Just what I need after a long day. I quickly remind myself that once again, this isn’t about me. I refuse to be one of those parents who spars with her ex. You know, the ones who are bitter and vindictive and leave a wake of destruction in their path, caring nothing about the effects their rancor has on those they love, especially the children. My self-respect, not to mention my love for my children, won’t let me behave that way.
Maddie doesn’t expect to start the match, being a freshman. We find her sitting on the bench after the National Anthem is sung. But the smile that crosses her face when she realizes we’ve all arrived is priceless. By the way she keeps rubbing her hands up and down her legs, I can tell she’s nervous since this is only their second match. She ends up getting to play during the second and the third sets, as setter, and does her best to help her team pull off a win. When she approaches us after the game, her smile is infectious.
“Hey, Mad-dog,” Declan announces as she heads toward where we’re seated in the bleachers. “Way to go out there!” He lifts his hand for a fist bump. He bursts with pride for his sister’s success.
I can’t help the way my heart flutters when I see the two of them supporting each other. Sure, they can also shriek like banshees when they really get into it, but overall, they really do care about each other. I sneak a glance at Devin who meets my eye and winks. Yeah, we did something right. His pride shines, too.
“Thanks for being here,” Maddie says, gesturing to all of us. I can’t help but notice her quick glance in my direction before hugging her dad. She knows things can still be tense between us, and having Aubrey here is new to our family dynamics.
“Amazing save out there.” Aubrey smiles as she pats Maddie on the arm to congratulate her.
“Thanks. I didn’t think I’d get that last dig, but somehow I managed.” Maddie beams with pride for her accomplishment during the game. “Can we stop and get something to eat on the way home? I’m starving.” She looks at me before glancing at her dad and Aubrey.
“Sure thing, Mads,” Devin exclaims. Then he turns to me. “Want to join us, or should I drop them at the house after we get a bite to eat? I’m thinking pizza sounds amazing just about now.” He rubs his stomach then beams at each of the kids before looking at Aubrey, then me for our reactions.
As awkward as this might be, I’m thankful I have the excuse of the remodel to politely decline. There’s no way I want him back, but I’m just not ready to go out to dinner with Devin and his new girlfriend.
On the drive home, my mind whirls with thoughts of this evening and how far things have changed between Devin and me over the last couple of years. There wasn’t just one thing that led to my decision to ask for a divorce. It was a multitude of things, compounding over time, which resulted in the demise of our marriage. The stresses of daily living, both at work and at home didn’t help matters, but such is life. Everyone experiences those things; Devin and I weren’t any different. The problem was when things became broken, it wasn’t me to whom Devin turned. We tried to work things out, but nothing seemed to change. Eventually, when I realized how little I felt toward one act of betrayal or another, I knew it was time to pull the plug. I could no longer let the fear of the unknown keep me from doing what I knew was best. Obviously, my “give a fuck” had been broken and I no longer had any fucks left to give. Here I am at thirty-eight, starting over.
To keep reading you can preorder Resilience at all retailers.
It will be available January 21, 2020.