I shared Chapter 22 yesterday and you can catch up with the rest of the chapters HERE, or wait for it to come out as an ebook and in paperback in late April.
The coffee on Ginny’s tongue was bitter, like her thoughts about herself at this point. She’d replayed the kiss with Keith over and over in her mind, not because she’d enjoyed it but because she still couldn’t believe she’d let it happen.
It had felt good to be wanted, for lack of a better word, but Keith wasn’t who she hoped to be wanted by. She’d barely spoken to Stan in the last few days. Thankfully he’d been at meetings or showings most of the week and she’d been busy preparing for Clint and Tiffany’s homecoming. It all kept her from having to feel any more uncomfortable around him. She had no idea how to even broach the conversation. Thank God he hadn’t asked her how dinner with Keith had gone. What would she have said?
“Nice. Food was great. The atmosphere was cozy and calming. That kiss at the end of the night was a bit of a shock, but what’s one to do when your husband is too busy to notice you’re still alive?”
She groaned, pressing a hand against her forehead, wishing she could chase away the ache increasing there. No, she couldn’t and wouldn’t say that. It would make it sound like she’d wanted the kiss, when she hadn’t.
The squeak of the back door alerted her she wasn’t alone. It was either Liz or Sarah and she was hoping for the latter because she knew Liz would want to know why she hadn’t been answering her phone the last couple of days.
Sarah, however, hadn’t been early or even on time lately so it was most likely —
“Ginny? You up there?”
Of course, she was up there, hiding in her office, waiting for the coffee to kick in and help her figure out how or even if she was going to talk to Stan about what had happened. He quickly swiped at the tears on her cheek as footsteps thumped on the stairs outside her door.
“Hey, where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for days.” Liz set her bag down on a chair and unwound the scarf around her neck. She didn’t wait for Ginny to answer. “I was going to call you last night, but it was too late once Matt left so I decided to wait until this morning.”
Ginny abandoned her self-focused thoughts at the words “too late once Matt left.” She looked at Liz with a quirked eyebrow. “Once Matt left?”
Liz’s eyes widened. “Oh. Not like that. He just stopped by to talk.” Red flushed along her cheekbones. “Well, and there was a kiss.” She looked up at the ceiling, biting her lower lip. “Or two or three.” She brought her eyes back to Ginny’s, a small smile tugging at her mouth. “But it really was only kisses. The rest of the night we tried to help Bella calm down and get some sleep.”
At least someone was finding happiness. Ginny raised her arm in a victory fist pump. “Yes! I knew you two would finally figure it out.”
Liz moved her bag and sat in the chair laughing. “Thanks. Yeah, it took a bit but we got there.” Her smile faded as she tipped her head and studied Ginny. Ginny turned in the office chair quickly. Maybe she hadn’t wiped all the tears away or was her mascara running? It was supposed to be waterproof. Why was Liz looking at her that way?
“What’s going on? You look funny.”
Ginny picked up her mug of coffee, breathed in deep the smell of coffee beans, vanilla, and sugar. She sipped slowly, savoring the flavor on her tongue, wishing she could spend the rest of her day sipping coffee and focusing on flavor instead of failure.
“Ginny, did something happen?” Liz’s voice thickened with full-blown concern. “With Stan?” Ginny shook her head slowly and Liz’s eyebrows raised as she tilted her head forward to listen. “With Keith?”
Ginny didn’t answer, simply sipping again, staring into the light brown liquid.
Liz took a deep breath and let it out again. “I knew I should have kept calling. Molly told me I needed to keep an eye on you.”
Ginny looked up sharply. “Molly told you what?”
Liz pulled a small travel mug out of her purse. “She was worried about you and Keith.” She stared at Ginny pointedly. “Should she have been?”
Ginny folded her fingers around the mug and nodded slowly. “Yes. Or about Keith anyhow.” She looked back into the mug. “He kissed me the other night when we went for a walk after dinner.”
Liz flopped back against the back of the chair. “That jerk! Are you serious! Didn’t he understand you are a married woman?” She slapped her hand against her leg, leaning forward again. “Of course, he understood. He just didn’t care. I knew there was something off about him and that dimple of his.” She made a face. “So charming and dashing. No. He’s neither of those things. He’s manipulative and devious.”
Ginny set the mug on her desk between a stack of papers with information for the fundraiser and a pile of damaged children’s books she either needed to replace or repair.
“I let him kiss me, Liz.”
Liz cleared her throat and shifted in her chair, running her fingertip along the top of her mug as if trying to decide how to respond.
“And —um — did you enjoy it?”
Ginny pushed a hand back through her hair and held it there, at the top of her head, clutching, for a few minutes as she spoke. “At first, yes. I forgot where I was, and it felt good to be touched in a romantic way again. Luckily, though, I came to my senses and pulled away.” She let her hair go and clutched her hands together in her lap. “I was horrified at myself. I never thought I’d become someone who could forget who they were, be swept up in a moment like that.”
“Why not?” Liz leaned forward. “You’re a woman, aren’t you? A human being who needs human interaction, to feel wanted. It doesn’t make it right, but your feelings are natural and real, Ginny.”
Ginny’s eyes stung with tears, and she closed her eyes. “Natural maybe, but acting on our feelings can often get us in trouble.”
Liz breathed out a small laugh. “Yeah, as I know.” Ginny felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Liz watching her with a deeply furrowed brow. . “Does Stan know?”
Ginny shook her head slowly. “No. I haven’t told him yet.”
“But you feel like you need to?”
Ginny’s answer was a slow nod as she cried against her hand. She tried to speak, but her voice choked with emotion.
Liz kneeled next to her, sliding her arms around her. “It’s going to be okay, Ginny. Keith kissed you. You didn’t pursue it. Stan will understand.”
Ginny swallowed hard and tried to speak again. A sob came out of her, and she took a deep breath. “Part of me worries that even if he understands he won’t even care anymore. He hasn’t cared for so long, maybe he won’t even care if another man kissed me.”
“Oh, Ginny. I don’t think that’s true. I’m sure Stan loves you. He’s just lost sight of what’s really important.”
Ginny accepted the tissue she handed her and though she nodded she couldn’t help thinking, But what if I’m not what’s really important to him anymore?
List of clients he needed to call today, check.
Stan started his car, but paused, looking at the house, thinking back on his morning with Ginny. She’d been quiet, barely looking at him all morning. Was she angry at him? For what? He really didn’t have time to figure it out. Matt had called him last night to tell him who owned the property where the drugs had been found. Someone named Richard Lantz. Neither of them recognized the name. It wouldn’t matter until the police released the site anyhow. He hoped the commercial buyers were still interested in the site. If he could track this Lantz down, hopefully, he would agree to sell.
His phone rang as he shifted his car into reverse. He tapped the speaker button on the dashboard.
“Clint. How’s it going?”
“Dad, is that really you?” Clint’s laugh was warm and teasing. “I didn’t know if you were still alive. I’ve been kicked to voicemail for weeks.”
Stan’s jaw tightened. Great. Another family member calling to tell him he worked too much.
“Yeah. I’m alive. What’s up?”
Clint cleared his throat. He must have sensed the annoyance Stan was trying to hide in his voice. “I’ve been trying to reach Mom and she’s been going to voicemail too. Anyhow, I just wanted to let you guys know that Tiff and the kids are flying out Friday. Frank and Marge are going to pick them up at the airport. I’m going to be driving the U-haul and the moving company has the other U-Haul. Just thought I’d update you.”
“Great, son.” A kid on a bicycle darted out into the street and Stan slammed the brakes on. His travel mug of coffee flew from the cup holder to the floor. “That’s great. We’re looking forward to seeing you.”
And he was looking forward to seeing his son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren again and on a more regular basis. He didn’t know if he’d have as much time with them as he would like, at least at first, but he’d find the time. Somehow.
He chatted with Clint for the rest of the drive to the coffee shop to pick up the muffins he’d promised his secretary and partner he’d bring. The sun was bright when he pulled into the parking space in front of the shop but he knew it was misleading. A chill nipped at his nose as he climbed out and shut his car door. He reached out and held the door open for a woman wearing a colorful knit cap, a bright red scarf wrapped up across the lower part of her face, and a knee-length, fluffy gray winter coat. He didn’t think it was that cold just yet but to each their own.
He paused from walking in, still holding the door open. “Yes?”
She pulled the scarf down. “It’s me. Janine from church.”
“Oh, yes. Good morning, Janine. Sorry I didn’t recognize you with the scarf.”
She laughed. “Yes, it’s a little early for the scarf but I have a skin condition that gets flared up in the cold air.”
Stan felt a pang of guilt for having judged her before. “You do what you have to do. I hope it feels better soon.” He also felt guilty he couldn’t remember her last name. She’d been attending their church for a couple of years now. He needed to be more observant.
“You know, maybe I shouldn’t ask this, but have you and Ginny split?”
What an odd question. Stan’s brow furrowed in confusion. “No. Why would you ask?”
“Oh.” Janine pressed her lips into a thin line. “Um. . .nothing.”
A strange buzz slid up Stan’s arms. “Did someone say we had?”
Janine shook her head. “Oh no. No. Not at all.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Forget I even asked. I just wanted to be sure I didn’t stick my foot in it later if I was around either of you and now . . . Well, I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth.” She tipped her head back and laughed.
Stan persisted. What did this woman know that he didn’t? “There must be a reason you asked though.”
Janine’s cheeks had turned a bright red and Stan had a feeling it wasn’t from the skin condition. “I — it’s just — I thought I saw Ginny kissing some other man along the river walk in Clarkston the other night. I have to get new glasses, though. It must have been you and I was just too far away.” She laughed again, a nervous twitter more than a laugh, fiddling with her scarf, which she quickly yanked up over her face again. “Good thing I didn’t say anything to anyone else. That’s how rumors get started, right? Anyhow, have a good day, Stan!”
She rushed off, leaving him standing with the door still open, his mouth slightly open, his brow crinkled together as his mind raced.
Ginny? Kissing another man?
Janine must have been mistaken. Maybe it was someone else instead of Ginny. She’d had her haircut recently. Maybe the other woman had longer hair and Janine didn’t know Ginny had had her haircut. Of course, Janine had seen Ginny in church since the hair cut so . . .
“Stan! You comin’ in? You’re letting all the cold air in.”
The voice of the coffee shop’s owner cut through his musings. Stan looked at him but didn’t register what he was saying. “Hmm? Oh. Right. Yeah. Sorry about that.”
He stepped out onto the sidewalk and closed the door, staring at his car. What was he doing again?
Oh, right. Going to work. He needed to get to work.
He climbed back in the car and sat for a few seconds behind the steering wheel. Surely Janine had been wrong.
He turned the key in the ignition and sat for a few seconds longer. Maybe —.
He took a deep breath, shook his head as if to clear it, and shifted the car into park.
“I thought I saw Ginny kissing some other man.” Janine’s words played over and over in his head as he pulled the car onto the street and took a right, driving past his office and heading back toward his house.
Stan looked at his watch again.
Where was she?
She usually took a lunch break at this time. Well, if she hadn’t taken lunch with her that day. Had she packed lunch that morning? He couldn’t remember. He’d been on the phone with Patrick Stanton about selling his farm and right after that, he’d walked upstairs to load the rest of his paperwork into his briefcase. When he’d come back down, Ginny had been gone.
Gone. Without saying goodbye like she usually did.
She had acted like someone with a guilty conscience but he hadn’t noticed. He hadn’t noticed because he hadn’t known that he should be noticing how she was acting.
Apparently, Olivia was right. He hadn’t been paying enough attention to Ginny lately. If he had, then he would have known she obviously wasn’t happy with him and was finding her happiness somewhere else. Like in Keith Stafford’s arms.
He paced the living room, running his hand across his chin and jawline, barely hearing the chirping of birds outside the window. His gaze fell on the picture of him and Ginny on their wedding day. He snatched it up, looked into eyes young and innocent. He’d had more hair then, that was for sure. A trimmer waist too. Stronger jawline, less wrinkles.
His older image reflected in the glass of the picture, lines along the corners of his eyes, a pinched mouth that hadn’t smiled in ages, and was his forehead higher too? No wonder Ginny was looking elsewhere for affection. She probably wasn’t even attracted to him any longer and looking at his reflection, at the bags under his eyes, he couldn’t say he blamed her.
He sat on the couch, the picture in his hand, images of that day playing in his mind like a movie. The white roses in her bouquet, the way she watched him as she walked down the aisle, his racing heart that he thought might burst from his chest. He could still smell the lilies in the arrangements at the front of the church and the honeysuckle when they’d walked out into the sunlight into a rain of rice from their friends and family.
Her dad hadn’t been a fan of him when they were in high school together, but his opinion seemed to change some after college when he saw Stan had a clear direction for his life. On their wedding day, her dad and shaken Stan’s hand at the front of the church before the ceremony, pulled him in close and whispered, “I brought her this far. Now it’s your turn. Don’t let me down.”
Had he let her father down? He didn’t think so. All these years he’d earned a living to support her and the children, he’d loved her the best way he knew how.
Maybe he wasn’t the man he used to be, physically or emotionally but that didn’t give Ginny the right to throw away their marriage, run around behind his back with her ex-boyfriend.
He laid the picture down on its face and started pacing again. As he lifted his arm to look at his watch the front door opened, bringing a stream of sunlight with it. Ginny’s head was down, focused on pulling the key from the lock. When she looked up a soft scream came from her and she jumped back.
“Oh my goodness! Stan! What are you doing here? You scared the living daylights out of me!”
Stan placed his hands at his waist, jaw tight. “what do you mean what am I doing here? I live here, don’t I?”
For now, he did anyhow. Maybe he wouldn’t much longer. Maybe Ginny was planning to kick him out and move Keith in.
Ginny seemed taken aback by his tone. She nodded slightly as she set her purse on the floor by the door. “Yes, of course, you live here. You’re just usually at work at this time.”
“Well, I came home, okay?”
She visibly tensed, pulling her shoulders back and walking toward the kitchen, avoiding eye contact. He watched her, seething inside at how nonchalant she seemed about it all. She’d been lying to him, sneaking around with Keith, but acting like nothing was going on. He thought he knew her. Apparently, he didn’t or he would have known she could be so cold-hearted. What had happened to her anyhow?
He followed her into the kitchen, ready to burst with anger. He tried to keep his tone even as he spoke, though. “So, did you have a good time with Keith the other night?”
She paused in front of the open refrigerator for a brief second before resuming retrieving the deli turkey and a jar of Miracle Whip.
“Yes, I did.” She kept her back to him. “Why do you ask?”
He huffed out a small laugh. She was something else. Really? She was going to act like nothing had happened.
“It’s just that I ran into Janine from church this morning.”
Taylor. That was her last name. Right. “Yeah, Janine Taylor.”
Ginny spread Miracle Whip on the bread, keeping her back to him. “And how is Janine?”
“She thinks we split, that’s how Janine is.”
The innocent lilt in her voice sent him over the edge. He dragged a hand through his hair. “She saw you, Ginny.”
Ginny turned slowly, the butter knife still in her hand. Light pink had spread across the skin exposed at the top of her shirt and was spreading up toward her face. “Saw me what?” She swallowed hard.
“You can knock off the innocent act, Gin.” He heard his voice raising but couldn’t seem to lower it, keep it under control. “I know you were kissing Keith along the river.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but he didn’t let her. “How long has this been going on? Weeks? Months? When were you going to tell me our marriage is over?”
Ginny’s eyes glistened with tears, which is exactly what cheaters did when they were caught, Stan thought, fury clouding his mind and judgment.
“It’s not like that at all, Stan.”
“Isn’t it? Then what is it like?”
“He kissed me. I didn’t want that kiss.”
Stan slapped a hand against his leg. “Oh, yeah. Sure you didn’t.” He held his hands up in front of him, palms out. “I don’t even want to hear it. I would have never done anything like that to you. I can’t even believe this.”
A tear slipped down Ginny’s cheek. “Haven’t you though?”
Stan thought his heart was going to explode through his throat the way it was pounding. “Excuse me?”
Ginny took a deep breath, swiped at the tear. “Nothing was happening between Keith and me but haven’t you been cheating on me for years with your job?”
He lost the control he’d been hanging onto by a thread and slammed the palm of his hand on the counter. “How dare you suggest that my working to support this family is anywhere close to you running around behind my back with your ex-boyfriend.”
Ginny stepped back against the counter, clutched at it as if for support. “I was not running behind your back. You were supposed to be there Thursday night, where were you?”
“So you’re saying because I missed some dinner with you that you decided to kiss Keith?”
“Missed some dinner? You’ve missed probably a hundred dinners over the last couple of years. I barely see you.”
“More excuses? Really? I can’t even believe this.”
She stepped forward, tears in her eyes, but anger in her voice. “I didn’t kiss Keith, Stan. He kissed me. I didn’t want him to kiss me. I told him that.”
Keith stepped back, threw up his hands. “I don’t even want to hear this.”
“Hear what?” She snapped out the words sharply. “Hear that it isn’t Keith I wanted a passionate kiss from? That —”
“Oh so it was a passionate kiss, was it?”
“You’re not listening Stan!”
“I can hear you perfectly fine. You had a passionate kiss with your ex-boyfriend along the river the other night.”
“I didn’t want a passionate kiss from Keith! I wanted one from you! I’ve wanted one from you for months! You don’t even know I’m alive anymore.”
Stan shook his head, his hands up near his head. “I can’t listen to this right now. I can’t do this.”
He snatched his keys off the island and pivoted on his heel toward the back door. “I’m going for a drive.”
“Fine. Walk away like you always do.”
The parting words from his wife sent even more anger rumbling through him. He swung around and faced her. “Stop talking, Ginny! Just stop! I’ve heard enough today. I’m going for a drive and then I’m coming back and packing a bag.”
“Where are you going to go?”
“I’ll get a room at that inn. Blueberry Inn or whatever it is called. I just can’t be here right now.”
The door rattled when he slammed it behind him and he heard the sobbing, but it only made him angrier. How dare she think she had the right to sob like she was the victim when she was the one who had betrayed him, throwing all they had away for — for what? A passionate moment to get back at him for what she thought he’d done wrong? He hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d gone to work day after day to make sure she was fed, that Olivia could keep going to college, that they didn’t lose all they had built over their 35 years of marriage.
He slammed the car door closed and started the car, slamming his hand against the steering wheel and wincing. He didn’t even know where he was going. He couldn’t go to work. Not in the state he was in. All he knew was he couldn’t stay here. Not with the woman who’d treated their marriage like it was optional, like loving him was optional.
How had he not noticed how bad things had gotten? How had he not noticed that his wife no longer loved him?