Excerpt: Roadtrip to Redemption
The manila envelope in her hands grew heavier the longer she stood there, her name – Leslie Malone – printed on the front in black magic marker, blurring as unwanted tears threatened to erupt.
“Lady? Excuse me?”
She jolted at the voice. She gave her head a shake, pulled a brusque hand over her eyes. “Yes. Sorry.”
Relief flooding the courier’s face was unmistakable. After all, the last thing he needed was a crying woman when he was just trying to do his job. He couldn’t really help the fact that he worked for the biggest jerk of a lawyer in town.
He held out a clipboard and a pen and pointed to a line. She signed her name and handed it back. He made a quick escape off her front porch, down her driveway and away in his truck. Were those his tires squealing? Or maybe that was her imagination.
She sighed and returned to her foyer, closing the front door behind her. In all fairness, it wasn’t necessarily Tim’s lawyer who was the jerk – Tim himself had that honor.
She stepped into her living room and sank onto the sofa. No time like the present. She slipped her finger beneath the sealed flap of the envelope and ripped it open. She pulled out a small stack of papers and flipped through them before turning back to the front page. The contents didn’t surprise her. She’d sat through a full day of court, answered the lawyers’ questions, shared a mountain of documents she’d gathered at her lawyer’s request, and listened to the judge’s decisions:
Their marriage was over. Almost twenty years of matrimony — gone.
They’ll sell the house and split the profits. And they’d split up all the “stuff” according to the inventory they’d both agreed on.
They’ll share Jasmine’s college expenses, their contributions proportionate to their incomes.
She’ll get half of his 401K when he retires, based on its current balance.
He’ll pay child support until Jasmine graduates and gets a job.
She sniffed and tossed the papers on the coffee table. Her lawyer had been pleased with the settlement, especially that last point. Leslie would take her word for it. At this moment, she couldn’t care less. But was it possible their lives together had resulted in five neat bullet points? What had once been a loving marriage and family, now was a bunch of legalese.
The phone rang and she jumped. By habit, she rose and glanced at the Caller ID. She puffed out a breath and smiled. “Jaz! How’s it going?”
Her daughter’s voice always brought a smile to her face. From toddler to teen, and now as a young woman. “Your semester will end before you know it. It’ll be nice to have a break from school, huh?”
She caught the slight hesitation but plowed ahead. “It sure will be good to have you home, Jaz. The house is awful quiet these days.”
A tone in the softly spoken words made Leslie scurry to find a new topic. She knew Jasmine pitied the state of her parents’ marriage. But today was not a day to delve into it. Tears were too close to the surface at any given moment to tempt them.
“Have you checked with the diner? They might need you to waitress this summer, and with me off school, we’ll have a lot of time together. I was thinking of some fun things to do – plant our garden, try new recipes, maybe we can even plan a vacation, just the two of us.”
Leslie winced at the forced cheer in her tone and bit her lip. Jasmine would recognize it; she was way too sensitive in general, and too close to the subject of Leslie’s destroyed marriage, to dismiss the subtlety. The last thing she wanted to do was make Jasmine take sides, or to feel sorry for her at this stage of her life.
Although, with her dad’s full-blown mid-life crisis, complete with a toupe, red Corvette and thirty-year-old divorcee girlfriend, the proper side to take was clear. At least in Leslie’s opinion.
“Mom, listen. I won’t be coming home this summer after all.” She cleared her throat and paused.
“What?” Leslie heard music playing behind Jasmine’s voice.
“Something really exciting has come up. An opportunity I don’t want to turn down because although it’s not, um, the best timing … I know I’d regret it later if I didn’t go.”
A little hand gripped Leslie’s heart. She drew a deep breath and forced it out. “Jasmine, spill. What are you talking about?”
Her daughter’s words tumbled over themselves. “A few months ago, I applied for a summer abroad program in Paris. I never, ever thought I’d get selected because it’s so totally competitive. It’s a chance for college students all over the world to work in the Paris fashion scene for three whole months. Go backstage of the runway, work with models, designers, marketers, buyers, retailers. It’s an unbelievable internship and only the top fashion students are selected. I really didn’t think I’d have a chance but guess what … I was chosen! I found out today!”
A weird buzzing filled her ears. Leslie stood squarely on her two feet and yet, the room was beginning to spin. She slumped into the chair beside the phone as if her spinal column had become a cooked noodle. The pause lengthened into an uncomfortable silence.
“Mom? Are you still there?”
“Yes,” she finally spit out. “You never even told me you’d applied for a summer abroad, honey.”
“I know. Honestly, Mom, I didn’t think I had a chance, so why bother? It’s really an honor. It’ll be something I’ll remember my whole life, and it’ll be great for my resume.”
“Okay, okay, Jaz. I hate to be the voice of reason here, but have you thought of the logistics?”
“What do you mean?”
Leslie sighed. “The biggest one I can think of is, how much does it cost, and how are we going to pay for it?”
“Oh, that’s taken care of, Mom. Don’t worry about it.”
“You mean, you got a scholarship? It’s a no-cost internship?”
Jaz cleared her throat again. “Not exactly. I mean, there’s a cost, but it’s okay. Dad said he’d pay for it. In fact, he gave me his credit card number and told me to charge the tuition and fees.”
A chill crept down Leslie’s spine while goose bumps popped on her arm. “You called Dad about this before you called me?”
She winced. Not the most mature of questions to ask – but give her a break: she was new to this divorce stuff. “One day” new, in fact.
“Well, yeah, I mean … before I could accept the internship I knew I had to be able to pay for it, so I, you know …”
Leslie nodded. “Went with your best option.” Of course Tim would be able to pay for a summer abroad. His doctor’s salary loomed like the Statue of Liberty, her own teacher’s salary lingering almost unnoticed in the shadows.
Leslie detested the uncomfortable silence but couldn’t bring herself to say anything cheerful to alleviate it.
“I’m sorry, Mom, but I …”
“No, I understand. I’m not sure I could’ve helped you anyway. I would’ve tried, though.”
For the next few minutes Jasmine chattered about the internship, the work, the classes, the travel. She was excited for her, sure she was. Of course she was! She hoped she showed all the appropriate enthusiasm. But when she hung up, reality hit her upside the head.
She’d be alone all summer.
Leslie closed her eyes and sat still, her mind serving up an image of what her summer break would be like. No husband, no job to go to, no Jasmine to brighten her days. Long days spanning ad infinitum with no plans. Or at least, nothing important to do.
What was the purpose of her life now? What was she put here to do, if it wasn’t to be wife, mother and teacher? Prayers helped; she’d learned that time and time again. If nothing else, she usually felt better after verbalizing her requests and getting them out there.
Her spoken words echoed in the empty house. “Lord. I know You’re there. Somewhere in all this mess that my life has become. It hasn’t been the most stellar of days, and You know that. But come on, how much can one person take? My marriage is over, my daughter will be gone all summer. Not even a job to get up and go to everyday. Nothing, but my new monotone life.” She sighed. “Solitude is completely overrated. Give me strength to deal with my new reality. Amen.”
She stood and made her way to the kitchen. What on earth was she going to do with herself?