Dana stood at the living room window and watched as the real estate agent thrust a “SOLD” sign in the middle of the front yard, like an explorer claiming a new land.
Well, she’d done it. Despite a lousy housing market, and despite everyone saying it would take months, the house had sold in four weeks. It was officially off the market.
Unlike herself, who was once again back on the market.
She glanced around the living room, with its stone fireplace and vaulted ceiling, and felt a pang. Their first Christmas in the house, Alex insisted on getting the tree himself. He’d chosen a nine-foot Balsam pine from the woods adjoining their property, and used a chainsaw to cut it down. The tree was beautiful, she remembered, and perfectly sized for the living room…
… but too big to fit atop their Toyota Camry.
They’d borrowed a neighbor’s truck to get it home; he helped them lug it inside, through the French doors off the kitchen and down the hallway to the living room. Needles were strewn everywhere.
But when they finally got the tree up and decorated, it took Dana’s breath away.
She turned away from the window now and headed into the kitchen. She needed a cup of good, strong coffee before she began the dreaded task of packing. With her daughter Becky off to college, and her divorce from Alex final, there was no reason to keep the house any longer. It was far too big for one person. Or even two, for that matter.
Although she was relieved that the house had sold, Dana felt a tiny bit forlorn, as well. An entire chapter of her life was over. Who knew what lay ahead?
In the kitchen doorway, she paused. Notches in the wood trim marked Becky’s height at various ages – four, six, eight. She took a mug down from the cabinet. It was painted with a dachshund, once bright blue but faded over the years to pale teal. Alex had brought it back from one of his business trips to Kansas City.
Had his cheating started then? she wondered as she reached for the coffee pot. Possibly. Probably.
“Take me with you,” she’d implored him as he’d packed for the trip. “I’ve never been to Kansas City.”
“You’re not missing anything,” he told her. “Have you seen my yellow tie?”
“It’s in the top drawer.”
He rummaged in the drawer until he found the tie in question and threw it in his suitcase. “I’ll be in meetings all day. You’d be bored, babe.”
He’d convinced her to stay behind. And later, after he returned, she found the hotel receipt. He’d had dinner in the hotel restaurant, four nights in a row – dinner for two. When she confronted him, he shrugged and said he’d had dinner with a client. And the matchbook from a popular strip club-? His client wanted to go, so they went. You had to keep the client happy. It’s how you played the game.
And she’d believed him. Until, eventually, she didn’t.
The phone rang.
“Have you finished packing yet?” her mother asked.
“Finished? I haven’t even started.”
“Dana,” her mother sighed, “you can do this. Pack one box. It’ll get easier as you go. Just sort everything into piles – keep, donate, or-”
“-throw away. I know.” Dana set her cup down on the table. “Easier said than done. I’m still working, you know. And Becs is away at school. And-” her voice wobbled “-this is my life we’re talking about. Not just boxes of china and books and winter coats.”
“I know.” Her voice softened. “I wish I could say it’s easy, but it isn’t. Divorce sucks. But you’ll get through it. You’re well shed of that bastard, anyway. Alex is a womanizing piece of shit. I told you that from the start.”
“You told me he was better looking than Dr. McDreamy, and you said if you were ten years younger, you’d jump his bones yourself,” Dana reminded her. “That’s what you said.”
“So we were both cruelly deceived. Get over it, and move on, honey.”
The doorbell rang. “There’s someone at the door. I’ll call you back,” Dana said.
She went to answer the door. As she swung it open, she froze. “Alex?”
“I was just driving by and saw the sold sign.” He hesitated. “I don’t suppose… I could come in for a minute?”
Wordlessly, she held the door wider and let him in. “Becky’s not here, she went to Charlottesville with Lisa.”
“Hard to believe she’s starting college in a couple of weeks.”
“Not to be rude,” Dana said, “but why are you here, Alex? You didn’t ‘just drive by.’ What do you want?”
“I don’t want anything.” Annoyance flickered across his face. “I just… I wanted to see the place one last time, I guess.” He glanced around the hallway, at the Dhurrie rug they’d found in a second-hand store, the Farrow and Ball wallpaper he’d spent an entire Saturday putting up. “And I wanted to say-” he stopped. “I wanted to say I’m sorry, Dana. For everything – the cheating, the lying. All of it.”
Once, her heart would’ve melted at those words. She would’ve forgiven him, taken him back, tried to keep things together for Becky’s sake.
But he’d said those exact words to her so many times, they had no meaning anymore. She shrugged. “It’s done. I got over it… and you… a long time ago. But thanks.”
“Well,” he said tightly as he turned to leave, “I guess I deserved that. If you need any help moving-”
“Right. Entirely self-sufficient, that’s you.” He put his hand on the doorknob. “I’ll see you at the settlement, then.”
“Yes. Goodbye, Alex.”
She closed the door after him, and returned to the living room to start packing. There was so much to do, it was hard to know where to begin.
There’d be plenty of time to cry, later.
But for now… she had a life to pack away into cartons and boxes, along with the memories, good and bad. But it was okay.
After all, she reminded herself as she reached for an armload of books, she had a whole new life out there, just waiting for her.