The Message Chapter 3
Author’s Note: Thank you to all of you who have been taking time to give me feedback about the story so far. Your thoughts have proved very helpful and I’ve learned more than a couple things from your comments so please keep them coming. This story will eventually contain a “loving” relationship between two women. The characters, town and storyline are all products of my imagination. Although Tennessee is “really” a state!
December 2006 © J.A. Breeze
By J.A. Breeze
When Jennifer reached the Wilmington Theater in the old part of town, she found a place to park in lot about a block and a half from the theater. It was an easy walk and she had made it dozens of times through the years.
Pulling carefully into a parking space, she turned off th e engine and took a few calming breaths.
I’ve got to hurry if I want to see Courtney before her performance. I can’t believe I forgot her recital. My God she’s talked about little else for weeks.
She took just a second to check her appearance in the rearview mirror. I guess that’s as good as it’s going to get. I hope no one notices these circles under my eyes.
As she exited the Lexus, she locked the doors and set the alarm using the remote on her key ring. It was then that she felt a chill move up the back of her neck. That’s weird. I would swear someone is watching me.
She scanned the parking area and didn’t see anyone suspicious. Although much of the old part of town was being restored, there was still a lot of work to be done. The theater was one of the first projects to be completed. And it had been one of the newspaper publisher’s pet projects just a few years earlier. In fact she had used the newspaper’s resources and been very active in raising the money needed to restore the old theater to its former grandeur.
It was still daylight and she knew she shouldn’t be having a case of the willies but she couldn’t shake the feeling someone was watching her. She would have to pass by at least three allies before reaching the entrance to the theater and with all the construction going on there were plenty of places f or someone to remain out of sight.
Jennifer, get a grip. You’re being silly.
She noticed a group of people walking toward the theater and recognized a couple of them as parents she had met at other recitals and rehearsals so she rushed to join them. If she had looked across the street she would have seen the silhouette of a darkly clad figure step back into a shadowed doorway of a building. She would have been even more upset if she could have heard her nemesis’ thoughts.
You know I’m here watching you. Don’t you, baby? You can feel my presence. I told you that I’ll always be close by. It’s time that you accept t hat you need to do exactly what I want or you will pay! Perhaps I should just drop in and see how well that darling daughter of yours can dance. She is certainly a beauty. Just like her mother!
The figure silently slipped away from the shadow of the building and got lost in the crowd that was now moving toward the theater’s entrance.
Jennifer breathed a sigh of relief once she was safely inside.
“My daughter is dancing tonight and I’d like to see her for just a few minutes before the show. Is it okay for me to go back?” she asked an usher.
“Certainly, Ma’am. Let me show you the way.”
She was escorted down a long hallway to the door with a sign that simply said “dressing room.”
“You should find your daughter in this room with some of the other dancers.”
“Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome, Ma’am. Enjoy your evening,” he said as he turned and went back the way they had come.
Giving a brief knock, Jennifer opened the door to find chaos within. There were at least a dozen teenage girls running around, partially clothed, grabbing costumes from wracks along one wall of the room. Along another was a line of makeup mirrors. She surveyed the room trying to distinguish Courtney’s blonde head from several others. Finally spotting her daughter, she painted a smile on her face and began walk toward her dodging several teenagers as she went.
Courtney, who was busy applying eye makeup, looked up just as her mother walked up behind her. Matching green eyes met in the mirror and the mother and daughter were soon wearing identical smiles.
“You look— “Thank you— They broke into laughter as they started to speak at the same time.
“You go first, Mom. You know age before beauty,” Courtney said with obvious mischief.
“That is very cruel, young lady. Perhaps I should just change my mind about what I was going to say,” she countered.
“Get over yourself. You know you’re the most beautiful mom in my crowd. Shoot half the boys have a crush on you!”
Seeing the smile and knowing look on her mother’s face, she couldn’t resist adding just one more little dig. “And that makes me very sick. You are awfully old and all.”
Shaking her head in laughter, she pulled her daughter into a tight hug. “God, I love you so much. Don’t ever change.”
Fighting the tears that threatened to spill, she pulled back and looked at her daughter.
“What I was going to say before you sidetracked me with your wit is that you look absolutely beautiful. I’m so proud of you.”
“Thanks, Mom. But you do know that’s kind of weird, don’t you? Since everyone tells me I look just like you?”
“Trust me, sweetheart, I have never been as pretty as you, not even at sixteen. And I’d certainly never be caught in a tutu” she teased as she took in her daughter’s attire.
“Good one, Mom. But I happen to have seen Grandma’s album from your dancing days so give it a rest.”
“I guess I’m busted, huh? But I was never as good as you are.”
“Since I never got to see you dance, I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. But I’d give a month’s allowance to see you in a get-up like this now.”
“Bite your tongue, young lady. I have a reputation as a tough old newspaper woman to uphold!”
“Mom, you’re so funny. Everyone knows that’s just an act. You’re a real softy and you know it.”
“I’m glad you think so but I believe there’s a large group of people in this city who would disagree.”
“That’s because they don’t know the real you.”
And hopefully I can keep it that way.
“I just wanted to see you before you dance and now I should probably go see if your father and brother have arrived. I’ll see you after the show,” she said as she turned to leave.
Her daughter stopped her by tugging on her hand.
“I almost forgot to say thank you for the roses. They’re awesome.”
“You’re welcome, honey. Now go out there and make your old mother proud!”
Her daughter rolled her eyes in response.
She couldn’t resist reaching out to tweak her daughter’s nose. “I love you, you know?”
“And I love you. Now get out of here so I can finish getting beautiful.”
She left the dressing room in laughter. God, she is so wonderful. Please don’t let my mess hurt her.
She made her way back to the entrance of the auditorium. A short line had formed so she took her place to wait to present her ticket.
As the usher pointed out her seat, she noticed that her husband and son had indeed arrived.
The tall, dark-haired man rose to his feet as she reached his side while their son, the spitting image of his father, remained slumped in his seat with his ever-present iPod in place.
“Glad to see you made it, Jen, I was beginning to think you had gotten tied up.”
“I’ve been here awhile, Michael. I went back to see Courtney for a few minutes.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Great, actually. You know her, alw ays smiling and cheerful. If she’s nervous, she’s not showing it.”
“That’s good,” he said just as his cell phone began to ring. Reaching inside his jacket pocket, he pulled it out and read the display to see who was calling. “I really need to take this call. I’ll be right back.”
She heard him say “hello, Richard” as he hurried from the auditorium.
Reaching into her pocket she pulled out her own phone to be sure the ringer was off but left it on vibrate. She didn’t want to be one of those annoying people who interrupted the show because they were too inconsiderate to turn off the ringer.
“Hey, Bradon, how’s it going?” she asked her son only to be ignored.
Reaching over she pulled the earphones away. “Hey, mister.”
“Hi, Mom, sorry. I was kind of into this parachute game and listening to some music.”
“So I see. How was school today?”
“Same old things.”
“Did you get your math assignments caught up from where you were out last week?”
“Aw, Mom. That stuff is easy. It was a piece of cake.”
She started to ask him another question but the earphones were back in place and the game had once again claimed his attention.
Nice talking to you too, Son.
She rested her head on the back of the seat and closed her eyes while she waited.
We are in such a rut. Michael and I barely talk to each other. And I don’t remember when the last time was we hugged, much less kissed. Where did the affection go?
There was a time when she thought she and Michael were so much in love. Now she wasn’t so sure it was ever truly love.
I’m miserable. I’m certain he is too. Maybe it’s time for us talk and make some decisions. The kids are old enough to understand. Courtney is just a year away from finishing high school and Brandon is already in junior high. Surely they’re old enough now.
Michael interrupted her reverie when he returned to his seat.
“Sorry about that. Richard needed my input on a new project we’re thinking about pursuing.”
“That’s okay, Michael, but maybe you shouldn’t take anymore calls until the recital is over.”
“I already thought of that and just turned it off.”
The lights began to dim and one of the dance instructors moved to center stage to introduce the first performers.
Jennifer hardly no ticed what was happening because she was lost in thought.
I think I’ll try to talk to Michael tonight. There’s no reason to put things off. It’ll make it easier for me to deal with everything else if I at least have things resolved with him.
“Hey, are you awake over there?” Michael whispered.
“Yes. Just wool gathering, I guess.”
“Thought you would want to know Courtney is up next”
Courtney gave a mesmerizing performance as she danced across the stage. My God when did she become so graceful, so poised and beautiful?
“She’s amazing, isn’t she,” Michael whispered to his wife.
“Just wonderful,” she answered as she tried to control the tears that began to trickle down her cheeks.
Michael nudged her to offer a handkerchief. She gave him a wobbly smile and mouthed one word “thanks” as she turned her eyes back to their daughter.
As Courtney’s portion of the recital came to an end, the audience broke into an appreciative round of applause with her parents and brother leading the salute.
When the next performer began to dance, she felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. Checking the screen she saw that she had a text message.
She gasped in shock as she read the display.
Your daughter is very beautiful just like you. It would be a shame for something to happen to her. It’s up to you. Meet me Monday at our usual place and time.
Attempting not to b e obvious, she nervously glanced around looking for the one face in the crowd that could turn her world upside down and destroy her family.
Suddenly her eyes locked with those of her tormentor. She watched in shock as two fingers were brought to a pair of familiar lips and a kiss was sent her way.
“Jen, are you okay? You seem upset.”
Turning toward her husband, she missed it when the dark figure slipped out the door and into the evening.
“I’m fine, Michael. Just tired.”
When she looked again, no one was there.
What should I do? I think I need someone to help me figure this out. I’ve only got until Monday—three days to find a solution.
Just then the theater lights came back on and Michael and Brandon were already standing.
“Jen, you seem awfully distracted. Are you sure everything is okay?”
“I’m fine Michael, really.”
“Let’s track down o ur star and head to dinner then.”
Dinner had been very quiet and Jennifer was exhausted. Michael had insisted on following her home from the restaurant even though Courtney had chosen to ride with her while Brandon went with his dad.
It was as if Michael sensed that she was uneasy about something because it was unusual for him to be so chivalrous.
“Michael, I want to grab a quick shower, but do you think you could join me in the den for a drink when I’m finished?”
“Sure, Jen, it’ll be good for us to have some time to talk. I have a couple things I need to do in my study so just let me know when you come back down.”
“Give me about twenty minutes.”
She slowly made her way up the stairs to her bedroom suite on the second floor. Every step taking more and more effort.
I am so tired. There’s no way I can keep this up much longer and not fall apart. Please at least let Michael and I reach some understanding tonight.
She stripped off her suit as she entered the master bedroom and tossed her jacket on the king-size bed she and Michael hadn’t shared in at least two years.
My God. We’re only in our forties. How in the hell did that happen? Don’t play dumb, Jen. You know how it happened and more importantly you know why.
“Oh, shut up. I don’t want to think about that right now. I just want to take a nice relaxing shower and then get this over with. Tonight!”
Stripping to her undergarments she turned the water on in the shower and collected her toiletries and towel from the closet located across the spacious bathroom. She cast a longing look at the oversized garden tub compl ete with whirlpool jets.
Don’t even think about it. Now is not the time for a long soak.
Instead she slipped off her bra and matching panties and stepped under the warm spray.
Jennifer found Michael sitting at his desk staring at his computer screen.
“Michael, are you ready for that drink?”
“Sorry, Jen. What did you say?”
“The drink. Are you ready for one?”
“Sure, I’ll be right there.”
Walking into the den, Jennifer headed straight for the bar. She took a tumbler from the cabinet, dropped in a couple cubes of ice and filled the glass with his favorite single-malt scotch.
Not much for hard liquor, she chose a glass of white wine for herself.
Michael had already taken a seat in his favorite spot in the room, a recliner facing a large scree n television. Crossing the room she handed him his drink. As he reached for it, she noticed that his hand was slightly trembling.
That’s odd. I wonder if he knows what’s coming and doesn’t want to hear it.
“So, how’s work? Have you and Richard been successful on any new bids?”
“We’re working on one now for the new convention center. If we’re successful, it will mean big bucks for the company.”
“That’s wonderful. I hope it works out for you.”
“How about you? Anything new at the newspaper?”
“Actually, Michael, I’m thinking about making some changes and part of it has to do with the newspaper.”
“And the other part?”
“Has to do with you. With us.”
“You’re going to leave me, aren’t you? I’ve felt this coming for months and I’m surprised it’s taken this long.”
“Michael, y ou know as well as I do that we haven’t had a marriage in years.”
“But for the most part, I’ve been happy with the way things are. We’ve had a good life.”
“I will agree that for the most part things aren’t all that bad. It’s just that they aren’t all that good either. We’ve been settling and I don’t want to settle any longer. I’ve come to realize I want more from life than a marriage of convenience and that’s what our relationship has become.”
“Is there someone else? Or maybe I shouldn’t ask.”
“I don’t want to lie to you. There was someone. It’s been over for a while now. But it helped me understand what I really want from my life. No, that’s not quite right. It helped me understand who I want in my life.”
“What do you mean by that? Who do you want in your life?”
“How do I help you understand? Maybe I should just go back to the beginning. A beginning I should have told you years ago, long before we married.”
“Let me refill my drink first. Do you want more wine?”
“No. I’m fine with what I have.”
“Suit yourself,” he said as he crossed to the bar and poured himself a liberal amount of scotch.
When he had returned to his seat, he waved his glass at his wife. “I’m ready now. Start your story.”
“Do you remember when we met at Western Kentucky?”
“Sure, I remember it’s not been that long ago.”
“I had gone back to get a degree in business and you had just finished your degree in journalism and had decided to add one in business. We had some of the same classes,” he continued.
“We met in a business management class. I took a liking to you right away. You were so friendly and funny.”
“Not to mention built and good looking as sin,” he offered with a touch of the old humor that had attracted her to him.
“Yeah, not to mention that,” she said with a genuinely warm smile.
“We became friends first and then started to date. You were everything my parents had ever encouraged me to look for in a husband—intelligent, ambitious and, yes, good looking as sin.”
“Well, when you’ve got it; you’ve got it,” he said as he buffed his nails on the front of his shirt.”
Deciding to ignore his antics so she wouldn’t become sidetracked, she continued the story.
“When we started dating, I told you that I hadn’t dated since high school. Do you remember that?”
“I remember thinking all the guys must have been blind or just plain dumb to let a beautiful girl like you slip by.”
“Well, that wasn’t quite the truth. I had been dating. Just not boys.” Her heart skipped a beat as she waited for his reaction to her words, but they weren’t what she expected.
“So the rumors about you were true? I’ve got to admit I sometimes wondered especially when we first started having sex. You never really seemed to want my touch. I kept telling myself that things would get better in time.”
“What rumors did you hear?”
“Everyone knew that Janie was your best friend and she was with another girl. And you were always hanging out with them and that tall redhead. For some reason I can’t recall her name, though.”
“Nikki. Her name was Nikki.”
“I don’t think I ever knew that, but there were rumors that the two of you were more than just friends. But once we started to date, I decided they were just rumors. That you had just been concentrating on your studies and too busy for guys. But the rumors were true, weren’t they?”
She glanced at her husband to find his eyes focused on the amber colored liquid in his glass.
“Yes they were true. Why didn’t you ever ask me about her?”
“Because I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want confirmation that I would never be what you wanted,” he said as he allowed his eyes to meet hers, the hurt painted there for her to see.
“Michael, I’m so sorry. We should have talked about all this back then before we married.”
“Maybe we should have. B ut I for one am glad we didn’t because our marriage would have ended before it ever began,” he said as he tossed back his drink and rose to get another.
“Why did you marry me, then?” he asked as he returned to his place across from her.
“Because I convinced myself that Nikki was just a phase and that I couldn’t possibly be gay. And because you had become my best friend and I loved you.”
“What about you, Michael? Why did you marry me even with all your doubts?”
“Because you had everything I didn’t. You were gor geous and I wanted you.”
“What about love, Michael? Did you love me?”
“Jen, you were easy to be with. You were loads of fun and filled with ambition. I knew that I could be a success with you there to support me and I was right. I rose above Harlan, Kentucky and look at us now.”
“Yes, Michael, there’s little doubt that together we’ve been a success financially but how about emotionally? Do you ever feel like there’s something important missing from your life? Haven’t you ever wished that you could settle down with one of the women you’ve seen through the years and make a life with her?”
“You knew about them?” he asked as the shock showed on his face. “Why didn’t you say anything?” he softly questioned.
“Because that would have put an end to the pretense of our happy life together and honestly because I didn’t begrudge you finding elsewhere what I couldn’t give you.”
“I want to put an end to the pretense. I want to be free to find the life I’ve always been meant to have and I want the same for you.”
“You want a divorce?”
“Yes, that’s what it comes down to.”
“I asked you earlier if there was someone and you said not anymore. Is that true?”
“I met a woman several months ago and we had an affair but it’s over,” she said choosing not to tell him more.
“You know that your career will be ruined if you become openly involved with another woman. This town is very unforgiving.”
“I've been thinking about that, too. And I’ve decided that at this point in my life, I’d rather be true to myself than have a job where others refuse to accept me for who I really am.”
“You’re thinking of leaving the newspaper?”
“Maybe. There’s plenty of time for me to decide that. I want to be open to opportunities and that could mean major changes very soon.”
“So how do you want to do this? Are you going to move out? Do you want me to?” the sadness of defeat clear in his voice.
“I haven’t reall y gotten that far. I do know that I don’t want to keep this house and if you don’t want it maybe we should sell it.”
“No, I don’t want it. It wouldn’t be the same. Selling it is the best thing to do and I know that you have never really liked it here.”
“Michael, are you okay? You’re taking all this much more calmly than I ever imagined.”
“It’s not like I haven’t seen this coming for months so it isn’t a surprise. But if you don’t mind, I’ve had enough for the night,” he said as he turned his back to her and walked toward the bar one more time.
She cast a sad glance in his direction as she rose and walked out the door. As the door softly closed behind her, she heard a glass slam against the other side and Michael’s curse from within. Stifling a sob in her hand, she fled up the stairs to the sanctuary of her room.
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