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Authors: Julia Blues

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BOOK: The Last Exhale
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I'm meeting my girls at a lounge not too far from the house. It's Katrina's birthday. She's single and ready to mingle. Rachel's happily married and not ashamed to let the world know it. I'm stuck somewhere in between.

Eric pulled an extra shift for the night, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to leave the kids with their grandmother. EJ and Kennedy will be just what she needs to keep loneliness from her pillow, while getting a break from all of them will hopefully keep regret from mine.

Surprisingly, there are quite a few people in the lounge. Unlike in my early years when no one came out until close to midnight. For it to be a few minutes to ten, I'm very pleased. These are the
hours grown folks party, those of us with kids and real responsibilities.

Katrina sashays in shortly after ten. I wave her over to the bar where I've been standing long enough for me to no longer feel my toes.

“I was beginning to think I was getting stood up tonight,” I say after we part from a hug.

“Forgot you're on borrowed time.” She chuckles, but quickly stops when she sees the straight look on my face. “Rachel here yet?”

I shake my head. “Thought you two were riding together.”

“We were, but she called thirty minutes ago to tell me she'd just meet me here. Said something about the zipper in her dress getting stuck and Michael helping her with it.”

I look at Katrina and she looks at me. We burst into naughty giggles. “She's not coming,” we agree in unison.

“If I play my cards right, I may be getting a little action tonight myself.” She clinks her glass with mine. “Best way to celebrate this celebration.”

A twinge of jealousy clogs my throat. I flush it down with pineapple-flavored tequila. I'm slightly jealous of both of my friends. One has the freedom to come and go as she pleases and the other doesn't want to come and go because she has a man she's madly in love with at home. I'd never let them know it, though.

I survey the room. Ask Katrina, “Anyone catch your eye yet?”

She shakes her head. “But I definitely see some eyes on you.”

Two men sitting a few tables behind the bar raise their glasses in our direction. One of the men winks my way. I blush, but make sure I lift my glass with my left hand. Gold and platinum flash from their left hands. I quickly turn to Katrina. “Girl, they're married.”

“A little flirting never hurt a soul,” she says.

“I'm sure that's what someone was telling the woman who stole your husband.”

My friend's eyes glaze over with hatred. The space between us grows hot. Feels like I'm standing face to face with the younger, fire-starting Drew Barrymore.

I grab her hand. “You know I didn't mean it like that.”

She waves the bartender over, orders a shot of something clear. Downs it before he can sit it on the counter. “A girl only turns twenty-five once in her life. I'm not going to let you ruin my celebration.” Then saunters off in the direction of salivating men.

Katrina hasn't seen her twenties in a decade. Every year, she celebrates the same age because she said that was the best year of her life. It was the year before she got pregnant and three years before her baby's father finally put a ring on her finger. Not a year into their marriage, she caught him in bed with their neighbor.

If twenty-five was the best year of her life, twenty-eight would have to be the age we'd celebrate for me. I met Eric two weeks before my twenty-ninth birthday. The rest is a blur.

The two married guys take their courage up a notch and ask us if we want to dance. Katrina tells Mr. Goldfinger, “Thought you'd never ask.”

Mr. Platinum stands and waits for either a nod or a head shake from me. I toss back the rest of my drink. “What the hell,” I say and take his extended hand.

•  •  •

My cell phone rings in my purse. “It's a great day to purchase a new home with Evans Realty. This is Sydney Holmes.”

“You sound so different when you're in professional mode.”


“Since the day I was born.”

“Why are you calling my work number?”

“Because you're not answering your main phone.”

I dig through my purse and see I have three missed calls and an unread text on my personal cell. It's on silent mode. I tell Rachel to hold on while I check out at the register of the sporting goods store I'm in. Two new pairs of running shoes, a few packs of sports beans, sports bra and a water bottle with a Velcro snap to put on my running belt. It's time for me to get the extra fluff off me I've packed on in moments of discontentment. Not that I'm an emotional-eater or anything.

“Sydney, you there?”

“I'm here.” I put the items in the trunk. “What's so important that has you calling like I won the Mega Millions?”

“If that were the case, I wouldn't be trying to reach you by phone. I'd be camped out on your doorstep.”

“Tell me about it,” I say and start the car so I can feel the air. The rising temperature tells us spring went on vacation and skipped straight from winter to summer.

She wastes no time digging into my business. “So, I heard you ladies had a blast the other night without me, you especially.”

“I was just trying to make sure Katrina enjoyed her birthday. As much as she tries to act like she's not, I can tell she's lonely since the divorce.”

“That was her decision. I mean, she knew he was cheating before they got married and married him anyway.”

“Yeah, that's true.” I married Eric knowing what I was getting into. I know I can't be the only woman who's done so. My friend is proof of that. But still, to marry a known cheater and be okay with it is a different situation. “Now that you mention it, I can't
see her divorcing him for that reason. Do you think something else happened that we don't know about?”

“Anything's possible, but she might not be the only person divorced if you keep dancing with random men like you're trying to make money to pay your mortgage.”

I sigh. “It was a dance, Rachel. Why are you making it such a big deal?”

“I'm not. The guy you were dancing with is. He said you have some loose hips.”

“How would—Did Katrina tell you that?” I parted ways with my friend after a few dances and drinks. I had a family to get home to. I was on borrowed time as she said. No telling what she did or better yet, who she did once I left. As liberated as she's been between the legs as of late, she might've taken both guys home to celebrate her birthday in style.

“I haven't talked to Kat.” She lets that tidbit of information settle in before adding, “The guy you were dancing with is actually the supervisor over the fugitive unit Michael and Eric are in. You did know that, right?”

“How was I supposed to know that?” The one night I get out of the house and let my hair down, the whole world finds out. Such is my luck.

“Yeah, I guess you wouldn't, seeing as you never come to any of their get-togethers. We've played cards at his house a few times and he's been at the past two cookouts we've had over here. Now that I think about it, the last time you've been to any functions was at your house for EJ's first birthday. What's up with that?”

I pull out of the parking lot and get stuck waiting on a slow-moving train to pass. The temptation to roll down the window and toss my phone at the train to end this conversation grows the
more Rachel grills me. “Enough about me. Why weren't you out celebrating with us?”

The smile in her voice can be heard on the moon. “Michael came home in one of
moods. Started the second he walked through the door, pinching me on the butt and nibbling on my ear. When I asked him to help me zip up my dress, he zipped it down instead. My dress ended up on the floor and we fell right on top of it.”

“Ohhhh, spare me the details.”

“You asked.” She chuckles. “I know you two didn't miss me at all.”

I can picture her sitting in a chair, head held back, mouth wide open, having a good laugh all by herself. “Still would've been nice to have you there.”

“Let's plan something else soon.”

The train finally passes and the light turns green. “Well, I'm around the corner from the office. Got a client coming in in about twenty minutes. Let me know when you ladies want to get together.”

“Sure will. And I'll be sure not to plan it someplace where you won't be dry humping our husbands' boss.”

“No, it
be a random guy next time,” I say and quickly end the call.

•  •  •

Eric doesn't make a big deal of the dance when he gets in from work.

“Rachel made it seem like I was some stripper in a thong and pasties on my nipples.”

“You know she likes to exaggerate. Don't take it personal, babe. It's not a big deal.”

I rinse the cabbage and add it to the pan with chopped bell peppers and onions and olive oil. Add seasoning, give it a good stir before putting the lid on top to seal in the steam.

Eric says, “Next time you're feeling frisky, though, save it for me,” then gives me a kiss.

I salute my husband. “Yes, sir.”

He stops at the table where Kennedy is doing her homework and EJ is getting on her nerves. I'll be so glad when he starts kindergarten in the fall.

“Daddy, I'm glad you're home so he can bother you and leave me alone,” Kennedy says.

“Be nice to your brother,” he tells her.

“Can I hold your gun, Daddy?” Eric Jr. asks.

My husband looks back in the kitchen at me.

“That's your son,” I say.

Eric Sr. puts a pencil in his hand. “Why don't you worry about holding this for now.”

“Aw, Dad.”

“Aw, nothing. Guns aren't for play, and they definitely aren't for little boys.”

“Yes, sir.”

I yell from the kitchen, “Get out of your uniform. Dinner will be ready in a few.”

Kennedy brings a paper to me with clocks on it and the times she scribbled underneath. “I finished it.”

I set the paper on the counter while I stir up the cabbage, unplug the rice cooker.

“Mommy, can I have a cookie?” she asks.

I hand the paper back to her instead. “One of these is wrong. Figure it out, then you can have a cookie.”

EJ walks into the kitchen asking for a cookie next.

I shake my head. “After dinner for you, sir.”

“No fair.”

“Your sister gets a cookie before dinner, you get one after. You both get a cookie. That's very fair.”

He huffs back to the table.

“Go upstairs and tell your dad dinner's ready.”

He stomps up the stairs as if his feet are made of concrete.

Kennedy brings back her paper three times, figuring out which one she got wrong and making the correction. I give her the cookie as promised. “Great job, Kennedy.”

I fix the kids' plates and set them on the table. Eric fixes mine and his while I pour us all a glass of lemonade. We grab hands as the head of this household blesses our food.

The dinner table is very quiet. It's so quiet I can hear Eric Sr. smacking on his food. I've never been able to understand why he feels the need to chew with his mouth open. While we were dating, I'd always try to find something to converse about, because his smacking would drive me crazy. He ate like he had no teeth. I told him about it once or twice and he'd stop, only to go back to it a few weeks later. Nothing seemed to work. Now, he has our son thinking it's a normal way to eat.

EJ fiddles around with his food.

I look across the table at him. “Cookie.”

That one word straightens him right up. He smacks on the rice and chicken, does his best to work my nerves just like his father. The cabbage sits on his plate as he toys at it with his fork.

Kennedy pushes her empty plate in front of her. “Mom, can we go to the mall tomorrow? I want a pair of pink leggings.”

My husband glances up at me, smiles, and shoves another bite
of food in his mouth. He eats until his belly is full, without a single compliment to how the food tastes. Sometimes, I wonder if it's too much for him to let me know that the food is good. He could tell me it's bad and it wouldn't bother me as much as not saying anything at all. He's always been that way. He'll eat whatever I cook, as if an empty plate should say enough.

And this is how it goes every evening.

So routine.

There has to be more to life than this.


ays have gone by since my failed attempt at celebrating nine years of marriage with my wife. Things are still the same. No talking. No lovemaking. Barely a touch in passing. Strangers sleeping on the same stale sheets.

Driving home from work, I decide to stop by the gym between the two places I spend most of my time. It caught my eye months ago, but I had no reason to go in and get in shape. Maybe this is what my marriage needs to get back to the way it used to be.

“Welcome to Pick Your Fit,” a woman in jeans and a T-shirt bearing the gym's logo greets. “What brings you in today?”

“It's been awhile since I've seen the inside of a gym. Just wanted to see what you have to offer.”

“Well, you've taken the first step. We have a lot to offer here. First of all, we're open twenty-four hours, seven days a week.”

As she goes into the spiel that she goes over with every new person who walks through the doors, I can't help but feel like she sees my insecurity. Maybe it's part of her job description to read people, see who's serious about making a healthier life change and who's not. Then again, maybe it's just me being insecure, thinking everybody can see the same misery I see when I look in the mirror.

I ask, “Where do I sign?”

We step into her office, where she goes over the contract with me. I pull out my Visa, charge the full-year membership upfront. Get a full access passkey, T-shirt, water bottle, and an extra month out of the deal.

BOOK: The Last Exhale
8.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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