Four Friends

May 25, 2015
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Four Friends

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr comes the story of four friends determined to find their stride. Ultimately, they’ll discover what it means to be a wife, mother, lover, friend…and most important: your true self.

Gerri can’t decide what’s more devastating: learning her rock-solid marriage has big cracks, or the anger she feels as she tries to repair them. Always the anchor for friends and her three angst-ridden teenagers, it’s time to look carefully at herself. The journey is more than revealing—it’s transforming.

Andy doesn’t have a great track record with men, and she’s come to believe that a lasting love is out of reach. When she finds herself attracted to her down-to-earth contractor—a man without any of the qualities that usually appeal to her—she questions everything she thought she wanted in life.

Sonja’s lifelong pursuit of balance is shattered when her husband declares he’s through with her New Age nonsense and walks out. There’s no herbal tonic or cleansing ritual that can restore her serenity—or her sanity.

Miraculously, it’s BJ, the reserved newcomer to Mill Valley, who steps into their circle and changes everything. The woman with dark secrets opens up to her neighbors, and together they get each other back on track, stronger as individuals and unfaltering as friends.

Originally published April 2014 in trade paperback.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Gerri Gilbert answered the door in gray sweats with a tear in the knee, hem on one leg falling down and a gray T-shirt under her black hoodie. Her short, dark brown hair was spiking every which way from bed head. She held a cup of coffee in her hand; her eyes were slits and there was a snarl on her face. “You’re five minutes early. Again. We’ve been over this. Can you please not be early? I value every minute in the morning.”

Sonja Johanson put a finger to her lips, shushing Gerri. The sun was barely over the rooftops and she didn’t want to wake the house. Sonja wore her salmon sweats, white T-shirt and salmon hoodie, her silky, shoulder-length mahogany hair pulled back in a neat clip.

She backed away from the door and pointed down the street . Gerri stepped outside for a better view. A big pile of clothing, books and what appeared to be miscellaneous junk was on the Jamisons’ lawn. Right at that moment their friend Andy appeared in the doorway of her house and with an angry cry hurled the tower to a desktop computer atop the pile.

Andy disappeared into the house and Bryce Jamison backed out of the door wearing business attire that was not fresh, his shirt sleeves rolled up, his collar open, his tie hanging out of his pants pocket, and he sported an even worse case of bed head than Gerri. He held a packed duffel bag. “You’re fucking crazy, you know that?” he yelled into the house. He turned and stomped past the pile toward his car in the driveway.

“And you’re fucking through here!” Andy screamed out the open door. Then she slammed it.

“I think Andy might be coming to the end of her rope,” Sonja said gravely.

Gerri’s response was a short burst of laughter. “Ya think?” she asked.

“Should we do something?” Sonja asked.

“Oh hell no,” Gerri said, pulling her front door closed. She put her coffee cup on the brick planter that bordered dead flowers and bent to stretch. “It’s for them to work out. Or finish off.”

“Should we ask her if she’s walking?”

“She’s not walking today,” Gerri said. “Let’s get this over with.” Gerri started off down the street at a brisk pace.

Just steps behind her Sonja asked, “What do we say?”

“Say nothing. Do nothing.”

“But…”

Gerri looked over her shoulder. “Nothing,” she repeated.

Sonja came up beside her. “We should see if she’s all right.”

“We should give her time to finish throwing things, if that’s what she’s doing. I’ll check in with her before I leave for work.”

Sonja tsked. “I tried to talk to her about the relationship quadrant of her house—it’s all torn up and the feng shui is a disaster; she’s all out of balance. Now look.”

Gerri stopped in her tracks. She looked at Sonja. “That’s exactly why you’d better stay away from there today. You know how she feels about all your woo-woo stuff. If you pull any of your feng shui, chakra or karma bullshit today, you’re going to end up on top of that pile.”

“But something could have been done about that!”

“For God’s sake,” Gerri said impatiently, walking again. “It was destiny.”

Ahead of them, about half a block away, a small, lean woman came out of her house, also wearing sweats. She stopped to stretch on her front walk. She was still stretching as they passed and Gerri called, “Morning, BJ.” But Sonja added, “Wanna walk with us today, BJ?”

“Thanks, but I need the run,” she answered, waving them off.

When they had cleared the house Sonja said, “She’s making an awful lot of bad karma, the way she acts.”

“She wants to run,” Gerri said. “Quit asking her. I’d run if my knees wouldn’t collapse.”

“But it’s unfriendly,” Sonja said.

“Some women don’t want girlfriends,” Gerri pointed out. “I think she’s been clear, and not unfriendly. Just private.”

“Don’t you think that’s pretty suspicious?”

“No, I think it’s private. Are you going to talk the whole time? Because if you are, I might risk permanent paralysis and just run with BJ.”

“Little grouchy this morning? I bet you had liquor instead of chamomile before bed last night.”

“Shut up, Sonja,” Gerri said.

The 6:00 a.m. power walking had been going on for almost two years; Sonja had initiated it. She was the health guru, the motivator, often the pain in Gerri’s butt. It was Sonja’s profession. She was a feng shui consultant and home organizer who did personal color charts and something she referred to as life reading, which was like a mini study of your past, present and goals with the objective of total balance and personal success. Additionally she was a vegetarian, novice herbalist, part-time yoga and meditation instructor and impossible perfectionist. Gerri had an entire shelf dedicated to books given to her by Sonja on everything from studying your body’s pH to gliding through menopause on herbs—books stubbornly left unread.

Gerri and Andy had been neighbors and good friends for fifteen years, since before Andy threw out her first husband. They were both now in their late forties while Sonja had just scored the big four-oh. When Sonja arrived in the neighborhood a few years ago, Gerri and Andy welcomed her and immediately grew bored with her naturalist and metaphysical leanings. However—and it was a big however—when someone was sick or hurt or in trouble, it was always Sonja who came forth with anything from a massage to a casserole to transportation to, well, whatever was needed. When Gerri had been brought to her knees by a killer hemorrhoidectomy Sonja was there, drawing the sitz bath, making broth, administering pain meds and, of course, she was armed with the perfect, natural, gentle laxative. Gerri had learned you just don’t give the right laxative enough credit until you find yourself in that position.

Still, she could be tiresome as hell.

After three miles in just under forty-five minutes, Gerri sweating like a boxer and Sonja glistening attractively, they separated. Gerri entered her house noisily. “Everyone up?” she yelled into the house as she wandered into the kitchen.

Phil was sitting at the table with coffee, newspaper strewn around and his laptop open, going through email and checking the news. “They’re up,” he said. “More or less.”

The Gilbert kids were thirteen, sixteen and nineteen. Boy, girl, boy. “You’re supposed to make sure they’re up, Phil.”

“I did,” he said without looking up. “I do every morning.”

She trudged up the stairs and started throwing open doors. “Get up! Don’t make me late!” Then she backtracked to her shower and wondered why the hell Phil couldn’t accomplish one simple task—get the kids out of bed while she was out walking. Despite the fact she was planning to go in late today, it annoyed her. But lately everything annoyed her because she was doing the menopause drill and she was often testy.

She let the water run over her naked body, cool water to lower her body temperature. At the moment all she wanted in life was to feel level. Even. She’d always had a short fuse but lately she was positively electric and could burst into flame anywhere, anytime. She’d been trying on bathing suits one day and when she made her purchase, she’d flared up so bright she thought the clerk would call security to frisk her for stolen goods. Talking to the mayor at a fund-raiser one night, great balls of perspiration had begun to run down her face. She’d started sleeping naked because of the night sweats and when Phil rolled over, found flesh instead of flannel and began to grope her, she’d mutter, “Don’t even think about it.”

When she was out of the shower, dry and cool, she had one of those reprieves that came regularly—she felt perfectly normal, sane and in control. Then came the inevitable guilt—she should be fined for ever snapping at Phil. She didn’t know of a husband who pulled his weight as well as Phil. She knew of no family in Mill Valley in better balance, and that was as much because of Phil as Gerri. While Andy was throwing her husband’s clothes on the lawn, Phil was doing his morning chore, trying to get the kids up. It wasn’t his fault they pulled the covers over their heads, as teenagers did.

By the time she was putting the finishing touches on her face and hair, she was wilting again, her makeup melting off her face as fast as she put it on. She flipped on the little fan that was now an accessory in her bathroom.

When she got back to the kitchen, Phil had gone to work. Jed, her nineteen year old was racing for his car to get to class on time while Jessie and Matthew were arguing over whose turn it was to take out the trash. “Just get in the car,” she said. “I’ll take care of it myself.” After dropping them off at their schools, she called her office. Gerri was the supervisor of case workers with Child Protective Services. She said she had a family situation to resolve and would be a little late. Then she drove back to the neighborhood, but parked in Andy’s drive.

Andy didn’t answer the doorbell, so Gerri knocked and then rattled the knob. “Come on, Andy,” she yelled. A few long moments passed before she saw a shadow cross over the peep hole and the door opened slowly. Andy’s curling, shoulder-length black hair was clipped up off her neck, a few tendrils escaping, and her face was a combination of ashen and blotchy from crying. Gerri glanced over her shoulder at the pile on the lawn and said, “Have a little tiff?”

Andy turned and walked back into the house, past the living room into a kitchen that was torn apart, under construction. That would be the relationship quadrant of the house. Andy sat in the breakfast nook where there was a cup of coffee. She rested an elbow on the table, her head in her hand and groaned. “Go ahead. Say it. Say I told you so.”

“I’m not feeling that mean at the moment,” Gerri said. She went into the disastrous kitchen, grabbed a coffee mug from the sink and quickly washed it. The cupboards had all been emptied of their contents and would soon be ripped off the walls, replaced with new. Gerri poured herself some coffee, then joined Andy at the table. “Must’ve been a good one.”

“Same crap,” Andy said. “Out all night, comes home smelling like a whore, lots of excuses about some account executive sitting too close to him at a marathon meeting and smelling him up. No phone call. And apparently they serve booze at those meetings…”

“Hmm,” Gerri replied, sipping her coffee.

“There’s a new twist this time. I spent most of the night hacking into his email account and read all the romantic little notes he’s been sharing with some woman known only as Sugarpants.”

“Sugarpants?” Gerri repeated, forcing herself not to laugh out loud. “Jesus, that’s subtle.”

“Erotic emails. Dates being set up. Steamy postmortems on the dates. Do you think if he’d hit me over the head with a naked woman I would have come to my senses sooner?”

“Well, you’ve suspected…”

“God, why didn’t you stop me? I must have been out of my mind!”

Gerri just reached out and gave Andy’s upper arm an affectionate stroke. As she recalled, Andy couldn’t be stopped.

Andy had been the divorced mother of a fifteen-year-old son when she met Bryce a few years ago. He was younger by ten years, sexy and eager, possessing at least eight of the ten requirements to deliver instant happiness to a forty-four year old woman. He made her feel young, beautiful, desirable. Bryce was good with Noel—they were like a couple of kids together—one of the few men she’d dated who had taken to her son quickly, easily. He had a good job in pharmaceutical sales, though it required considerable travel. She fell in lust with him and for a while there was an orgasmic glow all around her.

Andy was far from straitlaced, but she wouldn’t live with Bryce because of Noel, a touchy and vulnerable teenager. Plus, there was the matter of an ex-husband and his wife to contend with—Andy didn’t want anyone making an argument for custody under those circumstances. And of course she was in love with him, so she married him.

Bryce quickly emerged as immature, selfish, short-tempered, inconsiderate, in no way prepared to cohabit and, indeed, had no experience in cohabitation. He knew exactly how to treat a woman to get into her pants, how to send her to the moon night after night, but couldn’t share the day-to-day workload or be accountable to a partner. He didn’t like being questioned about where he’d been nor could he say for certain when he’d be home. The relationship with Noel deteriorated; Bryce became exasperated by the noise, mess and back talk associated with teenage boys. This had the effect of turning Andy, who was by nature a humorous and agreeable woman, into a demanding, suspicious, resentful nag. They were like water on a grease fire. Everything was always about those buttons—you push mine and I’ll push yours.

Bliss hadn’t lasted even a year for Andy, but she’d hung in there for three. She’d been talking about a separation and divorce for two years now and whenever she’d get close, two things stalled her out. One, Bryce knew how to turn on the charm when he wanted to and he could treat her to short periods of good behavior laced with hot sex. And, two, it just isn’t easy to be forty-seven and acknowledge yourself as a woman who had twice failed at marriage.

“You’re going to be late for work,” Gerri said. “Let’s pull it together.”

Andy shook her head. “I called in divorced,” she said. “I need a day or two. I have to get my bearings, pack up his stuff, call the lawyer, close the joint accounts.”

“This is really it, then?”

“I was through a long time ago. There were just times I thought divorcing him might be more painful than living with him.” She blinked and a tear rolled down her cheek. “I guess I’m beyond that now.”

“You’ll be all right,” Gerri said gently, earnestly. “You were all right before—you’ll be all right again.”

“It’s so hard,” Andy said. “When you don’t have anyone.”

“Yeah, I know,” Gerri agreed. “Yet it’s harder when you have the wrong one.”
You’re not forty-nine and married twenty-four years without having helped a few friends through the big D. Each one had left a mark on Gerri’s heart. Even the fairly simple, straightforward ones were gut-wrenching. To promise to love forever and find yourself pulled into that dark world of animosity and vengeance as you tore the promise apart broke the strongest men and women into pieces. And one of the roughest in Gerri’s memory was Andy’s divorce from her first husband, Rick.

They’d moved into this little bedroom community in Marin County at about the same time fifteen years before. Andy and Gerri had both been the mothers of four-year-old boys who’d become instant friends. Gerri had also had one-year-old Jessie balanced on her hip and a couple of years later there was a hot lusty night when birth control was the last thing she or Phil considered; that night produced Matthew, and a vasectomy for Phil. Andy, however, stopped with Noel, her only child.

Young, energetic working mothers in their early thirties with tight bodies, small happy children, virile husbands, great things looming in their futures, they became good friends immediately. Gerri was working a large slice of Marin County for Child Protective Services as a case worker and Phil, a bright young assistant district attorney, had to commute into San Francisco daily, on occasion staying overnight. Andy was a middle school teacher at the time, married to a teacher and coach from a local high school.

Andy’s divorce came when Noel was ten. It was sudden—what seemed a balanced and content marriage went sour overnight. Rick was unhappy and distant, they were in counseling, then separated, the divorce was quickly final and, before anyone could blink, Rick was remarried to someone who’d been in the periphery of his life all along—the school nurse at his high school. Clearly he’d chosen his second wife before dispensing with his first.

Gerri and Phil, as happily married couples will do, had blistering fights over Andy and Rick’s marital problems, each taking their gender’s side; for a while it tore everyone apart. In the end Phil relented and they kept Andy, lost touch with Rick, seeing him only occasionally when he came back to the neighborhood to pick up Noel for the weekend. Andy’s recovery was much more difficult. It was a couple of years before her bitterness eased enough to allow her to date. In the years since she had advanced herself to middle school principal.

Meanwhile, Gerri and Phil settled into a routine, if you can call it that when you have three kids in seven years and two demanding jobs doing the people’s work, jobs that required commitment and a strong sense of justice. Neither of them punched a clock; both of them were tied to pagers in the old days and cell phones now, backing each other up as well as they could. Their lives could be chaotic—children in dangerous situations that had to be investigated or rescued by CPS or crimes against the people that fell into Phil’s bull pen didn’t happen on a nine-to-five schedule. If Gerri failed to do her job well, a child could be at serious risk and if Phil slacked even a little, the bad guy got away. Phone calls from the police to either of them came at all hours.

Gerri would think back to the beginning with longing from time to time. A bright young social worker with a master’s degree in clinical psychology marries a handsome young lawyer four years her senior, a man who’s already being noticed by the district attorney and the attorney general—they were often referred to as the Power Couple. It was predicted that one of them would land in state politics; they were still fixtures at official state and political events and fund-raisers attended by movers and shakers. Their hours in their offices and in the field were long and hard, but in addition they managed to keep up with the kids—band, choir, PTA, neighborhood watch, gymnastics, ball games and track meets, concerts, and enough sleepovers and car pools to dull the brain of any card-carrying parent. They had to tag team these events—if Gerri had to table a case load to attend something for the kids, the next time Phil might have to push some trial work on a younger assistant D.A.

“Right after the last pancake breakfast of my high school career, I’m going to take a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue into the garage, sit in my car and drink it right out of the bottle until I can’t focus,” Phil had said after one of his father-duty assignments.

That was one of many things that had held them together through twenty-four years of pressure—humor. Phil, when he wasn’t mentally and emotionally tied to some case, could be very funny. And Gerri had a cynical wit that could make him laugh until he cried or farted. They had a remarkable partnership and friendship that was the envy of many. Their own personal appraisal was that they were busy, overworked, tired and somewhat dull—but they were doing a damn fine job nonetheless and had come to worship boredom as a great alternative to chaos.

Gerri had known from the beginning that Andy’s second marriage wouldn’t work. Bryce might’ve been thirty-four when they married, but he was not grown-up enough for family life. He had his business trips, his buddies he liked to run with, a long and ingrained history of never answering to anyone for any reason and a lot of women before Andy, the last being something Gerri had known would be a tough habit to break.

Selfishly, Gerri dreaded what she knew was coming with another divorce, another friend in recovery, and this was her closest friend. She consoled herself that it was like giving up cigarettes—once the pain of withdrawal was past, Andy would gradually reclaim her stable self. Still, she resented the hours it would eat up, listening to the transgressions of Bryce.

Feeling grateful for her anything but ordinary yet predictable life and her committed spouse, she called Phil’s office. He was in court. His assistant said there was nothing on his calendar for lunch and Gerri, feeling like toasting her wonderful partnership and telling Phil how much she loved and appreciated him, called his cell phone. She knew it would be turned off for court. To his voice mail she said, “Hi. I’m coming into the city. I thought you might like to grab a quick lunch with me. No kids. I’m flying solo. My cell is on.”
Gerri spent a couple of hours in her Mill Valley office. She only did the occasional home visit now. As a supervisor her job was administrative, overseeing other case workers and their files in addition to a million other things from paperwork to hiring and firing. She’d spent many a night and weekend working at home and in the field, still had to be on call for emergencies with families at risk, so taking the rare long lunch was definitely not an issue with the director. She headed for San Francisco. She could use just an hour with Phil. She’d get an update on city dramas and politics, tell him about her morning with Andy. When she was troubled about anything, she turned to Phil, her best friend. No one could give her a reality check and reassure her like he could, and she was able to do the same for him.

When she stepped into the elevator in Phil’s office building, she saw that his administrative assistant, Kelly, was standing there, looking at her feet. “Hey,” Gerri said. “How’s it going?”

Kelly looked up and the second their eyes connected, hers welled up. She couldn’t respond or even say hello; she hit the button on the elevator to let her off on the next floor, not where either of them was going. “Sorry,” she said in a shaky voice, bolting past Gerri, headed for the ladies room.

Gerri was paralyzed by confusion for a moment, but then, given Kelly had been with Phil for twelve years and they were friends, she put her hand in the path of the closing door, forcing it open again, and followed her. Whatever was wrong, she hoped her husband hadn’t been an ass. That would be hard to defend.

Kelly was in her late thirties, plump and lovely with ivory skin and coal-black hair like Snow White, the mother of a nine-year-old daughter. Her work was hard, her hours long, but she was devoted to Phil, and she saved his bacon daily. She made everything he did look even better than it should; she covered for him, cleaned up his messes, ran his schedule, fielded his calls, everything. They jokingly called her the Office Wife.

By the time Gerri got into the restroom, she could hear soft crying in one of the closed stalls but there was no one else there. She went directly to that stall. “Come on, Kelly,” she said. “Come out. Talk to me. We’re alone.”

It took a minute before the door opened slowly and she was faced with Kelly, who was looking down in shame, her cheeks damp and her nose red. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I kind of fell apart. I’ll be fine now.”

“That’s okay,” Gerri said, gently rubbing her upper arms. “You don’t have to apologize to me for having an emotional moment. Can I help?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s just marital…stuff.”

“Oh I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Gerri said with a soft laugh. “I’m not going to grill you, Kelly. I don’t want to pry. But if you want to tell me what’s wrong, I’ll listen. And you know I’m on your side.”

She gave a sniff and raised her eyes. “That’s just it, I have no idea what’s wrong,” she said. “It’s John. We’ve been struggling lately. I don’t know what to think. He’s become so different. Distant.”

“Now why would you say that?” Gerri asked, her mind flipping to this woman’s husband, a quiet and kind man who seemed very much in sync with his wife, his family.

“I can’t find him a lot,” she said with pleading, watery eyes. “He has a lot of lame excuses about where he’s been. He’s distracted, like he’s depressed or something. And he’s dressing up for work more often—he’s a programmer, he doesn’t have to wear a starched shirt and tie. And he’s not interested in… He’s not romantic. I keep asking him what’s wrong, but he keeps saying ‘nothing.’ And we can’t agree on anything! I haven’t said the right thing in months!”

Oh no, Gerri thought. I can’t have two cheating husbands in one day. “That doesn’t sound like John. You’ve been married how long?”

“Twelve years,” Kelly said.

“Oh, Kelly, there might be something bothering him that you haven’t considered. Work? Family pressures? Money? Stress about his age, trying to keep things together for your daughter’s future? Are you sure he’s not worried about a medical problem?”

“Nothing has changed in the checkbook and we can usually talk about those things.”

“How about your hours? I know you put in a lot of hours for Phil.”

“That’s the same, too. He hasn’t complained about my hours or asked me when I’m taking time off. I don’t know what to do.”

“Have you suggested some counseling? To help you figure things out? Get back on track?”

“He doesn’t want to go,” she said, shaking her head miserably.

“They never want to, Kelly,” Gerri said with a sympathetic laugh. “I’ll email you the names of some real good marriage counselors. I’ll include men—sometimes that goes down better with the husband. Tell him if he wants to be happy again, this is a must. Push a little, Kelly. And if he won’t go with you, go alone. You have a good benefits package.”

“I suppose,” she sniffled.

“Believe me,” Gerri said. “At least get some support for yourself. Hopefully for the two of you.”

“Is that what you did?”

“What I did?” Gerri echoed.

“Made Phil go to counseling?” she asked. “Don’t tell anyone,” Gerri said with a small laugh. “I wouldn’t want to bruise his macho image, but Phil has succumbed to counseling once or twice. He hated it, but he went. And I think he cleaned up his act just to get out of it.”

“I can see that. You two seem to be real happy now.”

Happy now? Gerri thought. “We’ve had our struggles. Everyone does. But there’s help out there, you know.” She took Kelly into her arms for a hug.

“I think I admire you more than anyone,” Kelly said.

“Aww, come on…”

“Being able to forgive him for something like that… That took such courage, such commitment.” Kelly’s chin was hooked over Gerri’s shoulder, their arms tight around each other, and Gerri could see her own eyes in the bathroom mirror. They were huge. Her mouth was set; she ground her teeth. Suddenly she thought she looked much older than she had that morning. “I’d forgive John an affair, if he just wanted to be forgiven, to be together again, like we were. God, I miss him so much! I know most women say they’d never forgive that, but I would.”

Gerri had to concentrate to keep from stiffening, to keep herself from either squeezing Kelly to death or throwing her against the stall doors in a fit of denial. Kelly knew everything about Phil. In some ways, she knew him better than Gerri did. He definitely checked in with Kelly more than Gerri; Kelly had to know him like a wife, a buddy, a best friend and a mother to do what she did for him.

“Some things are very hard to get beyond,” Gerri said softly. “But anything is possible.”

Kelly pulled out of Gerri’s embrace and, smiling gratefully, said, “But you did it because you’re strong and wise. You amaze me. You could have just gotten mad and thrown him out—and both of you would have lost each other forever. But you’re so good together.”

Gerri tilted her head and smiled, a completely contrived smile. Her gut was in a vise. “You like him too much,” she said. “I should be jealous. You know more about him than I do.”

“Not hardly,” Kelly laughed. “Seriously, you’re a role model for me. If you can put yourselves back together, better than ever, after another woman, then I can at least try harder to understand what’s wrong before I give up on John.”

There it was, the smoking gun. Another woman. Kelly knew Phil had had an affair, something Gerri had never once suspected. Her mind raced. When? How? Not Phil, she thought. He was a complete partner! He bitched about it, sure. What he wanted was to devote himself to his work, which was important work, and come home to tranquility and order. That wasn’t happening at their house, which was full of kids, strife, challenge, noise, confusion. There was always something. He complained, true, but he always came through. Not always grinning like an idiot, but neither did she.

She was no different. Her work was equally vital and she faced the same chaos at home. Being the woman on the team, however, it seemed to fall to her to attempt to pull it together, assign jobs, schedule events. To keep things running smoothly, she needed him and she didn’t take him for granted any more than he did her. They’d made the kids together; there were obvious compromises involved in growing them up. As far as she could remember, they’d never failed to work together to get it done.

When? How?

She could remember a few rough patches, some periods of adjustment, but she could not remember noticing any of the obvious signs. She paid the bills—there were no unexpected withdrawals of cash, no charged jewelry, flowers, hotel rooms. He’d never been missing for long periods of time. There were no odd phone calls, even on his cell. He took every evening and weekend call within her hearing; he had a tendency to talk so loud she shushed him so she could hear the TV or read. He’d never come home too late to explain; he’d never smelled like another woman. Those nights he stayed in the city, she’d often called him late. He’d always answer, they’d talk for a long time—you don’t do that if someone else is lying beside you. Oh God, she thought. This isn’t happening to me. He can’t have had an affair! When the hell did I leave him alone long enough for an affair? We were on our phones all the time, checking in, working out schedules….

“Counseling,” she said to Kelly, giving her arm a pat. “Now wash your face and get a grip.”

“Thanks,” she said. “Email me those names?”

“Of course,” Gerri said. He’s going to fire her when he finds out about this. “Do me a favor, will you please? I invited Phil to lunch, but I had an emergency come up just as I got here and I have to handle something immediately. I was going to swing by the office and tell him myself, but I have to get moving. Please tell him we saw each other in the elevator and I’m sorry, I have to stand him up.”

“Oh, too bad,” she said.

“I have to rush, Kelly. Oh, and Kelly—don’t mention our talk to Phil. About…it’s a very sensitive subject.”

“Still?” Kelly asked as if surprised.

“I’m sure he’d like to keep all that private stuff from the rest of the office.”

She laughed. “Well, the gossip died off a long time ago—years ago.”

Years ago? Years ago? Years ago? Where was I? “Still,” Gerri said. “It is. At least for us.”

“I understand,” Kelly said.

“Good luck,” Gerri said, giving her one last squeeze. Then she almost ran out of the ladies’ room to the elevator, to the ground floor, to the parking garage, to the Golden Gate Bridge. She was in a trance of disbelief. The first thing she did was think of the many explanations he might come up with to make this all go away. Bullshit, he would say. When was that supposed to have happened? he would ask. That’s impossible! If there was talk about something like that, I didn’t know about it! I was always too goddamn busy with games and meets and concerts and meetings to fit in an affair! Where did you get something as nuts as this?

But it was a long drive back to Mill Valley and by the time she got there, she knew. It was true. He’d had an affair. His assistant had known about it as had others in the office. And she had not. Not even a whiff. He had pulled it off.

She didn’t go back to her office, she took the afternoon off and went home. She spent the entire time until the kids came home in the office she shared with Phil. They had a big home, one of the largest on the street. Their office and the master bedroom were on the ground floor, four bedrooms on the second floor, one for each kid and a guest room.

The office was nicely divided with a built-in desk running along three walls in a U-shape. They shared a computer, but each had their own laptops, as well, and bookshelves to the ceiling, plus two large walk-in closets—one for each of them that held their filing cabinets and shelves for supplies.

Gerri knew Phil’s password and opened his email. But if she knew his password, he wouldn’t save anything she could see, yet she looked through all the saved files, all the old emails. Nothing, of course there was nothing. And he certainly wouldn’t keep personal, incriminating files in the prosecutor’s office—it was a political job, constantly under scrutiny.

She spent a little time looking through hard files he brought home, but in no time at all she knew she wouldn’t find anything. There wouldn’t be any evidence.

Yet she knew. She knew.

 

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