The telephone began ringing just as she closed the door to her hotel room and started down the hallway toward the elevator. She never even considered not turning back to answer, confident that the call was either from her son or Dennis.
“Hey, Mom,” her son said cheerily before she even had a chance to say “hello.”
“Hey yourself! How are you guys?” she inquired. “Everything o.k.?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I just called to say ‘hi’ and make sure you were having fun.”
“So far, so good,” she responded, touched by the fact that her nine-year-old son clearly missed her but was trying not to let on. “What’s your dad up to?”
“He’s out in the backyard,” her son explained. “He’s doing something with the pool chemicals before the twins and their dad get here. We’re all going to swim this afternoon. Just the guys. Amy said that if you get a ‘girls’ weekend’ away, she gets part of a weekend to herself. Dad is going to bar-b-que hamburgers for dinner. You know what else?”
“What?” she asked amusedly.
“When we went to the store today to get the food, Dad stopped off at the tobacco store and got two cigars. I heard him telling Paul on the telephone last night that they’re going to smoke them tonight after dinner because you aren’t here to complain about the smell!”
“Good for them!” she laughed. “I think that’s a great idea because your Dad knows how much I hate the smell of cigar smoke.” She smiled at the memory of the last time Dennis smoked a cigar at a friend’s house and tried to kiss her when he got home, chasing her through the house until she tricked him into running right into the pool. As she stood on the deck laughing at him, he got out, grabbed her, and threw her in, too, waking their son who watched as his parents dunked and splashed each other in their street clothes — at least until he went back to sleep.
“Well, I’d better go help Dad. The guys will be here soon,” her son said. “I love you, Mom. Have fun!”
“I love you, too,” she said. “Have fun with the guys today and I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
She was still smiling when she met her old friends from high school in the hotel lobby.
“It’s great to see you, but I can’t believe I let you talk me into this reunion nonsense,” she told her best friend.
“We are going to have a great time,” her friend reassured her. “You brought pictures, right?”
“Of course! I carry photos in my wallet all the time,” she responded. “But nobody is going to care about seeing them.”
“Hey, I have photos of my kids and I am going to show them off proudly,” her friend argued. “They are the best looking and most adorable Dachshunds who ever lived and I want everyone to know what a great mother I am to them.”
The women giggled as though they were back in high school.
“You think I’m kidding?” her friend declared as she pulled photos of her two dogs, one black and one brown, from her bag. “Every time one of our classmates whips out photos of her kids, I am armed and ready with pictures of mine.”
The women rolled their eyes at their friend. “O.K., Counselor,” one of them replied. “I hope I’m standing near you the first time you do that because I want to see the reaction.”
They chatted over drinks for the rest of the afternoon until, one by one, the other women began excusing themselves to begin dressing for the evening’s festivities. At last, the two of them were alone.
“I’m sorry that things didn’t work out with Jim,” she told her lifelong friend. “I was hoping he would turn out to be the right one for you.”
“Yeah, but when he told me about himself, he left out that one minor little detail: The missus,” her friend said. “His marital status just didn’t bode well for our long-term happiness, you know?”
“Sadly true,” she replied. “There’s someone out there. You’re a hot-shot lawyer so you must meet a lot of men, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” her friend continued. “A lot of married men. The good ones always seem to be married. And to think I set you up with the best of the bunch. What was I thinking? I should have asked Dennis out myself,” she teased. “I’m such a dummy sometimes.”
“Thank God you didn’t,” she said sincerely. “You have no idea how you changed my life the night you introduced us.”
“Oh, I have a pretty good idea,” her friend responded slyly, studying her face. “You didn’t seriously think that I bought that story about a virus, did you?”
She looked into her friend’s eyes. For a few moments, neither of them said a word.
“Even back then, it had been quite a while since I’d ridden in the back of a turnip truck,” her friend continued sarcastically. “And my mama explained the symptoms of pregnancy to me when we had the ‘birds and bees’ talk. Don’t think that because I never said anything, I didn’t know. Because I did.”
She took a deep breath. “So the announcement at the wedding reception didn’t come as a surprise to you, huh? Why didn’t you tell me that I wasn’t fooling you? Why did you wait until now?”
“The time never seemed right. I figured that you had your reasons for not telling me. Even me. Your very best friend in the world,” she said dramatically, but with a twinkle in her eye. “There are some things that a girl can’t even tell her best friend, so I assumed that the circumstances of your pregnancy qualified.”
She tried to remain calm even as she felt her cheeks flush and her heart begin racing. “Circumstances?” she queried with feigned innocence. “You mean the fact that I got pregnant before Dennis and I married?”
“No,” her friend said softly. “Not those circumstances.”
“Maybe we should go up to our rooms, too, and start getting ready for tonight,” she said, standing and preparing to leave. “I was hoping to catch a short nap before the reunion cocktail party.”
Her friend reached for her hand, urging her to sit back down at the table. “Wait,” she said solemnly. “I need to tell you something.”
“All right,” she sighed as she sat back down.
“I know the truth. I’ve never said anything to anyone and I never will,” her friend explained. “But I think that after all these years, you should realize that I’ve always known. I love you, I support you, I’m thrilled that you and Dennis are happy. You know how much I adore your kid. And I will take the truth to my grave with me.”
Her friend continued, “I also know why you finally agreed to come to this reunion when you have refused to attend any of the prior ones. But I have disappointing news. He won’t be here.”
She could not meet her friend’s gaze, diverting her eyes toward the bar where a group of male guests were engaged in an animated conversation.
After a few moments, she gathered the courage to look in her friend’s eyes. “I don’t care. I didn’t come here to see him. I came here to spend time with my lifelong best friend. You. And it’s nice to see the other girls, too. But primarily I came here to have a nice visit with you. No one else.”
The word startled and stung her, as it seemed to linger and create an uncharacteristic but palpable tension between them.
“You’re lying. To me and to yourself,” her friend finally broke the silence, as she continued gazing off in the direction of the bar, but not really seeing the people gathered there. “He’s not coming because his new wife is pregnant and can’t travel. So you won’t have a chance to see him — or check her out — and show him pictures of his son or tell him his son’s birth date. You won’t have a chance to see whether or not he notices how much his son looks like him. Or if there is any spark of acknowledgment when he hears what day his son was born. Forty weeks — give or take a day — after New Year’s Eve, wasn’t it?”
Tears welled up in her eyes, but she refused to surrender to the emotions washing over her, fearing that if she did, they would drown her.
Clearing her throat and trying to sound casually curious, she said, “I didn’t realize he had remarried.”
“A couple of years ago,” her friend explained. “I heard about it, but didn’t tell you then. He married a woman he met at work. She was divorced and has a couple of kids. He had his daughter, of course. Now they’re having a baby together. They’re living out ‘Yours, Mine and Ours,’ I guess. I hear they even drive identical SUV’s,” her friend said mockingly.
She wiped a tear from her eye in a futile attempt to hide it from her friend before it rolled down her cheek. Her friend took her hand and squeezed it.
“I meant what I said. It goes to my grave with me,” she reassured her. “I haven’t told anyone and I never will. I’m a lawyer, remember? I’m professionally trained to keep secrets. We’ll just consider this information privileged. I’ll even bill you, if you’d like.”
With that, the two women chuckled as her friend put her arm around her shoulder and hugged her tightly. “I just wanted you to know that you wouldn’t see him tonight so that you could relax and enjoy the party without that expectation. Now you can just have fun with the rest of us, right?”
She nodded. “Just tell me one thing. When exactly did you know?”
“New Year’s Day,” her friend replied. “I knew something was up immediately and I suspected it had to do with him. As the days went on, my suspicions were confirmed. When you said you were supposedly sick and had me drive you to the doctor’s office, but wouldn’t let me go into the examining room with you, I knew for sure. I wasn’t even surprised when Dennis married you so quickly. I introduced you guys, remember? I knew exactly how special he was and I hoped the two of you would hit it off because I figured he was the one man on earth that could make you forget him and be happy. You deserve to be happy.”
She stared at her friend, amazed that she had deluded herself so completely for so many years.
“How am I doing so far?” her friend grinned.
“As usual, you’re batting a thousand,” she admitted. “I’m completely blown away that you have kept this to yourself all these years.”
“Yeah, well . . . ” her friend’s voice trailed off as they rose and began strolling toward the hotel elevator. “Like I said, one of these days you might just get an invoice.”
“I couldn’t pay it,” she said with genuine emotion.
“Love ya,” her friend said as they embraced before exiting the elevator and heading in opposite directions to their respective rooms.
“Love ya back,” she said.
“Party tonight, right?” her friend called back over her shoulder from the hotel hallway as she strode toward her room.
“Definitely,” she called back.
Click here to read Chapter Twenty-Five