“And you got married just like that?” Amy said incredulously.
“Just like that!” she laughed. “It was an amazing day. We only had about twenty-five guests and got married, barefooted, on the beach at sundown.”
“When did you tell your families that you were pregnant?” Amy pressed.
“During the reception! Dennis proposed a toast to me and our baby.” She smiled at the memory of the way the guests gasped and the momentary silence that followed. “Within a few seconds, after everyone had a chance to absorb the announcement, they were happy and supportive. Both of our mothers burst into tears, of course.” As she spoke, her eyes never left the playground where her son was climbing up the stairs to the slide, with Amy’s twin boys right behind him. “Be careful, boys!” she called to them. “Don’t crowd each other.”
“I was so happy when the realtor told us that you had purchased the house next door. I was hoping that a nice couple with a young child would buy it so the boys would have a playmate — and I might make a friend,” Amy said genuinely. “As much as I love being a stay-at-home mom, it does get a little bit lonely sometimes.”
“I know what you mean. That’s why we wanted to buy a house and get settled into a nice community,” she responded. “When Dennis told me that our new next-door neighbors had twin boys, I knew we had decided on the right house for us!”
“Do you think you and Dennis will have more children?” Amy asked lightly.
“I don’t know. We’re having enough trouble keeping up with this guy. The two’s haven’t been exactly ‘terrible,’ but he wears me out. I don’t know how you manage with two.”
“Oh, it’s not as bad as you might think,” Amy smiled. “They keep each other company — when they aren’t fighting!”
“We’re happy,” she sighed contentedly. “I never would have thought I could be this happy. . . ” her voice trailed off wistfully, causing Amy to turn her attention from the boys for a moment and consider her expression.
“Is there more to the story that you haven’t told me?” she asked gently. “I know that we haven’t known each other very long, but you can trust me. You can talk to me about anything.”
“No,” she said quickly, smiling. “There’s no more to the story. This is it. That little booger-nosed boy rolling in the dirt over there,” she laughed as she nodded toward her son, “who is going to need a bath as soon as I get him home and Dennis are my life. That’s the story. All of it. I’m very content with my little family.”
“Well, Paul and I couldn’t be more delighted to have you as neighbors,” Amy patted her knee as she rose from the bench next to the playground where they had been sitting. “I’m sorry we can’t stay longer today. After the boys have their check-up with the pediatrician, I have a couple of other errands to run. So we’ll see you tomorrow, o.k.?”
“Absolutely,” she smiled. “Come on over in the morning and we’ll walk here together. I’ll have the coffee ready.”
She rose and gave Amy, her new friend, a hug before kissing each of the twins on their chubby cheeks. “Have fun, boys!” she said.
“Mama, do we have to leave, too?” her son asked.
“Nope. You can play a little longer if you’d like,” she said picking him up and carrying him back to the playground. “Does that sound like fun?” she asked, leaning down to gaze into his sparkling eyes.
“Yeah!” he jumped up and down enthusiastically, clapping his hands before throwing his arms around his mother’s neck and squeezing her tightly. “I love you, Mama,” he yelled as he turned his back to her and ran toward the jungle gym.
“I love you, too, little man,” she whispered, knowing that he didn’t hear her because he was focused on getting back to playing.
She sat back down on the bench and continued watching him play.
Later that afternoon, as her son napped, she settled into a comfortable chair on the patio of their new home with a cup of coffee and the letter that had arrived in the mail that morning. It had been several weeks since she’d heard from her best friend. Still single, her friend was attending law school and had little time to write or call. So she was anxious to read her letter and get caught up. She had never imagined that their lives would turn out so differently, but they were both happy. For the rest of her life, she would be grateful to her friend for introducing her to Dennis.
After the usual opening summation of her courses, professors, and most recent dates with a couple of classmates, the letter took on an unusually serious tone. The news about her son’s father left her profoundly sad for him. He was divorcing the woman with the dark heart. The woman he had chosen instead of her.
We didn’t believe she’d ever be faithful to him and she wasn’t. He was working long hours trying to get his business established and she was staying at home raising their daughter. But she had an affair and developed a drug problem. He didn’t find out about it until she lost control of the car one afternoon and ran off the road — with the child in the vehicle. Thankfully, neither of them were hurt, but the police discovered that she was under the influence.
So he has filed for divorce and been given temporary custody of the little girl. Her visits are supervised and she has to pass a drug test before she can see her child. She has apparently refused to enter a rehab program, denying that she is addicted, and is continuing the affair, living with her boyfriend.
I feel so badly for him. Not only is he running the business by himself, he is raising the child on his own. I understand that he moved back in with his parents so that they can help him.
Isn’t it tragic?
She set the letter down on the table and gazed at the flowers she and Dennis had planted along the back fence just a couple of weeks ago. Dennis was starting a garden in one corner of the yard and now that they were getting settled into their home, they had discussed granting their son’s wish for a puppy. Dennis loved to spend time gardening or playing with their son in the back yard, and planned to build a deck.
Eventually, when their son was older and they were more financially secure, he wanted to install a pool so that they could invite friends over for swim parties and bar-b-ques. “Pools cost a lot of money,” she had protested.
“But we’ll have so much fun,” he’d said, playfully kissing the end of her nose lightly. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here in our home, spending time with you guys. Besides, I’m a lousy golfer and you aren’t even interested in learning to play so that you can accompany me and watch me in all of my lousy golfer glory! So which would you rather spend money on — a pool and deck or membership at the country club?”
“You’ve got me,” she had laughed.
As she considered how she had come to be sitting on the patio of the home she shared with a man who loved her deeply and unconditionally and her beautiful son, she agreed that “tragic” was an apt description of the way his life had turned out. She was deeply saddened, but not surprised, to hear that his marriage to the woman with the dark heart had not been successful. But she took no pleasure in hearing about his misfortunes because, despite all that had happened, she still loved him and thought about him every day, wondering if he was happy and thriving — as she was.
Sometimes when she looked at her son, she recognized a familiar gesture or expression that the boy did not inherit from Dennis. She wondered if Dennis ever noticed mannerisms or personality traits that were different from hers, realizing that they had to have been passed on by the boy’s biological father. If he did, he never said so. As they had promised each other, they had never again discussed the matter. He was their son from the moment Dennis slipped her engagement ring on her finger.
“You made your choice,” she muttered softly as she stood, picked up the letter and walked into the study of her beautiful new home. She had just shredded her friend’s letter and walked into the kitchen to begin preparing dinner when she heard Dennis’ car pull into the driveway.
Click here to read Chapter Twenty-Four