She was about to say something, but he didn’t look her direction, just walked toward the door, laying an envelope on the desk before going out into the cold. It wasn’t until the door swung shut that she realized he had his suitcase and hanging clothes with him. By the time she reached the parking lot all she saw were the tail lights of his car in the distance. She stood watching until he turned and went out of sight.
She stood on the porch, looking down the road, shivering in the cold afternoon wind. She felt hollow in the pit of her stomach, tears running down her cheeks. Why? What was wrong with her? Hadn’t she just spent over a week making his life miserable? So why the tears and why did she feel like a hole had been ripped through her heart?
She walked slowly back into the house, vaguely noting the dishes from their snack still sitting on the coffee table. Picking up the tray, she took them to the sink, washed and dried them then put them in the cupboard. On her way back through the sitting area, she saw Joseph standing behind the desk holding the contents of the envelope. Their eyes locked. There was sadness in his. What did he read in hers?
Walking to the sofa she wrapped the blanket around her again, picked up the novel and began reading. The tale he spun captivated her, pulling her into the role of the female character. She empathized with her struggles and felt joy when she overcame obstacles. He had written the book in the first person, making it difficult not to change perspectives with each character. Had he deliberately written this way to expose the real story, knowing most people wouldn’t pick up on the drama playing between the lines? Joy knew she would read the book again looking for more subtleties the second time around. She even used a highlighter to mark passages that intrigued her.
At some point during the afternoon, someone had set a box of tissues and a small trash can beside her and another blanket at her feet. She cried and laughed as she read, completely engrossed in the story. Ivy gently interrupted her. “Would you like to take a break and eat with Joseph and me at the table, or should I bring you a tray?”
She looked up, her finger holding her place. “Oh wow! I’ve been so engrossed in reading I’ve forgotten everything.”
“No, don’t worry. I’ll bring you a sandwich and some milk and you just keep reading. It had the same effect on me when I read it. If I’d known you were interested you could have borrowed my copy.” She smiled knowingly at Joy. “But you’re reading with a purpose, aren’t you?” Joy looked at her blankly. “You want to know the author by learning his reasons for writing this book.”
Joy blinked, studying Ivy. She looked away. “I’m afraid you know me better than I know myself. I’m trying to get to know him, Ivy. And even fiction writers reveal so much about their character in their stories. I need to understand. I need to get to the bottom of his struggles, to unlock the mystery behind the man.”
Ivy looked back at her, smiling. She turned and walked to the kitchen, leaving Joy with a puzzled expression.
Joy read on, almost unaware of the sandwich she was eating and the milk she was drinking. When Ivy brought a freshly brewed pot of coffee and a mug she only nodded. She vaguely noticed Joseph banking the fire with a large log and turning out the lights, only leaving the sitting room and stairway lit. Firelight bounced off the walls and a small night light shone in the kitchen in case she needed anything else. Ivy and Joseph had turned in, leaving her to read.
It was late in the night when she realized she was re-reading lines over and over. Her eyes were crossing. She would close them for a moment, then try again. The thought of going to her room crossed her mind but she resisted, tried to keep reading. She put her head back for just a moment’s rest and fell soundly asleep on the sofa with her knees drawn up, the book falling with a thump to the floor.
As Robert turned from the main street on to the county road going north from the small village he looked in his rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of Joy standing on the porch. His heart dropped. Why did he leave without so much as a goodbye? He just needed to put distance between himself and this woman he had come to know as both a delight and an irritation. He started the morning with a plan to share a simple meal with her and then maybe ask her to read his novel from a journalist’s perspective. Pick her brain. He wanted to know if she saw the story as a …a story, or if somehow, for some reason, his past was apparent on its pages. In a way, he hoped it had. He was tired of carrying Lenora’s secret. He never loved her in a romantic way. That wasn’t the reason for their marriage. She didn’t love him that way, either. They were only friends, and it filled a need for her life at the time. He stared at the road, watching the center stripes slipping by. Things had changed for him, though, and he now felt the need to be free.
It was time. She had been gone five years and she’d kept her end of the bargain. He knew where she was and she was doing well. He had fulfilled his promise and kept her secret, too. She had established a new life with a new name for herself and her little boy. She was safe with his name. She could keep his name and he would continue to add to the trust fund for her son. But he needed to be free. It was his time now.
He drove toward home, his mind on Joy. He shook his head, seeing the image of her standing on the porch, the blanket wrapped around her. He could only imagine the hurt, the bewilderment, she must have felt, especially after the last couple days. He remembered the pain he felt watching her lie on the sofa drained of all color, shaking from the bone-chilling cold, not enough energy to fight him on anything. He missed those feisty green eyes challenging his every comment. He shouldn’t have left without an explanation.
What an idiot!
He arrived home late and went to bed. He hadn’t let his housekeeper know he was coming and the house was cold and damp. He would call her in the morning. In fact, he had several calls to make tomorrow, but now he needed rest.
The sun was high in the sky when he woke the next morning. He placed the call to Rose to let her know he was back and would probably be home for several weeks. She had taken care of him and his house for many years. She knew exactly how he liked things and would see to them.
He called his attorney next. He knew the situation and would know the steps to take. It surprised him when John answered the phone himself. “John? It’s Robert Binning. Why are you answering the phone? Is business that bad?”
John laughed. “Oh, no. How are things going, my friend?”
“Well, that’s a good question. Would you be able to see me today?”
“Let’s see.” Robert heard a mouse clicking. “Joan is out for a couple days but I think I can read my schedule. How about tomorrow at two. Or…if you aren’t busy this evening, we could meet for dinner at say, Giovanni’s, around five thirty?”
“Dinner sounds great. See you there.” As he hung up, he heard John’s question. “What’s her name, my friend?”
He smiled. That’s what it all boiled down to. One certain redhead. She had him the moment their hands touched on that doorknob. He couldn’t even say he tried hard to resist.
He arrived at the restaurant before John and ordered an appetizer. All afternoon he considered how much to go into with John. He would do what he wanted, no questions asked, but he wanted to talk about it. He wanted to tell someone about this woman who had finally stolen his heart. He looked up, startled, as the chair across from him scraped on the slate flooring.
He took a deep breath. The rest of his life was about to change.
Robert was quiet while John put his phone on the table and took a long drink. “Ah, like a lifeline to a drowning man. Thanks for ordering.” The server took their dinner orders and left the appetizers. John studied him across the table, waiting.
He let out a deep breath. “John, she’s everything I’ve waited for. Intelligent, independent, strong. Most of all, the most beautiful person I know, inside and out.” He watched John, who raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. “I’ll admit, she’s a little headstrong and can be infuriating at times, but she…”
“Where is she, Robert? Did you leave her at the house?”
“No. She’s in Pennsylvania.”
John’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not converting to Amish, are you?”
He chuckled. “No, man! She was a guest there, too. At the Inn. Actually, you might have heard of her before. Joy Clayborn. She was a syndicated reporter in Charlotte.”
John shook his head. “I don’t see much news. But I’ll Google her tonight.”
The waiter brought their food, and they were quiet until he left. John turned his plate around to suit him and looked up at him. “I still don’t get why she isn’t here with you.”
He sighed. “We had a little…fight…about my book. I thought she might be reading it like a journalist, you know, trying to find out things and make a story out of it.”
John had a puzzled look on his face. “Was she up there to do a story on you? How did she know you were there?”
“No. She actually didn’t know who I was for a while.”
“When she did, I accused her of reading…well, not for entertainment.”
He took a deep breath, looking down at his food. “I left without telling her what I had in mind. Things had to change, and I knew I had to go, but I’m such a fool. I’ve been on my own, doing my own thing for so long, you know. I made up my mind to do this, and I just packed my things and left.”
“And what is this thing you want to do?”
“Get a divorce from Lenora.”
“Okay. How do you want to proceed? You want to contact her, or should I?”
“I’ll give her a call and a heads up, but I want everything to stay the same. I’ll continue making deposits in the trust. She can keep the name if that makes it easier.” He waved his hand toward John. “You can take care of all the formalities.”
They ate, catching up on their lives since the last time they’d talked. He would call Lenora when he got home. The time difference should work.
He heard people talking in the background as she answered. “Lenora’s Studio, how may I help you?”
“Lenora, it’s Robert. Do you have a minute, or should I call you later?”
“Robert!? No, hold on. I’ll go to a quieter place.” The voices faded into the background.
“What is it? Is everything okay?”
“Yes. In fact, everything is more than just okay. Lenora, I wanted to call you before you received the paperwork from John. You see I’ve…”
“…met someone, haven’t you? Robert, I’m so happy for you. I can’t say I’m shocked. I expected this much sooner. She must be someone outstanding.” He nodded as if she could see him. “Of course, have John send the papers, you know I’ll sign them.”
“Great! Actually, when he gets them ready, I’ll book a flight and bring them down to you. Everything will stay the same, your name doesn’t have to change. I know it’s associated with your studio and the world is big enough for two ladies to carry the same name. I’ll continue to deposit into the trust.”
She interrupted him. “That’s not necessary, Robert. You’ve done enough. Besides, I would have been calling you soon. I’ve met someone and he’s going to adopt Kenny. Your lady doesn’t need to start her new life sharing the name Mrs. Robert Binning, nor does she need to contribute to your friend’s economic status.” She paused. “I love you, Robert. It’s time for us both to be free. Kenny and I are so thankful for what you did for us.”
They talked a little longer, then she needed to get back to her clients. He stood looking at his phone. He felt light as air. It was good to hear she was standing on her own now and had accomplished her dream. The fact that she once again trusted enough to marry this new guy, spoke volumes for his character.
He walked to his office and sat behind the mahogany desk. There was so much to do. He pulled out a sheet of paper and began writing a list. He paused, thinking. He jotted another note on the list. He stood and walked to the window, looking out over the hard-packed snow piled high against the trees. It was then he made up his mind. Maine was a beautiful state, but it was time for a more permanent change. He turned and walked toward the desk. Picking up his phone, he scanned recent calls. His thumb hovered over her number. Then, slowly, he laid it back on the desk.
He needed more time.
“God, please keep her there,” he whispered.
As Robert looks to the future, he knows his life will never be the same again. As the poet said, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—”
Have you ever stood at a crossroads of a major decision, knowing it will change your life forever?
Please leave comments below. I love to read them! If you enjoy the people you meet and the places you go through my stories, share with your friends on Facebook. There’s a place right below here for sharing! See it?