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Jake Understood by Penelope Ward (1)





The sound of the door slamming replayed over and over in my head.

My wife walked out on me.

Seven hours and thirty-five minutes had passed to be exact since she’d left, but it felt like an eternity. She said she’d come back when she cleared her mind but didn’t say how long that would take. Nina made two requests before she was gone: not to call her and not to text her.

Not wanting to make things worse, I decided to respect her wishes and spent most of the day staring at the front door from my spot on the couch, hoping that any minute she would walk in and tell me that everything was going to be okay with us.

The truth was I couldn’t blame her for leaving. Nina had every right to be pissed at me. We loved each other fiercely and had gotten into our share of fights over the years since getting married, but never had she physically left me. Last night was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

This day was a long time coming. In fact, I’d been bracing for it from the moment I first met her. Maybe I was a fool for ever believing that she could handle the situation she’d gotten herself into when she agreed to be with me. It was only a matter of time.

The one bit of good news was that our son, A.J., had been at my mother’s when everything went down this morning, so he didn’t have to witness it. I had arranged to have him stay there this weekend for a different reason, so it just happened to work out that he wasn’t here. I’d told Nina that my mother simply missed her grandson and wanted some bonding time. Ma had picked him up Friday afternoon. Nina had no idea that I’d actually planned a party for her tonight. So, this was suckass timing.

She’d recently finished nursing school after taking several years off to raise our son. I was so damn proud of her and thought it would be nice to surprise her by inviting those closest to us to the apartment for an intimate celebration. Our best friends, Skylar and Mitch, would be driving up to Boston from New Jersey and staying with us for the long weekend. My sister, Allison, and her husband, Cedric, were planning to bring food from Erika’s, a dueling piano bar and restaurant on Beacon Hill they’d recently invested in. Tonight was supposed to be one of the most amazing Saturday nights of our lives. It was also why I went to visit Ivy last night—on Friday—instead of my usual Saturday.

That was my first mistake.

A loud knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. My heart began to pound as I leapt up from the couch.

Nina. Baby. You came back.

Nervous excitement transformed into overwhelming disappointment at the sight of Skylar and Mitch standing in the doorway. Apparently, I was so excited to think it might have been Nina, I’d forgotten she would have just used her key instead of knocking. I’d also apparently forgotten to tell them not to bother coming to Boston tonight. There would be no party now. The look of despair on my face must have been instantly obvious.

“Don’t look so thrilled to see us, Jake.” Skylar stomped the snow off her feet and brushed past me. “We’ve been in the car for five hours. I have to drop the kids off at the pool stat.”

Mitch saw my confused face and clarified, “That means she has to take a piss.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of little Skylar with a baby hanging from a carrier on her chest. Skylar handed their newborn son to Mitch and ran to the bathroom.

I’d known her since she was fifteen, and she’d always been a spitfire. She never held anything back. In that sense, Skylar was like a female version of me, the little sister I never had. It was hard to believe she was all grown up now, but her attitude was the same as always. As much as today had sucked, I was happy not to be alone anymore.

Mitch gave me our usual manly side hug. “How’s it going, man? You look like shit.”

I patted him intentionally hard on the back. “Thanks, dude. I feel like shit.”

Skylar emerged from the bathroom and plopped down on the red couch before taking Mitch Jr. from her husband. “Where’s Nina?”

I sat down across from them on the leather recliner and rubbed my tired eyes. “She left…this morning.” I swallowed from the discomfort of saying it out loud.

“Where did she go?”

“She wouldn’t tell me.”

Skylar squinted. “What?”

“We got into a fight.”

“Hang on.” She lifted her shirt and started to undo her bra.

What the fuck?

I instinctively turned my head away. “Uh…do you normally just whip your tit out in the middle of a conversation?”

Mitch laughed. “All the time, actually.”

Skylar continued undressing. “Jake, your wife has the biggest knockers on the face of the Earth. I think you can handle some humble side boob while I feed my son.”

“A warning would have been nice, that’s all.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Skylar positioned Mitch Jr. over her right breast, and he seemed to latch on instantly. “Now, spill. What the hell is going on?”

I stared at a picture of Nina hanging on the wall. I’d sketched it when she was pregnant with A.J. Our son was now eight, but it seemed like just yesterday that she was carrying him. We hadn’t had any luck getting pregnant again since. First, it was because she was afraid to suffer postpartum depression again, so she wouldn’t consider trying for another. Then, after she came around a few years ago, we simply hadn’t been able to conceive. My heart felt like it was about to combust as I stared up at the drawing.

I let out a deep breath. “I normally spend Saturday with Ivy. You know that.”

“Your ex-wife,” Mitch interjected.

I nodded.

I knew he understood the reasoning behind it, but the tone in his voice came off as a little judgmental.

“I needed to free up today and tonight to get stuff ready for Nina’s party, so I switched my Ivy visit to yesterday. Because the party was a surprise, I made up a story about Ivy having a problem and my needing to go to the group home last night instead of today. I jinxed myself because when I actually got to Ivy’s, they told me she’d been hospitalized. I ended up going to the hospital instead.”

“So, why would Nina get that upset? She’s used to you seeing Ivy once a week.”

“It’s never been easy for her, Skylar. You know that. Something was different about her reaction to last night, though. That’s what I can’t figure out.”

“So, what happened with Ivy?”

“The staff at the group home found her trying to climb the roof again and had her admitted. The doctor adjusted her meds and released her this morning. It’s the usual routine.”

“What happened when you got home last night?”

“That was the problem. I didn’t come home until this morning.”

Skylar’s eyes practically bugged out of her head. “What?”

“I know that looks bad, but there was a storm last night and cars on the road outside of the hospital were spinning out left and right on black ice. They actually ended up closing the road for a while. I called Nina to let her know I’d be spending the night there. Believe me, it was the last thing I wanted to do, and she didn’t seem that upset over the phone. I thought she’d understand given the situation.”

Skylar pulled the baby off her breast and covered herself. Handing him to Mitch, she got up from the couch and proceeded to smack me lightly upside the head.

“What the fuck, Skylar?”

“I’m sorry. I just had to do that,” she said as she sat back down. “Are you insane, Jake? Do you really think there are any circumstances under which it’s okay to spend the night with your ex-wife?”

“I told you. They’d closed the road. It was impossible to get home.”

“I get it, but you can at least understand that even though you had no choice, Nina still has a right to be pissed about it.”

I knew she was right. I had fucked up.

Skylar continued, “Still, though, something doesn’t sound right. I could see her being upset, but why would she leave?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

“What did she say when she left?”

“When I walked in the door, she was waiting with her coat on ready to go. She said she needed to get away. I asked if it had to do with the fact that I slept at the hospital, and she came back with ‘what do you think?’ If I thought for one second she’d feel that way, I would have fucking ice skated home last night. I really didn’t think it would bother her like it did.”

“Everyone has their limits.”

I nodded to myself, feeling like shit for hurting her. It had been almost eight hours, and I missed her so much. I just wanted to hold her and tell her how much I loved her and spend the rest of the night making love to her. But even stronger than that need was the ache in my chest, a deep knowing that there was something more to this than just my staying at the hospital.

Mitch returned from the kitchen with a beer. “Man, forgive me for saying this, but I don’t really understand how the hell you do it.”

“Do what?”

“Go to see her like you do every week. I honestly don’t think Skylar could handle it if it were me.”

Skylar rocked the baby to sleep. “It’s easy to say that, but people find ways of handling things when they have to. Lord knows, I’ve handled enough when it comes to us, Mitch.” She looked at me. “You didn’t ask to be in this situation.”

That was why I loved Skylar. She was wise. She understood that I didn’t really have a choice. Sure, in life, we’re free to do what we want, but when you’re trying to do the right thing, there is only one choice. It’s not always the easiest choice. Ivy was more like a child to me at this point than an ex-wife. She had no other family and deep down, Nina understood why I couldn’t just abandon her, why Ivy needed the continuity of seeing someone who cared about her at least once a week. Nina had always put aside her own needs to allow me to continue to look out for Ivy within reason. That was one of the things I loved about my wife. But I also understood that it would never be easy for her, and I carried a lot of guilt about that. There were rules, though. Visits were only once a week on Saturdays, and if we had a family obligation, that would always come first.

Mitch took a swig of his beer then turned to me. “Did Nina always know about Ivy?”

I bent my head back against the chair, thinking about the days when we first met and the can of worms he just opened up with that question. “No.”

Skylar smiled at me. She was one of the only people we were still friends with who also knew us back then. “Jake was still married to Ivy when he met Nina.”

Mitch looked shocked. “Say what?”

I chuckled. “You didn’t know that?”

“No. I had no idea.” He put his feet up on the coffee table. “I’d love to hear this.”

“I’ve heard Nina’s version, but I wouldn’t mind hearing yours,” Skylar said as she walked a sleeping Mitch Jr. over to a portable crib set up in the corner of the room.

I settled back in my seat and crossed my arms. “How much time do you have?”