“How long ‘till those burgers are ready, Ben?” Grace asked over her shoulder as she opened the back screen door.
“Five minutes, ten tops.”
“Okay.” Grace stepped into the kitchen, and all the chatter stopped. She looked around at her friends, confused by the sudden silence and the furtive glances being cast her way.
“What’s going on?” Grace looked at her best friend, Amy.
Amy’s gaze slid away, and she turned, ostensibly busy with loading the dishwasher.
“Trish?” Grace looked at another woman she’d known ever since she and Tad moved into the neighborhood.
“Grace, I—“ Trish cut a look at Amy and then back at Grace. “I don’t—what I mean is—“
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” One of the newest women of the circle of friends, Vivian, a brash blonde, tossed back a shot of liquor and slammed the glass on the table. “What everyone here is too chickenshit to tell you is that Amy’s fucking your husband.”
Grace started to laugh, as her first reaction was that it was some kind of ugly prank. But the sound never grew beyond an expulsion of air because Amy turned and looked at her. The expression on Amy’s face delivered a truth that carried a punch with as much power as a Mac truck.
Grace’s peripheral vision swam, and sound suddenly seemed to be pulsing from soft to loud, oddly timed to her heartbeat. She felt a wave of nausea sweep through her and reached for a chair back for support. This couldn’t be happening.
Tears poured down her friend’s face. “I’m sorry, Grace. Honest to god, I’m so sorry.”
“Oh my God.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean—“
“Yeah, that makes it all better, doesn’t it?” Grace cut her off.
“Well, at least now you know,” Vivian said.
Grace turned her attention to Vivian. “And just how long have you known, Vivian?”
Vivian shrugged. “I don’t know. Six months? When did you tell me, Trish?”
“What?” Grace looked at Trish. “You knew?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, we all knew.”
“You all…” Grace was completely flabbergasted. “You all knew? You all knew she was screwing my husband and no one thought I should be told?”
“Well, we just didn’t feel that it was our place,” Trish said.
“Right,” Madeline, the hostess of the gathering, added. “I mean, we didn’t know how to tell you and didn’t want to drive a wedge between you and Amy so—“
“Drive a wedge?” Grace had to force herself not to scream. “I can’t believe you—any of you. Especially you, Amy. After what happened with you and Doug two years ago, I thought you’d be the last person to do to some other woman what was done to you. I guess I was wrong. About a lot of things.”
“Grace, I—I didn’t want you to find out this way,” Amy said through tears. “I swear I didn’t want to hurt you. I tried, Grace, I did, I tried so hard—“
“Tried to what?”
The sound of Tad’s voice from the door leading out onto the back patio had more than one person gasping in surprise, along with Vivian's “Oh fuck,” and Trish’s “Oh no!”
“That’s what we’re all waiting to hear,” Grace kept her attention on Amy. “You tried so hard to what, Amy? Not screw my husband?”
With that question, the room went as silent as a mortuary. Grace looked from Amy, who was staring at Tad, to Tad whose gaze was locked with Amy’s. The look they shared said it all. Oh god, it’s true.
It took every bit of strength Grace possessed to keep her emotions hidden. She walked over to Tad. “Give me your keys.”
“Your car keys. Give them to me.”
“Grace, if you’ll just give me five minutes to ex—“
“Give them to me now.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out the keys and dropped them into her outstretched hand. Grace turned and marched out of the house, calling to her children, Sherri and Theo who were in the back yard. “Come on, kids, time to go!”
“But we haven’t eaten yet,” Sherri, the eight-year-old, complained.
“Grace, wait!” Madeline ran outside. “Please.”
“I’m sorry, Madeline. No.“
She took Theo’s hand as he ran up and motioned for Sherri with her free hand. “Come on, Sherri. Now.”
“Fine,” Sherri grumbled and ran across the yard to her mother.
“Grace!” Tad ran out of the house, calling to her. “Hold up.”
Grace ignored him and tugged on Sherri’s hand when she tried to stop. “Come on, Sherri.”
“I said come on.”
Tad was yelling at her, Sherri was tugging on her hand and protesting, and then Theo started fretting. “Why isn’t Daddy going with us? Why do we have to go home and he gets to stay?”
It was like something out of a nightmare for Grace. Everyone was watching and talking and she had no doubt that the talk would be about nothing else all weekend. She had never felt so embarrassed in her life, and it took all her willpower not to cry or yell at her kids in frustration.
She knew they were confused, and she didn’t want that, but she had to get them out of there. “Come on, kids. We’re going to go to Sonic. You know how you love to eat at the drive-in.”
“In Daddy’s car?” Sherri looked up at her, wide-eyed in surprise. “He never lets us even have water in his car.”
“Well, today is special.” Grace tried to smile. “So hop in and let’s get going.”
She got both the kids into the car, started it, and pulled away from the curb of Madeline’s house. She made it two blocks before the tears came and she swiped at them angrily.
Of all the things she expected from life, this was not one of them. She’d been a good and faithful wife, supportive of Tad and his career and never complained about work dominating his life.
Grace quit college after her sophomore year and married Tad. His parents took care of his education but made it clear that if he wanted to get married, he would have to cover his own housing. It was his mother and grandmother’s way of punishing him for marrying beneath the family.
His father didn’t seem to care but didn’t fight the women of the family about it. He’d slip Tad money now and again, but rent became Grace’s responsibility. She did temp office jobs during the day and waited tables or worked as a bartender at night to pay the rent.
Tad was in his senior year, and they found a cheap apartment near the university. When he entered law school, he promised that once he passed the bar and went to work for the family firm, she could go back and finish her degree. That never happened. Once he was in place at the law firm, his focus was on proving himself and making partner.
When he did make partner, it wasn’t enough. He wanted to be a senior partner, and that meant moving up in the world in terms of where they lived and what he drove and how much he had to spend to schmooze prospective clients.
College for Grace was an unnecessary expense. What he needed was for her to let his mother guide her, find the right charities for her to volunteer for, the right social clubs to join and in short, to learn to be an adept hostess.
And to start a family.
So she’d shoved what she wanted into a closet in her mind and firmly closed the door. She concentrated on being a good wife and a good mother.
And this is what it got her. Humiliated in front of every friend she had in the world and cheated on. With her best friend, no less. Well, someone she’d thought was her best friend.
It hurt that a woman she’d cared so much about and thought of as her best friend in the world would betray her that way. How long had it been going on? How long had Amy and Tad looked her in the eyes and lied to her? How long had they made fun of her behind her back?
And how long had the rest of her friends known about this, because they obviously were in on the secret? How many days, weeks or months had she been the topic of gossip and pity?
Grace wanted to pull over, curl up in the fetal position, and bawl her eyes out. She wanted to run away and hide, never show her face to any of those people again.
Grace Summerfield, what the heck happened to you? She remembered a time when she was vivacious, full of plans for the future, a woman with dreams and goals. What the hell had happened to that woman? How had she allowed herself to come to this place?
When had she stopped being Grace and started being Mrs. Tad Finley? It hit her that he might have been the one who cheated, but she’d cheated as well. She’d married him more out of spite than love, had given up on her dreams in favor of his, and had somehow expected that one day he’d return the favor.
But instead, he achieved his goal and then turned to another woman. The bastard. She’d not give him the satisfaction of her tears. So, she sucked it up, plastered a smile on her face, and made up her mind there and then that she was done with spending her life for Tad Finley’s comfort.
From this day on, her life was going to be about her kids. And herself. She was going to find that woman she used to be, and she was going to find her dreams again.