“C’mon, sleepy head.” It was nearly twelve noon, and Magnolia had already showered, dressed, made breakfast and was on her third load of laundry. Her husband, on the other hand, had yet to pop his head from the comfort of their king sized bed. The mountain of cream colored blankets rustled, and a low groan came from underneath. Wrapping both her hands in the plush down comforter, she yanked it back. “Hayden is already up and playin’. Y’all need to spend some time together after you’ve been workin’ so late all these days. You barely see him.”
“Okay, okay.” Eric, her husband, flopped over to his back, lying in the middle of the bed like a starfish. “Your accent gets so cute when you mean business.”
“Well, darlin’…” She exaggerated her southern drawl, teasing him while batting her eyelashes. “I do declare, it is a lot nicer to listen to than your Yankee lingo.” Magnolia walked around the lavish room, grabbed a pillow from the floor and tossed it at him.
With a growl, he reached across the bed, wound his arm around her waist and pulled her down beside him. “I just adore you.” Eric had been saying those exact words to her for the past ten years. The man oozed charm with his every move. It came naturally to him and Magnolia had walked right into it.
The sound of the bustling city seeped in through the bedroom windows. Car horns blared, and a garbage trucked emptied what sounded like buckets of shattering glass into it. Outside, the sky was a cloudless blue, not that she saw much of it beyond the high rise buildings of New York City. Luckily for them, they lived in a brownstone with insulated walls and not an apartment where they could hear every move their neighbors might make. The brick exterior cocooned them from the outside world, like a bubble in the middle of chaos. If she hadn’t opened the windows, the symphony of the city wouldn’t even reach them.
A siren in the distance made their young son, Hayden, run into the room mimicking the sound. With his toy car held high over his head, he ran around the bed, yelling. “Weehooo, weehhooo, weehooo.”
Eric pulled a pillow back over his head and sighed. Though his face was covered, locks of his blond hair stuck out, and even while being lazy and grouchy, Maggie had to admit her husband was beautiful. With his lean frame, blond hair and baby blues, any woman would swoon at the sight of him. Well, she nearly had swooned… nearly. When she met him back in college, it seemed fitting for her to date him. Especially when he showered her in compliments and laid his utter charm on her. He’d taken the time to get to know her, giving her all the attention she could ever want. When he offered her the city, she jumped at the chance for another life. It seemed so long ago, and a stark difference to how he was at present. Now she just wished he’d be more engaged with the family, they way he’d been when he’d won her over. As she lifted the pillow ever so slightly, she peeked underneath it. “I mean it. Time to get up.”
“I’ll get up on one condition.” Even in the shadow created by the pillow she could see his pearly white smile.
It was her turn to pull the covers up over her head. “Oh, nooo. Come on, I don’t have time for that.”
Eric leaned up and with a playful roar he launched himself on top of her. Pressing his fingers into her stomach, he tickled her mercilessly, all the while chanting, “Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes!”
Fits of laughter wracked her body as she squirmed under his touch. It had been months since she’d seen him so involved. Hayden ran to the side of the bed, lifting up his hands. “Tickle Mommy.”
“No, no, no!” Magnolia crossed her legs, clenching them together. “Y’all are gonna make me pee.”
When Eric lifted Hayden and dropped him down beside her, it started all over again. This time, Hayden’s little hands pressed in on her, too. “Okay, okay. I’ll make the dang pancakes.”
All at once, they stopped to let her go. With a victorious, sleepy smile, Eric raised his hands over his head. “Yes.” He pushed her toward the edge of the bed. “Pancakes.”
“All right, I’m goin’.” She slid from the king sized monster and headed for the door. Before she walked out, she peeked over her shoulder. Eric had already handed Hayden his cell phone and flipped on the TV to the cartoon channel. “Spendin’ time together does not mean watchin’ TV.”
When she exited the room, he called back, “We’ll do something later.”
Later? Things were always later with him. Later to date night, later to spending time together, and later to bonding with Hayden. At three years old, he should feel close to his father, but in her gut she knew he wasn’t. “You know when you put on the TV he falls asleep.”
“Please don’t let him sleep now. It’s too early and then he’ll be grouchy for dinner.”
As she left the bedroom, that feeling she’d been holding in the pit of her stomach for the last year returned ten-fold. The feeling that at any moment the other shoe was going to drop. When she reached the first floor, she heard Eric mumble something back, but couldn’t make it out. Deciding it wasn’t important, she passed through the living, then dining room and headed to the kitchen at the back of the house.
Living in New York had its perks and challenges. Perk: her brownstone on the upper east side was one of the most beautiful homes she’d ever seen. Challenge: it was small in comparison to the life she’d led as a child, and parking was an utter nightmare. Growing up on a ranch afforded her things like an uninterrupted blue sky and air so crisp she felt it in her soul. At the oddest moments she longed for the life she’d left behind and the space she needed. But that was a whole other story she was no longer a part of.
Nonetheless, she would embrace this one, the life she’d chosen to lead, the life she’d thrown herself into. With a smile plastered on her face and a song in her head, she began pulling out all the fixings to make pancakes. Just as she was sprinkling the last bit of cinnamon, her secret ingredient, into the bowl, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” she called out as she brushed off her hands, letting the flour that had gathered on her fingers fall into the bowl.
By the time she reached the front door, Eric was at the bottom of the stairs, looking more disheveled than ever. With his tousled hair, wide blue eyes and pale face, she could’ve sworn he looked… scared? “Are you all right? You look pale.”
“I’m fine.” He crossed his arms over his bare chest.
As Magnolia opened the door, she muttered, “Go put a shirt on. No one wants to see you in your striped pajama pants.”
Yet when she turned to face the door, she could feel him standing behind her, unmoving. Just outside stood a small, mousy blonde Magnolia instantly recognized. “Hey, Shelly, come on in.” She opened the door wider to let her through. “You workin’ on a Sunday?”
Shelly, for all she was worth, had the figure of a teenage boy in comparison to Magnolia. Where Maggie was all soft curves and southern cooking, Shelly was Macaulay Culkin during his drugged-out teenage phase. “N-no, I just wanted to stop by and…”
Magnolia waved her in. “Well, come in. No use standin’ on the front steps.”
Once she ushered Shelly to the living room, she turned to Eric who now looked an awful shade of green. “Aren’t you goin’ to go put a shirt on? Shelly, your assistant, is here.” When he didn’t move, she pressed her hand to his forehead. Normally, he was the example of impeccable manners; now he’d just stood there dumbstruck. “You sure you’re feelin’ okay?”
His eyes were locked on Shelly, narrowed at her. He took a small step back. “Mag, you think you could get me one? You might want to check on Hayden while you’re up there. He fell asleep.”
“Ugh, I told you he would fall asleep as soon as you put that thing on.” Though Magnolia wanted to rush upstairs, her southern hospitality kicked in. “Shelly, you go ahead and take a seat. I’ll get you a drink as soon as I get back.”
As she passed Eric, he reached out, grabbing her hand and stopping her for a moment. When his gaze locked with hers, she could’ve sworn he was trying to convey some emotion to her, then he muttered, “I love you, Mag.”
She hated it when he called her Mag. What was she, a flashlight? Habit made her smile. “I’m just goin’ upstairs. I’ll be right back.” He squeezed her hand before dropping it.
What the hell is going on? That feeling in her stomach doubled. Her hands shook as she placed pillows all around Hayden so he wouldn’t fall from the bed. Something was happening. Her pulse quickened as she quietly descended the stairs. The thick carpeting muffled her footsteps perfectly. Halfway down, she stopped to eavesdrop on their conversation.
Eric, ever the cordial financial planner, hissed below his breath, “What the fuck are you doing here?” Magnolia had never heard him so angry.
“She needs to know,” Shelly snapped in her harsh Staten Island accent.
“God damn it, I’m with my family.”
“Which is about to have an addition in six months,” Shelly hissed.
“Oh, come on! How do you know it’s even mine?”
Shelly sucked in a breath. “You’re the only one I’ve been with. You’d think after a year together you’d know that.”
Magnolia’s world tilted. The stairs gave way under her feet, and she fell back, sitting on them. Eric had… cheated… on her—the best thing that would ever happen to him. Resting her elbows on her knees, she let her head fall into her hands. Breathe, Maggie, just breathe. Inhale, exhale. She sat like that for how long she didn’t know, but she refused to move until her breath grew deep and even. What was she supposed to do? How was she going to handle this? Her mind raced as she tried to get a grip on the moment, but all should could feel was crushing weight on her chest.
Some women cried in these situations, some women screamed, others went catatonic. Magnolia would handle things the way she always had—with dignity, with grace, with a fucking baseball bat. When she calmed herself, she stood up and squared her shoulders. Then, like the Southern Belle she was, she held up her head and walked back into the room. Fury, pure, hot and heavy stung the back of her eyes so hard she nearly choked on it. She was the kind of woman who cried when she got angry, not because she was hurt, but because she realized murder was illegal and that shit frustrated her. Especially now when all she wanted to do was lash out at him. The conversation came to a halt as they turned to look at her. “Please, go on. Don’t stop on my account.”
Eric’s mouth hung open for a moment as if he didn’t know what to say next. “Mag, I…” He reached out to touch her. She slapped away his hand, and the sound was like a bomb in the room.
“My name is Magnolia,” she seethed. How, how could this have happened? Eight years of her life utterly devoted to this man, eight years of cooking, cleaning, being a trophy on his arm at parties. Hell, she’d given him a son, given him everything she was, and this was how he thanked her? She crossed her arms over her chest and turned to Shelly. “And you, what have you come here to say to me?”
“I-I thought woman to woman—”
“Let me stop you right there.” She slashed her hand through the air. “Woman to woman, you knew he was a married man. Woman to woman, you don’t spread your legs for a married man. Woman to woman, this doesn’t make you his, it makes you a whore who’s trying to sleep your way to the top. Woman to woman, you give us women a bad name.”
“B-but… I—” Shelly stammered.
“I’m sorry, did I say I was finished?” Magnolia surged forward, getting so close to Shelly that if she took one more step, she’d bump this tramp right out the door. “Do me a favor next time you open your mouth. Stick to what it’s good at. Sucking…” she looked Eric up and down, “well, him.”
“And you.” She pointed a finger at Eric then whirled around and marched to the kitchen, snatched the bowl off the counter and marched back. “Here are your pancakes, honey.”
With one swift move, she dumped the entire bowl of gooey mix over his head. Her heart was hammering so loudly in her ears, she could barely control herself. Even with the bowl held over his head, her arms shook with fury.
Eric didn’t even flinch. He just stood with the creamy slop running down his face. “Mag, I love you. I swear, this was nothing.”
Magnolia’s breath hitched. The room was closing in on her, and tears threatened the back of her eyes. But she fought them. No way would she let either of them see her cry. Breathe in, breathe. Wrapping her arms around herself like she was trying to hold the little pieces together, she looked up at him. Eric, beautiful Eric, with his blond hair, slender, sculpted body and breathtaking smile made her want to vomit on his bare feet. “Don’t use big words you don’t understand.”
At his baffled look, she snapped, “Love, Eric. You don’t understand love. You don’t cheat on someone you love, you don’t knock up the office whore. And you certainly don’t throw away your whole family for the likes of her.”
“I-I am not a whore!” Shelly stammered.
“Honey, when you come to tell a married woman you’re pregnant by her husband, I hate to break it to you, but that makes you the slut of all sluts.”
It all hit Magnolia at once. The late nights of work, the feeling in her stomach, the way he was with Hayden. Even the mornings he made sure Magnolia had picked out the perfect suit for him, it was all because of her. She bent low, hunching in on herself, sucking in gasping breaths. Was she losing her mind? Her eyes darted around the room, looking for an escape, but there was none. This was happening. This was her life. She whispered almost to herself, “I knew it. I knew something was going on.”
“Magnolia, let’s just talk about this reasonably.” Eric wiped at the goop in his eye, actually trying to look dignified as the pancake mix began to drip onto his bare chest.
Magnolia righted herself, not wanting to let either of them see her crack. “Reasonably? Tell me, Eric, how does one address her lyin’, cheatin’, sack of shit husband reasonably?”
At his silence, she’d had enough and whispered, “I want you to leave.”
“What?” he uttered as if she’d slapped him.
“She is bad,” Magnolia pointed an accusing finger at Shelly, “but you are so much worse. You were my husband.” She pressed her hand to her chest, trying to fight back the tears and losing. All at once, they streaked down her face. “For better or worse, I trusted you. I trusted us. Like my momma always said, you can’t blame a ho for doin’ what hoes do best. But you can certainly blame the man for stickin’ his junk where it don’t belong.”
When he moved to wrap her in his arms, she let him out of habit. For a moment, she stood like that, emblazing the memory of the way he smelled of body spray and pancake mix. Remembering how she forced herself to think her body fit with his. Standing here now, she knew it never did. With her last bit of strength, she shoved him away. “No, you don’t get to be the one to comfort me. You did this to me.”
Feeling as though she might lose it at any moment, she went to the front door and yanked it open. “Leave now!”
When neither of them would move, she did the only thing she could think of. She left the room and headed straight to the basement. If there was one thing her father taught her it was that when things were going wrong with a man, you had to talk to him in words he’d understand. When she wrapped her hands around the end of the baseball bat, she found a language the cheating bastard would comprehend. Taking the steps two at a time, she charged back through the kitchen into the living room. She hauled up the bat, holding it high over her head, screaming, “Leave!”
Eric shot back, falling over the coffee table. As his feet hung over he table, he held his hands out to her. “What the fuck, Mag?”
Shelly ran headlong for the street before Magnolia could get close to her. But Eric just lay there, stuck between the couch and table. With the first swing, Magnolia broke the lamp on the side table. As it slammed into the wall, the light shattered with a pop and shards of glass rained down on the floor. “I can’t even look at you.”
When Eric scrambled to his feet, she let him scurry toward the door. “This is my house, too,” he objected uselessly.
“You can have the damn house. I won’t be here when you get back.” When he opened his mouth to speak once more, she swung the bat at the front door, cracking the thick glass panes and splintering a small piece of wood. The strike vibrated up the bat and painfully into her hands. Had she been in any other situation, she might’ve dropped it to shake out her aching fingers.
He tucked himself into the foyer between the front door and the door leading outside. “But we can work this out.”
Breathlessly, she let the bat fall to the floor beside her. “Just tell me one thing.”
“Anything.” His eyes were pleading.
“Did you know she was going to come here today?” When he opened his mouth, she cut him off. “Don’t lie.”
He sighed and admitted, “Yes.”
“And you still asked me to make you pancakes.”
She slammed the door in his face and locked it, knowing he wore nothing more than his pajama pants and pancake mix. She pressed her back to the door and slid down to sit on the floor, her entire body shaking from head to toe. Then she let the dam of tears break free, each one hot and soaking as they coated her cheeks. In that moment, Magnolia knew this would be something she’d never forget. Some people say when you feel emotions so deeply there is a physical reaction to go along with it. Right now, Magnolia Reed felt like her world was coming to an end. With each heave, the aching in her chest became unbearable… eight years. Barely able to breathe past the ball in her throat, she uttered, “Dick!”