The bank account she and Mike shared (although she hadn’t deposited a dollar) would pay for whatever she, Evie, and Vanessa needed to start their new lives. Lucky for everyone: Mike could afford to divorce Amanda for Nadia.
She wouldn’t miss Mike. Her daughters filled her with such joy that screaming, bedwetting, whatever came next—lifted her spirit while exhausting her body. Amanda was the mother she never had: loving, strict, and above all—present.
How proud she had been buying her little house using her real estate commissions. The house in Oak Park with its excellent public schools and diverse community had seemed like a charming place to watch the girls growing up.
Still, how stupid could a cum laude graduate be about money? The Morrisons smiled at Amanda’s puny bid for independence. And rightly so. After spending that freezing night haunted by a decrepit ceiling fixture, Amanda confronted reality: the dumpy house needed years of work.
Nearing Humphrey Avenue, a panic attack forced her off the road. Mike wouldn’t and couldn’t cut her off after she cut him off! No more rendezvous. After Ikan, they were vile.
Three days after Mike started living with Nadia, he had texted Amanda: Could she meet him at home. “Lunchtime” upstairs? Answering yes to the euphemism, she had slid under the covers wearing only a black lace bra, mascara, and a drop of perfume.
He’d crept into the bedroom and undressed as if on fire. They knew exquisitely well what the other liked best—when and for how long.
And every time, Mike said, “We’re so good at this, it would be a sin to give it up.”
No, continuing would be a sin. After being with Ikan, another “lunchtime” required wickedness beyond her capacity. She cringed to think what she and Mike had done.
Trembling in the car, she managed to slow her breath as the air changed from a wintery late afternoon to an early dark. Did divorce send her back to the isolation she’d known most of her life? No! Amanda knew underfoot the ground surrounding black holes. Would divorce push her toward poverty? That implication would insult the Morrisons, who swore they cared for Amanda as much as Evie and Vanessa, whom they adored.
Steadier now, she turned around and drove to Evanston, reviewing the fissures that had formed between her and Mike.
Last January he had earned a promotion at Northern Trust, which multiplied his misery there. When Amanda sympathized, or near the end suggested jobs he might like, her husband grabbed the whiskey and holed up playing computer games.
The Mike Morrison she had married six years ago had morphed into someone she felt sorry for. No longer confident and understanding, Mike needed non-stop reassurance. And, evidently, food.
After several months (despite seeing each other every week), his father said, “What’s the problem, Mike? I mean, my God! You’re thirty pounds overweight.”
Caroline said, “Mike, you were never fat.”
“I am now.”
Amanda had caught a surreptitious grin sliding across his face. And vaguely remembered other times his mother fretted over him. In response to her criticism, he would release a ghost-note of laughter.
Roly-poly Mike was bursting in defiance, that’s all. What bothered Amanda was how his delight in small things grew thinner all the time. The charm he had exuded seemed to have vanished.
Then he had hired a personal fitness instructor named Nadia. Her name alone sent Amanda’s warning system into red alert.
He exercised after work and began catching the last train, arriving home scrubbed clean and tasting of toothpaste.
By August, he was heavier than ever and Amanda had stopped counting the signs, and waited to see how it played out.
On November fifth, Nadia phoned, saying Mike was leaving Amanda. “He’s in love with me now,” but would stop by briefly to collect some things.
“I guess, yes, Amanda. I’m ruining everything but can’t seem to help it.”
The sight of him packing a bag and two suits had felt like a mirage.
“Joint custody,” Amanda said as he tromped downstairs. “Please, tell me you’ll still be their father.”
He spun around slowly, collapsing on the couch. “My God, Amanda, how can you ask me that? Evie and Vanessa are the best part of me. They come first.”
She didn’t see how he was “putting them first,” yet had never doubted his devotion to them. That question, too, was a formality. If he was unhappy, they rained big, bright fun on his head.
Nadia, who had been waiting impatiently, knocked on the door, determined to meet Amanda. She was a short, well-muscled woman with deep-set eyes, a small nose, and prominent chin. Standing too close, she stuck out a hand. Amanda turned on her heel and stepped away.
Nadia’s platinum ponytail had swished as she bustled ahead of Mike who lingered, saying, “We’ll need to sit down together.”
So far they had been lying down for their “lunchtimes.”
Which were disgusting.
After parking in front of the house in Evanston, she opened the front door to find a padded envelope from O. Inside were fabric swatches. Any “dress-up” dress she wanted in one of three shades of cream. The soft fabric in Amanda’s hands recalled the throw pillows on Walter’s couch.
How easily panic flipped into blissful wonderment. Mike would be underwriting Amanda’s magical transformation before her beloved Walter’s eyes.