Author’s note: AWBH is work in progress. An Experiment to post 3 chapters at a time. If you’re just joining, you may want to start at the beginning.
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Chapter 7: Sandra (1998)
“You’re where?” Drew growled, his voice quiet and raging.
“Vacaville?” Sandra said, wishing she had a different answer.
“And your car won’t start.”
“No.” Grateful only that Rizzo, her old Datsun B-210 didn’t break down two hours ago when she was in San Francisco.
“Did you call Triple-A?”
Shit! She could have avoided telling Drew anything.
“And why, exactly, are you in Vacaville?”
“The Carter’s outlet store was having a sale, and Emily’s grown out of all of her onesies.” She’d thought of that before making the call. “But I’ll call Triple-A now; sorry I interrupted your meeting.”
“We’ll talk about this later, San.”
“You went there again, didn’t you Sandra?” Drew’s lips wrinkled and the lines between his brows deepened.
She felt like a little kid in trouble when he called her that; he only left out my middle name.
“Who is he? There must be someone else, why else would you go to San Francisco, again?”
He didn’t believe her last time, that she just had to escape; would he believe her now? Would he believe that the walls of their apartment contracted, like the trash compactor scene in Star Wars? She tried walking around Sacramento, admiring the many, many trees of Capitol Park, then through the outdoor mall downtown, but, as much as she tried, it wasn’t The City.
“There’s nobody, Drew, I just had to get out of here.”
“There’s nowhere else you could go? Nowhere closer than 100 miles? Something keeps dragging you back, so hard that you take our daughter, on a two-hour drive, because you had to get out of here?”
“What about Anywhere But Here?”
“Shit, Sandi, that’s about going to different places, not being lured back to one place over and over again. Do you need to go somewhere? Fine, we’ll go somewhere this weekend. Anywhere but there. If you want me to believe there’s nobody, which I’m finding harder to do, you have to stop. There can’t be a next time.”
Sandi looked up at him, nodding slowly, dejectedly. Hearing Emily cry from the bedroom, she rose automatically and walked away.
She thought of her small stash of escape money, five dollars siphoned off of every weekly grocery bill. One tank of gas for the round trip cost $20, then $12 for parking, and $3 for a fancy coffee if she had it left over all meant a trip every couple months. She’d been many times and Drew hadn’t noticed.
What am I supposed to do with my days? Sandra wondered. Watch soap operas, pretending I’m in the cast, until all remnants of my dreams evaporate?
Chapter 8: Emily (Summer 2012)
Emily never heard her parents arguing so loudly until the month before her predictable, almost boring life jumped on a falling apart Tilt-O-Whirl. She rubber-neck listened, mortified and frozen, near the door to their bedroom out of sight, when they thought she was asleep.
“Drew, listen, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I went to the city, but…”
“How could you do this, San, you know how I feel about that place.”
“I got offered a job! Can’t we at least consider moving, just for a year? We can rent the house. You said you could live in any city with a major airport? SFO is major, right? You fly out of there for International?”
“What about Emily? You’d uproot her just for your pleasure?”
Emily smiled, pleased, until her dad continued:
“San Francisco is no place to raise a child, unless you want Emily pregnant at 16, hooked on drugs by 18.”
“Give Emily some credit, Drew, she’s a good kid.”
“Because she’s in a good environment. You think I chose the suburbs by accident? Why do you think I never wanted her in daycare?”
“Teenagers get pregnant here too, Drew, and you know if Emily wanted to find drugs, she would.”
Emily felt wetness on her cheeks, unaware she was crying. She didn’t know who’s side she was on now, didn’t know who to believe.
“Anyway, San, this is not about Emily, this is about you lying, sneaking off to that city, and you want me to believe you landed a job? I mean, really, what are you qualified to do besides drive kids around and make dinner?”
Emily heard her mom gasp, like she’d been sucker-punched, and gulp loudly like she was trying not to cry.
“I’ve had my job for ten years and I was offered a promotion once, but you told me to turn it down, that my responsibility was to this family,” her mom said quietly. “You won’t even consider this, will you?”
“What about me? Don’t I matter?”
Too late, Emily’s Dad stormed out the bedroom door, and saw her sitting on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest.
“Emi-bear,” her dad said, anger melting off his face, replaced by shame. “You weren’t supposed to hear that. I didn’t mean…”
Emily stood up quickly, gave her dad a look of tormented betrayal, ran to her room and slammed the door.
The few weeks before summer vacation had previously stretched golden and warm; now they loomed overcast and frigid.
Chapter 9: Sandra (January 2012)
An hour after Sandra got off the phone with Parker, she left work and drove 3.2 miles to her house. High school and the drama club were dim memories punctuated by moments of joy onstage, bowing to applause from an enthusiastic crowd. She shoved away the memories. Sandra, she told herself, there’s no room in theater for a 37 year old woman of mediocre height, five or ten pounds overweight, prancing on stage pretending she’s sixteen.
She turned the lights off on those memories letting the curtain descend.
She was driving home to exactly the life Parker named: a big house in the suburbs, a husband, a daughter. She wondered why it was such a slur.
Except this was never her dream. She never wanted these things, not that she wanted to abandon her daughter or husband, but she had created a life around someone else’s dream and pretended it was what she wanted for fourteen years.
Drew says I’m lucky, Sandra thought, I can quit my job anytime. He didn’t want me to work at all. He couldn’t understand that I needed something that was mine, even if all I’m doing is answering customer service calls.
While Drew was climbing his ladder to success, one sales convention and customer dinner at a time, she unloaded groceries and tidied the house. The only thing she climbed were the stairs in her house, holding the laundry basket against her hip.
Fragrant, brilliant stargazer lilies, boldly white and fuchsia, permeated her nostrils and inner vision from memory. Fifteen years ago, Drew had waited for her in front of the college theater after her performance as Lilli in Kiss Me, Kate as late winter rain doused the streets.
Surprised and flattered, Sandra agreed to a late meal at a diner nearby. “You’re amazing,” he told her, with big blue eyes and a wide smile, “don’t forget me when you’re famous.”
She was graduating in five months and had audacious, naive plans to move to New York City. Then fate gave her Drew, whose charm and confidence buoyed her, nearly more than the stage. Sure, they could move to New York after she graduated, Drew said, they could move anywhere when he finished grad school. But confronted by a surprise pregnancy, she agreed with Drew. They couldn’t give up their baby, and they certainly couldn’t move to New York.
Sandra swallowed back an acid reflux burst of grief and turned into the driveway of her aptly-labeled “McMansion;” her house not cosmetically different from the houses on either side.
She parked in the far right space; leaving the middle slot empty. It was always misleading, Sandra thought, to see Drew’s sleek black Lexus, purchased new last year, parked on the opposite side. It didn’t mean that Drew was home; only that his car was. Drew was fastidious about his car’s cleanliness; made easier because the car spent its time in the garage while Drew spent his travel time in rental cars, taxis, and airplanes.
She innocently mentioned her car needed new tires; Drew’s response was to dump her “unsightly wreck” and get a new one. “But I don’t want a new car,” Sandra complained, “I just need tires.” If the neighbors were going to talk about her, let it be for something she did, not something she owned. New car smell couldn’t make up for a husband who slept on the left side of the bed in a hotel room more time than not, each month.
She walked into the house, opening cupboard doors, searching for something, then closing them.
She craved something she couldn’t name.
Keep reading: Chapters 10–12
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