Esther Blair put her arms around her friend, Stacy. “She’ll be okay, honey. We got her here in time and they’re going to take care of her.” Two other friends, Tabitha and Molly gave Stacy a hug. Stacy nodded and embraced all of her friends. The four stayed in that position until a doctor cleared his throat. They sprang apart and jumped out of their chairs.
“Sofia’s stable,” he began. The four women peppered him with questions.
“Is she awake?” Stacy interrupted.
“She had a heart attack, right?” Esther put in.
“Can we see her?” Tabitha wanted to know.
“Is she going to wake up?” Molly asked.
The doctor put his hands up. “Ladies, please. No, she’s not awake yet but we have every reason to believe that she will. You are correct, though. She had a heart attack.” He looked at each of the women and took a breath. “You can all go in to see her, but don’t be too loud.” Giving them a warning look, he winked and walked out of the waiting room. The four friends didn’t waste time before racing down the hall to their friend’s hospital room.
Esther gasped when she saw her friend laying in the white, sterile, hospital bed. Sofia is Brazilian and has a natural glow, but her skin was pale today. Sofia’s lips had a blue pallor to them. Each of the women sat on either side of her. Esther picked up a hand, while Stacy picked up the other one. Tabitha and Molly each rubbed a leg.
“Sofia,” Esther stroked her friend’s hair. “We need you to wake up, honey.”
“Sofia, you scared us,” Tabitha said. “The doctor’s going to make sure you are okay.”
"I’m staying here tonight.” Molly told them all. Esther wiped tears from her eyes and leaned forward, her forehead touching Sofia’s.
Suddenly Stacy chuckled, “I’ve never known you to back out of anything and here you are, backing out of a potluck. All you had to do was tell us you didn’t want to cook anymore!”
Laughter filled the room.
“I made a ceasar salad,” Esther said.
“I was bringing cornbread,” Molly shrugged, “I was going to make brownies but got hungry for cornbread.” Laughter rang out again.
“In ceremony, I laughed so hard when Sofia swirled her wine, smelled it, and got wine up her nose!” Esther kept the laughing momentum going.
“Oh my God, me too!” Stacy sputtered. “She was so funny trying to blow it out of her nostril!”
After the giggles and snorts subsided, Tabitha spoke quietly. “I am so glad you are all a part of my life. If it hadn’t been for Sofia, we all might not know each other.”
Esther Blair walked across the street, her blue heels furiously clicking with each step. Stepping onto the curb Esther tapped a man not so gently on his shoulder. The man was stout with balding blond hair. Turning around, his blue eyes widened. Esther ignored him and held out a hand with perfectly manicured French tipped nails toward the woman in the black dress standing next to the man.
“Hello,” Esther smile dripped with sugar. “I am Jeff’s wife. And you are…” she waited for the young woman to answer.
“Um…. I’m….. Stephanie,” the petite woman stammered and after a moment’s hesitation took Esther’s hand.
Esther’s face hardened and her grip tightened. “So you’re Jeff’s new girl! I'm his wife. I hope you have room for him at your dorm room or apartment.” Esther let go of Stephanie’s hand and glared at her husband. “Your things will be in the yard. Lucy will stay with me. Oh, and I’m pregnant again. Congratulations.” Turning on her heel, Esther walked back to her car with Jeff calling after her. He caught up to her when she opened the car door.
“Wait,” he panted, “let’s talk. I’m sorry, baby.” He touched her shoulder.
Shaking him off, Esther was furious. “No, not this time Jeff! Go back to your little girl and I’ll see you in court.” Slamming the door, mollified when Jeff jumped back so his hand wouldn't get caught in the door.
Esther choked back her tears while she drove to pick her three year old up from day care. Pulling into the driveway, Esther flipped down the visor and checked her face for wetness. Satisfied, Esther turned off the car and went inside to pick up her daughter.
“I missed you!” Esther’s daughter, Lucy, exclaimed and threw her little arms around her mother. Esther’s eyes took in the girl’s brown eyes that seemed too large for her face. Esther stroked the long brown hair away from Lucy’s face. Esther puckered her lips and Lucy soundly kissed her mother.
“Do you want to go home?” Lucy nodded as Esther opened the back door and buckled Lucy into her car seat. Esther wondered if she should let the child know that her father would not be home tonight. Or any night for that matter. Esther sighed. She bit down on her lip and made up her mind.
She and Lucy had a dinner of macaroni, green beans and applesauce. After bath and a bit of playing, Lucy yawned. Lucy snuggled on her mother’s lap while Esther read a bedtime story. Esther kissed the child’s cheek and forehead before laying her in Lucy’s new bed.
Esther walked to the bedroom she shared with Jeff and the tears brimmed, eventually spilling over. She grabbed her phone, sent a text message, and began pulling out clothes to put into garbage bags. So that her daughter wouldn’t hear, Esther turned some music on and began to sob. She was finally realizing that her ten year marriage to Jeff was over. Tears coursing down her cheeks, Esther made her way to the kitchen to grab a bottle of water and wished it were something stronger.
As if on cue, Sofia came bursting into the kitchen with a bottle of wine in hand. Setting her items down, Sofia flew around the kitchen island to embraced her friend. Esther began loudly sobbing..
Ten minutes later Sofia looked into her friend’s eyes. “It’ll be okay, honey. I’m proud of you, you know. Kicking him out is a brave thing to do.”
Esther wiped her eyes and took a drink of her water while Sofia poured a glass of wine. “I know it is. I’m packing him now.”
“Good! I’ll help you finish.” Sofia winked, took Esther’s and went to the couple’s bedroom. “I’m impressed, you’ve done a lot!” Sofia exclaimed, looking around the room. The women worked in silence until every piece of clothing and toiletry was in a garbage bag. There were four total garbage bags. Sofia took two outside and came back for a third.
Esther began weeping again when she looked around her room. The room she no longer shared with her husband. Their child would grow up without a fulltime father. Their baby, Esther laid a hand protectively on her womb, would be born without a father. Esther imagined her kids’ first time at preschool. Will Jeff be there? Will he be involved in the kids’ lives at all? Esther wondered if she was going to be able to make enough money to support herself and her two children. What if she had to move? Maybe kicking him out was an irrational decision? Esther pursed her lips.
“Es, no,” Sofia said from the door. “Don’t rethink things.”
“Sofia, it’s been ten years! Plus, I’m pregnant!!”
“I know it has, and I know you are,” Sofia touched Esther’s stomach. “Es, we’ve done this three times and every time you’ve stopped packing and forgave him. This is a good thing!” Sofia hugged Esther. “You deserve someone who won't cheat on you, who will always be there to take care of you and the kids.”
Sofia groaned and turned Esther toward the mirror. “Look at yourself. You’re a beautiful person. I would kill for that color of brown hair, you have so much of it too!” Esther looked at herself, noting her brown eyes were the same as Lucy’s. Esther, in complete contrast to Sofia, had a pale olive skin tone. "You're my best friend because you are so generous and you care about everyone. You're the definition of sweet!"
Esther smiled. “You always say that. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Sofia kissed her friend’s cheek and took the last garbage bag outside, closing the door behind her. Esther went through the house, locking windows and doors, before checking on her daughter and heading to bed.
The absence of Jeff was painstakingly clear to Esther. She did not sleep much in case her phone rang. She dialed his number over and over but hung up before sending the call. She thought about bringing Lucy to bed with her but didn't want to wake her. Esther was going to keep Lucy in the dark about her father’s whereabouts as long as she could. Finally at six thirty, her phone rang. It was him.
“Hi,” Esther answered, mentally kicking herself for not sounding harsh.
“You’ve never put my stuff outside before,” he stated.
Esther frowned. “Is that why you called?”
“I thought we could talk about this.”
Esther wanted to throw the phone at him. “We’ve ‘talked about it’ three times, Jeff! I can’t ignore you cheating on me. I won’t do it anymore!”
“I’m sorry, Esther! I love you, I want you. I don’t know why I do this to you. I’m an idiot.” Jeff pleaded with his wife. "Let's talk and get past this. I'll go to counseling if we can try and get past this. Come on, sweetheart!"
"No!" Esther refused to let herself be swayed by the tears in his voice. "I can't do it anymore Jeff. I don't deserve this."
"You're right, you don't deserve this. I'm not good enough for you, I know that. You make me want to be a better man, Es."
Esther snorted, "Obviously not."
Jeff sighed. "What did you tell Lucy?"
"Nothing, and I don't plan to." Esther became aware of the time. "Wait, are you kidding me? You spent the night at that girl's dorm room and you're calling me to forgive you? You truly are a piece of work."
"Stephanie's got her own apartment and she's not a kid..."
Esther felt her blood boil. "You seriously brought her name up? I don't care to know anything about her! Do you have all your clothes?"
"Yes, I came last night."
"Good, go have your new life. Don't call here again!" Esther fumed.
"Wait... when can I see Lucy?"
"When I don't hate you anymore!" Esther slammed the phone down. She wanted to cry but she was too furious. She wanted to scream but she would wake Lucy up. Instead she went outside to breathe in some cold air. Esther was startled when she heard a small voice.
"Mommy, where were you?"
Esther opened her arms to pick up the child. "I'm so glad you're awake! Breakfast?"
"Daddy went to work."
"Okay. I'm hungry." Esther hugged her daughter. Life was so simple for a three year old. No wondering, no fear, and no drama. She carried Lucy to the kitchen to make her some cereal.
Her phone rang when Lucy was eating.
"Hi," Esther answered.
"How's it going?" Sofia asked her. "Got coffee?"
Esther laughed, "of course!"
"I'll be right over." Sofia hung up.
Sofia lived next door to Esther. They met when Esther and Jeff moved in as a young couple. The women became inseparable ever since. Sofia introduced Esther to some of the neighbors and all the women have a weekly poker game.
Minutes later the two women were seated in the living room with brimming coffee cups, Lucy was playing legos on the floor.
"What are you saying to her?" Sofia glanced at Lucy.
"Nothing. She's only three."
"Yeah, but she's going to ask Esther. You're going to have to say something."
"I know, but not now. I'm going to keep it as light as I can."
"Have you heard from him?"
Esther rolled her eyes. "This morning."
"This morning? I saw the garbage bags were gone last night when I took the dogs out."
Esther took a long sip of her coffee. "Yeah. He wants to talk. He brought up counseling. Same old same old." She waved her hand and watched her daughter trying to build something.
"You're not going to forgive him again, are you?"
Esther smiled. "Just like that? No, I'm not."
Sofia nodded in approval. "Good. I'm here, honey. I'll help you two any way I can."
Esther smirked, "us three."
Sofia called out to Lucy, who went running to her. Sofia asked the little girl what she was building. Lucy squealed when Sofia tickled her ribs.
"Lucy," Sofia kissed her cheek. "Are you excited to be a big sister?"
Lucy nodded and proudly pointed to Esther. "Mommy's baby right there!"
Sofia and her two dogs were over almost every night to for dinner and to help get Lucy ready for bed. She even read Lucy her bedtime stories sometimes so that Esther could take a bubble bath and relax. Every night when Lucy was in bed, Esther would sit on her back deck and think about her new life. Sometimes Sofia would sit with her, comforting and making Esther laugh by making wise cracks about Jeff.
Jeff didn't call, breaking Esther's heart a little bit more each day. She missed him with every fiber of her being, yet at the same time couldn't believe that he didn't think to ask how she and Lucy were. Esther had trouble sleeping alone. Sofia urged Esther to sleep in the middle of the bed.
"It will help you not miss sleeping alone so much," she reasoned.
Three days after Jeff left, Esther came home to find Sofia making Esther's bed. Without Esther saying anything, Sofia understood that her friend needed all smells and sights of Jeff gone. Jeff's pillow case no longer wore his cologne, their joined bathroom now smelled of bleach, his towel that was hanging on the door was now washed and folded, and their wedding pictures were stored in a drawer.
"Thank you," Esther's heart twisted with relief and sadness. That night she laid in the middle of the bed and slept through the night.
Esther was able to convince Lucy that her dad was out of town for a week before Lucy began crying for him.
"I want Daddy!" Lucy wailed. Esther and Sofia rushed into her room, Sofia giving Esther a knowing look. Esther hugged her child. "I miss him."
"I know, baby," Esther met Sofia's eyes.
"Where is he?" Lucy wanted to know.
"Lucy, Daddy's out of town."
"No, I miss him. Tell him to come home!"
"Lucy I can't honey." Part of Esther wanted badly to ask her husband to come home. She buried her face in Lucy's hair and sniffed her hair that still smelled of sweet baby. "Daddy's going to be gone for a while." When that only made Lucy cry harder, Sofia stepped in.
"It's been fun having me and Mommy here though, hasn't it?"
Lucy nodded. "Daddy too."
Esther rocked the girl, crooning like she used to when Lucy was a baby. Lucy stuck her thumb in her mouth. When her eyes fluttered, Esther laid the child back on the bed. Lucy moaned and clutched her mother. "Mommy, I sleep in your bed."
Blinking back tears, Esther agreed and carried Lucy to her bed.
Sofia began spending a few nights in Esther's guest room. She took Lucy to the park or the zoo to give Esther time for herself. When it came time for their women's poker night, Sofia arranged to have the game at her house as well as having one of the teenage girls watch Lucy.
Stacy Miller waved at her son. They were at his football game and Ryan was the quarterback. Like any proud mother, Stacy screamed, jumping to her feet to clap furiously when Ryan scored a touchdown. When the game was over she scrambled down the bleachers to meet him at the car. It took him five minutes before he arrived in the parking lot. She waited while he talked to his friends, slapping them on the back and laughing. He threw his gear in the backseat and slid next to his mother.
"Dad didn't show, did he?"
Stacy gave a half smile. "No, sweetie, he didn't. I'm sorry." She combed her fingers through her son's hair.
"Why are you sorry?" he moved his head, shrugging her off. "He's a dick."
Stacy sighed. "Don't say that!"
"He is, Mom. Ever since you guys got divorced he never comes around." He shook his head. "Whatever. Do you want to get something to eat?"
"Sure. Lets take it home though," she agreed. They picked up a pizza and took it home. Ryan made his mother laugh with stories about his day at school. Stacy talked of her day at work. After dinner they watched some television while Ryan texted on his phone.
"Hello," Ryan answered his phone. "Hi,Dad." He looked away from Stacy's inquiring glance. "No, it's never a big deal when you don't come."
Stacy mouthed for him to be nice. He scowled, continuing his conversation. "Yeah Mom was there. Mom's always there. You always have something.... look, Dad, I've got to get off the phone. Mom and I are having dinner. Right, bye."
"Ryan! You have to be nicer to your dad."
"Why do you want me to be nice to him?" Ryan's voice was hard. "He's sure as hell not nice to us."
"Honey," she began, "our divorce doesn't have anything to do with you. It's between your dad and I."
He jumped up, whirling on her. "Really, Mom? It doesn't affect me at all, huh?" Stacy reached out to her son but he just pulled away. "I'm going to bed."
"Hey," he stopped and turned around. "Night. I love you," she said.
He smiled. "I love you too, Mom. Night." He went to her, kissed her on the cheek and hugged her before going to his bedroom.