The Sidelined Wife

By: Jennifer Peel

More Than a Wife Series

Chapter One

He held an open box filled with odds and ends—his alarm clock, the paper weights that used to sit on his desk. He shifted the box to one hand while he reached into his pocket for our . . . I mean for my house key. There was no ours anymore. Well, maybe one thing, but I was claiming Cody mostly mine.

He barely met my eyes when he pressed the key into my hand and lingered. I knew that hand better than my own—soft but firm, a comfort once. I pulled away, but his grasp tightened.

“I’m sorry, Samantha.”

My gray eyes bore into his tired brown eyes that now wore the mark of his age. Lines crinkled where there was once smooth skin. I used to see my future reflected in those brown pools; now all I saw was a fork in the road. This was where we parted.

I used more force this time and took the key and my hand back, along with my life. “Does it really matter?”

He shuffled the box in his hands, using both now to hold it. “I didn’t mean for us to turn out this way.”

“I think you mean you never meant to get caught.”

His ears turned crimson. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

I wanted to laugh in his face—I was done with tears—but I was too tired. “Goodbye, Neil.” I reached around him to open the door.

“That’s it, after nineteen years together?” His audacity was astounding.

“You should have asked yourself that when you decided to forget you were a married man.” Some emotion crept in, but I held steady. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing he could still hurt me.

“Sam . . .”

I shook my head. “Don’t. Don’t give me another excuse that will never explain or make up for the inexcusable.” I’d heard them all already.

His head dropped and he muttered under his breath, “I’ll always love you.”

I mustered up some energy for that laugh when I opened the door and said not another word. I slammed the door behind him and took a deep breath. My eyes were begging for relief from the tears that stung them, but I refused to let them fall. He wasn’t worth the stain on my cheek.

I turned around and took a hard look at the house we had built together; it already looked different. There were blank spaces on the mantle where once stood pictures of a happy family. Only pictures of our connecting link smiled back at me. The walls too bore empty spaces where Neil’s artwork once hung. I saw an empty canvas waiting for me to make my own mark. I intended to.

The first things that were coming down were all the light-blocking curtains Neil preferred. This house—Cody’s and my house—was going to be filled with light and laughter. Cody. I sighed. I missed that kid’s laughter. With the divorce finally settled, I hoped it would come back. Now that he knew his home would continue to be with me, he wanted nothing to do with his father. Someday I would have to help change that, but not today.

I crept up the stairs to check on my progeny. He’d refused to come down when Neil arrived to collect the last of his belongings and drop off his key. I would have liked to have missed it too, but someone had to be the adult. I guess that was me.

At the top of the landing I surveyed the loft that used to act as Neil’s office, and the bedroom and bathroom doors that outlined it. There were still indents in the gray carpet where Neil’s desk and bookcases used to be. What was I going to do with all this space? Cody’s vote was for us to knock all the walls down except for his bedroom and bathroom and make a massive theater room. Maybe if he wasn’t leaving for college in three years.

Three years. My heart constricted. It did that every time I thought about my not so little boy leaving home. I’d bribed him to stay local—free laundry and food on the weekends for the duration. I mean, Northwestern was a good thirty minutes away, sometimes longer in Chicago traffic. And it was my alma mater, after all. He’d said he’d think about it. But he had his heart set on Notre Dame. Indiana wasn’t horribly far, but I knew it would feel like a million miles for me.

I knocked on the surly teenager’s door.

“Yeah.” He obviously didn’t want to be disturbed.

Too bad. I walked right in. Maybe not such a good idea. Teenage boys had this pungent smell to them no matter how much they bathed or how often I sprayed air freshener in his room. It was especially ripe now that football practice had started.