If you’re new to my Small Town Secrets series, then you might not know that the books are rewritten versions of older stories that I’ve tied together and improved a thousand times over!
Love and Sorrow, book 5, will be released February 23, so I’m getting it ready for publication. I’m including here some of the scenes deleted from the original book.
The book is a story about Randi Miller and her children, as well as her relationship with Justin, her friend with benefits and admitted player:
~ ~ ~
She remembered the first night he came over and the two of them sat at the kitchen table studying. Sarah and Devon had already finished their homework and were playing a video game in the living room. When Sarah came back in the room to ask what they were going to have for dinner, Randi said she wasn’t sure. She followed Sarah into the living room and asked her and Devon if they would mind if Randi invited Justin to stay for the meal. Both not only said yes but seemed enthusiastic. “He seems nice, mom,” Sarah had said.
~ ~ ~
How they met:
Randi had decided over a year ago that she was tired of working retail and service jobs. The hours were bad, the pay was pathetic, and it was hard work. Even though after taking an assistant manager position her pay got better—and, for the first time in her life, she could support herself and her children with her paycheck combined with child support, sporadic or not—and she was finally covered with health insurance and a short-term disability policy, she needed something more. Ever since she’d turned thirty, her position in life ate away at Randi. There had to be something better.
So last summer she’d checked out the local community college. They’d told her about all the certification programs they had, but they also had two-year degrees; or if she needed to move on to something else, she could take her credits and Associate’s Degree to a university and earn a four-year degree. Few of her credits from attending college ten-plus years earlier counted because it had been too long, but she didn’t care. The advisor told her she could consider attending her old school, but that wasn’t an option. Due to her circumstances, Randi qualified for plenty of financial aid to cover all the expenses of tuition, books, and other things. After talking further with her advisor, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in yet, so she took the core classes that she needed anyway, no matter what her major, to get them out of the way.
She and Justin met in her basic math class. She’d been doing fine until the rest of the class started breezing through algebra and her mind got stuck in the mud trying to process it all. If she’d had more time to focus on it, she knew she could’ve understood it, but at the breakneck pace of the class, she was doomed for failure. And it was pass or fail. Justin sat next to her and one day after class asked how she was doing. She confessed that her progress was “lousy” now that they’d moved beyond concepts like multiplication and decimals. He offered to help her out if she could help him with the essays he had in his English class. It was a good match—he came over one night a week at first, two nights later on, to tutor her and she’d go over his papers, correcting his spelling and punctuation and sometimes giving him ideas on things to change. He took the time to help her understand in math what the instructor assumed she knew.
The first night he came to her house, she introduced him to her children. They all seemed to get along fine. So she got a little bolder and invited him to stay for dinner. Justin was good-looking and Randi hadn’t been with a man since she’d divorced Devon’s father, not even in a one-night fling. She’d sworn off men after her failed marriage. But Justin didn’t have to be a full-blown relationship, and she knew it. He was three years younger than Randi, had never been married, and wasn’t looking for anything serious; she wasn’t either. But it was nice to have a friend, a male friend, someone to gaze at because he looked so good, someone to listen to because his voice was so smooth, someone to sleep with because his love-making skills were A-plus. After the first few times they’d had sex, Justin dubbed them “fuck buddies.” Randi thought she was okay with that—no commitment, save that they would sleep with each other on occasion. She was surprised how much the relationship freed her up—no arguments with a spouse, no debating over bills or the kids, no washing his dirty laundry, but she had the satisfaction of a good lay and a hairy muscular chest on which to lay her head one or two nights a week. They slept together when they felt like it without the worry of anything stressful or extraneous.
Randi was amazed. She’d always been afraid that she was one of “those” women who always needed a man in her life. She wouldn’t have admitted it even to her best friend (if she’d had one other than Justin), but the fear crouched deep in the shadows of her heart, which was also part of why she’d made it a point not to date after the divorce. Once or twice she found herself becoming possessive of Justin until he reminded her of their agreement or she came to her senses on her own. So she looked at the positives and allowed herself to be happy with the relationship as it was. She didn’t complain when he dated other women—she knew he’d still be accessible to her and that was all that really mattered. And they were friends. He listened to her and helped her work out any problems she needed to discuss; he helped her with minor car repairs, and she fed him dinner once or twice a week with her family. They made each other laugh and smile. It was an easy friendship.
~ ~ ~
But before Justin, there was Kent (Sarah’s father)…
When they returned home from taking Devon to school, Sarah went back to her room and lay on her bed. Just as good a time as any, Randi thought, and went to the desk in her bedroom where she kept her address book. She turned to the Fs and found the entry for Kent Fisher, which listed his home phone and cell phone numbers. She wanted to talk with Kent and not his wife, so she opted for the cell.
She was almost shaking, she was so nervous. The last time she had talked to Kent was when he’d called earlier that year to arrange bringing Sarah to his home for the summer. He’d called at the beginning of summer and also last spring to arrange the details. Randi rarely called him of her own accord, because things had always been strained between them.
Well, not always. Randi had met Kent in college. The second semester in her freshman year, she joined the staff of the student newspaper. It turned out to be a great way for her to meet new people. She wanted to learn to write as a reporter, but she wound up getting more than just experience writing. She got to cover large campus events and make a few friends who worked for the paper, people she wouldn’t ordinarily meet, because they were different ages and different majors, even though most of the students involved were Communications majors. Randi wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in yet, but she thought it would be fun to work for the paper and she enjoyed writing.
At the beginning of her sophomore year, she jumped back in. She’d been a little nervous about coming back to school, but she knew if she went back to something familiar, it would make things easier. She was right. This year, though, a new student joined their ranks—a junior named Kent who was also majoring in Communications. At the suggestion of his advisor, he united with their team.
During their first meeting of the year, Randi caught Kent looking at her on occasion. She felt a little shy but couldn’t help smiling at him. After the meeting, he invited her out to one of the campus cafés for some coffee. Soon afterward they were dating. They covered campus events like Homecoming, reporting the event together. They didn’t report, however, that he and Randi consummated their relationship the same evening.
It was what she might in retrospect call a whirlwind romance. He was the first boyfriend she had that she could actually describe as a good lover. He was gentle, caring, and tender during their lovemaking. He cared if she had an orgasm and ensured that most times she did. She’d never had an orgasm with a guy before, so the time spent with Kent was well worth it. By Christmas, she found herself falling in love with him but never said so. They were too young.
But maybe he’d sensed it. He was asking for some space by February and by March the relationship fizzled. The magic was gone, as was the gentle version of Kent. He told her he needed to talk with her. They met at the same café where they’d gotten to know each other and he told her, in so many words, that it was over. He wasn’t rude about it, just reporting the facts. What stung was that—as he left the table, Randi trying not to sob in her Pepsi—a girl joined him outside and slipped her hand in his, and they walked off.
Spring is a time of new beginnings, however, and Randi tried to get over it. She buried herself in classes and avoided being at the newspaper office much, just popping in long enough to deliver her stories and receive new assignments. She felt like she had the flu during spring break and just lay on the couch of her on-campus apartment trying to recover. She didn’t realize what was happening until she missed her period the next week and she still felt sick. She went to the same agency she’d gone to when she’d gotten on the pill—the Planned Parenthood center a few blocks from campus—only this time it was to take a test. They confirmed what she had started to fear—she was pregnant. The nurse reminded her in her shock that the pill is not one-hundred-percent accurate while bombarding Randi with information about choices.
Stunned, she walked back to her on-campus apartment and, needing someone to talk to, confided in one of her roommates. Over the next few days, she reviewed the information but still wasn’t sure what to do. Her roommate told her she should tell Kent—the baby was his, after all—and get his take on what she should do. Talking to him with the cute blond at his side didn’t appeal to Randi in the least.
She struggled through the rest of her classes and finished out her second year of college. It almost didn’t seem like she was pregnant; her clothes still fit, even though most of her pants were growing snug, and she didn’t feel sick anymore. Finally, though, it was time to stop putting it off, and she tried to think—really think—about her situation. It was then that she decided she couldn’t abort the unborn child. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. She considered giving the baby up for adoption but already felt like she had bonded with the life inside her. Her biggest dilemma was deciding if she should finish school. Even though she wasn’t showing yet, she went home for the summer and broke the news to her parents, hoping they’d have some advice for her. Instead, they read her the riot act about being irresponsible. In the end, though, they let her live with them. She decided not to go back to school, for the time being, at any rate. And in late December, she had a baby girl she named Sarah and the hospital put the father’s name as “Unknown” on the birth certificate even though Randi told them who the father was. Randi understood now, though, why “you can never go home again.” Her parents wanted to play mom and dad to Sarah, instead of letting Randi be her mother. She hadn’t been idle during her pregnancy—she’d taken childbirth and parenting classes, had read dozens of books on the subject, all while working a part-time job as a restaurant hostess until her doctor told her in December she had to quit. The gifts she’d received for Christmas weren’t the usual clothing, jewelry, and CDs that her parents usually showered on her, but she got a crib, car seat, and high chair. They grew excited that their oldest daughter was having a baby and they took over. Her mother refused to let Randi have a baby shower even though her older sister wanted to host one; there was no father, her mother reminded her, and “we don’t want to flaunt it.” Her parents had been a huge financial help, but Randi felt stifled and didn’t want her child to think her grandparents were her parents too. So she moved out of their house and into an apartment with an old high school friend. She wasn’t sure what to do now, though, until her friend suggested she go to Social Services and apply for food stamps and welfare (and she discovered their help didn’t have those stigmatized names anymore). The agency helped her with daycare, getting a job, and they found the baby’s father.
A year after they had broken up, the child support division at Social Services tracked Kent Fisher down. Randi and Sarah had to have genetic testing done, and the workers told her Kent was having a test done elsewhere. By the time Kent graduated college, he also knew he was a father. And shortly afterwards he found Randi through her parents and called, first venting and then finally telling her he wanted to see his child. He and his parents drove to Randi’s hometown to meet the baby Sarah and the stupid slut bitch who’d allowed herself to get knocked up. They’d never come out and said it, but they didn’t need to.
Six months later, she had steady child support coming in and was able to get away from Social Services (save the child support end of it), holding down small jobs here and there, still living with a roommate, still relying on her parents on occasion. A few months after that, Kent served his own papers on her to establish custody and visitation. He lived in Arizona, so the judge ruled that summer visitation for Kent was fair, as well as his not paying child support during those three months; if Kent were closer, he could have Sarah on weekends as well, but the judge was looking at the best interests of the child, particularly a stable home environment. He encouraged Kent to visit more often if he could and for Randi and Kent to work things out between themselves when possible. Kent also won joint custody of Sarah, although the designation didn’t amount to much. The two of them were civil to each other, but any feelings they’d had at one time for one another were long gone. Randi wondered what she’d ever seen in Kent, and she suspected he felt the same, especially after his child support was raised a few years later.
It didn’t matter, because now her life was inextricably linked with his from this point on, quite possibly for the rest of their lives. And now, no matter how she felt about him, he had a vested interest in his daughter and needed to know what was happening. Besides that, she needed to ask him about his insurance. She had no choice, no alternatives—she had lost them the moment she decided to keep the child she was now worried sick about.
She dialed the number, hoping she’d get his voicemail. It would be easier to leave a message and then talk to him later. But a small part of her hoped to talk to him and just get it over with. The small part won. He answered his phone. “Fisher.”
“Kent, this is Randi. I need to talk to you about Sarah. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting anything.” She was quick with the apologies because she was afraid he’d be rude and nasty from the start.
Instead, he asked, “What’s going on?”
“It’s kind of a long story. Do you have a few minutes?”
“Yeah. Just a second.” She heard him talking with someone else before he got back on the line. “Go ahead. Is Sarah okay?”
~ ~ ~
Randi had never met Kent’s children Jack and Amanda but had seen pictures. She’d met Ann only once—the summer when Sarah was four and Ann and Kent were newlyweds, traveling through Colorado on their way back home from their honeymoon. Kent had called Randi to ask if it was okay if he took Sarah a couple of weeks earlier since he was close by anyway, and Randi had relented, only as long as Kent agreed to bring her back a couple of weeks early too. Randi had breathed a sigh of relief to see that Ann was not the young woman Kent had dumped her for years ago.
~ ~ ~
After Kent, there was Mike (Devon’s father):
She had one solution. One ace in the hole that she’d prayed she wouldn’t have to pull out. She could call Devon’s father. Devon was going to his dad’s house Friday night anyway, so Sarah would just be an extra kid there for one night. He was her stepfather, and they hadn’t spent much time together in a few years. Randi bit her lip. As much as she hated asking her parents for help, she dreaded and feared asking her ex-husband even more.
Mike Simpson was former military. Randi had met him while she was working as a bartender. Although she lived on her own during that time, her parents kept Sarah for her when she had to work. Sarah was a toddler then and child support was coming in every month, but it wasn’t enough to pay the bills.
When Mike first started frequenting the bar, he was quiet and kept to himself. As a good bartender should, though, Randi got him to talk over time. He came in at least three nights a week. Randi knew because she worked five to six nights a week, depending on if anyone else was sick or needed a night off. She needed the money and the tips were pretty good, so she worked as many hours as she could.
The first time Randi noticed he was becoming a regular, she asked Mike what he did. He told her he’d been out of the armed forces for about a year and was dabbling in different fields, trying to find out what suited him best. The night after that, Mike told her he’d been overseas for a few years in the armed conflict in the Middle East. No, he hadn’t been drafted, he told her; he’d volunteered (Randi didn’t find out until later that no one in this day and age was drafted—the military was all and only volunteers, but telling her he’d volunteered had made Mike sound more badass). He learned a lot of new skills and got a lot of experience, but most of it wasn’t helping him with getting employment now that he was back in the states. He said that now he “kinda wished he’d re-upped.”
The night after that, Randi realized that Mike was drinking less, talking more, and staring at her when she wasn’t waiting on him. She looked back. He wasn’t bad looking—dark hair, brooding heavy blue eyes, a five-o’clock shadow, tanned. He had unusually high cheekbones, and she found out later that he had a lot of Native American blood, but he never told her what tribe. She figured he was probably only three or four years older than she was. What she noticed most about Mike was that he was tall, and it looked as though every muscle on his body had been toned to perfection—it was probably the years in the military that had chiseled him like that. To Randi, he looked like one of those pro football players that would tackle a guy and send him out of the game, simply from the mass of his weight. He was big and burly but lithe. If he hadn’t been so introverted, it wouldn’t have surprised Randi to see him start dancing in the middle of the floor. She wondered if it was his experience overseas that made him a bit of a loner or if he was naturally that way. He told her he’d decided to go to truck-driving school. He thought he could be more of his own boss if he was out on the road. He liked driving and didn’t mind being alone, so it seemed like a good fit.
A few weeks later, Mike became more assertive about his interest in Randi and asked her out on a date. She agreed to go to the movies with him the next weekend, provided her parents could watch Sarah an extra night. They agreed because they were glad to see a man take an interest in Randi. They told her that it was hard for a single mother to get married, so if a man was interested, she should take him up on it.
Her parents’ speech sickened her, and she almost backed out because of it. She decided not to, but her employer had other plans. Saturday afternoon, her boss called her and told her she needed to cover a shift that night. She protested to no avail; if she wanted her job, she’d be there. She called Mike and told him that she’d have to take a rain check. He was disappointed but seemed to understand. It didn’t surprise Randi when he showed up later that evening.
He told her he thought maybe they could have a date after she got off work. When she told him she probably wouldn’t be done at the bar until around three in the morning, he told her that was fine. So he stayed with her as the packed bar dwindled down to the diehards—the people who had no one to go home to and those who did have someone to go home to but didn’t want to. The crowd that had been there just for fun was gone by midnight. As Mike sat at the bar smiling crookedly at her, sipping his Bud, Randi felt irritated that her employer was too cheap to hire a cocktail waitress; but she knew she herself wouldn’t make the tips she did if he had. So Randi started cleaning up the place—wiping down the bar and tables, washing the glasses, putting away the limes, cherries, olives, and other extras, picking up the bowls of peanuts, sweeping the floor, cleaning the bathrooms (she felt fortunate there was nothing disgusting to clean as there often was). Promptly at two, she had her customers leave the establishment and locked the door. Mike asked if he could do anything to help. She told him she just had to mop and count the cash and they could get out of there. He sat at a table while she walked to the back where she got into the closet and pulled out the mop bucket. She filled it with soap and hot water and dragged it out into the main area. She mopped behind the bar first and then moved out into the main area. She had a system and could get it all done in less than twenty minutes. Mike sat at his stool at the bar not saying anything, just watching her.
She started moving toward the back where the bathrooms and closet were and finished in another few minutes. She returned to the bar area and started counting the cash while Mike continued watching her. When she finished counting the money, she asked if Mike would mind running by the bank so she could drop the deposit in the night drop. He told her that would be fine. While she gathered up her purse and jacket, Mike stared at her and told her she was beautiful. She mopped her brow with the back of her hand and told him she didn’t see how she could be after working ten hours, ending with a mop in her hands. He pulled her close and kissed her, and then she believed him.
They decided Randi would leave her car there, and he would take her back after their date. He drove his truck to the bank. She got out and dropped the bag in the depository. When she got back in, he kissed her again, more passionately this time and asked what she wanted to do on their first date. She told him there wasn’t much they could do this late at night. He told her he could think of one thing. So they did. They went back to his apartment and fucked like animals until the sun came up.
They relied on condoms because Randi hadn’t started birth control again after having Sarah. Randi hadn’t realized until Mike came along how nice it was to have a masculine figure in her life, a man who wasn’t her father, her landlord, or her boss. He went to truck-driving school in Denver but came back every weekend to see Randi. His possessiveness didn’t bother her at first because she liked the attention. Mike made her feel like a woman again after feeling like just a disheveled, harried mother and bartender.
He started spending more time at her apartment and got to know Sarah better, even helping Randi plan the little girl’s third birthday party. Sarah rarely saw her own father, so Mike became a surrogate of sorts. That summer, Sarah spent a month with her real father in Arizona. Enjoying their freedom, Randi and Mike took advantage of having no child around. Randi’s roommate was rarely home, so the two of them christened every nook, cranny, and corner of her apartment with their lovemaking. The fun ended when a condom broke.
Randi tried not to worry about it but couldn’t help herself. Sarah came home, and Mike asked Randi if she’d move in with him. He was planning to move to Winchester (the town where she’d spent her childhood) where a truck-driving job awaited him, so she’d have to quit her job, but he said he wanted to take care of her. She wasn’t sure that was a good idea; she had her parents there as babysitters, and she didn’t know that she wanted to find another job. When Randi discovered she was pregnant, Mike asked her to marry him. But before he asked her, he punched a hole in the living room wall in her apartment in his anger.
But she did move. And they chose a starter home together. Mike was thrilled to find out he was going to have a son. They planned a wedding date for November, hoping Randi wouldn’t be showing too much by then. Randi’s parents offered to foot the bill, thrilled that she was finally marrying, but they wanted to keep it low key (meaning only a few guests were invited) because they were afraid Randi might start to show. She got a stern lecture from them—they asked her why she hadn’t learned anything the first time, getting pregnant out of wedlock. She was upset but bit her lip—soon she’d be living farther away. She wasn’t sure that she loved Mike, but she enjoyed his company and thought maybe—for the first time since she’d become an adult—she might have some stability.
Randi wore ivory at the behest of her parents, and she and Mike had a weekend honeymoon camping next to a lake because that was all they could afford. They came home and set up housekeeping—Mike said he didn’t want Randi to work. So she spent her time fixing Sarah’s room and getting the nursery ready for the new baby. Mike was gone four to five days a week, driving on the road, but he was home on the weekends. He liked what she’d done with their new home. Their first Christmas together was enjoyable and for the first time Sarah actually seemed more interested in the toys she got rather than just playing with the pretty wrapping paper. Sarah turned four right after and seemed to understand that a baby brother was on the way.
Their first major argument happened when they were choosing the name for the baby the next spring. They’d finally agreed on a name for the baby—Devon Michael. But Mike wanted to spell his name “Devin” like “Kevin.” Randi insisted his name be spelled Devon. Mike got angry and left. He came home long after midnight, smelling of many beers and smoke that lingered on his jacket. He curled up in bed next to Randi, aroused. She told him she’d been asleep and needed to sleep more than usual because the pregnancy made her tired, so could he please wait until tomorrow? He got angry again, something that seemed to be happening more and more. She rolled over onto her side, trying to go back to sleep. She thought it was over when he cursed at her, then threw his shoes and socks on the floor at the foot of the bed. He left the room but then came back in, said she was his wife, goddammit, and entered her from behind. She didn’t even have the chance to turn around and fight. She asked him to stop. When he got up, he burped and left the room to sleep on the couch. She cried herself to sleep that night, praying that Sarah hadn’t heard any of it.
The next morning he apologized and blamed it on drinking. They got along just fine then, and a few weeks later, Mike sat by her side during the delivery. Randi’s parents kept Sarah while Randi was in the hospital, and when baby Devon was born and—after holding the baby for a few minutes—Mike left to celebrate (cigars in his pocket, probably twelve-packs in his truck), Randi completed the birth certificate, ensuring that Devon’s name was spelled the way she wanted it to be.
And she’d stayed married to him for three-and-a-half long years until she’d finally had enough. After they separated, she rarely asked him for anything and never mentioned child support or visitation. Mike was sporadic about visitation and child support payments too. Randi didn’t want to keep him out of Devon’s life, though. As long as he was out of hers for the most part, she was satisfied.
~ ~ ~
But now she had to ask him for a favor. If she caught him in a good mood, it wouldn’t be a problem. Later on he might hold it over her head, but for now, she couldn’t worry about that. If Mike knew anything, he knew that Randi loved her children and would do anything for them. She’d make sure he understood that when she called.
Her fingers shook as she dialed the number to his cell phone. Even after four years away, just thinking about him brought out uneasy emotions. She knew it was because she had to ask him for something. If it had been to ask if Devon had left his favorite video game at Mike’s house, it wouldn’t have bothered her.
~ ~ ~
“Fine.” She supposed that was fair enough. She told him she didn’t mind when he gave in to Devon’s demands on occasion, but when Mike spoiled him rotten every time he visited, Randi always looked like the bad guy and had to deal with Devon’s behavior for a few days after he visited his dad. At her request, Mike had agreed to take him out for a hamburger or taco kid’s meal once in a while instead of every weekend he visited. That way Devon would understand that he couldn’t always get what he wanted. If she’d had her way, Mike would never spoil Devon, but she also knew that wasn’t fair to Mike. Still, he was lucky she even let him see Devon at all. She supposed as long as he kept his promise to never lay a hand on him, the situation could continue as it had.
Talking with Mike made her wonder why he’d seemed to change over the course of their relationship. Their marriage had started out okay, but when she thought about it, she knew he’d always shown signs of the man he really was. He’d been possessive to the ultimate degree. And when they’d first started dating, he loved the skimpy tops she’d worn that revealed her cleavage, navel, or both. But after they’d been together for a while, he’d asked—then demanded—that she cease wearing them. He didn’t want other men to see any part of her like that. His lovemaking had always been aggressive, sometimes bordering on rough. She liked it on occasion, but there were few tender moments. By the end of their marriage, there were none.
She was surprised with herself but glad she’d broken off the relationship. For the first few weeks after Devon was born, Mike was kind and sweet and loved looking at the baby as he slept. When Devon starting crying every evening around dinnertime (Randi suspected colic), Mike resumed working over the road. And on weekends, he spent much of his time out with his friends. He told Randi he had to unwind. And when he was at home, he yelled a lot unless he was calming himself with a beer and a baseball game on the television. By the time Devon was two and Sarah was in the first grade, Mike started getting rough with Randi, grabbing her by an arm or shoving her across the room. Sometimes he’d just break something in the house, taking out his anger on a lamp or a wall. And the verbal insults grew worse.
But as Devon learned to talk, Mike learned to use his hands more expressively. The first time he hit Randi was when she’d been at the store for longer than he thought she should have been. He slapped her face and called her a lying whore. She cried and swore to him that she couldn’t find what she was looking for, and the store had been crowded. It was true, but she knew he didn’t believe her. He was sure she’d been fucking around on him.
Soon he didn’t need much of a reason to hit her and stopped worrying if the kids were around when he did it. Randi found herself looking down, speaking softly if at all, not wanting to provoke his temper. For a time his truck-driving jobs were local again, and he was home every night—late at night, though, after he’d been out drinking. Randi found herself making excuses to not visit her parents, to not go to the store, to not talk with her old friends. The only time she ever left the house was to take Sarah to school and pick her up. If she went grocery shopping, it was with the kids in tow as witnesses. She tried to keep Mike happy by keeping the house immaculate, by making sure dinner was always ready for him whether it was five o’clock, seven, or ten. He would always apologize the next day after hurting her and seemed sincere. But that didn’t stop him from doing it again.
It wasn’t until Sarah, then in the second grade, got a note from school saying that she was talking too much in class that Randi got the first notion to leave. Randi was looking at the note and sat down with Sarah at the table to explain to her that she needed to focus in class and not distract other children from doing their work. Mike had just come in from work and asked what was going on. Maybe he’d had a bad day at work, but he read the little girl the riot act for a full ten minutes, and Randi found herself just letting him do it. Sarah, released from his verbal punishment, ran to her room crying. As Randi put dinner plates on the table, she felt guilty for not defending her daughter, for not telling Mike he blew it all out of proportion. When they all sat down to dinner a few minutes later, Sarah’s face red from crying, Randi noticed Sarah mimicking her own actions, looking only at her plate and not in anyone else’s eyes, not talking in her usual animated, bubbly way. Randi felt anger building up inside her. Mike had changed Randi into a docile creature, but he wasn’t going to do that to her daughter. She had to leave.
But she didn’t. The seed was planted, and she decided she would, but she didn’t—not yet. Two nights later, Mike punched Randi twice in the face. Her cheek and lip were swollen, a tooth loosened. She couldn’t eat, and Tylenol hardly touched the pain. Randi had known that Mike was sleeping around—there were too many signs to deny it—and she’d made a comment about it. That was all it took for Mike to lose it. But she still couldn’t get up the nerve to leave. It wasn’t until Sarah, the next night while Mike was gone, asked Randi what she had done. “You must have been very bad to get punished like that.”
Staring at her daughter, the truth of the situation washing over her, Randi found an old strength inside herself, something she’d forgotten or hidden. She had done nothing wrong. She’d slowly grown to believe she was a bad wife, a bad mother, and deserved most of what befell her. Mike had helped her believe that. She had bought into it. But when her innocent little girl believed Randi must have been “very bad” to have brought on this sort of treatment, it was time to leave. She looked up the domestic violence agency in town and wrote down the emergency number because it was after hours. She called the number and talked for several minutes with a woman who advised her to gather up a few belongings—almost like going on a weekend vacation—and bring herself and her children to an address she gave her.
It was a shelter. There were two other women there, one with three children, the other with none. The woman she’d spoken with on the phone—Shelly—sat with her for a while, asking her myriad questions, all the time jotting notes on some papers inside a file folder. She told Randi the place was a safe house and she could stay there for as long as she needed. Shelly said she could tell Randi was tired, and they’d discuss more tomorrow. Randi’s lip and cheek were no longer puffy, but her lip still had a scab on the outside. Shelly had noticed it.
She took Randi and the children upstairs to a small room with a double bed, a twin bed, and a small dresser and told her they could sleep in there. Then she showed her the rest of the place, complete with kitchen, laundry room, play room, and a backyard with a tall privacy fence. Shelly showed Randi where the telephone was, tucked into a small closet, and advised her to not call anyone tonight. Soon another woman showed up—a caseworker—and she introduced herself to Randi. She told Randi that, for tonight at least, she wouldn’t be allowed to leave or use the phone but if she needed anything, she could ask. Randi and her kids could, of course, watch television or play any of the board games they had. If she wanted to talk, the woman would be available. But it felt like a prison to Randi, safe or not.
What really made an impression on Randi, however, was the other two women staying there. The single woman planned to leave the state and never contact her boyfriend again. He’d only beaten her twice—the first time, her collarbone was broken from a push down the stairs and she’d covered for him. This—the second time—was not as severe but enough to convince her she didn’t want to live this way.
The other woman, the one with three children, spent the time she talked to Randi justifying her husband’s behavior. He’d been having a hard time, she said. She was making excuses for him, telling Randi he was a good man, just had a hard time controlling his temper. He needed some time to cool off. Randi saw the scar on the woman’s cheek and her neck. When Randi asked her why, why would she want to go back to that, the woman got angry and defensive. “Don’t judge me” were the first words out of the woman’s mouth. She loved him, she told Randi. Randi wouldn’t understand, she said. When the worker came around the corner and the woman immediately looked down at her lap, it became clear to Randi. She decided without hesitation at that moment that she was going to leave Mike for good. She didn’t want to be this woman in five years, several scars, broken bones, and delusions from now. She wouldn’t be this woman.
So Randi and the kids spent the night at the shelter, and the next day she called Mike. He was angry. He asked her where the hell she’d been all night, demanded to know “what guy” she’d “been fuckin’.” He’d called her parents and everyone else they knew. Then he’d called the police who told him they couldn’t do anything unless she was gone at least a few days. After he’d finally quit sputtering, Randi told him she was leaving him. He got angry again. But the next day, resolve firmly in place, she took Sarah to school and she and Devon went to the house, escorted by a deputy from the sheriff’s office, to pack, and Mike stopped by while she was there. The deputy told him he could talk to her from outside but couldn’t enter until she was done. He wanted to know what she was doing. What if she took some of his stuff? You can settle it in court or file a report, the deputy said. Then Mike started pleading with Randi through the screen door to “please think about this some more.” He asked her about how he could be a good dad to his kid if he wasn’t around. He told her to think about their wedding, the love she felt for him. He brought up old, good memories, sounding sincere and gentle. But she felt stronger now. Having the deputy there helped. She almost felt guilty and believed what he was saying, that he would change, that things would get better. But she forced herself to think about the woman at the shelter, the woman who would never leave her husband unless she was in a coffin. Randi could not—would not—be that woman.
~ ~ ~
Why did Sarah have an aversion to Mike now? She’d only once or twice received verbal abuse from Mike herself—and she’d witnessed Randi’s receipt of same, but she seemed to adjust just fine when they were back on their own. Had something happened the one time Mike had kept her two years ago, the time she’d said she had so much fun? If he’d so much as laid one hand on her…
But Randi wasn’t so sure that had anything to do with the problem. Sarah had been difficult to deal with over the last year. This episode was probably no different.
She couldn’t help but question Sarah’s reaction, though. When the divorce was finalized, Sarah was the age Devon was now. She seemed to weather all the change fine—better than Randi, at any rate. Mike continued apologizing, trying to talk Randi into coming back until the reality was on paper. After all was said and done, though, he turned out to be pretty adult about it. He let her have the house so she and the kids would have a place to live, but they had to have the title transferred into her name. He kept driving over the road and stayed weekends at his new girlfriend’s house. Randi didn’t like Devon staying over there when Mike had a live-in girlfriend, but the relationship didn’t last long. Then Mike bought a trailer on the other side of town and resumed life as a bachelor. He had girlfriends off and on but hadn’t remarried as yet. Before he bought the trailer, he made one last attempt to get Randi back, had even kissed her. And she’d let him. But she made herself remember the woman at the shelter—was Doris her name?—and she told him she couldn’t.
He had been a prick off and on, changing jobs and making child support stop for a time because of it. He’d sometimes been difficult about visitation, demanding more or less when he felt like it. He could still be an insulting asshole. But so far he’d seemed to be a good father to Devon. Had he done anything to Sarah, though?
~ ~ ~
There are plenty more deleted scenes (a lot, I know!), and I might share them in a future blog post—but, I think, one thing I’ve learned is sometimes less is more. I know you’re going to love this story!
One last thing: if you were curious, the story was first known as Worst Mother and then, later, as Laid Bare. Coming February 23!
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