Shining a Light on the Three Sides of the Truth
There’s something crisp and clean yet strangely mysterious about the snowy evening as Jesse gets in her car and drives towards the steel grey clouds skirting the overstuffed milky moon.
Oh God… what have I done? Those poor kids. Please forgive me God, please.
Her panicky thoughts spin just as out of control as her bald tires on the icy road beneath her.
As she tries not to lose traction amidst all that frozen sleet, the already thrummed up beating of her heart speeds up exponentially, a sound, like the roar of the ocean crashing against rocks, filling her ears.
“Calm down, you’re almost there, it’s only just gone past six, one measly minute, that’s all.”
She repeats these words aloud over the whooshing of the heater set on high to defrost the windows and tries to force a steady flow of air into her lungs.
Just breathe Jesse.
When her rusty old Camry skids to a stop in front of the daycare, she almost breaks her fingers on the door handle as she wrenches it open and then runs like her feet are on fire, into the building, down the hall, to the daycare director’s office, her long blonde hair bouncing along her shoulders, her big tote bag banging against her hip.
The stern look of the matronly woman who manages the childcare and after school program which both of Jesse’s kids, Jordynn her almost four-year-old daughter and Josh, her seven-year-old son, attend, makes the butterflies in her stomach churn into an excruciating cramp.
She knows she’s in big trouble… again.
She’s late because the meeting at the medical research facility where she works had gone past the hour it was meant to have finished, and there was no way in hell she could have just up and left, walked out of the conference room as pretty as you please. Not if she wants to keep the job she so desperately needs. And she needs this job like she needs something, anything, to heal the scars slashed so deeply across her heart.
“I’m so, so very, very sorry Miss Irina,” Jesse stammers, out of breath, and trying to hold the tears that threaten to spill in check. She doesn’t want to give this pious woman the satisfaction of seeing her so weak and fragile. Even though she is. She is weak and fragile, not to mention heartbroken, wounded, sad, devastated and just plain scared, all of that and more, ever since her husband, whom she thought loved her, just up and left a year and a half ago.
The screaming still rings in her ears, vibrates through her mind with real physical pain.
“For once! For God damn once in my life, I’m going to do what I need to do for me! I’m sick of trying to please everyone else, especially you Jesse! I know you think I’m a disappointment and maybe I am. To you. But don’t you dare say I’m a bad father! I love my kids. Hell I love my dog too! I still love everyone in my life. Except you! That’s the fucking truth and you’re gonna have to deal with it, one way or another.”
And with those violent words, Rick was… gone.
And it wasn’t just the fact that he let her down, that he blindsided her, that he completely turned into someone… else… after ten years of what she thought was a happy marriage. The reality that crashed into her heart, like a Boeing 737 into the side of a mountain, was who he left her for.
What’s even worse? Not only did he leave her, in a way, he left their kids too.
Since then, a certain kind of fear has wrapped itself around her heart. She’s scared of something she can’t hear, see, taste or touch. Something to do with her future. She doesn’t have a clue what it is… but she feels it slithering towards her. Something’s coming. Something bad.
Jesse sighs inwardly, clenches her fists, and tries to hide the haunted look in her eyes that has settled itself there since her ordeal began, by looking down at her boots. Her indigo suede boots, getting ruined by tiny snowflakes melting all over them. She didn’t want to wear them today, wanted to find her winter Uggs instead, but the morning rush and the messy coat closet prevented her from locating them. She absolutely must organize it this weekend.
Breathless with yet another shaky sigh, she feels her throat tighten when the usual mournful thoughts creep back into her mind. Thoughts about what Rick has done. And how she never would have believed him capable of doing it.
Because although it may not be one hundred percent heinous to divorce your spouse, to decide you don’t want to be in a marriage, even if it wasn’t all that bad, after a decade – some people even do it without a drop of remorse – there most definitely is something dark and hideous, an inky black shimmer of evil, about just giving up on your children.
About making them your last priority on earth.
But that’s exactly, without one scrap of a doubt, what Rick has done and continues to do. Like a termite working hard and steady gnawing his way through wood, he is working at missing out on Jordynn and Josh’s precious childhood.
Because for the last eight months now, almost every time he is supposed to take them for his weekend, like the court order has stipulated, he cancels those visitations. Weekend after weekend, he declines to show up to take his kids to his swanky newly built home with him for the two days and two nights he is meant to.
And the cold female voice that Jesse dreads listening to, twists her heart.
“Jesse, it’s Friday afternoon and I really hope you get this voice mail because Rick and I aren’t taking your kids this weekend anymore. Bye.”
That’s the frosty monologue she hears at precisely three o’clock each Friday, right before Rick is to get the children, informing her that Rick won’t be, yet again, taking Jordynn and Josh for his allotted time with them. And it snaps her heart in two seeing them in her mind’s eye waiting for daddy - their little backpacks stuffed with toothbrushes, toys, books and their favorite PJs - only to burst into tears when it’s Jesse who shows up at the daycare instead of him.
Rick can’t even be bothered to call her himself, from the day he told her he no longer loved her and yet blatantly avoided looking into her tear-filled green eyes while saying it, he’s been nothing but a weak man, a failure, a coward, an indecent disappointment, his actions much more ruthless than anything he’s ever admitted to.
So Debra-Lynn, his live-in girlfriend rattles off the brief message on his behalf, without a care as to how it’s going to affect Jesse’s poor kids. Not one pang of guilt or compassion in the woman’s monotone comes through at all.
Debra-Lynn doesn’t even bother giving her an explanation.
“Mrs. Kaley!” Miss Irina’s loud voice jolts Jesse from her rumination and she almost jumps out of her skin before forcing herself to focus on the tall woman looming above her.
“You and I need to sit down one of these days for a proper meeting, but in the meantime, I need to tell– “
A loud ringing pierces through the quiet room interrupting Miss Irina’s scolding, it’s the phone on the Director’s desk and Miss Irina, throwing her hands up in the air and scowling, leaves Jesse standing there to go answer it.
As Jesse waits, breathing in the smell of play dough, pencil crayon shavings, and stale coffee, watching her kids play on the carpet in the craft room, both enthralled in a gigantic puzzle, her mind, once again, wanders back to Rick.
Oh God… of all the people for him to hurt her with… why her?
And why does he keep doing these awful things?
There’s no disputing that, after so many months, it’s all begun to pile up: her children’s tears, which she must dry by doing something extra special with them to soothe the sting of their father’s cancellation, the horrible voice mails from Debra-Lynn, and the withdrawn visitations. A big stinging pile of heartache and grief.
And even though Jesse still remembers when Rick was… well… Rick… a good man and father… if she had the power to turn back time and force herself to see the threat that had been there all along, barging towards her but hidden within her blind spot, she would. She would make herself see that she trusted the wrong people with everything she had, all the innocence and naivety in her soul. Trusted them with all her heart.
Until they betrayed her in the worst possible way.
“Mommy are you still talking to Miss Irina?” Jordynn’s question bounces off the walls of the daycare disrupting her thoughts for a second, “because I’m working wif Joshy here to finish this puzzle so wait a few minutes ok?”
Jesse waves and nods her head at her kids, relieved that they really don’t seemed too fazed by her lateness on this dark and wet Friday evening.
Her mind becomes enveloped, once again, by the events that rattled her in the last several months. She wishes that she’d had the ability to stop the anguish in its tracks before it had a chance to sneak up on her, grab her by the throat and squeeze as hard as it could, nearly choking her to death.
Because, for humans and even some animals, what never stops hurting the most, is being deceived by who you trust the most. And it’s been hurting like hell for close to two years now.
Long ago, Jesse sifted through and compared the different kind of pain that her husband Rick doled out, to the pain inflicted from the other person who knocked her to her knees, left Jesse broken and shattered.
Her best friend Debra-Lynn.
Yeah. Her best friend. And not just your average best friend but someone Jesse loved as a person, a confidant… an almost extension of herself… as close to a sister as one could ever have.
A memory surfaces quite suddenly. Catches Jesse off guard and she reels with the sting of it, her thoughts travelling back to when they were still so close to one another…
“Guess what Jesse! Guess what?” Debra-Lynn, practically singing into her ear, was gushing with excitement on the other end of the phone line, “Ashlyn’s coming home today! She’s allowed to come home today! Can you believe it? Len and I are so happy! My dad hired a cleaning company to sanitize our entire house from top to bottom and everything is ready for our little girl!” Jesse remembers feeling the vibration of her friend’s joy distribute itself throughout her entire body like a favorite song, the melody doing its magic.
“I can’t wait to meet her Deb! When can Rick and I come over and don’t make us wait long I mean it! You better say tomorrow or the next day girl! Say tomorrow or the next day, hurry up now.” Jesse teased with a laugh in her voice.
“The next day for sure Jesse! Come in the afternoon just after lunch, my parents will show up in the evening just like I think they will be for the next eighteen years of her life for God’s sake, so if you come in the afternoon, we won’t have to share her with them.”
And when her and Rick arrived, and Debra-Lynn opened the front door with the baby in her arms, Jesse melted. From the minute she laid eyes on the tiny human, she became emotional and filled with tenderness and compassion for her friend’s beautiful newborn daughter Ashlyn. A child only three weeks old and already put through the ringer of two major surgeries, courses of medication and the kind of poking and prodding only those unfortunate enough to endure in the NICU at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, are subjected to. Ashlyn was fragile and little yet so adorable and sweet. So… brand new… just like tiny Jordynn would be when she was born a couple of years later. She was also vulnerable to germs and contamination.
“After washing your hands, you guys have to put these gowns over your clothes,” Debra-Lynn informed Jesse and Rick as she handed them the soft mint green scrubs, “and then you can hold her for a little bit. She’s just not supposed to come in contact with any germs and stuff like that, so the doctors said we have to be careful and take precautions.”
Jesse understood. It was important to be on the safe side and careful not to introduce any bacteria to this waif of a child that had had such a rough start in life.
But Jesse also knew that Debra-Lynn’s house was disinfected to the max; her friend’s favorite word was immaculate and her mad skills of keeping everything tidy and clean were out of this world. It was a given that both Debra-Lynn and Len had done everything in their power to follow the rules and that Ashlyn was safer with them than with anyone else. Ashlyn would be fine as far as that was concerned, what she needed now the most was love. So much love. So… Jesse being Jesse… broke the rules. Holding her close in a loving cuddle, she brought her lips to the baby’s face and planted a big smooch right on her tiny little cheek. She whispered to the gorgeous baby girl that everything would be alright, and she would be loved and cherished forever.
The gesture loosened something in Debra-Lynn’s usual cold stoic nature and Jesse saw a film of tears and a crinkle of a smile in Debra-Lynn’s pastel blue eyes. She could feel her happiness radiate around the room, the pure joy Debra-Lynn felt for that simple snuggle, that simple kiss. She was beyond happy knowing Ashlyn had a Godmother who adored her already.
Startled for the second time that evening, Jesse forces herself to clear the cobwebs of memory from her mind. The distant mirage quickly becomes distorted and irresolute. Wavering and diluted, it disappears like an object under murky water, when Miss Irina ends her phone call and stomps back over to her.
“I am aware, Mrs. Kaley, that you consider yourself a single parent and that you like to play that card quite liberally, I might add. That woe is me card. The card that screams I’m doing it all on my own now and I’ve been wronged beyond comprehension, all those excuses you’ve gotten used to reciting like lines in a school play. However, I cannot let this continue to happen, it is not fair to the other parents, it is not fair to your poor children having to wait here, and it is especially not fair to me and my staff, being forced to work past their normal hours. This has got to stop because if it doesn’t, I will have to ask that you find another childcare option for yourself.”
Those words are practically spat and hissed at her and it’s that tone that crumbles Jesse’s resolve and causes the tears to sneak out of the corners of her eyes and dribble slowly down her cheeks.
Almost immediately, however, mama bear mode takes center stage and tears or no tears, Jesse cannot help giving Miss Irina a piece of her mind.
“I have apologized to you profusely now and despite what you might think of me, Miss Irina, I have, indeed, been going through a very tough time and yes, as much as you don’t like hearing it, I will play that single parent card, you bet I will. Because there is nothing but the truth stamped on it. I bloody well am one person doing the job of two. And no matter how hard I’ve racked my brain to figure out how to clone myself, how to cut myself in half or how to be in two places at once, I just can’t… oddly enough and would you believe … find a way to do any of those things. I am a working single mom trying my best. Furthermore...” Jesse holds up a slim delicate hand – one that’s completely void of her wedding ring now even though the divorce hasn’t been finalized – before Miss Irina has a chance to cut her off “…I got here at exactly five minutes past six. Five minutes. And for those five minutes of your so-called hardship, you are charging me an extra twenty dollars on top of your already exorbitant fees. As well, I can assure you that my kids are loved more than any two youngsters on this planet and I will make it up to them. I always do. Last but not least, if you really want me to find another daycare, I will consider making that change, I have no other family members or any friends that are able to help with this so I am truly on my own, and I need a place that will be understanding of that.”
With those words she collects her kids and throws out one last comment to the uncompromising Miss Irina: “Have a good evening Ma’am.”
On the way home, driving extra cautiously in the snowstorm that has now become a full-fledged blizzard, Jesse thanks God that it’s Friday which means an entire two days spent with her munchkins doing indoor activities in the warmth and sanctuary of her incredibly small but cozy apartment condo.
“Guess what guys? I bought a movie you’ve been wanting to see for a while! You have to guess which one it is though. Are you up for it kiddos?”
But as Jordynn and Josh take turns calling out their guesses, Jesse’s pulled back into the dark world of her soon to be ex-husband and her ex-best friend.
She trembles at the thought of that strange anonymous call she received two days ago while working on an intricate medical research report at her desk in her office. The voice was one that she hadn’t recognized, and belonged to – in typical old-school horror film fashion – a heavy breather trying to imitate a ridiculous Darth Vader voice. Jesse would have laughed if it wasn’t for the fact that it generated a creepy feeling to climb up her spine. And it wasn’t just how unsettling it’s deep and muffled pitch felt as it reverberated in her ear, it was also how peculiar the things he or she said were. Some of the oddest things Jesse had ever heard.
“You should know that he was done having children after the two of you had your youngest. He did something behind your back. It worked. There is no way there can ever be more. It’s a sham, it’s a total lie.” Then click and the phone went dead. Whoever it was, had hung up.
Jesse stewed over it for several days trying to figure out who would have made such a weird call. She couldn’t think of anyone.
All she could think about, and still thinks about, is the never-ending pain that seems to surround her, brought on by her backstabbing BFF and cheating husband. All she can think about is how they each turned out to be a kind of soul-crushing monster.
Because even though both Rick and Debra-Lynn are equally complicit in hurting her so badly – it really does take two to tango after all – the fact remains that each one did so… in his and her… own way.
Though it is hard to compartmentalize the pain, hammered like a nail into her heart, between the two of them, Jesse does it anyway. Debra-Lynn’s betrayal was one kind of ugliness. And Rick’s was yet… another.
Rick… who she loved so much, who was once a wonderful dad to the kids and a man they adored like apple crumble and rainy-day puddles, snow cones and hugs, watermelon on hot days, pure love and comfort… his is the venomous fang that bites the hardest. It’s HIS poison that runs through her veins, arteries, entire body, burning, scalding, like acid poured on an open wound. She is nowhere near getting over the raw horror of what he did to her with her best friend.
Rick wielded that knife, with the sharpest of blades, more forcibly than Debra-Lynn, and caused more shadows than light… both night and day… to surround her. He couldn’t have pushed her deeper into a corner of dark despair if he tried.
But…where Debra-Lynn is concerned… after combing through the evidence, and several clues later, Jesse’s come to realize that she, her so-called bestie at the time, is the one who started it. She’s the reptile with the snakelike skills. She’s the one who orchestrated it all and made it happen. Rick is a shell of a man she no longer recognizes. He’s a spineless jellyfish, a follower never a leader. He’s not the instigator, he just gave in because he’s a pathetically small man, the worse kind of grubby gold digger, and someone with no integrity at all. It became all too painfully clear to Jesse that from the time Rick met Debra-Lynn, her daddy’s money turned into an obsession for him. Poor – pun most certainly intended – Jesse, had no chance of offering anything like the fringe benefits of a sizeable inheritance to Rick once her parents died. She grew up in a poor neighborhood, her mom scrimping to makes ends meet, her dad miles away and absent from her life. Jesse’s and Debra-Lynn’s families are as opposite of one another as a prince and a pauper. They come from different worlds, divided by the razor-sharp edge of the almighty dollar bill. Not to mention the lifestyle that goes with it. Rick succumbed to his cowardness in a noticeably short matter of time, following a yellow brick road he thought was paved in gold.
Debra-Lynn, on the other hand, is where it all began.
This time Jesse’s reminiscing takes her back to a conversation with Ryan, one of the only people she can count on these days to be in her corner, to have her back and support her throughout this awful time. And the best co-worker a girl could ever hope for. A conversation that they had very recently, just a few days ago, in fact…
“It’s good to learn the truth about the things that happen to us, Jesse, my dear. Especially the crap that traumatizes us, that we didn’t see coming and that’s painful in the worst way, honey. So don’t be afraid to unearth it all, no matter what you find. Knowing is power. Knowing is confidence. Knowing is healing. And knowing what they’ve done, can be a form of closure for you in the end. Trust me, Jesse.”
“So, you’re saying I should just summon up my courage and look under the bed where the monster may be hiding, no matter how scary it is?” Jesse’s soft voice had a touch of forced lightheartedness that she really didn’t feel all that much. She was sitting at her tiny kitchen island, if one could even call it that – it was more like a tall pine TV tray – sipping a glass of perfectly chilled Pinot Grigio, gazing at the flames of the cranberry-orange scented candles on a ceramic tray in front of her. She liked candles because they made everything feel a bit more homey and cheerful somehow. But despite the golden flames burning bright atop the wicks, and casting shimmering shadows in the low light, nothing felt completely safe and welcoming in her world lately. Everything had just felt so heavy since it all began, weighing on her shoulders like the entire earth, made of rock and steel, cripplingly balancing there.
“Yes, good analogy, kid, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Squelch your fear and tally up what you know or even what you simply suspect. You have a touch of the spiritual, something almost transcendent or psychic within you, I noticed that about you a long time ago, and I trust in your intuitions completely.”
This threw Jesse for a loop, she was stunned to hear those words come out of Ryan’s mouth. Ryan the tough guy, all about sports, especially boxing, and always working on those flashy fast cars that Jesse hated, calling them his “thug cars”. What Ryan had just uttered was completely out of the blue. She couldn’t imagine the six-foot five man of muscle saying it to anyone, even her. But, on the other hand, Ryan’s gentle giant nature had always been the heart and soul of him, Jesse could tease him about anything. Like the cars, and the fact that he’s dated and keeps on dating a lot of women and yet none of them mind, even when they know about one another. But it’s because Ryan’s honesty has always been front and center, making it clear to them that he’d never make a commitment until he knew with absolute certainly that the right one had come along. Kind of like George Clooney, he always whispered with a wink.
“Well, I know a lot of things already, Ry, I’ve found out so much in such a short amount of time, even have some proof now. But there are a lot of things that still torment me. A lot. Like the fact that, after all this time, it’s still tough to imagine that my best friend could be so devious, setting her sights on my husband. There’s no denying that Debra-Lynn is the one who launched my nightmare, propelled it into existence, and made certain that I properly suffered the shockwave of it day after day, week after week, month after month.”
“Yeah, that she did, I’m with you on that completely Jess, you’re right on the money there. It’s hard to imagine, unthinkable, but true nevertheless. So… keep going… what else is on your mind? It’s important to talk about it when you can.”
“Well, sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that maybe there’s an even higher evil at play here. That there’s something more to this whole thing… something more that lies under the surface… something more to the relationship between Debra-Lynn and Rick. Something more to the way they quickly destroyed two marriages… to the way Rick quickly surrendered to Debra-Lynn’s advances… to the way he stopped caring about his own wonderful children… to that bizarre phone call and countless other strange occurrences I’ve encountered,” Jesse blinked and quietly wiped her falling tears with the back of her hand, thankful they weren’t Facetiming, just talking through the iPhone speaker, and Ryan couldn’t see her face.
“More to it than meets the eye. As the saying goes, right?” he asked.
“Yeah, Ry... my gut instinct is whispering that Debra-Lynn and Rick are hiding something…”
Jesse’s mind scrambles back to the present lest she get too caught up in these intensely gripping thoughts and the murky depraved world of Debra-Lynn and Rick... though it’s not easy to free herself from the hold they seem to constantly have on her in such an unjustifiable… and maybe even… dangerous… way.
Perhaps that’s why tonight feels so mystifying and disconcerting … a night of moonlight filtering through the fog... and wet snow falling silently one minute and then flying on the moan of the wind the next. An evening full of unexplained feelings, premonitions and thoughtful insights … Jesse wonders if there’s another reason why Rick allowed Debra-Lynn to lead him away, why he followed her like those kids in their trance-induced state marching behind the pied piper. Like maybe … she had something on him…
Because Debra-Lynn wasn’t the devil who simply robbed Rick by stealing his heart or whatever coldness beats in his chest now. She was the devil who cunningly made him want to give it to her. Oh no, Debra-Lynn wasn’t your average wolf in sheep’s clothing run of the mill kind of crook, she was a master manipulator. Debra-Lynn lured Rick from Jesse systematically, cleverly, steadily, using all kinds of weaponry. Especially that imminent inheritance of a whole lot of money someday.
Then, once she had her fish dangling on her hook, she ripped the sharp metal out of his bloody mouth with a yank and stored him away in the deep freeze of her isolation.
She proceeded to dominate Rick by putting an end to his visits with his kids and making him focus on nothing… and no one… else… but her. The visits grinded to a halt slowly but surely and there was nothing but corrosive dust and debris left behind for her children to find. Nothing but the high keening whine and faded sputter of a beat-up old machine refusing to go on working properly.
Rick refused to do what a good dad should. He gave up his precious time with his children: bedtime stories and bath routines, puzzles and homework, days at the zoo, soccer field or swimming pool, warm summer evenings in the backyard or local park, pillow fights in bed, and then even more cherished and important moments like interactive parent teacher interviews, school plays, church on Sundays, family vacations and… the be all and end all: Father’s Day.
A missed Father’s Day that rocked Jordynn and Josh’s entire world, a shockwave of intense pain filling it. After making him beautiful cards and gifts at daycare and school, when it came time for little Jordynn and Josh to proudly present them to their daddy, he was nowhere to be found. He not only refused to make contact with them, he also then refused to take their calls, return their calls, and acknowledge the tears in his children’s voices he could clearly hear on his answering machine. He spent Father’s Day with Debra-Lynn, her parents, and Ashlyn… his other family… and the impact his sheer cruelty had on his kids was nothing short of sadistic.
That’s how it is to this day, Rick’s absences continue to multiply.
Jesse knows why. His woman, her former best friend, now her enemy and one of the meanest people on the fringes of Jesse’s life, is eight months pregnant with his child.
And he is on call day and night. Whenever Debra-Lynn crooks her finger in his direction, Rick turns into a panting, tail-wagging, ready and willing lap dog, and drops whatever he’s doing to come running. He does everything and anything she demands. It’s almost eerie watching it all unfold, those times Jesse has seen it herself or the odd times when he does take the kids for a whole half an hour to buy them a quick ice cream cone, and they tell her all about it. Uncanny really. The similarity to a puppeteer, in this case Debra-Lynn, pulling invisible strings tied to the top of her puppet’s, in this case Rick’s, cheating head.
Yes… very odd indeed, Jesse thinks and once again wonders… what did she dig up on him that he pasted himself to her side so obediently… so willingly?
“Mommeeeee! Are you listening to us? Joshy says you bought Harry Potter or Monsters Inc. and I say you bought Shrek! Which one mommy, which one?” Jordynn is yelling now because Jesse’s mind drifted for much too long.
“Indoor voice Jordynn sweetie, please. And as a big surprise to you both for being so good most of the time ha ha ha, and also because of the bad weather they’re forecasting for the whole weekend, I bought them all!” Jesse giggles when her response elicits cries of delights from both of her kids.
With the familiar glow of Christmas lights her neighbors have already strung up in her sights now, Jesse gives Debra-Lynn and Rick only one last thought: it may take a long time for her to figure out the mystery behind her best friend and her husband’s betrayal and how they sleep at night knowing what awful things they’ve done. Or she may never find all the answers. But the important thing is that even though she can’t be both mother and father to her little ones, she will always be there for them, heart and soul, with so much love, and in every way she can.
Debra-Lynn sits comfortably in the plush heated leather seat of her Jeep Grand Cherokee, grateful to be out of the howling wind and bitter cold, watching the woman who once upon a time used to be her best friend, brave the elements. Observing Jesse run like a scared little rabbit, Debra-Lynn’s contempt for this fake woman is so complicated, not even her therapist has been able to pull enough threads to unravel the mystery behind it.
She’s aware of how much she half misses and half hates Jesse, but in the past several weeks, the hatred is the emotion that has won out, exploding like fireworks in the night sky, dazzling her with its sparkle.
The disdain Debra-Lynn feels has completely eclipsed any lingering longing she may harbor for her former friend. The friend that now considers Debra-Lynn her enemy, Jesse has basically dumped her and pretty much thrown her… her of all people… the one friend Jesse used to admire… to the damn wolves. Though Jesse never said as much in so many words, deep down inside Debra-Lynn knows she put the brakes on their friendship once it became clear how much of a role Debra-Lynn had actually played in Jesse’s husband Rick leaving her. Jesse simply halted all communication with her, she could no longer carry on with Debra-Lynn being any part of her life.
Not only does this infuriate Debra-Lynn, oddly enough, it also evokes both feelings of revenge, and at the same time, a certain amount of deep-seated self-satisfaction. Smugness for achieving what she set out to do all along: get Rick.
Come hell or high water.
And boy did she get him. She sure she did. He belongs to her … and only her… now... and for years to come.
But there’s even more. The thing she pats herself on the back for the most… the spectacular feat she managed to achieve... like beating the odds at the casino and winning big… was hiding it from Jesse for so long. Debra-Lynn still marvels at how she was able to pretend to comfort the poor pitiful, sniffling, distraught, miserable, dear little Jesse through the ordeal of her husband leaving her… and keep the secret that the other woman was… in fact… her… hidden for several months. Quite the accomplishment she thinks to herself and smiles. In Debra-Lynn’s opinion, Jesse deserved everything she got and then some. She will hate her forever.
With her scorn pasted on her face, she continues to stalk her ex-best friend outside the daycare, eyes straining against the flakes of snow flying at her windshield in the blue-tinged darkness. All the better to see thirty-three-year-old Jesse nearly break her neck slipping on the icy sidewalk. Jesse’s movements are fast and furious, and under the bright outdoor lamplight her fake blonde hair sporting those unnatural gold and copper highlights flows behind her like a wedding veil.
It reminds Debra-Lynn of Jesse and Rick’s romantic wedding on the island of Maui. Jesse’s pearl-studded white lace veil fastened to her hair with an ivory comb, her snow-white mermaid dress bedazzling against her golden bronzed skin. And Rick, handsome and tall, in a white tux with a gorgeous satin teal cummerbund, both of them looking like movie stars in all the wedding photos. Amazing pictures Debra-Lynn will never forget, the images are painfully seared behind her eyelids. Every one of them still alive after all these years with the vivid colors of lush green foliage, buttery yellow sandy beaches, cobalt blue waters, and the romantic evening sunsets of the tropics – the frothy ocean waves catching fire from the crimson sun seemingly sinking into them. All of it and more, serving as stunning backdrops in every single photo.
The thought makes Debra-Lynn’s eye twitch spasmodically and just as abruptly as the vision came to her, she pushes the whole fucking fairytale snapshot away, and focuses on the here and now. Back to Jesse and her stupid flat-ironed tresses spilling down her back. Debra-Lynn can’t help wondering how on earth Jesse’s hair grew so fast all of the sudden. Was it always that long? Probably not, knowing Jesse, it’s the work of some kind of hair extensions, an artificial and ridiculous luxury that she spent money to buy herself. Just like her assortment of citrus and floral perfumes, blush pink gel nails and unnatural tan, it’s all about looks with that girly girl-woman, always has been for as long as she’s known her.
How Rick found that attractive all those years they were married, when it’s clearly so manufactured, Debra-Lynn cannot fathom to this day. No wonder he finally gave in to Debra-Lynn’s advances, she is so much more natural and girl next door than Jesse could ever be. Debra-Lynn does nothing other than clip her fingernails, so they aren’t too long, cut her shiny wavy chestnut brown hair into an easy to manage shoulder-length bob, and keep her makeup to just a hint of cherry Chapstick glossed over her not too full, not too thin, nearly perfect, lips. Only once in her entire life, did Debra-Lynn wear a little more in the way of makeup, some black mascara and eyeliner to enhance her baby blue eyes, and a very soft taupe lipstick. Only once. Once, during those months when she decided that Rick was the one for her and became desperate to find a way to seduce him.
Jeremy spoke in class today!
Pearl Jam’s Jeremy, her ringtone and a song Jesse once told her is so disturbing it gives her the ultimate creeps, suddenly blares through the interior of the Jeep. No wonder it’s Rick and Debra-Lynn’s favorite song, Jesse’s disgust with it is all the more reason for them to adore it.
On the other end of the line, Rick’s voice tells her he’s still at the bank but about to head home. As senior bank manager, his workday ends far later than the typical short banking hours that customers and tellers are used to. Long after all the other employees have left for the day, he remains at Goldman Holding & Trust Inc., working late into the evening hours.
“Hey,” he says and coughs, almost choking on the dregs of coffee he’s trying to swallow while talking at the same time. It’s his fourth cup of the day.
“I’m just about to leave here and head home. Are you still out and about shopping? Did you visit your parents today?”
“Yeah, I dropped Ash off at their house, then went and picked up a few things, and I’m just leaving the shopping mall now,” Debra-Lynn lies smoothly.
“I was also going to pick up something for dinner since you know how much I hate cooking especially when Ashlyn won’t be home, but on second thought, can you do it? I might go back into the store to grab an item I forgot real quick. Daddy says hi by the way.”
“Sure,” he replies, the word clipped and abrupt, “do you want the usual? Pizza and pasta from Greco’s?”
“Yeah that sounds fine and get me some of those garlic breadsticks too, I’m having a craving.”
“Ok. Before I let you go though Deb, tell me how it went with your parents. Is your dad still being stubborn?”
“You mean about paying him back for the IVF?”
“Yeah, it’s not fair for me to have to pay him back now after what you did. I’m still pissed off at you for confessing that you used someone else’s donation, some other man’s stuff, damn it, to get pregnant with this baby when everyone else thinks it’s fucking mine! Your parents should have been made to believe it’s mine too! It’s bad enough you told them we had to do IVF because of my vasectomy! If we had kept it a secret, I would have been willing to pay for all of it. But no. You had to spill the beans just like the daddy’s girl you are. Still, even that wouldn’t be so bad, I could understand why you did it and having your parents pay the high cost was a good outcome in the end. What I don’t get is what the hell possessed you to tell them using my sperm wasn’t working! Just because my vasectomy was stopping us from getting pregnant, doesn’t mean we couldn’t have kept trying to use my semen first! After all the hell I went through to get it extracted. We may not have been able to get it done the bloody old fashioned way, but we could have gotten it done in the lab. Like you did using someone else’s junk!”
“Stop yelling at me Richard! You think you’re such a big man on campus when really you’re just a cheater and a huge liar when it comes down to it. I was tired of waiting for your crap to work getting me knocked up. It was taking too long and daddy offered to pay for the IVF ONLY if I found a way to speed it all up because my parents were sick of waiting for me to get pregnant with their second grandchild too. Cut the melodramatic and overly theatrical crap, I chose to use the sperm from a goody two-shoes med student who looks a lot like you. Same brown hair, same height, same stunning sea-green eyes, I was very particular, I did my homework, unlike you would bother to do. So stop frikken worrying about it, the kid will look like you a bit anyway. And if not you, then me. Nobody will know the truth.”
Debra-Lynn’s confidence oozes across the phone line, and she pauses for only a fraction of a second before continuing her rant.
“And daddy’s just being salty about wanting his money back because I told him we can’t go to Puerto Vallarta with him and mom right away when the baby is born. I want some time to enjoy him or her in our new home and especially around Ashlyn for the two of them to bond. We can go to Mexico with my parents – all expenses paid courtesy of my dad of course – a few months after. I’ll soothe daddy’s ruffled feathers, and talk him out of demanding his money back, I’ll buy him a best grandpa in the fucking world mug and once he sees his grand-baby, he’ll melt like ice on a salted sidewalk. Just leave everything to me. Ok?”
“Fine. Ok. I’m sorry babe, you win. But are you sure there’s absolutely no way of anyone finding this out? What about those candystripers at that hospital fertility clinic, are you sure one of those girls won’t gossip about it? You and I both know Jesse’s got plenty of acquaintences and friends who are healthcare workers and volunteers.”
“NO Rick. Nobody will tell on us, our secret is safe, my parents won’t breathe a word to anyone either.”
“Ok Deb, you’re right. And I don’t want to fight. I’ll get going now to pick up our dinner, the storm looks ugly out there and I just want to get home, work has been nonstop since I set foot in here bright and early this morning. God, I can’t wait to retire, I wish I were older already. It’s gonna be great to relax in one of your dad’s luxury villas in Phoenix where its nice and warm once I stop working. Playing golf, swimming, grilling chicken on the barbeque most nights for dinner, I’m so in. Early retirement here I come. Anyway, make sure you drive carefully too. Where are you by the way, which mall?”
A dark shadow suddenly materializes from the cluster of giant pine trees next to her passenger side window, distracting Debra-Lynn for a fraction of a second.
“Umm… Aspen Woods Centre,” she replies absentmindedly while keeping her eyes on the sinister-looking shape which turns out to be the biggest black raven she’s ever seen, emerging from one of the lower branches hidden closer to the tree trunk. Watching it in a fatigue-induced trance, she shudders at the sight, huge birds creep her the hell out.
“Debra-Lynn, Aspen Woods Centre is closed today, they had a big fire early this morning. You’re lying to me. Why’s that? Let me guess. You’re not actually shopping are you? You’re stalking Jesse again, aren’t you? What the fuck do you need to keep doing this for? Are you frikken insane? You’re going to get caught one of these days!”
“Well, well, well, aren’t you the genius smartass of the year Ricky boy? Just an all-around Inspector Clouseau know it all. Whatever. You may be right but it is none of your business what I do with my free time and yes, I just watched her show up late at the daycare again. I think we should talk to Miss Irina once more. Make Jesse pay for her sins properly this time. What do you think? Good idea?”
There’s a moment of silence on the other end of the line as Rick’s reluctance to agree with Debra-Lynn becomes palpable.
Her anger rises like billowing black smoke from an out-of-control forest fire.
“Are you seriously going to argue this with me Rick?” Debra-Lynn seethes, her fury intense, her words coming from behind clenched teeth.
“Honestly Mister Brainiac, after what you did to me, cheating on me with your little volleyball teammate, Miss white teeth and short shorts Andrea Mackie of all people, and that other thing you did that you absolutely don’t want anyone to find out about, you have no right to deny me anything I bloody well want! And your opinion doesn’t count, you lost that privilege when you humiliated me! It’s only fair that I get to take that, as well as your freedom away from you, we both agreed to it. The leash I have snapped around your cheating neck and get to yank on whenever I want, will be there for the rest of your life!”
And with that, she furiously slams her pointer finger down on the end call button to hang up on him.
In his now quiet office, the snowflakes, driven by a cold wind flying at his darkened window, Rick is left feeling like he just received a slap in the face. He feels foolish, like a man who’s been stripped of his masculinity. As embarassing as that may be, however, he also wonders which one of them is more the fool than the other. Debra-Lynn should be ashamed just as much as he should. She knows he’s with her for the money and yet she insists on keeping him. She has her own wretched reasons of course, but still he marvels at her callousness and indifference. She must know he doesn’t love her. After all of the cheating he’s done, and all the women he’s been with, only one has really captured his heart. And that person is neither Jesse nor Debra-Lynn. But for the kind of fringe benefits only true wealth can provide, he will stay with Debra-Lynn and imagine he’s being intimate with the true girl of his dreams when he holds her pregnant body in his arms at night. He can picture another woman’s face and imagine the feel of another woman’s skin. It isn’t the worst thing in the world, he’s dealt with much harsher circumstances in his life.
So, moments later, Rick’s calling her back, begging for forgiveness and telling her he’ll do anything her little heart desires. He’s contrite and submissive and even makes a huge effort of putting a bit of cheer in his voice and telling her how much he misses her. And how he can’t wait to lay next to her in their king size bed tonight, keeping her and the baby warm while the storm rages outside.
Placated and smug once again, Debra-Lynn continues watching out her car window waiting for a glimpse of Jesse and her kids leaving the daycare, all the while thanking her lucky stars that her womanly charms worked on Rick when she needed them to. And not only her charisma and wholesome sexiness but the fact that Rick is all about money, especially inheriting it, and Debra-Lynn’s daddy is beyond wealthy.
Still, deep down in that part of her gut that occasionally forces her conscience to crawl out of its hiding place, Debra-Lynn misses her friend, misses the good times they used to have before Rick left Jesse for her. Before the pregnancy that Debra-Lynn wanted so badly. Before her life depended on it. Before she thought she might go insane if she could not have just one… one… healthy baby… a longing so embedded inside her and growing stronger and more desperate and primal with each passing day. Like some kind of festering sore bulging with pus, pulsating with a feverish rhythm of toxin, threatening to burst at any moment.
Yes, before that, she and Jesse were best friends, always hanging out, doing things together, being there for each other in tough times, and having each other’s backs. But that all changed when Jesse had to go and... one... by... one... acquire everything Debra-Lynn ever wanted for herself. Everything that, no matter how hard she tried, she could not succeed in possessing.
So she needed to take matters into her own hands. She needed to make her daddy proud of her and make sure she was the main beneficiary in her parents will at all costs. Though she was a daddy’s girl, had him wrapped around her entire hand, never mind her little finger, she couldn’t expect him to completely finance her high-end lifestyle. She needed to show him she could get a man who made money too, just like daddy did. And for that to happen, she needed... Rick. Her best friend’s man. The minute she realized her husband, lazy Len, as she called him behind his back, had never really been her prince charming, she set out to seduce Rick in any way she could. Though Len was good in bed and good looking, there wasn’t much more to him than that. He treated work like it was some type of disease, had never strived for a college education or decent career, and his job as a dry cleaning delivery man barely made them enough money to pay for fuel to pump into their two gas-guzzling SUVs. No. Len would no longer do. All they did was fight about money... and really in the end... they bickered over everything. It was imperative that she get what SHE wanted for a change. And she wanted Rick.
And now, her baby is on his or her way to becoming her very own beautiful creation, another chance at motherhood, her lifeline in a stormy world. It doesn’t matter that it’s not biologically Rick’s, all that matters is that people believe he’s the father. This child means so much to her. Because although she loves Ashlyn with all her heart, Debra-Lynn would do almost anything to have a child who isn’t plagued with the devastating trauma of a neural tube defect, one that Ashlyn was born with but one that should have never happened to her poor little daughter. An awful birth defect Ashlyn did not deserve. So, when the doctors assured her that the little one in her womb was perfectly healthy, Debra-Lynn’s elation skyrocketed. This baby will be a wonderful, loving sibling to Ashlyn, and Debra-Lynn has miraculously suceeded in getting exactly what Jesse had. After watching Josh and Jordynn love each other like no other brother and sister she knew did, Debra-Lynn decided long ago that was what she wanted too.
Furthermore, Rick the compliant, will be the perfect father to her son or daughter and giving up Jesse will be worth it tenfold once the baby is born, and she holds it in her arms. She can’t wait. Only a month or so to go.
Cradling her baby bump, Debra-Lynn is once again filled with a loathing like no other for her now nemesis. Watching her, twenty minutes ago, run into the daycare late as usual had filled her with excitement and anticipation… and now, as Jesse, Jordynn and Josh finally emerge from the front door of the building, a kernel of an idea begins to sprout in her brain.
Jesse is not fit to be a mother.
It’s not fair she ended up with those two golden-haired, emerald-green-eyed gorgeous children Jordynn and Josh – a boy AND a girl – one of each no less – and a husband who once upon a time thought Jesse hung the moon for him, was his best friend and soulmate, a person he truly wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Add to that the brand-new custom-built house with the proverbial white picket fence, a blossoming career, and a close relationship with Rick’s parents – Jesse adored her in-laws, Brian and Judy – the scales of undeserved one-sidedness were tipped so heavily in Jesse’s favor, Debra-Lynn wanted to scream into a pillow every single minute of every single day.
It’s excruciating even now after all this time for Debra-Lynn to remember the way Rick looked at Jesse like she was... incandescent. As if he saw her as the brightest, most precious diamond in a sky full of a million shining stars. Like if her’s was the only light that went out, he would mourn that luminescence forever. There was always a certain kind of warmth and honesty to their marriage, something so uplifting, almost therapeutic about their relationship, like the rejuvenating balminess of the island breezes after a cold hard winter, the complete opposite of a night like this. For as long as it lasted, it was disgusting how Jesse bathed in the glory of having those wonderful kids and that loving husband.
After a while, pretending to be Jesse’s friend, hiding the green-eyed-monster lurking inside of her, began to take its toll on Debra-Lynn. It went beyond fucking tedious.
But then, like a gift from God, Jesse began to slip up, make tiny mistakes here and there. And Debra-Lynn pounced. Devising scenerios to make Jesse look bad in Rick’s eyes, she was astounded at how easily it worked and how fluid her diabolical scheming became the more she carried on with it. So brilliant. Jesse’s anxiety and insecurities made it all flow so smoothly in Debra-Lynn’s favor, she had to bite her lip from grinning whenever she succeeded in causing an argument between Jesse and Rick. Pretty soon she hungered for more. More and more of those wonderful fights she adored as much as she revelled in the thought of her taking Jesse’s place in Rick’s life. She was ravenous for it all, envisioning the two of them and her kids FINALLY the ones with the fancy house and picture postcard perfect family, living it up in more luxury than Jesse and Rick ever did, including vacationing with her parents several times a year in the warm Arizona sunshine.
A tingly shiver of ecstasy runs down her spine and all the way back up again when she thinks how finally, after all these years, the pendulum has swung in her direction, and for a goddamn change, she’s the one reaping the benefits, while Jesse has been stripped of everything. Well… almost everything. There’s more work to be done.
As her former best friend drives away from the daycare, the nugget of thought continues to incubate in Debra-Lynn’s mind… until she has it all figured out.
It’s so very simple…
Jesse is an unfit mother. And the authorities need to be informed of that. Debra-Lynn will see to it. See that Jesse is punished for constantly being late, for not looking after her children properly, for putting her nail appointments, her hair appointments, her workouts at the gym, her fucking SELF, ahead of her kids. Like HELL she was at work late as she’s always claiming. Though Debra-Lynn has no proof, her and Rick have talked to Miss Irina a few times. And she knows Jesse was most likely at the Pilates studio working out this evening. She cares more for her looks than anyone Debra-Lynn has ever known.
And for that she needs to pay.
Jordynn and Josh
Remnants of Josh’s baby voice can still be heard there in his inflection, even at seven years of age, he still exhibits that high pitched octave which, like his slight build, kindness and delicate facial features, makes him so adorable.
“Can we make popcorn AND microwave s’mores to watch Shrek with tonight?” Josh yawns and squirms around in his seat, already tired of being constrained and wanting to get home, “and can I skip my bath and just put on my pjs right away before supper? Miss Killorn was teaching us about health and nutrition today and she said it’s ok to have cheat days sometimes when you’re ’loud to skip a bath and eat a bit of junk food. Can we do that tonight? Please mom?”
“Sure buddy, that sounds like an excellent idea, we can do bath time tomorrow night instead.”
“Thanks mom, you’re the best. I’m glad the weather is making everything so cozy today and I’m so excited to watch Shrek with you and even my stinky little sister… ha ha that’s funny, I’m so funny aren’t I Jordy, pordy?“
Josh’s childish giggle reverberates throughout the car making Jesse smile in spite of the white-knuckle terror of, once again, tackling the glistening slick roads underneath her worn out tires.
“Oh brother! You’re not thaaaat funny Joshy Woshy!” Jordynn chimes in now, her full-fledged baby talk on sweet display and once again, Jesse thanks God and her angels for these two wonderful human beings.
Then suddenly, out of the blue, Josh changes the subject.
“But mom? I don’t think I want to go to dad’s house anymore. Both me and Jordynn don’t like it there now.”
“Oh sweetie but you love your dad, why don’t you want to go to his house Josh? Did something happen there when you were there last? Even though it was an awfully long time ago, you still remember, don’t you? Didn’t you like to see your dad and spend time with him?”
“I want to see daddy, mommy, I do but…” Josh’s voice trails off as he struggles to find the right words.
“But daddy don’t want us to boffer him too much,” Jordynn blurts out before Josh can say anything else, “he don’t do homework wif Joshy, he say, kids, go play wif Ashlyn, to me and Joshy, mommy he don’t play puzzles and read bedtimes stories wif us no more, right Joshy?”
“Yeah mom, Jordynn’s right, dad doesn’t even spend time with us alone. We want just the three of us to go to the zoo or to a movie or McDonalds or something but Debra-Lynn and Ashlyn always have to come too. It’s not fair.” Josh’s voice quivers with frustration, on the brink of tears, as he rubs his fists into his eyes.
“Oh kids I’m so sorry. So very sorry Jordynn and Josh, I know it isn’t fair that he doesn’t pay attention to you. Have you asked him to do activities with just you and not Ashlyn and Debra-Lynn sometimes? It’s ok for you to ask, you know?”
“No mommy, Debber-Lynn don’t wanna let us see daddy by ourselfs, she say it would make Ashlyn sad not to play wif her. I don’t wanna make Ashlyn sad mommy so we gotta play wif her. We gotta, daddy says so too, right Joshy?”
“Yeah, right, but I’m a boy mom and older than the girls. I don’t like playing with Ashlyn. Because of her Spina Bifida, she has to wear braces and shoes inside the house and she steps on my fingers whenever we play twister, she stomps really hard on them. I just want to see dad, just me and Jordynn, just the three of us. He’s our dad not anyone else’s and Miss Killorn said we should get to have him all to ourselves whenever we want. But we never get him all to ourselves. I’m not even allowed to talk to him in private. Ashlyn is allowed to whisper secrets in Debra-Lynn’s ear, but if I do that with dad, I get in trouble. They tell me that I should say everything out loud so it’s all fair to everyone. I don’t think anything over there is fair anymore.”
“I love dad but he’s not the same as when he lived with us.”
“So can I just stay home with you on the weekends from now on? Pleeease?”