Starting over shouldn’t be this hard.
A cheating husband and a divorce make for a working single mom with no time for dating. At least, no time until my best friend sets up a profile for me on a dating app. Now I’ve got more possibilities than I can handle.
If only my husband’s now ex-best friend was one of those dates. Sadly, he’ll never see me as anything but a charity case that used to sleep with his friend. He’s been there for me – babysitter, handyman…now boss.
Know what the problem is with online dating? It’s hard to know just who you’re talking to. People act one way online…and end up being someone totally different in person.
Did you read Chapters 3-4 last week? Click here to go straight to Chapter 5.
I wish someone had told me that at thirty-two I’d be starting over again. My plan was originally to grow old with my husband…until he decided to stick his dick into his barely legal secretary. Now I’m a single parent raising two kids and spending most of my time pissed off because he doesn’t show up when he’s supposed to and I get to deal with the fallout.
Now, instead of being a stay-at-home mom, making cookies for bake sales and chaperoning field trips like I used to, I’m getting up at five-thirty every morning to get myself ready for work before waking up the kids and making sure they have breakfast and all their things together. It doesn’t help that most mornings we run around like crazies five minutes before we’re supposed to be in the car and on the way to school. It doesn’t matter how many times I remind Lucas and Natalie to get their bookbags ready and set them by the door the night before…someone always “forgets” something they absolutely have to have the following day but can’t remember where they put it.
That leads me to now…standing at the front door, hands on my hips and tapping my heel clad foot while staring at my smart watch. If only the thing could actually make me smarter. Shit. We were supposed to leave three minutes ago. Two years ago I was the mom who rarely raised her voice. Now it’s a common occurrence. “Come on you two. You have thirty seconds to get whatever it is you’ve forgotten and be buckled in the car if you want to make it to school on time.”
I start counting out loud when no response comes from the duo upstairs, and it’s not until I hit twenty-three that the sound of what you would think is a herd of elephants comes stomping down the stairs. Thankfully, both kids grab their bags and shove the missing items inside before running past me out the door. The one thing I can count on is that neither of these two wants to be late.
Once we’re all in the car, I check one more time with them to make sure we do absolutely have everything. It’s not the same as it used to be, where I could just run up whatever they might forget and turn it in for them. Now, they have to be responsible for themselves. Just one more way their young lives have changed due to the decisions the adults in them made.
The ride to school is silent. There’s no bickering, which is nice, but I hate that it’s this way now. Both kids walk on eggshells around me. Like they know one wrong move is going to set me off. It kills me that they have to think about things like that, but the separation and resulting divorce hit me hard, harder than I ever thought it would. Of course, I didn’t ever plan on it happening, and once it did, I spent way more time than I should have hoping it was a bad dream I would eventually wake up from. If it wasn’t for Ryan stepping up when I needed someone the most, I’m not sure where we would be today.
Dropping them off is nice and easy since we’re one of the last cars to arrive before the bell rings. I barely get a “goodbye” from both of them before the back door shuts and I’m alone in the car with my thoughts. Unfortunately, now it’s time for me to head to work before doing this whole thing in reverse this afternoon. I shouldn’t complain, because if it wasn’t for Ryan, Todd would have done so much more damage than he has.
We both know he only gave me the job because of Lucas and Natalie, but I’m going to do everything I can to show him I’m worth it, no matter what his best friend thinks. God knows Todd hasn’t stopped blaming me for everything that’s happened in the past two years. It’s funny how in his head, I’m the reason he had to go looking elsewhere, and I’m the terrible person for leaving him when I found out he was.
It takes a lot to pull my thoughts out of the dark place they’ve gone, and in an attempt to try, I turn the radio up to listen to my favorite morning show. Of course, lucky me, they’re doing the To Catch a Cheater segment. Not. Helping. I switch on an audiobook instead and lose myself in listening to other people falling in love while I sit in rush hour traffic.
When I walk into the building Ryan leases for his construction company, I’m instantly glad I stopped to get two coffees instead of just bringing an industrial sized cup from home. Oh, who am I kidding? I got two cups because I forgot the one I usually bring because we were running so late. The door shuts behind me, and Ryan’s head lifts from where he’s staring down at the stack of papers on his desk with his hands gripping either side of his head in aggravation. I take just a second to check him out, even though I know I shouldn’t even put the temptation in my head. It will never be anything but unrequited love. He’s just so attractive though. He just turned thirty-six two months ago, but you’d never know it. His dark brown hair has no silver, something that makes me jealous considering it takes a two-hour salon visit to cover up all the ones I’ve sprouted over the past year and a half. The body on the man is also freaking amazing. I don’t know how many hours a week he spends working out and running, but trust me, it does that body good.
“Morning.” I try to sound chipper, but I don’t think I quite pull it off. It doesn’t matter though, because Ryan still straightens to walk towards me with a wide smile on his face that makes his green eyes sparkle. It’s a smile that causes a hitch in my breath.
When he stops in front of me, I hand him the coffee I haven’t been drinking out of. “Thanks,” he murmurs, and with a quick kiss to my cheek, he steps back to let me set my stuff down on my desk. “I need you to come with me today,” he starts, and I look up at him in surprise. I’ve only been working here a few months, but he’s never taken me anywhere with him before. Most of my time is spent here doing things like making appointments for him to talk to potential or existing clients or placing orders for material and hoping to all hell I don’t screw them up. Noticing my shock, he elaborates. “I have two potential clients to meet with this morning. You know I’m shit at note-taking and remembering things, so I need you with me so I have an accurate picture of what they want.”
I narrow my eyes at him suspiciously. He’s full of shit, and we both know it. Yeah, maybe he’s crappy at note-taking, but the man has the memory of an elephant. He never forgets a thing…as much as I wish sometimes he would. The look on my face makes him chuckle, and he holds up a hand in a hold-on motion. “Okay, so maybe my memory isn’t that bad, but I think it would do you good to get out of this office and learn a little more about how we do business.” Well, I guess that makes sense. When Ryan sees I’m not going to argue, he heads back to his desk and packs the briefcase he brings with him when he goes to meetings, shoving in an extra notepad and pen for me. Before I can tell him I could have brought my own, he’s back, putting his hand on the small of my back and directing me out to his truck.
The meetings aren’t very long so we’re done just before lunch. During each one I was able to get all the pertinent information Ryan will need to get started on bids for each project. I can tell he’s not very pleased about the fact that he’s not the only person being considered for either job. He’s not even one of a few. The one guy said he’s taking bids from close to twenty-five people! I get that he wants to get the best work for his money, but how on earth do you pick between that many companies?
As soon as we’re back in his truck, Ryan lets loose. “Twenty-five? That’s not trying to get the best person for the job. That’s trying to get the cheapest, and if he’s looking for the cheapest, I might as well not even put together a proposal.”
“I think you should do it anyway. You might not be the cheapest, but we both know you’ll be the best.” I’m trying to reassure him, to say what I think he needs to hear right now, though I’m not exactly sure why. Job security? No, not really. If it came down to it, I know Ryan would pay me instead of himself. I really don’t understand how he and Todd are or ever were friends, but that’s not any of my business. I’m just grateful he’s been there for me through all of this. “Once he sees your proposal, those other twenty-four people will be nothing but a memory.”
My words have their intended effect. Ryan relaxes, slumping against the back of the bucket seat just a little and letting out a long breath. “Thanks. I needed to hear that, and you’re right. He’s going to pick mine because I’ll do the best work. Fuck all the other guys who would do shitty work for less money. My work speaks for itself.” We come to a stop at a red light, and he turns his full grin on me. My best friend Tiffany calls it his panty-melting smile, and she’s probably right. Women probably fall all over themselves to get that look, and I get it for nothing. “Let’s go get something to eat. I’m starving.”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. I brought a sandwich from home.”
I wave off his invitation, but just as he starts moving again, he looks over at me with a raised eyebrow. “Really? You’d rather have a bologna sandwich instead of Mexican or Chinese?”
“I didn’t bring bologna,” I correct him haughtily. “I brought PB&J.”
One side of his mouth tips up in a smirk. “Oh, well then. That changes everything. Which would you rather have? Tacos or Sesame Chicken?”
My stomach growls at the thought of either. Both would be better than peanut butter, but I’m trying not to spend any money I don’t have to. Todd is late paying child support again, and I still have bills to pay this month. “Honestly, I’m fine with my sandwich. Just drop me off at the office and you can go get whatever you want.”
Ryan practically growls his aggravation at me declining his offer. “I know why you’re saying no, ya know.” My face burns with embarrassment that he does, but I don’t agree or disagree. Turning my face away so he can’t see, I pretend I’m looking out the window instead. “Court…” He takes my hand in his and squeezes, knowing that will force me to look back at him and meet his earnest gaze. “Let me feed you. If for no other reason than I don’t want to eat alone. You’d be doing me a favor, I swear.” He gives me these big, hopeful puppy dog eyes, and I’m powerless to do anything but agree. Once I do, the smirk turns into a huge grin and he squeezes my hand once more. “Good. That’s settled, so which do you want? Chinese?”
Chinese food is my weakness. Tacos are okay, and my kids love them, but if I have the choice, I want Chinese. Lord knows the last thing I need is to eat it though. It will go straight to the stomach pooch that just won’t go away or the thighs that just seem to keep getting larger no matter what. Not that I do much exercising to try and fix those things, but still. I can’t voice any of that to Ryan, so I just confirm the Chinese and settle back to enjoy the thought of having something to eat for lunch besides peanut butter and strawberry jam.
As soon as the waitress leaves with our selections Ryan leans forward, resting his forearms on the table and studies me. “Everything okay, sweetheart?”
His question warms my whole body and I have to look away to keep the tears at bay. Being here in Portland, so far from my family and Todd’s, I feel so alone most of the time. Luckily I have Ryan and Tiffany to keep me sane, but nothing takes the place of family. I should have moved back to Ohio when the divorce was final, but I didn’t want to take the kids away from the house they grew up in and the friends they had at school. Plus, stupid me didn’t want to take them away from their father either. When I mentioned moving home, he gave me this whole spiel about how if I moved it would make it impossible for him to see them and I’d just be making him a bad father, and I let that get in my head and screw with me. He was manipulating me, just like he did the whole time we were married.
Ryan says my name, prompting me to look back up at him. He repeats the question, this time without the “sweetheart” at the end, and I nod quickly. “Yeah, everything is fine.” It sounds like a lie to my ears, so I’m sure it does to his too. He reaches over to grab my hand, his eyes moving back and forth between mine and studying my face. I sigh, because the last thing I want to do is complain about my ex-asshole and his best friend, but he’s not going to let it go until I unload on him. “Okay, so maybe not fine.” I look away from his searching gaze for a second to gather myself. I refuse to cry over that man again for any reason. “Todd didn’t show up again on Saturday to see the kids.” Ryan mutters an expletive, one that starts with F and ends with uck, and I nearly laugh because that’s probably what Todd was busy doing instead of spending time with his kids. “Yeah. He’s also late paying this month’s child support.”
“Do you need money? You know I’ll give you whatever you need.”
The offer is sweet, but still so mortifying. It instantly ignites my anger and I jerk my hand out of his, no longer wanting to be touching him. “No.” The word comes out way louder than I intended, and conversation in the tiny restaurant all but stops as people turn to look at us. I studiously avoid all of them and take a deep breath in before letting it out slowly to calm myself down. “No,” I say again, this time at a much more acceptable decibel. “I appreciate the offer, but I need to do this by myself.” He starts to protest, but this time I’m the one holding up a hand and telling him without words to be quiet. “Seriously, Ry. I know you just want to help, but I need to learn how to do things on my own. You’ve already done so much for us, and you deserve a break. I’ll never be able to repay you for the job, for coming over during the summer and mowing the lawn so I wouldn’t have to, for helping me take the kids trick-or-treating. You do so much for us, and you never ask for anything in return.”
I have to stop talking when the waitress returns with our plates, and that gives Ryan the opening he was waiting for. Before I can continue, he starts, glaring as he points his fork at me. “You know damn well I’d do anything for you and those kids. What Todd did was fucked and I honestly don’t know what the hell is wrong with him. Why anyone would go looking for someone else when they had you in their bed just doesn’t make sense to me.” I blush again, but this time it’s more from being pleased than embarrassed. There’s a little of that too, but it’s nice to know that at least one man doesn’t think I’m a complete troll.
“You know I appreciate everything you’ve done for us. So, so much. But, like I said, I need to be able to do this without depending on someone else if I want to be able to look myself in the mirror at the end of the day and know I’m doing what I need to.” I don’t know how to explain this to him any better.
Even though I know it kills him to do it, he nods. “I get what you’re saying Court. I just want to make everything easier for you.”
“I know you do.” This time, my smile is genuine. I beam up at him, and cover his hand with mine. “We really need to find you a woman of your own to take care of.” I stop to think about it for a second, then clarify, “Well, we need to find you a woman that will still let you come over and take care of the lawn and you know, kill spiders for me and stuff.”
Ryan looks at me a little funny before he finally laughs. “I’m good. Most women are more trouble than they’re worth. Not being tied down to one works just fine for me.” I roll my eyes at his admitting to being a player, and he hurries to say, “I mean, I’m not jumping into bed with every woman I go on a date with…” He trails off and gives me a wide-eyed look.
I know he’s thinking about Todd and Amber, so I put him out of his misery, waving his words off with one hand. “I know what you meant. Trust me, the two of you might be friends,” his face darkens like he wants to object, but he doesn’t disagree, “but I know you’re a decent guy. Now, can we please eat before we have to send back our food for being cold?” I smile at him, and his stiff posture relaxes as he smiles back.
“Sure, sweetheart. Let’s forget this conversation even happened.” Not likely, but I’m willing to pretend if he is.
The rest of the afternoon passes quickly, and before I know it I’m home making dinner and trying to help the kids with their homework. Math is the bane of my existence, and my kids are just as bad at it as I am. Todd was the one who always helped Lucas do it, and now that he’s not here, there’s a lot of tears and fighting over sitting down to do it. Don’t even get me started on how many times I have to force him to sit back down because he needs water or a bathroom break that turns into ten minutes or more of goofing off.
“Luke, you have to follow Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. It’s the order of operations.”
He looks up at me with mutiny in his eyes. “But what if I don’t want to? I want to add everything then multiply it.”
I sigh, trying to keep my composure. “The answer won’t be correct if you do that. Five plus six times ten is sixty-five, not one hundred and ten. That’s just not something you can change.”
“Mommy? What’s that smell?” Natalie, my six-year-old is sniffing the air with a disgusted look on her face.
My head jerks up and I look at the stove to see smoke billowing out of the pot where I’m making spaghetti sauce. It’s not anything special, just a jar of Ragu dumped into a pot so it can heat up, but it’s the last jar I have. Abandoning Lucas and his math, I hurry back over to try to salvage it, but instead of the bright red sauce, it’s a clump of black crap that’s stuck to the bottom of the pot. It looks terrible, but smells even worse.
It’s all I can do not to shout an awful word in front of the kids, and I have to bite down hard on my bottom lip to keep it from escaping. Why is this my life now? All I want to do is go to bed and wake up to find out this was all just a terrible dream. I want the life I used to have back, even if it means I’m oblivious to the fact that my husband is cheating on me. At least everything wouldn’t be on me. I miss having a partner to share things with, someone who can jump in when I’m trying to do fifteen things at once…or just someone who’s good at math so I don’t have to watch a million videos trying to figure out how to do fourth grade homework.
When I turn back to face the kids, they’re both staring at me like they’re waiting for me to lose my mind, and I instantly feel guilty. They’ve borne the brunt of what the divorce has done to me, and I need to change that. They shouldn’t be scared mom is going to fly off the handle. Pasting a bright smile on my face, I ask them, “Who wants pizza instead?” They both grin, shoving their hands in the air and screaming, “Me! Me!” Relieved, I grab my phone and pull up the app I’ve used entirely too often over the past year and a half. Just as I’m putting in the order, the banner at the top of my screen alerts me to a text.
Ryan: How’s things?
It’s like he knows exactly when I’m about to start pulling my hair out.
Courtney: Ordering pizza since I burned dinner again
I should be embarrassed for telling him that, but he’s seen me at my worst already, so what’s one more time?
Ryan: LOL don’t worry about it. I’m already here. I’ll grab it and bring it over.
Courtney: You don’t have to do that. I can order delivery. Don’t want to mess up your night
Ryan: Court. You’re not messing up anything. Actually, you’re keeping me from eating a large pizza and drinking a six-pack of beer by myself
I can’t help but laugh. He’s so full of shit, but I’m not going to argue too much. Him coming over for dinner means someone else dealing with math.
Courtney: On one condition…
Ryan: I’ll help Luke with his math
My smile widens. He knows me so well. I should feel some guilt over my ex’s best friend spending more time with me and the kids than him, but right now, Todd can go to hell.
Ryan doesn’t even bother knocking when he comes over. The kids hear the front door shut and they go running to meet him. I follow behind them wishing I had changed into something a little less “hot mess.” The minute we walked in the door after picking them up from afterschool I changed into yoga pants and an old, ratty purple University of Portland sweatshirt. My hair, which was tamed with pretty waves for work, is now pulled up in a messy bun on the top of my head, and my feet are bare, showing off my partially painted toenails. It’s not the least bit attractive. Not that I should even be worrying about attractiveness. This is just Ryan. He never has and never will see me as anything other than Todd’s ex-wife.
Both kids are standing with their arms wrapped around his waist and looking up at him adoringly when I reach the entryway. He’s doing his damndest to hold the pizza up away from their heads and giving me a “help me please” look that I can’t help but laugh at as I step forward to take both boxes off his hands. Once they’re free, he puts one on each kids’ head and ruffles their hair, making them giggle. “Okay guys, I left some drinks in the truck so I need to go get them. Go wash your hands so we can eat.” They both obey him immediately, and when his eyes meet mine one side of his mouth tips up in a grin before he mouths, “Sorry.”
“I tell them to wash their hands for dinner and they act like I told them we were eating snails. You tell them to do it and they rush to do your bidding. It’s just not fair.” My complaint falls on deaf ears, because all he does is shrug before going back outside. Shaking my head, I take the pizza into the kitchen and set it down on the counter so I can grab some plates – paper, because I just don’t have it in me today to do dishes.
By the time the kids come back in with clean hands I have their milk poured and plates filled with pizza sitting in front of “their” stools. It was much easier to assign them each one then listen to them argue every damn meal about who got to sit where. As soon as they are seated, I turn to get my own dinner, taking the stool beside Natalie just as Ryan returns carrying a six-pack of beer and a bottle of white wine. I start to get up to help him, but he just waves me away. I watch him as he uses the corkscrew much more adeptly than I ever can. It’s not unusual for me to have to pick pieces of cork out of my glass. In just a few seconds, a full glass of wine is sitting in front of me, much more appetizing than the glass of water I poured myself in an attempt to be healthier since I’m eating greasy pizza.