The next morning, running on nothing more than exhaustion and numbness, I moved in a haze. After I'd dropped Michael and Alena at kindergarten and pre-school, I simply drove around for a while, not sure where to go or what to do. Home didn't really feel like home any more. It was too full of memories, too full of Mitch and the constant reminder of what he'd done.
In the end, with no plan to do so, I ended up pulling into the parking lot of my best friend's Condo building. Dione and I had been friends for almost ten years; we'd met working as waitresses as we'd both been getting through college. Whereas I'd, eventually, dropped out when Mitch and I married, she'd continued; gotten her degree and had gone on to build her own PR business.
Still walking around in a fog of disbelief, I somehow found my way to her front door and tapped lightly on the hard surface.
It was several moments before I heard her groggy, "Comin'," and then, slowly, the door opened. Dark eyes blinking, she rubbed a sleepy hand across her henna brow, sweeping strands of dark hair away from her vision. "What's going on?" she mumbled, focus moving carefully over my face.
"I..um..." I muttered weakly, my bottom lip trembling. Hating the fact I seemed so weak and childlike, I bit the quivering flesh between my teeth and willed the tears to remain unshed. It was ultimately futile, though. The more I tried to blink them back, the harder it was to keep them at bay. Gradually, the scorching droplets skated over my pallid cheeks.
"Hollie," my friend anxiously said, sleep quickly dismissed from her features, "what on Earth's wrong?"
"He's left me," I managed to babble, the words distorted and barely audible.
"What?" she demanded, reaching out with her right hand and wrapping her soft fingers around my wrist. "What do you mean, he's left you?" she asked, tugging me into the apartment and closing the door behind us.
"Just like that?" she wondered aloud, tucking her legs beneath her on the couch and leaning into its corner. "Totally out of the blue?"
"Seemed that way to me," I replied. "I thought we were happy. I thought I was making him happy."
"Jesus," she huffed, eyes moving to the ceiling as she shook her head slightly. "God, why can't men think with anything other than their dicks?" she mused rhetorically. Dione had always had a very cynical view of men – well, of people in general really. She also had serious reservations about the staying power of most relationships. Still very much free and single, she was extremely happy with that life. In all the time I'd known her, she'd only had one relationship that had lasted longer than six months.
"You think he has cheated on me?" I sniffed, wiping the back of my hand over a wet cheekbone.
"Oh, honey," she sighed, "I don’t know, but it sure as hell doesn't look good." Gaze drifting downward, her serious eyes settled on me. "And whether he has or not, he's still a complete prick."
Unable to prevent myself, I huffed out a sad chuckle. "I just..." I breathed softly. "I don't know where this leaves me. I'm a single mom, my roaring twenties are almost behind me...I..."
"You're not seriously suggesting that your whole world is gonna crumble over this?" she blurted incredulously.
"Mitch and the kids are my whole world," I countered quickly.
Quietly and skeptically, I listened.
"Life is going to go on without Mitch," she insisted. "I promise you, he hasn't left a permanent void."
Silently, I shook my head. She didn't understand. To her, men were replaceable; I wasn't sure if she'd ever been in love – the painful kind that made you feel as though you couldn’t breathe.
Seeming to understand my unspoken doubts, she continued. "I know it hurts like hell right now, Hol," she whispered, resting a sympathetic hand on my thigh. "You know what you need?" she said, suddenly brightening with a broad smile. "Revenge!"
"Ugh," I groaned, letting my head slump forward. "I don't-" I began.
Dione quickly forestalled me, though. "Here's what we'll do," she insisted. "We'll go out tonight, find you a handsome hunk of man and you can get your own pay back."
"I can't," I mumbled. The thought of being touched by someone other than Mitch just seemed weird. It had only ever been him; how could I begin to imagine myself in bed with another man. "I don't...It's not going to make me feel any better," I stated.
"Alright, alright," she soothed, her fingers gently squeezing my leg reassuringly. "Why don't we just go out then, girl's night? Or better yet," she excitedly gabbled. "Let's get away for a little while. You, me, Karly and Vegas."
"Just us girls," Dione continued, beginning to be thoroughly sold by her own idea. "We'll get your mind off everything."
"What about the kids?" I argued gently.
"Your folks would watch them for a little while, wouldn’t they?"
They undoubtedly would. My parents had been complaining about not seeing enough of their grandchildren; I felt sure they'd jump at the chance. Still though, did I really want to fly down to Vegas as if I hadn't got a care in the world?
"You stood by him when he was building up that business," Dione pointed out. "You went without vacations, 'cause you guys couldn't afford them, and now he's thanking you by running off with some slut." Pushing her tongue against her front teeth, she shook her head. "Honey, it's your time to have a little fun."
Her words fueling my anger, the tears in my eyes suddenly went dry. She had a valid point. I'd support Mitch when times were tough, we'd got through it together and now he'd made a success of the company...so, this was how I was being repaid for my loyalty? No, no, I wasn't going to take that lying down.
"Let's do it," I stated assuredly, with a curt nod. "And I'll tell you somethin' else, it's going to be Mitch's treat."