The woman hurried, toward the hangar where her private jet awaited, her long white hair rippling like a cape behind her, hiding her voluptuous figure. Pausing, she shivered, deliciously. It had been ages since she’d felt this quickening, the almost-palpable shift in the air that was the harbinger of an extraordinary event: an awakening.
As a bolt of lightning burst behind her, she glanced back to make sure she wasn’t being followed, mentally chastising herself for allowing her excitement to get the best of her.
The restoration of her family’s triad of power – her power -- was almost at hand! As the waxing blood moon fattened in the sky, the pool of crackling energy that hovered just beyond her reach also swelled, collecting the dispersed energy of her female predecessors. Half a century passed since she’d first laid eyes on the bundled baby; the decades had crawled by so slowly, leaving her to bide her time in idle pursuits of pleasure. Waiting.
Her jaw clenched as she considered the blunders and errors that were made, mistakes she could have averted if she’d been allowed her rightful place at the side of the little girl upon whom all her hopes and plans depended. But now a calm knowing relaxed her features. The day of reckoning was coming: only a few days more and her great-great-granddaughter would turn fifty.
Katie mumbled under her breath as she sheared perfect squares out of the supple wool suit fabric. Her special fabric-only scissors slashed through the stiff cloth like butter. Each clip made a crisp slicing sound as the blades of this meticulously maintained and sharpened tool scissored together. It was the pair she hoarded and hid from her kids when they were little, the only scissors sharp enough to stand up to the task of shredding her husband’s ridiculously expensive suit. The pile of wool grew as a smug giddiness crept inside her, filling the crevices between her anger. Watching them transform from precious cargo sheathed in paper-thin dry cleaner’s plastic into a massive pile of gray fluff and fuzz was deeply pleasurable.
“More satisfying than any time we’ve spent between the sheets in the last few years.” She said it aloud and punctuated it with a snort. “God, I’m so damn funny today.” Katie had taken to talking to herself and the dog when her last child left the nest four years ago. The sprawling showplace home they lived in was so cold and quiet now without the kids. It was a habit she acquired to fill the cavernous spaces in her home and in her heart.
It took a solid hour to cut the suit into gratifying squares. There was an extra perverse thrill knowing it was his good luck charm, the gray wool one she helped him pick out when he landed the job interview at the firm in Florida.
Their day of picking out menswear together for the interview now felt a million miles away. She remembered being stuffed into a delicate upholstered Louis XVI armchair, awkwardly clutching a glass of champagne the tailor forced into her hand while Jeff pawed through the racks of suits, engrossed in options.
“The suit makes the man,” Jeff had explained when she gasped at the price handwritten on the luxurious cardstock of the tag. Six thousand dollars? Instantly annoyed, he shushed her with his glare. “I knew you wouldn’t understand. This is the big time, baby. I have to look the part.”
She rolled her eyes at his nickname, which used to make her weak in the knees but had lately sounded phony.
“I’ll need an entire closet full of them once I become partner.”
The word partner still held the sting of rejection they’d both felt when he’d been overlooked for partnership at the firm in New York. Even though he’d graduated from Columbia, Katie discovered Jefferson was a mediocre attorney at best. He was quick to pass the blame to her shoulders, though, and offer a plethora of excuses for the slight. The most hurtful one being Katie wasn’t quite the caliber they expected from the wife of a named partner. She wasn’t a dinner-party-throwing Atkins evangelist rocking a blowout 24/7. Katie was curvy and relied a little too hard on shapewear to keep her voluptuous curves in check.
With his future career aspirations cut off at the knees, she’d convinced Jeff to leave New York when their oldest was just entering high school. Between the bitterness from the slight, the punishing long winters, and being confined in their minuscule rental, Jeff was eager to make a fresh start. After a few beers one night, they’d taped a map of the United States to the wall and thrown two darts. His landed on Chicago and her heart leapt. Her parents lived there with Yuli, her beloved grandmother, and they would jump at the chance to help her with the kids. Hers defied gravity and swerved to land on St. Petersburg, Florida, a place she’d never been.
“Chicago’s a hard no for me. Having your parents in our backyard and sticking their noses in our business constantly? No, thank you. Your relationship with them is already off-the-charts dysfunctional. I mean, who talks to their grandmother every day?”
A visit to St. Petersburg, Florida, sealed the deal. After sharing an order of peel-and-eat shrimp from a food truck on the beach, Jeff drove their rental car down the streets of Aura Cove, a small beachfront community twenty minutes outside St. Petersburg. Katie couldn’t explain the feeling of peace that enveloped her when they crossed into the city limits of Aura Cove. It felt like home.
“This is it, baby! We’re going to live here one day. Believe it! I am going to manifest Aura Cove for us. You wait and see.”
He was so certain, a month later, they’d rented the only house they could afford in the area, and it felt like fate when Jeff landed his interview at the firm.
“Look, I understand your need to look professional, but we could spend a week in the Maldives for what this one suit will set us back. We could send Beckett to football camp, and the payments for Callie’s braces are starting next month, not to mention the moving expenses are still on our credit cards. I mean, the timing isn’t great right now.”
“It’s an investment,” he explained in the condescending tone that had become his default setting. “You wouldn’t understand,” he dismissed. “I mean, look at yourself!” He hissed under his breath, “It’s obvious I’m going to have to choose all your clothing for you from now on. I will not lose out on another partnership opportunity because of my frumpy wife.” He waved his hand up and down at her. “Would it hurt you to take some pride in your appearance? It’s not that difficult.”
His criticism stung as she glanced down. Dressed simply in a wrinkled maxi dress and sandals, her ebony hair was gathered into a loose braid that flowed between her shoulders. Fighting back embarrassed tears, she wrapped her arms around her soft middle that resulted from the mom's diet. Coffee, cheap four-buck chuck from Trader Joe’s, and whatever was left on the kids’ plates before she scraped them to wash dishes. Katie was proud of her thrifty ways. They enabled her to put Jeff through college after she dropped out of Northwestern when she was pregnant with Lauren. Then they helped pay for Columbia, the Ivy League law school that forced them to become New Yorkers far longer than she’d wanted. With the insane cost of living in New York and three little mouths to feed, she worked two jobs to make ends meet. It had been a slog, but all along the way Jeff promised her the sacrifices would be worth it, so she buckled down and got through it like she always did.
But that day, at the menswear atelier, with his six-figure student loans still hanging over their heads, to drop this extravagant sum on one suit was difficult for her to swallow. Katie knew better than to argue when he was in a mood. She clamped her lips shut, cutting off the objections she had, and watched him amble to the dressing room, whistling without a care in the world, oozing with entitlement.
Jeff had an Alice in Wonderland effect on her. With one compliment, he could make her rise with confidence and become greater, but with one stinging word of criticism, she would shrink until she almost disappeared. It was a dynamic whose lineage could be traced back to her unplanned pregnancy in college when she was too young and too exhausted to object to it.
Jeff was a different man when he strode out of the changing room that day, the small-statured tailor quickly following behind, nipping at his heels with a measuring tape flapping from around his neck. The power suit transformed Jeff. He stood taller and commanded more of a presence in the room, his hands balled into fists at his hips, standing in the Superman pose he heard made him appear more powerful. It was a technique he gleaned from the Tony Robbins cassette tapes that cost another fortune, but that Jeff insisted were crucial to his self-development.
She was ashamed to admit it now, but Katie initially flushed with pride at seeing her handsome husband adorned in the finest worsted wool. It was an emotion that quickly dissipated while she watched him preening in the mirror from her seat on the uncomfortable antique chair. It was obvious, Jeff was enamored with his own reflection, smiling wider, turning and twisting in the mirror, admiring himself like a modern-day Narcissus. Luckily, the reflection was a mirror instead of a pool of water or he would have suffered the same fate.
That day, seeing him in the suit, she imagined the dream of the Aura Cove life Jeff promised was within their grasp. She pushed away the embarrassment and the little digs that seemed to be part of every conversation and focused on the fact that all their dreams were going to come true. When he hurt her feelings, she consoled herself with pride in the work she’d done for their family and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. She told herself, You can’t have it all. No one can. This is good enough. I am happy enough.
Jeff was right. The suit gave him the confidence to nail his interview, and he was immediately offered a position in the up-and-coming law firm, one that promised a guaranteed track to being named partner. During the next nine years, she could count on two hands the number of times they’d had sex since Jeff’s move to the swanky glass and steel behemoth in downtown St. Petersburg. Katie blamed the hours he’d been required to put in to get the brass ring. Jeff was a competent lawyer whose biggest accomplishment was conning an Ivy League law school to accept him. In Florida, his luck changed drastically, and a couple of high-profile cases fell in his lap with profitable outcomes for the firm. After paying their dues in a small rental while the kids were in high school, his newfound success gave them the resources to manifest their dream home in Aura Cove four years ago. Then his prediction came true. Exactly ten years after they’d first driven down the streets of Aura Cove, dreaming about their future, he became a named partner at Lewis, Garfunkel, and now newly added Beaumont.
Becoming a named partner in his law firm was supposed to be the culmination of all their years of hard work together. A shared triumph. Katie waited in the wings for praise for her sacrifices to provide for the family while he was studying for the bar and putting in the long years to earn his partnership. She picked up the slack because he was just so busy and couldn’t be bothered with trivial things like getting dog food or sitting though their three now-grown children’s parent-teacher conferences and extracurricular activities.
He puffed up like a peacock, seeing his surname being added to the sign in the sleek lobby. Two weeks ago, she walked in on him masturbating to the letterhead. Letterhead! His full name was spelled out in the pretentious block lettering at the top of a thick cream cardstock in his hand. Jefferson D. Beaumont, esquire. That should have been the first sign.
Back in her kitchen surrounded by the high-thread-count wool squares, Katie sighed, frustrated with herself. Continuing to shear the fabric, she shook her head, angry that she didn’t pick up on the signs as she sipped on a glass of wine. Sure, it was only ten-thirty, but it was close enough to noon. Okay, technically it was noon adjacent, but in her current state, she was more than willing to overlook this small momentary lapse of judgment.
Just an hour earlier, her fingers wrapped around a crumpled receipt that, at first glance, was another innocent ball of forgotten paper stuffed without thought into the pocket of his sport coat left for her to dutifully retrieve. Katie habitually checked his pockets before sending the garments to the dry cleaner, after the hissy fit Jeff threw when a tube of lip balm claimed two of his Finamore dress shirts. Shirts that cost more than any article of her clothing in their shared closet. She never dreamed the unassuming wad of paper had the power to destroy her life.
She rubbed her palm on it to flatten it back out. It was a late checkout from her favorite hotel, the one he always booked for their anniversary. There was a prickle of knowing as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up and her hands began to shake. Time stood still as she squinted to study it, trying to make out the tiny font.
Tears blurred her eyes as she scrambled to find her reading glasses and brought the receipt closer to her face. The bill had been paid with a credit card whose last four digits she didn’t recognize. Two line items were daggers in her heart. Champagne and room service. $194.77. One made her burn with smug self-righteousness. In-room Cinemax. $29.
“Maybe it’s not me after all. Who orders pay-per-view porn during a secret tryst? Sex addicts. That’s who.” Arlo, her dog at her feet, howled in agreement. His caramel hair was long and tangled, and he needed a groom.
Katie stared down at the paper, unable to tear her eyes away from the evidence. In her crazed state, she rubbed the heel of her hand over it again and again as her thoughts swirled, wincing when she noticed the dark spots tucked between the bluish veins on her hands. Marks she first tried to classify as freckles, but now had to admit leaned hard into age spot territory.
“Why do a woman’s hands age faster than the rest of her body?” she asked, then answered herself. “That’s easy, because women do all the work! Am I right, boy?” She reached down to pet Arlo, then scratched his favorite spot under his chin. “You’re the only man in my life who hasn’t been a total disappointment. You’re mommy’s best boy, aren’t you?” she asked, using her goofy high-key dog voice that made one of his ears perk up. He was a mutt she'd rescued from death row at the local pound. A dog that she loved and Jeff loathed because he shed.
“God knows we can’t have a single hair on your perfectly pressed trousers! Jerk!” She picked up a handful of wool fabric squares and let them fall like snow from her fingertips back down to the table.
A secret credit card. The unfamiliar digits stung. It was the reddest of the red flags. The new information burned inside her, tumbling and roiling in her belly, a revelation that held a secret power she was failing to contain. Needing to release its power into the world and free herself from its poison, she aggressively punched the digits of her best friend’s phone number. When Frankie picked up on the first ring, like she always did, Katie blurted, “He’s got a secret credit card.” The words, now free and the secret unlocked, hastened the flow of tears welling in her eyes and tracking down the lines on her face.
“Oh, Katie,” Frankie consoled. “No.”
“Yes. Very much yes.” A bitter sigh escaped her lips, and she swallowed the knot in her throat.
“And this is why I’m dead inside. NTM,” Frankie said.
“NTM?” Katie was confused.
“Never trust a man,” Frankie spelled out. “Did you know there was an actual study done at some fancy university that found males were more willing to punish others for their own personal gain than their female counterparts? They were also more likely to hurt others who had done nothing wrong except cooperate to the fullest extent possible.” Frankie huffed in outrage. “I didn’t need a study to come to that conclusion! I lived it!”
“Focus, Frankie. We can get back to hating them collectively as a species later.” Katie let out a strangled laugh, then burst into tears. “I’m such an idiot.” She cried, “Looking back, there have been a few hints, but I ignored them.”
“There were a few late-night texts he explained away, and a couple months ago he started going to the gym again. And then one afternoon, I went to his office to surprise him with lunch, and he was already out with his legal assistant, Brittany. I waited in his office for two hours for them to come back. It was humiliating.”
“That shit bag,” Frankie muttered. Her voice was infused with the outrage Katie felt, and her unfettered loyalty endeared her even more to Katie.
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt,” Katie deflected with humor, using a twangy Mark Twain drawl, then burst into tears. “God, what do I do?”
Frankie was always good in a crisis. “I know what I would do, but this is your life. Whatever decision you make, I’ve got your back.”
“I don’t think I can turn a blind eye to it anymore.” She gulped. “I mean, it’s one thing to have suspicions, but completely different to hold the proof in your hands.” She exhaled, staring down at the receipt. “I think I want a divorce.” Katie found the wine bottle and dumped the rest of it into her glass, and then chucked it toward the garbage can, where it hit the refrigerator and shattered into a million pieces.
“What was that noise?” Frankie asked.
“Shoot,” Katie said under her breath. “It’s nothing. I just dropped a glass.”
“Are you okay?”
“Of course not,” Katie argued. “No one’s okay when they discover their husband is cheating.”
“I’m sorry, honey,” she offered and then changed tactics, switching into damage control mode. The sympathy in her voice made more tears fall down Katie’s cheeks. Frankie wasn’t normally empathetic; she was a logical Scorpio who lived for revenge. “I’m not the one you call when you need someone to hold your hand.” Frankie always admitted her shortcomings easily, and that was part of her charm. “But when you need someone to drive the getaway car or help you bury the body, I’m your girl.”
“Okay, listen to me very carefully. You need to be smart here. First, you have to get your paperwork together. Make a plan. Do you know where all the financial documents are at?”
“Of course. I’m the one who pays all the bills.”
“Okay, good.” She exhaled. “Get copies of everything, bank statements, credit cards, investments, retirement accounts, everything you have owned jointly. I’m going to text you the name of the attorney. She’s a real ball-buster. Ruthless as hell. You know he’s going to find some big gun to represent him, and he already has a tremendous advantage from knowing the ins and outs of the legal system. Jeff is going to exploit every loophole he can find. You have to protect yourself.”
“I know.” Katie cradled the phone between her shoulder and her neck while she swept up the glass. It was important that everything looked copacetic if one of the kids popped in for a visit. She wasn’t ready to face the thought of them seeing her flaws, that this perfect life she killed herself to provide for them was just a fairytale, except this one didn’t have a happy ending anymore.