Chapter 21

Sarah greeted me at the door with a wide smile.

“Come in! Did you have any trouble finding the place?” she asked while reaching forward to take our coats.

“No, your directions were great. Caitlin and I don’t get out into the country very much and it was neat to see all the animals. Was that a petting zoo we saw at the corner?” I shed my coat and helped Caitlin with hers.

“Yeah, they operate the zoo as a supplement to their farming income. They have all kinds of animals. Tessa and I go in the springtime to see the new babies. You should join us this April.” Sarah turned and called for her daughter.

“Tessa has been looking forward to spending time with Caitlin all morning. I had trouble getting her to finish her breakfast.” Sarah nodded her head towards the kitchen where I saw dishes sitting on the table.

Tessa bounded up the stairs. Her bone-straight blonde hair was combed into piggy tails. “Caitlin!” She clapped her hands with excitement. “C’mon, I wanna show you my dolls.” Tessa took hold of Caitlin’s hand and pulled her towards the stairs.

“Would you like a tea?” Sarah asked, content to let the girls go play together.

“I’d love one, thanks.” I followed Sarah into the kitchen. The kitchen was spacious and bright. It smelled like a mixture of cinnamon and vanilla. Little red apples adorned the chair pads, tablecloth, valance and tea cozy. The kitchen table was a thick oak wood with chairs to match. It truly looked like a “country kitchen”.

“Are you enjoying the Bible study?” Sarah gestured for me to sit and placed a plate full of baked goodies on the table in front of me.

“Hmm, I am. I surprised myself, actually. I didn’t think I’d like it, but it’s been like ‘group therapy’ for me.”

Sarah giggled and sat next to me. “Yeah, the women really are wonderful. Steve and I don’t have family in the area anymore, so they’ve been like my extended family. I’ve grown so much since coming to this church and especially the Bible studies. Do you go to church anywhere?”

“Well, no. I’ve never been fond of church. I went with my parents when I was growing up but the day I was allowed to make the decision for myself was the day I decided not to go. I find the church full of hypocrites.” I quickly added, “No offence!”

Sarah smiled, “No offence taken. I agree with you.”

I looked at Sarah to see if she was teasing me. “You do?”

“Yes, of course. That’s what makes the church special to me. People who go to church aren’t perfect. That’s why they go to church! They’re Christians who realize that they need God in their life.”

I took a bite of a coconut mallow cookie, “I see your point. I guess I just thought that you had to have it all together before you went to church.”

Sarah smiled and her eyes lit up, “No, not at all. You try to get it all together after you go to church and pray for God’s help.”

Tessa interrupted us, “Mommy, can we watch the movie?”

Sarah looked at me. “Did you want to watch the movie now, or just want to chat?”

“Let’s chat and we can let the girls watch the movie together. I can watch it another time by myself.” I brushed a few crumbs off the tablecloth and smiled.

Sarah left to set up the movie for the girls and then brought them a plate of powdered sugar cookies and lemonade. I enjoyed the comfort of her kitchen, sipping my tea. When Sarah returned she took a deep breath and started to ask, “Heather, would you…” The phone interrupted her question. She took the call and then returned to the table moments later. “It was only telemarketers. They know I’m home during the day and must have my number on speed dial. If it rings again, I’ll let the machine pick it up. More tea?”

Sarah filled my cup and then her own and returned to her seat. She folded her small hands around her tea mug and looked me in the eyes. She quickly moved her eyes and stared into her tea.

“What is it?” I asked.

Sarah folded her arms and leaned toward me. “I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward but I didn’t know if you wanted to talk more about it?” Sarah shifted in her seat, obviously uncomfortable with the topic. “I’ve been praying for you, but have had trouble knowing how to really help.”

I reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. “Thanks, Sarah. I’m not sure what else there is to say. Right now, I’m just living day by day. But I would appreciate your prayers.”

Sarah put a finger in the air, “That, I can do!” She then looked my way and asked, “Can you tell me a little bit about your ex, Rod? How did you two meet?”

Memories clenched my stomach. Sarah seemed genuinely interested and the girls were watching the movie downstairs so I told her my story. I had just ended a four-year relationship that had turned sour. I celebrated my newfound freedom at a local pub when I met Rod. At first I didn’t like him. There was something deeply disturbing about him yet he grew on me – like olives.

Sarah laughed at my analogy. “I never liked olives until I was pregnant with Tessa.”

I continued my story and told her how Rod was all charm and flattery and eventually I let down my guard. On our first date, he showed up twenty minutes early. I arrived home from work to find him waiting on the front step. Although I felt a little put off at first, Rod’s smile, a deceptive deciduous smile, changed that. Rod said all the right things at all the right times. In his eyes, I was a princess. He wrote me poems, and left love notes in my email inbox. He called me, not once a day, but three times. “He couldn’t get enough of me,” I said and stirred a pinch more sugar into my tea.

I continued telling her about Rod and how we talked for hours about everything. We liked the same books, watched the same television programs, and enjoyed the same hobbies. He worked shifts and we worked on opposite schedules.

“Where’d he work?” Sarah asked.

I explained that he was the manager in the meat department of a grocery store. He said he liked his job – he’d done it for almost fifteen years and liked the staff under him; eager teenage girls, who listened to anything Rod told them.

I returned to my story and explained how many times Rod showed up at my office to surprise me. He would just sit and watch me work. I became his world. And I loved every minute of it. I’d never had such attention. Never felt so special. We were engaged within the month. The wedding was huge.

“Do you think that you loved the treatment because you had to share your father’s attention with your older sister?”

Sarah’s question surprised me. “No, I don’t think so. My dad showered us both with attention.” I was embarrassed to share that I thought I loved Rod because of how he made me feel. He made me laugh. I didn’t tire of hearing his jokes repeated from bar to bar. Everything he said struck me as funny.

Rod had a magnetism that always attracted at least one other person no matter where we went. We were never alone. Rod enjoyed being the centre of attention. We partied every weekend. Mondays came too soon and Fridays not soon enough.

“It sounds like you had a fun marriage.”

“I thought so, too. But then I got pregnant. When I got pregnant, I quit smoking, gave up drinking and became a responsible human being. Rod never changed. We grew apart. We were married for nine years and separated just before our tenth anniversary.”

Sarah’s eyes were moist as she listened to my story. “That’s sad. I’m so sorry.” She leaned over and gave me a one-armed hug. She abruptly changed the subject. “Thanks for the invitation to Caitlin’s birthday party later. I think going to Burger King is a great idea.”

“Yeah, the apartment is too small for a party and, of course Caitlin wanted all the kids from her class to come.” I gave a resigned shrug.

“Hey, would you like to come with me to church on Sunday?”

I muffled a groan. “Oh, I don’t know, Sarah. It’s been so long since I’ve been. Let me think about it, okay.”

A smile lit Sarah’s face. “Yeah, of course. Let me know when you want to go and Steve and I could pick you up.”

“That’s okay,” I said, giving her a wink. “It’s only a two-minute walk for me!”


“Mommy, Mommy.” Caitlin tugged at my sweater. “Tessa’s here!”

I looked up from the collection of birthday presents on the table and saw Sarah and Tessa entering Burger King’s side door. Sarah waved. “Sorry we’re late. Time got away from me.”

I smiled. “No worries. The kids are all here running around in the play area.” I leaned over with my hands on my thighs. “Tessa, you can leave your coat with your mom, leave your shoes by the wall and join the other kids.”

Caitlin took her hand and led her to the yellow slide in the play area.

“Wow. No other parents? How many kids?” Sarah asked as she placed her own gift, elegantly wrapped in cloth with an ornamental knot made of ribbon, on the table with the others.

“You’re the last to arrive. Ten altogether. I’m glad the play area has that sound proof wall. Those kids could hit a decibel level that scares dogs. Would you like a pop or something?”

“I’m good, thanks. So what’s the plan?”

“Well, I thought the kids could play and burn some of their excitement. After we eat, Caitlin can open her presents and then we’ll have the cake. After that, the kids can play again until their parents return.”

“Sounds good.” Sarah sat down on the blue plastic bench. She reached for a cardboard crown and placed it on her head. “How’s it look?” She giggled.

“It fits you to a tee!”

Taking the hat off, Sarah looked at her watch. “Goodness. If you want these kids to eat, we should probably call them back into the dining area and get them seated. How ‘bout I help them with their shoes while you take their food orders? Then you can go up and order while I get them seated.”

“Great idea! Thanks for staying. I need the help.”

Sarah lined the kids up and helped them with their footwear as I wrote down their choice of burger and drink. Then they all raced into the seating area and scrambled for their places. The kids talked and laughed as they enjoyed their food.

Once all the kids were finished, I said, “Okay kids, it’s time to open presents. Gather around.”

Caitlin beamed in the middle of the group. I pulled the card out of each bag and handed the present to Caitlin. I read the card and the name of the child who gave it. She gushed with every gift. “A Polly Pocket. Oh, I love it.” “A Papa Smurf. I don’t have this one.” “A Littlest Pet Shop. How cute.” She quickly put each gift aside to wait with hands held open for the next one.

“Slow down, girl. We’re not in a hurry.”

Caitlin finished opening all her gifts and went around hugging each of her little friends. Sarah tidied up the wrappings, bags and envelopes as I once again had the kids sit in their seats for cake.

Once I lit the candles, the children sang loud enough that everyone in the restaurant could hear. “Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Caitlin, Happy Birthday to you!” Caitlin blew out the candles and even the patrons of Burger King joined in the clapping.

“I get the first piece! I want the piece with the flower on it…Daddy?”

I was about to correct her when I followed her gaze and saw Rod entering through the front door. He was talking on his cell phone and hadn’t yet noticed us. Trailing behind him was a skinny girl with bleached hair and bleached teeth to match.

Sarah touched my elbow and pulled me back from the kids. “Is that Rod? Did you invite him?”

“Of course not! I didn’t even tell him we were having a party. He must be just coming in for supper. Or maybe this is where he takes his girlfriends on a date.” I said under my breath.

Before I could stop her, Caitlin called to Rod across the restaurant. “Daddy!”

Rod looked up, puzzled at first. Then he spoke a few quick words into the phone and folded it into his pocket. “Caitlin! Hello!”

“Daddy, you came to my party.” Her voice changed to a baby-like timbre.

“Of course, Honey. I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he gushed scanning the room. He stared directly at me then picked her up. “Of course I wouldn’t forget your birthday. Why else would I be here?”

Caitlin straddled his hips and gave him a kiss on the lips. “Where’s Chrissy? That’s not Chrissy.”

“Christine couldn’t make it. So I invited Kelli. That’s okay with you, right?” He jangled loose change in his pocket.

“Sure. Oh, Daddy. Come meet my friends.” She squirmed out of his arms and led him over to her friends. She introduced him to each one.

“Any friend of my little girl is a friend of mine.” He patted Sydney and ruffled her hair. “So you’re all here to celebrate Caitlin’s 18th birthday?”

The kids squealed in laughter “She’s not 18! She’s five.”

My stomach did flip-flops. “I wonder if he actually remembered it was her birthday today,” I whispered to Sarah.

Sarah stepped forward. “Nice to see you, Rod. Are you planning to stay for cake?”

He pasted on a sickly cat smile and scanned her entire body from toes to head. “Thanks for the offer.” He took Sarah’s hand in both of his and moved in close to her face. “I’d love to, but seeing that this is an all girls gathering, I just came by to wish my daughter a happy birthday.”

Obviously he didn’t take notice of the little boys.

“Do you have a present for me?” Caitlin asked.

I poked Sarah with my finger. How’s he going to squirm out of this? I remembered that last year he took her to a gas station convenience store to pick out her gift.

Rod licked his lips. “Of course, Honey. But I’ll give it to you when it’s just the two of us.” His eyes met mine and I suppressed a gag. “For now, I just want to give you a hug and wish you a great party. Daddy’s gotta go now. You kids have fun.” He winked at Sarah as he left, without buying his supper.

“Bye Daddy!” Caitlin danced from foot to foot like she needed to go to the bathroom.

“Bye Mr. Williams!” The kids called after him.

I smirked. Oh, he’ll love that!

“Yuck. What a slimy guy. He gives me the creeps.”

“Welcome to my world.”