“It’s too late.” Susan slapped her hand on the table and pulled her hand through her short black hair leaving it spiked and unruly.
“Come on Sue,” said Stu. He reached across the table trying to take her hand. “I do love you, you know. I made a stupid mistake. What more can I say?”
“Don’t touch me. You’ve hurt me more than you will ever know. What about the kids? Didn’t you even think of them?”
Stu looked down at his hands, weathered and dry. She’d touched a sore point; he loved his kids. He reached for the bunch of keys, jingling them on his finger, then turned the keyring over to looked at the photo of Susan and the kids.
“How did it come to this, babe?”
“I’m not your babe, do you hear me? You chose someone else over me, over us, and I- we- mean nothing to you.”
“I’m sorry,” said Stu, pulling at his chin. He didn’t know where to look or how to answer her. “I don’t want to lose you. She meant nothing to me. I was just stupid. An idiot. What more can I say. I messed up.”
Susan buried her face into her hands and sobbed. She pulled her palms down her face and edged herself back on the chair. She straightened her back and took a deep breath. She blew upwards and it momentarily felt refreshing. Her eyes flicked around the kitchen as if trying to make sense of what was happening to her.
“Why? Why her? She supposed to be my best friend. How could it be that two people you trust, and love could do this to someone? To me?” Susan chewed on her lip, not knowing whether it was anger or pain that made her want to lash out. She twisted her hands together and pulled off her wedding ring, slamming it down onto the kitchen table.
“I don’t know why? She was just there. I was lonely. You’re always working or too busy with your clients. I just needed someone, and she was there. I’m sorry, okay.“
“No, it’s not okay.”
Alice slowly pushed open the door and crept into the kitchen. Her thumb in mouth, her eyes downcast. She dragged her lamb-lamb behind her that had comforted her since she was a baby. At four, she could feel the tension between her parents, and she’d seen the photo on Facebook of her daddy kissing her aunt Kelly. Tom, at seven, was more like his father, and kept his feelings more to himself, but he’d been quiet and hadn’t even come down for breakfast this morning.
Stu’s phone buzzed on the kitchen table, the vibration made it do a half turn, so it faced Susan. Shock came over her face, as she noticed Kelly’s number come up on the screen. Stu tried to reach for it, but Susan grabbed it and threw it across the kitchen, as it bounced off the granite counter and spun on the tiled floor.
Alice screamed and Susan ran to her, picking her up, comforting her. “It’s okay, honey.”
“I don’t believe this,” shouted Susan.
Stu went to pick his phone up from the floor. It had stopped ringing. Kelly had left a message. He put the phone in his back pocket, picked up his keys, and stormed out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind him.
“Why is daddy mad, mummy,” said Alice, as the tears streamed down her face. “Why is mummy crying?”
Susan held her closer, smelling the remnants of baby shampoo that lingered in her golden hair. It gave her almost a sense of security and normality, in a world that she no longer recognised.
The sound of the garage door going up, made her flinch. It appeared loud and it seemed to reverberate through the house. The sound of the truck revved loudly, and Susan saw a flash of black, as it sped up the driveway, and out of site. Stu had been pushed into a corner, and he didn’t know how to get out of this one. She knew that much.
Susan thought of Doug, Kelly’s husband, and wondered if he’d seen the photo of them kissing at Kent’s party, or if he’d found out about the affair. Things had got out of hand, and deep inside she knew that something had been wrong for months. Stu seemed distant, and quick to judge the way she looked, or shout at the kids. She felt it. She knew it, but she had just brushed it off as him being tired or stressed from work. Thinking about it now, she hadn’t seen much of Kelly lately either, except for when she picked up the kids or dropped them off from school and day-care. She’d seemed anxious and always in a hurry and never wanted to stop for their usual coffee and chat.
She suddenly felt a loneliness, something she couldn’t explain. It was though her whole being had been robbed from her. Nothing made sense to her anymore. Just a day ago, she was just ordinary Susan Moore, psychologist, mother, wife, daughter, friend. Her meaningful life now felt meaningless. Today, she felt like no-one. She felt empty, hurt and unforgiving. She felt hate like she’d never imagined. She couldn’t even confide in who she thought was her best friend. Kelly might as well have put a knife in her back rather than have to put her through this. Susan thought of the conversations where she’d confided in Kelly about the intimacies of Stu’s and her relationship, never thinking that she would be planning on stealing her husband from under her nose. Susan felt a sense of shock run throughout her body, as a wave of nausea washed over her.
Susan sat Alice down and poured milk over her cereal. She poured herself another coffee and thought how bizarre all this was. Here she was supposed to be helping others as a psychologist and a life coach, but she couldn’t even help herself. It was like all she knew had gone out of the window. Even though she’d helped so many people through experiences exactly like her own, it didn’t make sense. She felt like a hypocrite.
The sound of the doorbell made Susan jump. Her nerves were on edge and her eyes were so red and sore from lack of sleep and crying. Surely, Kelly wouldn’t dare come to the door to pick the kids of this morning. She heard Tom running down the stairs to race to the door.
“Tom,” shouted Susan. “Don’t answer it.”
It was too late, the door was flung open, but Susan couldn’t hear any voices. Susan held her breath, not trusting what she’d do to Kelly Brown if she dared step foot across her doorstep.
Tom quietly walked into the kitchen holding his grandma’s hand.
“Mum. What are you doing here?”
Susan ran towards her mother and sobbed deep into the crook of her neck, as she had always done as a child.
“Tom called me. He was worried about you and his father. Now what’s going on?”
“Tom, perhaps you could take your sister upstairs for a bit, while Mummy and I have a little chat. Okay?”
Tom nodded and pulled at his sister’s hand. Alice tried to fight off her brother, not wanting to leave her mother. Tom was good at coaxing her and said she could play one of his games.
“Look what he’s done to us, Mum.”
“Come and sit down, honey, let me make you a coffee.” She threw her light summer jacket over the back of the kitchen chair and went across to fill the kettle.
Susan sat down and spread her fingers wide across the table, noticing a white mark where her wedding ring had sat for the past 10 years. She filled her lungs with air, as though her body was starving, and let out a painful whimper.
“Mum, Stu’s been having an affair with Kelly. You know, my supposed best friend?”
“Kelly? No way. You have to be kidding me, Susan?”
“I don’t know what to do, Mum?”
“Perhaps you and the kids should come home with me for a few days, so that you can get your head together?”
“He says he’s sorry, but it just makes me feel so worthless and so deeply hurt. I can’t believe they have both done this to me, Mum. I feel as though I have lost my confidence in everything.”
“I know, I know, sweetheart.”
“I think it would be best if you came home with me for a bit. Being apart for a while might just help you to get your head together. I think he needs to know that you are serious and that this is not acceptable. Of all the men I’ve known, I never thought Stu would do this to you, but as my mother would say, ‘never say never.’ The children will be better away from here too. Tom was so upset when he phoned me. My heart just went out to him, it really did. I know it takes two to tango Suzie, but I’ve never really liked your friend, Kelly. She always seemed to me to be too sure of herself and always had to be one above everyone else.”
“I didn’t know he’d phoned you. Tom, I mean.”
“He said that you’d been crying and that you and his Daddy were yelling at each other, and he didn’t like it. He asked me to come and stop it. The dear wee boy.”
“Thanks for coming Mum. How am I supposed to explain this to the kids? It’s hard enough dealing with my own hurt, let alone their upset as well. How do you explain that their father would prefer another woman to their mother, and to them for that matter?”
“Let’s just work through this one step at a time. Kids are resilient. They’ll be okay, as long as they know they’re safe, they’ll be okay.”
It was comforting to Susan that her mother was there to take over the situation and put some common sense into what seemed like an unsolvable mess.
It all seemed crazy. Mad. Yesterday, if this had happened to someone else, one of her clients, she would have had all the answers at her fingertips, as well as encouragement and direction, but now she felt numb.
The realisation of how cruel it was to play with someone else’s emotions to fulfil their own selfish needs made her shudder inside.
She would never take anything or anyone for granted ever again, and she would remember that, always.