This story is by Laura Porter Taylor and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I glance at the screen on my smartphone for the tenth time in twenty minutes. Drumming my fingers on the white starched tablecloth in front of me, my left foot, crossed over my right, is wiggling like a worm on a hook. The ice in my water glass is melting. I’ve made a hard decision to change my life and requested this quiet corner table at the city’s swankiest club to announce my unilateral escape plan to Rob and, of course, he’s late.
“Savannah? What are you doing here?” Dressed in her signature chic designer clothing, my best friend Lily Barton slips into the elegant chair across from me.
I lower my voice almost to a whisper.
“Waiting for Rob, as usual. I’m going to tell him I want a divorce.”
“You can’t be serious. We talked about this last month. I know you want more from him, but divorce is no way to get that. Has something happened since we saw each other?”
“Lily, I need more than he’s capable of giving. Today is the anniversary of the day we met, and he doesn’t remember. He left for work in a big hurry this morning and not a word. I’m tired of competing with his mistress. I’ve spent three decades of my life with him today, and he’s late again. There’s always one more motion to write, some client to call, each more important than I am. Just once, couldn’t he be on time for something?”
“Vanna, aren’t you overreacting a smidge? Most women are relieved a mistress is a job and not some 25-year-old 36-DD bimbo in a miniskirt. You two are nothing alike, which was what attracted you in the beginning. Now you want him to be someone he’s not. Marriage is hard. You’ve never taken the easy way out of anything before.”
“Lily, your life is a fairytale. Jason is handsome and whisks you away to Paris or Rome for your anniversary. He never asks what you’d like for your birthday or Christmas because he knows. He supports your dreams. Rob’s response to mine is whatever you think is best, honey, and then I’m on my own, so I might as well be.”
Lily smiles. “That’s because he believes in you. Rob doesn’t cheer from the sidelines because you’ve never needed affirmation to make life decisions. You didn’t consult him about law school. Both of you were broke, and he was in the middle of an ugly divorce, but you forged ahead. He trusts your judgment. And Jason is far from perfect.”
“Jason’s only flaw is that he’s domestically challenged. I’ll trade you for receiving flowers for no reason, supporting my dreams, or romantic trips to commemorate anniversaries.”
Lily runs her fingers through her flawless beach-waved blonde hair. Her eyes are somewhat distant.
“Lil? Is everything okay?”
“Vanna, there are things in marriage far worse than overseeing your own destiny. Paris was great. Rome too. But it’s the small everyday moments that bring genuine happiness in our lives, not the momentous ones.” She reaches for my hand.
“Call me later? Gotta get back to my group. Love you.”
“Love you too, Lil.”
I check my phone again.
He’s been late since the day we met.
It was October 3, 1991. I’d been working for a petty tyrant from hell my second year out of undergraduate school and decided I was tired of unpaid overtime and snarky put-downs. As I shoved my small box of office paraphernalia into the passenger seat of my junker Toyota and headed home, the consequences of my knee-jerk decision hit hard. I had less than $500 in savings. What had I done?
I scooped up the newspaper I’d left on the walkway outside my apartment that morning. Throwing my keys and handbag on the table, I began searching through the employment section. Only one advertisement looked promising.
Legislative assistant for General Counsel. Undergraduate degree and knowledge of legal process preferred…
I was overqualified for the position but had little chance of landing it. Everyone in the lobbying business here knew everybody else. My former boss, Hugh Denson, was an insurance lobbyist. He’d trash me like a crumpled hotdog wrapper, sticky with chili and cheese tossed on the ground after a Saturday afternoon football game. Bastard.
After calling the advertised number, my heart dropped along with my hopes. There were already 20 applicants for the position. Three would be chosen for an interview. Placing one of the printed resumes I’d blown two days’ salary on into my briefcase, I headed downtown to fill out the required application.
My phone rang the following morning. Was I available at 2:00 to speak to Mr. Thomas about the assistant’s job? My heart was racing, and I was as limp as a summer linen dress with relief. That afternoon, I sat beneath a staircase that looked purloined from a Gone with the Wind movie set, willing myself not to fidget.
Ten minutes went by, then twenty. I glanced at my watch. I heard the receptionist speak to someone on her intercom.
“Mr. Thomas has been delayed. Can you wait?”
As if I have a choice. What jackass schedules a job interview and is late?
I squelched an urge to vocalize my thoughts and walk out. Instead, I smiled. I had bills to pay.
Ten minutes later, a thirtyish-looking man trotted lightly down the pretentious, red-carpeted staircase. He was dressed in a gray suit, silk tie, white French-cuffed shirt, gold cufflinks, and Italian leather loafers. Obviously, he’d paid attention in Dress to Legally Impress 101.
I returned his firm handshake.
“Robert Thomas. I hope you’ll forgive my tardiness.”
Somewhat mollified by his apology, I followed him up the stairs to his office.
We talked as if we’d known each other for years. He was neither tall nor drop-dead gorgeous, but his confidence and wry sense of humor were intoxicating. He was slightly overweight, and his black-rimmed glasses didn’t suit the shape of his face, but his voice calmed my insecurities, and his smile was genuine.
Our conversation continued in the parking lot two hours later. As he opened the car door for me, I knew I wanted both the job and the man. It was then I noticed the gold band on the third finger of his left hand, indicating a wife he neglected to mention, and I was too starry-eyed to notice. He wasn’t going to be an option.
My mother’s advice that evening didn’t help.
“You like him too much. He’s married. I know you need the job, honey, but working for someone you could… become involved with… might hurt your career and reputation. Savannah, you’re seeking work, not a dating service. There will be other opportunities. This may not be the right position for you.”
As I stuffed dinner dishes into the dishwasher, her warning receded into the noise of clanking flatware. Then reality hit me like jumping into a frigid mountain stream on a hot summer day. Reference checks. Hugh.
Dismayed at the thought, I dropped a wine glass. It shattered on the floor in sparkling shards, along with any hope of seeing Robert Thomas again.
“It doesn’t matter, Mama. Once he calls Denson, he’ll hire someone else.”
The next morning, the jangle of the phone woke me. Half-asleep, I stumbled to the kitchen to grab the receiver. The position was mine if I wanted it.
That was 30 years ago today and memories only increase my irritation.
I’m not waiting for him another second!
Collecting my handbag along with the remnants of my dignity, I shove my chair back to leave when I spot him. He hurries across the room, dodging tables and servers, deftly weaving his way through them.
“Hi, sweetheart. Sorry it’s so late.”
In his arms are 30 long-stemmed red roses, one for every year we’ve been together. Tears cloud my eyes. He did remember.
The years have softened him. Lines crinkle around his eyes and white hair crowns his head instead of brown. He’s more than slightly overweight and his glasses still don’t suit him.
But in a moment of unexpected clarity, I realize he suits me. Lily is right. He’s not my cheerleader, but he believes in me. I am free to be anyone or do anything I choose.
And he is my choice, imperfections and all.
“Happy anniversary, Vanna.”
He smiles as he did that long ago day and takes my hand.
“Please don’t give up on us.”
“How did you…”
“Just a feeling. I promise I’ll change my priorities. I’m not everything you need, but I love you.”
He twines his fingers through mine. His soft brown eyes plead with me to change my mind.
“You’ll be on time for our 40th anniversary, right?”
We laugh as he hands me one of the perfect red roses.
I know he has given me hard promises to keep.
But it doesn’t matter. Because we have so many other things that do.