"Next Wednesday." Four days from now.
"This is wrong, Tiffany, and you know it. Don't do this."
She set her cup down and looked at me with sadness, but resolve.
"It's going to happen. There won't be any embarrassment. All anybody at the company knows is that you couldn't get away from work. I told them you'd probably take a week or so while we were gone and have a bachelor vacation, a chance to get away from the wife and kids. Some of the guys thought it was a great idea.
"Look, why don't you take some vacation time. You could go down to Key West, or up to the Smokies for a few days. You might like it. And...I think it might do us both some good to spend some time away from each other. Separate vacations aren't a terrible thing. A lot of couples take them nowadays."
"Do you want a divorce?"
Her eyes flared again.
"Don't threaten me, you son of a bitch. Just because I want to make you think about our life, and I want to get away from you for a little while, you are not going to try to scare me with talk about a divorce."
"I'm not threatening you. I'm just asking you a question."
"Well then, to answer your question. No. I don't want a divorce. I want some changes. I want you to demonstrate that you love me. I love you."
"And you're going to demonstrate that love by going away with a big dick wonder for a month and leaving me alone here to kill time and wonder if he's started fucking you yet."
She just sat there and finished her coffee.
I spent Sunday and part of the next few days with the girls, taking them to the Beach and to Water World and one day to Disneyworld in Orlando. I felt like I was saying goodbye to them, and maybe I was.
I spent as little time as I could with Tiffany and she found reasons to be out of the house with the girls or by herself.
We slept in the same bed but we could have been a million miles apart. She didn't offer, and I didn't ask, for any intimacy.
Tuesday and Tuesday night were spent making final preparations and Wednesday morning she got the girls up at 5 a.m. to prepare for the ride to Jacksonville International Airport where they'd catch a connecting flight from there to Los Angeles and from there on to Oahu.
Her mother had spent the night previously, without saying more than five words to me and she took the girls out after each had given me a kiss and hug and promised to call me every day.
I was sitting out at the table facing the back yard. It was still dark. She came up behind me and I sensed she was about to bend over to kiss me.
I held my hand up and she froze. I didn't look back at her.
"You still have time, Tiffany. You don't have to do this."
She stood there silently.
"I have loved you since the first moment I saw you. I wanted to grow old with you. Please don't walk out that door."
She still didn't say anything. After a long moment, she finally said, "We don't have any more time. I have to go."
She turned and I heard her heels clicking on the floor. As she reached the door to the interior of the house, I said softly, "I won't be here when you get back."
She stopped then, and I like to think she was conflicted. Then she stepped inside the house and was gone.
I sat there for a long time. Until the sun rose and beyond. Through my tears I saw two deer appear like phantoms in the pale early sunlight when the day hadn't yet decided if it was ready to make an appearance. One was small, the other a mature version. Mother and child. I don't know why, but I cried like a baby.
I felt like I had the morning my mother had called me to tell me that my father had gone to sleep the previous night and never woke up. And I remembered that I hadn't been by to see them in two weeks. I thought there would always be more time. And suddenly there wasn't.
What do you do when you realize that the biggest decision of your life was the wrong one. The woman you'd bet your life on, you'd trusted to bear your children, was not the woman you should be with.
I didn't know just who I should be with, but it wasn't the woman I had loved with every fiber of my being until a few hours before.
I looked at my watch and realized about this time they were getting ready to board their plane. I wondered if Tiffany really knew what she was giving up when she stepped on board with our daughters. Or if she even cared.
Eventually I got up and even managed to go to work because it was a regular work day. I hadn't told anyone what was happening. That night I surveyed the house. I had some belongings, but nothing that couldn't be packed into the back of a friend's pickup truck.
That night about 9:30 p.m. my cell phone rang and both my daughters told me about how exciting the flight to Los Angeles had been and how scary the long flight over the Pacific had been before they finally reached Oahu. They were already in their hotel and checking out the room's mini-bar and where the icemakers were located on their floor.
They told me they loved me and handed the phone to their mother.
I hung up on her and when the phone rang again in 30 seconds I turned it off. The house phone rang and I picked up the receiver and buried it under two pillows so I couldn't hear anything.
Then I went out to a bar called O'Brien's on the Westside of Jacksonville and knocked back a few, played some pool and tried to remember what it had felt like to be single. Now I remembered. It had felt shitty.
The next day I called a few friends who'd gone through divorces and got the names of a few attorneys. Even preliminary calls told me that I'd be flat broke before I got much of the way through their retainers.
And I realized that it didn't matter who I got. Nobody was going to have the firepower to go up against the attorneys that Tiffany could hire or her mother could sweet talk into representing her.
Then I started looking around for a cheap apartment. We were living in a $1 million home in an expensive gated community between Orange Park and Jacksonville, one which we could only afford because Tiffany had put a half million dollar cash deposit down on it. It basically belonged to her even while I sweated monthly to pay the mortgage.
I was looking for something decent, a two-bedroom, on the Westside not too far away from our home where I could see the kids, assuming Tiffany didn't screw me out of that too.
That night the cell phone rang again. I didn't want to take it, but I did want to talk to Kaitlyn and Kristen. I hit the talk button. Tiffany said, "You miserable son of a bitch. Why do you have to..."
"I don't want to talk to you, Tiffany. I thought that was clear. Could I talk to my daughters?"
"So that's the way you want it? You're going to turn this into a major fight, just like you have with every disagreement we've ever had in our marriage?"
"Can I talk to the girls?"
"No, fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you."
She must have been using a hotel phone because she managed to slam it down with a vengeance.
I didn't talk to the girls that night, or the next two nights. Sunday night the phone rang and when I picked it up Kaitlyn was on asking why I hadn't been at the house to take their calls. I told her I'd had to work late at the store, and that was a reasonable excuse because I did get called out some.
When I'd finished talking to her and her sisters, and learning how nice Uncle Stephen had been and the things he'd done with them and their mother, Tiffany came back on the phone.
"Can you just for a minute pretend to be a grownup and talk to me, Bruce? What is the point of acting like a spoiled..."
I tried to imagine what bad words she'd said after I hung up on her and hoped she was able to exert enough self control to keep them to herself in front of the girls.
I didn't hear from anybody on the island until the next Friday night. The call came from Tiffany's cell, but when I punched it on her mother, Marge, said, "So you were able to tear yourself away from your girlfriends long enough to answer a call from your wife?"
"Are the girls there, Marge?"
"Yes, but you won't hear a word from them unless you try acting like an adult. What kind of spoiled little boy won't talk to his wife because she wouldn't take him on a vacation with her -- a vacation he couldn't afford because instead of working to support his family he insists on playing with videos and pretending to be a writer?
"Because of you, you miserable failure, instead of enjoying the vacation of a lifetime with her family and co-workers and friends, she worries about what kind of crazy things you're thinking of doing while she's supposed to be having fun. You're ruining it for her, your daughters and everyone else. You should be ashamed of yourself."
"Can I talk to my daughters?"
"When you calm down and decide to start acting like a husband instead of a juvenile delinquent, we might let you talk to them. Right now I'm afraid you'll just upset them. Their mother has been so upset, they know something is going on and it's starting to upset them."
"So you and Tiffany aren't going to let me talk to my daughters?"
"No, not when you're like this."
"Okay. Tell Tiffany she can go back to fucking big-dick Stephen and you can go back to fucking a few of your married fuck buddies from that law firm.
"And by the way, I don't have any girlfriends. I'm not like that asshole skirt chaser of a husband that you couldn't keep satisfied in your bed. Have fun."
This time Marge slammed the phone down on me.
By the middle of the next week I'd found a two bedroom apartment in a not-too shabby Westside apartment complex and managed a deposit with first and last month's rent.
By that weekend I'd gotten with a couple of friends and moved my personal belongs, a chair, and a few other items and I'd set up housekeeping in my new place.
The Friday night I'd finished moving my stuff in and was sitting around drinking a few cold ones with the guys who'd helped me the cell rang and it showed Tiffany. I had started missing the girls big time and so I answered.
"Are the girls there?"
"Yes. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have kept you from them this week. I know it was wrong, but you're driving me crazy."
"Can I talk to them?"
"Yes. YES. You can talk to them. They're in the other room with mom. Before I put them on, could we talk for a minute?"
"About you. About us. You've blown an argument up into a nuclear war. I know I hurt your feelings...not taking you with us...but it's only a vacation. Couples go away without each other all the time."
She lowered her voice and I knew she was whispering.
"Baby, I miss you. I want you so bad at night...and I can't even do anything about it because I'm always with the girls or mom."
"Or Uncle Stephen."
There was a long silence.
"I know I hurt you, but I was so damned angry at you. Stephen...did...try something in the dunes, but trust me, he walked funny for a week after that. He's not the man I want in my bed. You are. He's been flirting since we've been here, but he knows better than to put his hands on me again."
"I begged you not to go. And you walked away from me."
"Can't you understand, Bruce. We can be lovers and good and have our own independent lives. I need to have an identity away from you."
"And your own money."
"And my own money."
"Can I talk to the girls?"
"Yes, I'll get them. And we can straighten all this out when we get home. But baby, I want you well hydrated and rested when we get back because I am going to fuck you into the ground."
I didn't say anything and in a moment Kaitlyn and Kristen were on the phone. I wondered later if Tiffany knew what my silence meant.
We talked for nearly a half hour and I could only pray that Tiffany would find it in her heart to cover the bill because a half hour cross-ocean cell phone bill would probably require a bank loan on my part to get paid.
When the girls and I had finished Tiffany came on before I could hang up.
"Bruce. I love you. You know that, don't you."
I sighed and I knew somehow that this time she caught it.
"Yes, Tiffany, I know you love me."
There was a long silence and I was about to hang up when she said softly, "You're not going to tell me you love me? I don't know we're ever talked on the phone in our entire married lives that you haven't told me you loved me."
There was something that sounded suspiciously like a sniffle.
"Don't do this," she said softly, and I almost reminded her I'd used those same words to her and had she listened? But I didn't. There was no point in being needlessly cruel. She was going to be hurt enough in a few weeks.
"Yes, baby, I love you. I always have and I always will."
I hung up. I couldn't add, "but that's not enough anymore."
Over the next two weeks I removed everything I wanted or needed from our home and moved it to my apartment. I checked the house every day to make sure everything was running right and no one had gotten in. Burglars did hit expensive homes, even with the security provided by gated communities.
I didn't have to take my name off of any of her bank accounts of other banking instruments, but I made sure that I took all of my precious little money out of any account she had her name on. My junker car was in my name alone, as was my medical insurance and retirement accounts, although God knows she wouldn't have touched either of those.
I had divorce papers drawn up by a decent attorney who only charged me an arm and a leg to come up with the basics. Mr. Davis was seeking a divorce from Mrs. Davis on grounds of incompatibility. No alimony or division or property was sought.
I asked for joint custody of the girls, even though my attorney -- the best that little money could buy -- had been frank in telling me there was no way in hell the court was going to order that in these circumstances.
The best I could hope for, the graying, beaten down little man who had taken my $2,000 retainer told me, was maybe two weekends a month during school, alternating holidays and birthdays and maybe a month in the summer.
I already knew that would be the most painful part of what was about to happen, but Que. sera, sera.
I talked to the girls almost every night now and fortunately Marge never got on the line. They told me about the wonderful sights they'd seen, the trips to a Macadamia factory, to the black lava beaches, to Waikiki.
They told me how Uncle Stephen had gotten them surfing and how he had managed to talk Mama into going out on a long board and how they had crashed and come up sputtering but Uncle Stephen had somehow gotten her to the shore.
They told me about how they and other children in the party played at a club for little ones in the hotel while Momma and Grandma and others including Uncle Stephen went out to dinner and dancing.
And how Momma had come in laughing late one night with her lipstick smeared and told them that Uncle Stephen was just being a silly man.
It should have hurt more than it did, but I already had steeled myself to the loss of this woman and this marriage, and somehow, it didn't.
Tiffany got on the phone and almost every time closed with, "I love you and I miss you. Take your vitamins."
I made myself tell her I loved her. It wasn't hard. I did love her. I didn't know how long I'd love her, but unfortunately, I still did.
And then it was Friday again and they called to tell me they were getting on an airline to head back. They'd stop overnight in LA and then get back in Sunday about 3 p.m. Their Range Rover Sport had been kept in storage at the airport so they wouldn't need a ride.
"Why don't you get a cab to the airport so we can ride back together. The girls are missing you terribly. But not as much as I am."
I didn't say anything, except, "I'll meet you there. I'll get there about 2 p.m."
I sat in the airport waiting area where their flight was due in. I drank a hot coffee and then another. I could have used a stiff alcoholic drink. I felt nervous, jumpy jittery. I couldn't make myself sit still for long. I walked to the windows where you could watch the planes come in, back to my seat, around the waiting area.
Had I done the right thing?
This was going to tear our lives apart. My relationship with my girls was never going to be the same. No matter what happened, this was the end of the 'Before' period of my life. Anything from now on would be dated "A.T." -- after Tiffany.
But eventually the announcement was made that the flight had landed. I watched the parade of humanity, the old and young, the tired and those full of nervous energy, young girls running out to boyfriends and grannies and grandpas greeted by grandchildren.
A good chunk of the crowd, about 30, were with Tiffany's company or Marge's law firm. I recognized Stephen, tall, dark and handsome, walking off beside Tiffany and the girls. He had a briefcase in one hand and in the other --he held Kristen's hand. The miserable son of a bitch.
I had told myself I was not going to explode at anything I saw, but I only hoped I could avoid killing the SOB. He might take my place in the girls' lives after I was out, but I wasn't out yet.
I cut through the crowd like a Great White through a school of tuna, as people moved away to let me through. Stephen caught sight of me first and after one glance at me stopped dead still and let go of Kristen's hand.
He must have said something to Tiffany because she stopped to look at me and I saw her go a little white. I don't know what I looked like, but it must not have been pleasant.
She moved to step between me and Stephen but two little female bodies hurled themselves on me first and between kisses and hugs and feverish cries to "look what I got Daddy," I must have started looking more human because Stephen lost that tense expression on his face.
Tiffany was on me then and threw her arms around me. She would have kissed me full on the lips but I turned my head just enough so that her lips grazed my cheeks. I hugged her so she couldn't try for another kiss and a moment let her go -- actually pushed her away gently. She gave me a hurt look.
I bent down and took my girls in my arms. I kissed them as if I was never going to touch them again, and inside me that's what it felt like.
Finally, Tiffany put her hand on my shoulder.
" Bruce, Bruce, let's go. You've got the rest of the weekend, the rest of their lives to love on them."
I finally stood and released them. Tiffany came into my arms and I held her. I looked at Stephen and he had the grace to back away and pretend he had other things that suddenly needed doing. I noticed Marge standing beside Stephen. I might have glared at her. Regardless, she glared back.
Tiffany tried to kiss me on the lips and again I moved so her lips graced my cheek. She just stared at me as if not believing what was happening.
Marge came up to stand beside us. Tiffany exchanged a look with her and before Marge could say anything, Tiffany told me, "Why don't you go get our car, Bruce and meet us at the departure loading zone. We'll say goodbye to Stephen....and everybody and be ready when you get around there."
I nodded and walked away. Despite what Tiffany had said, I noticed the looks that the members of her company and her mother's law firm gave me as I walked past them.
It was partly pitying and partly curious as if they wondered how I was able to walk around with my head up after being deserted by my wife. I wondered if any of them believed her fairy tale about my having to work, or if she'd even gone to that much trouble to avoid embarrassing her loving husband.
I got the SUV and pulled it around to the pickup area. As I parked, I turned off the ignition and slid out from behind the wheel. I got the girls inside and seatbelted, got Marge into the middle seat and then went around to where Tiffany was about to slide into the passenger side.