Sara stood in front of the mirror again, checking for what she hoped would be the last time. She turned sideways, pushing her hands over her skirt. Her eyes drifted up and down her reflection. The dress was new, blue to match her eyes. The shoes were shiny and uncomfortable, but her sister had insisted that they would be perfect.
“These are the ones for that dress,” Cathy said, shoes dangling from her fingertips.
Sara frowned. “Look at that heel. There is no way; I’ll kill myself.”
Cathy stared at her, pushing the shoes towards Sara.
“You could practice walking in them. Oh, and you’ll need a pedicure,” Cathy said.
Sara reached out and grabbed the price tag. “They’re too much.”
“My treat!” Cathy paraded off, dragging Sara by the hand.
Those shoes now graced her slender feet, and her nails were painted red. She twisted and turned, gripping the side of her dresser for support. Leaning in close to the mirror, she checked her face. Her makeup was much heavier than she was use to wearing, and her brown hair fell in curls that tickled her face. Sara tucked one curl behind her ear, wishing she could pull it back into its usual ponytail.
She looked at her reflection again, unsure of the strange woman that glanced back at her. The old jeans she usually wore were in a crumpled pile on the floor like an old discarded snakeskin. She almost tripped over them reaching for the perfume that her mother had given her for Christmas.
Sara tried to smile but nausea washed over her. She took a deep breath and wiped her sweaty palms on a towel. The room started to spin, and Sara could hear her heart pounding. A thousand excuses of why she shouldn’t go flashed through her mind. She ran her hands over the bed quilt, smoothing out the creases. Her eyes caught sight of an issue of Parent magazine, hiding underneath a pile of Glamour and Cosmopolitan. She wasn’t going to go. She could call his cell phone and cancel.
The phone rang, startling her. Sara hesitated for a moment, letting the phone ring again. Her hand seemed to want to pick it up, but her mind wouldn’t let her. Best to let the machine get it.
“Hello?” It was Cathy’s voice, “I know you are there, Sara. Pick up.”
Sara hesitated before picking up the receiver. “I thought it might be him. You know—canceling.”
“Why would he cancel?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s having second thoughts. Blind dates aren’t always a good idea.”
“Go out with him,” Cathy’s soft voice said, “He’s a good guy.”
“I don’t know if I am ready,” Sara said, twirling a piece of hair around her finger.
“What have you got to lose? Besides, it’s a free dinner!”
“I want to cancel. I have a headache. What if one of the kids calls and I’m not home?”
“Sara…let it go. Go out, have a good time, smile. You need to get on with your life.”
“Maybe I’m not ready,” Sara’s voice shook as she felt that familiar lump forming in her throat.
“Don’t cry, you’ll ruin your makeup.”
Sara swallowed hard and tried to hold the tears back from falling. “I worked for over an hour trying to get it on.”
“I’m sure you look fantastic!”
Sara laughed slightly. “I better go.”
“Call me when you get home. I don’t care what time it is, ok?”
“I will. Bye.”
He will be here soon.
Sara grabbed her shawl and purse as she left the solitude of her bedroom. The hall was quiet. She made her way towards the stairs, picking up forgotten toys and a teddy bear, then stopping by a bedroom door and tossing them in. It was so silent without them. Their little voices whispered around the room to her, like ghosts. These weekends apart were hard. The emptiness filled every void in the house, clutching her in its grasp. Sara hated handing them over for the weekend, knowing the heavy silence and loneliness that followed. It seemed so long ago that they had left, even though it had only been last night that she had stood on the porch, watching the two of them climb into Dennis’ car, little suitcases in their hands.
“Bye, Mommy,” her children called, waving at her, their faces covered with plastic smiles. Dennis shut the SUV door, never making eye contact with her.
“Have fun! See you Sunday!” She shouted as they drove away.
Sara could see her silhouette in the passenger’s window. Silently, she stood there for a moment in the autumn light, watching them fade into the distance.
What time is it?
Sara shut the bedroom door and started down the stairs. Her feet already were screaming in those fancy shoes; she hadn’t practiced stairs in them. The railing offered support as she made it to the floor below. Sara could hear the clock ticking, counting out the seconds as they slipped by. She never noticed how loud the clock was before. The house was usually sprinkled with chatter, giggles, and conversation that drowned the noisy timepiece, sounds that used to exhaust her with thoughts of homework, laundry, and other endless tasks. Now they were nothing compared to the heavy emptiness that wrapped itself around her. There was so much she should be doing, making favors for the Halloween party, finishing laundry, other types of busy work that filled her weekends. She was too old for this, a teenage-like blind date. Sara hadn’t dated in over eight years. It had only been six months since the divorce was final, 10 months since Dennis left, and barely a year since Dennis didn’t love her anymore.
Maybe he won’t show.
A wave of panic flushed Sara’s skin red. The heat rose inside before settling down. It was best to stay away from rejection, busy herself like mother suggested.
“You need to worry about those kids now, Sara. There is plenty of time to date later. Kids take divorce hard. Why, remember how you and Cathy would cry when your Dad dropped you off on Sundays? Broke my heart what that bastard put you two through,” her mother said, staring over Sarah’s shoulder. She shook her head as she lifted her teacup to her lips.
Sara lifted her eyes to her mother, shoving the spatula underneath the cookies on the sheet. She tossed the empty sheet into the sink. Cathy leaned against the counter, sipping her coffee, and then grabbed a cookie from the pile in the middle of the table.
“I think we got along just fine. Sara shouldn’t be sitting in the house mourning all weekend. Dennis has his life, Sara should have one of her own.”
“You’ve always been a wild one,” Mother said, furrowing her brow.
“Must take after Dad,” Cathy said, winking at Sara.
Cathy twisted her face into a grin and tossed her blonde hair over her shoulders. Sara shrunk down between the two of them.
It was Cathy’s picture that gleamed at her from the side table in her living room, the two of them smiling and hugging. Dennis had taken that picture. Dennis had done everything.
Sara sat in the chair closest to the phone, just in case. She busied herself by surveying the contents of her tiny purse. Cell phone, lipstick, some cash and a credit card; it was all there. She might need a way out. She peered through the blinds to the empty driveway, every part of her screaming. If it didn’t stop, she might crash.
The living room was dim. The only light emanated from a lamp sitting on a small table. Its soft light cast shadows on her sage-colored walls. Dennis never understood that color, her need for brightness in her life. There were pictures that broke the color on the walls - a vertical storybook that spoke volumes to all who entered. There is a family that lives here. The smiles in those pictures seemed so long ago. She wished she could crawl into one of the frames and live there forever.
There was an empty spot on the wall, over the mantel. The paint there was darker, square, untouched by years of sunlight. The square was evidence that all was not right in this home. There was something missing. She stared at the spot, remembering when she had removed the picture that had occupied that coveted space. She removed it, carefully at first, and then smashed it. She hurled it as hard as she could, regretting it as soon as it left her fingertips. It shattered on the wall, sending glass flying around the room. It took her hours to clean. She still was finding shards weeks later.
He is late.
Sara shifted her weight slightly as she peered out the window once more. There was no one in the driveway. A chill prickled her skin and she pulled her arms tightly around herself. It seemed colder in the house on those weekends, even though she had the thermostat set at seventy degrees, as always. Dennis had insisted that raising it would create an explosion in the energy bill. The day he moved out, Sara turned it all the way up to eighty degrees and pretended to be at the beach.
“It’s a vacation, put on your bathing suits,” Sara said while blowing up a beach ball she found tucked away in the closet.
The children ran around with sand buckets and shovels until they went to bed. Sara woke up in the middle of the night and rushed downstairs to lower it to seventy again, in case Dennis was right. Her child support and part-time job at the library were barely going to pay the bills.
She shouldn’t go.
Her life had been complete. Or had it been? These pictures didn’t show the lies, the pain, and the lonely nights and harsh words that cut deep into her. The smell of strange perfume on linen shirts, or charges to Zales for purchases that never made it to her, that sinking feeling that there was another—again and again. It weighed her down, uncurled her hair, and made her feel hollow. This made her feel alive, this electricity of nerves and pretty clothes.
Bright lights slipped through the cracks in the window blinds, headlights. Her heart began pounding so loud that she could hear it in her head. The room twisted around her, every part of her body alive.
He is here.
“Life goes on, Sara! You deserve to be happy! Don’t let him get you down!” Cathy’s voice echoed in her mind.
There was a knock at the door. Sara jumped up from her seat, straightening her dress. Her purse fell to the floor, spilling its meager contents. She hit the floor, picking up the items with shaky hands. He knocked again. She wanted to run and hide. Every pore was screaming at her. She stopped, took a breath, and pulled herself from the floor. The mirror over the table reflected her image. For a moment she startled, not recognizing herself. She looked so different, so pretty.
She could to do this. She slipped her shawl around her shoulders once more and made her way to the door. Her eyes spied a wedding picture perched on the hall table. She shoved it in a drawer before opening the door to his smile.