EVERYTHING FOR NOTHING
The scorching mid July sun beat down on Cynthia Chalmers' bent head and back. Beads of sweat rolled between her shoulder blades and breasts. Her arms burned from the exertion of swinging the Weed Eater back and forth through the long, thick grass. The sweet smell of the fresh cut lawn wafted around her, and dandelion fluff, kicked up by the whirling string, tickled her nose.
Over the high-pitched drone of the machine, the roar of a revving engine caught her attention.
She glanced up, shielding her eyes against the glaring sun.
A burgundy Durango sped down her quiet dead-end street, just outside the city limits of Vancouver.
The deep thump of bass from a rap song blasted through the ground, up her legs and throughout her body.
She leaned wearily against the handle of the Weed Eater and eyed the Durango as it turned into the driveway of the one-level house across from hers. Dust swirled from the tires, momentarily blocking her view. Then the dust cleared.
She stared as the driver's door opened and he stepped out.
Her heart slammed against her ribs and she straightened. Wow. He looked sexy today. But then again, when didn't he?
He wasn’t overly tall, maybe five-foot ten, with broad shoulders that tapered down to a perfect behind. Muscular calves bulged below his knee-length tan shorts. The sun turned his dark brown hair to a bright mahogany.
Angus turned, catching her staring. White teeth flashed as he smiled. “Well, hello there.” He walked towards her, eyeing her up and down.
Heat suffused her face as his dark brown eyes devoured her. Embarrassed to be caught gawking, she glanced down at her stained gray sweat-pants tucked into green gumboots, and her worn-out blue T-shirt.
Why does he have to talk to me when I look a mess? Her hand went to her hair, self-conscious of the sweaty disorder she knew it was.
“I'm having a little get together later," he said in deep, sexy voice. "Why don't you and Jack swing by? Or maybe you should leave Jack at home this time.” He leaned in and his spicy cologne engulfed her, blocking the scent of the grass. With his lips less than an inch from her ear, he whispered, “You might have more fun without him around.”
Her heart came to a sputtering halt and then picked up speed. Is he flirting with me? Her eyes moved to his face. It was hard to tell. But she had caught him staring before. And he was always telling her his friends thought she was hot. But did he?
Cynthia cleared her dry throat and wiped her hands on her pants. “Ah, sure. What time should we come over?”
He shrugged. “Around six.” He turned, heading back across the street. “Hopefully I'll see ya later.”
Cynthia packed up her Weed Eater and walked up her long driveway. She was elated. But then the bottom dropped from her stomach. What about Jack? He was no fun at parties. He didn't like to drink, and while he didn't say it, she knew he didn't like her drinking.
Well, too bad. She was sick of never having any fun. She was a grown woman, and he was her husband, not her father.
“Jack?” she called as she stepped through the back door.
“I'm in the den.”
After dusting off bits of grass, she then wandered through the living room to the small back room they called a den. She sat on the edge of Jack's big oak desk. “Angus invited us over tonight. He's having a party.”
“What's new?” Jack glanced up from his paperwork. He removed his glasses and rubbed his pale green eyes. Eyes that once sparked excitement in her, but now they just seemed . . . old, which should have been amusing since at thirty-nine he was a year younger than she. “I can't. I have an early meeting with the contractor for the condos I start siding next week.” A tight smile lifted his lips. “But you go ahead if you want.”
Yeah right. Judging by his smile he didn't want her going. Well, I am. I'm sick of hanging around here, waiting for life to happen. She'd been doing that for nineteen years.
Jack had started his successful siding company ten years ago. When their two sons were small, she'd begged him to take more time off, and he promised to do so once his business grew. Well, his business was flourishing and the kids were now teenagers, and he still worked almost every day.
She dropped her gaze to the floor. “I don't know. I might go.” She slid to her feet. “I'm going to start dinner.”
He grabbed her hand as she walked past. “Do you want to rent a movie tonight?”
Same old guilt trip. She shrugged and headed out the door. “We'll see.”
Two hours later, Cynthia looked up from her plate of spaghetti when a small black truck, speeding into Angus's driveway, came to a dusty stop.
“Looks like Angus' get together is gearing up to be another rager of a party,” Jack commented.
From under her lashes, she glanced at her husband's familiar face, a face that at one time she had found handsome. In a way, she still did. His dark hair--peppered with gray--was cut short, respectable.
His face was relatively unchanged but for laugh lines around his mouth and eyes, and he kept in excellent shape, working out at the gym two nights a week.
She should feel happy she was married to him. And for the most part she did. He was an excellent father and provider. So why was she so unhappy?
Maybe because we act more like roommates than husband and wife? They never did anything together. And with their kids doing their own things, they should be out enjoying themselves. But no, he either had to work or he was too tired.
What was lacking in her life was excitement, companionship . . . love.
She recalled when they were first dating. Just the sight of Jack's tall, muscular body had been enough to start her heart slamming. But now? Now he was Mr. Workaholic who when home liked nothing more than to plunk himself in front of the TV until bedtime. And when she brought this to his attention, his comeback was always the same. “I work hard all day. I'm tired.”
Like she didn't work hard? Granted, her job at Ol' Time Florists wasn't physically demanding, but it was still draining. And when she got home she had to start dinner, put the laundry on and tidy the house. And on her days off she had the grocery shopping, bill paying and yard work to take care of.
“I hope it's not as out of control as it was last weekend,” Jack said, pulling her mind back to the present. “Believe me, I will call the cops this time.” He stood and carried his empty plate into their small kitchen.
Ignoring him, she propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. From her vantage point, she watched the laughing partygoers milling around Angus' front yard like ants, excited for another night of booze and loud music.
Every Friday evening was the same. Same time. Same people.
She smiled as the group got reacquainted with one another; back slapping, elbow nudging, high fives. The girls stood in tight groups, giggling with their low cut tops and tight shorts, displaying their supple young bodies.
The ritual reminded her of dogs greeting each other. The image in her mind almost made her laugh.
“Last weekend they kept me up until four in the morning.” Jack shook his head. “You'd think he would skip the party for once and clean up his damn yard. That pile of wood has been there since October.”
Laughing, Cynthia grabbed her plate and set it on the counter. “Yeah, but a clean yard doesn't concern him.”
She busied herself scooping leftover spaghetti into a Tupperware container, trying to plan her escape. No matter what, Jack would be annoyed if she went to Angus' party. So the best option was to just tell him.
She poured herself a coffee and sat back down at the dining room table while her husband watched the evening news in the living room. Another routine she felt stifled by, especially since their two sons, Nick, seventeen and Jared, sixteen, were out with friends. They were growing up so fast and they didn't need her as they once did. And as she watched them grow, it reminded her she was aging.
Middle age, she thought with a sullen sigh. Such a strange time in a person's life; a time to reflect, a time to look back and wonder where the hell life had gone. A time that can fill you with an urgency to change what you don't like before time ran out. A time when all that once made you happy ceased to do so.
Angus stepped out his front door, catching her attention. He clapped one of his buddies on the back before he accepted a beer. He downed the contents and crushed the can before tossing it into the knee-high grass of his front lawn.
Her heart skipped a beat and she sighed. No doubt about it, he was one handsome man. And she had a crush on him ever since he'd moved in across the street two years ago.
She surged to her feet and set her mug on the counter. “Well, I'm going to get changed.”
Jack pushed the mute button on the remote. “What?”
She stopped and glanced at him over her shoulder. “I'm going to Angus'. I told you I was.”
Anger flushed his face. He turned up the volume on the T.V. “Whatever.”
Cynthia shook her head and walked into her bedroom. After changing into a pair of jean Capri pants and a tight red T-shirt, she brushed out her long brunette hair and fixed her make-up. When she was done, she gazed at her face with a critical eye. With her make-up applied just right, the small wrinkles around her eyes were almost invisible.
She grabbed a light jacket and headed through the living room to the back door. “I'll be home soon.”
Jack gazed at her with a smirk. “Are you wearing that?”
She glanced down at herself. “What's wrong with what I'm wearing?”
He looked away and laughed. “You look like a forty-year old woman trying to be twenty. Pathetic.”
Tears welled in her eyes. She swiped them away, and at that moment, she almost hated him. “Whatever. I'll see you later.” She shoved her feet into her sandals and opened the door.
“I'll be in bed,” Jack murmured.
Tell me something I don't know. She slammed the door.
As Cynthia made her way across the street, she followed the steady beat of the music, mixed with shouts, laughter, and talking, to Angus' back yard. She spotted him leaning against his patio. The moment their eyes met, a knot formed in her stomach. A slow smile transformed his handsome face into something breath taking. He excused himself and walked towards her.
“I'm glad you made it.” He glanced behind her. “Where's Jack?”
“He's not coming. He's tired.”
He grabbed her and pulled her flush to his body, wrapping strong arms around her back. The feel of his hard muscles and their lower bodies pressed tight together sent a heated rush through her. His spicy, masculine scent filled her senses. She stepped back and quickly glanced in the direction of her house. From Angus' back yard, Jack wouldn't be able to see her.
“Come, join us.” Angus draped an arm around her shoulders and steered her towards the crowd.
Before she could feel out of place, they all shouted a warm greeting.
Cynthia accepted a beer and joined in the lively conversation. Angus never left her side.
She glanced around the crowd, looking for April, his young girlfriend, but she was nowhere to be found.
Cynthia turned to Angus. “Where's April? Is she at work?”
He led her away from the main body of his friends and grabbed two beers out of a cooler, and then sat down on it. He tugged her down beside him and handed one to her. “We split up.” He cracked the tab on his can and took a drink.
“I'm sorry to hear that.” And for the most part she was, but she couldn't deny the feeling of happiness underneath.
He turned to her. “She wanted more than I was willing to give her.”
Her gaze explored his face. He didn't seem too upset. “Are you okay?”
He smiled. “Sure. It was coming for a long time.”
“Well, anyway, I'm sorry you split up.”
His smile vanished as he stared at her lips. “I'm not.” He ran his knuckles gently over her cheek. “Can I tell you something?”
Suddenly nervous, she swallowed. “Sure.”
He leaned closer until his forehead rested against hers. “I've had a crush on you since I met you.”
Cynthia was speechless. Stunned. “You have?” she whispered, her voice squeaking.
He pulled back a little, his teeth flashed as his lips curled up into a wide grin. “Yep. You're a very sexy woman.”
Pleasure rushed through her like a flame burning along a line of gunpowder. She searched his eyes to see if he was teasing.
His warm breath and whispered words filled her ears. “I've thought about what it would be like to kiss you.”
Every cell in her body flared to life as his words filtered into her brain.
Before she could answer, one of his friends called out. “Hey Angus. Come tell Alex how Luke broke his jaw.”
“I'll be right there.” Angus picked up his beer can and rose. He bent close to her again. “Don't go anywhere.”
She could only nod her answer; her tongue was glued to the roof of her dry mouth. He sauntered across the patio to his waiting friends.
Does he really have a crush on me? The thought sent warmth to her cheeks. She gulped down the rest of her beer, trying to squelch the heat.
Cynthia ran her left hand along her thigh. Her wedding ring caught the sun's rays and flashed. All of a sudden, guilt burrowed its way into her gut like a worm tunneling into an apple. It felt like prying eyes were watching her, judging her. She checked out the crowd, but no one paid her any attention. If anyone thought the interest Angus was showing her was inappropriate, they weren't letting on.
Cynthia set her empty can down and walked into the kitchen. Three girls sat around his table playing cards. She nodded a greeting on her way to the washroom.
Once inside, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled with new life. No denying it, he made her feel young and pretty . . . desirable. Three things she hadn't felt for so long.
She fluffed her hair and smiled at her reflection. There was no reason to feel guilty. He said he had a crush on her. So what? It wasn't like they were going to act on it. She pulled the door open and stepped into the hallway. She halted. Angus leaned nonchalantly against the wall. Her heart fluttered while his eyes traveled slowly down her body and back to her face.
“I was waiting for you.” He stepped closer, rubbing a callused hand up and down her arm before his fingers curled around her wrist. She glanced over her shoulder towards the kitchen, but from this angle it and its occupants were hidden. No one was there to witness their behavior. He tugged her into his small living room and sat down, pulling her with him. His arms went around her waist and he buried his face against her neck. “You smell good.”
Desire bloomed in her like a flower opening to the sun's rays.
He turned her face until their lips were mere inches apart. “I'm going to kiss you before the night ends.” His eyes locked with hers. “Are you cool with that?”
She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Licking dry lips, she tried once more to speak. “I. . . I don't . . .”
The revving of a car's engine and the crunch of gravel under tires got their attention. Angus set her on her feet and he moved to the window. He pulled the curtains back and looked out. “Yeah,” he shouted, raising a fist in the air. “Big Johnny is here.” He turned to her. “I'll be back in a minute.” And then he rushed out the door.
Cynthia's legs shook so hard she sagged onto the couch and held a hand over her racing heart. That was close. She had been about to give into her desires and kiss him. And she had been afraid it wouldn't have stopped there.
Heaving a frustrated sigh, she pushed herself off the couch and headed back outside. She stepped through the door looking for Angus, but there was no sign of him. Someone had started a small bonfire and it blazed cheerfully, shoving aside the gloom of early evening. She picked a cold beer from the cooler and went to stand with the others crowded around the flames.
She finished her second beer, and then looked at her wristwatch. 9:10pm. Where was Angus? He’d been missing for over an hour. Cynthia excused herself from the conversation and went to look for him.
She walked into the kitchen, but it was empty so she headed toward the living room.
From the hallway, she heard a girl giggle and then ask, “Angus, what about April? She's my friend.”
“Screw her. I've had a crush on you since I met you,” Angus whispered back.
Cynthia's blood turned to ice. She inched closer and slowly peeked around the corner. Angus sat on the couch, and straddling his lap was a young woman with beautiful skin and long blond hair. Her arms were draped over his shoulders while he nuzzled her neck. “I've thought about kissing you for so long,” he murmured against her skin. The girl tilted her head back, giving him better access.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” she replied.
Bile rose up in Cynthia's throat. With her hands covering her mouth, she ran into the kitchen. She slumped down at the table while hot tears spilled over her lashes and down her cheeks.
She sniffed, feeling miserable. What a slime-ball. How could he kiss another woman . . . Her thoughts trailed off as she realized she had no right to the jealousy that gnawed at her. And in a blinding flash, she saw Angus for who he truly was: a thirty-five year old, immature playboy who cared for nothing and nobody, but himself. A man who had no idea what it meant to love another or what it took to be in a committed, long lasting relationship.
Her head dropped until her forehead rested against the cool wood of his table. Shame over her behavior engulfed her. She’d been acting just like him, had been thinking of no one but herself and her own wants and desires. She blamed Jack for all the problems in their marriage because it was easier than looking at her own faults. It took two to make a relationship work, and she had been neglecting hers for years.
In a flurry of movement, she jumped up and all but flew out the door. Blinded by her tears and the dark, she ran across the street.
“Whoa. What's the matter?”
Cynthia skidded to a stop in the gravel of her driveway. Her hands pressed against her chest, trying to stop her galloping heart. “Jack?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Hey, what's going on? You were running like you saw a ghost?”
As he walked towards her, the moonlight flashed off his glasses. She dried her cheeks with trembling hands. “What . . . why are you still up?” Her voice was thick with unshed tears and guilt.
He ran a hand through his dark hair and sighed. “I couldn't sleep. I felt horrible.”
The clearing of his throat was loud in the quiet darkness. “What I said earlier. I didn't mean it. You looked beautiful.” He clasped her hands and brought them to his lips. “You always look beautiful. I was jealous.”
She stared at him. And for the first time in ages she saw the man she had married. The man she loved. He had always been there, just hidden under responsibilities, worries and life. And her love for him had never left. It too had been hidden under life's worries and the day-to-day grind.
Suddenly, she jumped into his arms and hugged him to her. “Jack,” she whispered against his chest. “I love you. I'm so sorry. I have been acting horribly.”
His arms tightened around her, pulling her to his hard warmth. “God, Cynthia. I love you so much. Things are going to change. I'm going to change. I realize I have been neglecting you and the boys.”
She pulled back in his arms and framed his face with her hands. “You're not the only one. I’ve been neglecting you--neglecting us. But no more.”
His lips found hers in the dark and she kissed him back, a kiss full of love and new beginnings.
He rested his forehead against hers. “Let's go in.”
Cynthia linked her fingers with his as they walked up their driveway. She had come so close to crossing the line, but luckily she had escaped. The love of her life had always been in front of her; she had just been too blind and selfish to see him.
She would forever remember how close she came to giving up everything for nothing.