In episode #3, Carter had to deal with the aftermath of her swooning over Kenneth with her best friend and co-owner of F.A.C.E., Vince. When the whole team tried to have their say in her “error,” Carter went off on them and left, with Vince trying to make amends.
In this episode, Carter puts on her counselor hat to talk to a cheater about trying to preserve her marriage, a session that leaves Carter thinking about her mother’s infidelities. When she arrives home, she gets news from her mother that makes her lash out at her mother and makes her want to hide away from the world.
After Vince left, I changed clothes in my office bathroom and prepared for a counseling session. As soon as I received my Ph.D. in Psychology, Vince had me putting it to good use by offering counseling to those who had been cheated on. He wanted to help them erase the bitterness they felt from the situation, and it didn’t hurt that it provided another source of revenue for F.A.C.E. I always found it funny that I would be the one counseling someone in how to get over painful situations and make him or her open to future relationships, but I never had a client complain about my advice, so I must have been doing something good.
This client was a bit different from most, however. First off, it was a cheater and not a cheatee. I usually had nothing but disdain for the cheaters, and this time was no different, but in one of my last investigations, the husband agreed to take his wife back if she got counseling: enter me.
I sat back in my chair, my pad and pen resting on my knees, my eyes staring directly at the small woman in the chair. Her blond hair was shiny and thick, her body, though small, looked strong and durable in the crisp, denim jeans and red-white, striped Polo.
She looked up at me and said simply, “One day I realized that I wasn’t happy being a wife.”
“Tell me, Vera” I said, pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “How long have you felt like this?”
“Almost since I’ve been married.”
I gripped my pen and jotted a few notes on the pad. “And you’ve been married for almost fifteen years, right?”
She nodded yes. I watched Vera, the way her right hand with the obligatory tissue kept floating to her eyes to dab at tears. The tremble in her voice as she spoke. She was pulling at all the heartstrings, yet I felt nothing.
“Let me ask you something,” I said.
“Do you love your husband?”
“Absolutely,” Vera answered with no hesitation.
“Are you in love with him?”
Several seconds passed.
“Do you want to be a wife to your husband?”
More time passed. The only saving grace was that she never had children. At least she couldn’t have her child suffering, thinking she had something to do with her mother’s excursions, feeling that she was as bad as her mother because she lied for her.
I leaned forward, the pad and pen tight in my hands.
“Why are you here, Vera?” I asked, a bit more anger in my voice than I had intended. Vera sat up straight, her eyes wide.
“I,” she began, then stuttered, “I…I…told Ronald I’d come.”
“Yes, but he thinks you want to continue the marriage. He thinks you want to work things out.” I blinked and saw my mother staring back at me. I quickly blinked away the
image until Vera’s pale face came back into focus.
“Do you want to work things out with your husband?”
“I don’t want Ronald to be hurt,” she answered. “Fifteen years is a long time in a marriage to de…”
“This playing a martyr is not going to work in here,” I said.
“I’m not, Dr. Devlin.” She honestly looked confused.
“Vera, you’re not helping anyone by being in a marriage you do not want to be in.”
“Then what should I do?”
“I can’t tell you that, Vera.” Leave, my brain screamed. If you don’t want to be in the damn marriage, leave. “But for next week, I want you to seriously think about what you want out of life. Be honest. Look into your heart, listen to your gut. Right now, you’re saying you don’t want to be a wife, but at the same time, you’re here so that you can stay in your marriage. Those two things can’t exist happily.”
“Do we ever really get happiness?” Vera asked, her voice slightly higher than a breath.
I thought about my mother and dad. Dad never seemed to notice or acknowledge Mother’s indiscretions. He seemed relatively happy. Mother didn’t seem to care about anyone but herself, and she seemed relatively happy. I knew just about everything and tried hard to pretend like I didn’t so that I wouldn’t go into a continual, pain-filled scream. I seemed insane to close friends, but I seemed relatively happy to everyone else who met me. I wanted to tell Vera that if she faked it enough, she and her husband could live seemingly, relatively happily ever after lives.
Instead, I said, “Yes, there is real happiness. If you have the balls to make what you want a reality.”
Vera offered a smile and said, “I hope I have the balls.”
I nodded and wondered if I had them.
After any mention or thought of my mother, I was ready to run home and bury myself into the covers of my bed. The counseling session with Vera was no exception. As soon as it was over, I raced home, the one place that truly was a haven for me. Every room is bright and airy. The kitchen, lemon chiffon. The living room, khaki. The bathroom, sage. My bedroom, naples yellow deep. The office, misty rose.
As soon as I stepped into my home, I slipped out my pumps and trudged over to my chocolate sofa and fell onto it. I traveled my hand to the end table in search of the answering machine. I pressed the messages button.
“You have three messages,” the automatic voice responded.
“This is your mother. Please call me. I have some news for you.”
“Hey hon. It’s Dad. Thought you might want to go fishing with me this weekend. A little before six in the morning. Give me a call. Love you.”
“Carter? Raven. Yeah, sorry about this morning. I’m on my monthlies.”
I laughed along with her. I told her that in high school, boys swore I was constantly on my period because I never wanted to go out with them or because if I did begin dating one of them, out of the blue some argument which I created would end the relationship.
“Are we still on for Saturday night?” Raven asked. “I know Suzie wanted to just hang at the coffee shop, and Daria was game. Say about seven-thirty, eightish? We can scope out hot guys while we drink 18-word coffees. Call me.”
I might forgive her. I just had to remember that Raven was a bitch. She knew she was a bitch, too, so it wasn’t me saying anything mean-spirited about her. She liked to dig until she annoyed the hell out of you, and then she acted as if everything was cool, as if you didn’t want to kick her ass until all thought ceased to be.
I’d call her later. I’d call Daddy back and make sure he had me home before six so that I could pretty myself up.
I turned and faced the back of the sofa. I moved close to the thick backing and hugged it to me. It wasn’t a guy, but it was comfortable and it didn’t talk back or cheat on you. That was something.
Before I knew it, the phone was waking me from a nap.
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Now you know I taught you better than that. Yeah. Who answers the phone like that?”
I placed my hand tightly over the receiver and screamed. After kicking the back of the sofa until my toes hurt, I answered, “Hello Mother.”
“Carter. I called you today.”
“Yes, I know. I received the message when I arrived home.”
“You didn’t call back.”
“I fell asleep.”
“So, do you want to know what my news is?”
Mother sighed. Loudly. It astounded me to no end how ‘gone’ she was in the head. I mean she actually believed that we were this loving mother-daughter team. She thought I cared about her happiness, about her life. And maybe, somewhere deep down in my big toe, I did care, but here, on the surface where life happened, I could give two shits about anything that dealt with her.
“Look,” Mother said, “you know I don’t have many I can talk to about this. I have Stephanie, but…”
“You told Aunt Stephanie?” I screamed into the phone.
“Well, she’s been in a relationship with a guy from the post office for years.”
“She’s cheating on Uncle Herbert?”
“Hell, even Herb knows about it, Carter.”
“You guys are a piece of work, I’ll tell you that.”
My F.A.C.E. cell vibrated against my thigh. I dug it out of my pocket and looked at the Caller ID. Despite myself, I shivered. Cheater Number 5302.
“Mother, hold on,” I said. “I’m getting a call from work.”
I didn’t allow her a chance to respond. I clicked talk on the cell and answered, “Hello, Cassie speaking.”
“Hi, this is Kenneth.”
“Hey,” I said, perhaps a bit too swoony, but I told myself it was part of the job.
“How are you doing today?” he asked.
“Pretty good. I know you might be busy. I wanted to know if you wanted to check out a ball game tomorrow.”
“An Orioles game?”
I smiled. “That would be cool. I love baseball. Haven’t been to a game in about a year.”
“Great. Do you want to catch dinner before?”
“Oh God no.” I laughed. “All that good food they have at Oriole Park? Believe me, sir, I will be stuffing my face at the park. Bring an endless supply of cash or credit.”
Kenneth laughed. “That’s fine. Boog’s barbeque sandwiches are great. I’ll pick you up about 6:30? The game starts at 7:30.”
“I live on 123 Park Avenue.”
“Okay, then I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yes, you will, Mr. Stevenson.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
I rubbed my chest, trying to remove the flutters. “Me, too.”
“Til then,” he said.
“Oh, wait a minute.”
“You left Satisfaction without telling me your flaw.”
He chuckled. “Can’t let anything slip by you, can I?”
“Not even if you tried. So, tell me, what is it?”
“I can’t give up.”
I looked at the phone. “Interesting,” was all I could say.
“It’s a riddle,” he said. “See if you can figure it out. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I hung up and stared at my ceiling. I can’t give up. Give up what? I grabbed the pad off my coffee table and jotted the comment down. It would be something I would think about later. For now, I was worried about calming down my libido.
“Be strong, girl. He might wear shorts tomorrow. Hell, even jeans.” I moaned. “Mm, he probably looks good in a pair of jeans.”
I jolted from my thoughts down Sensual Lane and returned to Irritating Mother Boulevard.
“Who was that on the phone?”
“Sounds like you were making a date. Don’t tell me you’re finally dating someone.”
“That’s none of your business. So, tell me about how you and your sister are cheating on really great men?”
“You just don’t understand,” Mother said before sighing.
“You damn right I don’t, Ma. Daddy is a great man.”
“You’ve been cheating on him since I was a little girl.”
“A mature woman would end the relationship if that’s what she really wanted to do and go off to be with whoever she wanted to be with.”
Something in me ran cold. My mother had never agreed with me on anything…and never two things back to back.
“How about you tell me what the news is, Ma,” I said.
She cleared her throat, and I could picture her cupping the phone to her mouth with her little brown hand. Her hair was probably wrapped with a scarf around it, just waiting to be let loose and shaken out so that she could go meet Tim, Joe, or Derek in a few hours.
“I’m leaving your father.”
“When did you make that decision?” I swallowed hard and repeatedly. My throat went dry and I began coughing.
“Are you okay, Carter?”
Tears welled up in my eyes. I went into the kitchen and grabbed a bottled water from the fridge. After drinking it down and resting my forehead on the fridge door, I answered, “No, but when did that ever matter?”
“Whatever, Ma. So when did this idea pop into your head?”
“It’s been there awhile. I just realized that if I really wanted out of the marriage, then I had to actually get out of it.”
“Profound thinking.” What would Daddy say? How would he feel? I already hurt for the hurt I imagined him having. “Have you told Daddy yet?”
“No, but I have talked to a lawyer.”
I thought of my dad, coming into F.A.C.E., wanting to use our services because he thought his wife might be having an affair. My stomach lurched at the footage we would have captured with Mother and her many men. He didn’t deserve it. She didn’t deserve him, and she damn sure didn’t deserve to have a lawyer, like my father was the problem and she needed someone to help her get away from him.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.
“Bill told me that you two may be going fishing Saturday.”
“I just wanted you to be extra nice and to make him feel really loved.”
The tears fell and acids churned in my belly.
“I love my father, Celeste. You don’t have to tell me to be nice, to make him feel loved. That’s what I do naturally. I’m so fucking tired of your melodramatic life.”
“Don’t you curse at your mother, girl.”
“Ma, please. You have barely been a mother to me. If Daddy hurts because of what you’ve done, I’ll never forgive you.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“The hell I don’t. He has been nothing but kind and loving to you and to me. He should have never met you.”
“Then you wouldn’t be here.”
“Well, if that meant he would be happy, so be it.”
“I don’t even know why I called you.”
I laughed. “Neither do I, Ma. We’ve never been close. You’ve always used me to aid you in meeting a man. How is that love?”
“Look here,” Mother said, and I could tell she was on the verge of crying or screaming, “I may have done your father wrong. I will probably hurt him more than I would ever want to hurt him. But you cannot sit there and say I haven’t been a good damn mother to you. I read you books at night. I bought you pretty things. I helped you with your school work. I made all your costumes for Halloween. I made you feel loved.”
“No, Ma,” I whispered. “What you did is make me hate love. I can’t talk to you right now.”
I hung up the phone, lowered my head and began bawling. I could feel the snot on my lips. I couldn’t see how she could still think she was a good mother with all ‘the teachings’ she provided to me.
My house phone rang, and I quickly answered it, “Don’t call back again today, okay?”
“What’s wrong, Carter?”
I openly sobbed. “Oh, hey, Vince. I’m fine. Great. I received a called from Kenneth. He’s taking me to a ball game. Oh, and my mother finally wants to divorce my dad.”
“What the hell?” he said. “I’m coming over.”
I shook my head no. “I’m fine. Really. Look, I need Interiors to vamp up 123 Park Avenue for Cassie. Cheater Number 5302 will be picking me up there tomorrow night. It might be a good idea to call Mrs. Stevenson before her kids get home. Have her come in, show her some footage, tell her about tomorrow, and see what she wants to do.”
“Um,” Vince said, holding out the ‘m’. “I can do that. You sure you don’t need me?”
“I always need you, babe, but I’m going to be okay, I think. Thanks for loving me despite me.”
“Always. How about you take a nap. I’ll call you later.”
“Will do. Love ya.”
I hung up the phone and dropped it and the cell phone on the sofa. I walked into the bedroom, closed all the wooden window slats and crawled under my soft brown comforter. My mother was divorcing my dad. Here I was, almost 32, and crying like their divorce would tear our family apart. I knew my dad loved Mother; it would feel like hell when she told him about the divorce.
Cheating was the ‘in’ thing with more people than just my clients’ mates. My mom. My aunt. Possibly Cheater Number 5302. Kenneth, God, I needed to get the warm and fuzzies out of my mind when it came to him. I couldn’t be the other woman. I could be the thing I hated the most about the men my mother slept with, or about her. After all, many of the men she slept with were married, too.
I had the urge to raid my fridge of every alcoholic beverage in it, but my head was too heavy from pain to be lifted from the pillow. Instead, I sobbed and finally drifted off to sleep.