Excerpt: Runaway Wife

Runaway Wife by Laurie LeClair

Contemporary Romance

Chapter 1

“Man, you have a fat ass, Maggie.”

Shock courses through my brain and body. Slowly, I straighten from the clothes dryer and turn to my husband. “You just didn’t say that, did you?”

“Me and everyone else. Kids at school call you Mrs. Lardass instead of Mrs. Lawson.” He laughs.

My chest tightens.

He holds out his hands over a foot apart. “Truth hurts.”

Tears smart my eyes as I watch him walk out of the laundry room, through the kitchen and take a chair in the little breakfast nook. He never used to say hurtful things before. But lately he’d taken up the practice. Worse yet, our kids were beginning to pick up on it, too.

Had he started after the professional teeth whitening or was it after the Lasik eye surgery?

“Hey, mom, where’s the real waffles?” Kyle whines, using his fork to stab the offending object and wave it in the air, dripping with syrup. “This is crap.”

“We don’t use those words in this house,” I admonish, coming to the table.

He snickers. “God this is all crap. This is fake. You’re fake.”

“Stop it.” At my stern voice, he closes his mouth, but shoots me a seething look.

“Lindsay, give me the phone, so you can eat your breakfast.”

“What?! I’m not doing anything. Why do I always get in trouble because of him?”

I sigh deeply. Taking a seat opposite Rob, I lift my eyebrows at him. Silently, I beg him to back me up. But he shovels food in his mouth. “It’s your job,” he reminds me around a mouth full of waffles and sausages. “That’s what you wanted. You take care of it.”Yes, I want to raise my kids to be the best they could be. What was wrong with wanting to raise decent, respectful, hardworking, honest, giving, compassionate kids with a deeply ingrained sense of integrity?

Once, Rob was on board with the same desires. But lately he’d dropped the ball on several occasions. What in the world was going on with him anyway?

He scrapes up the last of the food on his plate, and then rises. “I gotta go.”

“Me, too,” Kyle chimes in.

“And me. Dad, did you forget you’re dropping us off at school today?” Lindsey grabs her book bag off the back of her chair. She snatches up her phone and automatically punches in numbers with her thumb.

“Maggie, why can’t you do it?” Rob huffs.

I stomp down on the exasperation bubbling up inside me. “It’s Tuesday. It’s your turn. I have a hair appointment.”

He frowns, making him look like he had one long, dark unibrow. “There’s no reason for you to go over to that place.”

“It’s just a trim.” I finger my long, waist-length wavy hair.

“It’s not just that. It’s those people you hang out with.”

“Chloe and Sam are my…friends,” I defend, cutting myself off from adding best friends.

“Gay and a slut! Mom, why can’t you be like Cammy’s mom? At least she knows you don’t socialize with weirdos.”

I suck in a sharp breath. “Lindsey Lawson, I don’t ever want to hear you say those words again, do you understand?”

“But it’s true,” Kyle says, shrugging. “Everyone knows it.”

“Yeah, Maggie, you’re the only clueless one.” My husband’s dig goes far deeper this time.

“They’re my friends,” I force out in a strangled whisper.

“Come on, kids, there’s no talking any sense into her. Let’s go.”

A few minutes later, they scramble out the door. I walk to the front window and watch as they back from the driveway and race down the neighborhood street.

None of them kissed me goodbye or had even said goodbye. Granted, the kids were getting older. Lindsey was twelve and Kyle was fourteen. But we’d been close up until a few weeks ago when I had begun to notice the little things. Of course, phones and contacting friends were more important to Lindsey since her dad gave her a phone for her birthday a month ago. And Kyle liked a girl who didn’t like him. That had hurt him.

More than anything, I wonder why all of a sudden Rob make those cutting remarks. Now the kids were treating me like he did at times.

What’s happening to my family?

I need to get a handle on this before it explodes in my face. The one person in this world who could help me with this was the woman who raised me from child to teenager and then to adulthood. “Auntie!”

She would know how to deal with this. She would be the only one.

I rush to stack the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and tidy the kitchen. Next, I race to get ready for my hair appointment. Just before I walk out the door, I make the quick call to my only remaining family member. “Ugh! Voicemail.”

“You called me, so spill your guts. If you’re male and cute, leave me your number. If you’re not, don’t bother.”

Laughing, I shake my head at my aunt’s latest message. After the beep, I say, “It’s me Maggie. I…I need some advice.” I blow out a breath. Tears sting. I try to blink them away. “I can’t seem… I don’t know.” I gulp hard. “Short version, I suck at being a wife and mom, or at least that’s what my family’s telling me now.” Hot tears roll down my cheeks. I force a laugh; it comes out as a puff of air. “Funny, huh? Me, who only ever dreamed of having a family to love and care for. Me, who couldn’t have kids and met a man who supported me when I wanted to adopt. Me, who fell in love with those two beautiful little babies from the moment I met them.” I sniff loud. “Sorry. I don’t mean to be like this. I’ll…I’ll call you back later. After my hair appointment.” I hang up, wishing there was a delete button I could push to erase the teary message.

Wiping my face with the back of my sleeve, I take in a couple of deep breaths. “I can do this,” I coach myself on the drive to my best friend’s beauty salon.

Thank goodness it’s nearly deserted. Tuesday mornings are slow, so that’s why I have a standing appointment. We catch up on our weekends—well, mostly theirs—and the gossip in town.

The bell over the door rings as I enter. “Hey, guys, anyone here?” I call out in the empty room.

I swear I hear a chuckle. Sam pokes his head out of the back break room. “Oh, here, darling, come on back.”

The giggles grow. Curiosity propels me to the tucked away little room. “What’s going on back here?”

Rounding the corner, I don’t know what to expect. But it certainly isn’t Chloe’s electric blue high heels stuck up in the air. I crack up laughing, and then end up grabbing my middle and doubling over. “Why in the world are you half-naked on top of the luncheon table?”

Form the waist down, Chloe, with her long bare legs spread wide and a tiny towel covering her crotch, sits with her bare bum on another much bigger towel on the Formica surface.

“I’m going gay with Sam. What do you think?”

“Oh, honey, I wouldn’t even have you.” He points at her little towel-covered patch. “Did you forget that part doesn’t even give me a twitch?”

I smile. “Well, don’t look at me. I don’t like that part, either.”

We laugh. They think I’m a riot. It’s nice to know someone thinks I’m okay.

“No, really, what are you two up to?”

“Brazilian.”

“Wax the snatch,” Sam added.

“Ouch!” I hurt just from the mere thought of it.

“You’re next.”

“The heck I am.” I can barely watch, never mind slip out of my own pants and put my big ass and everything else on display.

“Come on,” Sam coaxes. “I’m getting good at it. See, I’ve done half already.”

Chloe flashes me, and then covers up. “Nice and smooth. Don’t you want that, too?”

I shake my head no, having seen the bare side and the hairy side. “Hairy isn’t that scary. And I’m not into pain.”

She groans. “You need adventure, girl. Don’t get stuck in time or you’ll lose out.”

Frowning, I say, “On what?”

Shrugging, she says, “Like everything. You need to say yes to something, anything. The more yeses, the more excitement, and the less regrets.”

A niggle of anxiety swirls in my middle. Am I as boring as she makes me sound? Maybe my hubby thinks so, too.

She’s right, of course. But waxing my down theres isn’t going to be one of my new adventures. “I’ll skip the Brazilian.”

Sam shakes his head. “And I thought she was so close, too.”

Chloe calls him over. “You’ve got to finish this.” She turns to me. “You can turn this one down, but the next one you’ve got to take. Deal?”

“Wax?”

“Not the next waxing. The next adventure that comes your way.”

“I don’t know about that,” I say as Sam applies the hot liquid, rubs on the strip of cloth, and then yanks it back. Whoosh!

“Holy mother of God!” Chloe gasps. “Okay, okay, next.”

The bell over the door rings. I peek my head out. An older lady stands at the desk.

“Who is it?” Chloe hisses.

“Older lady, blondish hair I think,” I whisper.

“Oh no. She’s early, for crying out loud. Go stall her, Mags. Make her coffee and give her a cookie or something.”

I look back, giggling. “A cookie? Maybe she’d like to try your latest service. Bare bum and crotch. Do you think she’s ever had that experience before?”

Sam chuckles. Chloe hushes him.

“Hello, hello, is anyone here?” The older woman’s voice grows louder.

“She’s coming. Hurry up, Mags.”

I smile sweetly. “But wouldn’t this be a new adventure for you?”

“I am going to wring your neck, you sassy bitch,” she growls as panic shines in her eyes.

Having mercy, I step out of the back room just as the woman comes within two feet of it. “Good morning. May I help you?”

She presses a hand to her chest. “My, you startled me, dear.”

Chloe and Sam’s whispers can still be heard. “Not there. Over some. That’s better.”

“It’s hot. Don’t move or I’ll miss it.”

The older woman’s eyes widen.

“I can’t wait any longer. It’s hard.”

I gulp back my laughter. “Private meeting. You understand.” I gently guide her around and toward the coffee and refreshments.

She gazes back a few times. Curiosity, mixed with a light blush, is written all over her face.

“Coffee? With sugar?”

Even though we are yards away, the noises carry to us. The grunt, muffled yelp, and a hiss sing through the shop.

The older lady licks her lips. “And cream. You can’t forget the cream, dear.”

“Lots of cream coming up,” I say, biting the inside of my cheek.

Sam’s soft command shoots through the room. “Hurry up, turn over. I can’t keep this up much longer.”

“Like this?”

“Stick your bum out more.”

It’s difficult for me to keep a straight face. I turn to the table. “Cookies, ma’am?”

“Oh,” she says distractedly. “My husband loves my cookies.”

I pick up a plate in one hand and the tong in the other. “What kind?”

“Fluffy, marshmallow ones with the cherries on top.” She giggles.

Quickly, I turn to her and her face is deeply flushed, her breathing coming quick as she peers toward the back of the salon.

I realize she’s talking about her husband. I try not to look, but can’t help myself. She may be in her sixties by the look of it, but her girls are still nice and round and at attention. “A real cookie connoisseur, is he?”

More noises drift to us.

“Oh, yes.” She’s smiling now, pressing a hand to her cheek. “How silly of me. I put in a batch right before I left and forgot to tell him.”

“Well, you can’t disappoint the man, can you? You can call from here.”

Her blue eyes sparkle. “Yes, I think I will do that.”

After I direct her to the phone on the desk, she quickly punches in the numbers. “Harold, I’m so glad you haven’t left for your golf game.” She waits while he says something. “Dear, I may have put in a batch of my special cookies. You know, the special fluffy marshmallow ones—” She giggles as he answers. “Yes, with the cherries on top.”

A few seconds later, she hangs up. “I have to cancel. My—”

“Cookies. They need you.”

More noises float to us.

She rushes to the door, waving goodbye. “Yes, desperately.”

I chuckle, falling into a nearby chair. By the looks of it, the woman’s husband would definitely get the best cookies and milk he’d ever had in his life.

Sam pops his head out. Looking around, he checks for the customer. “What’s so funny?”

“You two. I wish I had a tape recorder. And a video camera.”

“Huh?”

“Sam, don’t leave me like this. Come on, you have to help clean me up, too.”

With that, I burst into laughter. God, they keep me laughing and they keep me sane. What in the world would I do without the two of them?


 

Chapter 2

“That feels so good,” I say as Chloe rubs deep conditioner into my head.

“Your scalp’s so tight, Mags.”

“She’s stressed,” Sam offers.

“By what?” Chloe’s voice is incredulous. “You don’t work. You get to do what you want and when you want. Your husband brings in the moola and you spend it. What’s so hard about that?”

Stung by her view of my life, I bit back, “You forgot the bonbons I eat every day while watching the soaps. Oh, and the babysitters who raise my kids and the maid that cleans my house. And all those lovely dinner parties I throw for Rob’s clients.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Of course I am. I work hard to be a good wife and mother.” My cheeks warm. “And I’ll have you know I’m always the last one in my family. Everyone else comes first.” The words pop out without thought. I can’t yank them back now.

Sam looks up quick from folding towels. He points a finger at me. “That’s the problem, honey. You need to come first sometimes, too.”

“Coming? Like sex?” Chloe asks as she works the goo down the shafts of my hair all the way to the ends.

I flush hotter, and then burst out giggling. “You’ve got sex on the brain this morning.”

Sam gasps. “Oh, it’s a man. I know it’s gotta be a man. Chloe, you don’t trim or groom unless you got a man in your sights.”

I pull back, so I can look at her face. Her eyes are downcast, avoiding my searching gaze.

“You do. Who is he? Do we know him? Where did you meet? How long have you kept this from us?”

Now it’s her turn to blush. But she does give a hint of a smile. “It’s too soon. I don’t want to give out any details so I don’t jinx it.”

“Does he even know?” I ask, recalling her many longing from afar starts with unavailable men.

She bites her lip. “Nope.”

“But he will.” Sam puts his hands on his hips. “Girl, is this one married, too?”

Chloe sticks her tongue out at him.

He and I groan. “He is.”

“They’re not in love. It’s just a matter of time.”

“You are so crushing,” Sam says with glee. “God, why didn’t I figure this out sooner? Duh, me!”

“Can’t you give us a little hint? A little something?” I ask, wanting to live vicariously through her excitement. At least it will take my mind off my problems.

She frowns. All too quickly, she rushes through the rest of slathering condition on my hair and wraps it on top of my head, finally covering it all in a clear plastic bag. “Ready for the dryer now.”

I shoot Sam a quizzical look. He raises an eyebrow in return. Something was up with our friend and she wasn’t spilling her guts. We both shrug, knowing she’ll only tell us when she’s good and ready.

I’m under the black dryer hood, skimming through a tabloid when Sam joins me.

“So how’s life, Mags?” He raises his voice so I can hear over the dryer.

“Do you really want to know?”

He nods.

“Crap. That’s what life is right now.” I shove back the dryer helmet and lean over to him. “Do you think I have a fat ass?”

“Huh? Where did that come from?”

“Rob.”

Horror streaks across his eyes and his jaw drops. “No way.”

“Yes way. This morning, I’m bending over, getting laundry out of the dryer and he comes up behind me and said it.”

He covers his mouth with his hand. “That is so wrong.”

“Is it true?”

He winces. “Well, you’ve kind of gained some weight, but not tons.” He waves his hands. “Here, get up and turn around. Let me have a good look.”

For anyone else I wouldn’t, but for Sam, my brutally honest best friend, I do. I turn to him. He reaches out and smooths my jeans, first down the legs and then over my bum. “Well?”

“Not fat, no. These jeans make you look bigger. Not as toned. That’s it. You’re loose in the rear. I’d say if we get you on an exercise routine, you’d be fit and firm in weeks. Turn,” he instructs me.

I hold my blouse up to the tops of my jeans. He pats my pooch.

“That’s gotta go, too.”

“Even exercise might not help that. I had five surgeries. Infertility sucks.”

“Tell me about it.”

I laugh. “Like you know.” He joins me and we have a good giggle. I drop back down under the dryer. “Not hopeless, then?”

“Nah! Exercise and the right clothes will make you look divine, doll. You’re small with some curves, but you can’t put yourself last anymore. By the time you know it, life is gone like that,” he snaps his fingers, Aand you didn’t do anything for you.”

I see the beginning of tears in his eyes. Reaching over, I grasp his hand. “Hal?”

He nods. Two years ago, Sam’s partner of five years died from diabetes and kidney failure. The poor man had endured years of dialysis, keeping him chained to machines and unable to live a full and exciting life. Devoted, Sam cared for him every day and had suffered greatly from the demanding caretaker duties. Chloe and I helped as much as we could, forming this deep bond between all three of us, especially in the end when we stood with Sam day after day and slowly watched the man he loved slip away.

On a lighter note, I say, “But I thought you had flaming gay sex ever since.”

Wiping away his tears, he chuckles. “Yeah, right.”

“Don’t disappoint me. You’ve just messed up all my stereotypical assumptions about gays. What am I going to do now?”

He swats my leg. “Girl, you’re good for me.” He leans in closer, nearly sticking his head under the dryer with me. “I kinda like someone.”

“No!” My shock and happiness are evident. “Who? When? How?”

“Not yet. But do you know Hugh? He owns the body shop?”

“Him? He’s gay?”

Chloe and the lady getting her hair washed look over at us.

“Oops!” I cover my mouth with my hand. “Sorry,” I mouth to Sam.

He giggles and touches my hand. “Yes. Isn’t he dreamy?”

“To die for,” I agree, recalling his broad chest and thick biceps. “Darn it, you take all the good ones, don’t you?”

“I try,” he says, patting his hair.

As he fills me in on the meeting with dreamy guy last weekend I am as excited as he is. This is the first serious date he’s had since his partner died. It’s about time he finds someone.

My dryer shuts off and I lift back the hood, the cool air hitting me instantly. I shiver at the temperature change.

“He’s out of town until Saturday. But we have a date that night. I hope he’s romantic. I miss that so much.”

“What?! Quickie gay sex isn’t your style?” I joke, knowing the answer already.

“Just like quickie straight sex with strangers is yours,” he counters. We both crack up laughing.

The phone rings. Chloe calls to Sam, “Can you get that, Romeo? I’ve got a customer.”

He sticks his tongue out at her as he passes her on the way to the desk. “Shear Pleasure. This is Sam speaking. May I help you?” He uses his saccharine voice. “Maggie Lawson? Yes she’s here.”

I hear my name and pop up out of the seat. Is it the kids? Are they all right? Faster than I can think, I rush across the floor and am soon at his elbow. My mind races with terrible possibilities. My heart is in my throat.

I touch his arm, getting his attention as he listens to the voice on the other end. When he faces me, I mouth, “Who is it? Is Kyle all right? Is it Lindsay?”

“Your aunt,” he mouths back.

A part of me sags with relief. Thank God it’s not one of the kids. The beating of my heart finally slows. I say silent prayers for keeping my babies safe.

“She’s right here. I’ll put her on.”

Gratefully, I take the receiver from him. “Auntie.” I hear the gush of relief spilling from me. “How are you doing? You must have gotten my silly message this morning and tracked me down.”

“Maggie May, it’s good to hear your voice.” There was something different about my aunt, something I had never heard before. And she hardly ever calls me Maggie May, my first and middle names. In the back of my mind, I process that she’s never called the salon before either. I’ve lived here for years and have gone to this salon for almost as many, yet never has my aunt called me while I’m here. Maybe my voicemail sounded even more desperate than I thought. I want to crawl under the desk at this moment, but instead I drop into the chair. “I’m sorry about leaving that voice message…”

“Having a rough time of it, are you?”

I try to laugh, but it comes out strangled. “You can say that again.”

She takes a deep breath that rushes through the line. “Me, too.”

I jerk my head up, alarm bells going off in my mind. She doesn’t ever complain. I’ve always been the one to seek out solace from her, never the other way around. “What’s wrong?”

“Can you come see me?”

“Today?” It’s Tuesday. My mind races with all the things I have to do today and the rest of the week. I chew on my lip. “Friday night, Saturday, maybe.” I calculate the packing I have to do just for a five-hour drive and a weekend stay. I groan inwardly at the extra work.

“I was hoping you could today, even tomorrow.”

Her voice doesn’t sound as strong as it normally does. My middle dips. “Auntie…” My lips barely move.

Another rush of air comes over the line. “I was hoping I could tell you in person, my Magpie.”

At her use of her nickname for me, I feel my heartstrings tug. Dread washes over me. “What is it, Auntie?”


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