Chapter One: The beginning...
"Before" has a different meaning now that it had ever had. Before her life turned upside down. Before she had to drop her 8 year old off for a birthday party she couldn't attend. Before she had to pack up her things and drive off in a 30 year old Volkswagen Beetle. Before she was shut out of her own life. Before she had learned about that nurse on the ICU and Robert Jr. Before.
It was so odd watching Robby bound up the stairs and into the house while she sat in the circular driveway. Past Ethel, her friend and housekeeper (or, more accurately, her current friend and Robert Jr.'s housekeeper), Robby had run. Tackled by his shouting birthday party guests and barking dogs, Robby disappeared inside. Ethel waved to her and made a move to climb down the stairs to say "hello," when something crashed from inside the house.
"Boys!" she mouthed to Danny before charging back into the house to fix whatever was broken. Ethel was the fixer. She was the one everyone went to when things didn't work or broke. She had tried to use these skills with Danny and Robert Jr. before Danny even knew there was something to fix. Not much got past Ethel. She had obviously known more about what Robert Jr. (or as she calls him "Mr. Doctor") was up to than Danny had. She kept trying to cover-up for his late nights and mysterious phone hang-ups. She had excuses for everything. Her manner had changed towards Mr. Doctor though. Enough so that he had suggested it was time for Ethel to retire after serving Robert Jr.'s family and now theirs for more than 30 years. Danny fought this suggestion and soon the decision became moot. Robert Jr. would need someone to help him take care of Robby whenever he was visiting. Ethel would stay. It was Danny who left.
Danny never saw it coming. But she was always blind when it came to Robert Jr. She had loved him from afar, when they were in grammar school. She trusted him when no one else had. Had loved him when his own parents had rejected him. Had helped him pass organic chemistry when he was ready to give up. She stood by his side and was a fierce defender of the man she knew he was inside. He was her knight in shining armor on a white charger. She loved the way he smelled, looked and tasted. She loved the way he cocked his head to one side when listening intently to someone. And the sparkle in his eyes when he laughed and his wicked sense of humor. He was her life.
"Was" is the operative word. She shook her head roughly, trying to free her thoughts from the cobwebs of "before." It didn't help to dream about the life she had, and now would never have again. That was before. This was now.
He had betrayed her trust and her love. He had betrayed their family. She wasn't sure how, but she knew she could get through this. She didn't miss the big house, or the big cars, or the fancy restaurants. She had never wanted them in the first place. But she still missed Robert Jr. sleeping at her side. And Robby climbing in between them early on Sunday morning. And Lissy, their gentle giant of a dog burrowing under the covers not to be left out. She missed the way Robert Jr. and Robby wrestled while she cooked breakfast. She missed their watching Finding Nemo for the eight hundredth time and shouting out the passages they all knew by heart. She missed her dreams of the future growing old at Robert Jr.'s side.
This wasn't going to be easy. All thoughts led to Robert Jr. All feelings led to her grief over what could have been. All she could feel was this giant hole in her heart that she didn't know how to fill.
On top of all of this, she had to say "good-bye" to Robby on his tenth birthday for the entire weekend. This was the first year since he was born that she hadn't baked his favorite superhero cake. His birthday dinner would be eaten without her. She had to share him on this special weekend with Robert Jr., his sister and his parents.
For the next two nights she would have to make do with the toothy grin he shot her and the carefree "Bye Mom! See ya' Sunday!" Frankly, she could use the time to get his present ready. She needed to focus on their own celebration. This was their new life. Different from before, but still good.
She turned up the radio, rolled down the window and sang with Aretha Franklin as loud as she could. The road was quiet except for the off-key refrain of Danny and the queen of soul. R-E-S-P-E-C-T...Danny never thought about the irony of that song at this moment in her life. But she drove home to meet her longtime friend, with a smile on her face and hope in her voice.
to be continued...