Today, as we continue our countdown to the release of our uplifting novel THE SUMMER SPRINGSTEEN’S SONGS SAVED ME by Barbara Quinn, we’re sharing an excerpt from chapter one. You will love this!
The sighs from my supposed-to-be-empty bedroom grow into moans, and my pulse thuds in my temples. I know the dark place might suck me in if I’m not careful, but I can’t stop myself from looking.
I peer through the half-open door. My husband crouches naked on the bed with his face buried between long, shapely legs. Gorgeous, oddly-familiar legs.
“Oooh, oooh,” groans the owner of the silky limbs.
“Mmm, mmmmm,” answers Jerome. His rear wags from side to side. The two bald spots in the center of his butt cheeks stare at me, and my skin tingles the way it did when I drew too close to the sparklers little Benjamin played with on the fourth of July.
The bed creaks. After twenty-six years the thing still makes the same noise. A chill winds its way up my back, and pain sears beneath my ribcage. My breaths rush in and out.
How can he? What the hell? In our bed. Today of all days.
Darkness grows, and flames erupt behind my eyelids. In a red fury, I howl and charge. I whoop again and bear down on the startled couple.
With a jolt, the name of the owner of the legs explodes into my mind.
I know Mandy. Sort of.
Jerome’s personal trainer. Mandy Malone.
I slip on the area rug and lose my balance. Oh, yes. I know Mandy. At the gym Christmas party Mandy’s hips sported a short, pink thing that appeared to be more like a headband than a skirt. The Christmas party was where I saw those legs before.
Mandy jumps out of bed and pulls the covers around her. She cowers in the corner.
I’m not proud of what I do next.
I grab a red high heel from the floor and climb to my feet. Taking aim, I hurl the shoe, but Jerome rolls away and the stiletto lands on the pillow. I reach for one of Jerome’s wing tips resting annoyingly on the floor beside a pair of red panties and matching bustier. I launch the shoe, and the ever-athletic creep dodges and leaps from the bed. A pink rubber phallus lands with a thunk, and a yowl bursts from deep within me. “Sex toys. You’re using sex toys.” My hands grasp the floor lamp and level it like a spear.
“Sof, cut it out.” Jerome’s voice quavers, and he holds his hands over his privates.
Yanking the plug from the wall, I swing the lamp in a circle with no idea of what I’m doing, acting on instinct. I run towards him, but Jerome darts out of the way. The lamp smashes into the headboard, shattering bulbs and sending the pole flying from my hands. Shards of glass cover the bed and floor.
A tiny red mini-skirt and pink tank top catch my attention. My God, she must shop in the children’s department. And what an awful color combination.
“Sof, this isn’t doing anyone any good. Can we talk?” He’s bobbing and weaving now, waiting for the next assault.
“Talk? Talk? What’s there to talk about?” My brain sizzles, and my thoughts stab mercilessly. I seize his belt from the floor and hurl it, grazing the top of his head. “Do you remember when we bought this bed?”
No answer leaves his lips.
“I do.” I snatch up his other wingtip, and this one catches him in the back. “We couldn’t afford it, but you wouldn’t take no for an answer. You said it would last a lifetime.” I rip at the all-cotton sheets, yanking them off the mattress. “I just bought these at Macy’s. I changed the bed yesterday. You told me polyester blends make you sweat. So does she!” I yell, jerking my arm towards the cowering blonde and fighting the fury twisting inside my gut.
Jerome approaches the closet. His hairy bare rear with its Orphan Annie blank orbs shines in the morning light. I tug on the curtains, and as the metal rod falls we both reach for it. He twists hard, and I let go causing him to lose his balance and send the pole clattering against the oak flooring. I swoop up the rod in a death grip and connect with the back of his knees. He falls to the rug and writhes in agony.
“Stop,” he shouts.
“Sure,” I say, launching myself on top of him and boxing his ears. “How’s this?”
He rolls to the side throwing me off, and my face plants onto the carpet. I scramble to my feet and collect the scattered clothing, stumbling down the hallway to the spare bedroom.
Think, Sofia. Think.
I throw the lock and hit my palm against my forehead wincing as my brain sends out shooting stars. I inhale, and an ache accompanies the air and settles into my stomach with an unpleasant heaviness that signals I won’t dislodge the pain anytime in the near future.
The dark place crowds the edges of my vision, and I move my eyes in a circle to keep it at bay. The dark place is number two on my list of worst things ever to happen to me. Finding Jerome in bed with Mandy follows close behind, displacing losing my childhood dog to a freak motorcycle-chasing accident, which now drops to fourth on my nasty-memory hit parade.
Jerome raps on the door. “Sofia, Sofia.”
He calls louder. “Sofia, open up. I want to talk to you.”
Rap, rap, rap.
He rattles the knob and bangs harder.
I spy my cell on the floor and collect it. If I hadn’t forgotten my phone I never would’ve returned home. My schedule usually goes off like clockwork. Nyack Meals on Wheels by eight o’clock followed by the office an hour and a half later.
My hands tremble, and I clutch the side of the desk. “Do you do this often? Do you have it planned to the minute I go out?” My question comes out eerily calm.
An urge to leave becomes unbearable. I seize my purse and two plastic Wal-Mart sacks intended for donations to Goodwill. Shaking out the bags I fill them methodically with a few of the clothes I store in the spare closet, the ones that don’t fit in the overstuffed master bedroom closet, the master bedroom closet opposite the mahogany king I shared with Jerome for the past twenty-six years, the bed where Jerome and Mandy were doing the nasty. The edges around my eyes flood with black ink. I stuff Jerome’s and Mandy’s things into another bag and blink hard.
Jerome bangs so hard the hinges shake. I force myself to finish packing, unlock the door, and push past still-naked Jerome. At the sight of his pasty body, my stomach lurches and sends sour liquid into my throat. My eyes burn.
“Do you know what day today is?” I will my tears not to flow. Why give him that satisfaction?
Three paperbacks stand ready for donation at the top of the stairs. Though he dodges, the second one hits him on the side of the head and he yelps in pain. Too bad it’s a softcover. Too bad there’s nothing else to loft his way.
As I hurry down the stairs, my bags bump against my legs and my mind screams a million things at once. Jerome limps along naked behind me. Miss leggy-blondeness stays out of sight.
I open the front door, and my husband steps back, hiding from the eyes of the neighbors.
“Sof, where are you going? Wait.”
I call over my shoulder, “You’re an asshole, Jerome. You always were.”
I haul the barbecue from the garage and dump Jerome’s and Mandy’s clothes onto the grill, dousing them with lighter fluid and striking a match. Flames shoot into the air. The fire smells good.
Scrutinizing the neat houses of the neighborhood, I’m irritated by how no one stirs behind the well-maintained structures. Without a doubt they watch and listen. I barely recognize the neighbors. They stay away and rebuff all attempts at socialization. Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe one of the things they know is that Jerome brings women home in my absence.
I fling the door of my Camry wide and retrieve the keys in my purse. I toss the bag that holds my things into the back seat.
Jerome calls out from behind the half-open door. “If I’m so bad, why the hell did you marry me?”
“Because I was an even bigger asshole than you.” I pause. “It’s taken me years to figure this out. You’ve been a dog for as long as I can remember. It’s good to finally admit it.”
“Sof, don’t go. I can explain.”
“You always have a reason. I’m sick of it, Jerome. I really used to care about you. No more. Go explain whatever it is you want to explain to her.” I jerk my head in the direction of the house.
I climb into the car and back up out of the driveway. Out of habit I hit the brake and avoid Jerome’s red Porsche parked on the curb. Jerome awarded himself the fancy vehicle when he won his latest anti-trust case. I hesitate. Why not smack into his trophy and ruin it the way he ruined my life? But then my Camry would be wrecked.
An idea dawns. I grab my house keys from my bag, pull alongside the Porsche, and jump from my sedan. Standing in front of the coupe, I carefully carve the letter “P” then “R” on the hood. Flakes of red paint coat the key.
“Sof. Stop! Not the car.” Jerome’s voice trembles with anguish. He scans frantically for something to cover himself and disappears. His unwillingness to be seen naked in public amuses me in an ironic way. The man is capable of shame, but not about shame for things that really matter like our relationship. I want to tell Doc Phelps about this insight. But I’ve sworn not to see him again. I’m better. I can do this on my own.
I dig with new resolve at the finish. The “I” forms easily, and so does the “C.” The “K” comes out badly, but it’s still readable. I underscore the word twice. The key scrapes against the paint, and the whine sends an enjoyable chill up my spine.
Jerome stands on the front walk wearing only the boxers he’s apparently gone upstairs for and donned in haste. He stubs his toe on the concrete and hops on one foot in distress.
I climb into the car and send him a one-fingered salute. Gunning the engine I tear down the block, glancing in the rearview mirror at the man who for many years centered my existence. His arms flail wildly, and he limps towards his Porsche.
As I turn the corner, the house and Jerome recede. But Jerome fails to vanish. He and Mandy materialize right there with me in the front seat, making love with abandon, Jerome’s head bobbing, and Mandy’s hands gripping his megaphone-like ears.
Oh, oh, mmmm, mmmm.
The sounds repeat in my head, making me want to clap my hands over my ears, but I’m not so messed up to let go of the steering wheel. What a sad and infuriating situation. The darkness creeps around the back of my eyeballs.
I dial on my car phone and grind my teeth as the electronic version of Amy’s voice fills the space. The recording tells me to leave a message for A&S Decorators. A for Amy, S for Sofia. My brain says time to add another S. A-S-S. Only an ass possesses the ability to stay with someone like Jerome.
I blurt, “Call me. Quick. The bastard. I’m through with him this time. You were right. Oh, crap, I won’t be in today. I’ll check with you later.” I punch the end key on the screen keyboard, cross with myself for being so upset. But it hurts to have found Jerome with Mandy. It hurts so badly. All his promises and declarations of love made since the last time I accused him of straying ring hollowly in my ears. I so want to believe in him, and in love. Amy warned me not to trust him. But I chose to remember the good times in the beginning of our relationship and to rely on the little deposits of faith left in our relationship bank.
A sign for the Garden State Parkway catches my attention. I turn onto the parkway and press down on the accelerator. No matter how fast I go, Jerome and Mandy keep up with me. Jerome’s backside glares and stares in the sunlight. A ball of anxiety grows in my stomach and bounces up and down, up and down, the way Jerome’s head bopped between Mandy’s legs.
Details of the scene come into focus. Mandy’s head lolls off to the side, her eyes closed. She wears a bored expression, like she’s thinking about how many loads of laundry she needs to wash before the end of the day. Not that I ever grew bored during sex with Jerome. Well, not at first. I slam the steering wheel with my fist. The dark place descends and enshrouds my brain. I need to go through the exercise Doc Phelps has given me, but the steps become jumbled. Do I breathe and then count or count and then breathe?
Ideas race and the lump in my throat aches.
Why had I pretended we had a marriage for so long? Why had I needed to stay with a man who grew increasingly distant?
The solution eludes me. I concentrate on driving, calling out the mile markers and exit signs to keep from thinking, to keep the darkness away.