“You Loretta, of all people, have got to understand,” Rich said, reaching for the bread basket. He paused for a moment, washed his tongue over his lips like a cat deciding between a bird and a mouse, then chose a focaccia roll over black Russian rye. “I’ve spent my life doing what ‘the man’ says, being a good employee. I was an amazing dad and a reliable husband.” He stabbed a butter knife in my direction. “You weren’t always easy, y’know, but I was loyal to you too.” He chuckled, his newly acquired belly fat turning the laugh into a wheeze. “Now, I want a choice.” He spread his arms wide. “I want it all.”
I smiled – at least my mouth did. Rich had been my significant other for seventeen years. I don’t know if his wife, Laurie, was his significant, but I was definitely the other in his life. Me, who had dreamed of being someone spectacular. But in a small town like Gainesborough there weren’t many role models except in the library’s tatty books. With so little scope, Laurie and I had stopped feuding over Rich fourteen years ago.
“I don’t mind a break from him now and then,” she had confided at the Pumphouse Bar and Grill during our first Monday liquid lunch. “He’s not exactly the Romeo my mama promised. And he isn’t the go-getter Daddy said he’d be.”
I had nodded, taken another breathy sip of my single malt, and right then offered the pact that had kept us going year after year. The good men had mostly high-tailed it out of Gainesborough, leaving women like Laurie and me to fight over the leftovers. Hell, even the good women had mostly gotten out, which is why Laurie and I had to be friends. I had my batshit crazy mother to look after in our falling-apart mansion, and Laurie got Rich to toady up to in their cookie-cutter bungalow. Except on Wednesday nights when Aunt Lil took a night with mom, I took a night with Rich, and Laurie got a night off.
But now Rich was having a midlife crisis. There isn’t a lot of scope for a midlife crisis in Gainesborough, so I guess Rich’s decision to have it all, such as there was, was the best he could do. Unfortunately, that included stuffing everything he could into his big mouth, and getting it on with Tammy the librarian in the research section after hours on Fridays. Rich’s mediocre attraction was definitely wearing thin. Tammy had had to have splinters taken out of her butt as well, so a month ago, she had morosely joined our lunch date.
Then last week she showed up with a book under her arm. “Read,” she said, pushing it towards us.
“A biography?” Laurie demanded incredulously.
“Lucretia Borgia,” I read aloud. Memory stirred from somewhere. “Ah…the woman who ground up glass and concocted delectable poisons to dispose of her enemies…” My voice trailed off. Our eyes connected, widened, and at last we smiled – really smiled.
“Rich renewed his life insurance last month. Even tripled the payout benefit…” Laurie murmured. “I always wanted to travel…”
There was a moment of reverent silence as we stared at the book.
A flurry of preparation for Rich and my Wednesday night tryst. As always now, it started and would probably end at the kitchen table. I pushed a plate of tarts towards Rich.
“Ah,” he sighed, “apple, custard, black forest, cherry…I do like a choice.”