The morning Worth left, something pulled Lily from her sleep, though at first glance nothing seemed out of place. The light coming through the bedroom window was soft and hazy. Above her the ceiling fan ticked and swayed, and outside a lone bird sang, trying to rouse its friends. Everything else was still and quiet.
She sat up in bed and smoothed her hand over the empty space next to her, the sheets on Worth's side twisted and tangled as usual. It was Friday, thankfully, the end of a long week, one she and her husband had both hoped would go better. Worth had spent twelve-plus hours each day this week at his new real estate job, giving himself a crash course in the company and coming home each night tossing out terms she didn't understand—things like metes and bounds, plats and surveys.
For her part Lily had spent an equal amount of time trying, mostly in vain, to brighten up their drab rental home just off Highway 59 in Foley, Alabama. She'd also dodged phone calls from her mother-in-law, Mertha, who'd taken to calling Lily every few hours once she'd accepted that her son was avoiding her calls. "Just checking in," Mertha would say, wanting to know the state of everything from Worth's job to his mood to his laundry.
Lily had never been so glad for a weekend. She hoped they'd be able to take some time on Saturday to drive around and look for a more permanent place, a house they could make their own, though for all Lily knew, Worth may have been planning to work right through until Monday.
With her mind still fuzzy with sleep, she rose from the bed and made her way down the short hall toward the kitchen. That's when she realized what was wrong. She usually woke to the scent of strong Colombian roast coffee wafting from the kitchen into the bedroom, luring her with a warm, heady promise.
Their fancy Bonavita coffee maker, a wedding gift from Worth's best man, was the first thing he had unpacked two weeks ago when they arrived in Foley from Atlanta, and he'd made a steaming pot of extra-robust coffee every morning before he left for work. It was a small token, especially when everything felt so upside down, but Lily had long grown used to feeling off balance, and she took the daily gift of hot coffee for what it was—his way of offering sustenance, love, and maybe a little hope, all in her favorite mug.
This morning, however, the gleaming silver coffeepot was cold and quiet. She was still tying the belt of her thin robe around her waist when she saw the note propped up against it. A mechanical pencil lay next to it.
Lily, I can't do this anymore. You deserve more than what I can give you. I'm so sorry.
Puzzled, she stared at the piece of paper, waiting for the words to transform into something different, something that made more sense. But they didn't. She blinked hard, pressing her eyelids together until she saw white spots. She turned her head side to side, the muscles in her neck stretching and releasing. But when she opened her eyes, the words were still there. That's when she noticed the packet on the other side of the coffee maker. The thin white envelope almost blended into the counter. Her full name—Lily Chapman Bishop—was typed on the front of the unsealed envelope. With the tips of her fingers, Lily reached inside and slid a piece of paper out a few inches. She scanned the top of the page.
State of Alabama, United Judicial System.
Complaint for Divorce.
Plaintiff: Ainsworth Madison Bishop IV
She pulled the paper out farther, unbelieving, until she saw his name signed at the bottom. It was his handwriting, no doubt—small, mostly capital letters, the ink pressed hard into the page.
Then, like a current of cold water pouring over her, a thought rang in her head, clear and sure. It's finally happened. She pressed her palms to the cool surface of the counter.
She realized she'd been waiting for this, probably since the day he slipped a ring on her finger and asked her to marry him. Maybe even since the day they first met. Their union had seemed improbable from the very start, but they'd stubbornly defied everyone and clung so tightly to each other, there had been no room between them for doubt, not a sliver of space for any misgiving or hesitation.
She lifted her head and spread the note out in front of her, smoothing out the creases. Underneath his words, he'd written something else, then erased it. The paper there was gray and blurry, as if he'd tried several times to add more words but kept second-guessing himself. Finally, below the smudge, he'd added his name.
That was it.
She braced herself against the counter, the edges biting into her hips and the skin of her hands, and took a deep breath.
* * *