Morgan had spent much of Monday morning at the local nursery, picking out plants, seeds and gardening supplies. For years, she had dreamed of all she wanted to do to landscape her home. She had even kept a notebook and file folder full of ideas and sketches. Each fall, she raked the leaves every weekend, in an effort to have a clean lawn to enjoy as soon as the snow all melted. In the winter, she was careful about where the snow was placed when the walks were clear. Morgan had this odd fear that if the piles of snow were too heavy, the grass and shrubs underneath might be damaged beyond repair. As the end of another long Michigan winter came into sight, Morgan would dream about the flowers she would plant and the vibrant colors that would begin to peek through the ground.
But every year, her plans were squashed by Don’s insistence that he was allergic to most every flowering plant in existence. The best he would do was agree to allow Morgan to have a small plot of land in the back yard where she could plant a few vegetables. She wanted more, but Morgan made the best out of what she had. Her little backyard garden yielded enough tomatoes, onions, and peppers for Morgan to fill her pantry with homemade salsa. The zucchini she made into bread each fall never failed to bring in quite a bit of money at church bake sales.
Morgan had never been able to prove or disprove this allergy claim. He had never so much as given her a single rose in their nearly 30 years together. Morgan had always thought that had more to do with Don’s allergy to spending money than anything else. She never questioned it though. Don was the one who earned the money for their family. It only seemed fair that he be the one to decide how it be spent.
This year, though, she was going to plant anything and everything that she wanted to. No one was going to stop her, especially not Don. He had no say over what she did with her time now.
And after what he had done to her, he deserved to have his credit cards all maxed out with charges for things he would never use.
She had spent all of Sunday locked in the house, ignoring phone calls and crying much more than she wanted to admit anyone. It was the first time in her life she had missed church without being ill. Unless, of course, utterly heartbroken was an illness.
Much of the time had been spent in her bed, surrounded by gardening magazines and plant catalogs, with her sketch pad in hand. As she plotted her dream garden, she made notes of the supplies she would need. Marigold seeds, tulip bulbs, rose bushes. Beside each one she noted the colors she hoped for, bright shades she knew her husband would never approve of.
Morgan made a map of what her garden was going to look like. Bright orange and yellow marigolds would line the path from the sidewalk to her front porch. She was going to plant tulips—red, yellow, pink, purple—in front of the porch itself, with a rose bush at either end. She had seen some particularly beautiful purple roses in one of the catalogs. She hoped to find a bush in the local nursery, but was not surprised to find they didn’t carry it. The woman at the sales counter offered to special order one, and Morgan jumped at the chance. It was going to be in too late for her to plant where she first wanted, but that was OK. She was sure she could find the perfect spot for it somewhere on her property.
Now she was on her knees in the dirt in front of her house. She had already planted the rose bushes—she had settled on the pink, which the sales girl told her stood for friendship—and dug up a strip of land about 2 feet wide that stretched from one end of the porch to the other. She was now working on making a small trench where she could drop the tulip bulbs. Morgan leaned back on her heels to examine the work she had already accomplished. She nodded in approval, drawing a hand across her forehead to wipe away the sweat, not at all concerned with the strip of brown-black dirt that she was sure now streaked her face.
It was hard work, but she knew it would be worth it in the end. When she was all finished, she knew this garden would be all she dreamed and more.
“See, Mommy? I told you I saw Gamma playing in the dirt!”
Morgan looked over her shoulder, watching as her 4-year-old grandson, Clayton, dragged his mother up the front path. She heard her daughter’s melodic laughter. “You were right, Clay,” Frankie said. “Gamma is definitely playing in the dirt.”
“Just planting a few flowers,” Morgan said. She drove the tip of her spade into the loosened soil, brushed the dirt from her hands onto her gardening jeans, and stood up. “I just wasn’t expecting company.”
“Sorry,” Frankie said. “I should have called first.”
“Like that has ever been necessary,” Morgan told her daughter. Clay wrapped his little arms around Morgan’s legs. The feeling brought a smile to her face. She ruffled the boy’s hair. “You have never needed an excuse to drop in.”
“I have one this time,” she said. She nodded toward her son. “A certain little guy was worried when he didn’t see you yesterday.”
“Are you and Gampa sick?” Clay asked loosening his hold on Morgan’s legs long enough to look up at her. “I didn’t see you at church, and you are only supposed to miss church if you are really, truly sick. Hospital sick.”
“I couldn’t convince him that if either of you was in the hospital, you would have called me,” Frankie said. “I promised we would come by after preschool, just so he could see that you are not sick. When we drove by the first time, he said he saw you digging.”
“You shouldn’t do that,” Clay said. “Digging is a dirty job, and boys should do all the dirty jobs.”
“That’s all right,” Morgan said. “Some girls like to do dirty jobs, too.”
“But you shouldn’t if you are sick,” the young boy said. “You should lay down with a blankie and a cartoon if you are sick.”
“Thanks for looking out for me, buddy,” Morgan told him. “I feel much better today, and I have too many things to do to just lie down. Besides, I don’t know if I have a warm blankie or a good cartoon around here.”
“Hmmm….” Clay cocked his head to one side. “I will have to give you one of my cartoon movies, but only to borrow. And maybe Mommy can make you a blankie like the one I have.”
“That is very kind of you,” Morgan said with a smile.
“It is called ‘sharing’,” Clay said. “My school teacher says we are all supposed to share. And you know what else? Jesus wants us to share, even things that are very special to us.”
“Yes he does,” Morgan said, struggling to keep her voice light and the smile on her face. She didn’t want to tell her four-year-old grandson that there are some things that are just too special to be shared. He wouldn’t likely understand.
“I’m so sorry about Friday night,” Frankie told her mother.
“Friday night?” Morgan stammered. She reached her hand out toward the porch, wanting to steady herself against the dizziness that had come over her. How did Frankie know about Friday night? Morgan knew she had not said anything. Saying the words out loud would make it all seem so real. She couldn’t face that yet. And Don…. Would he have told her? Unlikely.
So how could she possibly know?
“Yeah, Friday,” Frankie said. “You know, Dad’s birthday dinner. Guess I didn’t think you two would have such a good time together that you wouldn’t even notice we were not there. What did you do all alone?” She quickly raised her hand. “Wait. Never mind. On second thought, I don’t think I want to know what you two did all alone. There are just some things that a woman does not need to know about her parents.”
Frankie kept talking, but Morgan didn’t catch any more of it. Just thinking about Friday night had her in such a daze. She still couldn’t believe all that had happened, how just one little message could completely change her life. A part of her wondered if this was all just a bad joke.
But she knew it could be nothing but real. She had found far too much proof for this to just be a cruel joke.
“Mom?” Frankie said, reaching an arm out to her mother. She caught Morgan around the waist just before Morgan’s head starting spinning so much she thought she might fall over. “Mom, are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” Morgan said. “I just have not slept well this weekend. There is nothing to be concerned with.”
“You are pale,” Frankie said. “And you are breathing fast. This is more than nothing.”
“Like I said,” Morgan allowed her daughter to lead her toward a chair on the porch as she spoke, “I’m fine. If I can find a way to get more sleep, I will be just fine.”
“Sit,” Frankie told her. She pulled the wicker coffee table closer to her mother. “Put your feet up, Mom, and then tell me what is wrong. And don’t even think of saying nothing. I know you too well. Is it your heart?”
“My heart?” Morgan leaned back in her rocking chair, propped her feet up as she had been told, and thought for a moment. “Yeah, I guess you could say it is my heart.”
“Mom!” Frankie scolded. “You know you are supposed to be careful about that.”
“Hey, I have been careful,” Morgan said. “This was not something that I saw coming.”
“You should not be out here digging in the dirt like that with your heart problems. Have you been taking your meds? Should I take you to see your doctor? Do you want me to call Dad?”
“Yes. No. And he is not likely to care.”
“How can you say that? I mean, I know Dad is not always the most emotional person in the world, but of course he cares about you.”
Morgan sighed. She was not sure she really wanted to tell her daughter what was going on. The last thing she needed was for Frankie to think she was expected to choose sides in this fight. At the same time, she knew that this was not a secret that could be kept forever. And it would probably be easier for Frankie to hear it from one of her parents. Morgan knew she would have wanted to hear news like this directly from her mother or father and not from some neighborhood gossip.
“Things are…complicated,” Morgan said.
“Life normally is,” Frankie said. “But if there is a problem with your heart, you need to have it checked out. And Dad should be here with you.”
“Your dad should be a lot of things that he is not,” Morgan snapped. “Honey, there is nothing the doctors can do for a broken heart. Your dad is gone, Frankie. He is not going to come home, no matter what happens.”
“What do you mean he is gone?”
Morgan looked over her daughter’s shoulder. Clay was having a good time in the side yard, climbing on the large plastic pirate ship his grandparents had put up for his fourth birthday. Don had been against the idea, thinking it was far too much money to spend on one child. It was one of the few times in their married life that Morgan had insisted on spending money a certain way and gotten what she wanted. “Will he be OK on his own if we go inside?” When Frankie nodded, Morgan stood and led her daughter into the house. They sat at the dining room table, near the large picture window so they had a perfect view of where Clay was playing.
“Mom,” Frankie said as soon as they were both sitting, “what is going on?”
“There is no easy way to tell you this,” Morgan said slowly. She reached for a file folder that was sitting underneath the floral centerpiece on the table. “Your dad left me Friday night.”
“What?” The disbelief in her voice was reflected on her face. “You mean he left for a business trip, right?”
Morgan shook her head. “I mean he left me.” She opened the file folder and pulled out a piece of yellow legal paper. “After I finished my volunteer shift at the hospital, I stopped to pick up dinner for your dad. You had already called and said you, Richie, and Clay wouldn’t be able to make it, so I thought I would get his favorite Chinese meal. I got home, set the food on the table, and went to get plates from the kitchen. That is when I saw the message light blinking on the answering machine.” She slid the paper across the table to her daughter. “I wrote it all down here to give to my lawyer. If you really want to hear it, I do have it saved.”
Frankie hesitated to take the paper. She acted like she was afraid it might bite her. Morgan couldn’t blame her for being scared. The words were likely to feel worse than a bite would. The pain would cut that deep.
As Frankie read that paper, Morgan had a feeling she was seeing her own expressions mirrored on her daughter’s face. She watched the color drain from the younger woman’s features. Her eyes changed from looking confused to looking angry to looking sad. Morgan knew all those feelings well. As the expressions changed, she was sure she knew exactly which part of the note Frankie was reading. Morgan had listened to the message and read and reread the written note so many times that she had basically memorized every word of it.
“Morgan, I thought you would be home by now. I really need to talk to you, but my plane leaves soon. I don’t know when I might be able to call again. Julie and I are headed…well, it doesn’t really matter where we are headed or how long we are going to be gone. The point is that we are together. Together and in love, Morgan. When I get back, I will be staying at Julie’s place. You don’t have to move out of the house or anything. It is paid for and, well, you need a place to live. This is not your fault, Morgan. Things changed once Frankie and Wyatt moved out. You can’t tell me you didn’t notice it. The love is gone. I just can’t fake it anymore. OK, they are boarding my plane now. I will get in touch when we are back in town. Take care.”
Frankie looked up at her mother. “This can’t be for real,” she said. Looking at her mother’s sad expression, Frankie knew it had to be real. “Julie? As in, his secretary Julie? The one that is only a few years older than I am?”
Morgan nodded slightly. “The one that he hired a few years back and then helped through a bitter divorce because he thought she needed to know that some men can be trusted? Yeah, the same one.”
“Oh, Mom.” Frankie walked over to Morgan and gave her a hug. “Why did you wait to tell me? You should have called me right away.”
“Oh,” Morgan said, waving a hand in front of her face. “Not like you could have done anything. Besides, you were with your family.”
“You are my family,” Frankie said.
“But you needed to be with Richie and Clay,” Morgan said. “If it had not been important for you to spend time with them, you wouldn’t have cancelled on the birthday dinner. Which, I guess, is a good thing you cancelled.”
“You know I would have been right here if you had just said you needed me.”
“That is exactly why I didn’t tell you,” Morgan said. “There was no reason to upset you. I mean, your dad and Julie were already gone. No one could change anything.”
“But you didn’t need to be all alone,” Frankie said.
Morgan patted her daughter’s hand. “I appreciate the concern, Frankie, but alone is exactly what I needed to be for a while. I baked some cinnamon rolls and went to the Bible study Saturday morning. We missed you, by the way. But I couldn’t handle all of the questions about where your dad was, so I decided to skip church yesterday. Then I went shopping this morning.”
“And did some gardening,” Frankie said. “I should have figured something was up when I saw you out there planting flowers. Dad has never let you plant anything before.”
“I have always had that vegetable garden out back.”
“You and I both know that is not good enough,” Frankie said. “It has not been enough to make you happy.”
“Honey, nothing has really made me happy for a long time,” Morgan said. She slipped the note back into her file folder. “I should have seen this coming. It has been rough around here since Wyatt moved out last fall. It is almost like I have been living with a complete stranger. Your dad and I…we have almost nothing in common. Sometimes I think it was just our kids and then our grandson that kept us together all these years.”
“Has your marriage really been that bad?”
“Not always,” Morgan admitted. “We have had our good moments. In the early days, I was never happier. Staying home with you and then your brother, waiting until your dad got out of work to share all the little things you had learned that day…those are some of my best memories, Frankie. But lately, things have been so different. He has been going on more business trips and staying late at the office much more often in the last few months. Even when he is home, we barely talk.”
“Business trips and late nights? Mom, you actually believed that is what was going on?”
“Of course,” Morgan said. “Even when you thought differently, I had no reason not to believe him. We just had our 28th anniversary. In all that time, he has never so much drooled over an attractive actress or a good looking woman he passed on the street. And he has lead the men’s ministry at church for more than ten years. Why would I have ever thought he would have an affair?”
She looked at her daughter, whose face was frozen in an expression that was a mix of annoyance and disgust. “I know, I know,” Morgan said. She flipped open the file folder again. “After I got home from the Bible study on Saturday, I looked for any clues that this was coming.”
“Did you find any?”
Morgan looked down at the papers in her folder, hesitating with her answer. She had found more than just clues. In the bank statements and credit card reports from the past six months, she had found proof that this affair was going on. Don had paid for hotels that should have been paid for by the company, if he really was on a business trip. He had also paid for dinners out, tickets to plays and concerts, and transportation. When she matched up the dates on the statements with the wall calendar where Don marked his business trips, she saw that he was spending money in cities he had not been scheduled to visit. Morgan also found charges at women’s clothing stores, jewelry stores, and florists. Don had been buying gifts for someone, and they sure had not been given to his wife.
Only she didn’t know if she should be admitting any of this to Frankie. Don had ruined their marriage. But was it fair for Morgan to ruin his relationship with his daughter?
“You did.” Frankie snatched the file folder from her mother’s hands before Morgan could protest. She quickly scanned the bank statements and the notes she saw that Morgan had made about them. “That lying, cheating, back-stabbing—“
“That lying, cheating back-stabber is still your father,” Morgan said firmly. “This is why I didn’t tell you anything sooner. I didn’t want him to think I was trying to turn you against him or anything.”
“If he didn’t want me to hate him,” Frankie said, “he should have kept his pants on. I can’t believe this!” She looked again at the credit card statement in her hand. “I would have cancelled his credit cards.”
Morgan grinned. “Ah, I guess maybe we are more alike than I thought. This morning, I called and cancelled every card that I don’t have a copy of. Reported them stolen, and then went out shopping with the others. Not exactly what Jesus would do, but it sure did feel good.”
“Like Dad is acting Christ-like at the moment,” Frankie said.
Morgan couldn’t argue with that. At the same time, she couldn’t ignore the phrase that was repeating in her head, one she had told her children more than once through the years.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Dear Lord, she silently prayed. Help me through this. Help this family through this. Please don’t make us all pay for Don’s bad choices.