The Sidelined Wife(4)

By: Jennifer Peel

Avery, James’s wife—and one of my dearest friends, coworker, etc.—was in the kitchen with Ma putting the final touches on a variety of grilled meat with enough sides to fill a restaurant buffet. In between that they were smacking away the hands of the hungry teenage boys who were trying their best to get a taste before the food made it to the table. In the nearby family room, Dad and James were standing up watching the game; they must be the ones manning the grill, or semi-manning. Peter sat on the loveseat with Delanie, his wife, who couldn’t have cared less about the game. But she cared about Peter; it was apparent from her gaze. They had an interesting love story, but I couldn’t think about it at the moment. My heart couldn’t stand the reminder. Tiny, feisty Mimsy sat on the recliner with her Cubs cap on her silver head of hair, cheering as loud as the men.

Ma spun around in her 1950’s apron. “Oh, good, you brought the pie.”

“I’m going to put it in the fridge.”

She nodded, but before I could make it to the fridge, Ma patted my cheeks with her wet hands. “Smile, beautiful girl.”

Smile? What was that? And at almost forty, girl was stretching it.

I mustered up a fake, close-lipped smile for the woman who gave me life.

She squinted her pale blue eyes, multiplying the wrinkles on her forehead. She still wore her long, gray hair pulled back in a ponytail most days. Her willowy figure was softer now, but I still saw the beautiful woman that raised us and did her best to keep us in line.

She patted my cheeks one more time for good measure. “You’ll get there.”

I let the cold of the refrigerator ward off any tears when I placed my pie on the middle shelf near what I assumed was the dessert Delanie brought. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Maybe a cobbler or crisp? It was hard to tell, and it may have been burnt. Delanie was challenged when it came to baking or cooking of any sort. Peter would be kind and eat most of what she brought and do his best to pretend it was the best thing he had ever eaten. Avery and I would each have some to be supportive because we knew Ma didn’t like her and we knew Delanie knew. But it wouldn’t be pleasant. That’s why I made an extra pie and kept it at home. Hopefully I would get some before Cody found it.

Avery was next. She got her hugs in while she stirred the Decker secret sauce that drenched any kind of meat we ever had. It was a barbecue sauce with a shot or two of whiskey, depending on the mood of the cook. It was a good thing it wasn’t me today, or none of us would have been legally able to drive home. Avery looked at home in the kitchen, but didn’t look like she ever ate a thing. Probably because she and my brother were that weird couple that thought running marathons was fun. And even though Avery was two years older than me, her blond hair and petite figure made me envious.

Then Peter went off and married Delanie, a red-headed, model-looking creature who was way younger than me. So not only was I now divorced, I also felt like the plain-Jane of the family. Divorce had a way of sucking the self-esteem right out of you. Did I mention my ex left me for a twenty-five-year-old? She was gorgeous too. I mean in the fake boobs, I-starve-myself sort of way, but I would be lying if I said she was ugly. She barely even showed that she was six months pregnant. Or was it seven? Regardless, I hated her.

Dad saved me from my complete self-loathing meltdown. He brought in some more grilled meat from the patio and finally noticed I was there. As soon as he set the platter on the counter he wrapped me up in his big, strong arms, made from working daily at Decker and Sons Landscaping. He wasn’t only the owner and boss, he showed everyone how it was done and wasn’t afraid to put in twelve-hour days. His beer belly said otherwise, but he was the hardest worker I’d ever known.

“Sammie.” Dad squeezed the air out of me. He was the only person to call me Sammie, probably the only person I would allow. “How’s my baby girl?”

I leaned into his shoulder and took a moment to answer. I wasn’t sure how I was anymore. I think I was over the shell shock and denial stage. I’d probably moved into the I-hate-almost-everyone-and-everything phase, but I wasn’t sure how to articulate that, so I went with, “Fine.”

He kissed the top of my head. “Liar.”

Before I could respond, Ma shooed him out of the newly updated kitchen with the stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops she’d been longing for. She didn’t like her territory invaded by him. And you didn’t mess with her when food was involved. It was probably one of the reasons Delanie stayed near Peter. Someday I hoped she would find comfort in our family, that Ma would realize Delanie was Peter’s choice. Like I said, no time to think about the lovebirds today.