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Excerpt



Chapter One

     Later I would wonder—a thousand times wonder! how he had been so successful at hiding his secret life; but only after my pitiful spine-wracking sobs disrupted Reverend Goodell's gloomy eulogy, after solemn sympathy cards with flowers or angels or praying hands began collecting dust in a basket in my foyer, and exactly two months after his death, when I sat in the lawyer's office and learned that my husband William had another wife.
     The lawyer, Stanley Block, had grown up with William. Despite a hundred dinner parties at our house or at the ostentatious condo he shared with his wife Jeannette, I never liked him, thought he was rude, unfunny, and arrogant. For a couple of seconds I waited for him to glance at some paperwork, then say, Oh, Claire, I'm sorry, that wasn't William, that was someone else! When that didn't happen—when he continued to regard me with reluctant compassion, his first loyalties being toward my husband, of course—I asked if he was sure. He nodded. He was sure.
     I considered becoming hysterical, but just didn't have the energy. Shock and grief, an unrelenting stomach ache, weeks of insomnia, and now this. "It's not possible," I said. "I would have known."
      "It gets worse, Claire." Stanley took a breath, and with shoulders sagging, let it out. "They have a son."
     My mind started to buzz in a muffled way, like a bee under glass. "No. He was home every night. He got up and went to work every morning."
      "That's the other bad news, and it's really bad. William got fired in April."
      "He did not! He went to work every single morning!"
      "He pretended to go to work. But he wasn't. He was babysitting."
      "What are you talking about? Stop this!" But panic rose in me as one by one I recalled afternoons when I couldn't reach him on his cell phone... an occasional Saturday that he needed to spend at the office... Mother's day he couldn't come to my parents' house because he had to work. Inconsequential events now flapping in my face like a banner: Your Husband is Having An Affair!
      "He used the money he got when his father died for a down payment on a house for her, but had trouble meeting two mortgages, so he overcharged some clients. I don't know what the hell he was thinking. He claimed it was a mistake."
      "He bought her a house?"
     Stanley nodded.
     I felt my hands clench. "Who is she? How long were they together? How old is their son?"
      "Claire, don't do this to yourself, don't try to get details about them. It will just make it harder for you."
      "What do you mean? You can't expect me not to ask questions!" I felt a mad impulse to hit him, his corporate golf game-weathered skin would pinken and sting from my ferocious slap. "I want to know who she is!"
      "But knowing won't change anything. The more you know, the more real they'll be, and the more it'll hurt. Let's just stay focused on what you need to do to get through this."
      "Tell me who she is!"
      "No, Claire, I'm sorry. I promised William I wouldn't."
      "So why tell me about her at all?"
      "Because when William lost his job, he took out a second mortgage on your house, and then a third. Now the payments are sky high and there's no equity."
      "What are you saying? That I might lose the house?"
      "The house is gone."
      "I'm going to fight it! Their marriage obviously wasn't legal. He was married to me first, right?"
      "Of course."
      "Then why did you say she was his wife too? Did they have a ceremony?"
      "Claire."
      "Did they?"
      "A small one."
      "Didn't she know he was already married?"
      "Yes. But when she got pregnant, she asked him to pretend to marry her because of her parents. Nothing about it was legal, it was just for show. So they got someone to act as a justice of the peace, and they exchanged vows and rings."
      "Well I'm not going to give up my home!"
      "There's no way you can keep it. Unless you have an account he didn't know about?"
     I lowered my head, humiliated; a dim-witted housewife with no money of my own, always asking William for what I needed. No better than this other woman whose bills he was paying. But at least she had a job. And had given him a son. What had I been doing for the past seventeen years? I couldn't come up with a single productive act that had offered any tangible contribution to my marriage. He was several years older than me and already established at Johnson & Stone, so I couldn't even take credit for supporting him while he struggled. I'd done nothing. No wonder he needed a second wife; his first one was a big disappointment.


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