Andi read the small cramped handwriting on the back of the postcard, again. Aunt Greta, her husband's aunt, was coming to visit from San Francisco.
I have made arrangements to come next week as I mentioned in your last phone call. I should arrive at station 14A on Tuesday, the 12th at 10:00 a.m., if the train is running on time. I'll be bringing Snowball, and staying through the weekend.
See you then.
She sat at the kitchen table, why in the world does she have to visit again? She thought to herself. The wicked bat of the West, that's what Rob's mom called her. And they were sisters! Aunt G. and her lovely dog Snowball, the amazingly old, astoundingly territorial, black teacup poodle. To hear, yet again, the story of how she had been told it would turn white when it grew up. To hear again how nothing was quite up to par for her tastes: the tea too dark; the water too hot; the neighbors too loud; the guest bed too soft-or hard-it depended on her mood--Andi had heard it both ways, in the same visit; to sit mutely and listen to all the negativity, all the complaints, all the verbal garbage might just be too much this time.
It had been nearly a year since Aunt Greta's last visit. Or what Rob had promised would be her last visit. That time her "great big Lab" Abbott was a six month old pup. What would she have to say about him this time? What would she have to say about me, Andi thought to herself. I wonder when Rob spoke to her last? Did she invite herself? Certainly Rob wouldn't have invited her, not after all the trouble they'd been through with Greta before, the problems they've had themselves in the last few months. Surely he wouldn't have invited her . . .
Andi sat at the kitchen table, her mind wander over the past seven years. The first years had been a time of adjustment and frustration. Rob had the huge task of staunching the financial hemorrhaging at Russel Memorial, they became acquainted with neighbors and made new friends, and Andi couldn't find a job anywhere; her guaranteed employment at a local nursing home fell through and there were no openings within 50 miles of Russel. Unwilling to resign herself to a long commute, she and Rob began trying to get pregnant. But the much longed-for child never came and there was no explanation from her doctor. Time was all they needed, and they thought they had all the time in the world. That had been five years ago. Still no baby, no explanation. Rob became more withdrawn, more insecure. He was sure it was his fault even though the doctors had assured them that both were physically able. His work seemed to always be a source of anxiety. He would worry and complain at every opportunity. Andi's suggestions of a vacation or even a change in employment fell on deaf ears. How many times she had heard "I can't be gone for two weeks! The administrator would have my head." And a three day weekend would have to do. "We can't move; we have the house; we have our friends." Or " I couldn't start all over again at the bottom of the ladder." And the excuses continued until she fell silent at his complaints, knowing any advice would be ignored. "Maybe I have been silent for too long" she thought to herself.
The phone shrilled, breaking the afternoon silence.
-Andi, it's Carol
Carol, the one real friend that Andi had made in Russel; the one person that had supported her through the disappointments and trials life had thrown at her; the sister she'd never had.
-Hey, what's going on?
-I have a job for you. This is an incredible opportunity. Barb Eades, the campus RN, just put her resignation in today effective immediately. Isn't that great?
-Really? Where is she going? Andi's mind began to leap at the possibilities this position could grant her.
-I don't know, Oregon, Washington something out west. But what do you think? Doesn't it sound like a great opportunity?
-It does actually. I'll have to talk it over with Rob though.
-If you want this Andi, don't let him ruin this for you. Carol knew the deep unhappiness Andi lived with due to Rob's lack of confidence and need to control, even if Andi couldn't articulate her feelings.
-I know Carol. I know. Listen, I have an appointment I need to get to. Can you meet me for coffee?
-Sure, today's my free day. Where to?
-How about The Mad Cow? .
-Sure, see you then.
Andi hung up the phone. The day had just made a very interesting turn. Now she had to go talk to her husband.
+ + +
Andi had been waiting only a few minutes when Carol breezed through the coffeehouse door. "I brought an application, just in case." Carol said as the two women hugged.
"Really. What makes you think I'll apply?"
"I just think it is a great opportunity and you would be really good in it." She turned to the barista at the counter, "Mocha Latte, skinny, no foam, and whatever my friend wants."
"I'm just going to have a green tea."
"That all for you ladies; no biscotti, maybe a muffin?"
The women declined the sweets, gathered their drinks and sat at a corner table.
"Thanks, Carol for the tea and the information on the job."
"Sure, you know I'm always on the look for a position for you. You're much too talented and dedicated to not be employed." She took a sip of the scalding cup before her. "What's going on? You look like you're ready to cry or throw up or something."
Andi fiddled with her cup, eyes downcast. "That's a pretty accurate statement. I just left Rob's office." She sipped her tea. "Aunt Greta is coming next week and . . . "
"What?" Carol shrieked.
"Carol . . . " Andi took a ragged breath. "Rob invited her."
Carol slowly put down her cup. "What do you mean, he invited her?" Her voice turned icy. "After the way that woman treated you the last time she was here, and how she treats you every time she visits, he asked her to come?"
"Yep. Her and her dog. The postcard confirming her arrival came this morning."
"I take it he didn't say anything to you? How could he do that?"
"Well, I asked him the same thing. He just said that it had been a year since she'd been out to see us and he thought since she's been out every year that she should come again."
"What about her treatment of you? Didn't he have anything to say about that?"
"I mentioned that I wasn't going to put up with her screaming fits again. He said I was overreacting."
"Overreacting? About what? The way she demeans you? The way she moves in for a week, stays for three, and criticizes everything you do? Not to mention that she never helps fix even one meal, or do her own laundry? She treats you like she's the lady of the manor and you're a chambermaid!" Carol swallowed a drink of coffee and proposefully lowered her voice. "This is ridiculous! I remember like it was yesterday the way she carried on last year when you had Jim and me over for dinner. Her behavior was appalling. I wouldn't have taken her crap from a two-year-old. And he thinks you're overreacting. Absolutely amazing . . ."
Neither woman spoke for a moment. Andi sat her cup down. "Yes it is. And I don't know what I am going to do."
Andi stirred the dark, fragrant tea before her, silent at what her friend was suggesting.
"Andi, you are the best friend I have ever had. You and I have been very honest about everything in our lives since we met. You are too wonderful a person to be stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship."
"I wouldn't say . . ."
"I know you wouldn't say, but I will. A husband doesn't make decisions without letting his wife know what he's thinking, and allowing her input on the matter; he doesn't give his wife the silent treatment because she didn't pick up the dry-cleaning, or when the toast is burned, or the paper is wet from the rain." Carol pulled a tissue out of her purse, seeing the tears pool in Andi's eyes. "He doesn't treat you right. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. You deserve better than what you've gotten for a long time."
Andi dabbed at her eyes. "Part of me knows that you're right. But just because he's insensitive doesn't mean I have any right to leave."
"Insensitive?" Carol couldn't keep the astonishment out of her voice. "I think it is a little more than insensitivity. He treats you like a verbal trashcan, just like dear Aunt Greta. I've seen him do it."
"Carol, would you please control your voice. I really can't handle these people staring right now."
" Of course. I'm sorry. But Andi, if he were physically abusing you, would you stay?"
"Of course not! But he isn't abusing me. He's just allowing his insecurities to control him. It's just how he is."
"I don't care if it is just the way he is. His attitude and treatment of you is not right." Carol studied Andi's face and decided to change the subject. "What did Rob say about the job?"
"He wasn't very happy about it."
"He said he makes plenty of money and I didn't need to work. And what if I had a baby, what would we do then? And he just didn't see any reason for me to apply." Andi's voice was thick with sadness.
Carol covered Andi's hand with her own, "Sweetie, what do you want to do?"
"I don't want to entertain Greta, that's for sure!" She sipped her tea. "And I am really sick of staying home by myself to keep Rob happy." She grinned wryly. "There is no keeping him happy is there?"
"No. I don't think you can keep him happy if he isn't happy anyway. You can't make people anything, they have to be happy or not. It's their choice." She drained her cup. "You may not believe you have a right to leave, but you do have a right to be happy even if Rob isn't."
Andi fingered her empty cup.
"This isn't rocket science, Andi. You know you are always welcome at my house if you need a few days away."
"I know, and I appreciate the offer." She looked at the employment application on the table. Fingering it, she asked, "When do they want this in?"
"They need to fill the position as soon as possible since the term is already under way. If I was applying, I'd turn it in by Thursday, Friday noon at the latest. And just so you know, they are very desperate to get it filled."
Andi studied the paper. "I guess I'll take this and see what happens. It's been a long time since my last job. Maybe the college needs someone who has been involved with nursing more recently."
"I don't know; all you can do is try." Carefully Carol said, "You do deserve the best life has for you, you know?" Andi dabbed at her eyes again. "Andi, I love you like a sister. And I have stood by and watched you change from a secure, vibrant woman with great ambition into a shell of a person. You have to do what's right for you. Rob sure isn't going to take care of you, not the way you deserve. It's like his life, and all his anxieties and insecurities have swallowed you. You have a chance to live your life for you. Promise me you'll think about applying?"
Andi nodded her head ever so slightly. "Why am I so scared about this?"
"Because you have lived the past seven years for someone else. Change can be really scary. Listen, you do what you have to do. You know I'll always stand with you."
"Thanks Carol. I don't know how I'd get through some days with out you, I really mean that."
"Oh, believe me, you'd get through. And don't forget, I've leaned on you over the years too."
Both women stood up to leave. Andi carefully folded the application into thirds and slid it into her bag. "Well, I'll let you know what I decide. Rob's working late so I'll have some time to think this through."
"Maybe think less and do more. Don't over-analyze this. It's just a job." Carol smiled broadly, attempting to lift the cloud from her friend's face.
Andi smiled back, a tiny hard shadow of a smile "We both know this is so much more than just a job."
+ + +
Andi pushed the door open and pulled her cell phone from her bag. Dialing Carol's number, she pushed her hair back from her face. Ahg, voice mail! "Hey Carol, just wanted to let you know, I turned the application in. Talk to you later." What is Rob going to say? She thought to herself. I guess I'll find out soon enough.
+ + +
"You did what?" Rob asked, his face turning red.
"I applied for the position I told you about, the one at the college." Andi eased her chair away from the table.
" I thought we had settled the matter. I don't want you working!"
Andi stood carefully, carrying her plate to the sink. "And I said I really need something to do besides hang around the house." She faced him again. "I can't just sit around wasting my life."
He sprang from his chair, "wasting your life? Is that how you see us? A waste?" His long legs closed the gap between them. "Is that how you really see us?"
"Rob, you're taking this the wrong way." She said, backing away from him. She had never seen him this angry.
"And just how am I supposed to take it when you say that you're wasting your life?" His fists clenched at his sides.
"This is just something for me to do, something to fill my time. Don't go making a federal case out of it." She managed to keep her voice light, trying to ease the tension.
"I need you here. Who's going to take care of the house and yard if you're off working? And what about the baby? Or have you forgotten about having children?"
"I haven't forgotten Rob, but let's be realistic, we've been trying for years and nothing has happened. We aren't going to have a baby."
"And I suppose you blame me for that?" he was yelling now, Andi backed into the corner of the kitchen.
"No, I don't blame you for anything. Rob, you're really scaring me. Can't we talk about this like normal people? Why are you so angry about me getting a job? What's this really about?"
The blow caught her suddenly, unexpectedly, across the cheek, sending her reeling. Her hand gingerly touched her face. Eyes wide, tears rolled down her face.
"Oh, Andi, I'm so sorry. I . . . I don't know what came over me." Rob reached for her.
"Don't you dare touch me." Her voice low and hard. "Don't ever touch me again."
"Honey, I said I was sorry. I "
"I don't care how sorry you say you are. You had no right to do this." She moved to pass him, "I'm going to pack a few things and
"Please don't go; it won't happen again." Anguish in his voice, he pleaded with her. "I'm just really stressed with work and everything." He reached out and grabbed her arm.
"I'm not going to listen to whatever excuse you make up right now." Taking his hand off of her arm, she drew a ragged breath. "Just don't ever touch me again." She stepped around him, "I won't leave tonight, okay. But I'm not making any promises for the future. For now, you're welcome to take the guest room." And she ran up the stairs.
Turning the lock on the bedroom door, she examined her face in the dresser mirror. Her cheek was beginning to swell. There would be a bruise tomorrow.
+ + +
"What happened to you?" Carol cried before she even got her door fully open.
"He hit me." Andi dropped her overnight bag in the foyer. "He hit me last night after dinner and I've been offered the job at the college and I need a place to stay for a few days."
"Of course, absolutely," Carol stammered. "You can stay as long as you like. But what exactly happened? Rob's never been physically violent before has he?"
"No. I'll put up with a lot but this is way over the top, even for me." She sat at the kitchen table as Carol pulled mugs out of the cupboard. "I told him about applying for the job and he just lost it. Started screaming about how he didn't want me working and just absolutely lost it."
"So they offered and you accepted the job this morning. That was quick. What did he have to say about it?"
"I haven't seen him since last night. He left early for work. The HR person from State called this morning, while I was packing actually. I told her I could start Monday. She said great and that was it."
"So now what? I mean if Rob would haul off and hit you for applying for a job, what's he going to do now that you have a job."
"It doesn't matter what he thinks. This" she gestured to her face, "changes everything. There's no way I can stay with him."
"You really mean that don't you." Carol was surprised; she never thought Andi would leave even years ago when it was obvious that the marriage was a train wreck.
"Of course I mean it. There's no way I could ever stay with someone who would strike out like Rob did. This isn't the Dark Ages." Andi's voice began to rise.
"No, it's just that, I . . ."
"I know, you thought I'd never get the guts to do something I should have done a long time ago. I guess it just takes a lot for me to give up," Andi shrugged, "or just to see things as they really are." She sipped her coffee. "Now I just need to find a place to live, call an attorney, and get on with my life."
"Well, the paper is in the living room, and you are in the basement on the pullout." She rose from her chair, "Do you need to bring Abbott? He could stay in the backyard."
"I was hoping he'd be welcome here. I think that dog has saved my sanity lately."
"And what about money? You can't get a place without cash? I can float you a loan if you need some to get you by."
"No, for cash I'm okay. My grandma told me when I was 14 or so that a woman should always have some rainy day money. I took that to heart all those years ago and stashed quite a tidy sum away even while I was in college. I even saved all the money I got when grandma passed away. Rob said he didn't want to be a mooch."
"Gee, what a prince." Carol's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Well, prince or not, at least I'm not destitute." Andi stood up and set her mug in the sink, ignoring the sarcasm. "I'm going to get Abbott over here and then start house hunting. You are going to go to work and not worry about me, okay?"
"Okay." She hugged Andi. "I just want you to know that I am going to support you through this and I am really proud of you." She pulled her jacket on. "And here is a key for the doors." She rummaged in a drawer, "it works on both front and back, so use whatever is easiest." She placed it in Andi's outstretched hand. "And I'm off and will see you this evening."
+ + +
Over the weekend Andi rented the lower floor of a duplex, glad that the landlord allowed pets, and that it was furnished. Carol tried to convince her to take some of her things from Rob's house but Andi felt that it would be better to wait until she talked to an attorney. She and Rob had met at The Mad Cow to talk about the "temporary situation" as he called it. She asked to pick up her computer, her clothes and some family items that her mother had given her. "Now there's no real reason to go to all this" Rob had said. "You'll be back in a few days, and you know it."
"No Rob, I won't. I will not live with someone who uses physical violence to get his own way."
"But, I said I am sorry . . ."
"I am not going to listen to you apologize anymore. I'll be over in two hours to pick up my stuff." She stood and put on her coat.
Later that day, she and Carol and Jim drove to the little white house on Cranberry and retrieved Andi's possessions. She wrote a brief note, leaving it on the kitchen table.
I will have my attorney call you to set up an appointment when we can decide what to do about the house and the rest of our stuff. Don't forget that your aunt is coming Tuesday.
She left her key on the note, and made sure the doors were locked when they carried the last boxes to Jim's truck. She couldn't help but feel an immense sense of relief and said to herself, "I am finally free."
+ + +
It was Tuesday noon before Rob remembered Aunt Greta, waiting, for two hours, at the train station.