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SECOND

CHANCES



SYLVIE TOROK-NAGY

2017



Copywrite © 2017 Sylvie Torok-Nagy


All rights reserved. No part of this book or ebook may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, with the exception of brief passages used by reviewers.


This is a work of fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


ISBN: Paperback: 978-1-9994959-0-9

ISBN: Ebook: 978-1-9994959-1-6



Do you ever wish you

had a second chance to meet

someone for the first time?




To the Love of my Life,

“No measure of time with you will be long enough. But let’s start with forever.”

  • Edward Cullen (Stephenie Meyer)




CHAPTER ONE



Ava Munroe was enjoying the early stages of a party that would eventually get out of hand; when he came sauntering in with his crew acting like he was the glorious host. He spotted her and came over with his cock-sure grin firmly in place.

She knew him by sight and by reputation, of course, every woman on campus did. He was charming, smart, very good-looking, and sophisticated. He also had a way of hitting on every woman he saw; even the unattractive ones; that made them all want him everywhere he went. He wanted every woman to have eyes for him, even if he didn’t have eyes for them. He came to Colorado U to play with the girls and the slopes and took very little else seriously.

“Hello there, gorgeous! Where have you been all my life?” His golden brown eyes were shining at her with apparent happiness.

“Are you referring to me?” She asked him taken aback slightly.

“Of course! Can there possibly be anyone else? I’m …” He ran his hand through his long, sandy blond hair, flipping his head to get the locks out of his eyes.

“Oh, I know who you are.” Ava walked away from him hoping to lose him but he kept right on her trail.

“It seems my reputation precedes me. May I know what your name is?” He asked as he caught up to her and stroked his hand down the length of her arm. She considered slapping him, she considered not answering him, and she had even considered faking it.

“Ava,” she tersely answered him and tried to get away from him again, angry with herself for not being able to be mean.

“Why do I have to keep following you?” He asked in a playful voice after he caught up to her again, twirling her wild, red, curly hair in his fingers.

“Because you don’t seem to get the hint that I don’t want to talk to you.” Her green eyes flashed angrily as she pulled her hair out of his hand and walked away again. This time he didn’t follow her, which was just as well as his latest blond girlfriend arrived and demanded his undivided attention. ‘Poor girl,’ Ava thought as she found her jacket and headed for the door, ‘She has no idea who she’s gotten herself involved with.’

It had taken only a few days for Phillip Davis to find her and then doggedly pursue her every chance he could. He just couldn’t seem to fathom why any woman would say “No” to him. And say ‘No’ to him she did. Every. Single. Day. He had taken to talking to her friends to learn more about her, and arriving at the coffee shop where she worked, which she hated because she couldn’t leave. He sent her favourite flowers, a box of chocolates and had even sent her a package of new sculpting tools, she hated that she’d loved them; she knew she could never afford them herself.

He seemed to be ignoring women as he tried almost desperately to get her attention in return, but the more she refused him the more he pursued. If he saw her crossing the grounds when he was hanging out with his friends he came up with crazy stunts to get her to look over at him; one time climbing up onto the top of one of the security boxes randomly located throughout the campus, and pulling his pants down and dancing in the frigid temperatures.

One day while she was working in her studio he sat down next to her and waited silently. Ava had grown so used to this tactic from the coffee shop, that she ignored him until she felt ready to receive his onslaught.

She turned to him and asked, “What do you want now?”

“Aside from being the CEO of a very successful company? You.”

Sighing she asked, “Why?”

“I like your determination to avoid me, I like that you don’t fawn over me.”

“You like it when everyone fawns over you, you’re just shocked that I don’t and you want to know why and how I could possibly resist you.”

“Well, when you put it like that….” He answered chuckling lightly, showing his winning smile. “But seriously, I really do want to go out on a date with you. I’ve been learning so much about you from your friends that I admit to admiring you more and more.”

“That’s only because you’re still trying to save face, I’m the only one to turn you down so you have to pursue until I give in, then you can get on with your life.”

“Well, if that were true, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to go out with me?” Seeing that he had a good shot with this logic he began to gloat slightly.

“You may have a point, but I could think of a million things I’d rather do than spend an evening with you. So, I guess you’ll have to go on being tortured about the one that got away.” Ava left the studio and started to walk to her dorm when he caught up to her again.

Pulling gently on her arm to have her stop to face him, he said pleadingly, “Ava. Please? I do know how to be a gentleman; I do know how to behave myself. I would really like to take you out. Please?” Then she saw something in his eyes that she never saw before: the person inside hidden behind the swagger, a sincerity that touched her. She hesitated for a long moment while he looked at her expectantly.

“No bragging, no boasting. Complete silence?” She questioned sternly as she felt herself give in to more than just a date.

“Sure, I get it, you don’t want people to think you caved to the pressure.”

“No, I don’t want people knowing so I don’t become a target of the “another one bites the dust” campaign.”

“Oh, makes sense, I can do that.” Phillip shrugged his shoulders knowing that it wouldn’t matter anyway, he just knew.

“Alright then, Friday, 8pm, nowhere local.” Ava turned quickly and walked toward her dorm building hoping to be rid of him before she changed her mind.

“I know the perfect place. Ava?” He called to her, as she was about to continue into her dorm building.

“Yes?”

“Thanks, see you then.” He smiled at her with that sincerity again and she felt a tug in her chest that she couldn’t quite figure out.

She didn’t see him again for the rest of the week. He probably did his best to avoid her to keep her from cancelling their date. She spent the entire day that Friday trying to come up with valid reasons to do just that. She couldn’t understand why she had agreed to go in the first place. One of her friends, Veronica, came into the coffee shop that afternoon to get her to go out with their friends.

“Why do you keep saying you have plans tonight, and why don’t I what they are?” Veronica asked shrewdly.

“I don’t tell you everything, you know.”

“That’s not true. What are you up to?” She asked as she jumped up onto a stool.

“I have an awful date lined up and don’t want to share any more about it because I will not have a second one, so there is no story to tell.”

“There’s always a story to tell! I’m happy you’re dating! Who’s it with?”

Ava squinted her eyes at her friend, choosing to ignore her quest for a story. “Some guy that caught me at a weak moment, and I hope to get rid of him and his pestering.”

“Pestering? It wouldn’t be Phillip Davis would it?” She bubbled excitedly.

Ava evaded answering by continuing to do her job cleaning tables, wiping up spills.

“Oh my Goodness! It is! I knew it! He’s been sniffing around asking about you for weeks!”

“Don’t say a word to anyone about this. Ronnie, I beg you! I’m thinking of cancelling, but he’ll just want to reschedule it, so I’m probably just going to have to get it over with. Then hopefully I’ll never have to see him again. I wonder what I can do to get rid of him, any suggestions?”

“I would say act like a bitch, but it hasn’t stopped him yet, so do the opposite, act like a suffocating dingbat!”

“Oh come on! I would never pretend to actually like him that way!” Ava laughed.

Ava never had to pretend anything. She was the first to be surprised that she had actually liked him.


CHAPTER TWO



Ava Davis picked up the pen she had dropped onto the mahogany table that could have fit thirty people comfortably around it; and stared at the package of papers in front of her. It held her past, her present and her future. One document in triplicate, with little coloured flags sticking out every few pages. The flags that needed her signature were blue; his were already present and accounted for.

Ava couldn’t tell you why these flags were hard to look at, or why she had a hard time signing her name to them. She didn’t feel any love for him, hadn’t in a very long time, she wondered if she ever really had. But, it felt even harder to see his name already there. She never saw him sign; never saw him at any meetings with the lawyers. Maybe she had made it too easy for him to leave their life as though it never really mattered.

She remembered when he broke the news to her. She was in the kitchen with the cook finalizing the details for a cocktail party he insisted they hold that coming weekend. Everyone would be there. She had been looking forward to it being over for ages now. The hours of planning were excruciating, especially when Phillip decided when something just wasn’t perfect enough, and he always did at the eleventh hour. She looked at him entering the kitchen and knew there were going to be more changes that she couldn’t possibly deal with.

“I need to speak to you. Now.” Ordered Phillip coldly. That was his way; he never asked, offered or even waited patiently. He turned on his heel and moved into the living room with what Ava could only describe as a march, as she followed him, her shoulders tensing.

After many years of Phillip’s moods, she knew not to ask him what was wrong; instead she sat on the edge her floral wingback chair and waited. He tapped his fingernails on the marble mantel and took a few deep breaths. When she had counted to fifty he finally turned to her.

“I have cancelled the party.”

“I beg your pardon? It’s three days away, the cook and I have been going over the final details.”

“I don’t care about the cook, or your details. I have cancelled the party. That is my choice and I have made it. Everyone on the guest list has already been notified.”

“May I ask why? I thought it was very important for you.”

“I also don’t care about what you presumed was important to me. I am not interested in what you think; I don’t believe I ever have been. I am no longer in a position where I have to keep up the façade.” He paused and stared at her, there was no love or respect in those cold eyes. “I filed for divorce this afternoon. I will pack my things and have them moved to my penthouse. I’m selling the house. I’m not going to pay for you to stay here. You’ll need to find somewhere else to go. I’ll give you until the sale is finalized. I’ll have my secretary let you know when that will be. You will let the real estate agent have complete access to the house whenever he wants it. You will, of course, get suitable compensation for your years of service and I will finally be done with you.”

Ava felt as though she had been punched in the gut. This was the man she married? With a sigh she knew it was, deep down he really had been this cold.

“Years of service? Am I nothing more to you than hired help? I thought you didn’t want a divorce to tamper with your reputation. Have I not lived up to your expectations? Is there something more you need me to do? Surely, we can work this out. What about Aubrey? How is she going to feel about this? You wanted us to stay together to be a family?” Ava felt the pain of the last twenty years push down on her chest and felt it more and more difficult to breathe as panic and desperation started to set in with each question that escaped her lips.

“Pull yourself together.” Phillip said in a tone of disgust, as he passed her a tissue. “As for Aubrey, you can deal with that.” He spat the words at her.

Looking at the tissue in confusion, she took it, dabbed at her eyes and felt no tears to dab. It was just another moment in the charade, a script he had already put together in his mind. Ava took a deep breath trying to fight off the disappointment and panic, then stood up and walked to her room and locked the door.


***


Looking around at the lawyers present for this final meeting she realized that none of it had mattered. She questioned, pleaded and then begged him to change his mind whenever he came by the house to pack more of his things. It was one particular day that stood out for her that helped her change her perspective. Their daughter, Aubrey, was watching her crying and begging, Ava almost on her knees, with a look of revulsion on her young face.

What use was there in salvaging something that down to her core she knew was the wrong place for her to be. She never should have let him convince her that they were supposed to be together. But a fool’s hindsight is 20/20. And it took Aubrey’s reaction to remember that she used to be a person she respected, a person that had been loved once upon a time.

When her husband told her he filed for divorce, her whole world was tossed onto its ear. She knew he hadn’t loved her; she hadn’t loved him in a long time, if it could have been called love in the first place. She knew he was unfaithful, but she also knew that he had wanted a very specific image upheld, come hell or high water. And she knew what hell felt like when Phillip was in a fury.

He had wanted the perfect wife. The image of happiness, family, love. Everyone needed to envy him, and want to be him. He demanded she tow his party line, or else. She lived “or else” everyday of her life. Now, he’s filed for a divorce. He selling the house out from under them. He’s moving to San Francisco from Los Angeles, to the corporate head office. He was very close to the top chair that he had so desperately wanted for so many years. He wants to marry Margaret, another executive at work he’d been involved with for who knew how long.

How do you respond to that? ‘Okay, sweetie, No problem! You want someone else, you want our daughter and I to disappear. Sure, I’ll do that for you! Never mind the promise you made me. Never mind the life you said we would have. Never mind everything I gave up for you.’

She was hurt and angry and her daughter wasn’t the least bit surprised. Not that he ever showed either of them any kind of love. God, how sad is that! A child growing up knowing her father doesn’t really love her. ‘I wonder if he really knows how to love,’ Ava thought to herself, realizing again that he put on a great show, but didn’t truly feel any of it. ‘Oh, how blind I have been.’ Ava thought as she picked up the pen again.

She started signing at all the flags, wanting to get it over with and to get out of the oversized conference room that started to feel too small. What would she do now? Where was she to go? How was she going to provide a life for their daughter now? Technically, they were homeless. The sale of the house had gone through last week leaving her with two weeks to pack and move, and she hadn’t been able to find anything near enough to Aubrey’s school that she would be able to afford. She was looking at her options in Los Angeles and found that she didn’t have any. With an ache in her heart she realized she didn’t want options in Los Angeles. She wanted home.

She knew it had all been an elaborate charade. She had been the perfect housewife to the successful executive. Kept an elegantly decorated home, raised their daughter; whom went to the best schools; gave wonderful parties for all their friends and his colleagues, and joined all the wives in numerous charities. And she never felt truly happy.

The crux was it wasn’t enough for him. It never had been. He still wanted more. He always demanded more, even when there wasn’t more for her to give. He always lorded it over her head that he was giving her the opportunity of a lifetime and she should be grateful. And now, her friends counted at only three. They were her best friends from her childhood. She roomed with two of them at college. All the other so-called friends were Phillip’s friends and co-workers, or their wives, so they all left her when he did.

She tugged her pale blue tailored jacket to straighten it as she got up from the table, smoothed her elegant chestnut-coloured, French twist and hooked her matching clutch under her arm and left the office with as much dignity as she could muster.


CHAPTER THREE


She started driving around not really paying attention to where she was going, but not ready to go home to the huge mausoleum. She ended up at her favourite store that sold antique furniture, décor and jewellery. Looking down at her hands again she decided to go in to sell her rings. Not wanting to take them off her hand right in front of Karl, the shop owner, she put them into her coin purse before leaving her car. Taking in a deep breath she pushed open the door. When Karl raised his head and saw her he greeted her with a huge smile.

“Ava, Dahling!” he drawled in movie star fashion, sweeping his arms wide. “How have you bee-een? It’s been simply aaaa-ges!” He came around from behind the counter to grab her in a big hug.

“Oh, Karl! Are you going to do that every time I come in here?” Ava replied laughingly as she tugged his hairpiece back into place.

“Only if you’ve made my day by coming in,” he replied. “So, you’ve got something for me already?” He asked with surprise, his eyes bulging.

“Yes and No. It’s not what you’re waiting for I’m afraid to say. This damned divorce took more time and energy out of me than it ought to have. However, I have two rings that I’d like to see go for a good price. What can you do for me?” She pulled out the rings from her coin purse and placed them in Karl’s hand.

Pulling out a jeweller’s loupe from his pocket, he began to inspect the engagement ring and the wedding ring. “These are yours.” He stated lightly.

“Not anymore, so what do you think?” She jutted her chin bravely.

“This one’s 1 carat! Are you sure?” He asked as he looked back at her.

“I’ve no use for it, it doesn’t do me any good.”

“Alright, since I know someone who will buy this from me very quickly, I’ll give you a better price than I would normally.” He smiled at her.

“Thanks Karl. I appreciate it.” Ava squeezed his arm appreciatively.

While Karl busied himself with the paperwork needed to buy the rings from her she wandered the store looking for anything new that might catch her eye. She spent countless hours wandering this store and almost always found something she just had to have. Half an hour passed, when she hadn’t returned to the front, Karl went in search for her and found her in the back section that held his new and unprocessed stock. She was sitting on the dirty floor, holding onto a rough sculpture of a nude woman tightly, rocking back and forth, and crying.

“Ava! What’s wrong? Are you all right? Do you need an ambulance? Holy shit, Ava?” Karl’s arms were fluttering madly about him.

“No Karl! Thank you so much! I’m OK. R- Really. I-I need to explain. I came here, without even knowing where I was going, and once I saw y-your sign I knew I needed to come in. I always feel better after being here, you know? I felt the odd sensation that I needed to find something; you know that gut feeling of mine! I always find the jewels. Then I found this!” Ava babbled excitedly.

“That thing is why you’re crying?” He asked, clearly baffled. “I ended up with this because of a storage bin full of stuff that I bought at auction, you know like those shows on T.V.? I was starting to sort it all out and I was gonna toss that thing.”

“I am so glad you didn’t!” She answered chuckling lightly at the look on his face, “This is mine. I made this sculpture, just before I met my hus- my ex-husband, and he forced me to get rid of it, to quit. I sold this for a pittance, before I even finished it, to a little art gallery not far from here. I used to drive by to see it all the time until it closed down a year later. I thought it was destroyed. And now, just when I’m officially rid of him, this comes back into my life! It’s a sign, don’t you see? I’ve been desperately trying to figure out what my daughter and I will do now? We have two weeks left before we have to leave the house, with no idea where to go or what to do! This is my answer! I want this. Badly. How much?” Ava got up and held tight onto Karl’s arm with a desperate and feverish look on her face.

“Ava, Dah-ling, it’s yours. Take it. My gift to your new life. Maybe now you won’t need to hide it anymore.” He patted her cheek with his free hand.

Ava threw her arms around him and continued to cry. She eventually made her way to the front desk to sign for the sale of her rings. With her sculpture in the back seat and a check in her purse she drove away the happiest she’d been in far too long.


***


Ava entered the front hall hours later, with a handful of bags from an art store. As she was putting them down she saw movement in the corner of her eye in the family room. She screamed as she looked up and saw the back of a man she didn’t recognise at first.

“Jesus, Ava! You scared the shit out of me!” Phillip scolded as he turned toward her.

“What the hell are you doing in here? We are now officially divorced, you can’t just come in here whenever you want.” Ava marched over to him, raising her voice.

“I am collecting a few more of my things, and I still own this house and can come whenever I please. You, on the other hand, are the one trespassing, as your name is not on the deeds. So, do you have a problem you need me to solve for you?” Phillip said shrewdly.

“No, no, no, you scared me, that’s all. Sorry, Phillip.” Ava dropped her voice to barely a whisper. “Do you want a cup of coffee? Aubrey will be home soon and she’d be happy to see you. She’s been trying to get a hold of you, you know, leaving you countless messages. I could make us something for dinner. Let’s have one last dinner together in this house. What do you say?” Ava hated herself for the desperation she heard in her own voice, she thought she was over this behaviour. She hated herself even more when Phillip took on a look of pity and mirth, as he heard it too.

“Ava. Really.” He answered with condescension. “I’ve got plans with Margaret. Just tell Aubrey I came by. I won’t be staying long enough to have to see her.” He replied with a sharp tone.

“You ‘have’ to see her? Are…are you kidding me? She’s your daughter. She misses you; she’s been trying to contact you for months! She needs you in her life!” Ava felt the fear in her build as she also felt the anger build up. She knew what she needed to say, but found it so hard to get out.

She knew how angry he would be with her for speaking back to him, to raising her voice, but found her fists clenching together and her nerves straightening her spine. She forced herself to speak to him, for her daughters’ sake and secretly, for her own.

With a deep breath and a feeling of pushing through the barrier of fear she spoke, “You may not want me in your life any longer, Phillip, but you can’t ignore her.” Ava felt something in her change, the grip of fear loosened from her chest. She felt a surge of confidence as she pushed back at him, one that she had felt only once before many years ago. But she forced herself to push that memory aside and plow through.

Phillip looked at her with scrutiny and contemplated his response, as he realized that it didn’t matter anymore what he said or how he punished her for speaking out he decided to let it go.

“You’re right, that really is wrong of me. I will call her to arrange for a dinner or something. Anyway, what did you do with that painting that was over the mantel?” He asked as he quickly changed the subject.

“Oh, that blue-green woman that I always hated?” she said with a smile as she felt happiness and power surge into her.

“Yes, that would be the one.” Phillip replied in clipped tones that warned her of danger, but for once she wasn’t afraid.

“I sold it, and used it to pay for my lawyer, since you locked me out of the bank accounts. But, it’s all taken care of now. I assume you have my check since you’re here. I believe the total will be $760,000. I would like it before the end of the week if you don’t have a check for me right now. Certified, if you don’t mind. My bank won’t deposit a large amount without proof that the money exists.”

She watched Phillip squirm and realized that he could no longer bully her. “It isn’t that much, besides I don’t have to pay it right away.”

“It is that much, half of the sale from the house, and half of the rest of our financial assets, then monthly alimony and child support as well, which you owe us for the last 8 months. So you have until the end of the week, as per the agreement in the divorce or I will be calling my lawyer. Now, as you claim you do not want to see Aubrey, you need to leave. Now.”

Phillip glared at her, “And you have two weeks to leave this house permanently. And I see you’re not packed yet.” He opened the front door and was confronted by a large sculpture on the front porch.

“What the hell is this? Where did you get this? I ordered you to get rid of that!” Phillip turned to Ava angrier than she’d ever seen him before, shaking with fury, turning red in the face and neck.

“Oh, remember this do you? You did tell me to get rid of it, but today I found it. And this time I am keeping it. I’ll never be able to finish it but I need this as a reminder of who I was before you came into my life and for everything I gave up because of you. Now I am taking it all back!” Phillip looked as though he were going to throw a tantrum. Ava went over and picked it up before he kicked it and she brought it into the house. She turned to look at him and slammed the door victoriously.

She set down the sculpture and put her hands on her chest to feel her racing heart. Pulling in a few slow breaths she tried to calm herself, to stop the shaking that started up. Ava jumped when she heard a car door slam, but released a puff of breath when she heard the car speed away.

With a trembling hand, she picked up her bags and headed for the kitchen.


CHAPTER FOUR


“Mom, what is this huge thing in the front hall?” called Ava’s daughter, Aubrey.

“Come into the kitchen and I’ll tell you all about it!” Ava shouted excitedly.

Aubrey found her mother at the kitchen island with pencils and sketchpads strewn around her and the hugest smile Aubrey had ever seen on her mother’s face.

“What’s going on?” Aubrey asked gently, afraid her mom may have been having a kind of break down. “What happened to your clothes?” Aubrey noticed how dirty her pale blue suit was.

“Did I ever tell you how I met your father?” Ava asked putting her drawings aside.

“Um, no, not that I can recall.” Aubrey replied in quiet tones still eyeing her mother cautiously.

“Pull up a chair, would you like some tea, sweetheart?”

“O.K, mint, with honey, please,” answered Aubrey with trepidation in her voice.

“Sure thing. I met your Dad when I was in school, you knew that part, but you never knew what school. I was forbidden to tell you, or anyone actually, that I went to the University of Northern Colorado. I was in the Visual Arts program. Your father went there for a year, to play in the snow.” Ava made a cup of tea for Aubrey as she told her story.

“You went where? Art school? That’s so cool, Mom! Why would you have to hide that?” Aubrey asked with fervour, pausing as she pulled her dyed black hair out of its ponytail.

“Your fathers aspirations to achieve greatness didn’t include people like me. From modest families like mine, so he fabricated a story of my supposed pedigree to allow him to be accepted. I eventually gave up my dreams to help him with his.” She said sadly.

“That’s… wow, you gave up your dreams for him?” Aubrey was confused as she reached for her cup of tea. Ava touched Aubrey’s hand lightly.

“Yes, I did, he had a dream that was far more larger than mine was, and we were in love. So, as a team player, I agreed to his wishes and gave up my previous life in exchange for his.”

“Turned out well didn’t it.” Audrey added bitterly.

“I thought it was romantic. I was young and foolish and honestly believed that he didn’t really mean it and I could find a way to convince him to compromise. I just thought he was being overly cautious, paranoid even, about how I would be perceived by the upper crust.” Ava caught the look her daughter gave her and nodded, “Yes, it was stupid of me, if he loved me as much as he said he did, he wouldn’t have forced me into it. We would have made it work anyway. He was so ambitious; that I think he would have made it to the top even if he had come from a family like mine! And that sculpture, as terrible as it is, was mine.”

“Where have you been hiding it?” asked Aubrey with a tone of awe, “How has he not found out?”

“I didn’t hide that one, I sold it to a small gallery when we first moved here and when that gallery closed I never saw it again.”

“You sold it? Someone actually bought that? Sorry, no offence. But, then how did you find it?” Aubrey blushed and quickly tried to move past the accidental insult. Ava laughed as she shook her head.

“No offence taken. There’s an antique store that I love to go to at least once a week, been going for years now. I went in today to sell my rings and…”

“Wait…you sold your rings? Why?”

“I’m no longer a married woman, Aubrey, I don’t want to hold on to the idea of being married to your father when he clearly no longer wants to be married to me. I didn’t do anything wrong and I shouldn’t be the one holding on and mourning it as though it could come back. And I feel it bad luck to hand them down to you, or your future fiancé, when clearly they represent a marriage that didn’t work out.” Ava answered with a defiant set of her jaw.

“That’s an honourable way to look at it.” Aubrey said admirably, tucking her long, curly blackened hair behind her ear, remembering her mother’s recent behaviour.

Ava smiled at her and continued her story, “Thanks, that means a lot to me. So, while Karl, the shop owner, was getting the papers ready I did what I do best, wander about with a sharp eye and I found the sculpture tucked into the back corner of the store. Only part of it was exposed but I felt my heart stop and tingles run through my arms. I knew what I was seeing. Karl found me there holding on to that sculpture for dear life and crying like a baby! I know, how dramatic! I couldn’t help myself.”

“Really, Mom, you cried? For that ugly thing?” Aubrey gaped at her.

“Yup. It was a sign, I’ve been panicking trying to figure out what we’re going to do now, where are we going to go? What am I going to do to support us? And then this pops up and reminds me of where I was supposed to go in the first place, but life had given me permission to take a detour.”

“A detour? Why would life be that cruel? For a man to deny you who you really are? To force you into a life that you never wanted? For a man that constantly treated you worse than the hired help and expected you to take it and then to toss you aside? Why, Mom? Why do you feel that this detour was a good thing?” Aubrey asked her temper rising as she felt the approval for venting her feelings. When it came to her opinion of her father and his treatment of her mother and herself, she became so angry she felt cornered.

“So that I could have you in my life.” Ava answered quietly, realizing just how much her daughter saw.

“Oh,” Aubrey immediately felt her temper deflate, “but I can’t believe how controlling and insensitive that is of Daddy! Did he make you get rid of all your artwork?”

“Well, yes, he didn’t want any reminders, or temptations, or proof of my previous life, but, um, well…” Ava blushed as she reached for Aubrey’s hand, “Can I show you something?”

“Sure, what is it?” Taking her mothers hand with a feeling of hope springing up inside her.

“Come with me.” Ava turned off the kettle and pulled Aubrey along to the back door.

She led Aubrey out to the backyard and across the long lawn and into the woods behind their house.

“Where are you taking me? Why are we going in here?” Aubrey followed her Mom along a stone path that wound its way through an elaborate butterfly garden and past the large white box that housed honeybees. “I had the garden planted specifically to hide the rest of the path. And the bees made sure that you wouldn’t come over here, either. I needed to protect my space and my secret from your father.” Ava talked about the flowers and how the bees and butterflies benefited as the path changed from meandering to straight into the forest.

“Mom? What’s going on? Are we going much farther?”

“Just around the bend ahead and you’ll see what I’ve got.” Ava stopped short of the bend in the path and let Aubrey go ahead. Nervously, she watched Aubrey’s face for her reaction. She needed her daughter to understand, to accept but couldn’t quite figure out why it felt so important.

Aubrey gasped,“Mom! What is this? It’s so adorable! Where’s Goldilocks?” She turned to her Mom with a giggle.

“My little getaway. You see a few years after moving here I decided to take a walk through the trees trying to pretend I was back home. It didn’t work, of course, but I found this little cottage. I never told your father about it. I asked how far our property went into the woods, in case we needed to add a guesthouse, I told him. He then showed me the land survey and that’s when I realized that we owned the whole forest including the little cottage, which was not drawn on the survey. So, I turned it into this.” Ava unlocked the cottage door and Aubrey walked in.

There were armoires, oak desks, cherry bookcases, carved mirrors, and chairs; all over the main space of the room in different states of being taken apart, sanded down, rebuilt and refinished. Aubrey walked through to the door at the end of the room to find another room with pieces being stained and polished away from the dust of the previous room. There were also sculptures and paintings dotted here and there in various forms of works in progress. Over on the far right was a long countertop with hundreds of trays and miniature jars of beads and jewellery in many stages of completion. And the walls were covered with sketches and drawings of sculptures and jewellery designs. Aubrey looked around with her jaw dropped and a new respect for her mother for sneaking this under her father’s nose.

“Mom, you’re doing all this?”

“Guilty, I needed something to do to keep me busy, to keep me sane. I always loved refinishing old furniture; sculpting and painting had always been passions of mine, so I made it work.”

“How do you get them here?”

“There’s a lane out back that goes to a service road on the other side of the forest.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“About 15 years now. Karl has me refinishing pieces he thinks will sell better if spruced up, and if I find anything that I redo he sells it for me at his shop. I’ve also been showcasing my sculptures in a gallery in town under a different name, of course, and selling trinkets in a few artsy shops. It’s been fun.”

“Where did you learn this furniture thing? And what kind trinkets?” Aubrey asked staring at a drawing that Ava had framed and put up on the wall over the jewellery workstation.

“I learned to refinish furniture from my dad when I was a child actually. My dad is a carpenter and always worked with wood, so I wanted to learn, too. Spent almost all of my babysitting money on old pieces I’d find at flea markets and garage sales just so I could play with them. The other things, like clay, or stonework and jewellery, I learned on my own, and a little bit in school. That drawing your looking at, does it look familiar?”

“Yes it does, it’s the necklace that Daddy gave me for my 16th birthday!” Aubrey remarked.

“It certainly is. His assistant actually bought it for him to give to you, but it’s mine.”

“Yours! How did that happen?” Aubrey laughed.

“The assistant, Robin I think her name was, found them in a jewellery shop that focused on local artists. Boy, did I have the hardest time not jumping up and down when you opened that box!”

“I’ll bet! That’s my most favourite gift Daddy ever gave me! I always though that he finally understood what I actually liked! Odd, huh?”

“You’re telling me! I scrambled the next day to find the sketch I made of it and framed it, so I could always remember the joy you felt and how it was me that did that!”

“So, what did you do with the stuff you fixed when you were younger?”

“I kept most of them, I rent a storage facility back home and I’ve never let them go, I went away to college planning to go back and get them for my dream house, but then I met your father and everything changed.”

“You still have them?” Aubrey replied in a whispered voice. “Wow, I’m learning so much about you, and I have to say that I like this version of you better.”

“I know it wasn’t right, but it was the life I signed up for and I felt like I was betraying Daddy by wanting it to be different so I suppressed those needs, and then after a while many of the basic desires of who I was supposed to be just couldn’t be held back any more. Maybe, I should have stood up and made it be known that what was important to me shouldn’t be neglected, but what’s done is done and we learn from the mistakes we’ve made. Now, I’ve got to get these packed and moved, but I don’t know where too yet. I haven’t found anything that I can afford without moving you away from your school. But if you can help me, I’m sure we can find something acceptable.”

“Can I ask another question?”

“A million more if you need.” Ava rubbed Aubrey’s back lightly as she had done when Aubrey was a baby.

“You said ‘My Dad IS a carpenter?” Aubrey asked timidly.

“Yes, I did, you caught that, you clever lady.” Ava answered with embarrassment and shame.

“You told me your parents died.” Aubrey said in a quiet voice full of disappointment.

“No,” Ava sighed. “Daddy told you they’d died, I couldn’t tell you the truth, it was part of the story he created, if I had told you the truth, you could have told your friends at school and then it would get back to Phillip’s boss. I am so sorry. It wasn’t fair of me to lie to you.”

Aubrey sat hard onto a stool for a minute before looking at her mother again. ‘Couldn’t? Not supposed to. What kind of monster was he, really? Did I not see it? Didn’t I understand? No, I saw, but didn’t want to believe it.’ Aubrey thought to herself. Shaking her head she refocused on the point she had been trying to get to. “Do they know about me?”

“Yes, they do, I send them pictures and letters every week, in secret, he couldn’t stop me from contacting them if he didn’t know about it.” Ava hesitated, an idea forming in her mind, “Would you like to meet them?”

“I’d dreamed of it my whole life, but I never thought I would know any family.” Aubrey’s face grew wide in a smile as she jumped off the stool and bounced over to her mom and asked, “When can we go? Wait, where do they live?” Aubrey had become animated and hesitant all at once and it warmed Ava’s heart.

“My home town…in Edwards, Colorado.”

“Colorado? Really? Cool! Snow! Like actual snow?” Aubrey was now shining as only a child could with the prospect of snow!

“Yes, but only in winter, or high up the peaks, there wouldn’t be any…”

“Mom, can we go now?” Aubrey interrupted. “Wait, could we move there to stay? Like, forever?” She was so excited by the idea her eyes bulged.

“You have school starting in September, are you sure you want to do that?”

“I hate that prissy school.” Aubrey sneered.

“Really? Since when?” Ava asked her; shocked that Aubrey would be willing to give up her life in California so easily.

“Since always, they act like super entitled snobs. I can’t stand it.”

“You’d be willing to move away? You’re going to the best school in Beverly Hills, Aubrey. That can open so many doors for you.”

“I don’t want the life that exists in that school; the life that exists because of people like Daddy. I’ve heard so much about Colorado from the kids at school, and besides, we have family! What better reason could there be than that?” Aubrey had said the word with such reverence that Ava was sure she would push until they finally got there.

Ava held Aubrey’s hand and started out of the cottage to head for home. Then putting her arm around her shoulders she said, “Aubrey, honey, there’s nothing I’d love to do with you more than to go home and introduce you to our family. I’m sorry it’s taken so long.” Ava answered with tears running down her cheeks.

“Mom, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Aubrey. Lets order a pizza and get packing. We don’t have much time.”


CHAPTER FIVE


After Ava and Aubrey packed their belongings, Ava hired a company to hold an estate sale. Whatever was left from the divorce that wasn’t going with them was going to be sold off so they could have a clean start. The items and furniture that they wanted to keep was packed into a moving truck along with a few pieces from Ava’s secret stash that she loved or needed to finish. The rest of her inventory, were brought to Karl’s for him to sell.

By the end of the second week, they were ready to hit the road. Ava had waited until it was almost time to leave to decide whether tell her parents they were coming or to surprise them when they got there. Still not able to decide she called her mother.

“Ava! It’s been so long! How are you dear?” Mallory asked. Mallory was never able to hide her concern over her daughter’s decision to throw her life away for the ungrateful bastard.

“Hi, Mom! I am getting better everyday. I haven’t told you the news yet, I’m...”

“Please, God, don’t tell me you’re pregnant!” Mallory interrupted.

“Holy Crap! Mom! What a bomb to drop! You know as well as I do, that that is not happening! Mother Mary, I am not!”

“Well, yes, sorry, so what’s the news then?” Mallory asked slightly disappointed, as all Grandmothers would tend to be.

“I am, uh, well,”

“Ava, get to the point today please!”

“Okay, I am officially Ava Munroe again.”

“It’s finally final? How do you feel, sweetheart. How’s Aubrey feeling?”

“We finally came to an understanding, I’m alright now. Aubrey handles it better than I do. I think she’s actually happy about it.”

Ava quickly had to remove the phone from her ear as her mother had started screaming and shouting with excitement for anyone in the area to hear her. Ava decided to let her happiness multiply and give her the news of their arrival.

“Mom, there’s something else, too…. MOM! MOOOOOM!” Ava yelled into the phone.

“Yes, dear, what did you say?”

“I said there’s something else, too.”

“What more could there be?”

Ava paused to build the suspense. “We’re coming home.”

Ava had to start laughing through her tears as she listened to her mother drop the phone and run all over the house, she may have even run into the front yard to yell to the neighbours, “My babies are coming home! My babies are coming home! I’m going to meet my grandbaby! Oh! There’s so much to do! When. When? Oh, when??? Ava? Ava are you still there?” Mallory called into the phone.

“Yes, Mom, I’m still here, we’ll be arriving by car on Friday.”

“Friday, THIS Friday? Oh my, I love you but I have to get to the store!! We’ll set up your old room for you to stay in, okay?”

“Sure, We’d love to. Thanks Mom, We’ll see you then.” Ava didn’t think her mother heard her as she hung up the phone in her excitement to get ready for their arrival.

“A little excited is she?” Aubrey asked nervously, as she stood at the door to the kitchen.

“Yes, I would say just a little. Are you all packed?”

“Yup, ready when you are.”

“I wanted to spend one more night in the house, but you know what? I never liked this damn mausoleum, I’d be happier with room service at a fancy hotel. What do you say? Last night in Los Angeles at a hotel?”

“Cool! Which one?”

“I know just the one!” Ava said with a mischievous grin on her face.

They drove up to the valet of the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and giggled excitedly. The doors of their SUV were opened for them and their day bags brought inside to the check-in desk. Ava handed them each a twenty-dollar bill and the bellhops nodded their heads and left them to register.

“Good afternoon, do you have a reservation?” the woman at the desk asked curtly.

“No, I don’t, but I would like a room for the night, king sized bed.” Ava was only slightly used to the snobbery of Beverly Hills by now, after all she’d been here for twenty years! But still, she could feel her neck bristling a bit and waited for the moment she could present her credit card, with her married name on it, to show the woman that she needed to be a little friendlier.

“Your credit card?” Asked the clerk with a slight raise of her eyebrow and looked down her nose at Ava and Aubrey and their choice of traveling clothes, smirking slightly as though she thought it highly unlikely that they would be getting a room at all.

“Oh, sure,” Ava handed over her credit card with a flourish and a loud snap on the marble countertop.

She watched the woman grab the card and look down at her name, then start clicking away on her computer. Ava knew her name was in the computer system in association with her husband and the company he works for. She also knew the precise moment when the woman understood who she was. Well, who she used to be, but for this night she wasn’t telling a soul!

“Yes, Mrs. Davis, we have a room for you that I think will do nicely. Would you like to charge this to the account?” The woman asked slightly pink in the cheeks.

Trying hard not to register the stabbing pain those words gave her she agreed, “Sure, why not, save my card for some shopping tomorrow, Right Aubrey?”

“Sounds good to me, shopping can get expensive on Rodeo Drive. Good thinking, Mom,” Aubrey answered playing along.

After checking in, a bellhop was rung to bring them to their room, which had one of the best views in the hotel. After the bell hop was tipped and had left, Aubrey turned to her mom, “You alright? What she said about Dad’s account? Doesn’t it bother you? Why haven’t you been more angry with him?”

“I’m fine about it now, sure, it stings but I am better off.” Ava realized the moment she said the words that they were the last things she should have said to her child about her father. “I’m so sorry, sweetie, I didn’t mean it to sound uncaring or callous. I shouldn’t talk like that with you. He’s your father and you have a right to love him, without my personal thoughts and feelings getting in the middle. But you must realize that we stopped loving each other a long time ago for it to hurt, as it probably should. I saw his indiscretions in the social pages to often for it to shock me.”

“It’s not your fault, Mom. He’s a true scumbag. Forget about him. Let’s order room service!” Aubrey delighted in charging everything to Daddy’s account.

“Have you spoken to him lately? Did he ever call you to take you out to dinner? Have you had the chance to tell him where we’re going?” Ava asked worried about taking Aubrey away from California where she could see her Dad more often.

“I tried calling him almost everyday after he left, then once a week, even emails and texts to his phone, and I’m still waiting for a response. I told Charlotte, his newest secretary that I was moving to Colorado, still nothing. It’s been two weeks since we decided to move. I wonder if he is actually reading his messages. I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I even went to his office one day last week. I told Charlotte I just wanted to make sure he knew what I was doing before we left, just to say goodbye, no scenes or anything. She said he wasn’t there, but I heard him yelling at someone. He clearly didn’t want to see me. So, no, no dinners, phone calls, or messages of any kind.”

“I’m so sorry, hunny, he shouldn’t do this to you.”

“Don’t worry about me, he never really paid me much attention anyway.” Aubrey found the room service book and opened it up and with heaviness in her heart she asked; “What should we eat with our bottle of champagne?”


***


The next day, Ava and Aubrey were ready to hit the road. “We could drive through and probably get there after midnight on Friday morning, or we could stop somewhere along the way and arrive Friday night.” Ava knew Aubrey was nervous about meeting a family she never knew existed and she also wanted to prolong the time it took to get to Colorado to get to know her better. Aubrey scanned the route on the map.

“How about Vegas?” Aubrey turned to her with excitement.

“That’s a great idea! We’ll be there in a few hours and we can pick whatever hotel you’d like.”

“Cool!” Aubrey reached over to the radio and turned on the CD player as the L.A. station cut out for the last time.

“You never told me how your friends reacted to our decision to move. What happened?” Ava asked.

“Most of them stopped talking to me, you know, when Dad left,” Aubrey told her awkwardly.

“I’m so sorry, Aub, Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, their parents are friends of Dad’s, and so they were bound to take sides, too. They never were really close anyway, you know? Colleen and Abby will still be around for me. Well, as much as a long distance friendship can be I guess. I don’t know.” Aubrey shrugged dismissively, but Ava could see the sadness in her for the loss of her best friends.

“Don’t forget that true friends won’t be lost so easily.” Ava gently reminded her.

“Are you sure?” Aubrey asked in a small voice.

“Our family are not the only people waiting for us to come home, Karen and Veronica were my roommates in college and along with Jessa, we were all best friends since we were in diapers, they hung on when your Dad kept me away.”

“Was it hard, to be with Daddy?”

“No, not all the time. It wasn’t as easy as it could have been, and it did get hard these last few years, but you see, as grown-ups we have to make choices that require sacrifices, compromises, and even deals, for us to get what we need, or want. I made more than I should have, but I made them. I don’t regret it, but, if I could change some things, I might change just how much of my life I handed over. There were moments that were harder than others, but at the end of the day, I loved your Father, and he loved me. So, while we had our problems, I thought it would be enough.” Ava felt the sting of years of disappointment.


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