Next Exit Grapevine
Writer Author Janet Seever
- Fiction Yes
“Why didn´t you pay the electric bill last week when it was due?” Greg´s face contorted in anger as he waved the unpaid bill in Karen´s face.
“I thought you were going to drop it off on your way to work,” said Karen with a calmness she didn´t feel. She continued making orange juice for breakfast.
“Why can´t you do anything right? I couldn´t even find clean socks in my drawer this morning.” Greg shoved a chair back and sat down at the kitchen table next to his children. “You could at least see that I have clean clothes to wear.”
“I work full time too, you know,” she answered, wanting to scream back at him, but knowing it would only escalate the situation.
“Mom, where is my library book?” asked thirteen-year-old Brett. “I think it´s due today.” He nibbled at his toast.
“Mom, Brett bumped my arm and made me spill my milk,” whined ten-year-old Melanie.
“You´ll have to do better at keeping these children quiet, Karen. You know their bickering gets on my nerves. And don´t look for me for supper. I won´t be home. In fact, I hate being here with the way everyone acts.” Greg finished gulping his coffee, grabbed his jacket and raced out the door, slamming it behind him.
Karen glared after the departing figure, saying nothing. This was the normal pattern of their mornings. So much for the ideal Christian family living in the suburbs of Oklahoma City.
Her momentary anger soon turned to a deep sadness which permeated her being, a sadness which was her constant companion lately. She had such high hopes when she and Greg married fourteen years ago, but all she encountered now brought disappointment. None of the “how to” marriage books worked. She kept praying things would change, but the color of her world continued to be the same drab shade of gray.
After Brett and Melanie left for school, Karen got out her white station wagon, mentally making a note that it needed washing. Reaching over the seat to drop her carrying bag in the back, she spotted Brett´s missing library book under a burger wrapper.
The five mile drive to Dawson´s Bookstore where she worked gave her an opportunity to think. What was happening to her? To their family?
Greg had been so special when she met him in her pyschology class at the University of Oklahoma sixteen years ago. Juniors when they married two years later, they both agreed that they wanted God at the center of their marriage.
Karen later dropped out of school to work and support the two of them so Greg could complete his degree. She had admired him for his hard work and good grades then.
Now he poured all his time, energy, and their life savings into the computer business he had started four years ago. It still wasn´t much of a money-making proposition. Would it ever be? He was more married to his work than he was to her. And when he was home, the stress she felt was unbearable.
Her thoughts drifted back to her present surroundings as she entered Dawson´s Bookstore and hung up her coat. As she turned around, a friendly stranger with graying wavy hair and piercing blue eyes approached her.
“Howdy!” he said as he stuck out his hand to shake hers. “I´m Kevin Cottrell, the new regional respresentative for Ace Office Supplies based in Dallas.”
“Good to meet you.”
“I know you´ve done a lot of ordering from Ace in the past, and we have some great new products,” continued Kevin. “Oklahoma is now part of my territory, so I´ll be dropping by from time to time. The bookstore manager said you´re the one who orders the supplies.” The smile on his handsome face was infectious.
“Yes, I am,” said Karen, smiling back at him. Although Dawson´s Bookstore carried mainly books, it could boast of a well-stocked office supply section.
After that Karen eagerly looked forward to Kevin´s visits to the store. With a booming laugh and a smile as big as Texas, his presence lit up the whole room.
She learned that he was divorced and that his 17-year-old son lived with his ex-wife. He, in turn, knew about Karen´s athletic son Brett and about her bubbly, good-natured daughter Melanie. He had seen their photos on her desk and asked about them. But Karen had never mentioned Greg; she never had any reason to do so.
In her spare time, Karen made use of the writing courses she had in college by doing some freelance writing. She prided herself in the fact she was beginning to get published.
An avid reader, Kevin had seen some of Karen´s articles in a local magazine and showered her with praise. Why did his compliments mean so much more than Greg´s? Not that she got any compliments from Greg anymore.
In October, as he was leaving the store, Kevin spotted the Southwest Writers´ Convention poster that Karen had stuck up on the bulletin board.
“Hey, that´s in Dallas, my stompin´ grounds. Are you planning to go?” A broad smile lit up Kevin´s handsome face.
“Yes. I´m really looking forward to it. Friends in Dallas highly recommended it.”
“They usually don´t keep you busy the first couple hours of those things — just serve snacks, hand out name tags, and get acquainted. Why don´t you give me a call? Here´s my number in Grapevine, on the north edge of Dallas. I´d love to show you some of the sights of the city.” He fixed his gaze meaningfully at Karen as she signed the purchase order for the office supplies she was ordering. “Have you ever seen the Dallas skyline at night? It´s marvelous from Reunion Tower. The food there is great too.”
Karen was stunned.
Kevin´s blue eyes twinkled as he continued, “I´m serious about the invitation. Think it over and let me know.”
What could she say? “No thanks, I´m married.”? Those words just wouldn´t come, even if she had wanted to say them. She just smiled numbly and said, “Sounds like fun.”
At first Karen couldn´t believe the conversation she had just had with Kevin. Kevin had always been completely honest in his dealings with the store — straight as an arrow, as she put it. He was a man of integrity, unlike most of the salesmen she had met. It was totally out of character for him to try to date a married woman. Then slowly the truth began to dawn on Karen: He thinks I´m divorced too!
Although she had never given him any indication that she was divorced, she was not wearing her wedding ring. Because of a persistent case of dermatitis on her hand—probably from getting laundry soap under her ring—she had taken off her ring months ago. At first she missed it, but now she hardly noticed it wasn´t there. It wasn´t her intention to deceive Kevin, but she had unwittingly done so, and had done nothing to correct the misunderstanding.
At first Karen pushed all thoughts of Kevin from her mind, reminding herself that her marriage vows were meant to last a lifetime.
However, life with Greg had grown continually more painful, if that was possible. The tension between them was so thick she could almost cut it with a knife.
Later those thoughts of Kevin persisted. Then in her unhappiness with Greg, she began to imagine what it would be like to spend an evening with Kevin. Like seeds planted on fertile ground, the temptation had grown, flourished and was about to bear fruit. Although she prayed about a lot of other things, praying about this situation had not even crossed her mind.
Now in less than 24 hours she was going to meet Kevin. Just this one time. No one would know. No one would be hurt.
A few remaining yellow leaves floated down as Karen carefully put her suitcase in the back of her station wagon. She was looking forward to this weekend in Dallas at the Writers´ Convention . . . and seeing Kevin.
When was the last time she had been away from home for a weekend? She couldn´t remember.
“Karen, I´m glad you´ll be able to get away.” Her friend Judy, standing near the car, interrupted her thoughts. “The break will do you good.”
Karen shut the back of the station wagon and looked up. “Thanks so much for letting Melanie stay with you. She´ll be home from school at 3:30. Brett will be going home with his friend David directly after school.”
“Having Melanie stay here will be no problem. After all, what are friends for if they can´t help each other?” replied Judy cheerfully. “I know how much this Writers´ Convention means to you.”
“I left a note for Greg along with the hotel phone number,” added Karen as she slid behind the wheel. “He´ll be working late again and won´t even remember I´m going to Dallas this weekend.” She gave a rueful laugh. “He was already gone when I got up this morning. He might as well take a bed to his office and live there.”
“At least you still have a husband and know where he is,” Judy reminded her.
The irony of Judy´s words gave a little tug at Karen´s heart. Had Judy guessed there was something more than just a convention to draw her to Dallas?
With a quick wave, Karen shut the door, buckled her seat belt, and turned the key in the ignition. By starting out at 2 p.m., she would avoid the rush hour traffic. The 180 mile drive south should go smoothly since Highway 35 was in good condition. Although it was mid-November, the weather was still pleasant.
The congestion of city traffic soon gave way to intermittent trees and shrubs. Occasionally farms and small towns dotted the landscape, along with the ever-present oil wells.
As the heater warmed the car, Karen slipped off her jacket and pushed back the dark curls which framed her face. When she turned on the radio for company, one of “oldies but goodies” was on. She and Greg had listened to it when they were dating. Memories of carefree days filled with excitement came flooding back, days when they were so much in love and looking forward to their future marriage.
Then her keychain, dangling from the ignition, bumped her leg. It was one her son Brett had given her for Christmas four years ago. The plastic tag contained a picture of her family — all of them looking happy. Brett had been so proud of his special school project. That was before Greg put all his time and energy into his company, before marriage had become something to endue rather than enjoy.
Why are reminders of my family all around me? she wondered. Can´t I get away from them just this once?
Dismissing the thoughts of her family, she let her thoughts drift to Kevin and how much she was looking forward to the exciting Southwest Writer´s Convention. She tried to focus on her pleasant new adventure. She told herself she deserved some happiness too, but in her heart she knew what she was about to do was at odds with the values she held. Feelings of guilt tumbled over her.
The miles rolled by and the gas gauge was registering a quarter of a tank when she took the exit to Addison, just over the Oklahoma-Texas border, and pulled into a gas station. Nice little town. How could she forget? Addison was where she and Greg had spent the night fourteen years ago sleeping in their parked car in a rainstorm. . .all because of a broken water hose at 10 p.m. It was in the early days of their marriage — and they were so broke they couldn´t afford a hotel. It wasn´t funny at the time, but later it became a family joke.
As Karen filled her tank, her thoughts drifted back to Greg in Oklahoma City. What would he be doing tonight? No doubt he would stay in his office until 9 p.m. as he often did on Friday nights. Would he guess what she was planning to do?
Reaching into her purse to find her credit card, Karen´s hand bumped into a white envelope. Funny, it wasn´t there yesterday. And she must have missed it when she put on her make up this morning.
She ripped it open and read:
Karen, I was going to say goodbye, but you´re still sleeping. I need to leave soon to prepare for important meetings I have all day. Another company is interested in buying us out.I won´t be able to call you.
Having you gone over the weekend got me thinking. . . I learned yesterday that our friends Jack and Susan are getting a divorce. Maybe you´ve heard that too. I realize now it could easily happen to us. I´ve been taking you for granted lately, been gone too much, and have treated you badly when I´ve been home. Can we talk when you get back? I still love you, even though I haven´t been acting that way. I´m sorry. You probably won´t believe me, but it´s true. Greg
Karen took a deep breath as the words hit her — she knew Greg didn´t write those things easily. What if they were true? She needed time to think. A tug-of-war was taking place in her mind. What should she do?
Traffic was getting heavier now as Karen got nearer Dallas. In 20 miles she would be coming to an exit marked Grapevine, the one Kevin had told her to take to meet him. Far more than an exit on the highway, Grapevine was also symbolic of a fork in her life. She knew if she took it, nothing would ever be the same.
Saying that no one would ever know wasn´t quite the truth and Karen knew it. “Just this one time” was probably also a lie. And lies get easier the second and third time around.
Was this really what she wanted? Her fantastic plans for a special evening didn´t seem so fantastic anymore. Especially after finding the note from Greg.
They were still a family . . . she and Greg and Brett and Melanie. The invisible glue of shared experiences held them all together. True, times had been extremely difficult lately, but it wasn´t always that way. She remembered some really good times in the past before Greg had gotten so involved in his company. And although she didn´t feel the love she once had for Greg, her commitment to their marriage was still there. The guilty feeling was proof of that.
A tear slid down Karen´s cheek and she brushed it away.
The exit to Grapevine was coming up immediately on her right, and she needed to make a decision. Which would it be? She couldn´t have it both ways.
With firm resolve, she held the wheel steady and drove right past.
Now she knew exactly what she would do. When she got to Dallas, she would make two phone calls — one to Kevin, to tell him the truth, and the other to Greg at his office, to let him know she had gotten his note and wanted to talk when she got back.
Just then the setting sun lit up the sky with glorious pinks and golds and outlined the tall buildings of downtown Dallas off in the distance. It was far more beautiful to her than a thousand Dallas skylines seen from the top of Reunion Tower with Kevin.
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