Stop it, Casey told herself. Red, puffy eyes would spoil the brave front she wanted to show her mother. Over the past few days, she’d practiced saying the word divorce until she no longer choked on it. She was confident she could now speak Dwayne’s name without crying. Only three months since I had to break the news to Mom about my hysterectomy. Now this. Surely I can keep a grip on my emotions for twenty-four hours.
Disappointed, dumped, divorced…
Everything Casey Slaughter counted on is gone. While contemporaries start their families, Casey works two jobs to haul herself out of debt. Friends and family recommend a new husband to solve all her problems, but Casey resists all well-intentioned advice. Although she longs for a soul mate, the last thing her flattened self-esteem needs is more rejection—and comparisons to her beautiful, talented older sister do nothing to enhance Casey’s confidence. Unable to have children, she feels she has nothing to offer in marriage. Will bitterness and insecurity destroy her, or can renewed faith in God provide some measure of comfort for this wounded heart? Can Casey ever find love again, or will a string of disasters keep her forever on the run?
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Casey felt her plan falling apart as soon as she walked through the door of her childhood home. Her sister sat at the kitchen table with one arm around a weeping Marva Lanicheck. Eileen promised she would not breathe a word until Casey could tell their mom of her impending divorce gently in person. Did her sister slip up? Marva flew to Casey and flung her arms around her daughter. “Oh, honey,” was all she said.
With a questioning glance at her sister, Casey returned her mother’s hug. Feeling Marva’s tears on her neck made
Casey’s stomach flip-flop. “Dwayne called me this morning,” Marva said. “He told me you’re divorcing him. His heart is broken.”
“What?” Casey was stunned. An overpowering rush of rage caught her completely off guard. “Did Dwayne happen to mention he cleared his things out of our apartment—and some of mine, too—while I was at work? That he didn’t have the decency to tell me goodbye, but left a note saying I should file for divorce as soon as possible?” Casey forgot her carefully rehearsed speech about irreconcilable differences leading to an amicable separation. Instead, she furiously unloaded a string of indictments against Dwayne. She recounted how he backed out of his promise to pay for her education if she supported them both long enough for him to get his bachelor’s degree. The secret that he’d vetoed her pleas to start a family until it was too late came tumbling out of her mouth. She even revealed how her husband pocketed the refund after switching caskets at his mother’s funeral, substituting the cheapest model for the coffin the Slaughter family prepurchased.
Despite her mother and sister’s shocked faces, Casey could not stop herself from citing example after example of Dwayne’s misbehavior. When Casey paused for a breath of air, Eileen glanced at her watch. “Arnold and the boys are probably home by now,” she said. “I need to go fix them some dinner. I’ll see you two at church tomorrow.”
“How would you like a plate of chicken and dumplings?” Marva patted Casey’s hand. Realizing her mother had made the effort to prepare her favorite meal almost put Casey past the tear line. But then, recalling what a low-class varmint Dwayne had been to phone Marva with his fake story brought her back.
“Where do I go from here, Mom?” Casey asked. “How did you put your life back together when Daddy died?”
With her back to Casey, Marva stirred the contents of a pot on her stove. “All I can say is you go on. You put one foot in front of the other, and keep moving forward despite the pain. Life can be good again, but it takes time for you to recover. You can’t expect things to be the same as they were before.”
“I feel betrayed, and suddenly so insecure,” Casey said as Marva served both of them a plate. “I couldn’t stop crying at work last week. I’m so embarrassed.”
“You don’t need to be,” Marva said. “Dwayne is the one who should be ashamed, and I hope he is.” She sat across from Casey. “I guess you know this is your grandmother’s recipe.”
Casey forced a smile. “Yes. Dear Granny Ella and her comfort food. Mom, for the first time, I realize what a huge responsibility you had, with Eileen and me to take care of by yourself all those years. Thank you.” She wiped away a stray tear and cut a bite of chicken breast.
“I’ll admit I had some tough times,” Marva said. “But you and your sister were my pride and joy. I’ve always been so grateful for both of you.” She took a bite of a dumpling. “You can move into your old bedroom if you want to. Stay with me for as long as you like.”
“Thank you.” Casey put down her fork without eating the first nibble. “I appreciate that offer more than you can imagine. I’d love to come home to Lake Watson.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Realistically, though, I have to stay put. I need my job at the medical center to get back on my feet financially. I’d never find anything here to pay me as much as I can make in Houston.”
“Do you want me to put your food away?” Marva asked.
“I’ll do it,” Casey replied, grateful her mother didn’t press her to eat. She covered her plate and its contents in plastic wrap, and placed it on a low shelf of the refrigerator. “I used to love dumplings for breakfast. Maybe I’ll warm this up tomorrow morning.”
“Beats eggs and bacon any day of the week,” Marva said. “I hope you’ll go to church with me tomorrow. Eileen’s singing.”
Casey nodded. “Sounds like a good idea.”
Marva stood and hugged Casey. “Want to watch a movie? Or some television?”
“No, thanks,” Casey said. “I think I’ll take a bath and go to bed early if you don’t mind. I guess I’m not very good company right now.”
Sunday morning, as she sat in the sanctuary that held so many childhood memories, Casey wondered whether the choir robes were intended to make everyone look uniform. If so, they failed in their mission because Eileen stood out. Her wavy black hair resisted all control, and her descant floated a comfortable octave above the choir’s four-part harmony. The moment Eileen stepped forward for her solo, the congregation sat in hushed anticipation. Her sister’s phenomenal soprano voice gave Casey gooseflesh. Had Eileen already planned to sing His Eye is on the Sparrow or did she make a change to encourage her baby sister? The music transported Casey back to Granny Ella’s sewing room, the two of them happily making quilt blocks, singing hymns together. Was that joy lost forever?
Casey was slightly embarrassed to think how long it had been since she attended church. After she and Dwayne married, he went to worship services with her for a few months. Then he dropped out, and began pressuring Casey to do the same. Despite being offended by his nagging, she also became lax with her attendance. She didn’t bother to search for a church when they relocated to Houston. In the last five years, she had been to a couple of Christmas services and a gospel music concert, nothing else.
The minister’s text was from Paul’s writings. “So then every one of us shall give account of himself before God.” Casey fidgeted with her handbag and her mind wandered. Her grandmother talked about this accounting many times. “It’s something like being called into the principal’s office in school,” Granny Ella explained. “People who’ve behaved themselves have nothing to be concerned about. The others are going to answer for their misdeeds.” Was her grandmother’s description anything like an actual event looming in everyone’s future?
Casey formed a satisfying image of Dwayne standing at attention, meekly replying “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Sir,” to a stern, glaring God. Certain Dwayne would be in the office for a long time, she hoped she might get to stand in the hallway to count the yelps when her husband got the thrashing he deserved. Might she have to provide a few answers of her own? Perhaps, but unlike Dwayne, she had the assurance she was not guilty of breaking another person’s heart. Something undefined nagged at Casey. Was it possible her logic needed some adjustment? She brushed the thought aside, supposing she would explore the subject more thoroughly another time. As the congregation rose for the benediction, Casey realized she had not listened to one word of the sermon.
After church, Marva and Casey went with Eileen’s family to have lunch. Eating out in Lake Watson meant barbecue. The first decision was which barbecue restaurant. Then there would be the choice of brisket, ribs, chicken, or sausage. Half of the local populace swore by the place on the highway. The remainder preferred the traditional downtown spot. Arnold and Eileen liked them both, and alternated, going first to one then the other. Casey couldn’t help feeling a twinge of envy watching Arnold casually slip his arm around Eileen. What wouldn’t she give to have a nice husband and a couple of all-American boys like her nephews James and Kevin?