Being Mrs. Culpepper

Chapter 15 - Moving On

During dinner they made idle chatter about the house, then shifted the conversation to her trip. She’d given him details over the phone and in text messages, but he wanted to hear them again. They drank lots of wine while she shared highlights. But she didn’t share the part about her talk with Rose. That would come later.

Being with James seemed as easy as slipping into her favorite pair of jeans, broken in exactly right. A little frayed around the edges, but still a good, comfortable fit. She was glad to be home.

“You enjoy the meal?”

“It was delicious. I wish I had a chef to prepare meals at my house.”

He coughed a lot, then cleared his throat. “Chef can cook anything you’d like.”

“I imagine he can.”

“How about dessert? Key lime sorbet. Chef made it. It’s delicious.”

“I love key lime sorbet.”

“I know.”

“How? I only started eating it after…Trey. You two have conspired against me.”

“I plead the fifth.”

Dessert arrived. “For you, Mrs. Westbrook.”

“Thank you, Chef.”

 After enjoying the delicious dessert Robin stood and lost herself in the view from the windows, after which she strolled the length of the spacious room. James stayed seated as she worked her way back to the sofa.

“How did you manage this view? It’s spectacular.”

“It came with the house. You approve?”

“I love it. Your decorator knows you well.” As she looked around the room it came to her: she’d drawn it years ago, while she and James sat around their tiny apartment and talked about their dream house, the one they’d get after he made partner.

“Come over here, take a look.”

She walked to where he stood, facing the wall, staring at her framed design. He stepped behind her, his arms around her waist as she gasped.

“I can’t believe you kept it.”

“I loved your designs. I wanted you to like the house. This is our home. It’s been waiting for your final touches.”

“When did you buy it?”

“Two years ago. It needed a complete renovation and took all that time to get it ready for you.”

“You stayed here while the work was being done?”

“I have an apartment downtown. Stayed there.”

“What do you do in this big house all by yourself?”

“Work, eat, sleep. I’m not here a lot. I pretty much hang out in three rooms: the one we’re in now, my bedroom, and the kitchen. I thought we’d need the rest of the house for when the kids are here.”

She sighed.

“You don’t like it?”

“I love what I’ve seen so far. It’s just me, being a worrier.”

Robin tried and failed to slow her breathing. James rubbed her back, lightly. He walked her to the bathroom where she splashed water on her face.

“Let’s get some air. It’s nice out.” On the covered terrace they sat on the loveseat where he poured Chablis for each of them.  

Robin took a sip. It goes by fast. Go to Fairfax. Be happy. A few minutes passed, quietly. The silence seemed right for two people who knew each other well, who’d shared dreams, and a child. She took his hand. 

“Moving in. I’m ready.”       

“Glad to hear it.”  

The moon was three quarter’s full, the summer air unusually dry and in the mid-sixties. The string lights were beautiful, showcasing the intricate woodwork and tile in the gazebo. She headed toward the structure. He followed.

“This is like the one we fell in love with, in Barcelona.”

“It’s an exact replica.”

“That was a good trip.”

They sat on the bench inside the gazebo.

“I wanted to take you from him, after the funeral, but you weren’t ready to leave.”

“You didn’t fight for me after I left you.”

He hung his head, then took a sip of wine. “I thought you’d come back. I thought you’d be afraid to make it on your own, and you’d need me. Clearly, I underestimated you. I was a fool.”

She gave him a side eye. “The kids needed their father. He was a good father most of the time. I wanted to avoid another divorce. And there were moments, good moments between us, that kept me going through the rough spots.”

“You left me after three years of infidelity but stayed with him almost twenty. Where’s the logic in that?”

She cut her eyes at him. Her body trembled, her voice, too. “Where’s the logic in having a child with Ashley while you were married to me?”

“Point taken.”

“We should have at least talked about it, JC I mean. I regret that. Anyway, after four years with Brandon I had four children. They needed their father around. I needed their father around. And you needed to be there for your children.”

“Makes sense.”

He sipped. “I recall a few good moments between us, you and me.”

Her eyes met his. “I remember lots of great moments between us.”

“Tell me one or two.”

“The best ones happened after we were divorced.”

“Really? Didn’t expect you to say that.”

“In the park with Trey and Murphy. We had a moment when we held each other to mourn the loss of our baby, then another one when you told me you loved me and missed me. Then another when you let Murphy go. I knew how much you loved that dog.”

He stayed quiet.

“At Daddy’s funeral, after the eulogy. The night we spent together. It was a great night.”

She paused. “I considered leaving then, but I was scared.”

He kissed her.  “Scared of what?”

“You.”

Silence.

“You want to hear mine?”

She gave a nod.

“The day I proposed in front of your family during dinner, and you said yes. Great moment. Our wedding day, when I looked at you on the other end of that crazy long aisle, coming toward me. Great moment. When you told me you were pregnant with our baby. The night of John’s funeral. Pivotal moments. The best moment is now, sitting here with you.”

They were quiet, again, this time holding hands.

 “Let’s go inside. I’d like to see the rest of the house.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Back inside, Robin roamed around the large kitchen, asking herself if she would get used to having a Chef. She found cooking relaxing and was unsure how she’d feel about having someone else lay claim to her kitchen.

“How often is Chef here?”

“A couple of days a week, a few hours each day. He does all the shopping then prepares meals to last a few days, things I can easily warm up. On special occasions like today, he’s here to cook, serve, and clean up after. You okay with that?”

“I can live with it. I’m going to roam. I’ll be back.” With a glass of wine in hand, she headed upstairs.

“Have fun.”

There were four huge bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, ample space for her children and his, if Sasha and Zoey doubled up. If Trey and Amber never spent the night. She went into the library. A queen size sofa bed. That would work. There was a game room, complete with a computer workstation. And a laundry room.

Next to the library was a closed door, the only door upstairs that was closed. She slowly turned the knob, then pushed the door open. The view took her breath away.  Her art studio, with perfect light and a spectacular view of the grounds, the same view she’d gotten from the room downstairs. The studio was climate controlled. Did James have that done or was it like that when he bought the house? A mixing station. Canvas of all sizes. Large storage room. A full bathroom, not a large one, but sufficient for a studio. 

And there, in the middle of an easel, was the nude drawing Robin had done of James on their honeymoon. Next to that sketch was the drawing of her dream art studio, completed the same day she’d done the one of James’ gentleman’s room. This room had every detail of her design. Robin sat on the sofa, shivering.

After she pulled herself together, she called James from her cell.

“Are you lost?”

“I’m embarrassed for thinking I wouldn’t like what you’ve done. It’s beautiful, Jamie. The studio. The entire upstairs. I love it.”

He chuckled. “Should I come up, or are you coming down?”

“I’ll be down in a minute.” She took the drawing from the easel then made her way downstairs, her wine glass now empty. She found James in the family room, watching a baseball game. She removed her shoes then sat next to him, taking his hand in hers. He refilled her glass.

“Tell me about the drawing of you.”

 “I found it in your dresser at the old house, in the drawer with the false bottom, where you’d put stuff you didn’t want burglars to find.” He smiled. “Charming that you thought a burglar might want it.”

“Hey, it’s valuable art.”

He kissed her neck. “I love it. Why did you hide it from me?”

“I thought you’d be upset that I’d sketched you in the nude.”

“No way. I looked good.” His head bobbed up and down.

She stared at the drawing and nodded her agreement.  

“Not one for public display, but I do love it. What should we do with it?”

“I’ll put it in a drawer in my studio and when I need inspiration, I’ll stare at it.”

“Okay.”

Robin took another sip. “I loved Trey as soon as I saw him. He needed me. I needed him. The day Brandon proposed I’d planned to refuse his proposal, then I met Trey and did what my mother predicted I’d do: I married the man because I fell in love with the boy.”

“You think Brandon knew?”

“He knew. He also knew that I loved him, too.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then James spoke.

“Any other confessions I need to hear?”

A series of shudders swept through her body. “He’s a part of me. I will divorce him, but I won’t dismiss him from my life.”

“As long as you stay out of his bed, I’m good.”

She took her head. “I’m crazy about you. The only bed that I’ll be in is yours.”

“Just wanted to put it out there.”

“You know what it’s like having teenagers. I have three. It’s not easy.”

“I’m up to the challenge.”

“No hitting. Ever. Punish other ways. Never hit. If JJ gets mouthy Brandon will handle him.”

“Agreed.”

“Your turn.”

“If you’re happy, I’m good.” He squeezed her hand. “I’m crazy about you, too.”