First Chapter of When Forever Fades
“It isn’t what you think.”
Belva Turner cut her eyes toward where her husband sat on the edge of the bed next to her, stopping short of actually looking at him. She couldn’t bear that right now. It hurt too much.
“I’m not stupid, Gray. I saw the way you were looking at her, leaning in like you were about to…” She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her hand tight against her mouth. Trying to hold back the anger and the hurt and failing miserably.
How could he do this to me? To us?
“I never… we never… it was never physical.” Grayson huffed out a breath. “Come on, Bel, you know I could never…”
It didn’t escape Belva’s notice that he couldn’t even complete the sentence. Because it was a lie. Maybe they hadn’t gone all the way, but something had happened. And if he hadn’t gotten caught… She couldn’t even finish her thought, either. Didn’t want to. Never wanted to have this conversation to begin with. And truth be told, before today she would’ve considered it near impossible that Grayson Turner would ever do anything like this.
“You’ve kissed her.” No question there. It had been about to happen when Belva and the kids had walked up on them today. Something told her it hadn’t been their first.
She’d decided to surprise Gray by taking him out for lunch. She’d been told he’d already left, so she went on without him.
At least, that had been the plan.
But when she started toward the restaurant, there he was, in the parking lot, his hands on the waist of another woman as she leaned into him. The only thing that stopped their lips from meeting was the sound of his daughter’s voice calling out to him.
His quiet yes finally broke the long pause that followed her statement.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
He still didn’t say anything.
“So let me get this straight. You’ve had what I can only guess were some pretty intense make-out sessions with the woman, and you never expected it to lead to something more?” Her voice had been surprisingly steady until it rose toward the end, matching her rising fury.
“I messed up, okay? I’m sorry. It won’t ever happen again.”
“Who is she? Where did you meet?” Belva pushed the heel of her hand against her stomach. Thank God, she hadn’t eaten anything since this morning. After seeing her husband with that woman, they’d never made it to the restaurant. She’d picked up a couple of kids’ meals from a drive-thru and let the twins eat in the van on the way home.
Asking about the other woman was nauseating. She didn’t want to know, but she had to know. The questions had been eating away at her all afternoon. She’d barely had enough presence of mind to take care of the kids.
Too much time passed, and he still hadn’t answered. That could only mean one thing. Belva’s teeth ground together until her jaw ached. She turned and this time she looked at him, but he wasn’t looking at her. “Gray?”
“She’s a legal secretary at the firm.”
She sprang from the bed and her feet automatically carried her to the door.
“Belva, wait. I’ll take the couch.”
Because that’s what he always did whenever they fought, which seemed to happen a lot lately. But this wasn’t some lovers’ spat. Things wouldn’t cool overnight. It wasn’t something that could be gotten over quickly. Maybe not at all.
“No, you stay. I’ll go.”
He stood and took a couple of steps toward her. “No, I won’t let you take the couch. It isn’t right.”
Belva turned to look at him, her hand against the door casing for support. “Do you really think I’m going to sleep tonight? Do you think I will be able to close my eyes for a minute and not see you with her?” Her voice broke and a traitorous tear popped out followed by more.
Gray had once said seeing her cry broke his heart all the more because she hardly ever did. He always said he could take anything better than her tears. He had that look in his eyes right now. The one he always got right before he took her into his arms and loved the hurt away. He’d even taken another step toward her, his arms already rising.
She threw her hand up to halt his progress. “Don’t.” She choked out another sob. “I don’t want you touching me.” Ever again.
It had taken Belva exactly two hours last night to decide it was time to leave. Two hours of pacing the living room floor and going over every argument she and Gray had ever had. Most of them had been about the kids. The rest usually centered on the house they lived in—or more specifically, its location.
She’d grown up on a farm with wide open spaces and room to think. A place where kids could play outside without worry. Where everyone knew everyone and stranger danger wasn’t a constant concern.
The cramped neighborhood they lived in was stifling, but it was stylish, a symbol that Gray had moved up in the world. Up from his trailer park roots. Well, he could have it. She was home now, and home was where she’d stay.
Her oldest brother, Wade, had inherited the bulk of the family farm when their dad died, but twenty acres right along the edge of it had been divided among her and the other three siblings. Five acres of nothing but grass and fresh air and her little farmhouse.
She’d had to fight to get Gray to build the small house out here on the property. He’d wanted them to save their money to be able to one day buy an even bigger house than the one they already had in an even fancier neighborhood. Her mom had been fighting cancer at the time and Belva had used that as leverage to get what she wanted.
It wasn’t unusual for them to spend weekends and summer vacations in their country home. They were always happier here, but Gray never would acknowledge that fact. That happiness evaded her at the moment, but it would return.
Belva lifted her head from the pillow and listened. Were the twins up? She’d allowed them to veg out on the sofa watching cartoons all morning. They’d both fallen asleep and she’d taken advantage of the rare naptime to seek the comfort of her bed.
Footsteps sounded in the next room, too heavy to be the kids. Her heart pounded beneath her ribcage. Had Gray come to try and work things out? She kicked her feet, trying to free herself from the covers and had just sat up on the edge of the bed when her sister, Jolene, made an appearance.
Belva’s eyes stung and a heaviness anchored her to the bed.
Jo, not Gray. Of course. He’s at work. With her.
Jolene pulled the door almost closed, kicked her shoes off, and went around to the other side of the bed. “You look like crap, Sis. What’s going on?”
“How’d you know I was here?”
Jo had already pulled the covers back and climbed into bed. “Family grapevine, how else? Wade saw you pull in this morning and mentioned it to Ma. She tried to call you and couldn’t get through. She called Rachel, who said you hadn’t come by there yet. And then she called me. I knew it was only a matter of time before Ma made her way over, so I ran interference by offering to come check on you.”
Belva slid back into bed and laid on her side facing Jo. “I come here all the time. What sounded the alarm this time?”
“You don’t usually come in the middle of the week. When you do come, one of the first things you do is head next door to see Rachel and the boys. Plus, you haven’t answered your phone.”
“I didn’t want to talk to Gray.”
“So y’all had a fight? It must’ve been a doozy.”
“I caught him with another woman.”
Jolene froze. The only thing that moved were her light brown eyes as she studied Belva’s face. Then she blinked and looked away. “I never thought… How did you catch them?”
“I took the kids to Charlotte. We were going to surprise him for lunch. The surprise was on me when I saw him about to kiss another woman. He says he hasn’t slept with her. I don’t know if that’s true or if it even matters. He still cheated.”
“What are you going to do?”
She pressed her trembling lips firmly into submission before answering. “I’ve left him. What else is there to do?”
Jo turned to her back and looked up at the ceiling. “Are you going to give him another chance?”
“I…” She blew out a breath and then inhaled deeply. “I don’t know. I’m not married and have no children. I don’t know what I’d be willing to do to keep my family together. I just don’t know.”
This was not the response she expected from her sister. Jo had always been the fierce one. The one to step into battle and fight against injustice—especially when it came to her family.
“It seems like all Gray and I have done lately is fight. Maybe it’s time to let go. I’m not sure I can get over this. Every time I close my eyes, I see him with her.”
“Maybe you just need time.”
Time wasn’t going to change the fact that he’d been unfaithful. If she took him back and they stayed together for another fifty years, his infidelity would always be a part of their story. Maybe this should be its ending.