Seeing Sarah sitting next to Sean is beyond my limits. After yesterday, my gasket is going to blow. How dare he bring her—she doesn’t belong here. Sean has some serious balls. First, he has the edacity to accuse me of cheating on him with our friend and then … then he brings his little whore to our daughter’s graduation. This has to be his all time low.
My teeth hurt from grinding them so hard. “Look at her smile like she’s a proud parent,” I growl, so only Heather can hear me. At this point, I couldn’t care less if Sarah hears me, but I’m trying to keep my cool for Lexie’s sake. This is her day.
Heather squeezes my arm reassuring me that I am not the only one who is disgusted by Sean and his shenanigans. “Calm—stay calm,” she whispers.
Lexie squeals when they make the announcement for everyone to find their seats. “I have to go and sit with my class.” She leans down and kisses me on the cheek and gives me a tight hug. “I love you, Momma.”
“I love you too baby girl … I’m so proud of you.” I watch her bounce off in the crowd of people while Heather tries to navigate through the horde of people as they all pile into the aisles of seats. The auditorium has a special seating section for wheelchairs, so Heather pushes me to the roped off section. At least I get a front row seat. I should be able to get some great photos. A folding chair is set up for Heather. She probably would prefer to sit with the rest of the family, but thankfully she volunteered to hang out with me after Carrie had to cancel due to her work making her go out of town. At least Carrie should be home to make it to the graduation party we have planned tomorrow.
“These are better seats anyway,” she says as she takes her seat.
The class graduating today is three-hundred-thirty-seven students. It’s a big number. The ceremony will probably take forever. At least Lexie’s last name is Cooper so she should be around the front.
A few announcements, speeches and commencement and then the process of handing out the diplomas start. I wiggle uncomfortably until I see Lexie standing in line. Only a couple of more kids stand in front of her and then … she’ll officially be done with high school. My heart swells. She has made it.
I push myself to a standing position. This moment deserves a standing ovation. I snap a few photos and the tears of happiness roll down my cheeks.
“You’re standing?” Heather is shocked, In truth, this is the first time I’ve actually really pushed myself up to both feet and remained balanced. I smile warmly at her and see her tears.
“Are those for Lexie or me?”
She laughs and pats a tissue at her wet droplets. “Both I suppose.” She grabs me in an embrace, and then we sit to watch the rest of the students make their way to the podium.
I would rather not gather with the rest of the family milling around. Heather heads straight for them. I grunt to myself. The first thing I notice is Sean’s arm draped over Sarah and her edged in snuggled tightly against him. I should be used to them spooning each other—I’m not. It makes my stomach turn. I feel the burning daggers boring into me from Sarah. Good. I get under her skin too.
“I’d like to take everyone to dinner.” Sean pipes up.
My demeanor has always been quiet and meek, but since my awakening two weeks ago—I woke reborn. I don’t want to be meek and mild anymore. “Maybe you should hold on to that cash of yours until you see how much I rip from you in court.”
Everyone goes silent. It’s like the waters have been parted—me and Sean face each other down. Sean usually has a lot to say, but he stands saying nothing, eyeing me.
“Slander, is not something I’m going to standby and take.” I shake my head dejectedly. “Lance … Really? You’re telling people I was cheating on you with Lance?” My voice gets louder with my growing confidence. “It’s you that’s the damn cheater! You’re a lying, cheating bastard!”
I hear a voice—a familiar voice—behind me. I turn my head when I feel a hand on my shoulder. My eyes skim up over a pair of black dress shoes, a nice pair of black slacks, a white dress shirt tucked under a suit jacket … and then they meet a beautiful set of steely blues. “Ethan,” I breathlessly say his name—shocked to see him here.
“What’s going on?” The concern etched on his face, brings my temper to an abrupt halt.
What am I doing? Do I really need to play Sean’s games in front of my kids, my mom, my sister?
“I … I … uh,” I turn back and look at a speechless Sean. “This is my family.” I rapidly spin the situation around. “Heather, Joe, my mother Mary, my sons Mathew and Ben, and my daughter Lexie and that’s …”
“Sarah,” Ethan interrupts.
“Oh, you two know each other?”
Ethan lifts one side of his lips into a half grin, “We went to school together.”
My stomach was in knots before, but a new sensation of having my intestines wrung out cripples my insides. The last two weeks I have been sick over the fact that Sean dumped me for a younger woman, and then, it turns out that the guy that has given me wings is the same age as her. They went to damn school together. I need to vomit. I suddenly feel, no better than Sean.
I turn my chair around as fast as I can with the crowd of people swarming everywhere. I don’t care that my family all think that I’ve lost my mind—I have.
“Nikki … wait. Come on Nikki where are you going?”
I stop in the middle of the foyer, feeling lost. Ethan comes around in front of me; his eyebrows pulled together in confusion. “What’s going on? Are you upset that I know Sarah?”
He’s right, none of this is his fault. “No, I’m not upset that you know her. I … I, just. Ethan this isn’t going to work.”
“What do you mean?” he squats down so that our faces are right in line. There is no way for me to avoid his eyes. “Nikki, what do you mean?”
I wish I was stronger to keep my tears tucked away—I’m not. “Us.”
He scoots closer and raises his strong, but soft hand to my cheek to wipe away my tears. “Baby … don’t give up on us, yet. We still have a lot of growing to do.”
Growing couldn’t be a more fitting word. “Ethan, that guy with Sarah …” He glances up and over my shoulder; when I know he’s seen who I’m talking about I continue, “that’s my husband. He cheated on me with her.” I cringe—the last few words stinging when I say them out loud.
“Crap Nikki, I’m sorry, but what does that have to do with us? Do you still love him?”
I let out a deep breath, Of course, that’s what he would think. He doesn’t let the idea of an age gap bother him. I, on the other hand, obsess over it. “Damn it, Ethan, No! Don’t you get it? Sarah is so much younger. My husband dumped me for a younger, newer, better version. I hate him for choosing someone younger than me … and then, you come along. I feel alive again, but—you know her—you’re the same age. I’m no better than him.” I blurt out all of my emotions no holding back.
“I see. You don’t want to give us a try because I’m too young for you. It would make you look like what—a cougar?”
I hate that term. I nod yes and to my surprise Ethan throws his head back and laughs. “Lucky for you I don’t give a flying fuck what people think, and your husband is an idiot.” He pushes up and covers my mouth with his.
I’m in disbelief, but the way he forces the kiss on me, I fade right along with the chatter and noises in the background. I relax and let go, breathing him in like he’s my last breath. I’m free falling with Ethan—thankful that he isn’t so easily pushed away—hopeful that I might actually be good enough that he’s willing to fight for me.
I moan in protest when he pulls his lips back. “Don’t push me away. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay,” I agree. He graces me with another kiss—a softer kiss and then stands.
“Your family is staring at us.”
Hesitantly, I turn around and see every single one of them, wide-eyed with disbelief … even Sarah. Heat rises to my cheeks, and I know that they are glowing crimson from embarrassment.
I am filled with so many emotions, and I know that Ethan can see every last one of them when I look back to him. For a moment we silently just stare at each other. Unspoken words. This feels too right. Is he the one?
“Wait a minute. What are you doing here anyways?” I laugh lightly. The last few moments have been so intense that it never once crossed my mind that we’re at a graduation ceremony.
I don’t know what it is about that mouth, but his carefree smile and dimple send my body buzzing in a chaotic frenzy. “My little cousin graduated today. I came to see the little shit actually complete something.”
“How thoughtful of you.”
“… and you came for your daughter?”
I chance a glance back at Lexie still in her cap and gown, “Yeah”.
“You must be proud?”
“I am,” I say simply.
Ethan flicks his head to let me know that someone is coming up behind us. Here it comes. It’s Heather. “Uhh … everyone is going to the restaurant.” I know she is wondering if I want to join the circus since Sean and his lovely are the ones paying.
My eyes dart to Ethan—I’m not sure if I’m ready for this, but … “Want to come to dinner with us?” I wait for the accusations and disapproval from Heather—they don’t come.
His eyebrows raise, “really?”
“Yes, it would mean a lot to me if you would come.” I admit.
Ethan’s smile spreads wide across his face, “It would be my pleasure.”
The priceless look on Heather’s face will be imprinted in my mind for a while. “By the way Heather, this is my …” I take a quick deep breath and exhale, “My boyfriend, Ethan.” Maybe I am a little ahead of myself announcing him as my boyfriend, but I can see Ethan’s ego grow by my introduction.
“Well, umm … hello,” my sister stutters. “So, do you want to follow us or …” Her babbling makes me inwardly laugh. This will definitely be interesting.
Ethan is the one to take charge and answer, “We’ll follow you guys,” and starts pushing me toward the exit. “Boyfriend, eh?” I bend my head back to get a clear view of the beautiful man standing above me.
He leans over and pecks me on the forehead. “I like that,” he replies.