From FINDING FORTUNE, by L.A. Belmontéz
What was a woman without “it”? Valerie wondered in the car on the way to get Marina. She used to tell herself she could get “it” back but now she wondered if she wasn’t too far gone. Frumpy-dumpy frumpy-dumpy. It kept going through her mind. And at school on the playground, waiting, she fit right in with all the other frumpy-dumpy moms living a humdrum existence.
To think she was the author of The Princess Problem: From the Pea to Prosperity. It was a good thing she could laugh again. She would have to fix herself up for the headshot that was to go on the back cover. For now, she was incognito, not frumpy—never frumpy.
The dress was still on the bed where she had left it when Marina walked in later. Valerie was downstairs putting things away and just on her way back up when she called.
“Mom! Where’d this dress come from?”
“What?” Valerie asked as she came through the double doors to the bedroom.
Marina was beside the bed picking it up. “It’s pretty.”
Valerie had forgotten she’d left it out and suddenly felt exposed. She hadn’t meant for Marina to find it. Not that she had kept it hidden, but here was Marina holding it up to herself— “It is pretty, isn’t it?”
“When did you get it?”
The questions. It was just a dress. But if it didn’t matter then why was it so much easier when he was dead?
“Oh, I’ve had it for a long time.”
It was the truth. She wouldn’t lie.
“Did you wear it with him?
Silence hung in the air before Valerie responded. “Yes.”
“I wish he weren’t dead.”
Valerie looked at her daughter in sympathy, and not knowing what to say, turned away to get back to unpacking. Marina loved an audience though. She was going to be an actress, and when she had the dress on, paraded downstairs to show her mother. Valerie was working on another box and looked up to see her daughter take dramatic steps down the stairs as if she were already famous, the dress hanging like a potato sack, the hem skimming each step, Marina trying not to trip on it and to keep it from sliding from her shoulders.
“Honey, that’s way too big. You can’t wear that.”
“I know,” Marina replied, feigning despair and batting her long dark lashes while attempting to maintain an innocent smile, which was all the more endearing because it couldn’t have been anything else. “But can I wear it for my quinceaños?” she asked sweetly, in her best efforts to convince her mother, as if it was ever very difficult.
There wasn’t a day Valerie didn’t fall in love all over again. Marina noticed the wistful look in her eyes and gave her a strange look. Then knowing she’d been caught, Valerie snapped herself back, quickly flashing a brighter smile.
“Well, yes, if you’d like.”
“I knew you’d say yes!” the girl shrieked, and grabbed her mother, planting her with a big kiss before she ran up the stairs.
Better. Off. Dead.
None of this was going away. That damn dress. Valerie waited until Marina was in bed that night before she dared look up anything else. She was in her pajamas and kept the lights low just in case. If a man can come back to life with one click on Search, she could figure out where to find him, and within minutes she saw that he was registered for the Third Annual Caribbean Master’s Golf Tournament in Cartagena.
“Ohmygod,” she muttered to herself, staring at the screen.
She wanted it to be real. Then she didn’t. But what was real? It was all more than she could take. Nine years believing something to find out you’ve been believing a lie and there’s nobody to be mad at because it’s a lie you’ve been telling yourself, a lie that won’t work anymore. She hated that he left. She hated that she never knew why. And she hated herself.
She turned from the computer but the truth wasn’t going away. It glared from the screen behind her. It faced her on the floor where Marina had left the dress crumpled in a heap. She picked up the dress and hung it in the closet across from the bathroom where the vanity mirror wouldn’t let her hide as she came out.
“Gawd,” she said, finding herself pathetic. “And I wrote the book on what to do about it.”
She turned to check out her butt, tried to give it a push up. “Best wiggle” is what she got voted for in high school because they weren’t allowed to say “butt.” When had it flopped? She slid her hands under her pajama top, cupped her breasts—what was left of them after nursing—made a face and shook her head.
The next day Valerie was in sweats with a bad ponytail and no make-up, scrubbing the toilet when the phone rang. April was at her desk amongst stacks of case files, typing an email to another client as Valerie pulled off her rubber gloves to answer.
“Hi, sweetie. Are you busy?”
“What is it?”
“I need you down here.”
It wasn’t a request. They hung up and Valerie finished the job, flushing the toilet.
Later she walked in to the Las Vegas law firm all cleaned up, checked in with the receptionist, a pretty young woman from Calgary, and walked straight into April’s office, braced for anything. But April met her with a smile like she was in possession of the next best secret.
“I am so glad you were able to come in.”
“What’s going on?”
“I hope you’re not going to be mad. You might want to have a seat.”
Valerie hesitated, but did as she was told.
“Don’t take this too hard, but you probably didn’t need to move back.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No. But this might help make you feel a little better.” With a smile, April cocked an eyebrow, picked up a check from her desk that she tapped on her palm, and handed it to Valerie. “As it turns out, we were able to collect.”
Valerie stared at the check in her hand, not sure whether to laugh or cry, then both women stood for an instant hug.
“How did you do it? And so soon?” Valerie breathed in astonishment. “I mean, I thought you said we might never see a penny.”
A devious, satisfied smile spread over April’s face. “Any and all means.”
“Let there be justice.”