Exposure, Book 1
Ten years. Ten delusional, fucked-up years. I stare down at the divorce decree in my hand, barely hearing my attorney, Dave, as he drones on, pointing out the sections laying out custody arrangements and the right to take back my maiden name.
Take it back. Like I gave the bastard rights to my name just by marrying him and taking his. After being fucked over—literally and figuratively—by this man for ten goddamn years, he has the gall to sit across the table smirking at me as though granting my name back to me is some kind of fucking favor.
What I wouldn’t give for a shotgun and an alibi. I don’t want his name anymore anyway.
But the name is really irrelevant, sort of salt in the wound. What’s really pissing me off is that he’s handing over full custody of our daughters without so much as blinking.
When we first met with our attorneys to discuss custody, he told me, all arrogance and spite, “I’d just like to see them once a month. Since I’ll be pretty busy.” Like he thinks all the big-busted eighteen-year-old blondes for three states are going to fall on his dick as soon as the papers are signed. Fat chance.
And even if they do, I can always hope his dick falls off infected, itchy, painful, discolored, and shriveled up like a rotten string bean. The thought almost makes me smile. But my divorce proceedings are probably not the best place to start pointing at my soon-to-be ex-husband’s raccoon dick and snickering manically. I wonder if they’d have me committed if I stood up and pointed at him, screaming Salem-style, “Witch!” Or maybe I should speak gibberish and put a curse on him. I make a mental note to check into witchcraft, voodoo, and anything else that might grant me the opportunity to have his balls wither like raisins.
My attorney clears his throat and I look up at him, still a little dazed as I realize he stopped talking awhile ago. Several minutes probably. His mud brown eyes have no expression, his face cast in stone. Before coming in he warned me to keep my cool, show no emotion that could prompt Corey to change his mind and be even more vindictive before he actually signs and makes the divorce final. Dave even promised me a bottle of wine once it was final, as long as I manage to avoid crying or screaming. I take a deep, fortifying breath and give him a tiny nod, returning my gaze to the document in front of me and trying to focus on the legalese enough to understand it.
Divorced. Divorcee. Single, cast-aside, thirty-something, unwanted housewife. Wonder if I should take an ad out in the paper using those exact words. Maybe I’ll get a job that way, because my options otherwise are looking pretty slim. I dropped out of college to marry Corey and haven’t worked since our oldest daughter, Hannah, was born a mere eleven months into the marriage. Even before then, the only job I had was in retail, which didn’t pay shit. But Corey wanted me to stay home, take care of the house, and raise the kids. I was okay with that, especially when Carmen came along two years after Hannah. It hadn’t bothered me when both girls were in school and I had the house to myself all day long while he was at work. Plenty of other things about my marriage were fucked up without me being disappointed over not working. But after ten years, it looks like that turned out to be his deal breaker.
Three months ago, he came home from work, had dinner, and watched me put the girls to bed without speaking. When he finally decided to talk, he calmly stated he didn’t want to be married to a woman that wouldn’t get a job, and that he’d filed for divorce.
That was it. No discussion, no request for me to work…nothing. And he was calm…that in itself was disturbing. And in an instant, all the love I’d tried in vain to keep alive for the sake of our marriage and children had disintegrated without an ounce of regret. And I realized that the past few years—when his drinking got worse, his temper exploded, and he became a slug—that I’d begun a slow fire of hatred for him. And he threw gasoline on it.
I’m ready to be free of him, I really am. But every time—except now—that I’ve seen him since we separated he asks in a snarky voice, “Find a job yet?” And every time I’ve had that moment of doubt. What am I going to do? We’ve never been rich. He makes decent money, not a fortune, but enough for us to live comfortably on. It was a shitty marriage, but at least I was comfortable. I’m going to have to start out at minimum wage, working my ass off for peanuts. It will be years before I gain enough experience to actually earn enough to support myself and the girls without the meager child support he has to pay. Six hundred dollars a month is all a judge deems my daughters are worth.
Well he’s a fucking bastard too.
At least custody has never come into question. I have to be thankful for that, if nothing else. I would have fought it with every ounce of my being if he challenged me. But I think he knows that I’d bring up things that he doesn’t want revealed: that he’s a mean drunk and every day is a reason to drink. The head of city hall’s maintenance department doesn’t want the whole town to know that he can’t control his drinking or his temper. He’s a closet asshole, I guess. I should have left him years ago, as soon as the drinking got out of control. I don’t know why I didn’t. Maybe I’m just lazy, and it was a little too hard.
I finish perusing the paperwork and give Dave a questioning look. He nods slightly, just once, to let me know that he’s already looked it over and everything is as it should be. I sign it and slide the packet to him, figuring if my attorney can’t act as mediator, he’s pretty useless. I don’t even want the mental contact necessary to pass it to Corey. But Dave—sweet, pot-bellied, should-have-retired-last-century attorney that he is—doesn’t have to be told, and hands the paperwork to Corey’s attorney, who in turn passes it to him. Corey signs with a shit-eating grin, slams the pen down, stands with a smug smile at me, and struts from the room. His attorney watches him leave, open-mouthed, before muttering something unintelligible while she gathers the paperwork and follows my worthless ex-husband out the door. Ex. God damn, that sounds good.
And just like that…I’m free.
Sure, the girls and I are living with my dad, I have no job prospects, no money, and no idea what tomorrow will bring. But that doesn’t matter, not right now.
Because I’m finally free.
I choke back a sob of relief as Dave wraps a pudgy arm around me. Thank you, God. Finally.
Dave does give me that bottle of wine, but I’ll save it for another day. My best friend Sierra calls and offers to buy all my drinks as long as I go to some new club in Mobile with her. I don’t make her twist my arm, because a night on the town is exactly what I need while the ink dries on my divorce settlement. Just one night to myself, as a free woman, before I plunge headfirst into the stress and difficulties of single parenthood.
One of the upsides of staying with my dad through all of this is that he loves his granddaughters more than their own father and doesn’t mind watching them for me whenever I need. And since my dad is the king of awesome dads everywhere, he agrees that I need to drown my sorrows for a night. He even told me to find a stranger to go home with. I giggle a little, remembering, and Sierra pokes me in the arm.
“What’s so funny?”
I grin over at her, glad that she sat in the back seat with me instead of in the front with her pushover, lovable husband, Brad, who has agreed to drop us off at the bar and pick us up when we’re ready. “Just remembering how awkward it was when Dad told me to have a one night stand.”
Sierra rolls her eyes and gives a short bark of laughter. “Girl, your dad was a player once upon a time. Every single female teacher—and half the married ones—in the high school chased him and, if you believe half the stories, he usually let them catch him.”
“I know. But that’s different than telling your daughter to get laid.”
“I guess.” She watches me silently for an uncomfortable moment before asking quietly, “Are you all right? I mean, I know you’re glad to be rid of that two-hundred-pound tumor you called a husband, but seriously. Are you okay?”
I smile tightly and try to stop the tears from falling and ruining my mascara. “Yeah. I’m better than I’ve been in years.” And that’s the truth, even though I’ve been crying for days and she has every reason not to believe me. Everyone thinks I’m crying as a rejected, abandoned wife. I’m not; it’s relief, but that’s not something I want anyone to know.
Sierra eyes me doubtfully, her lips pursed, then reaches into her purse for a tissue. She dabs lightly at the corners of my eyes and says, “You don’t look okay. And you’re going to look worse if you boo-hoo and ruin your make-up.”
I brush her hand away and snap, “Then stop being all lovey-dovey-friendly and making me cry. I hope Corey dies painfully in a tragic farming accident…”
“He’s not a farmer, honey,” Brad interrupts.
“I know that, Brad.” I roll my eyes at him. Corey would have been a piss poor farmer. He doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hard work.’ “But maybe he can visit a farm or something and fall into a wood chipper.”
“You’ve watched Fargo too much,” Sierra says, flipping her braids back, beads clinking. She loves to make them clink.
“My point is…” I raise my voice slightly, to emphasize that though I love them both, they’re still interrupting me. “…that I’m not the least bit sad about Corey not sweating all over my sheets anymore.” Among other things. “But I am glad I have friends like you guys.” Brad beams at me from the rearview mirror and Sierra snorts.
“I swear to God, if you turn into one of those weepy ‘I love you so much’ drunks, I’m going to leave your ass at the bar by your damn self.”
“I won’t leave you,” Brad assures me.
“Thanks, Brad,” I mutter. I’m not worried about Sierra leaving me. She’s tough, and expects the people around her to be tough as well. That goes for me too. But if I’m not, she’ll pick me up, dust me off, and then kick me in the ass to get me moving again. That’s just her way. She grew up with an absentee father, a mother that couldn’t manage to be a parent, and an older brother that could get any drug the imagination could dream of. Her brother’s serving time in the state pen, her mother cut all ties and ran as soon as Sierra graduated high school, and her dad is still absent. She got her shit together all by herself, and insists that people handle what they’re given, but that we’re all capable of much more. Plus, she’s a nurse, so her tough meter has to be completely off the charts. Needles. God, no thank you.
Despite all those obstacles, she’s somehow managed to command respect, and in a small Alabama town, that’s no small feat for a black woman from across the tracks. Racism is alive and well here. But I was taught better, and if the hicks in Corybelle want to think less of her because she’s black, that’s their problem. Sierra pulled me off of more than one rebel-flag-toting jackass in high school, just so she could get to them. She’s a ‘fight my own battles’ kind of girl.
Then she met Brad in college, and decided that all white men aren’t completely ignorant. They fell into a funny kind of love, and have a relationship that I don’t really understand. But it works for them, and that’s what counts. She walks all over him, but he loves it. Sometimes I wonder if he’s the kind of guy that wants her to squish his balls with high heels. Jesus, that would explain a lot.
“Earth to Eluned.” Sierra smacks me in the shoulder.
I smack her back. “Don’t fucking call me Eluned!” I hate the name. But since my mother decided not to abort me only at the insistence of my father, he got to choose my name. And I am here to say, a historian-slash-mythology-buff makes a piss-poor baby namer. Namer. Is that a word? Anyway, Eluned was, in Arthurian legends, handmaiden to the Lady of the Fountain and had a magic ring that made the wearer invisible. Kind of a Lord of the Rings ring, except not evil. She was mostly known for her beauty and intelligence and was highly revered.
Not so much in the twenty-first century, which means as soon as I reached the age of ten and realized that it was a stupid fucking name—but deep down, I’ve always thought it’s kind of beautiful too—I insisted everyone around me call me Luna. Sierra knows this. She uses my full name when she wants to piss me off.
She gives me an evil smile and says, “Are you listening to me?”
No, I wasn’t. I was wandering around in my own thoughts. I shrug. “Not really. Lost in thought.”
“I was trying to tell you that we’re going to that new 30s club in Mobile. Club 30 or something. Brad works with a guy that took his wife, and said it was a total sausage fest. Even if you didn’t look like a walking orgasm you’d get hit on.” She eyes the bottom of the short, black dress I’m wearing, where it ends indecently before mid-thigh. “But damn, girl. You dressed like you’re shopping.”
I pluck at the hem absently. Clothes like this are not the norm for me, not for a while. The entirety of my marriage I wore what Corey wanted, and he didn’t like sexy little numbers. Said they made me look like a tramp. Well, fuck him. Sometimes a woman just wants to look good. “Hey, I’m unemployed and you guys aren’t rich. You can’t afford to buy me drinks all night, so these babies are going to do it for me.” I put my hands under my boobs and bounce them a little for emphasis. They’re bigger than they used to be, and not nearly as perky. My stomach isn’t taut and flat any more, and has a few stretch marks. But I’ve still got great legs, especially with the black, peep toe, fuck-me heels I bought five years ago and never wore. And hey, for thirty with two kids, I’m not doing that bad. I’m not a runner or a gym rat, but I’ve walked every weekday since Carmen started preschool. I’m not saying I look fantastic, but in the dim lighting of a bar or club, I know I’ll look pretty good. And I remember enough from my pre-marriage days about finding the guy that’s buzzed but not drunk and drawing his attention to my boobs when I mention how thirsty I am. Surely it hasn’t changed that much in ten years. I can get a few free drinks, but I’m not going to inspire any marriage proposals. And if a handsome, wealthy, single, muscular, hung-like-a-bull Greek god approaches and begs to pleasure me in the presidential suite of the Hilton…well, I probably won’t say no. But the odds are fairly slim, I think. Most likely the only man I’ll regret in the morning is Jose Cuervo, and really…I think I’m a lot happier with that.
* * * *
The club isn’t too crowded, but holy crap, Brad was right about the sausage fest. At first glance I only see about seven or eight other women, but the re-purposed warehouse has no less than a hundred people spread between the long bar, wide dance floor, and numerous tables.
Sierra waves to Brad as he pulls away, and the door swings closed behind her, cutting out the remaining sunlight in favor of the dim interior of the club. Brad didn’t want to go in with us, said he understood that I need a girls’ night, and I marvel at the fact that he’s laid back enough to be okay with his wife flirting and drinking while he waits around for her to be done.
The more I think about it, the more I’m fairly sure Sierra squishes his balls. Wonder if she makes him wear one of those things that keeps him from getting hard. A cock-cage. That’s it. Hey, I read trashy romance like every other woman out there. And the latest craze is BDSM, and I admit…I snuck out of bed a few nights while Corey snored and drooled to hide in the bathroom with a vibrator and my e-reader. I don’t know if it’s true that women hit their sexual peak in their thirties and I’m just hitting it, or if the increasing raunchiness of the novels I read is responsible for my frantic midnight masturbation sessions. Whatever the case, Corey sure wasn’t invited to my one woman, one dildo parties. He couldn’t find a clit if it bit his fucking tongue off. A clit with teeth. Hmm. That’s something to hope evolution takes care of. Or, if not teeth, maybe a sign that says “Right here, you dipshit.”
I take a deep breath and focus on the men in the club. I don’t want to be the bitter divorcee, but I have the feeling it’s going to take some effort. I lower my head slightly and examine the men at the bar first. That’s the best place to find a sucker…er, gentleman to buy a lady a drink, and it’s easier to approach a man sitting at a bar. Plus it’s not as crowded, and I can examine them. Some attractive, some not. One on the far end has dark hair with grey sprinkled at his temples. He seems to be the best bet as far as being able to afford a few drinks. He’s wearing nice shoes, black pants, and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I’ve always thought that was sexy.
On second thought, he’s not a very good choice. He’s drinking a bottle of water, and is way too good looking for me to successfully squeeze a drink out of if he’s sober. I move on to the next guy.
He’s a good possibility. Baggy T-shirt and jeans that are in serious need of a bigger waistband. His hair’s a bit unkempt and I get the feeling that even in what is probably his late thirties, he’s living in his mom’s basement. I discard him too. I can’t dupe someone I feel genuine sympathy for. It’s just wrong. I’d feel sorry for him and after enough alcohol, I’d probably end up letting him grope me in the parking lot just so he doesn’t realize I was using him for free drinks. No thanks. I’m not a big fan of feeling guilty or being groped by a stranger.
The next guy is not to my taste at all. Slim and blond, with soft features, he looks like a non-greasy version of Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s dressed nicely enough, but I can’t stand a man that would look prettier than me in a dress. With sudden inspiration, I realize that makes this guy a perfect target. He’s a safe bet because there’s absolutely no immediate physical attraction on my part, and I won’t know him long enough to develop any other kind of attraction. It’s a sure thing that I won’t end up going home with him, and I still don’t know if I’m looking for a one night stand. So for now, I need someone that’s not tempting.
I look closer, to make sure I can use him without the guilt. He’s wearing a polo shirt and khakis, which probably means he’s—at the very least—employed. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. No wedding band, and—Joy!—he has an empty martini glass by his elbow and a fresh one in his hand.
There’s a sucker born every minute and Sierra likes to say “If you find a sucker, lick it.” I won’t be licking him, but I will be using him shamelessly, at least for a few minutes. I nudge Sierra and see that she’s already noted my destination.
“Let’s get ’em, girl,” she whispers and gently pushes me toward the bar.
I grin at her and we sashay in his direction.