The morning after Jim and Vicky's wedding Ann woke lying across her bed. She was still dressed in the same clothes she had worn to their surprise reception. It had killed her to sit outside in her cold car all alone and listen to the party within the VFW hall. That she had brought all this loneliness and ostracism on herself was almost too heavy a burden for her to bear.
Many times over the past months she had considered just packing up and moving away in disgrace like Brice had done. She just couldn't do that though. Her roots were too deep here in Steelville. Except for the time she and Jim had been away while he was in the service this had been the only home she had known. All her family and friends (those she still had left) lived around the town.
She stood and walked into her bathroom. After she had finished washing her hands Ann surveyed herself in the mirror. She was a mess. Her makeup was smudged and there were dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was graying and she had some wrinkles she wished weren't so evident.
Ann looked at herself and whispered, "How could you? How could you do something like that to the only man you ever really loved? Oh, why didn't I trust him enough to go to him for help when that Bastard threatened me?"
With a heavy sigh, Ann began removing her clothes. When she was nude she dropped her clothes from the evening before into the hamper. She grabbed her robe from the back of the door and wandered down the hallway into her lonely kitchen to make her morning coffee. When the pot was half filled with water she snarled, "Fuck it" and turned the water off, sat the pot down and stomped back into her bathroom.
Ann took a quick shower and dressed for the day. She put on jeans and a western shirt. On the way out of her house she put on her boots. She looked at herself in the mirror on the hallway door as she passed. "Not bad for an old Broad," she though.
A few minutes later Ann walked into the café in Steelville. The friendly morning roar died as everyone watched her saunter to a table by the window. She could feel the coolness pervading the café as its patrons drank in her presence. Finally Darlene walked over to her table and asked, "Whatcha want honey?"
Ann took a deep breath and whispered, "A new life maybe?"
Darlene said, "What?" and Ann shook herself. "I'm sorry Darlene. I know you're busy and don't need me crying all over myself here. Just coffee and a half order of Biscuits and Gravy please."
Darlene brought the coffee and a glass of water on her return trip. She looked at Ann a minute the pressed her lips together. After a moment she said in a kinder voice, "Some of us heard what you said to Vicky last night. Jack had to tell us what you told her at Edward's wedding. You blew it with Jim real bad honey. They don't come no better than him but you hang in there. Things'll get better if ya let 'em."
Ann looked up at Darlene in surprise then whispered, "Thanks. You can't know how badly I hurt knowing I let Jim down and lost him. I miss him more and more every day and I know I'll never feel his arms around me again. I feel like my whole insides are torn out but he does deserve better than me. When I see the way he looks at Victoria I cry inside again. I remember when he used to look at me that way. Sometimes I just want to die."
The noise level in the café slowly picked up as the patrons returned to the conversations they had interrupted when Ann came through the door. Ann was working on her third cup of coffee and enjoying her breakfast when the noise level dropped off once again. She looked up and wanted to sink through the floor. Jim and Vicky were coming through the door. They were the last persons she wanted to see this morning!
Vicky got through the door and Jim placed his hand in the small of her back to guide her to a table. Neither of them had seen her yet. Jim stood and surveyed the room to pick their table when his eyes lit on her. Vicky must have seen or felt him start because Ann heard her ask, "What Honey?" as she glanced back at him.
When she saw the direction he was looking Vicky followed his gaze to her. Ann blushed then wished she could sink into the floor when Vicky walked toward her table. When she arrived Vicky asked, "Ann could we sit with you today?"
Ann saw the look of surprise flash across Jim's face and tried to decide what to do. Finally she just nodded her head and said, "Uhhh I guess if you're sure you want to."
Vicky pulled out the chair across from Ann and sat. Jim stood a moment then, with a resigned sigh, he sat beside his new wife. Jim immediately buried his nose in the menu. That was obviously a ploy to ignore the situation because the menu hadn't changed in 5 years. Jim and everyone else knew exactly what the choices were.
Vicky looked at Ann a moment then with a sigh she said, "Ann if we make you uncomfortable we can leave but you look like you could use some company. I'm sure we neither one want you to have any more pain. You did Jim wrong and you paid the price. Now it's time to let it go and live the rest of your life."
Ann looked at Vicky and said, "I know Vicky. I woke up this morning lying across my bed in the same clothes I wore last night. When I was cleaning up this morning I told myself much the same thing. But it's so hard. I just can't make myself leave town. All my family and what few friends I have left are here. My whole life has centered on this town. Even when we were away in the service I felt drawn to this area. It's my home and yet I am an outsider now. I know other women and men have done things like I have and continued on but this is me now and I just don't know what to do. It hurts so much when I walk down the street and see people turn away from me. People I used to have call me a friend. I just don't know what to do now!"
Vicky put her hand over Ann's and said, "You just live Ann. You go through it a day at a time and try to show you're the same person and you have the same values you had before. You rebuild your life on the foundation you have left like I did when David died. My children and friends picked me up and kicked my ass until I started living again."
The noise in the café picked up again when they saw there would be no excitement at the window table. It was obvious a few of the customers were discussing Jim, his wife and his ex wife now instead of their original topic. No one interfered with the three though.
Ann stayed until Jim and Vicky finished their breakfast. They even visited some. All three were careful in their conversation but they did talk. At first they talked about Jim and Ann's two boys, their careers and their wives. They all thought Edward's wedding was tastefully done and they loved Mandy. This built a base for the two women to come together on.
Over the next few weeks, Vicky and Ann would meet in town as Ann began getting out more. Sometimes the two women would have coffee in the window of the café while Jim sat at another table and talked with the men. They never became close friends but they did have enough in common that they could visit. As the rest of the regulars saw Vicky visiting with Ann they became less wary of her and welcomed her into their conversations more easily.
Sometimes Jim would come to the café without Vicky. If Ann were there he would say good morning to her. If either of them had a new letter or e-mail from one of their children they would bring it and share. They would sometimes laugh about the news the children sent in the letters. Sometimes they would be worried or upset and would allay each other's fears.
As the other patrons saw the acceptance Jim and Ann had of each other they began to invite Ann to sit in on their conversations even if Jim and Vicky weren't present. Slowly Ann became a welcome member of the community again. One day Sam followed Ann from the café and when she was about to get into her car he said, "Ann we been talking off and on for weeks now. I kinda enjoy your company and I was wonderin' if you would like to go to the dance with me Friday night?"
Ann stood in shock for a moment and felt her eyes water. "Sam, I ... Uhhh, I don't know. I don't get out much and I'm afraid I might not be to good of company."
"Well, if you don't want to dance maybe we could just go to the dinner before it? If you don't want to stay for the dance I could take ya home after."
Ann wasn't real fond of Sam but she did like him. Finally she said, "Ok Sam. We can go."
The night of the dance Ann dressed western and waited on Sam on pins and needles. When he finally showed up he was thirty minutes late and offered no explanation. Sam smelled strongly of alcohol and Ann almost told him to go back home she was so upset. Ann had nothing against taking a drink or two but she was worried about Sam for some reason. She finally decided she did need to get out so said nothing. Besides, she thought; some of the other people she had been building friendships with might be at the dance.
From the moment she got into Sam's truck Ann was worried her decision to go with him had been a mistake. After the doors closed she was sure he had more than one drink before picking her up. His driving was erratic and he kept calling her honey and other terms of endearment that she felt were inappropriate for their relationship. They finally arrived at the dance and Sam hit the curb so hard his truck popped up on the sidewalk. He didn't even back up, just turned it off and said, "Well darling, here we are. Let's go cut a rug."
.... There is more of this story ...