Josh exited his car, resisting the urge to kick the fender. He felt frustrated and enraged – angry that he couldn’t find a closer parking spot, angry at the blazing sun causing him to sweat, but mostly angry about this appointment.
The closer he walked to the office, the anger began to dissipate and was replaced by a consuming sadness bordered by disbelief. After twenty-five years, had it really come to this?
The rush of cool air from the office interior felt good on his flushed cheeks. Although he knew he was early, he checked in with the receptionist.
“Take a seat,” she said pleasantly.
He sat near the door, his eyes sliding over the few seated there. He wondered what their stories were, and with the wondering came the flood of memories.
He still couldn’t accept what was happening. They had been sweethearts throughout high school, marrying as soon as they’d graduated. They were young and penniless, but so in love. In those early days, the only gifts he could afford was Snickers candy bars, Michelle’s favorite. He bought them for her frequently and for every occasion. Later, they affectionately referred to that time as their Snickers years.
Josh stared at his hands. Grease was permanently caked under his nails, his hands rough and gritty. No matter how hard he scrubbed, they never looked clean.
His hands never used to bother Michelle. He earned a good living as a mechanic. He’d gone to work at his dad’s garage right after high school. Although he now owned a garage, he still loved working on cars. He twisted uncomfortably in his seat, hating the suit he’d worn. It was his suit from their daughter Emily’s wedding, but he knew he’d only wore it that day for Michelle.
He clasped his hands together, trying to still the nervous trembling. He swallowed around the lump in his throat, tears pricking his eyes at the futility of thinking that wearing a suit would make any difference. He was still a mechanic.
It was when Emily married and Kyle went to college that things changed. “I feel so empty, so useless,” Michelle had said one night, “maybe I’ll get a job.” Then she’d burst into tears while Josh stared, confused and at a loss for words.
Michelle had gotten a job as a secretary in a prestigious law firm. And she changed…new wardrobe, hairdo, dinner with co-workers, membership in a gym, manicures and pedicures. She wanted to look professional, beautiful, but she had always been beautiful to him, even in old jeans and a t-shirt.
Then the subtle complaining started. Nothing about Josh seemed to please her anymore. Sometimes he’d catch her staring at him with pity. She stopped going to church saying that she needed her sleep on Sunday mornings.
She became a completely different person, someone Josh didn’t know or recognize. This new Michelle made him feel ashamed and inadequate. He wasn’t polished or college educated. He was just a hard working family man who loved his wife and children.
“I don’t even know how to compete with the sophisticated people Michelle hangs out with now” he’d told his pastor, his head hung low as tears slipped down his cheeks.
Michelle had dismissed his suggestion for counseling with their pastor. “There’s nothing I need to talk to the pastor about,” she’d said.
Even when Michelle asked for a divorce, Josh couldn’t believe it. “We’ve grown apart, Josh. I don’t love you anymore. The kids are grown now, and it won’t affect them.”
“Michelle, please don’t do this,” he’d begged, sobbing.
He saw something flicker in her eyes. For a brief moment, it was the Michelle he knew, the Michelle that would never do this. Then it was gone.
She was wrong about the kids. Both Emily and Kyle had cried when she told them. Again he saw that flicker in her eyes, that wavering, the uncertainty. But she had squared her shoulders and stood her ground.
Now he sat in a lawyer’s office with a tiny ray of hope, praying it would be enough. He saw through the window as Michelle came strolling across the parking lot, poised and confident.
When she sat next to him, he took a deep breath, reached inside his jacket and handed her the Snickers. She stared, her trembling hand reaching for the candy bar.
“Oh, Josh,” she whispered, her voice breaking. Then she took his hand and brought it to her cheek.
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