return – chapter 1

CHAPTER 1

Thirty years ago

They were two weeks from being married and she hoped tonight’s dinner would bring good news.

“Joanne,” her handsome fiance said in his baritone voice, looking deep into her eyes over the candlelight. It was one of New York’s finest Italian restaurants, one of his favorites. The blend of cilantro, fresh tomatoes and red wine filled her senses.

She leaned forward, looking into his blue eyes. Most said Devin Cartier looked like a movie star. He was the son of a millionaire jewelry designer. Ginger hair, a refined mustache, he had an element of class that only someone would years of prep school and the blue blood running through his veins could wear effortlessly.

“So, I thought for the reception we could ask the guests in lieu of giving us wedding gifts to write a check to the children’s hospital. Those poor children, most of whom don’t” she said, but his serious expression stopped her from finishing her sentence.

“What is it, dear?” asked Joanne, pressing her hands against her knee-high, pink, satin cocktail dress. Sipping the red wine, Joanne hoped the bitter drink would calm her. Devin was her first love, at least she thought that’s what he was.

Her mother didn’t like him and asked her not to run away to New York with him, to wait for someone else before she passed away. But her mother didn’t see Devin like she did. He promised her the world and for a small town girl like her, it was a dream. She swore she’d never return to that town again.

“I” He was nervous. Why? There was silence between them; just the violinist playing for another couple and the hushed murmur of the elite guests. Maybe he had a surprise for her though she couldn’t imagine what it would be. Some said she was too young to marry, only 22. But all the wedding invitations had been sent out, hundreds of guests, the finest families of all of New York would come. She’d packed up all her belongings and put them in storage until they could move into the penthouse he promised her.

She gave him a warm smile, then stared into her half-eaten spaghetti. Another sacrifice she’d made, starving herself day after day to keep trim and to keep his eyes from roving at other women.

Whatever it was couldn’t be that serious. She was nervous too, but now they could move forward with their lives after years of promises, investing her time, her heart, her hopes and dreams all in him.

He cleared his throat. “There’s something I need to tell you.” Had he changed his mind about them having children one day? She’d always wanted them and he always had one excuse or another.

“I love you too,” she said with a glint in her eyes. Her pronunciation eloquent, years of elocution lessons he insisted on hid her humble country beginnings.

“I think we should end it.” Her blood froze in shock. He made it sound so transactional as if she hadn’t done everything he asked her to do to be the perfect woman he said he wanted her to be. Starved herself, gave up her dream, left her own family behind just for him.

Any moment now and she’d wake up from this nightmare.

Four years they’d been dating. She’d even given him her virginity.

She was flawless, heads turned whenever she entered a room. Joanne was at the top of the class at her university and even switched majors to anthropology, something she hated, instead of her dream of being an actress because he said it wasn’t becoming of a Cartier to engage in such activities and because he’d promised to take care of her.

“You’re just tired. We can talk about it another time,” she said, forcing a smile as she folded and refolded the fine silk blood red napkin on her lap.

He rested his hand on top of hers. “You know I love you, it’s just … I’ve met someone else.” The words burned, but his hand was cold and brought no comfort. Her hand retracted.

Her nose stung. She would not give him the dignity of seeing her cry, not in public. She cleared her throat. “Good evening, Devin.”

She looked at the fine oil paintings on the wall, wanting to escape into them as she waited for him to pull out the chair for her so she could leave.  He did nothing of the sort. She turned, rising about to exit when he said, “Joanne?”

For a moment, she hoped he’d apologize and say it was a joke, cruel as it was. She waited for the words that would heal her heart. “Yes?”

“The engagement ring. It was my grandmother’s.” She frowned, sliding it off her finger. Her blood boiled, but her mother taught her a proper lady never showed her anger in public.

“Did you want me to pay for the check?” asked Devin.

Proper lady, my foot. She splashed the red wine in his face and tossed the ring on the table. “Hope you two are happy together.”

She draped her little purse over her shoulder, maneuvering through the tables of guests with their jaws agape. He’d make her pay for that public embarrassment, the vindictive man always did, but it was worth it. At least she hoped. NEXT>>