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Child Support
by Betty Craker Henderson

Category: Mainstream Missouri Writers Guild Award Winner
Description: What happens when a woman who has enjoyed twenty years of easy living is betrayed and dumped by her husband? Although Cheryl Foster finds the situation tough to handle, she's positive Paul will see the light and come crawling back ... until he actually weds Belynda. Now, Cheryl screws-up big time. One little overnight mistake equals one humongous mess. Trying to fix job problems, mend shaky relationships and decide what she will do about this pregnancy at the same time all join together to force her to take a good hard look at herself. Like it or not, now she is going to be making her own choices, and she'd better be a fast learner. Can Cheryl learn to deal with this new life, or will she crumble from the effort?
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: September 2004

eBookeBook

1 Reader Ratings:
Great Good OK Poor
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [314 KB]
Words: 70121
Reading time: 200-280 min.


"Ms Henderson has written a touching story, with true to life situations, one which will undoubtedly hit close to home for many readers. A time of growth and self discovery for all the characters, Child Support is one story you won't want to pass by."--Brenda Gayle, The Write Lifestyle

"Just looking at the title, I had no idea that it would be an emotional book about one woman's growing up. Cheryl's character had a lot of maturing to do. She had devoted her life to her family, and when they no longer needed or wanted her she had to find a way to support herself. In my opinion, Cheryl is both the heroine and hero of this story. It does take some twists, but they all involve the growing up of Cheryl. 4 Stars!"--Hattie Boyd, Scribes World Reviews

"Child Support is a strong story that brought tears to my eyes one minute and smiles the next. Without a doubt, Cheryl's existence changes as her family pulls apart and then forms a new, stronger bond. Some of the problems and choices she faces are hot topics that have a place in today's world. Some readers may not approve of those choices, but they are part of life. In this story, they are handled with grace and tact that deserve applause. Fans of Women's Fiction will appreciate this story's simple yet fascinating view of life."--Tracy Farnsworth, Romance Reviews Today


Chapter 1

Through slitted eyes, I checked the time. Nearly seven o'clock. I'd feigned sleep for nearly ten minutes, probably the limit I'd get by with today. God, how I hate waking up in the morning. Paul's breathing was soft and regular. He had been awake for some time. I knew he was waiting for my signal.

Stretching my legs slightly in calculated movement, an action refined by years of repetition, I opened my lashes to look with bleary eyes at the man in my bed.

Paul was turned on his left side, clear-eyed, gazing at my face. Not with love. God, it was years since I'd seen love in the eyes of my dear husband.

At least the love we had in the beginning. I tried never to admit that it might have been only a case of teen-age hormones. Back then, when we were only babies, he'd just been absorbed in getting into bed with me. I changed positions, uncomfortable with guilty knowledge that my own teen goals, marriage and family at any cost, were probably no more admirable than his.

It wasn't lust either. It was more of a patient, waiting look. Expectant, as if something were going to happen. There was something about his expression that morning that would remain etched on my brain forever.

Now, nearly eighteen months after the divorce, it was getting harder and harder to replace the memory of that expression with happier times.

And although on that morning, when he reached out for me, leaning near and cupping his hand around my breast, there was a certain eagerness in his approach, I could tell we were closing in on something I was almost afraid to try to identify.

I stroked him gently, in the manner he taught me when I was still a kid, and his body reacted swiftly, growing strong against mine, still satisfying even after twenty-five years of married lovemaking and a couple of years of practice. At least we'd never had any troubles when it came to sex.

Maybe I learned a little down through the years.

I burrowed my face against his chest, feeling the familiar prickle of curling hair, inhaling the faint sweat-and-spice mixture I always associated with Paul.

I almost relaxed.

Then the damn phone rang.

"Oh, God, Cheryl!" he exclaimed, pulling away. "I'm sorry!"

The worst thing was that I knew even before he answered who it was. Although Belynda's name hadn't been mentioned once in those past two weeks, she was always in the back of my mind. Paul insisted it was only in my head, but I knew without a doubt he was lying. After years of practice, I could read him like a book. Most of the time he was a pretty good husband, and I admit I've been a stinker at times too, but, when it came to women, his mid-life crisis was causing a small eruption. I was getting sick and tired of trying to cope with it.

Actually, I'd been dreaming of Belynda while I slept. It occurred to me now with a wave of hatred that she always seemed to be somewhere nearby these days. Just think, I had once welcomed her to our neighborhood. All the thanks the bitch gave in return was to steal Paul's love and attention.

Poor, unhappy, little divorcee, my foot!

When Paul crawled back into bed, I asked, dreading the answer, "Who was it?"

His eyes averted, he adjusted the blanket and reached for me, resuming the position he had left only minutes before.

"Oh, it was only Belynda," he answered too casually. "She's still having trouble with that old rattle-trap car. She wanted to know if she could ride in to work with me again." He hesitated, moving his eyes in an uneasy manner. "She said she tapped on the door earlier, but evidently we didn't hear her."

I didn't answer, but I was seething inside. So that's what woke me up. My heart pounded, and I felt sick to my stomach. Briefly, I considered my options. Fake a migraine? That wouldn't help. Paul knew how I felt. Well, I would pretend to ignore the situation one more time. Later, I'd have a chance to think more clearly. Quickly, I decided to overlook things just a bit longer.

Quietly, resentfully, I returned to what had changed suddenly from making love to a less pleasant routine. It seemed to take a long time for Paul to recover his mood, and I didn't care to reassure him. I knew nothing would make any difference now.

Something had to be done. He didn't know it yet, but he was to be taught a very, very hard lesson.

Unfortunately, so was I.

* * *

WE WERE blessed with two solid weeks of quiet following that last storm. I'd hoped to have a few more days before we got started all over again. Ever since the kids left home, the battles kept getting fiercer, but they seemed to spread out a little more these days. I guess we just didn't have as much energy for fighting as we did when we were younger.

Or, maybe, in spite of all my false bravado, I was really actually losing control of my marriage.

Now, on this glorious October morning in the Ozarks, for the first time since that last violent fight (when I heaved a lemon cream pie at him and smashed it all over the wall and the microwave) Paul and I had actually been about to make love.

If, of course, you could call it love.

Well, this time I was at the end of my rope. It didn't matter any more that I'd never actually caught him and Belynda fooling around. I knew they did, and it was high time he found out he couldn't mess with me anymore.

I shivered. It's a long journey from dream to reality. Could I actually find the nerve to carry through this time with the scenario I'd imagined so long?

While he dressed, I whipped up a mushroom omelet and squeezed fresh orange juice. Paul never really enjoyed breakfast, but I expected him to eat and keep up his strength for the sake of his family. Anyway, his stubborn streaks were all the fault of his mother, who never made him do any of the things he objected to and was always quoting the old saw about the male making the decisions. My God, even when he was only a child? When we were first married, I was absolutely forced to insist he eat a proper breakfast. Oh, he fussed for awhile, but eventually he came around to my way of thinking. I knew he would. After all, even at that age, I'd done lots of reading about developing good health practices. He knew (even way back then) that I was right. As I often tried to remind him, I usually am. About a lot of things.

You have to keep a good hold on the reins if you want to control the mount.

After breakfast, he pecked me on the cheek and went to the garage. Standing on my tiptoes, I watched from the high kitchen window as he pulled out of the drive, swung up in front of the house next door, and honked.

Belynda went to great pains to act sweet and innocent whenever others were around, but she never gave a damn about my opinion of her. She crossed my name off her list of worries long ago. God knows, she wasn't exactly a raving beauty, but I have to admit she had a figure that just wouldn't quit. If I ever envied her anything, it was her slim slinky body. Her hair was dark, short and shiny, and she made up her eyes really heavy, sort of like Liza Minelli used to, but right there is where the resemblance ended. She was a typist in the same building where Paul's CPA practice was located. I knew she wanted to work for him, but luckily she didn't understand anything about accounting. His practice was so small, his help all doubled up on their duties, so any little schemes she might have considered were out. Thank goodness.

I watched as she scooted into the car, pulling her long salon-browned legs in after her. The seat was made bench-style, and I stared, incredulous, as she slid on across, cuddled up close to my husband, and ran a long Swee' Pea Pink enameled fingernail down his sideburn. He looked down at her, and positively beamed. Turning her head toward the kitchen window, her eyes locked with mine. Smiling faintly, she lowered her lashes and moved even closer.

There it was. Proof positive.

The car moved slowly up the street and picked up speed.

I turned, pressing my back hard against the sink. I couldn't seem to breathe, but I was amazed at the cold calm within. My mind seemed to have erased all emotion.

I swallowed hard and gazed around the kitchen, trying to locate something to focus on. Spotting the disheveled breakfast table, I began slowly and deliberately scraping plates and clearing away cups and saucers. I squirted liquid soap, turned on the faucet, filled the sink with hot water, piled in the dishes and left them to soak.

Calm and serene, I filled my cup with fresh coffee.

Then I threw the pot, the wet soggy grounds, and the sugarbowl at the refrigerator.

And I screamed. (Quietly, of course, so the neighbors on the west side wouldn't hear.)

My marriage was over.

The remainder of the morning I alternated between sobbing hysterically into the bedspread and packing. Paul was finally going to learn, I told myself, and he'd live to regret it. He'd be begging me to come back, and I'd take all the time in the world before I even considered it.

He never read my notes, so using my best lipstick, I scrawled dramatically all over the bathroom mirror.

You want her, Buster? You've got her.

Just like in the movies.

That afternoon I moved out.

I was scared to death. In my motel room, I polished off two bags of chocolate chip cookies, a Mounds bar, and a quart of milk.

I always eat when I'm upset.

* * *

AWAY BACK in the beginning, nearly twenty-five years before that last morning, I'd started out our married life knowing it was up to me to make something out of Paul. Not change him, of course. You know -- just shape him up, polish the rough edges, so to speak.

I had an expert teacher. My mother.

Mama had married early, like I did, and she enjoyed imagining herself the driving force behind my father's success in business. He was the owner and manager of a small company, Harper's Tires, Inc., in Forsyth, Missouri, a little town not far from Branson, where I still live. Daddy was perfectly capable of looking out for himself and his business, but Mama was convinced she was the brains behind it all. She was always careful to keep him in shape. She taught me and my elder sister Nancy early to manage people in order to make things come out the way we wanted, and I got pretty good at it through the years.

I'll have to admit I wondered at times if it was an entirely honest way of living. However, it worked so well, I was seldom tempted to try any other approach.

The only real thing I rebelled against was Mama's attitude toward sex. She wanted us to believe that sex made for good trade-offs for things. You know, furnishing for the house, trips, clothes, stuff like that, but I could never quite find it in my heart to use it in that manner. I guess I've been lucky. I ended up enjoying sex more than my mother and I still feel as though, in that area anyway, Paul always treated me fairly. So I confined my manipulations to other areas.

I kept right on trying to fix things all those awful days after leaving him. Although I was terribly angry, I still sort of expected everything would work out eventually to my satisfaction. Paul would change his ways, I figured, see the light, and come crawling one day. And I might, after due consideration, let him persuade me to come back home.

Maybe.

I didn't even wake up and smell the coffee, as they say, when his lawyer presented me the divorce papers, with all those cute little tricks that turned out to be legit in the eyes of the law. Nobody ever told me (Well, it never came up!) that if I moved out, even just to teach him a lesson, it could look like he was the injured party.

Nancy, who lived in Germany, had always managed to ignore me, but she wrote a short scathing letter and called me a blathering idiot to have allowed myself to be conned. I'd hired a cheap lawyer, just out of college, who knew only enough to ask for a standard fee. And I was too naive to realize that better results might have been achieved by a more experienced lawyer.

Besides, I told myself bitterly, where was Nan when I really needed her? Just because Harold didn't like her going off alone was no reason for her to neglect me. Oh, I know she was crippled up some, but that shouldn't have stopped her. Not if she gave a tinker's dam for her only sister. She should have insisted on coming home and helping me over the rough spots. It was one time when I might have valued her advice. Even if I hadn't welcomed it often in the past.

Oh, yes, I got her message. Tough luck, little sister.

And I didn't dare, at that point, to let the kids in on anything. I was too scared of their reaction. I knew, and it turned out I was right, that Amelia, at least, would put all the blame on me and no one else. She had always been a Daddy's girl.

Anyway, I ended up with hardly anything, only shabby old stuff that had been in the house for years. So much for scrimping and saving. Oh, sure, I still had my old car. The microwave. The antique record collection. A few teeny-weeny CD's at our local bank that I'd inherited from Daddy. (Paul couldn't touch that money, at any rate.) But it was for emergencies only. And the stereo I'd fought so hard to keep went on the blink immediately. At present it was just taking up space in my tiny apartment. I certainly couldn't afford to have it fixed, not on the amount of money Paul gave me. There was hardly enough to keep me in milk and crackers.

He'd really talked fast, convincing everyone (except me) how stony-broke he was and how his poor little business was going to the dogs.

Piffle. I know better. Paul was always just like his daddy. Tight as the bark on a tree. He had me over a barrel, and I didn't have sense enough to see it.

It took awhile, I'll admit, but not long, before I began to realize just how precarious my position in the world had become.

Copyright © 2001 by Betty Craker Henderson


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