Éveiller, Book 5
Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.
Copyright © 2016, Melanie James.
All rights reserved.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Jeff. Something needs to change. I’m tired of feeling like an outcast in my own home. I can’t take the constant negative comments when they speak to me…if they even bother speaking to me most of the time.” Ashley tried for the umpteenth time to explain her feelings to her husband. The situation with her step-kids seemed to be getting worse by the day. She was stressed to the max and well beyond her breaking point.
“What do you want me to do, Ash? They’re upset about the divorce. Pissed off because I got remarried. The kids are taking their anger out on you, and I’m sorry for that. I’m sure their mother is behind it, too, but talking to her is like talking to a brick wall.”
“I have no idea what the right thing to do in this situation is. It’s not one that I’ve ever found myself in before. You know…being the wicked witch of the west. Most days I think I should start growing warts on my face just so I’ll fit the freaking image they paint of me.” Ashley was nearly brought to tears as she remembered the latest blowout. Every word of it fresh in her mind.
“Honey, they don’t think badly of you.”
“Did you not hear what your daughter said? Do you not see the way she looks at me? She acts like I’m the lowest form of life on the planet. I’ll bet she uses a more pleasant face when she scrapes dog shit off of her shoes!”
“She’s a teenage girl, Ash. What do you expect? She looks at everyone like that. It’s not just you, honey, I promise, so please try not to take it personally.”
Jeff tried to reason with her, but Ashley wanted none of it. She was tired and beyond hurt. Ashley didn’t expect insta-love from her step-kids. In fact, her expectations were quite minimal. She thought it would take time to get to know one another, and they could co-exist within the same four walls peacefully until natural friendships formed down the road. What she never expected was the instant and intense hate that seemed to pour from the pair of them. They never gave her a chance…not as a stepmom, not as a woman. Hell, she would have been thrilled had they treated her like a human being. Sadly, it was complete and utter chaos that started on the day she said ‘I do’.
Her love for Jeff had always been rock solid, unwavering. She never could have imagined anything being able to tear them apart, let alone make her question her decision to be with him. Yet, she found herself ready to walk. Pack her bags and fucking go. Her step-kids were both teens, ages thirteen and fifteen. They came with more bad attitude and drama than Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber, and she was at her breaking point.
“Look honey, I’m running late for work. Can we talk about this tonight when we’ve both calmed down and had time to think about the matter?” Jeff kissed her on the forehead and headed for the door.
“Yeah, sure. See ya.” In Ashley-speak that meant, “Yep, thanks for blowing it off again.” I am in way over my head. Whatever made me think that love would be enough to make a marriage work? Ashley headed for the kitchen, lost in thought. She started another pot of coffee and rummaged through the freezer to find something to feed the women that would soon fill her kitchen. This was the one day of the week that she enjoyed the most, and she wasn’t about to let Jeff and the kids ruin it for her. Time with her friends was exactly what was needed. Who knows? We’ve been able to figure out everyone else’s problems, maybe they have one of those handy ‘easy buttons’ for me too.
Running short on time, Ashley pulled a can of biscuits from the fridge and a pound of sausage from the freezer. “This is going to have to do.” She removed the sausage from the wrapper and placed it in the microwave to defrost. Next, she turned the oven on and grabbed a cookie sheet, keeping her mind from straying back to the problems she was facing. She’d deal with the lot of them later.
When the sausage was finally defrosted, she placed it in the frying pan and minced it within an inch of its former life. “I hope everyone likes biscuits and gravy,” Ashley grumbled. She had another recipe in mind for the day, but no time to make it. Oh well, there’s always next time. With more force than necessary, she threw the biscuits on to a cookie sheet and threw them in the oven. If I keep this up, I’m going to break the damn stove.
Ashley took a deep breath and held it until she felt like she would pass out from lack of oxygen. Sucking a deep breath into her lungs, it was as if she could feel her blood pressure dropping by the second. She repeated the process until she calmed down and could think with a bit more clarity. She was just adding the milk to the mixture when Laura called out, “Morning, Ash.”
“Hi. Come on in. I’m in the kitchen.”
Girly chatter filled the room and pushed away the negative cloud that had been lingering since Jeff left for work. Ashley smiled for what felt like the very first time that morning. Oh yeah, this was exactly what she needed; time with her friends, time away from the kids and her husband. Her kitchen was overflowing with the women chatting about their lives. It had been a long time since a peaceful conversation was heard in this kitchen. Dare she say there was actual fun?
“So Jamie,” Ashley removed the sausage gravy from the stove, slowly pouring it into a serving dish, “how’s it going now that Brad’s home?”
“It’s been amazing. Some days it’s surreal. I feel like I have to pinch myself from time to time to see if it really is true. If he really is home for good.” Jamie smiled at the thought.
“I still can’t believe Valerie knew about it! Let alone helped plan the surprise and didn’t let any of us know.” Kara pouted.
“Hey! What kind of a friend would I be if I gave up the goods? A girl has to have some secrets, you know,” Valerie joked. “Do you have any idea how hard it was not to slip up and let the cat out of the bag? Or how many times I told Brad how stupid his plan was? I’m surprised you didn’t freak out on him. I would have.”
“His mom did! Apparently she tried to kick his ass and called 911.” Jamie laughed. “I can just see Elaine thinking there was an intruder in her house. From what Brad told me, she got a few good hits in before she realized who he was.”
“I would have paid big bucks to see that. I tried to warn him that not everyone reacts well to surprises.” Valerie sipped her coffee.
“So he just showed up there…at his mom’s house? With no warning?” Ava asked.
“He had me drop him off while she was at work. He said he was going to hang out until she got home, maybe make her dinner or something,” Valerie replied.
“He probably scared the bejesus out of her. That’s hilarious.” Laura chuckled.
“I laughed at him when he told me the story. If he didn’t deserve the whooping momma gave him, I would have almost felt bad for him.” Jamie laughed.
“Is he doing okay, though?” Ashley asked as she set the plates on the table.
“Yeah, his leg gives him a lot of trouble, but other than that, it seems like he’s made peace with being a civilian again. I do love that he’s home with me now. We never really had a problem getting along. So far it’s been really good. The kids are super happy to have daddy home, too.”
“That is awesome! I am so happy for you guys.” The smile plastered across Ava’s face was genuine, as she was truly happy for her friends.
“I wish I could get along that well with Jeff. God, if I had to spend all day with him, I’d probably kill him. I’d be texting you bitches to help me hide a body.” The anger from earlier in the morning had seeped back in, making Ashley’s blood boil again. She was pissed, she was hurt, and those feelings slammed back into her.
“What’s going on with you and Jeff?” Kara placed her hand gently on Ashley’s shoulder, giving her a light pat.
“The man drives me absolutely insane, and his kids… Don’t even get me started.” Ashley’s voice was tight, almost a growl as she thought about the situation. Most of her anger was because of the morning fight with Emily, but a lot of it was also because Jeff refused to do anything. He didn’t want to rock the boat and upset his kids.
“Oh no. It hasn’t gotten any better, has it?” Ava worried.
“No, it hasn’t. It seems like life has gotten worse, and I don’t know how to fix it.” Ashley let out a disappointed sigh.
“Did you guys get into it this morning?” Laura asked as she took a bite of her breakfast.
“It started with Emily. Like every morning, she got up and got a shower and just threw her dirty clothes and wet towels all over the bathroom floor. I asked her if she could please pick them up and put them in the hamper.” Ashley explained.
“That doesn’t seem like an odd request. It’s called cleaning up after yourself, and she is definitely old enough to do that,” Valerie said with an arched eyebrow.
“Right? Anyway, she said that’s what we had a maid for.” Ashley ran her fingers through her hair for what felt like the thousandth time today.
“When did you get a housekeeper?” Jamie asked.
“We didn’t and I said as much to her. The little shit looked right at me and said, ‘Yeah, we do. You’re home all day’. I wanted to choke her right there on the spot.”
Ava gasped. “Holy shit. That girl needs to be taught some manners. Does she not understand that you work all day?”
“Apparently her mother told her that working from home isn’t a real job. I swear to God, if I could smack the bitch, I would. I have no idea why she feels the need to stick her nose in our life. Or why she thinks she should have any sort of control over what happens in our house. Jeff was already divorced when we met, but the ink wasn’t quite dry when we started dating. He and his ex-wife had been separated for more than a year before the papers were even filed for the divorce. Yet, I’m the bad person. The one who stole him away from her.”
“She’s jealous of what you have with him,” Jamie offered.
“Why would she be? She’s remarried and has a new baby with her current husband. It’s not like she wanted Jeff, even when they were married. From what I understand, she cheated on him for the last five years of their marriage.”
Valerie huffed. “Look, the bitch is crazy. You can’t try to reason with her or even try to understand what her motives are. She’s not worth your time or sanity. Just ignore anything that comes out of her mouth. Make sure you have her completely blocked on any social media that you use. She doesn’t need any access to you at all.”
“She’s right. Ignoring her is the best thing to do. As far as the kids go, maybe you and Jeff should try a few family outings with them on the weekends you guys have them. Take them to town, get out of the house and see if the tension drops,” Laura explained.
“I like that idea. When did you become an expert on step-kids?” Ashley joked.
Laura laughed. “I am a step-kid.” She paused to make little air quotes around step-kid. “And I remember what it was like those early years with my stepmom. She was so patient with me and God knows I put her through hell. I wish I could take back some of the things that were said over the years, but I can’t. All I know is that I took a lot of my anger out on her instead of my parents. But now, I don’t know what I would do without her. Once I realized it wasn’t a competition between her and my mom, things got better. I started to get along with her. She’s always been there for me and supported me, and my mom has too. It’s been nice having two completely different moms.”
“That’s a really good way to look at it. How long did it take for you to stop acting like an asshat to your stepmom?” Ashley was genuinely curious and hoped for the unrealistic answer of oh a few months.
“Ehh. I’m not proud to say it took a few years. It really wasn’t until I went off to college. I guess you could say I had to grow up first. I went home with a friend of mine for dinner one evening. I didn’t think much about it until we got there and realized how badly Cathy treated her stepmom. Anyway, the quiet home cooked family dinner was filled with stress, tension, and bickering. It wasn’t very pleasant. On the way back to the dorms, I asked her why she didn’t get along with her. Her response slapped me in the face. She told me that she didn’t have to get along with her or be nice to her, because that wasn’t her mom. Cathy didn’t like her, but not because of anything her stepmom had done to her. She didn’t like her simply because she was her stepmom. Seeing that kinda put things in perspective for me. It made me realize that I had never given my own stepmom a chance. That and what a shitty human I had been.”
“Wow. Thanks for sharing that.” Ashley hoped to God it wouldn’t take that long for things to come together for her. There was no way she had the patience to keep up with the current status quo.
“What does Jeff say about all of it?” Valerie asked.
“That’s the crux of it. He says nothing. Literally! It’s so damn frustrating. He tells me to ignore it, they are just acting out. Maybe it would be better if he at least corrected them or something, but he does nothing to try to make the situation any better. The kids just do and say whatever the hell they want. Consequences be damned. You know Jeff and I used to laugh and joke around, but that’s all stopped. The honeymoon is officially over.” A single tear trickled down her cheek. “My new norm is constantly walking on egg shells, never knowing who I’m going to piss off, or what repercussions would be on the horizon if I tell them what I really think.”
Ashley blew out a frustrated breath at the end of her rant before starting again. “The other thing that really gets me going is when Jeff tells me ‘you have no idea what it’s like to have kids of your own, Ash. You’ve never had any, so you don’t know’. Like I’m completely incapable of knowing anything about children or teenagers. I have nieces and nephews for God’s sakes! Not to mention the fact that my brother and sister are ten years younger than me.”
“That’s got to be the most frustrating thing!” Ava grunted.
“You have no idea! Look, I know I’ll never have my own kids because I had a hysterectomy when I was seventeen. It’s taken years to get over the loss of the kids I always dreamed of but knew I’d never have. I’ve made peace with that. What pisses me off the most, though—is that just because I don’t have kids, he acts like I’m also lacking in the common sense arena. Like I couldn’t possibly offer anything of value. I don’t even know what to make of it anymore.”
Jamie placed her coffee cup on the table before speaking. “Wow, I have no idea what to say. Has it always been like this with his kids?”
Ashley thought back over the past year. “No, it hasn’t been. When I first met them, they were really nice to me. They were a little unsure at first, but that’s to be expected. I keep trying to figure out when things started to change. At first I kept thinking maybe it was something I did or said, but I don’t think so. It just doesn’t add up.”
“There may not be a solid reason. It could be everything building inside of them. I’m not going to make excuses for their behavior, but I will say that it’s tough to be stuck in the middle when your parents are divorced.” All eyes were on Laura as she slowly recounted her story. “I remember being stuck in the middle of my mom and dad, and it felt like this constant tug of war. I would visit my dad and he would grill me about everything going on at home. I’d get home and my mom would grill me about everything I did at my dad’s. It felt like a constant struggle to keep both of my parents from wanting to kill each other. Long story short, it felt like I couldn’t please either of them…no matter how hard I tried. So I stopped trying.”
“I think I just need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and walk away mentally on the entire situation. I’m tired of fighting with Jeff and the kids. It’s exhausting and I just don’t want to do it. I think this gal is going to worry about fending for herself and that’s it.”
Kara was the first to chime in. “You know, that’s not a bad idea. Stop doing everything that you normally do for everyone. Don’t clean up after them, don’t cook dinner, don’t chauffeur them around. Just come up with a million excuses as to why you can’t.”
“I like it. I could use some me time anyway. I could schedule so much me time, they won’t know if I’m coming or going.” For the first time in months a genuine smile spread across Ashley’s face.
Laura was noticeably silent and the group picked up on it. Finally she offered some well thought advice. “Ash, you’re probably not going to like what I say…at first. Remember this. As a stepparent, you can never have the expectation that those kids will love you, or look to you as a mother. If you ever expect that, you are setting yourself up for heartache. Those kids have the right not to love someone. Now, keeping that in mind, you have the right to be respected in your own house. The other thing to think about with Jeff…ask yourself this. Is he simply expecting that you’ll be in the mom role while they’re here and it’s all up to you to work it out? He needs to remember he is the only other actual parent. He needs to be the one putting his foot down, making them follow the rules, showing some decency and respect. That is his responsibility as their father. If he leaves that up to you, he’s setting you up for failure.”
“More food for thought.” The smile that shined bright a minute before started to fade. “I honestly think I know that.” Ashley’s voice was sincere. “I really don’t have any expectations of his kids other than a bit of respect when they are here. I’d like to one day be on a friendly basis with them, that’s definitely a goal, but anything else…I really don’t want to get my hopes up for.”