Taking the Alicia Parkway exit off the freeway to get home to Rancho Santa Margarita, the sky had grown increasingly darker since she left the clinic; much like her mood. She was tired and hungry, and simply wanted nothing more than to rest.
As she made it through the front door, and into the living room, Cheyenne, Donovan’s prized German Spitz, greeted her, crisscrossing through both her legs, tail whipping against Mandy’s calves. “Easy, girl”—she bent to soothe the dog with the attention that she was craving. “It’s just you and me, Sugar. Daddy’s out.”
Since Donovan was in Newport and wouldn’t be home until 5:30 that evening, she figured it was the perfect opportunity to watch the soaps she had recorded while in class. She threw her keys on the coffee table, kicked off her Timberlands, and then curled up on the futon with Cheyenne at her feet. But, no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t focus. Her mind kept wandering off against her will and held her conscience hostage, continually making her relive that dreadful morning spent at the clinic.
Watching the bullshit on General Hospital unfold was an out and out bore in comparison to the real life drama that had surreptitiously taken over her existence. She forced herself off the futon and walked feebly into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator. Among her Chinese take-out containers and Donovan’s Ballpark pizza boxes was a scattering of odds and ends—nothing of which to concoct a decent meal. Therefore, she decided to settle for the Vanilla Wafers that she kept well stocked in the pantry.
Settling into bed with a nap in her plans, she heard Cheyenne pad into the room and tossed her a couple of cookies; something she dared to do only in Donovan’s absence. Although Mandy had no appetite for food, she managed to consume the entire box—and hindsight, being what it is, woefully regretted that she hadn’t thought to prepare a glass of milk to wash the little suckers down. She let the box fall to the floor, crumbs be damned, and just lied there in bed, curled in a ball, clutching her midsection while considering the events of the past several months.
Prior to the automobile accident, things had been awful. Every other week, it seemed there was some new conflict rearing its evil, snarling head between her and Donovan. But, somehow, things always seemed to blow over. However, it didn’t escape Mandy’s attention that once he returned from Arizona, the dams that had restrained their private and collective hell broke loose and she found herself living right smack in the middle of it. Sadly, for her, it was just days after she had discovered she was expecting.
They had been at each other’s throats as if their very lives depended on it. The “see-saw” had stopped its constant rising and falling. Gone were the highs and lows of their relationship. He seemed to be stuck on low, and she was right there with him. The bickering had taken on a life of its own.
Then out of the blue, she received a phone call from Joey Bartoli. He asked if she would be able to meet with him. He said he had something very important to tell her.
They had only met once beforehand at Gent’s seventh year anniversary party and Joey had taken an immediate liking to Mandy. She reminded him of his third wife, Helena, a real fireball. Helena’s covetous nature lured him in—and in the long run—ran him off. In Mandy, that same jealous streak was more like a four-lane highway, and he was glad not to be the man who had to maneuver that road. However, he was a straight-shooter. He made sure his women knew what he was about, but in Joey’s opinion, Donovan was a punk about his shit and Joey hated punks.
She committed to nothing the night he called her, but the next day, curiosity prevailed over her reticence and she placed a call to his office on her way to LA.
When Mandy pulled into the parking lot of a hectic downtown Jack-in-the-Box across the street from the office building that housed Gent, Joey was there with his burly, tattooed arms folded across his brawny chest, leaning against a Harley Softail Deuce. It was where he would serve her Donovan’s head on a platter in the form of a Standard Profile Form—the company’s customary questionnaire that Nichole had completed. He took it from Courtney’s file drawer during one of her two-hour lunch breaks.
Joey also brought a test shot of Nichole that had not been chosen for the magazine’s scheduled December release. Now, Nichole’s photo image was seared into Mandy’s mind. She could pick “the bitch” out of a lineup, with one eye closed and the other crossed. At last, she had confirmation that Donovan had lied when he said he knew nothing about Nichole. Into the bargain, she was also provided with much of the “mystery girl’s” personal information; that she was stationed in Yuma but had since been discharged from the Marines and a listed home address in New Orleans. She even listed her parents’ names as an emergency contact. Thanks to Joey, she hit the mother load.
Mandy was the type of person who paid attention to the “little” things; things that the average person might have overlooked. Nichole’s self-assurance did a steady tightrope walk across the phone lines, which led Mandy to trust that she knew Donovan and probably knew him very well. Dealing with him any further about the issue would have proved pointless, because she knew he would have only crept further into deception to protect himself. For that reason, she elected Nichole as the one she needed to confront.
In just a few days, she’d be high in the sky on her way to New Orleans. And from all she had heard, it sounded like one hell of a place—probably a really cool city to live in—if you like them small.
Eventually, her sluggish mind started to wander, putting all of the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle: Donovan’s sandy brown hair, her almond shaped eyes and olive complexion; she lied there trying to picture what their baby would have looked like.
Finally, she dozed off and ultimately awakened to his 6’2” frame looming over her, wearing a big smile that was as warm as her bed sheets. Ah, he’s in a good mood, she thought. Having him in a good mood was something she strove to promote, particularly since it was so rare those days. He never noticed that she was home in bed opposed to her weekly spinning class. Had he paid closer attention to her and to the “little” things, he would’ve easily seen that she was completely spun out—but he didn’t. Instead, he insisted they go out and she felt compelled to comply.
That night, the two of them had a memorable time sharing several Margaritas, shots of Cuervo, and grilled chicken enchiladas at their favorite shoreline restaurant, Las Brisas, in Laguna Beach. After dinner, they remained seated at their table in a secluded corner of the dining room feeling increasingly tipsy as the other patrons paid their bills and cleared out. Donovan reached for Mandy’s hand as they made their way through the back door and took her for a long, romantic stroll along the beach’s shore—something they hadn’t done in quite some time.
He was so attentive and loving that night, she began to feel a budding sense of optimism that they still had a chance at making things work. After all, it was the night of their second year together and she felt they owed it to themselves to work things out and see things through. If she had created a script for the perfect night, that one would have been it.
He even sat her in the restaurant’s gazebo, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and told her how much he loved her and wanted to marry her. His talk of marriage was a real mind blower, since she had spent nearly a year skirting around the idea, like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Subtlety was not her strong suit.
Marriage had become the focus of almost every argument they had; the last one taking place at Gent’s Labor Day picnic. Truth is, had she stopped nagging him sooner about marrying her—she would have never driven as recklessly as she had, totaling his car and nearly killing herself. But that day, she had made a promise to herself: never again would she bring up marriage to him. For two months, she honored that oath with a degree of tenacity usually ascribed only to the chastest of Tibetan monks.
All things considered, after her horrific morning with Dr. McManus, Mandy felt that she had been given a new lease on life and hope for a future; a future with Donovan. The thought certainly pushed Nichole from the forefront of her mind to a dim closet all the way in the back. Given that she was the center of all of his sudden marriage talk, Mandy adopted the notion that it stood to reason that Nichole hadn’t made much of an impression on him. There was no point risking their future together to confront someone who may not have been anything more than an innocent or misguided voice on the other end of the phone, so she decided to forget about heading to New Orleans. For the first time in a long while, she was at ease and willing to leave well enough alone.
© Daphne Marie Doucette/Wild Heart Scribe