Champagne Witches, A Shot of Midlife Magic Prologue – Chapter 2

Prologue

Did you ever have one of those days where suck just piles onto more suck until you’re positive you’re never going to be able to crawl out from under it? My story starts on one of those days. In fact, it was so bad that it created one of those major forks in the road that pushed me out of the old and into the unknown. In hindsight, it was exactly what I needed, but it took me some time, a shit ton of tequila, and a major shift in perspective to get there.

First, let’s back up for a second so I can give you the backstory before I launch into what I’ve come to call The Day That Changed Everything. After all, I’m still just a random stranger to you, and there’s nothing worse than some nutjob middle-aged chick dumping her drama on you out of the blue.

My name is Jules Cavanaugh, and before The Day, I was your stereotypical middle-aged soccer mom of two turned empty-nester. I spent most of my life running myself ragged getting the kids from one extracurricular activity to the next, which I took extreme pleasure in doing. I was also the perfect executive’s wife, hosting fancy business dinners and having the perfunctory vanilla sex once weekly. That part was a drag.

I wasn’t born to be a stuffy member of the upper crust, and my husband hadn’t been like that when I met him. Back then, he’d been a free spirit, but his ladder-climbing drive to be the best got the better of him, and me by association. Our marriage, which had started with us lying awake at night in our little studio apartment dreaming of how far we were going to go, ended up collateral damage to ambition and the corporate machine.

My two best friends, CiCi and Laurel, were my saviors through the years. We met in college and formed a posse that had withstood two decades of sick kids, birthday parties, and PTA drama. They were always ready to follow stuffy Friday night dinners with Saturday morning mimosa brunches. Since we were rowing the same boat together, it was a much-needed way to blow off steam.

Cici was a tall, curvy brunette who still wore the same size she had in high school. Laurel was a bit more like me. We’d both developed an allergy to spin class at the same time our metabolisms had turned to molasses. We hadn’t let ourselves completely go, but we both had a bit more junk in the trunk than was strictly necessary. Thankfully, none of us were dealing with full-on menopause yet, but the hot flashes, moodiness, and stray chin hairs were popping up here and there to give us a glimpse of the not-so-glorious things to come.

That’s all just side story, though. The important part is that I owe my new and improved existence to them. They’re the ones who booted me toward greener pastures even while I was grasping for the shitty yet safe remnants of life as I’d known it. Some things just can’t be fixed, and they saw that sooner than I did.

That brings us to my origin story, so to speak. The Day That Changed Everything.

Chapter 1

The Day was a Monday because … of course it was. I’d dropped my youngest son, Bryan, off at Penn State the day before, opting to drive him rather than put him on a plane in order to milk as much time with him as possible before he was officially a grownup, and I was an empty nester.

It was worse for me with him than it had been with my oldest son, Derek, because Bryan was the one most like me. While Derek was business-minded and serious like his father, Bryan was the dreamer. Derek never cracked a higher math book to keep his perfect GPA, and Bryan, like me, struggled with basic algebra while excelling in language and arts. They were as close as two brothers could be, but they surely were two very different peas sharing a pod.

Anyway, I’d arrived home to an empty house, which wasn’t unusual. I was sort of glad actually because I was still an emotional mess even after crying for most of the long drive home. I had just enough left in me to take a shower and crawl into Bryan’s bed, where I could still smell his shampoo on his pillow. Yeah, pathetic and a little weird, I know, but it was what my heart needed at the time.

Rob was already gone to work when I got up the next morning, so I went about my daily errands. Grocery shopping for two was an adjustment, but I managed to make it through, even though the decided lack of junk food was a glaring reminder that my babies were gone.

At the last minute, I whipped into the local community college. I had an art degree I’d never done much with, but art history was more than just something I’d learned about in college and forgotten—it was a life-long passion and one that I figured I might enjoy passing on. With the kids gone, I was going to need something to fill my days, and I enjoyed teaching.

On a whim, I popped into Victoria’s Secret afterward and picked up a lacy black number that would highlight the ladies and downplay the soggy middle. Now that we could run naked in the house, it was time to spice things up a bit.

With a head full of lascivious thoughts, I was awash with confidence as I drove up our street. That dimmed a bit when I caught sight of a shiny red Porsche parked behind Rob’s utilitarian yet tasteful Audi.

I did my best to shrug off the disappointment. It was probably one of his work buddies stopping by for a drink while they talked shop, so he wouldn’t be there long. We’d waited twenty years to have the house to ourselves. Another hour wouldn’t make a difference.

I grabbed the two piddly bags of groceries from the back of my minivan and stuffed the see-through lingerie bag in with the dried goods, smiling when I pictured the look on his face when he saw me in it. We used to have intense chemistry, and I was looking forward to getting that spark back.

Plopping the groceries down on the marble island that had groaned under the weight of a thousand business-function appetizers and family holiday meals, I peered into the den to see who was here and was a little surprised to find it empty.

“Rob?” I called. “Where are you guys? Do you need anything while I’m in here?”

“We’re in the sitting room, Juliette.”

I arched a brow. He hadn’t called me Juliette since we’d taken our vows. The whole, “Do you, Robert, take Juliette” part. In fact, nobody called me that. The formality and the weight in his voice were the first whiffs I had of the bullshit to come. I made my way toward the living room, each step measured.

At first, what I saw didn’t make any sense.

Robert and Bubbles, our secretary—yes, her actual given name was Rainbow Bubbles thanks to obviously stoned parents—sat close together on the cream linen sofa. His hands were folded in his lap, and her hand was on his thigh.

“What the hell’s going on here?” I asked, my gaze bouncing back and forth between them.

He had the grace to look away, but she sat straighter and thrust her chin—and by default her disgustingly perky boobs—out, defiant. I narrowed my eyes at them, understanding creeping in. I’m a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. Apparently, I had to fess up to being gullible, though. All those late nights and weekends suddenly made much more sense.

My brain disconnected from my emotions, leaving nothing but a disjointed clarity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that wouldn’t last, but I prayed to whatever powers were out there that I could maintain it until I could get them out of the house. “How long has this been going on?”

Subdued, Rob replied, “Almost a year.”

“Huh,” I said, nodding as I tried to process whatever this was. “And why are you bringing it up now? And why is she here?”

Our voices sounded like they were coming through a tunnel, tinny and far away, but I could hear every word with crystal clarity.

He pulled in a deep sigh. “I didn’t want to hit you with it yesterday when you were upset about dropping Bryan off at school—”

Before he could finish, she cut in. “We’re in love and gettin’ married.”

My gaze whipped to her, and the shocked calm that had settled over me minutes before burned up like mist, leaving nothing but white-hot rage. “There’s only one problem with that, little girl. He’s already married.”

I don’t know what made me say that because of course, they were here to tell me Rob wanted a divorce. Maybe I just wanted to drive home the fact that she was a homewrecker. I shook my head. That wasn’t right. He was a homewrecker. As smug as that little bitch was, she had no obligation to me. We hadn’t said any vows or made any promises, and I was all for putting the blame directly where it belonged.

I held my hand up, shutting her down, and turned to Rob, my voice rising with every word. “Excuse me, but did you say you didn’t want to tell me yesterday because you knew I was upset about Bryan? And you thought that would just go away today, so trotting Miss Twinkle Tits in here would be just fine and dandy? Bless your heart, and get the fuck out of my house. Both of you!”

Had I been able to shoot fire from my eyes, there’d be nothing left of them but two scorched spots on my sofa.

Rob held up a finger. “About the house—”

“Out!” I jammed my finger toward the door, then pulled it back before he could see how badly it was shaking. I had about ten seconds before I either broke down into a crying mess or fetched my memaw’s iron skillet and beat the cheating bastard to death with it. I didn’t think he needed to be around to see which side that quarter landed on.

Unlike my dunce of a husband, Bubbles recognized the expression on my face for what it was—impending doom—and beat it toward the door, barely pausing to snatch her Louis Vuitton purse from the couch.

He opened his mouth and closed it again, then turned on his heel and slunk out, pulling the door shut behind him. I made my way to the picture window and peeked out the mauve crushed-velvet drapes just to make sure they actually left, then sank into the nearest chair to process what had just happened.

The more I thought about it, the madder I got, which was a good thing. The only three logical options were rage, grief, and self-pity, and the latter two had no place in this situation. They’d come, sure, but for that moment, I was content to let my temper rule the day.

I won’t regale you with the glorious tantrum I threw, but suffice it to say that a Southern woman scorned is a sight to behold. Once my anger had run its course, the self-pity took hold, and I made a conference call to my two besties. True to form, they were at my house in less than ten minutes, Laurel toting a bottle of the good tequila and CiCi trailing behind with a bag of limes.

They took one look at me and rushed forward, pulling me into their arms.

CiCi rubbed my back as I struggled to hold it together. “Baby girl, don’t swallow the storm. Let it out.”

That was all it took—the dam broke, and all the hurt and anger and sense of betrayal poured out. They hugged me and let me cry like my heart was breaking into a thousand pieces because it was as just surely as my marriage had.

After a few minutes, I drew in a deep, shaky breath and swallowed, then swiped at my face. Unlike all the Southern belles on TV, I was an ugly crier. I had no doubt my eyes were red and puffy, my mascara was running down my face, and my nose was running like a sugar tree. I tried to laugh through my tears because that’s what this situation was—laugh or cry, and I was done cryin’.

“Holy shit.” Laurel glanced around the living room in awe, taking in the disaster of broken vases, busted wedding pictures, and the golf club still sticking out of the big screen. “It looks like we’re drinkin’ in the kitchen. You outdid yourself, girlfriend.”

I smiled at that despite the situation, just grateful for the support.

“So what are you gonna do?” CiCi asked once we’d left the disaster of rage-induced destruction behind and settled down at the white wicker table in the breakfast nook.

I slammed the shot of tequila Laurel handed me, then winced as I bit into the lime wedge. “What can I do? It’s not like he bounced a check or wrecked the car. He cheated on me with a twenty-something twit named Bubbles, for Christ’s sake. What I’m gonna do is get blind-drunk with you two. Whatever I do next will have to wait until tomorrow.”

Laurel, being the wise soul she is, decided we’d do better with margaritas to sip rather than straight tequila that went down smooth as butter. I had to hand it to ‘em. When it came to crisis management, they spared no expense on the good stuff. Three frozen concoctions and several rounds of cursing and poxing later, we ran out of things to call him. Content that a fly wouldn’t light on him even if he were covered in honey, I sighed, then hiccupped.

“What am I gonna do, guys?” I studied the last tiny bit of melted greenish liquid pooling in the bottom of my glass like it held the secrets to the universe. “I have no job, no money, and nowhere to go. If he decides to sell the house, I’m screwed. I’ve done nothing but sign the checks for the business for the last twenty years.”

It was a defeatist attitude, but after the day I’d had, I figured a little wallowing was acceptable.

CiCi’s brunette brow popped up as she hiccupped. “You may not have a job, but you have half that asshole’s money plus alimony if you get a good lawyer. As for the house, do you really wanna stay here anyway? I mean, when I got divorced, everything in the place reminded me of either the good times, which depressed the crap out of me, or the bad times, which infuriated me.”

Laurel bobbed her head, sending her champagne curls wobbling. She squinted one eye, probably to see me through the tequila goggles, then jerked her thumb toward CiCi. “I’m with her. You don’t wanna stay here. Maybe if the boys were still around, but you’ll have constant reminders that they’re gone too, and you were already struggling with that before your piece-of-shit husband dropped his bomb. It’s better to let it go and get another place. Start fresh.”

I rose and made another round of margaritas, my mind whirling as fast as the blender blades despite the copious amounts of alcohol saturating it. “If I had half a brain, I’d pack my shit and move to my dad’s place in Florida. Seeya, Rob and Bubbles.” I flapped my hand, then grasped the counter when the exaggerated movement knocked me off balance. “The boys can visit me anywhere now, and I’m sick of the cold anyway. Besides, I don’t wanna be the one everybody gets all pity-eyed at whenever I run into them in the grocery store.”

My father had passed away a month or so before, and I hadn’t had a chance to deal with his estate yet. He’d left when I was ten, and we hadn’t been close, so all I really knew about him was that he’d owned some sort of bar on Florida’s Gulf Coast and that he’d left it to me.

When I turned off the blender, it took a minute for my pickled brain to realize that my chatty friends had gone silent. When I turned to them, they were staring at me. CiCi had her hand over her mouth, and Laurel was nodding.

I struggled to think what I might have said to strike them speechless since I’d never managed it before. Or maybe I had lime on my face. I scrubbed a hand over it, but nada. I scowled at them. “What? Have I sprouted a giant zit?”

They looked at each other, and matching Cheshire-Cat grins spread across their faces. CiCi spoke first. “That’s exactly what you’re gonna do. You’re movin’ to Florida.”

Chapter 2

I woke up the next morning surprisingly un-hungover. We’d spent half the night rummaging through my clothes, and there was now a huge discard pile of expensive but boring clothes “appropriate” for the middle-aged wife of an important executive. There were a few ball gowns in there too. I didn’t figure I’d have much need for them since I was planning to spend most of the time with my toes buried in the sand.

What was left was one suitcase filled with casual clothes and my three dearest picture albums, and one garment bag containing three flirty cocktail dresses with matching shoes and clutches that had been in the back of the closet left over from the early days. I’d have to wear two pairs of Spanx to get in them, but maybe I’d drop some weight like a lot of divorced people do. After all, I’d lost 190 pounds just yesterday.

I pulled in a deep breath, questioning my sanity. The idea of a fresh start surrounded by sun, sand, and fruity cocktails had seemed magical last night, but now my common sense was kicking in. No good decision was ever made between midnight and sunrise.

My phone rang, and I scrambled to grab it from the nightstand. It was a group chat call from my two partners in crime.

“You’re thinking about backing out,” CiCi said, her green eyes narrowing.

“Don’t even think about it,” Laurel admonished. “In fact, come open the front door.”

Still holding the phone, I did as she said. There they both stood, Laurel holding a cardboard carrier with three venti coffees and CiCi clutching three huge shopping bags.

I blinked, still trying to clear the sleep—and remnants of tequila—from my brain. “What’s all that?”

“This,” CiCi replied as she pushed past me, “is some stuff to fill in the grotesque gaps in your new wardrobe. You can’t show up down there in ratty mom jeans and yuppie button-down shirts. You’re starting a new life, for god’s sake, and you’re not dragging Rob with you even if it is only in the form of frumpy old lady clothes.”

I took the coffee CiCi handed me and peered into the closest bag. Bright T-shirts, tank tops, and hoodies created a kaleidoscope of color.

I pulled out a pretty Kona-blue V-neck sleeveless blouse and held it up in front of me, then set it aside and dug through the bag for the next—a green tank top with a gold pocket. “There must be twenty shirts in here.”

CiCi smiled. “Eighteen. I remember you in college. One basket for clean clothes and one for dirty, and you didn’t do laundry until the clean one was empty. I doubt now that you’re single, you’ll hang onto your wash-fold-put away habit for long. Besides, we don’t know if you’ll have a washer and dryer there, and we’d rather not have you brutally murdered in some skeezy laundromat.”

I laughed, feeling a little lightheaded as I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that I would no longer be responsible for ironing dress shirts, getting the stains out of football jerseys, or mating mountains of socks. She was right—the first thing I’d buy when I got there would be two laundry baskets.

I took a gulp of coffee to fight back the panic. Taking care of other people was all I’d done for the last twenty years. To give my brain something else to focus on, I reached for the next bag and pulled out a tangled mess of strappy sandals and flip-flops.

“It’s the official footwear of Florida,” Cici said, reaching over to help me untangle them. “We picked some cute ones to go with what’s in the next bag, and a few pairs to wear every day or to the beach.”

The third bag had several cute sundresses and several pairs of shorts in fabrics ranging from denim to linen. I reached to the bottom and pulled out a pair of jeans, then laughed when I saw the low waist and casual, stylish rips in them.

“Remember when we used to have to wear them forever to get that look? Now they charge extra for it.” Laurel smiled, then sniffed. “I swore I wasn’t going to cry, but I’m gonna miss you hard, girl.”

I leaned over and scooped her into a hug, and CiCi joined us. These women had been with me through good times and bad, and my resolve to leave began to melt. I couldn’t imagine starting over in a strange place without them.

CiCi pushed back from me and wagged one finger while carefully wiping a tear from her eye without mussing her makeup. “Flights are cheap, and it’s only an hour from here to Dolphin Key. We’ll see each other all the time. And we’re not payin’ for our drinks when we come, either.”

I smiled through my tears. “Are you kidding? Drinks on the house whenever you visit!”

I had no idea what condition, financial or otherwise, the bar was in, but if there was a bottle of tequila, then it was ready and waiting whenever they decided to come.

The silence stretched as I fumbled for something else to do or say. I was looking for excuses not to leave, but it was time.

“Did you tell Rob yet?” Laurel asked.

I stood from the breakfast nook and gave her a wicked grin. “Fuck him. I laid awake for an hour last night trying to figure out how I was gonna tell him. I decided to go with this.”

I held up an envelope, and both of them squealed with laughter as they stepped closer and read it.

“It’s perfect!” they chimed.

I’d simply plucked the nearest bill out of the mail basket and written “Moved to Florida” on the back of it.

I shrugged. “I suppose he’ll find it when he stops to get his things.”

I knew I’d have to deal with him in the not-so-distant future in order to haggle over twenty years of accumulated stuff, but for now, a note on the back of an envelope was all I was willing to give him.

I bit my lip and shifted my weight from one foot to the other, dreading the final goodbyes. “I should probably load up the van and get on the road.”

Laurel glanced at CiCi, and they exchanged a look.

Laurel ran her tongue over her teeth, biting back a smile. “Funny you should mention that.”

CiCi’s eyes sparkled with laughter. “Yeah, hilarious. So, I was telling Marcus about the whole deal last night.”

I arched a brow. Marcus, her husband, was one of my closest and oldest friends. He also owned the local Porsche dealership.

“And?” I was a little embarrassed that she’d told him about it, but we’d all known each other since college. Even though he was one of the guys, I had faith that he was absolutely on my side.

CiCi scowled and popped a hand on her hip. “And he was more than a little shocked that Ms. Bubbles was driving the Porsche. Rob just bought that yesterday, and Marcus assumed it was for you. Imagine his surprise when I explained where it actually went. He was so pissed!”

Rage bubbled up in me, red and hot. I should’ve realized that since I was the one who signed her paycheck every month. Though we paid her generously, it was nowhere near enough for her to afford any Porsche, let alone a brand-new one.

I ground my teeth. “You gotta be kidding me. I’ve been driving an eight-year-old minivan, and he buys her a Porsche?” My voice rose about three octaves as I spoke, and all the rage from yesterday came crashing back. Too bad I was just a tad to classy to drag all his favorite shit into the yard and set it on fire. The golf club in his big screen would have to do.

CiCi nodded in that matter-of-fact way she had. “To say Marcus was pissed is the understatement of the century. He feels like Rob used him because he asked for the friend rate, and Marcus gave it to him. So, since he still had your all’s financials—and I do mean your all’s, not just Rob’s—he sent me over with a little parting gift.”

She took me by the hand and led me over to the picture window.

I blinked several times, not quite sure I believed what I was seeing. A shiny slate-gray Mustang GT gleamed in the sun.

Laurel draped her arm around my shoulders, and CiCi grinned. “I have the paperwork for it in my briefcase. All you have to do is sign and write the check.”

I’d always been a huge fan of Mustangs. I’d had an older-model convertible in college. Even though it had been a beater that had burned oil faster than I could pour it in, it had been my pride and joy.

I put my hand to my throat and fiddled with my horseshoe necklace. Maybe it was doing some good after all. “I don’t know what to say. I know we have quite a bit of money in savings, but I don’t know if we have enough for that.”

Laurel rolled her eyes. “You have more than enough in there, and the boys’ college funds are separate. It’s as much yours as it is his. And need I remind you He. Bought. Her. A. Porche!”

That was all it took. “Where do I sign?”

Smiling, she reached for her briefcase, popped it open, and pulled out a stack of papers. “Marcus already did all the paperwork, including the tag transfer. All you have to do is sign in a few spots, write a check, then switch tags.”

She put the papers in front of me and pointed to the first signature line. When I saw the actual cost of the vehicle, my eyes about popped out of my head, and the frugal soccer mom in me about had a stroke. “That’s at the friend rate?”

CiCi grinned. “Yep. And before you start doing the math in your head, he paid more than twice that for her Porsche. Marcus would’ve sent one of those—and still will if that’s what you like—but he knows how much you love Mustangs. He worked out a deal with a friend of his at the Ford dealership.”

I made my way through the stack of paperwork, and five minutes later, I was the owner of a brand-new Mustang. I shoved aside a little niggle of guilt. The girls were right—I’d worked every bit as hard for that money as he had, and if he could dig into our savings for a Porsche for his girlfriend, he could come off the cash for a Mustang for his wife.

Once the deed was done, both girls scooped me into a hug, then pushed me back, their expressions bittersweet.

Laurel cleared her throat. “I guess all that’s left to do is put your things in the car.”

“I guess so.”

I went upstairs and scooped all my cosmetics into a small box, then took a final look around at the house I’d raised my family in while the girls carried my suitcases down.

I felt a little guilty for leaving all the broken glass and signs of my temper tantrum, but the vision of Rob and Bubbles sitting on my couch pushed it away. To hell with it. They’d made the figurative mess, so they could clean up the literal result. I had a brand-new life ahead of me.