​​​Kathryn Craft author

The Far End of Happy

 
7:00 a.m.

Ronnie

 

      The pages felt thick with life as they flipped through her fingers. A long-suffering friend, this journal, taking everything she'd thrown at it. The questions. The tortured answers. The pros. The cons. Moments rich with beauty. The long slow death of a dream.

      At the top of each page, she'd centered her name: Ronnie Farnham. On the lines below, she'd centered herself.


      Ronnie sat on the guest room bed, propped a pillow against the wall behind her, and waited for the jostle as her shaggy little dog, Max, repositioned himself against her thigh. She pressed her pen to a cool, fresh page. Today, more than any other, in these last precious moments before her sons awoke, Ronnie needed the ink to offer up its ever-flowing possibilities.


      Her pen stalled after one short sentence.


      Today Jeff is moving out.

      She would not have predicted this day in her marriage. Its impact was impossible to fathom. How could she write beyond such words? Ronnie shut her journal. Only one sentence, but it was a good one. Full of hope, but also one of the saddest she'd ever written. She'd have to sort her feelings tomorrow. Today was a day for moving forward. She capped the pen and placed the notebook on the growing pile of journals beneath the bed.

      At least she felt rested. If she'd tried these earplugs weeks ago, she could have avoided the inexorable pull of Jeff's late-night pot banging, she thought as she pulled them from her ears.


      She heard voices from downstairs—loud voices—and she could swear one of them was George Stephanopoulos.

      Max bolted through the door and raced down ahead of her to investigate. Their kitchen was devoid of life, but beyond it, the living room was fully lit. The terse Good Morning America theme trumpeted another day's tragedies while no one watched. She turned off the set, shocking herself with the sudden silence. Her family had never turned the TV up so loud. The set was hot. Had she slept through another of Jeff's attempts to coax her into late-night conversation? Or was it the boys?


      Ronnie headed up to their attic bedroom to check, Max on her heels. Will's covers still bound him mummy-like, the way she'd left him the night before. In Andrew's bed, limbs and sheets were tossed like a salad. Both faces were puffy with sleep, their breaths even.

      Back on the second floor, Ronnie passed the guest room as she stole toward the bedroom she'd shared with Jeff for twelve years. He'd taken to sleeping with its door open, a standing invitation. She didn't really want to see them in their bed. It was too confusing, his face all boyish, lips relaxed and kissable.


      But her desire for an explanation for the blaring TV made her risk a peek. 

      The bed was made, the room empty.


      Maybe Jeff couldn't bear a scene with the boys and had moved out last night. He had trouble with good-byes.


      Tiptoeing into the room, as if the very walls would call her out for prying, Ronnie checked the floor on Jeff's side of the bed, where she would be sure to find yesterday's work uniform in a clump.

      Nothing.

      Since she was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, she scooted around the bed to pull on a fresh sweater and jeans from her dresser and finger-combed her hair. Last night she'd been too tired to tame her curls.

      Returning to this room gave her the sense she was being watched. When she spun around, she tripped over the dog. She stopped just short of kicking him. "Damn it, Max, why are you always underfoot?"

      The dog backed up a few feet and sat, looking up at her, whining.


      "I didn't let you out yet, did I?" She patted the dog on the head and closed the bedroom door behind them.


      Downstairs Ronnie let Max out the kitchen door, one of the perks of living on a farm set back off the road. In the windbreak on the other side of the berry field, a gusty October wind tugged at the branches of a stalwart maple. Despite the beauty of the leaves releasing in a splashy swirl, it hurt Ronnie to watch its branches swinging back and forth in violent indecision. She knew how it felt to be torn between standing firm and uprooting. She called Max, fed him kibble from a low cabinet, and started a pot of coffee.


       A black plastic container sat beside the coffeemaker. Drying beef and gravy stuck to its sides. Odd. She and the boys had eaten stir-fry the night before, and she'd never seen Jeff resort to eating a frozen dinner.


      On the kitchen table, stuck between the bananas in the fruit bowl, stood a short spine of folded twenties. The wad was thick between her fingers.


      Twelve hundred dollars thick.     


      This was not the house she'd closed her eyes on the night before. Something had gone haywire. Shifted.


      She pulled the pot away and let the coffee drip straight into her mug as she struggled to order her thoughts. On their own, each of the morning's oddities could be explained away. Max could have sat on the TV remote, inadvertently turning up the volume. Maybe Jeff, hungry after a bar tending shift at two a.m., couldn't find a restaurant serving dinner. Or he'd stockpiled tips and accidentally left the money on the table. But together...

      Jeff was trying to tell her something, and, as usual, he wasn't using words. Her hand shook as coffee overflowed the edge of her mug.
. . .

Excerpted from The Far End of Happy. Copyright 2015 by Kathryn Craft. Reprinted with permission from Sourcebooks.