Sipping on her glass, she slightly nodded. “I’ve been okay, just a little down lately, but that’s to be expected this time of year.”
Theresa was never one to be upset or at least from what I’d witnessed, which worried me. “This time of year?”
“Yes, it’s the anniversary of my husband’s death. It’ll be fifteen years next Saturday.”
A chill ran through me as I leaned in and folded my arms on the table. “I didn’t realize he passed a week after Marcus’s birthday?”
Theresa ran a freshly manicured hand through her hair as she slightly nodded. “Oh yes, Marcus didn’t want to celebrate his birthday for years after James’ death.” Laughing once, she continued. “Can you blame him? I think it wasn’t until his twenty-first birthday that he allowed me to plan a party for him; even at that age, he was hesitant.” She took a few more sips of her wine.
“So is he going to be okay with the surprise this week?”
“We’ll find out then.” Laughing at my wary expression, she added, “I was kidding by the way. I think Marcus will be just fine, especially because you’ll be there.” She leaned in and grabbed my hand, reassuring me.
Nodding, I shifted the focus back to her. “It must be hard to deal with the loss of your husband. Even after fifteen years, how did you find the strength to move on after losing the only man you’ve ever loved?”
Theresa looked as if she had just been punched in the gut. Removing her grasp from my hand, she leaned back in her chair and blankly stared at me. I felt beyond terrible. I didn’t realize my words would be too painful for her to handle.
“Theresa, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to . . .”
She waved me off with a sway of her hand and shook her head. “No. That’s the thing, Mia.” She rested a fist under her chin as her eyes focused on mine. “That’s why it was never easy to let go. The guilt . . . I just . . .” Her eyes began to water. She reached for a napkin and gently dabbed the cloth along her lids. I was confused by her reaction. There was definitely more behind the loss and mourning of her husband. It was as if she were carrying a burden that weighed heavily against her shoulders.
Looking back at me with wet eyelids, she pressed her lips together and studied me for a few seconds. “Can I confide something in you?”
Stunned by her instant change in demeanor, I simply nodded.
She wasn’t convinced, “Mia, you have to promise me that you will never tell anyone. Okay?” Reaching for my hand, she gripped it tightly. “No one, Mia. Not even Marcus. Please promise me this.”
Anxiety ran through me as I stared at the woman who was more damaged than I had assumed. So many scenarios sprinted through my mind as she begged me with her eyes to keep quiet. I wanted desperately for her to trust me and to be able to disclose anything. But why was I so nervous? One side of my mind was yelling, “Please don’t tell me!” The other side was saying, “Just tell me. I can handle it.”
With that, I nodded, allowing her to spill her deepest and darkest secret.
As I entered the shopping center with both my mother and Megan, I nodded at their comments and suggestions. I was there physically—laughing, talking, and even trying on shoes—but my mind kept drifting back to Theresa and our discussion at lunch. I felt every bit of the pain and guilt from the load she had been carrying for so many years. I cried along with her as she confessed and spilled everything. How I could keep it from Marcus was beyond me, but it wasn’t my secret to tell.
“Mia, are you okay, sweetie?” Sara, my mother, reached her hand out and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.
Smiling at the gesture, I glanced at her, “Yes, I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Ah, Marcus and you are doing fine?”
“Yes, we’re doing better than fine. Thank you for asking.”
“Good.” She smiled and adjusted the few pieces of clothing that hung from her arm. “Are you going to try those on?” She pointed at the few blouses I held.
“No, I’m just going to grab them.”
“Okay, I’m going to go to try these on. I have no idea where Megan ran off to, but I’ll meet you at the register?”
“Sounds good.” Slightly nodding, she turned and headed toward the dressing room.
With thoughts of Theresa and Marcus constantly running through my mind, I continued to rummage through racks of fabrics in the boutique. I had to try to forget the information Theresa had just confided in me. It was the only way I could stop feeling guilty for keeping it from Marcus. As my guilty feelings continued to pour out, I decided to send Marcus a text to apologize for my earlier encounter and to tell him that I loved him.
“Hey, Mia, look at this bad boy!” Looking up, I saw that Megan held a tiny piece of lingerie pressed against her.
“It’s an oversize stocking, Megan.”
Laughing, she stroked the fabric as if it were a fur pet. “What, you don’t think I’ll look hot in this? Jeremy will die! Well, after he bangs the hell out of me.” She winked.
Shaking my head, I yanked the thin fabric out of her hands. It was a netted full body suit, with only a hole at the crotch area. “Yeah, he’ll have a field day with this.” I handed it back to her.
“Come on, you never dressed up for Marcus before?”
Yes, I had. I looked pretty damn hot too, but I also remembered waiting for over six hours for him and the night had taken a bad turn. I didn’t want to go into that story with Megan. I nodded and headed toward the shoes in the store. She was following quickly behind me. “Have you ever stripteased for him?”
Frozen in place, I slowly turned. “No. Wait, have you?”
“Not with Jeremy, but with my ex back in Philly. You should so do it, Mia!” Her smile spread with her eyes wide open.
“I would be too embarrassed.” Still, when Marcus stared at me naked, he never made me feel uncomfortable with my body. Instead, he made me feel sexy. He stared at me in awe, as if he had never seen a naked woman before, and I knew that wasn’t true. Though standing in front of him, dancing, having him watch my every move—I could never do it.
“Oh come on, Mia. Take a few shots to loosen up. I’m telling you he’ll love it! You can do it on the night of his birthday—a little birthday striptease and sex.” She wiggled her perfectly arched brows. Then her face turned serious. “Besides, you still have that stupid bet going. You have a lot of making up to do.”