Michael was the topic of conversation during the next several weeks but interest in him was waning. Speculation about him had been rampant for a while. Patty only listened as Lisa and Julie gave their opinions. Lisa said “I bet he’s a nuclear scientist who works for NASA.” Julie said “I bet he’s an eccentric millionaire who covers his walls with hundred-dollar bills.”
Julie noticed that Patty was being quiet so she asked her what she thought. Patty smiled and said “I think he’s just a man and we all know men.” Julie and Lisa in unison said “boy. Do we ever” but they did agree that Michael was the most beautiful man they had ever seen.
Lisa and Julie started to notice subtle changes in Patty. She seemed to be distancing herself from the circle.
Patty started begging off the card games, citing necessary errands or a meeting. She also seemed to sometimes “forget” to wear her four-and-a-half carat diamond wedding ring. Her excuse was that the stone was a little loose and it needed to be fixed.
Lisa and Julie knew the story behind that ring. It was Patty and Teds’ tenth wedding anniversary. Patty had always wanted to go to France and talked about it often. That year, Ted hadn’t talked much about their anniversary but he always gave her wonderful gifts. Since he had been somewhat evasive, Patty was sure he was going to surprise her with a trip to Paris. She hadn’t gone as far as actually packing her suitcase but she was tempted.
About mid-day, Ted called her from work. He said “look. Some shit has hit the fan and I’m probably going to be stuck here for the rest of the day.” Patty thought he was joking and that the next thing she would hear was “I’m on my way home.”
But then Ted said “why don’t you and your buddies go out for lunch and then go to Vans’ Jewelers.” That was where he always bought her jewelry.
He said “pick out a nice piece and buy it for yourself.” Patty hid her disappointment and said “sure.” Ted said “well, I need to shove but let me know what you got.” That behavior would become a theme in their lives and Patty would become accustomed to it.
At the last cook-out before they were retired for the winter, Lisa asked Ted if everything was alright. He asked her what she meant and she said “Patty just seems to be a little detached.” Ted said “how so?” Lisa asked “did you know that she rarely comes over to play cards anymore?” Ted didn’t even look puzzled when he said “no. She didn’t mention anything about it to me.”
Lisa walked away as she mumbled under her breath “would you have heard her if she had?”
The holidays were coming up and everybody knew that Christmas was Pattys’ favorite time of year. She started decorating earlier than most and it was nearing the end of October, which was when Patty started. Lisa and Julie couldn’t wait to see how she decorated, as it was a different theme in every room, every year.
Julie asked Patty if she was chomping at the bit to start hauling out her decorations and Patty surprised her when she said “I haven’t even thought about it.” Lisa said “quick! Somebody call a doctor!”
Ted turned and said “hey, it doesn’t bother me. That only means that I don’t have to walk sideways through the house.”
Lisa came over and said “you better get on it, girl. You know how we all love to come over and see your house.” Patty smiled and said she knew.
Patty didn’t tell Lisa that decorating for the holidays wasn’t on her mind. Michael was and he had been ever since that first day she saw him.
Lisa and Julie didn’t know but the affair had already begun. It started out innocently enough at first…a glance that perhaps lasted a few seconds longer than it should have…or a discreet touch that went unnoticed.
Patty had always been faithful to Ted but she wasn’t sure she could say the same for him. Having an affair went against everything she had ever held dear…her morality…her faith…her honor…but for once she wanted to taste real love.
Every night, after Ted had gone to sleep, Patty would go into the living room and look at her growing collection of tiny birds. Michael gave her one after every “rendezvous.” She wasn’t worried that Ted would notice. “Why would he notice” she thought. “He doesn’t even notice me.”
As the holidays approached, Patty let everybody know that she was “taking this year off” as far as decorating and hosting any parties. Lisa and Julie were concerned but said they understood when Patty said that it was just too much trouble. “Every year, I have to do everything. Ted never offers any help putting anything up and he never offers any help taking anything down. I’m just tired and I need a break.”
Julie said “you will come to our house for dinner, though, won’t you?” Patty said “of course. What can I bring?” Julie said “just bring yourself…with or without Ted.” Before Patty could react, Julie said “we’re not blind.”
It was Christmas day and for the first time in twenty years, Patty hadn’t gotten any gifts for Ted nor had she gotten any gifts for anybody else. She had only gotten a gift for herself.
For years, she had felt like a flightless bird but now she was ready to spread her wings and fly. The gift she had gotten for herself was a ticket to freedom.
She was leaving Ted.