Cassie Monroe stood in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom closet as she dressed for her special evening out with her husband. He'd made dinner reservations for the two of them at one of the most expensive restaurants in town. The occasion—Cassie's birthday. The local florist had delivered the usual red birthday roses earlier in the day.

So what if she was turning forty! She didn't care. She had a perfect life—married to the ideal man, living in a beautiful home, surrounded by everything she could want. She couldn't be happier.

Except for the darn back zipper of her cocktail dress she now struggled to zip.

"Phillip, can you help me in here?" she called out to her husband who was dressing in his closet. Separate walk-in closets had been high on Phillip's list of must-haves when they purchased their two-story home in an upscale gated community of South Baton Rouge years ago. He liked his privacy, including while dressing.

Sticking his head in the door, he asked, "What do you need? Aren't you ready yet?"

"Almost, sweetheart. I need help with my zipper."

"You always need help with your zipper. What are going to do when I'm not here to do it for you?"

"I'll worry about that when the time comes, which I hope is never," Cassie replied as she touched her hands to her hips and sucked in her stomach. She smiled as she admired Phillip's reflection in the mirror as he worked the tight zipper up the length of her dress. After twenty years of marriage, he was still the most handsome man she'd ever met. A sudden urge to run her fingers through his hair struck as she focused on the touch of gray starting to invade the black along his temples. As far as she was concerned, he became sexier, more appealing with each new gray hair.

"There. All zipped. New dress I assume?" Phillip asked once done.

Cassie beamed, pleased that he'd noticed. "Yes. Do you like it?"

"It's nice. Looks like all the other black dresses hanging in here." Phillip scanned the contents of Cassie's large closet as he spoke. "Same with all the back heels. They all look the same to me."

"Yes, darling, opposed to how all those black suits, white shirts, and black dress shoes in your closet are so totally different."

"Touche," he replied as he straightened his red striped tie.

"While you're in here, sweetheart, will you help me with my necklace?" Cassie asked as she reached into her jewelry box and pulled out her favorite—the diamond necklace Phillip had given her for Christmas. He showered her with expensive gifts. She considered herself the most spoiled woman in the world and loved every minute of it. She loved Phillip dearly and had since their first date her freshman year of college.

After securing the necklace, Phillip asked, "Now are you ready? We don't want to be late."

"Yes," she replied as she slipped into her stiletto heels.

Once downstairs, Cassie flipped off all the overhead lights and turned on the accent lamp in the entryway while Phillip checked the lock on the front door. Just as they reached the door that led out into the garage from the kitchen, he said, "I forgot something. Go ahead and get in the car. I'll be right out."

"Well, hurry. We don't want to be late," Cassie teased.


"Your private room is ready as requested, Mr. Monroe. This way please."

"A private room? You rented a private room?" Cassie asked as she and Phillip followed the young hostess through the crowded restaurant.

"I did. And you'll soon see why," Phillip replied as they reached a closed private room door.

Cassie noticed he had the same gleam in his eyes as the hostess.

The moment she and Phillip entered the room a large crowd of their friends already inside yelled "Surprise!"

Caught off guard, Cassie exclaimed, "Oh my God! What's going on?"

"Umm—you can't tell? The sign on the wall reading 'Happy 40th Birthday' should be a pretty good hint," Phillip replied.

"Phillip! I can't believe you did this! I had no idea! Thank you so much, sweetheart." Cassie gave him a quick kiss on the lips and then wiped away the lipstick she'd left on them with her fingers. "What a wonderful surprise!"

"Well, I don't get all the credit. Melanie helped."

Cassie turned to face her friend, who, along with the other guests, had gathered around her. "Melanie! Thank you!"

"Happy birthday, dear," Melanie said as the two women hugged.

"Happy birthday, my precious friend," Margo said, joining in the hug.

Cassie considered Melanie and Margo her two dearest friends. The three had been close friends for years, almost inseparable since the day they met at the country club.

"I bet you had your hand in this as well, didn't you, Margo," Cassie insisted.

"No, actually I wasn't part of the planning." Pointing to Melanie and Phillip, Margo continued, "These two did it all by themselves it seems."

"Really?" Cassie replied, finding it strange that Melanie and Phillip failed to include Margo in the planning.


Cassie and Phillip returned home well past midnight. Cassie had enjoyed every minute of her surprise party, including the chocolate birthday cake with creamy dark chocolate frosting — her favorite. She had eaten a huge piece. She had celebrated with her friends, and now, though uncomfortably full from all the food and wine, looked forward to continuing her birthday celebration in the bedroom with Phillip.

Entering the hallway on her way upstairs, she almost tripped over one of two large suitcases sitting in the entryway.

"Phillip, how'd this luggage get here? Is this what you were doing while I waited for you in the car? Oh my God! You and Melanie planned a surprise get-away as part of my birthday, didn't you? How exciting! Where are we going?"

"You're not going anywhere, Cassie. Both bags are mine," Phillip replied as he joined her in the entryway.

It was not unusual for Phillip to go on extended business trips, but Cassie usually knew about them in advance. He had mentioned nothing to her about one coming up that she could recall.

"That's a lot of luggage. Where are you going? When do you plan to be back?"

"I won't be returning, Cassie. I'm leaving you."

Confused, she asked, "What do you mean, you're leaving me?"

"Exactly that. I can't keep pretending. I can't do this anymore."

"What are you talking about? Do what? Is this some kind of a joke? Because I'm finding no humor in it. You're scaring me, Phillip. What's going on?"

"It's not a joke. I'm in love with someone else. I have been for a very long time."

Cassie suddenly realized the seriousness in his voice. His words cut like knives deep in her gut. Nausea immediately set in.

"How could this be happening?" she questioned in her mind over and over again. She and Phillip were supposed to be headed up to bed, to complete her perfect evening by making love. Instead, Phillip was standing less than three feet away telling her he loved someone else.

"Who? Who is she? Your young secretary Claudia? What is this, some mid-life crisis, some fling?"

"No, it's not a fling. It's much more than that."

"So it is Claudia then. My God, Phillip. She's not much older than our daughter!"

"It's not Claudia."

"Then who?" she demanded.

"It doesn't matter who it is, Cassie."

"The hell it doesn't! Tell me, Phillip. I deserve to know. Who is it?"

"It's Melanie, that's who!"

"Oh my God!"

Cassie thought she would pass out at those words. Her legs turned into limp noodles. Grabbing hold of one of the staircase balusters, she quickly sat on the third step. Surely her ears were deceiving her. It was all a horrible nightmare. None of it could be real. It couldn't possibly be.

"Melanie? My best friend? That Melanie?"

"Yes. We've been in love for a long time."

"How long?"

"Years."

"You and my best friend have been having an affair for years? Right under my nose? Tell me this is not real. Please, Phillip, tell me this isn't real!"

"It's real, Cassie. I'm sorry. We never meant to hurt you, or for you to find out. But we can't keep up the charade any longer. We want to be together."

Cassie stood, holding on to the railing for stability.

"So—let me get this straight. The two of you decided to run off together, tonight, on my birthday, but you planned a big birthday celebration for me first? What? Was that supposed to help, make it okay? 'Happy birthday, dear friend, dear wife. Hope you enjoy it, oh, and by the way, we've been screwing each other for years behind your back.' That is just sick. Screw you both, you sick, sorry son of a bitch!"

She took a step toward Phillip and slapped him across the face as hard as she could. "You bastard!" When she swung at him a second time, he grabbed her arm and held it.

"Let go!" she screamed, jerking her arm away from him. "Get out! Get out of my sight. You make me sick!"

Phillip reached down, picked up the two large suitcases, one in each hand, and headed toward the kitchen. He paused at the doorway and turned back to face her.

"I am sorry. It may be hard for you to believe this right now, but I did love you. I still do. But I love her more."

"Get out!" Cassie grabbed a vase from the large entryway table and slung it toward him. He managed to dodge it. It crashed to the floor, shattering into pieces.

"You'll be hearing from our attorney soon," Phillip said, and then he disappeared into the kitchen.

Cassie stood, staring at the shattered pieces of porcelain until she heard the door out to the garage open and then close with a disturbing finality that sent a chill down her spine. She dashed to the nearby powder room just in time to lose her wine, dinner, and birthday cake in the toilet.

She sobbed as she watched it all flush down into the sewer.