Cassie Monroe wasn't thrilled with the idea of turning forty, but she was excited about the evening's celebration with her husband, Phillip. He had made dinner reservations at one of the most expensive restaurants in town. The usual red roses had been delivered earlier in the day.

She stood in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom closet, dressing for the occasion. Phillip was across the bathroom from her, in his closet. His and her separate closets had been high on their list of must-haves when they purchased their two-story home in an upscale gated community of South Baton Rouge years ago. Phillip always liked his privacy, including while dressing.

She didn't mind having a whole closet to herself but did find it inconvenient when she needed his help with things like back zippers. She had that problem now with the zipper of her black full-skirted cocktail dress.

"Phillip, can you help me in here?" she called out to him.

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

"Almost, sweetheart. I just 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."

She watched him in the mirror as he stood behind her, zipping her dress. After twenty years of marriage, she still thought he was the most handsome man she'd ever met. She loved the way his black hair was just starting to turn grey around the temples. It added to his good looks, gave him even more character.

"New dress?" he asked.

"Yes. Do you like it?"

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

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

"Touche," he replied.

"While you're in here, will you help me with my necklace?"

She reached into her jewelry box, pulled out her favorite — the diamond necklace Phillip had given her for

Christmas. He was always showering her with expensive gifts. She felt like the most spoiled woman in the world, and she loved every minute of it. She mostly loved Phillip and had ever since their first date her freshman year of college.

"Are you ready? We don't want to be late."

Slipping into her heels, she said, "Ready."

Downstairs, she flipped off overhead lights, turned on the lamp in the entryway, then checked the front door to make sure it was locked. Just as they reached the door that led out into the garage, Phillip said, "I forgot something. Wait for me in the car. I'll be right out."

When they finally arrived at the restaurant, they the hostess showed them to a private room. Cassie was surprised by that. The bigger surprise came when she stepped into the room and somewhere around forty people yelled "Surprise!"

"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.

Holding her hand over her mouth, she said, "I can't believe you did this! I had no idea! Thank you so much, sweetheart. This is wonderful!"

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

"Melanie, thank you!" She hugged her friend, who, along with most of the other guests, had gathered around her.

"Happy birthday, dear," Melanie said.

"Happy birthday, my precious friend," Margo said, hugging her.

Margo and Melanie were her closest friends. The three of them had been best friends for years, had been 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."

"No, actually I wasn't part of the planning. These two did it all by themselves, it seems." Margo seemed hurt that she had been left out. Cassie was surprised that she had been.

It was late when Cassie and Phillip returned home. The party had been a blast. Cassie had enjoyed every minute of it, including all the food and drink. And cake. There had been a giant birthday cake, her favorite — chocolate with creamy dark chocolate frosting. She had eaten a huge piece and had enjoyed way too much wine. She had celebrated, and now, though uncomfortably full, she was looking forward to continuing her birthday celebration in the bedroom with Phillip.

When she walked into the hallway to head up the stairs, she almost tripped over one of two large suitcases sitting in the entryway.

"What's with the luggage, Phillip? Are we taking a trip?"

"I am. You're not."

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

It was not unusual for Phillip to go on long business trips, but she was usually aware of them ahead of time. He had mentioned nothing to her about one coming up.

"I'm not coming back, Cassie. I'm leaving you."

She was sure she had misunderstood what he said.

"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? Take 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."

She suddenly realized the seriousness of his voice. His words cut like knives through her gut. She felt sick to her stomach. She couldn't believe what was happening. They were supposed to be headed up to bed, to complete her perfect evening with making love. Instead, he was telling her he loved someone else.

"Who? Who is she? Your young secretary? What is this, some mid-life crisis, some fling?" "No, it's not a fling. It's much more than that."

"So who is it then?"

"It doesn't matter who it is."

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

"Oh my God!"

She thought she would pass out at those words. Her legs went weak. She knew she had to sit before she hit the floor. She sat on one of the staircase steps, grabbed hold of one of the balusters. She couldn't believe her ears. It was all a horrible nightmare. None of it could be true. 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. For you to find out. But we just can't keep up the charade any longer. We want to be together."

Cassie stood, holding on to the railing. "So 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? 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 stepped toward him, slapped him across the face as hard as she could. "You bastard!" She swung to hit him again. This time he grabbed her arm, 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, headed toward the door into the garage. He stopped, turned back to her. "I am sorry, Cassie. It may be hard for you to believe this right now, but I did love you. I still do. I just love her more."

"Get out!" Cassie picked up a vase from the large entryway table and slung it at 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 walked away. She stood, staring at the shattered pieces of porcelain until she heard the door open and then close behind him. As soon as Cassie heard it close, 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.