Note to the Reader: There are 2 possible endings. The reasons are explained after the story. See which ending works best for you, before you see why I offered 2 endings. I would love to hear back from you. 

Harriet couldn’t decide if she should wear a mask or not. It wasn’t required since they built those plastic sneeze shields for the cashiers at the supermarket where she worked. She wore one for the first week, but it was really difficult to talk, and it was uncomfortable to wear all day. The plastic shield should be enough to keep her safe.

 Her sister, who lived across the country and loved to sew, made masks for everyone she knew. Harriet got to choose the pattern for herself and her two kids, Ethan and Gabriela. Harriet wore a flowered mask, Ethan requested the Ninja Turtles, and Gabriela got a Little Kitty mask. Prior to that, she’d made masks from cloth diapers, which actually made everyone laugh, except her children who were mortified that they had to wear diapers on their faces. 

The idea that so many people in the country were wearing masks made it seem like they were actually living in a post-war reality, but when people started making a game out of it, like wearing a costume, that seemed to take the trauma out of it. Harriet had recently seen a video about making a mask from a sock, which gave you the ability to put a napkin inside of it for better protection; she would try that next week, when she had time to decompress. 

“Have you found everything you needed?” Harriet asked the customer as she swiped each item across the scanner. 

“I think so,” the customer replied, texting someone on her phone, paying little attention to what Harriet was doing. 

Harriet appreciated the bright, fluorescent lights  that illuminated the spacious grocery store; they were a welcome change from the drab, lighting in her small apartment. She didn’t appreciate when a customer ignored her by talking on the cell phone. Harriet had been a very social person, so the rapport and chit chat with customers as they passed was some of the only interaction she had with real people during this quarantine, and she relished those small exchanges. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before,” Harriet made an attempt at conversation with the customer, who barely looked up from her phone. 

“I’ve come here for several years,” she replied. “This is a big store, so I doubt you’d know everyone who comes through.”

“True,” Harriet answered, “but I’ve worked here for almost 10 years and I try to keep up. Anyway, I’m Harriet. Nice to meet you.”

The customer wasn’t expecting to exchange pleasantries with the cashier, but suddenly realized that she might not see another person for days or weeks while she was cooped up in her own house. She had almost forgotten that there were people in the world who weren’t on a video chat. “Nice to meet you, too. I’m Anne. I don’t get out much anymore. Sorry, I forgot that there are people who don’t exist in 2-dimensional boxes.” Anne wore a surgical mask, gloves, and a hat. She was almost embarrassed, having lost some of her social skills already.

Harriet laughed. “I know what you mean. I guess I’m lucky to work at a grocery so I have to see people all day. Although, it bothers my kids. They get worried for me.” At least, with casual acquaintances (customers) there was no relationship commitment, which made social interaction light and fun.  

“Well,” Anne replied, “at least you have someone to live with. It’s tough being alone in the quarantine. I’ve considered having my groceries delivered, for sanitary reasons, but then I’d never get out at all. Whoever thought this would be my day out, y’know.”

They both laughed a little, but with sad expressions on their faces. 

“I hope I recognize you when you come in without the mask,” Harriet quipped. 

“Let’s hope that day comes soon,” Anne answered earnestly as she paid for the groceries. She took the cart from the packer and waved goodbye on her way out. They both felt like they made a new friend.

“Ethan! Gabriela! I’m home!” Harriet announced as she walked in the door and dropped her purse and keys on the floor of the apartment. She almost forgot to take off her shoes, but Ethan bounced into the room to remind her.

“Mom! Have you forgotten the rules? The shoes.”

Harriet removed her shoes. “How was your day? Is everything okay?”

“Mom! Please do not touch anything. And do not come near me yet.” 

Ethan was a tall, lanky 12 year old boy who was somewhere in the middle of the autism spectrum. He was not fairing particularly well in this quarantine. 

“Okay, Ethan. I’m going to my room,” Harriet laughed as she tip-toed to her bedroom. This was quite a role reversal, a child telling his mom to go to her room.  “Where’s your sister? Did you both get the schoolwork done?”

“Mom, I told you. We’re not having this conversation until you have sanitized.” He followed her with a disinfectant, spraying her purse, her shoes, her keys, and the floor where she walked. “Shower. Then talk. And remember, clothes in the laundry basket immediately.”

Harriet rolled her eyes so he couldn’t see, but she chuckled a bit at the absurdity of it all. She gladly disrobed and took a warm, glorious shower, scrubbing her hair and every inch of her body. This was quite possibly the best part of her day. Gabriela, an adorable 9 year old with a sunny personality, the exact opposite of her brother, bounded into the bathroom. 

“Hi, Mommy. How was work today?”

“Hey, Gabby. Great, thanks, but could I have a little privacy here.”

“Sure, Mommy. I just have to pee.”

“Okay, but don’t flu..sh,” Harriet pleaded, but it was too late. The water got really cold for about 10 seconds. Luckily, it corrected itself. There was only one bathroom in the apartment and she had to share it with her children. I guess it’s better than being in a third world country, Harriet reasoned. She often looked for a way to make her own situation just a bit better by comparing it to other ones.

When Harriet had dried her short hair with a towel, and put on a comfy house dress, she made her way to the kitchen. Ethan was there, ready with his Clorox wipes, just in case he had to wipe anything down.  She had plenty of them since she worked in the Supermarket and the workers got first dibs. Harriet had hoped that one of the children got food started, because she was tired after a day’s work, but no such luck. She pulled some chicken fingers and potatoes from the freezer and was about to get ingredients for a nice salad. 

“Ethan, are you going to help me make the salad today?”

“Mom, you know I can’t do that. I can’t eat salad because you are touching all of it.”

Harriet sighed. “Ethan, I thoroughly washed my body, which included my hands, with lots of soap. The food has been thoroughly washed. You saw me wash it when I brought it home. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll let you take the salad ingredients out of the refrigerator and you can make the salad for all of us. Then, you can dish it out to Gabriela and me. Would that work?”

“Okay. Please move aside,” Ethan instructed his mother. 

Harriet realized that she had inadvertently gotten her 12 year old, autistic son, to make part of dinner,  without coercion. She applauded herself silently.

The apartment was small, but neat and cozy. Harriet did what she could to make it homey and attractive. The kitchen had a small counter, but she’d decorated it with hanging plants, a colorful tablecloth, matching curtains, and small relief frames of coffee cups and vegetables. The living room donned a very comfy, brown velour couch, a stereo and TV stand teaming with books, tchotchkes, trinkets, trophies, photos, DVDs, a gameboy, and other sundries.

There wasn’t much room for anything else and she didn’t want to stuff up the room too much. Luckily, there was a storage closet on the small patio, overlooking the parking lot. She had not really cared for the view, but now that they were quarantined, it was a godsend to have a patio so they could go outside once in a while. There were two bedrooms, one for each kid, so she slept in Gabriela’s room because Ethan was too particular; also, it would be weird for an almost teenage boy to have his mom in the same room.  

One thing Harriet still demanded, most nights, was that they eat together at the table and talk about their day. Twice a week she allowed everyone to watch TV while they ate. They had a ritual, which was not only nice, it kept Ethan from going off the deep end. 

“What was the best part of your day?” Gabriela asked.

“I made a new friend at work,” Harriet began. “I thought I knew all the customers, but every now and then, someone new comes into the store. I always try to meet the new ones. It makes people feel welcome. Her name is Anne.”

“That’s nice, Mom. Ethan, what about your day?”

“I found out alot more about the pandemic.” Ethan obsessed about many things, and this pandemic was no exception. He loved facts and he was a master researcher. “Did you know that 17 % of the people who tested positive for the Covid-19 virus died in France? That’s a huge number.”

“Um, Ethan, that’s pretty morbid information to offer for the best part of your day,” Harriet remarked, disturbed but not surprised. 

“Mom, that’s what I like to do. Read about the virus. So that makes it the best part of my day,” Ethan countered. “Also, I found out that anyone can get it. I listened to a podcast with a doctor in a Brooklyn hospital and he said that patients of all sorts came into his hospital – young, old, healthy, sick, you name it.”

Harriet thought that was enough information about the virus for one dinner so she diverted the conversation. “It’s Gabriela’s turn now.”

Gabriela took a gulp of her iced tea to wash down the chicken so she could speak. “The best part of my day was that I got to talk to my friends on Zoom with my teacher.” 

Ethan often perseverated and did not give up easily. “That’s great, Gabby. But I have more information to share.” He talked quickly so he could get more facts out. “Spain is at a 14% death rate today. Italy is holding steady at 10%.” 

Harriet cut him off. “That’s enough for now, Ethan. I’d like to enjoy my dinner without thinking about the pandemic anymore, please.”

“But Mom…”

“No. Enough for now. I want to find out how school went today. Gabriela, what did you do for schoolwork today?”

Gabriela hesitated. “Well, I talked on the Zoom with classmates. We learned some Spanish. We went over the work for the week. And…”

“And?” Harriet inquired, getting a bit impatient. “And what work did you do today?”

“I didn’t really do any work. I kinda just played video games,” Gabriela considered leaving out that tidbit of information, but she had a strong sense of right and wrong, and lying was considered wrong.  

Harriet tried not to get too irate, but she couldn’t help it sometimes; the stress was sometimes just too much. “Young lady, what did we say about doing schoolwork? I know that you’re not getting grades this quarter, but we won’t be quarantined forever, and it’s important to keep up your work. And since you do not have to get up in the morning at any specific hour, you can stay up late and do your work. At least 2 hours. You got that computer from your school. You have no excuse…” she continued her harangue. 

Gabriela protested. “But Mom, Ethan was throwing a tantrum. I had to calm him down. I had to get help from Mrs. Byrde downstairs, which freaked him out even more because you know how he is with everyone social-distancing and being disinfected!” Her voice went up in volume and she almost burst into tears. 

Harriet’s body slouched in the chair. What was she thinking, leaving these two kids home alone. But what choice did she have? She was a single mom. She had to work, and thank heavens she was considered an ‘essential worker’ because everyone needed food. Who would have ever thought that as a grocery store cashier she would be hailed as a hero? She really was living in a sci-fi novel. 

Gabriela continued. Ethan was beginning to get agitated, so he stared at his plate while he ate and attempted to drown out the sound of his mother and sister quarreling, not to mention, about him. Too much stimuli often set him off, but he was getting better at calming himself down. 

Gabriela, who was typically a delightful, calm child, was beginning to show signs of stress. “Mom, I really tried to calm him down, but I got scared. He started climbing on the shelves and almost pulled the bookcase down on himself. That’s when I got Mrs. Byrde. I pounded on her door, screaming, which is why she opened the door. She put on her mask before she came up. Then, she pulled Ethan off the bookshelves, which made him scream at the top of his lungs because she was touching him.”

Ethan covered his ears so he couldn’t hear anymore. He started rocking and repeating himself, almost chanting, “She touched me. She touched me.” Ethan didn’t care for being touched, although he had gotten used to his sister and his mother. Now that people were not supposed to touch strangers for fear of catching the virus, he really did not want to be touched. “She touched me, she..”

Harriet looked forlorn and woebegotten. With a look of despair, she asked Gabriela, “what happened then? No, wait.” Harriet turned to Ethan. She had no desire to set him off again. “Ethan, are you done with your dinner?”

“Yes, can I go take my shower now?” 

Harriet was relieved that he wanted to leave the table so she could talk to Gabriela. “Yes, Honey. Go take your shower. Put your plate in the dishwasher. Thanks.” When he left the room, she turned back to Gabriela. “What happened when Mrs. Byrde came in?”

“Mrs. Byrde just let him scream since he was in the middle of the floor and there was nothing she could really do without getting hit by Ethan. I tried to calm him down, but he was flapping his arms and legs and I didn’t want to get hit either. After a while, he calmed down and just lay there. Mrs. Byrde suggested that he go into his bedroom and take a nap.”

“Did he?” Harriet wanted to know.

“Yeah. I guess he had tired himself out. So Mrs. Byrde stayed for a while and sat with me so I wouldn’t be alone. We sat on the patio just to get out, and also, she didn’t want to sit on our furniture.  After that, I really didn’t feel like doing schoolwork.”

Harriet felt defeated. She wrung her hands and then pulled Gabriela to her. “I’m so sorry, Syl. I don’t know what to do. Why didn’t anyone call me at work?”

“Mom, what good would that have done? You couldn’t leave work.”

When everyone got the word that they had to self-isolate and shelter-in-place, she had no idea what she would do with the children since schools were closing. She couldn’t afford day care. There was no one nearby who could watch the children. She hadn’t thought of calling the school to ask them for help. She couldn’t bring them to work, so in desperation, she gave the children explicit instructions and let them stay home. She had alerted a few neighbors that the kids would be home and could the children call on them if absolutely necessary? Today turned out to be one of those necessary days. What was she going to do? Would CPS find out and take her kids because of her neglect? Was CPS (Child Protective Services) even open? Were they working? 

“Okay, okay,” Harriet let out a deep sigh. “Gabriela, help me with the dishes. I’m sorry you had to go through this. I’ll figure it out.” Harriet grabbed her daughter and gave her a very big hug. 

The next morning, out of desperation, Harriet called her ex-husband, John. She loathed having to ask him for anything. Child support was garnished from his wages, which he deeply resented, but it helped. He saw Gabriela every other weekend for one overnight and 2 half days. It was very disruptive, but Gabriela claimed that she was glad to see him, so it worked out. Gabriela got a chance to be the one who got all the attention for a change. Gabriela loved her brother and was pretty patient with him, but he wore on her, too. 

 John had a new wife with whom he had bought a townhome, so they had more room for the kids. Cherrie had kids, but they were older and out of the house.  Harriet was secretly jealous of John and Cherrie, mostly because he did things with his new wife that he never did with her.  However,  Harriet didn’t want to become that venomous ex-wife who alienated her own kids by badmouthing their dad or stepmom. Ugh. The word stepmom stabbed at her heart. 

 John only took Ethan once every month or so, because Ethan could be a handful. If the truth be known, John did not really know what to say or do with Ethan. John took him out of obligation, but was deeply sad that his son turned out to be different, and “it felt like he wasn’t able to produce proper offspring,” he had once iterated. That was the moment Harriet realized how much she despised her husband. The feeling had been underlying for years, not ever uttered aloud for fear that it would become real, but in that moment, when he said those despicable words, she turned a corner and could never love John again the same way. That was the beginning of the end for them.

Harriet reluctantly pressed the numbers on her cell phone. “John, how are you doing during this quarantine?”

John knew there were only a few reasons Harriet would willingly call him, and it wasn’t to say hello to ask how he was doing. “I’m good, Harriet. Cherrie and I are doing just fine. How are you?”

Harriet hesitated, but swallowed her pride and asked, “Not so well, John.         I have to go work and the kids have to be home by themselves all day. It’s not going so well.”

John paused, knowing what was coming. “Better not let the authorities hear you say that. That could be considered neglect, y’know.” He never had much tact.

Harriet could feel her blood pressure rising, but she quelled her emotions so she could get on with the plea. “Thank you for that reminder, John. Which is where you come in.

I know you and Cherrie work from home some of the time. And there’s two of you there. Is there any possibility you can take the kids? Until schools reopen, or maybe we could come up with a shared schedule. I don’t know where else to turn?”

John paused even longer, thinking of a response. She could hear him breathing so she knew he was still connected. 

“You were the one who wanted full custody. Now, you’re changing your mind?” John retorted bitterly. “That’s why I’m paying you all that child support.” 

Harriet swallowed her anger, stuffing it away for another time, hoping it wouldn’t eat at her gut the way it used to. She had learned in divorce recovery group not to be goaded by John, but she was almost at her breaking point. “John, I imagine you might know how much it pains me to ask you. These are unusual circumstances. I don’t quite know what to do.”

     John couldn’t think straight when it came to Harriet. He had never gotten over the anguish of divorce. thus, he exonerated himself from blame and heaped it all on Harriet. Theirs was not an amicable parting of the ways. “ I could take Gabriela, but not Ethan. That would be too much for Cherrie and me to take on. And for how long?”

“Wait,” Harriet replied, shocked for a moment, but not surprised. “What about Ethan? Do you want me to leave him home with nobody to look after him? I can’t leave him here alone.” Harriet’s pulse was beginning to race as it always did when she talked to John. 

“That is not my problem, Harriet. You know I can’t handle him,” John admitted, not realizing that those words would slip out of his mouth in confession.

It was Harriet’s turn to pause, tears welling up in her eyes. “John, I don’t know what to do. And yes, he is your problem. He is your son! That’s why we’re not together. You could never handle him. You gave up on us a long time ago!”

Harriet sat outside on the patio, hoping to have some privacy, but she’d left the door open just a tad, and Ethan happened to be passing by. He’d heard those last few lines out of his mother’s mouth.

“Mom, I’m not going to him. I’m not going to him. Dad is mean. He’s mean to me. I don’t like him. And Cherrie makes me do things that I don’t like to do.”

Harriet’s heart sank. Ethan had heard her. Even more upsetting was thinking about what kinds of things they made him do. She thought all sorts of horrible thoughts. “John, hold on one moment, please. Don’t hang up.” She muted the phone and turned to Ethan. “What sorts of things?”

Ethan wrung his hands and continued. “They make me clean things. And they won’t let me play on my computer.  And they won’t let them tell them the things I’m researching. And I don’t like the food they have. And, and, … just stuff. I don’t like it there!”

Harriet realized in that moment that mothering a child like Ethan all by herself was an almost impossible task, and maybe she let him get away with too much because she couldn’t handle him. She felt completely inadequate and defeated. “Ethan,” she said, “I need to talk on the phone right now. Go to your room and do your research. I’ll come in later. Please.” Ethan gladly retreated to his room. 

Harriet returned to the phone call. “John, are you still there? John?” She hadn’t unmuted him. She pressed the button, determined to resolve this problem. She put on her Mom Hat, the one where she plowed through the tough stuff until it was over, and then collapsed into a puddle. 

“Yea, I’m still here. Look, Harriet, I realize this is a tough situation for everyone. In the entire world.” John could occasionally be compassionate and thoughtful. He wasn’t fairing as well with the quarantine reality as one might think, but sometimes he pushed through the tough stuff also, in his own macho way. He chattered for a bit and Harriet let him. Everyone was going through a sense of unreality. 

“Shit, Harriet. When is this gonna end? What are all of us gonna do? Cherrie and I are lucky to still be working. And you too. Did you know that 22 million people have filed for unemployment already?” One thing John and his son had in common was that they liked to quote statistics. If only John could grab onto that tidbit and bond with Ethan, Harriet thought in that moment. 

POSSIBLE ENDING # 1

“John, I think you and Ethan are very much alike. You both love to quote statistics and…”

“What?” John practically squealed. “I am not like him. Don’t you dare say that I helped to create that. He can’t even…”

Before John could finish his sentence, Harriet’s fur ruffled like a cat and she snarled at him. “…can’t even what, John? He can’t even what?”

John backed down because Cherrie was standing near him in the room and he didn’t want to create a huge scene. “I don’t know what I was even going to say.”

  Emotions were running high during this time of quarantine and uncertainty, and they were definitely elevated between Harriet and John. Harriet tried to hold it together, but John was the one person in this world who could get her blood boiling on a normal day. Finally, she lost it.

“John, you are an incompetent father. I have to raise this child alone, you are no help to me and never really have been. You are weak. You dropped the ball. Tonight, I had to put my pride aside and grovel because I needed your help. But you are useless!” John couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but he hadn’t hung up.

Screaming at John never really helped, but it sure did feel good. All it did was make him get more defensive, which meant she would have to regroup and talk to him when she calmed down if she were going to get anywhere. 

John came right back at her. “He’s probably this way because of you! You always gave into everything he wanted. He’s probably a normal kid, but you screwed him up!”

This was too much for Harriet. She would have slammed down the phone, but it was a cell phone. Instead, she just screamed into the phone one last time. “F-ck you, John! Go to hell! I don’t need your help!”

That’s when she collapsed into the puddle. She was emotionally done. She vented to the air for a few minutes before she burst out in tears. After a few minutes of a good cry, she composed herself as she always did, and went to say goodnight to the children. 

The next day, she called in sick. She made sure her children did their schoolwork. She considered calling John again at one last attempt to get him to be a good father, but decided that was just not an option. So, doing what she always did, which was to do what she had to do because that’s what mothers do, she proceeded to do some of her own research. 

Harriet discovered that during the pandemic and the economic lock-down,  there was now something called Tier 2 Workers.  As it turned out, Harriet qualified as a Tier 2 worker because she worked in a grocery, which was now considered an essential job. 

Also, the government recognized that many people were facing the issue of childcare.  She found a place offering financial assistance and placed the children there during her work hours.  She talked to her boss and explained the situation. As it turned out, he was very sympathetic and they worked out a modified schedule for her.  https://www.citylab.com/life/2020/04/coronavirus-daycare-essential-workers-parents-child-care/608605/  

Ethan went to a facility that was familiar with autistic children. He protested at first, so Harriet took a few days off work to get him acclimated. When he discovered that they disinfected everything constantly throughout the day, he was placated. Then, when he discovered that they would allow him to use his computer for a good portion of the day, and research almost anything he wanted, he was ecstatic. So, Harriet and Ethan and Gabriela settled into a comfortable routine. Things calmed down, most of the time. 

One evening, she rewarded herself with a piece of tiramisu that she got from the bakery at her store, a glass of Chardonnay, and a Zoom cocktail and dessert hour with some women friends around the country.

Harriet explained the situation, how she had solved the problem, and how she had handled everything. 

“Yeah, Harriet,” her friend Shondra said. “You know that women are stronger than men. We do what needs to be done. We handle stuff.”

“You’re a rock star, Harriet,” her sister Leanne commended. 

“Thank you, Ladies. It feels good. It feels right. We’re gonna get through this pandemic,” Harriet raised her glass for a virtual clink with her womenfolk.

They all raised their glass in kind.

 Life would never be the same as it had been, but then again, the only constant is change. 

POSSIBLE ENDING # 2

At some point, Cherrie cut John off. “Honey, let me talk to Harriet.” She took the phone from John. “Harriet, I have some ideas. We’re not evil. We’re just not equipped to handle both of the kids.”

“I’m listening,” Harriet said. She never thought Cherrie would be the one she could turn to for help. For a fleeting moment, she had a vision of the TV show, Sister Wives, and that she was now a character in that bizarre reality show.

“Harriet,” Cherrie offered. “There is something called Tier 2 Workers. The government recognizes that many people are facing the issue of childcare. You qualify as a Tier 2 worker because you work for a grocery, which is now considered an essential job. https://www.citylab.com/life/2020/04/coronavirus-daycare-essential-workers-parents-child-care/608605/  The stimulus package is providing some help for childcare also. Also, have you talked to the teachers at Ethan’s school? I bet they can lead you to resources. I wonder why they already haven’t? And another thing, have you talked to your boss? ”

“What about?” Harriet asked.

“Have you told him that you have a child with special needs, and that you are looking into childcare? Have you asked him to alter your hours? Have you talked to him at all yet? Most people are pretty sympathetic in this pandemic.”

Harriet stammered. “I, er, I…I hadn’t really even considered talking to her. I was too busy just trying to figure out my life. Cherrie, thank you. Thank you so much for helping me figure this out.”

Cherrie spoke to Harriet in an intimate way that she never had before. “Well, you know how men can be sometimes.” John was already in another room, so Cherrie took liberties. “Harriet, don’t take what John says too personally. He doesn’t cope with everything as well as we do. Women are stronger than men, but if you ever tell him I said that, I’ll deny it.”

Harriet laughed. She almost liked the woman on the other end of the phone.

“Harriet,” Cherrie continued, “we’ll take Gabriela, but she’ll have to live here for awhile. As for Ethan, I’ll help you find childcare for him. Maybe we can share the cost for a few months. But you have to talk to your boss first and see what you can figure out.”

Harriet was bowled over by this conversation. “Yes, yes, thank you. I’ll talk to him tomorrow. And I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you so much, Cherrie. Thank you.”

Never in her wildest dreams did Harriet ever think she would find a friend in her ex-husband’s new wife. They didn’t become good friends, because that would be too awkward for everyone, but they worked together to find a solution. Gabriela did go to live with John and Cherrie. Harriet missed her little girl, but she took this time to devote to her son. 

When Harriet went to work, Ethan went to a childcare facility that was familiar with autistic children. He protested at first, so Harriet took a few days off work to get him acclimated. When he discovered that they disinfected everything constantly throughout the day, he was placated. Then, when he discovered that they would allow him to use his computer for a good portion of the day, and research almost anything he wanted, he was ecstatic. 

Harriet and Ethan settled into a comfortable routine. Things calmed down, most of the time. She didn’t have any new found love for her ex-husband, but she attempted to see things from his point of view sometimes. One evening, she rewarded herself with a piece of tiramisu that she got from the bakery at her store, a glass of Chardonnay, and a Zoom cocktail and dessert hour with family and friends around the country. Life would never be the same as it had been, but then again, the only constant is change. 

NOTE To the READERS: Asking people to choose which ending they preferred was even more interesting than getting into the mind of these characters. The first person who read it had a visceral reaction to John,  the ex-husband / father of the autistic boy (Ethan), due to personal experience. That’s why I wrote a different ending. (ending # 1 was really the 2nd ending – the one that I rewrote)  The first reader wanted the ex-husband to step up to the plate and take responsibility.  While this was wonderful in terms of having a gut reaction to my writing, I wanted to see if I could get a more objective critique. Also, I didn’t think this was necessarily a reality, even if I wanted it to be. I have worked with many students on the autism spectrum and thus, dealt with many parents. There is sometimes one parent who is in denial that their child has a problem and it is often their egos that get in the way. It is difficult, indeed, to admit that your child might be less than perfect (I know mine are – LOL), because your children are a reflection of you. 

When I asked other people to read it and choose an ending, most of them chose Ending # 2 with comments such as, “I would like to think that we / the women could get along.” “Women usually take care of the tough stuff, even if the men don’t see it that way.” “Women are the stronger sex.” and “Women stick together.” A few people thought that the tension was better in Ending # 1, in terms of a story. This has been an interesting writing experience, which might compel me to offer more stories with alternate endings. 

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