December 06, 2006

Fear, Part 2

It had been so long. I’d missed the scent of her perfume, the curve of her hip beneath my arm, the impossible softness of her skin against mine as her body curves into my own. Her breaths are deep, slow, and I know without fail this intimate embrace will only last another moment before sleep pulls her from my arms.

She stirs, moves, and I let my fingertips glide across her back as she settles on her stomach near the edge of the bed, her left knee bent and drawn up, her left hand at the pillow near her chin. Her face is serene, lips partly slightly, her soft breath making the lock of damp, pale hair across her face quiver with each exhale. The flush to her cheeks has faded, her skin once again porcelain, perfect. Everything about her is perfect. How could I have been such a fool?

She would expect me to leave. No, I think she would be angry if I dared to stay. Morning will bring her sunshine and regret. I can just see her, occupying her hands and attention with some sort of busy work, insisting that the last few hours had been nothing more than a final indulgence in the one thing that always worked between us, a mistake born from familiarity and physical need. She would deny that what I’d seen in her eyes, felt in her touch, was love, and accuse me of trying to manipulate her in desperation. Look me in the eye and tell me that, I would demand, undoubtedly sending her into tears once again.

It’s a conversation we’ve had before, and one I have no desire to repeat. I am desperate. She does still love me. It doesn’t matter at this point.

Moving to the edge of the bed, careful not to wake her, I searched the shadows of the floor for the clothes I had hastily discarded earlier. I am a realist, when not drowning in cynicism, both views reinforced by the job. My father had successfully juggled his career and marriage, and I had just assumed I could as well. Six years of blaming Jayne for our problems, only to realize that the blame is mine. I am not my father.

Dressed, carrying my shoes in one hand, I walked to her side of our bed. She stirred briefly when I covered her with the sheet that had been pushed to the foot of the bed, her slender arm reaching for the other pillow and pulling it close. My wife, seeking comfort during her sleep from my pillow.

Stepping over the old dog sprawled in the doorway, I made my way through the dark hallway and down the stairs, avoiding the ones that creak and groan. In the kitchen I put our wine glasses into the sink before pulling on my shoes and reaching for my holstered gun and keys on the table. The credit card bill we’d discussed earlier, and she had insisted she’d pay, was sitting on the table as well. I pocketed it, and walked through the dark living room, after switching off the kitchen lights.

Putting my key into the deadbolt of the open door, I hesitated, remembering the light of the lamp I’d seen in the window every night since I’d left. Was it worse to leave the house dark, knowing it made her feel uncomfortable, or to turn on the lamp and essentially admit to driving by the house every night while she slept? Reluctantly, I walked to the end table next to the Queen Anne chair, and switched on the light, surprised to see the old dog sitting on the rug watching me curiously. It never occurred to me to take Cole with me when I’d left. He may have been my dog, but Jayne needed him and he’d sensed that, shifting his loyalties the way he did after my father’s death.

“Good boy,” I whispered to him. His tail wagged, but he remained where he was. Figuring I had stalled long enough, I walked onto the porch, closing the door behind me and locking it. Palming my keys, I walked to the porch rail, and turned to look at the house. Jayne had fallen in love with the old Victorian the moment she’d seen it. The house was more than affordable because it was in such a state of disrepair, and we’d made an offer on it that day. I’d promised her I would spend every spare moment bringing the house back to life.

That was nearly four years ago, and other than essential electrical and plumbing repairs, I hadn’t had the time to keep that promise. Looking at the keys in my hand, I pulled the house key off the key ring and walked back to the door, where I dropped the key into the mail slot, listening for the soft thud of it hitting the rug just inside the door. I wasn’t sure if I was giving up or letting go. The only thing I was certain of was that for the first time in my marriage, I was doing right by the woman I loved.

The storm had moved through hours ago, dropping more than enough rain to flood the sandy soil. I picked my way carefully down the gravel driveway, my eyes scanning for the moonlight to point out puddles. Reaching my Suburban without twisting an ankle or soaking my socks, I sat, letting the wipers clear the windshield of rain drops and wind-strewn debris. Time to go home.

Home is the apartment I’ve shared with Sam the last few months. I hadn’t planned to abandon my solitary new existence of work and self-pity so quickly, but the moment I had seen her, I’d been bewitched by her big brown eyes. Of course, at the time I named her, I thought she was a well-fed ‘he’, and didn’t discover the truth until three days later when I found the six little puppies curled atop the bedspread I’d kicked to the floor in my sleep. Some detective I am.

Putting the Suburban into gear, I rode the brake down the remainder of the long driveway, trying to remember which of the innocent-looking puddles were the suspension-jarring holes I’d also had no time to tend to. I turned right onto Lake St. after glancing back at the house, and settled in for the short drive to the other side of town, where young professionals were snatching up the new riverfront lofts, and investors were converting the rows of abandoned historic buildings into a curious mix of office and high-end retail space.

It’s there, above the art gallery, where I live with my ten pound mongrel and her energetic offspring. The gallery owner had been eager to lease to me, to the point of cutting the expensive rent in half, and badgering my older brother into badgering me to accept her offer. When my mother gets an idea in her head, there’s no stopping her.

The moment I crossed the old bridge into town, the ringing of my cell phone pulled me from my thoughts of my family. I fished it from the pocket of the jacket I’d left in the Suburban when I got to Jayne’s house, and flipped it open after seeing the number on the screen.

“Harmon,” I said, knowing a call at this hour couldn’t be good news.

“Busy?” It was Theodore, and he wasn’t trying to hide the amusement in his voice. He knew I planned to meet Jayne to discuss the terms of the divorce because I needed him to cover for me. He’d had been confident that Jayne and I would end up in bed and once again discussing a reconciliation. He was one for two.

“Not now, Teddy.” I had meant to keep my voice even, but it would be obvious to him that something was wrong. Theodore was like a brother to me, more so than my own brother in many ways, but I wasn’t ready to admit to him that my marriage was over. Hell, I wasn’t ready to accept it myself.

“You anywhere near Jenkins Park?”

“Yeah,” I said, pulling the Suburban close to the curb to make a U-turn.

“You ain’t gonna believe it,” he said, his voice trailing off before the line went dead.

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