A Rush of blood to the Head Ch. 04

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A Rush of blood to the Head Ch. 04The conclusion.The only place I could go was to my parents’.I tried calling my mother on her cell but it immediately went to voicemail. I didn’t bother trying my father; he never used his phone. It didn’t matter because it wasn’t as if they’d turn me away. At least, I didn’t think they would.They lived about two hours north of the city—maybe an hour and a half away from my house. What used to be my house.The bus ride felt interminable, but the driver did make good time. It was nearing 8pm when I stepped outside, blinking back tears. A bunch of taxis were lined up but it dawned on me I didn’t have any cash. There was a little worn ATM near the ticket kiosk. I ran over and swiped my card. After punching in my pin, a notice popped up on the screen saying my card was void. It seemed Mark wasted no time in canceling everything.My phone still worked, so he mustn’t have gotten a chance to call our provider yet. I left a voicemail for my mother, telling her I was at the bus station and that I needed to be picked up. God only knew when she would get it.I sat on a bench and craned my neck up to stare at the sky. I tried to quiet my mind by singing songs to myself, but it was no use. My leg was jumping up and down and I noticed with horror that I was toying with my wedding ring. It still sat on my finger, mocking me.Someone pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot. The headlights blinded me, so I couldn’t make out the car, but a few seconds later I heard my mother calling my name.When I was finally in the car and we could see one another, her knowing eyes swept over me. “Did the two of you have a fight?””You could say that,” I mumbled.She didn’t ask anything else, or attempt chitchat. She didn’t seem annoyed with me, her only c***d, for not calling her in an eternity and not visiting in close to a year. Perhaps she was busy with her own life now. Both of my parents were retired, but they were still quite active in the community and were always hopping from one hobby to the next.We pulled up to my familiar c***dhood home and tears filled my eyes. My mother turned off the ignition and moved to open her car door, but I grabbed her arm.”Mom,” I whispered.She looked back at me. “What’s the matter?””Mark and I are divorcing.”Mom didn’t look surprised, only contemplative.”I had an affair.”She didn’t seem shocked by that, either.”I’m sorry to intrude like this. I know you guys are busy and the last thing you need is your weeping daughter to come home and—””Lucy, you can stay as long as you need to.” Her eyes roamed over my face. “Why would we turn you away?””I haven’t really been a great daughter,” I whispered.Mom was slightly amused. “No. But you’re here now, and so are we, and I guess we’ll have to act like a family again. Need help with your bags?”I shook my head and she got out of the car, headed for the house.A long sigh slipped from my mouth when I pulled myself up. The air was clearer here, and the stars were brighter. We were far from the lights and sounds of the city. Somehow, in spite of the wreckage I left behind and that cloying sensation of devastation rolling through my stomach, I felt safe.I walked to the house, dragging my baggage behind me.****************If I had expected a great deal of fanfare upon my visit to my parents’ house, I would have been extremely disappointed. Thankfully I knew my parents well.Dad was asleep already when I entered the dark house. Mom said she was going to bed, too, and that there were leftovers in the fridge. She appeared reluctant to part from me and it broke my heart that it was because she hadn’t seen me in forever…and here I was, on her doorstep, my life a total mess.I paced around the living room, letting my toes sink into the plush carpet. My feet were still sore from all the glass I pulled out of them, but I couldn’t stop myself from walking around and studying pictures of us in various stages of our lives.My parents’ wedding picture hung proudly on the wall. Instead of your standard picture, my parents were gazing lovingly at one another. My father had a mustache, and my mother was a great deal thinner.Now they were more like friends than lovers. They joked with each other. They understood every action the other did. They knew what to order each other at restaurants, and they knew exactly what buttons to push when they wanted a fight. Sometimes they didn’t sleep in the same bedroom when I was growing up. Now they didn’t bother staying in the same room at all.”Your father snores,” my mother explained to me once.Which was true. But they’d never been exactly a model of the passionate marriages you read about in novels, or like my c***dhood friend Danielle’s parents. They’d make out right in front of us sometimes, and we’d go “yuck!”, but as we got older I came to consider it kind of cute. Danielle’s dad was going gray, and her mother stopped wearing makeup, but they giggled like teenagers whenever they were around one another. I remember thinking, “Wow, they are so in love!”It never occurred to me that every marriage was different. That not every marriage was a storybook romance, and that in many ways, my parents probably had a more functional marriage. And just because they didn’t suck face in front of me didn’t mean they didn’t touch one another or value one another behind closed doors. They wouldn’t dare make out in front me, let alone my friends! It was inappropriate, and I was forced to admit that when I was younger, Danielle’s parents absolutely made me uncomfortable underneath my fascination.My eyes moved over the rest of the photo frames haphazardly placed on different tables in the room. Most of them were me, transforming over the years from a toothless, pigtailed, platinum blonde precocious k** to a woman with long, golden hair and a twinkling grin.That smile of mine dimmed a bit when Mark joined me in photos. Then eventually we both smiled at the camera— mouths closed, lips curved and eyes gleaming with our little private jokes.I missed him already. My heart ached looking at his face, the face I’d known and kissed and stared at for seven years.But I was still torn thinking about his question— “Do you regret it?”I fell back on the couch and admitted to myself I did. Yes, I regretted it more than anything. I couldn’t believe that I had the capacity to do that to Mark, and that I’d so carelessly disregarded his feelings. Seven years we stitched a life together; I tugged at some loose string until our lives fell apart.I was still stunned Luke managed to fool me so well, and that I’d become such a pleasure-driven slave and fucked up my life by fucking another person. I’d always had a self-destructive streak, but I never imagined it would screw me up this much.I took the coward’s way out. I did something Mark could never forgive me for, and I’d be haunted by that forever. He didn’t deserve that send-out. He didn’t deserve me screwing around with his coworker. Even if he had, there was nothing that could make what I did okay.I loved Mark. Sounds crazy, but I still did. I loved him like you love an old friend, but it was so mired with years of resentment and of living in such a bizarre world of pretend. We never really had a chance, considering the way we started, because mingled with the desire and love that grew between us was that little twinge of obligation. We were beholden to one another not out of passion, but by necessity. Passion did initially bring us together, and passion came back later, until it seemed like that was all there was between us. Years of familiarity wouldn’t—couldn’t— change that.I spread out on the sofa and stared at my wedding portrait, the one my parents framed in gold and nailed up beside theirs. We
were just k**s, smiling too wide at the camera with a little too much space between us. That day was such a blur to me. I remember my mother doing my hair. My aunt accidentally stepped on my train and ripped it. Mark had a cold and sneezed all over the priest. His father got drunk and had to be carted away before we even cut the cake.Remembering that disaster of a day had me laughing, even as I cried. Mark and I somehow pulled off being the most functional people during the experience. We stood quietly but firmly next to the other, for the first time as man and wife, perhaps not understanding yet the kind of friends we’d one day become. Or that we would have a relationship I would utterly destroy. I was still pregnant that day, and even though we were suspicious of one another, and even if Mark felt he hated me then, there was a faint sense of hope and the slightest bit of excitement at the thought of our new beginning.I tossed uncomfortably on the couch, but fell asleep just as the sun started to rise.*******************Dad woke me up, not intentionally, but because he was so fucking loud. I forgot about that.He made coffee and murmured inconsequential things to my mother. They were waiting for me to get up, that much was obvious, but they weren’t going to rush me. A surge of affection for them warmed my chest.I stood—still in the dress from yesterday—and tiptoed into the kitchen. They both looked up at me and smiled.”Hi,” I said. It was awkward.”Dad just made coffee. Go get a cup and then we’ll talk.”I followed Mom’s instructions and put a little extra sugar in my coffee because, fuck it, I’d had a rough few days. I wondered what Mark was doing. Had he gone into work? It was Friday. He probably figured he could take the day off. Everyone would know about my disgrace, and no one would blame him for wanting to soak himself in whiskey.And Luke? Would he bother showing his face at the office, or had he already sped off to Boston?My dad watched me sit and shook his head. “So you cheated.””Sam!” Mom snapped.”Did you have a better lead-in, Linda?”I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, Dad, I cheated and he kicked me out.””This is the first time I’m seeing you in months. Maybe even a year.”The table instantly became fascinating to me. I swirled my fingers around in invisible circles.”What happened, Lucy?”I looked up at my father and felt those old familiar feelings of shame and fear that only a disappointed father can evoke.”I made a mistake. I keep making mistakes.””And Mark? What’s happening with him?”I blew out a puff of air and snickered. “No clue, Dad, probably burning an effigy of me. Or, more likely, burning my shoe collection.””Okay.” Dad shifted uncomfortably. “So, what’s the next step? Separation? Divorce?””I’m sure divorce.”My voice was flat, but inside all I wanted to do was cry.”And the prenup?” Mom asked.”Should take care of everything, but I don’t doubt Mark will make a bit of a spectacle about this. I don’t blame him.” I spun my wedding ring around my finger.Dad sighed. “And what is yours according to the document?””I’m not really sure. I actually think I get the house, which is too much. I’m going to sell it and give him half.” I looked up at my parents. “Is it okay if I stay here with you for a while? Until I get on my feet?”Mom took my hand and squeezed. “Of course. I’m just glad you’re here. I’m only sorry about the circumstances.”She got up to do the dishes. I realized that Dad was watching me, a strange expression on his face. When he noticed I was staring back at him, he stood. He awkwardly put a hand on my shoulder.”I’m happy to see you, too, Lucy.”He pulled his hand back as quickly as he could and rushed out of the kitchen. Mom smiled softly at me.”We missed you.””I can’t imagine why,” I said softly. “I feel like I always whirl back into your lives when I’m in trouble.”Mom leant against the sink. “You do, but it’s okay. You’re our k**. That’s what k**s do.””I’m not a k**, anymore, Mom. Even if I still act like it. So if you guys don’t want me around, or if I’m going to cause any trouble, please let me know. I won’t be offended.”Mom came back to me and stroked my hair back like she used to do when I was growing up. “You’re still my k**. I’ll always want you around.” She bent down to touch her nose to mine. “Even though you’re a royal pain in the ass.”*********Weeks went by and I didn’t hear from Mark. I texted him one day, reminding him (as if he needed to be reminded) that we had to talk. Of course he didn’t reply. I dug up a lawyer my parents could afford, hating I’d have to owe them but accepting I needed the help, and had him contact Mark’s attorney. My lawyer came back to me saying Mark hadn’t filed any papers yet, but he would. It would take around 40 days to finalize the divorce.Then my lawyer called me the next week, saying Mark had now filed the paperwork. In just over a month I would be Lucy Gallagher again. God, I’d have an ex-husband. A failed marriage. It was all so foreign.That night I tossed and turned. The moon’s light crept through a slit in my curtains and caught on my wedding and engagement rings. They were haunting me. It was silly that I was afraid of inanimate jewelry but I slid them off and placed them in my drawer just the same.Fall was beginning to drag itself through town, turning leaves orange and red. I loved Autumn. I adored the scent of burning embers in the air, the hard cider and the candied apples. This year I faced the season with a quiet dread. Any day I’d get the call from my lawyer that the 40 days were over, that any additional paperwork filed was finished.Suddenly one morning I woke up and realized it had been a full month since I saw Mark last. Bizarre thoughts flitted through my head. Was Luke married to that girl, yet? I felt a little sorry for her. He was a grand actor and he would undoubtedly make her unhappy.Would Mark marry again? If he did, I hoped he had better luck this time around.I thought of David and called him, missing the one friend I’d had in years. He didn’t answer. I called him again later that week. No response, and no call back. It was a painful realization that I would never hear from him again.Then one day I was raking leaves and my mother came to me with my cell phone. Her face was severe, and she spoke slowly and carefully.”It’s Joe, the lawyer. He has news.”I took the phone and listened, not saying a word. He informed me that it was over. All over. I was well provided for. The house was mine, and some of the contents in it. Too generous, I thought, but it was what it was.That afternoon I took two ring boxes my mother never used, put my wedding rings inside and went to the post office. I mailed them back to Mark. I included a long letter. It was an attempt to apologize, to articulate how incredibly remorseful I was, to assure him that hurting him was never my intention. Of course it could never completely capture how horrible I felt about what I’d done, and it would never quench his disgust with me.He never called. Never texted. I never heard from him.***************”Lucy?”I stopped examining apples and turned around slowly. It was a Saturday at 8pm. Who the hell could be lurking around here now besides me?I did my shopping at odd times, terrified people would recognize me. Already some of the mothers of old friends had noticed I was in town. I became completely paranoid, thinking every time I saw people huddled together that they were talking about me.After a while I told myself I wasn’t that interesting and to get over it. It still didn’t mean I wanted to run into an old friend and confess my absolute failure to them.I was pleased, however, to see the girl standing behind me. Shari and I had been fairly close in high school, but going to college in different cities caused us to eventually drift apart.She looked adorable, all perky cheerleader grown into perky soccer mom. And even though she was now an adult, her eyes were still adorably big and green and her ha
ir was lusciously long and red. She still kind of of looked like a k**; I imagined her still getting carded at bars and almost smiled.A toddler sat in her shopping cart, watching me suspiciously.”Lucy, it is you! Lucy, hi!”Shari rolled the cart closer to me and gave me a big hug.”Years! Haven’t seen you in years! How completely bizarre, right? This is my daughter. Her name is Anna, isn’t she adorable?””Shari… Hi.” I looked at the little girl, feeling extremely uncomfortable. c***dren made me nervous. “Hi Anna.””You look beautiful! Almost exactly the same.” Shari examined me closer. “Maybe a little tired. What are you doing in town?”I picked at the label of one of my apples. “Visiting my parents. It’s been a while, you know?””Totally. I moved back here after college. I was too much of a homebody to… Hey, wait a minute.”She walked away from me and her daughter, who seriously looked like she was about to start wailing, and yanked a young boy over to us by the back of his collar.”Mom!””Michael, if you can’t stay by me like a big k** then I’ll have to drag you around like a little k**. You got me?”Michael—who was probably around eight—groaned and threw a few boxes of candy into the cart. Shari glared at him but didn’t pull the candy out. Softie.”Sorry, Luce,” she said, shaking her head. “k**s. They’re killing me. And I’m pregnant again.” She looked up at the ceiling. “God help me. I married this guy—his name is John—and he’s hot, but jeez! He’s so passionate that I can’t ever say “I’m tired” or “I have a headache”, if you know what I mean. He’s all man, and that makes it even worse when he comes on to me because it’s strong and ridiculously powerful! Sometimes I think we’re going to end up with ten k**s. I’m only 29, for God’s sake!”Her son looked completely embarrassed and I couldn’t fight my grin. Yep, Shari hadn’t changed; perhaps a bit too hyper and peppy sometimes but still amusing, and still kind.”Congratulations. You sound happy, even if you’re a little overwhelmed.”Shari moved closer to me and waved her hand. “Thanks, thanks. More importantly, how are you doing? How’s married life treating you? Do you have an army of c***dren yet? I always saw you as, like, the mother of a brood of boys. You’d totally order them around and raise them to be ladykillers.” Shari handed Anna a few Cheerios without even looking away from my now panicked eyes.”Um. Things are a little less, um… I don’t have any k**s.””Oh, well I started young. Sometimes,” she got closer to me and made sure Michael was far enough away, “I wonder if I should have waited. But he’s such a freakin’ cutie. I can’t regret that face.”I smiled despite my anxiety. “Your k**s are gorgeous.”She pulled her bag up higher on her shoulder and looked back over at Michael, who was once again getting too far away. She rolled her adapazarı escort eyes and sighed. “Why don’t you come over for lunch or something one day? Or is this just a brief visit into town?”Her eyes came back to mine and it struck me that it felt nice chatting with someone who didn’t secretly despise you, who wasn’t angling to get something out of you, who wasn’t superficial and dull. I yearned to sit with her and laugh, because I knew she was still sunny and funny Shari from high school, but eventually I’d have to talk about my life and that sucked. I didn’t want her to know that I was pretty much the same as I was when we graduated high school. And I didn’t want her to know my marriage was over because I had an affair. It would hurt to have her judge me and possibly reject me.But I heard myself saying, “I’ll be here for a while,” which was a surprise to me even as my mouth whispered the words.She grinned and slapped her palms together. “Awesome. I live in my parents’ old place. On Sycamore and Brewery? Remember?”I did and reflexively smiled. We’d had a lot of parties over there when we were k**s. Shari returned my smile, knowing exactly what I was thinking.”Come tomorrow, around 1? Okay?”Michael stomped back over, sighing that his mother was taking too long.”Okay. I’ll be there.”She waved and then pushed the cart away, singing to her baby.************”I’m so happy you ran into her! She’s such a nice girl.” Mom sipped her tea and smiled. “Her mom is a sweetheart, too. She moved down to Florida with her husband, gave Shari the house.”I zipped my boots up and stood from the table. My hands were shaking and fear squeezed down my throat. “I’m nervous.”Mom blinked up at me. “Why would you be nervous? It’s Shari. She works in the office at the high school—maybe she can get you a job there—and she’s stable and sweet. She’s a doll, and she is exactly the kind of person you should be socializing with. You’re too isolated up in your room.””Exactly. She’s a nice girl, and I’m not.”Mom rolled her eyes. “Are you going to tear yourself apart all the time or can I look forward to a day where you accept the blessings that come your way with silence? Because self-loathing becomes old after a while, I must say.”My heel snagged on a crooked tile in the kitchen and I nearly fell. Frustration bubbled up and all I wanted to do was go back to bed. “That’s it, I’m not going over. I’ll say I’m sick or something.”Mom got up and angrily breezed by me, rinsing her cup in the sink. “You are going over there! I’ll ram my foot up your ass if you don’t go. You aren’t working. You aren’t socializing. Every day you’re submerging yourself deeper into depression. I refuse to watch it passively anymore.””Mom, I am not—””No, this is what you’re doing. You’re going over to Shari’s. You’re going to allow yourself to have a good time. And tomorrow? Tomorrow you’re listing that house. Tomorrow you’re going job-hunting. Tomorrow you’re taking a deep breath and you’re going to start forgiving yourself. It is time to come back to the world of the living.”******I parked Mom’s car outside Shari’s house and took a deep, calming breath. Her house was as lovely as I remembered it; a large porch wrapped around the front, filled with potted plants and c***dren’s toys. Dozens of crystal wind-chimes hung from the porch. The house looked so warm and cozy with large, welcoming windows and deep honey-colored siding with maroon shutters.My heels clicked against the wood of her porch, which I assume someone heard, because the door flew open and a gigantic dog came panting towards me. I nearly fell but a man came out to help me, laughing and cooing at the dog.”Gina, baby, calm down!” He tugged at the dog’s collar and smiled at me. “Lucy, nice to meet you.”Michael came out to help his father drag the dog back by her collar. “Hi, Lucy,” he said distractedly, as if I came over all the time.”Lucy!” Shari came to the front door and waved me in.I forced a smile and followed. John and Michael dragged the dog in behind me and closed the front door.”Gina is a sweetheart, really, but she’s so big! I hope you aren’t scared of dogs. Sorry I didn’t mention her yesterday but I totally forgot! If you’re allergic or something we can—””It’s fine,” I cut in. “Really. I love dogs.” I bent over to pet Gina to ease Shari’s mind. Gina came closer to me and passed out on my feet, her gigantic tongue lolling out of one side.”She likes you!” Shari giggled.John cleared his throat and reached over to shake my hand. “I’m John. It’s nice to meet you. Shari was very excited to run into you.””Oh, right, this is my husband! Isn’t he gorgeous?” Shari danced over to him and wrapped her arm around his waist. “He’s gorgeous, I know it. He knows it. We all know it. I just like to remind everyone.”Her husband looked simultaneously embarrassed and amused, and it tickled me to think of what it must be like to live with Shari all day long, every day. Michael rolled his eyes, but I think he was blushing.I couldn’t contain it anymore: I burst out with laughter. S
hari was ridiculous and cute and absolutely a mood lifter. I calmed down a little and shook my head.”Sorry, but it was something about Michael’s expression…” I tried to suppress a snort and failed horribly. John and Shari began to laugh with me. “It’s very nice to meet you.”Anna came running out with a handful of markers in her hand. John sighed and took them from her, checking to see if she had gotten any on her skin.”Okay,” he groaned playfully, “we’re going out for ice cream and giving you ladies some space.” He smiled again and I knew why Shari loved to remind people he was gorgeous, and that he was hers. He seemed like a really nice guy, too.The three of them were out the door five minutes later. Then Shari dragged me through the kitchen and out the back deck.”It’s a little chilly, I know, but it’s such a sunny day. I made us some sandwiches and mimosas. And don’t worry, darling, I may be pregnant but I made John get you some champagne so that is definitely a real mimosa.””Thank you, that’s very nice of you,” I murmured, taking a sip of it before even sitting down. “Your house is even more beautiful than I remembered. And your family is wonderful.”They really were. They were exactly the kind of family I always envied-loud, bustling, warm, happy.Shari settled down in her chair and gave me a sweet look. “Thank you. They really are wonderful. I’m very lucky.” She picked up a sandwich and inspected it before taking a big bite.”When is the baby due?” I looked her over. If she hadn’t said she was pregnant, I never would have guessed. She definitely wasn’t showing.Her mouth curved in a soft smile and I finally got what people meant when they said expectant mothers glowed. “Early April.””Wow, that’s great. A Spring baby.””I know, right?” Shari poured some more orange juice in my glass and then reached over to put a splash of some more champagne in, too. “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. I know you went off to college with Janie—who I don’t talk to anymore, by the way, we had a huge falling out years ago, she’s such a bitch—and I know you got married to some big deal guy. A lawyer, right? Your mom told my mom a little, but that’s really all I know.””That’s really all there is to know. His name is Mark. We live in a nice neighborhood just outside the city.” My voice began to shake. I tried to cover it with another sip of mimosa but Shari’s smile was dimming and she was studying me with a great deal of concentration. “He’s… Well, we don’t have k**s and a big dog or anything. There’s not very much to talk about.”Shari leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Uh, oh. You’re not telling me the truth. As a mother of two—especially, the mother of a boy—I know when someone isn’t telling me the whole truth.””It’s…delicate. And I don’t think it’s very interesting. You should give me a tour of your house or something.””It’s none of my business, sorry.”I could tell she wouldn’t be able to leave it there and sighed. “It’s okay. What do you want to know?””There are rumors, you know.” Shari shrugged and looked off towards the back of her yard. “I don’t typically listen but this morning I ran into someone and they started telling me about you. That you moved back with your parents.” Her soft green eyes met mine and she reached over to take my hand. “It’s okay, you know. I’m not going to judge or make a big deal of it or send you pitying glances all day. I just want to catch up with you, and help you if I can. I know divorce is no picnic, if that’s what’s going on, and if you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to go beat him up for you, I will. I’m a lot stronger when I’m pregnant, even John thinks so.”So she imagined me as the injured party. I wanted to correct her, but at the same time I wanted to relax for one afternoon and not think about what I’d done.But that was cheating, and I’d done enough of that.I leaned over to her and said, “I cheated on my husband.”She sat back in her seat, eyes wide. “Wow.””With his coworker.”Her eyes popped open even wider. “Double wow.” She looked down at her hands. “Why?”So many reasons. So many excuses. I couldn’t pick a good one, or one that felt right to say, but eventually her gaze met mine and I couldn’t lie.”I must’ve been unhappy but I didn’t know it. And I didn’t show it, not really, so Mark had no way of knowing. God forbid I tell him what I was thinking…” I looked away and swallowed a lump of sadness. “We had a strange sort of relationship. We were friends and partners, but we also never really let the other person in on what the other was thinking. Or maybe that was just me. Then this guy started working with him and came over to a party one night. Luke. He was good-looking and smart, and he paid me attention. And he didn’t just stare at my boobs, or patronize me or anything like that. He was different from the others. He listened, or seemed to, and I don’t even know when it started but suddenly I was fantasizing about him. He was attracted to me, too, and the next thing I knew we’d begun something I didn’t even imagine happening.””How did Mark find out?” Shari asked a few minutes later. I’d zoned out.”Someone caught us and told him,” I said slowly. I came back to the moment and looked across the table at her, preparing myself for her to politely but resolutely tell me to fuck off.She didn’t do that. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking, but I relaxed a little when her expression didn’t twist with disgust.”That’s terrible. Then what happened? He threw you out? Or did you leave?””He threw me out. And now we’re divorced.” I stared down at my mimosa. “I miss him. It’s strange. I feel like I don’t have a right to, that I don’t have a right to still love him. But I do.””Phew,” Shari said. “And Luke? What happened to him?”I forced myself to stay calm thinking about him. “He moved to Boston. He’s engaged. He was secretly engaged the whole time, pretty much. I’m not sure if they’re married yet. I just keep thinking ‘Poor girl’ which is funny considering the situation I’m in.”Shari shook her head. “Jeesh. No wonder you didn’t want to get into this. It’s horrible.” She brought her chair over to my side of the table and watched me carefully. “Have you talked to Mark at all? I mean, if you want to reconcile you should tell him. I’m sure that time has quelled a little of his anger. I know you’re divorced and all that but Liz Taylor and Richard Burton remarried or something right? Maybe he’d listen to you, if you said you were sorry. But, again, only if you want to reconcile.”God, she was such a romantic.I opened my mouth and then shut it. I never considered there was any other possibility. Then I thought of Mark the day I left, how his eyes glittered with such disdain. No, there was no other possibility. And we were done, in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of Mark.”I think,” I began, “that I don’t have an answer to that question. Not a satisfying one. He’s all I’ve known for nearly eight years. I feel like I want to say “yes, I don’t want him out of my life” but it’s biased because change is hard, and it sucks, and I might just be resisting it.””I think you’d know the difference,” Shari remarked with a sad smile.I couldn’t help it; I folded. I told her everything in greater detail. How Mark and I came to be married, how we passed the years and how I completely annihilated our marriage. Shari listened calmly, commenting here and there but never interrupting me.Only when I was done and when I realized I’d been crying did she react.”You sound like you’ve had a very bad time of it, Lucy.””It’s all my fault.””Is it? Hmm. Sounds like there are a couple of things going on here. Part of it is absolutely your fault. Okay, maybe a bigger part of it was your fault. I wish I could say otherwise. But regardless, even if you were Eve in a past life and all this shit was your f
ault anyways, what’s the next step? I mean, are you going to hide out at your parents’ house for eternity?”I blinked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it.””What about a job? A career? What did you study in college?””I was only there for a year and a half. I didn’t know. I thought maybe about being a nurse.””A nurse sounds like an excellent job to have! Hard work but you’re a smart girl. You could handle it.” Shari got up and fiddled with her cell phone. “I’m checking Craigslist for jobs. And you should take a look at some of the community college’s programs. They have a pretty good nursing program. I know because John’s sister went through it a few years ago.”I was breathless. She was still being nice to me, even after everything I told her, and she was raising some important points.”You don’t have to look for me.”Shari’s eyes met mine. “Why not? I can still talk while I’m doing it, don’t worry.””I just don’t want you to go through the trouble.””It’s no trouble,” she smiled. “What are friends for?”*********Dad was out on the deck when I got home. “Where’s Mom?”He looked up from his paperback. “She ran to the store. We’re out of milk.”I sat down. “Kinda cold to be out here, no?”Dad put down his book on the table and gave his full attention to me. “Your mom says you’re very down on yourself.”Well, what a wonderful change of topic. I was slightly suspicious Mom ran out to get milk on purpose to put my father and me together.”After what happened…” I shrugged. “Certainly not thinking of myself very highly, Dad, no. And I’m embarrassed and ashamed to be here with you guys when I stayed so distant for most of my marriage. Then you also know what I’ve done, which is doubly humiliating.”Dad’s expression was befuddled. He was never one to voice his emotions, to say exactly what was on his mind, to offer comfort. I could tell he wanted to say something, but I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad. Eventually he cleared his throat, but kept his eyes on the dying trees in our backyard.”You messed up. Doesn’t mean you’re not my daughter anymore. I love you, and I always will, and there isn’t much you can do to change that.” He glanced at me with a smile. “And I really am glad to have you back, even if it’ll only be for a while. It was lonely and quiet without you here. And now Linda has someone else to tell her gossip to, thank God.”He got up, groaning as he stretched.He had a few more parting words for me before he went back inside.”You have to go on living, Lucy, you know. Your mother told me she said the same thing to you, and I agree. The world doesn’t just stop when you do something wrong. You say you’re sorry—and you mean it—and you try to pick up the pieces. You can’t mourn here forever.””I know, Dad,” I whispered, tears in my eyes.**************************I picked up a job at a local florist run by a tough guy named Randy, who also happened to be a volunteer firefighter. How the hell he ended up owning a successful flower shop was beyond me.He was maybe about fifty and divorced three times. He was dating a girl now, probably a decade younger than he was. When we got better acquainted with one another, I asked him one day if he thought maybe he’d been married enough.He laughed and pinched my cheek. “You’re silly.”If he even got a hint I was in a morose mood, he’d be on top of me with corny jokes and amusing but long-winded tales of his past. He became a dear friend to me, almost instantly. He was loud, tall, with ruddy cheeks and dirty blonde hair that always needed a trim. And he always wore plaid, which made me think of a lumberjack.And he was lewd. He loved, loved dirty jokes and pulled them out whenever he saw me becoming too maudlin.One day I was ripping the Snapple label off the bottle. He came over, carrying a dainty bouquet of lilies (the dichotomy of such a huge, masculine sort of guy carrying such delicate flowers always amazed me).”If you tear the paper off your drink bottles, it means you’re sexually frustrated.””Ew, Randy.””It’s a scientific fact, sweetheart.”Another day he was playing with his phone.”Hol-eee shit. Lucy, come over here.”Sighing, because I had an idea of where this was heading, I walked over to him. “What is it?””I can’t believe what I’m reading on Tweeter.””Twitter,” I corrected for the billionth time.He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. This is complete insanity. Mind is blown right here, Lucy.””What is it?” I asked again.”Like, men from the Middle Ages? They used to chop off their left nut.” He nodded when I made a gagging noise. “They thought the sperm in the left testicle made girls.””Ew, where do you read this stuff?””I follow informative Tweeter pages.”Randy also hooked me up with a car, so I didn’t have to borrow my mother’s anymore.And when Spring came, I signed up for the nursing program. My parents were happy for me, and Shari was over the moon. We quickly became good friends.Pregnancy looked good on Shari. She was getting bigger by the day, but she truly looked beautiful. And she was so fucking nice that sometimes I stared at her in awe, wondering how the fuck we were friends. How she could stomach me.Sometimes I babysat her k**s so she could go on dates with John before the newborn madness descended again. I figured I owed her. At first I was terrified. Diapers, bottles, tantrums and the Disney channel made me dizzy.But it turned out it was easier than I expected. Michael was a good k** who did his homework quietly, and he even liked to read. John had set up a whole X-box for him in his room, too, so that ate up a lot of his time.Anna was a bit more challenging. SpongeBob would end but she wouldn’t escort adapazarı accept it.”Pongy!” she’d scream, throwing her bottle across the room. “Pongy!””Jesus Christ,” I said under my breath. I looked over at Michael for help but he was heading to his room, likely to avoid yet another tantrum.Then one night I got a splendid idea.”Anna, baby, SpongeBob went to sleep.” I wiped away her tears and picked her up. She was delightfully heavy and warm in my arms. I could kind of understand Shari’s craziness for babies. “SpongeBob needs sleep, just like you do. He went to sleep in his little pineapple, and Gary the snail is snoring next to him.””Sweep?” she asked, instead of ‘sleep’.”Yes, honey, he’s asleep.”She stared at me for a minute, gauging the truthfulness of my words. And then she set her drowsy head on my arm, nuzzling her face into me. It sounds ridiculous, but the small gesture of intimacy brought tears to my eyes.********************************It seemed like my new life was forming and cementing together. I quickly became used to heading to Randy’s flower shop in the morning, and then dashing over to the community college when my shift was over. Weekends were typically spent gardening with my mother (I hated gardening but I owed it to the woman) or with Shari, playing with her k**s in the backyard or rubbing her feet if she was particularly tired.The life I’d lived seemed to drift away from me, as if it were all a bad dream. All that was left was my old house to deal with.One April morning I woke up and called real estate offices until I found one who’d help me put the house on the market. I called my lawyer, asking him to relay to Mark’s attorney that I’d be selling the house, and that he should retrieve what he wanted or needed from it. I also wanted him to know I’d be sending him half of whatever I got for it. It was only fair, in my mind.I was mellow the next day. That was my last tie to the Lucy I used to be, and to the privilege, the excess, of the life I once lead. Now I was plain old Lucy Gallagher and I loved that, but a part of me became nostalgic and wistful thinking about the house I’d made a home in, that I’d decorated with such care, that I’d lived in with Mark.The next morning, however, I shook off the blues and wore my prettiest pink dress. I pulled up my hair into
a high ponytail and applied a little more makeup than usual.Randy whistled when I walked into the flower shop and I gave him the middle finger.”Adorable,” he laughed as he painstakingly put together a fragile flower arrangement.The phone rang and I rushed to pick it up. “Randy’s Flowers, this is Lucy.””Lucy, it’s John. Couldn’t get through on your cell. Shari went into labor this morning.””Oh, my God! Should I come and—””No, Shari wants me to tell you not to worry about it. Things are slow right now. They’re giving her some d**gs, Pitocin or whatever, to try to move things around but it doesn’t look like much will be happening until tonight.””Poor Shari. Is she freaking out?”John laughed. “No, she’s ordering the nurses around and chewing their ears off. She’s fine. I’ll keep you updated, okay?””Okay, thanks for calling, John.”He hung up and I put the phone down, smiling. The bells on top of the flower shop jingled when someone opened the door and I turned, still smiling.Then my smile froze. Everything froze, in fact. Mark stood there, his eyes scanning the shop. He did a double-take when he spied Randy behind me. Then he finally met my shocked stare.He looked the same. Omniscient, dark eyes that could see far beyond flesh and bone. Dark brown hair that flopped over boyishly. He was still tall, strong and imposing. He was the Mark I’d known for years. Just like that, the life we lived before flooded back and the day that had started out bright and promising grew dim.”Your mother said you’d be here. She didn’t want to tell me right away, of course.” He ran a hand through his hair and let the door shut behind him. “I don’t think I really believed her. You never had much interest in flowers before.”I was speechless. There were things I wanted to ask, but I couldn’t bring my brain to gather my thoughts, nor could I get my mouth to start working.Mark picked up a stray white tulip. “Pretty.””Mark,” I said after a moment. My voice was breathy and small. I cleared my throat. “Mark, what are you doing here?”His eyes lifted. I held my breath. Would he scream at me? Attack me? He didn’t look particularly angry, but Mark had always been wonderful at hiding his emotions.”When do you get a break?””W-what?”He sighed and rolled his eyes. “A break. For lunch. I assume you have one?””Around noon,” I heard myself saying.Mark glared at his watch. “Damn. Okay. Meet me at the shitty Starbucks on the corner.” His glittering eyes met mine. “Don’t leave me waiting.”******************I walked as slowly as I could down the street, but I still made it to Starbucks ten minutes before noon. I peered into the window and spotted him instantly. He didn’t match with his surroundings. His designer suit and aristocratic air automatically made him an outsider amongst the down-to-earth townies. I wonder if he could feel it, and even more if he cared.I heaved in a deep breath and walked inside. I pulled off my sweater as I walked over and then plopped in the seat across from him.He looked at me for a minute. “Want coffee?””No,” I declined, shaking my head. Then I got to the point. “What are you doing here, Mark?””The house,” he said distractedly, either ignoring me or not listening. “You’re selling it.””Yes.””You’re not coming back.”It wasn’t phrased as a question, but I could hear it in his voice. “No. No, I don’t think so. I like it here.”He studied me. “I can see. You’re thriving here. I don’t remember you ever looking so beautiful.”What the fuck was going on?”Thanks.” I fidgeted uncomfortably. “Well, what’s up? I mean, did you want to buy the house from me or something? I didn’t even think of asking before—””God, no, I have absolutely no desire to live there.”I spotted one of Shari’s neighbors and gave him a wave. Mark followed the movement and leaned forward. Something changed in his expression.”You really are happy here.”I began to wonder if he was pissed I wasn’t falling apart, pining away for him. “As happy as can be, I guess. Did you expect something different?”He gave me a quick smile. “Yes. I figured you were miserable up here. I imagined you licking your wounds, missing our little neighborhood and shopping sprees into the city on the weekends. I didn’t expect… this.” His eyes traveled down to my naked left hand. “I expected to find you watching reruns of rom coms and crying and getting fat.””Ha.” I gave him a small smile. “And how are you?” I asked awkwardly. “Things are…good?”He shook his head. “Not really. Things are pretty terrible, in fact. Every day is the same and I’m living in one of those depressing singles apartments. Everyone says I should buy some posh bachelor pad but the idea exhausts me.””Oh.” I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to touch him. In fact, my hand flexed as if it meant to reach across the table and take his. “I’m sorry.”He looked out the window. “I know you are.”This was so confusing, not to mention painful. It was gut-wrenching to see him in the flesh, in the new world I’d crafted.I took a breath. “I’m not sure why you’re here.” His head turned towards me. “I’m sorry, I’m just confused. Did you just want to check in or—””Hard to believe…My ex,” he said thoughtfully, interrupting. He shook his head and examined me. “It’s funny,” Mark went on, “you remind me of when we first met. You have looked this pretty to me before. I remember now.””Mark, what are you talking about?” I rubbed my neck and looked over my shoulder, craving a coffee but fearing the jitters.”That party,” he exclaimed, getting frustrated. “When I saw you, you looked so wholesome.””Wholesome?”Mark grinned at my tone but the grin faded when he looked away, remembering. “Don’t forget I was always a rich k**. I went to rich k** schools, I hung out with rich k**s, I dressed like a rich k**. And then I saw you in your little pink dress. It was so simple; it didn’t have lace or silk or sequins or any kind of shape, really. My main model for women was my mom, and you know how ostentatious she is. And all the other girls were like her.” His smile was warm as he pointed his finger at me. “But you. You had your hair in a braid. I’m sure your dress was less than thirty bucks. You weren’t drenched in diamonds. You just looked like a nice girl. I remember thinking, ‘I want to talk to her,’ and somehow I made my way over. We talked about back home. When you talked about home—I guess, about here—you got so animated and sweet. I really wanted to kiss you. I wanted to sink my teeth into you, actually. I wanted to do a lot of strange things.” He laughed and roughed up his hair. “You also kinda made me feel sorry for myself because clearly my c***dhood was nothing like yours, and I’d only dated girls who had the same kind of upbringing I did. I was envious of you, and weirdly I think it made me like you even more.””You never told me that,” I said softly.His eyes pierced mine. “I never told you a lot of things.”My cell phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and saw John was calling. “Sorry,” I said, “I have to answer this.”I got up and stepped away. “Hello?””Hi, Luce, nothing’s new. Shari just wanted me to check in with you. She also wants to know if you can visit later and bring some makeup. She’s quite disgruntled that she forgot her makeup bag.””Of course. I don’t have class tonight so I’ll come right after work and keep you company.” A thought occurred to me. “Where are the k**s staying?””Oh, with my mom. She is loving having them over.””Good. So I’ll see you later.””Thanks, Lucy.”I hung up and spun around to face my ex-husband. I only had another ten minutes left before I had to head back to work, and I still had no fucking clue why he was here.Mark’s eyes ran over my face. “Was that a boyfriend?””Don’t,” I begged, dropping back on my chair.”I really would like to know.”I sighed and rubbed my face. “
Then you’ll just have to deal with not knowing because it’s none of your business.”We were silent for a few minutes. Mark stared at me; I studied the table. Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer.”Mark, couldn’t you have called? I mean, I think that would have been a lot better than you driving almost 2 hours out of your way.”Mark picked at the lid on his coffee cup. “I’m not a phone person.””Bullshit.””I’m sorry that I—,” Mark began, looking at his coffee cup like it held all the answers, “that I never gave you a lot of affection. Sex, yeah, and camaraderie, sure, but I never told you how much you meant to me. It needs to be said.” His eyes swept back to mine. “I’m sorry.”This was killing me. “God, Mark, please don’t apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong. We’re divorced and it’s over. We don’t need to be having this conversation now.””It was the house,” he said simply, as if that explained everything.”The house? What about the house?””They put the ‘for sale’ sign up already and I passed it and—it just felt real for the first time. Filing the papers, writing my signature here and there…that just felt ordinary. I’m used to paperwork. But the house going up for sale got me. People kept saying, ‘So your ex is selling’ and that felt even weirder for me because I hadn’t even thought of you as my ex yet.” He laughed bitterly. “I never really even liked that house that much.””Me either,” I admitted.”No,” Mark smiled again. “No, you like your house here. I don’t know why we didn’t visit your parents more often.””Yes, you do.”He ignored me. “I overheard you on the phone. You’re taking classes?”I gave him a little smile. “Yeah. I’m studying to be a nurse.”He was shocked. “Wow. Congratulations.”The look he gave me jumbled up all my nerves. I glanced at the time on my phone. “Look, I’ve got to head back to work. What are you doing here, Mark?””Most of my friends tell me I should burn your clothes, smear your name through the papers and fuck every friend who meant a damn to you. Or fuck girls who look like cheerleaders and babysitters. I don’t know, some of them have come up with some pretty fucked up revenge fantasies. There have been nights, Lucy, that they’ve seemed pretty damned tempting. But seven years of marriage. Almost eight. You can’t just stop feeling for a woman, if you ever felt for her, just like that.”I wiped a tear away. “Mark, please.”He exhaled heavily. “I miss you.”That threw me. My heart jolted, and I swore he could hear my heart beating. “We were married a long time. It’s only normal. Like you said.” My voice sounded shaky and high.Mark lifted his eyebrows, keeping the rest of his face frozen and his eyes impenetrable. “Yes, a long time. Still, don’t you miss me at all?”My eyes popped open. “Of course I do.”He reached over and took my hand. His was warm and familiar, but I didn’t know how to feel about it. Should I snatch it away?”I quit the firm.”My mouth dropped. “What?””I’m tired of it. The whole scene.”My heart sank. “Oh, my God, Mark, it’s because of me, isn’t it? I never meant to do this to you. I swear to God, I’m so ashamed over what I did. You were embarrassed, weren’t you?” The thought of him quitting the job he worked so hard to get broke me.His expression turned to stone and he ripped his hand away. “Of course I was embarrassed. I’ve never been more humiliated in my life. I wanted to strangle you. I fantasized about making you pay in so many fucked up ways. I wanted to mortify you like you mortified me.” He huffed and looked away. “That’s still not entirely why I left.”I took several calming breaths.”So, what are you doing now?” I asked cautiously.”Biding my time. I have plenty of money, Lucy, you know that.” His eyes became glossy and I suspected with horror he was holding back tears. It was like the first time I ever saw my father cry. “You were such a selfish bitch. And you were going to leave with him.” His laugh was bitter. “What a fucking stupid bitch you were. I never thought you’d do something like that to me. You bitch! You ungrateful, piece of shit whore!”The words were nasty and vitriolic, but were uttered in furious whispers. Somehow that was worse than them being screamed at me.I looked around, embarrassed. No one seemed to be paying attention. “Yes, I was horrible. I told you in my letter that—””Fuck, I don’t care about your fucking letter. No matter how many times you apologize it will never be enough to help me forget. Forget imagining you with him, forget how easy it would have been for you to just leave me, the life we built.” He stared at me, shaking his head. “Don’t you want to know how Luke is?”I rubbed my eyes, accidentally smearing mascara everywhere. “Not particularly.””His girlfriend dumped him. Heard of you, I guess.””I don’t want to do this,” I begged.”He can’t get work anywhere. His father always loathed him, and now he won’t even lift a finger to help him. I find it very amusing, don’t you?”I closed my eyes, unable to see his face. “Please don’t do this, Mark.””Why? It makes you uncomfortable? Makes you hurt? Good.””It’s over. We both need to move on. I’ve castigated myself enough, and you’ve had your opportunity, too. Let’s try to heal and—””Spare me,” Mark scoffed.I looked at my phone, desperate to get away from this horrific game we seemed to be playing. I was through with games. “I have to get back to work.””I’m not going away, Lucy. I’ll still be in town when you get off. I’ll still be here tomorrow.”I rested my elbow on the table and cradled my forehead. I began to cry. “Why? Why are you doing this?””Because I’m fascinated.” He’d pulled himself together and now his detached eyes roamed over my face. “I only got a glimpse of this girl before we got married. I want to see more of her.””You’re here to torment me,” I surmised, “aren’t you? Divorce wasn’t enough. Everyone thinking I was a whore wasn’t enough. I knew you were waiting to do something worse.” I got up and put my bag on my shoulder. “I fucked up. A lot. But I’ve done my goddamn penance, Mark. You left your job of your own accord. I won’t allow you to come up here and screw up the life I’ve pulled together. I worked hard to get myself together and—””Fuck you, Lucy.” He rose from his seat. I hated that I had to tilt my head back to keep meeting his stony gaze with my glare. “And I didn’t work hard to get into that firm? To make those connections? To please my father?””I thought you didn’t leave just because of me,” I spat.He took a step closer. “I didn’t. But don’t fucking think that absolves you.””I’m going back to work. I think it’s in both of our best interests if you go back to your home.” I turned around but Mark grabbed my arm. I spun around to scream at him, or curse, or even smack him.He stopped me by restraining both of my arms and tugging me closer to kiss me. It was strange, but there was a hint of that bizarre chemistry that always crackled between us. I tore myself away, wide-eyed and terrified, and watched him pant.There was nothing more I could think of to say, and after that kiss any semblance of thought was wiped away.I only knew how to run away, and that’s exactly what I did.***********The only person I could talk to about this was Shari, and she had enough on her plate as it was. My mother obviously knew he was in town since he first showed up at her house to find out where I was, and she’d left me ten different voicemails, each more frantic than the last.She picked up on the first ring. “Lucy, are you okay? I didn’t want to tell him where you were because I didn’t know what he was going to do and you know how I watch my crime shows but—””Mom, it’s okay.” I took a deep breath. “We talked.””Are you okay?””I’m fine, I’m fine.” Randy gave me a look as he trimmed some roses. “Look, I’ll call y
ou when I get off work. Shari is in labor so I’m heading there after, okay?””Be careful.””Talk to you later,” I said, ending the call.There was a moment of silence but I knew Randy was going to start.”Whew,” Randy whistled a second later. “Was that your ex before?””Yep.” I busied myself by flipping through request orders.”Want to talk about it?””Not particularly,” I said, putting effort into making my voice cheery.Randy put down his clippers and sidled up next to me. I sighed heavily and gave him a side-glance. “Honestly, Randy, if I talk about it I will fall apart.””I cheated on all three of my wives. Know why?”I groaned and slipped adapazarı escort bayan away, grabbing the broom to give the floor a sweep.”I cheated on them,” he continued, “because there was a hole inside me. I was fucked up. Drinking, hanging out with the guys, being immature. And you know what’s really fucked, Luce?””Randy…””They were all great women. Fine women. Better than I deserved, even if I hadn’t been a wild, cheating boar.” He stroked his beard, reminiscing. “After the third divorce, I thought I’d never marry again. Turns out third time ain’t the charm. You know what I did, Lucy? I went to therapy. I’m not too proud to admit it. I made steps to be a better man. I came into the flower shop more often—used to have a miserable old lady running this place, God, she was a fucking disaster—and I stopped hiding behind a bottle of rum and I didn’t fuck the next willing girl I met. I took a breather.” He grinned. “Then I met Claudine.”I stopped sweeping and rested against the wall. “Claudine is awesome.””I don’t deserve her, but I don’t let that shit get in the way of knowing a good thing when I see it. Crazy girl wants to marry me. I told her, when she first started bringing it up, that hell no, marriage ruins everything. But that girl wants it, and I love her. For the first time in my life, I’m not going to be selfish and stupid. I know what marriage is. And I’m gonna marry her.””Randy, you’re getting married?”His cheeks were red and his smile was large. “Yup! But I’m telling you all this for a reason. At some point, baby girl, you gotta let go of the past. I was a dog to my other wives. When I got my shit in order, I went back to all three and apologized. Two were touched and they forgave me. The third wouldn’t even let me explain. The guilt burned in my gut for a long time, you better believe it. But at some point you gotta let go. You make your amends, you get forgiven, and you forgive yourself. Don’t let that man come back around and make you feel sorry for him and for yourself again. You’re a good person and you, just like everybody else, have the right to be happy when you work hard for it. You were doing too good to go down that road, and you are a hell of an assistant. I can’t have you going down a depressed spiral, especially with that Whalen wedding coming up. Lord, they’re gonna be such pains in the asses.”He didn’t pause to let his words sink in, or to give us a moment. He just went back to work. And that’s why Randy was a great person”Speaking of which, I need you to call up that future mother-in-law and break the news that the blushing bride don’t want no shitty carnations as the centerpieces, okay? If I talk to that woman one more time, I swear, I’m gonna get a fucking aneurism. Jesus.”He went off into the back, muttering to himself. And I realized that I was miraculously smiling once again.*************************I tried not to think about Mark as I drove over to the hospital. The nurse let me into the Labor & Delivery wing. John waited for me outside her door and ushered me in. I said hello to her mother who sat in the corner of the room and then turned my smile on Shari.She looked pale and her hair was incredibly messy. But she smiled at me, anyway, and thanked me when I put her makeup bag and the small bouquet of flowers I brought with me onto her tray.”How are you?” I asked her, sitting in the chair next to her bed.”It’s not so bad just yet. They’re trying to induce labor but it seems this k** is going to be the most stubborn of them all.””Poor Shari.” I reached over and pushed her hair back. “Want me to do your hair?”She smiled and nodded. I took out my brush and braided her hair. She told me she felt much better when I was finished.I stayed for as long as I could.”Love you,” she whispered as John brought me to the door.”Call me if anything changes,” I said to John while he walked me out to my car.”I will. Thanks for being here, Lucy, really. You calmed Shari down. Before you walked in she was shrieking at her mother and threatening me and my manhood.” He stopped to laugh. “She gets so hyped up. Understandably so, but I worry a little.”I smiled. “I’m glad I could help. I’ll be thinking of you guys, okay?”He waved and I hopped in my car, thoughts split between the life forming upstairs and the dead marriage my ex-husband seemed to want to bring back to life.***************I didn’t bother going back home. I called Mark on his cell as soon as I hit the highway.”Yes?” he answered crisply.”What hotel are you staying in?””The Marriott, and it fucking sucks. You’d think they—””I’m coming over. What room are you in?”He paused and then said, “223.”I hung up without saying anything else, torn between being terrified and intrigued. There was no denying that Mark’s presence, that his kiss, stirred something inside me. That’s what terrified me. That, and whatever he could possibly be dreaming up to do to me.The lights in the Marriott parking lot were mostly off; a few were incredibly dim. One kept flashing like a beacon, waving me into shore. I parked and walked into the lobby, nodded at the bored-looking concierge and walked onto the elevator, asking myself what the fuck I was doing.Then I was in front of his door, glaring at the gold-covered 223. I raised my hand to knock, but reconsidered. All I wanted to do was figure out his plans—which were nefarious, no doubt—but knowing Mark, he wouldn’t roll over that easily. There was absolutely no point in my being there. It was better to go home and ignore him. Whatever chaos he intended on doing I’d have to ignore.Just as I made up my mind to leave, the door slid open just enough for Mark to pop his head out. He looked at me and smirked.”How long have you been standing there?””I don’t know,” I whispered.He pulled the door open wider, keeping himself behind the door. “Come in.””No, I—””Come in, Lucy.””I can’t. I don’t want to.”His eyes narrowed. “Why not?””Because I have a bad feeling about it. Because I don’t know what you’re aiming for.””We can’t have a chat? A chat isn’t bad.”I snorted and looked down the empty hallway. “I don’t buy that you’re lonely, or that you missed me, or any of the other bullshit you tried to feed me this afternoon. I especially don’t buy you want me in your room to chat.”Mark’s laugh was low. “Yet you drove all this way. You parked your car. You came as far as my door. Why do you think I want you in my room?” I didn’t answer. His smile was mischievous. “Are you really sure you don’t want to come inside? I’m certainly not going to beg.”It was ridiculous, but I was turned on. For the first time since our whole mess, I could feel that familiar tug to him. My nerves were tingling and desperate wetness formed between my thighs. It was humiliating, humbling…thrilling.”Mark. Please.””Are you begging me for something?” His voice sunk lower and became silky. His sex voice. I’m pretty sure I shuddered.”Please.” I blinked back tears. “This is a horrible idea.”His arm reached out to stroke the length of my own arm. The touch made my eyelids flutter.”Are you begging me to drag you in here?”My eyes squeezed shut. “We can’t.””We can,” he insisted. His arm clasped my elbow and subtly dragged me closer to his room.”After everything? Why would you want—””Shush. Don’t
think. Stop thinking. Just come in my room, Lucy. I need you.”He kept guiding me inside, and I didn’t resist. When I was over the threshold, he shut the door. His hotel room was dark, with only faint light of outdoor lights shining through the folds of the curtains.His hands were all over me. I didn’t even have a chance to acclimate, to think things over, to deliberate. Then he kissed me. He gave me several hot, dragging kisses that cleared my mind of all thought. My body relaxed and responded to his insistent ministrations.”I shouldn’t miss you. Or want you. Or even think about you. But it’s ridiculous, and unrealistic, that just because we’re divorced that I cut you off like a limb.” He kissed me again and I groaned low in my throat. “Then I see you here and you’re so different, Lucy. You don’t even know it, can’t even see it. You’re where you belong… and you look so hot being here. So pink and,” he kissed my shoulder, “clean and happy. Not like before.”He pushed me further into the darkness until I felt the backs of my knees hit the bed. He pushed me down carefully, his hand running up my thigh. I reached for him blindly, stroking his back, his face.”Kiss me,” I whispered.I felt his hot mouth smother mine. He hadn’t shaved, and his whiskers roughly chaffed my face. I didn’t care; I wanted more.I searched until I found his cock and squeezed through his pants. He cursed and moved away. I sat up with a foggy mind, blinking slowly as if I’d been jolted awake.”Mark?”He came back to me, pressing me down onto the bed. I realized he was naked. He ripped off my clothes and pressed that hot, swollen cock against my wet lips.”I haven’t fucked anyone since you.””Mark…””I should have.””Mark, I—””I wanted to, but every girl I looked at left me uninterested and depressed.””I think we should talk and not—””Shhh.” He rammed into me in one long, slick glide. I cried out and he grunted, burying his face into my neck.”I almost feel like I sullied you,” he said against my throat.”Oh, God,” I whispered. It felt exquisite to have him inside of me. “What are you talking about?”He moved in a delicious way and I cried out again. “I brought you back and made you like one of them.””Mark, you didn’t do anything wrong. So please stop it.”He kissed me and then proceeded to fuck my brains out.It was primal, dirty and rough. He never let up, never slowed down. The pace was fast and determined. He rutted into me, slapping his hips against mine. The sound itself made me wetter and I clawed his ass, pushing him closer. I had initially wished we had a light on so that I could see his body again, so that I could see his eyes and read his thoughts, but the darkness added something far hotter to the encounter. I wasn’t sure what it was…but the blocking of one sense heightened all the others. The sensation of his sweaty skin frantically rubbing against mine, his hairy chest providing tortuous friction for my nipples, the sound of his desperate and guttural moans and the taste of the salt on his skin drove me wild.”Mark,” I whispered. My breath twisted in a breathy moan. “Mark! I’ve honestly mi—””Be quiet,” he said in a tone that shut me right up.For a moment I was nonplussed, and my fingers squeezed into his biceps. He ignored me and continued until I forgot the moment entirely. My mind was filled with pleasure, and my pussy was filled with Mark’s cock.His body hadn’t changed at all. At least, from what I could feel. I just longed for another kiss.”Kiss me?”He pressed his lips to my throat and then licked up the line of my neck. He nibbled on my ear. My frenzied hips moved faster against his and he let out a loud and long groan that told me his was close. That pushed me further towards my own release.”I’m going to—ugh!” was all I got out before my pussy contracted around his cock. His mouth finally came back to mine, and he thrust his tongue deep inside my mouth to give me a hot, sloppy kiss.He slammed the mattress and came right after me, prolonging the excitement of my own orgasm.Then he rolled off of me and I felt lost somehow. I slid over to him but he gently pushed me away.”It’s time to sleep.””Mark, I think we need to talk about this.””In the morning,” he promised. “For now, we need sleep. Okay?”I didn’t answer, and shortly after I heard him snoring. I crept closer to him, making sure he stayed asleep, as I wrapped myself around his left arm. Eventually, I fell asleep, too.And when I woke up, he was gone.***********How many times can you fall into old patterns? How many times can you make the same mistake? How many times can you call yourself an idiot?I dressed myself slowly—in that same pink dress I’d been so happy to wear the day before—and tried desperately not to cry. I’d cried and mourned over our marriage over and over again. I couldn’t do it anymore.That’s what I told myself, anyway, as I cried and sniffled and begged my tears wouldn’t turn into uncontrollable sobs.I was sore, which made it all even worse. I could see the hickeys he left behind, the bruises from his fingers and his teeth-marks from the little bites he gave me. I was marked all over, in more ways than one.Before I left the hotel room I took a glimpse of myself in the mirror. A pale, scared and depressed girl reflected back. All my hard work was thrown away for one night of sex with a man who apparently loathed me.I did my walk of shame and then drove back to my parents. My mother was waiting for me in the living room.”Where the hell were you?” she barked out as soon as I slid the front door open.But that she saw my expression and just knew, as mothers do.She brought me into her arms delicately and gave me the sweetest hug.*****************************I took a long, hot shower. When I came out I saw I had one text. Heart thumping, I slid my finger across the screen. It was John, I realized with a rush of disappointment. Then I absorbed the words. Shari had her baby—another little girl.I found myself smiling as I dressed for work. Then I tapped out a text—”Congrats, be there after work!”—and found myself marveling at the way the world worked. A birth for every death.*****************************Randy didn’t say much. Sometimes I was positive he had a sixth sense and just knew things. Other times I was pretty sure he could just read people, and it was my misfortune that I was fairly easy to read.I was just about done for the day. I put some papers in order, picked up my purse and cell, and called out to Randy.I took two steps out of the shop and there was Mark, hands in the pocket of a newly purchased coat. I wasn’t even sure it was a major designer, and I had to suppress my gasp. Then I realized he was in jeans. He was completely dressed down. I didn’t know whether to be shocked at his apparel or his presence. This wasn’t the Mark I knew.”I didn’t mean to leave you in the hotel room,” he said when I got closer. “I just panicked. I had a lot to think about.”I didn’t say anything.”It was wrong of me to push that last night. Neither of us were ready.””I didn’t stop you,” I murmured.He smiled without humor. “No. But I was the one who had the intention to use, or hurt.””Are you leaving today?” I asked, not wanting to discuss the night before.Mark nervously ran his hands through his hair. I didn’t think I’d ever seen Mark nervous before, except perhaps on our wedding day. “No. I just rented an apartment.”I almost fainted. “What?!”He shrugged and nearly smiled. “I like it here. You’re practically glowing here. I could use a vacation. A retreat. And you begged so hard in that letter…” His stare was fierce. “It affected me, okay? You don’t just stop loving someone, just like that. I’m not a fucking robot with no feelings, like you always loved to pretend I was. You can hate someone at the same time as you love them. I still hate you a little and…””Do you even forgive me?” My heart was pounding so fast I thought I might have a heart attack or pass o
ut or something.He thought for a minute and played around some more with his hair. “No.” My heart sank. “No, not yet. I need time with that one.” He saw my crestfallen face and cleared his throat. “I think I’m going about this the wrong way. So, maybe we’d need therapy, I don’t know. Whatever you think. I want to give this a try, and in your letter you seemed like maybe you still had some feelings for me. I mean, you’ve succeeded on your own, though, so—””Yes, yes, I’ve missed you, too! I just do a better job at hiding it.” I was grinning like a moron, and a few rebellious tears had slipped down my cheek. “Survival tactic.”Mark laughed and looked down the street. I took the opportunity to study him, the man I’d known for years as my husband. He looked the same—strong jaw, dark eyes, a devilish smile with a dimple in his right cheek— but I suspected I was only starting to get to know him. To really know him. To know him as the person he wanted to be. And I was sure the same was true of him; there was no doubt I’d changed. I was blossoming into someone else, someone I liked much better than the snarky and snide Lucy that judged others at dinner parties.Then he turned his eyes back to me. “What do you think? Should we… Do you want to try? Dating? Therapy? Are we being stupid to do it all again? I feel pretty stupid but it feels kinda good, too. My father flipped out on me when he heard I was coming up here.” We both shared a smile. “What should we do, Lucy?”I bit my lip and felt a droplet of rain. I looked up at the sky. “It’s going to pour.””We’d better get to where we’re going, then.”Gently and slowly—so slowly he could snatch it back if he wanted—I reached for his hand. “Yes.”********************Shari was still a little doped up, but I think her d**gged mind caught on that my ex-husband Mark was standing next to me and all the implications tied to it.She gave me a “what the fuck?” look but smiled when Mark introduced himself.John shook Mark’s hand but the baby, currently in the hands of her older brother, distracted him.Amanda Lucy, they’d named her.”I’m sure there were other people you could have used for a middle name,” I said, a little embarrassed but a lot more touched.”Telling you, Luce, we’re gonna have ten k**s,” Shari called out.John smirked and rolled his eyes. Then he took his daughter from Michael and brought her over to me.”Oh, I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t. I—””Shut up and hold her, Lucy!” Shari ordered.I laughed. No matter how many d**gs they plied her with, she was still a bossy thing. I washed my hands and then tried not to let my shaking hands show as I took the baby into my hands.I peered down at her, this pure, innocent baby, and kissed her warm forehead. She huddled closer to my chest. She was a new beginning, a new hope, a clean slate. She had her entire life ahead of her. She would make mistakes, but she would be okay.”Hello, Amanda,” I whispered. “Welcome, baby. It’s so nice to meet you!”I looked up, teary and choked up, and met eyes with Mark. He watched me, fascinated and touched. Longing. So different from the cool, calculating attorney who could use words as knives and looks as bullets. He had wanted a k**, even back in our past life. Looking at him now, it occurred to me for the first time that it wasn’t a status thing, keeping up with everyone. He’d really wanted a k**, probably since we lost ours.”Want to hold her?” I asked him, my lips curved in a small smile.He answered with a slow, secretive smile of his own—the one I knew well on the man I was just starting to know again—and then reached for us.

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