Stepping off the Greyhound bus at Rose’s in downtown Metropolitan Roopville, because the small Georgia town had no real bus depot, felt like I stepped into a time warp. “Hell - this isn’t even Kansas, Toto,” I mumbled under my breath, as I slid on my designer sunglasses, shielding the glare of the bright sunlight. I shook my head as I eyed the little country store, which seemed to house everything you can think of from gardening tools, antiques, farming aides, food, kid’s toys, and odd books. The bus pulls away behind me, leaving me the only passenger to exit and standing alone in the deserted gravel parking lot.
Oh, what the hell were you thinking, Jackson, sending me to the fucking Twilight Zone? I picked up my suitcase the bus driver had sat beside me and headed for Rose’s. As I marched across the lot, trying not to twist my ankles from my high heels fighting against loose gravel, I ran the stats through my mind, reminding me of my purpose in Hicksville. Roopville, Georgia; population 177; made up of 75 households and 57 families. I look around at the empty highway. The only sounds I hear are the buzzing of afternoon crickets and the autumn wind rustling the large oak leaves. I continue my trek to the storefront, ticking off my list of facts. Best known for being the birthplace of Sportscaster Keith Jackson – the Voice of College Football - and where the popular signs “Baby on Board” originated. Recent reports of paranormal disturbances are higher per capita than any other city in the continental U.S. I guffawed. “No shit, Sherlock. With only 177 people, it would only take one paranormal disturbance to put you at the top of the list. What am I doing here?”
I reached the bottom step of Rose’s when a plump woman, wearing a flowered dress and floppy hat, stepped out of the store and onto the porch, smiling down at me with such a wide smile, I wondered how it fit on her round, jovial face. “Why, you must be Miss Ellie Blythe. Samuel told me you’d be comin’ today, and look it …here you are.” She bounded down the steps with a happy bounce and wrapped me into a big bear hug, squeezing me so tight I could hardly breathe. I didn’t like hugging. I didn’t like people invading my personal space. I’m more of a handshake kind of girl, and this woman’s arms felt like a huge invasion of my privacy, but she didn’t seem to have any problems in showing her ample affection, rubbing her gigantic boobs all over me. “My name is Rose.” She released me and then snatched my suitcase out of my hand.
“Here I’ll just throw this in the back of Samuel’s pick-up and he’ll be right along to take you to the house.”
Holy fuck …what the hell was that? I heard people in the country were overly affectionate, but that was damned near rape.
I stood at the bottom of the steps stunned and quite afraid to follow the woman to a blue, partially rusted 1963 Ford pickup. My feet remained locked at the bottom step.
The next few hours passed quickly. The house turned out to be an old Plantation home, complete with tall white columns, a wrap-around porch, and a driveway lined with Weeping Willows. I felt like I stepped right into a Nora Roberts novel. The family, who lived there, the Hobbs, treated me with an abundance of Southern hospitality, and fed me with a deep appreciation for fried foods. But, I have to admit, that fried chicken practically melted in my mouth, right along with the crispy fried potatoes, fried okra and the deep-fried green beans. My arteries didn’t appreciate the menu - neither did my hips - but my lips smacked with satisfaction.
Full, satiated and a bit sleepy I decided to relax out front, swinging back and forth in the cushioned porch swing, sipping on a Tequila Sunrise. Vacant the sounds of honking horns, sirens and engine roars, I watched fireflies, called lightening bugs in Roopville, zip haphazardly through the night. Just as my eyelids drooped, a blood curdling scream rent the air. I jolted from the porch swing, dropped my drink and landed on my ass on the gray-painted floor. The echoes of the scream disappeared into the darkened woods, causing the hair on the back of neck, and along my arm, to prickle.
I pulled myself from the floor and walked out into the yard, to move beyond the light of the porch so I can get a better view of the woods. I scanned the darkened outline, seeing nothing but black towers, peaks and dips highlighted in a silver sheen from the nearly full moon, but nothing moved along the tree line. I turned to step back onto the porch, when I caught a shimmer of light, or at least that’s what I thought. I whipped my head back, and there, about four rows deep, I saw a pale light, then I heard another scream.
Taking off running, having changed upon arrival at the house into a pair of a blue jeans and sneakers, I headed toward the light, believing someone in mortal danger. The scream still echoed in my mind, and caused my stomach to knot in fear. I reached the edge of the woods, but didn’t ease up on my run and charged into the thick woods. Tree branches snapped at me, whipping across my skin, but I didn’t stop.
My gaze remained locked on the pale light, which seemed to move as fast as I ran, keeping equal distance.
I soon stumbled into clearing, which turned out to be a graveyard situated behind a small country church. I heard a giggle, and then moan, followed by the sound of skin slapping against skin. It didn’t take long for me to make out the dark shadows going at it like bunny rabbits on top of one of the graves. It was too dark to tell the ages of the lovebirds, but I tried to ignore the coupling couple to search for the pale light. I caught a vaporous wisp as it entered into a mausoleum. I ran toward the opening, shouting, “Carry on,” as I passed the passionate couple. I heard a scream and a gasp of surprise behind me as I entered into the crypt.
Inside, the crypt I slid to a halt on my butt. I tried as hard as I could to turn to get up, turn around and run back out, but I’m frozen. Above me, toward the upper plots, hovered the ghostly apparition of a young, teenage girl. She wore what looked like modern jeans and hoodie, only they appeared as a pale vapor, having no color.
“Help me!” the ghostly girl whispered.
The chilly tone of her voice made me shiver. “Help you, how?”
Her ghostly body shimmered, and flashed, fading in and out of focus. “You must stop them before the full moon tomorrow night.”
“Stop who?” I tried to crawl backwards, hoping to inch my way out of the crypt. All the years I chased the paranormal, I’d never actually seen a real ghost. But my body refused to do anything but shake with fear.
“Did somebody kill you?”
The ghost girl cocked her vapid head to the side, as if listening to something and then her pale form floated toward me, stopping to hover just a few inches away. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. But, I sat there petrified. “They all are guilty; everyone.”
“Who?” Ghost girl turned her head as if startled and then vanished, plunging the crypt into complete darkness. It took a few seconds before I could make out the faint opening.
I staggered, shaken and scared, into the moonlit graveyard. Without stopping and wanting to get back to the safety of the light of the house, I ran past the still copulating couple. Once again they didn’t look up, but I must have become turned around in the woods, because instead of coming out at the house, as I expected, I ran into an open field, where four teenaged boys were in the process of tipping over a sleeping cow.
“How do I get to Rose and Samuel Johnson’s?” I called out as I approached the boys.
One of the let out a scream so high-pitched I could have been wrong about their sex. The other three jumped, and the cow woke up braying like a mule. “Sweet, baby Jesus! Where the hell did you come from?” The boy, with a John Deer Tractor cap pointed toward the right end of the field. “Johnson’s live that way.”
I ran all the way, up onto the porch, into the big, warm house and straight up to my room. I closed the door behind me, slipped under the covers fully dressed and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, I went back to crypt, penciled down the name where the ghost had huddled and then headed to town. When I showed up at downtown Metropolitan Roopville, the main street was closed off, a banner hung across the street that read: Roopville Harvest Festival. It looked like all 177 citizens bustled about in overalls and Sunday dresses. Rose’s store, the two pump gas station next door, the tiny wooden civic center, auction barn and the First Baptist Church of Roopville sat decorated with orange and black streamers, bales of hay, scare crows and pumpkins. A row of tented booths lined between featuring odd things like plants, baked goods, homemade crafts, and pottery. It looked like something right out of a Halloween catalog. Inside the auction barn, animals bleated, and crowds cheered over horses running around striped barrels and piglets squealed as they were being chased by youngsters.
Behind Rose’s store, among the many rows of corn, I saw a cut path through the field and cardboard box sign stating: Samuel Johnson’s Corn Maze – Enter if dare. Some go in, but not all come out.
“As sure as God made little green apples, I will slap you smart if you don’t get off that tractor right this minute, Johnny James Johnson!” A woman, in a flowery dress yelled as she ran across the parking lot, pointing one of her chubby fingers as a young boy climbing all over one of the John Deer Tractors.
I wandered around the festival for what seemed like hours as if in a daze. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, what this place had to do with the apparition I had seen the night before and what it had meant by its warning. I walked in a daze down the center of blocked road until I came upon the sign that announced, “Now leaving Roopville”. It felt ominous. It brought back the memory of being on the bus and looking out the window seeing the opposite side, which stated, “Now Entering Roopville”, only for a brief moment I had thought it had read, “Now Entering Hell”. I looked behind me at the bustling of Roopville citizens. While this seems like a beautiful, peace and majestic place, to me …a girl from the city, would consider this hell.
My chest suddenly tightened and a wave of fear washed over me as I thought once more about the apparition in the crypt. With shaking hands I pulled out the scrap piece of paper where I had rubbed the name from the vault with a pencil. I opened the folded paper and then fell to my knees. Now, I understood why her clothes seemed modern and familiar. On the paper, among the gray scratches of lead was the name Ellie Blythe. I died and was sent to rural hell.
The Other Woman Comes to Tea
Good night, my love. I can’t wait to see you again. Soon. Rachael hit the send button and watched the little icon below the text to indicate her message had been successfully sent. She placed her phone face-up on the side table as she crawled beneath the sheets. A smile spread across her lips as she snuggled up to her fluffy pillow and reached to turn out the bedside lamp. She lay in the dark silence, allowing her imagination to drift to thoughts of him, her Michael, her lover. She counted down the minutes, the hours, and the days she would see him again, when she would touch him again, smell him again, and feel his arms wrapped around her, his soft lips on hers, his dark brown eyes staring into her own hazel orbs. Her eyes felt heavy, but she was happy, really happy.
Just as her eyes started to close the green notification light started blinking on her phone. Her heart sped up a little bit and her smile grew tight across her face. It was him, she knew it. He was responding to her text, probably with a wish for a sweet dream, or some romantic, sweet accolade that she knew would make its way into her dreams as it always did every night. She reached for her phone and hit the start button, prompting her to use her security diagram to unlock the screen. She did so, quickly and without thinking. She had to know his message, read his words, feel the love and affection he had for her.
Rachael’s smile instantly faded and she caught her breath as she read the words filling her screen. This is Sara, Michael’s wife. I think it’s time we met and had a little chat. Meet me tomorrow at 10 am at Ruby’s café. Or if you prefer more privacy, I can come to you.
Staring at the phone, unable to think, unable to feel, unable to move, Rachael couldn’t take her eyes off the words displayed in black font on her display screen. Her hands began to shake.
Another message appeared. I’m not here to fight with you, but we need to meet. I know you got my message. I realize you’re probably scared, but I will no longer look the other way. I’ve known about you for a while.
With shaking fingers, Rachael began tapping the keys. What about Michael? Will he be there?
Not if you don’t want.
Rachael’s stomach hurt. So, he knows you know?
He does now.
Tears bubbled in the corner of Rachael’s eyes. Barely able to see the small keys she typed, Okay, I’ll meet you tomorrow at 10. I think my place will be best. Tell Michael to stay out of it.
Rachael held the phone tight in her grip and then cuddled it to her chest as the tears flowed freely down her cheeks. Soon, her whimpers turned to wails and she grabbed her pillow and screamed into it with every ounce of energy she could muster. She hurt, deeply. She felt scared, alone, and as if the world shifted beneath her. More than anything she wanted Michael to call her, to text her, to message her some way and tell her that everything was going to be okay, that he was okay, but she knew that message wasn’t coming. The thing she’d feared for months finally happened, and all the happiness she felt just a few moments prior vanished without a trace. She knew she’d not sleep that night, and probably for many nights to come, yet she curled into a ball on her knees, hugged her pillow and rocked, and cried, and rocked, and cried until finally all was lost.
The familiar chime of her morning alarm interrupted Rachael’s dream. With raw heavy eyes she sat up and turned the alarm off. With automatic reflexes she hit the text icon and scrolled down to Michael’s name and hit the familiar face icon of her beloved lover. The string of text popped up onto the screen. Halfway through the word good, because she always sent Michael a good morning message, Rachael stopped as the memories of the previous night flooded into her mind. She glanced up at the string of messages above and her stomach pitched and roiled. She threw the phone down on the bed and backed away from it, like it was a poisonous snake or spider. She crawled away from it and off the bed, as she stumbled toward the bathroom. She had to make it before the tears started again. She had to get the water running, get undressed and beneath the downpour before her face became wet. She had let the sound of the rushing water drown out the sound of her sobs. She couldn’t take it anymore.
Rachael’s hands shook as she turned the water spigot and pulled the lever that activated the massage shower head. She quickly peeled her clothes away, leaving them in a pile next to the tub, pulled the curtains back, and then stepped beneath the nozzle. She didn’t flinch at the hot water, which was a little too hot and scorched her skin a bit. She just stood there numb, frozen, as the hot water cascaded down her body. This was it. This was what she had feared most when she realized she was truly, madly in love with Michael. This was the truth she knew taunted her, haunted her, and now has come to pass. She’d lost him forever.
At 9:54 am, Rachael heard the sound of a car door shut outside the window of her apartment. She peeked through the blinds and saw the familiar sight of Michael’s car. What she wasn’t prepared for was the sight of him sitting behind the wheel. Next to him sat a petite redhead shaking her head. Michael reached toward her, but she flinched away from him. He opened his door and got out of the driver’s side of the car, but stopped when his wife jumped out of her side and held her hand up in front of him to stop him. He grabbed her by the arms and tried to hug her, but she pushed him away and pointed back towards the car. Rachael knew Sara was instructing Michael to stay in the car, not to come in, not to interfere. He lowered his head in compliance. Before he turned away, he looked up at the window and his eyes locked with Rachael. He mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’, turned, and hopped back into the car.
Sara turned her gaze to follow his and the two women, the wife and the lover saw each other in person for the first time. Rachael wanted to vomit, but instead stepped back from the blinds and walked toward the front door. She didn’t wait for Sara to climb the stairs and ring her doorbell, but opened the door and left it open, and returned to the kitchen where she took the hissing kettle off the burning eye.
A few seconds, which felt like several minutes, she heard the sound of the door closing.
“Rachael, it’s Sara, I’m coming in.”
“In the kitchen,” Rachael yelled out. “Tea?”
Sara stood by the small kitchen table, her arms folded over her chest, her purse hanging from one of her arms. Rachael thought it odd that Sara would bring her purse. She couldn’t fathom any reason she’d need it, but she supposed that Sara perhaps took her purse everywhere and brought it out of force of habit. Then she felt the color drain from her face as she pondered whether Sara brought a gun with her and the purse was to conceal it until she deemed ready to use it.
“I didn’t come to drink tea, I came to tell you to leave my husband alone.”
Rachael didn’t look up, but sat her cup of steaming tea down on the table and proceeded to drizzle a bit of honey into the cup. “I know.”
Rachael motioned toward the nearest seat at the table. Sara shook her head. “Did you know he was married?”
“Yes.” Rachael sat and slowly began to blow on the top of her cup of tea.
The blood rushed to Sara’s cheeks. Her hands went from being folded in front of her to her hips. “And yet you saw him anyway? Do you make it a habit to have affairs with married men?”
“No.” Rachael stared into her cup.
“Then why didn’t you stop seeing him when you found out he was married?”
Rachael looked up and met Sara’s eyes. “He wasn’t married when I started seeing him.”
The color drained from Sara’s face. She looked around the room as if she was looking for something hidden, something that would make sense to her, something that would validate her anger, but now confusion covered her face, her countenance. “B-Before we were married?”
“Did you not talk about this last night? Did he not tell you everything?” Rachael shrugged.
Sara plopped down in the empty seat and dropped her purse to the floor next to her feet. “No, I wouldn’t let him talk last night. I locked him out of the bedroom and made him sleep on the couch. I then turned up my radio really loud so I could drown him out. I couldn’t take anymore lies last night, not one. So, no we didn’t talk.”
“He said nothing this morning?”
“Just kept saying he was sorry, that he loved me, that he never meant for any of this to happen.” She nervously wrung her hands together on the table. “I think I would take a cup of that tea now, Chamomile if you have it. Maybe it’ll help calm my nerves.”
Rachael stood up and pulled a cup and saucer out of the cupboard, placed a small tea bag into the cup and poured hot steaming water over it. She set the cup and a small silver spoon in front of Sara. “There’s lemon, honey, sugar and cream. How do you like it?”
“I can do it,” Sara answered and started to ladle a few small spoons of sugar into her tea.
Both women sat in awkward silence for a few moments until Sara finally blurted, “So, how long has the affair been going on?”
Rachael looked away, at anything but Sara, and tried to find the words to a question she knew she would be asked. All morning she’d thought about what she’d say, but even now she struggled with the words. “It’s not an affair.”
“What?” Sara scrunched her brows. “Of course it’s an affair. He’s married to me, yet he’s seeing you. That’s the definition of an affair.”
Shaking her head. “It’s not that simple.”
“Yes, it is!” Sara’s voice grew louder. “Have you been intimate with my husband?”
“Yes, but he doesn’t think so.”
A confused look crossed Sara’s face. She blinked. “What do you mean he doesn’t think so?”
“If your definition of being intimate is having intercourse, then no, your husband hasn’t cheated on you. But, have I slept with him, slept in his arms, kissed him, held him, and he the same with me, then yes, we’ve been intimate. What we share is beyond sex, but in his mind, in his own convoluted way, not having intercourse was his way of remaining faithful to you.”
Sara sighed, “I’m …” Her words drifted off.
“Lost?” Rachael sat her cup of tea onto the table, folded her hands in front of her, and then looked at Sara directly in the eyes. “Do you want to know the truth, the real truth, or do you want me to tell you what you need to hear so that you can forgive him and go back to him?”
“I don’t plan to forgive him, or go back to him!” Sara snapped.
“Then why did you come here?”
Waving her hands in the air, “Because I also don’t want him to come back here either. I don’t want you to win. I hate you both.”
“Stop fucking understanding! Stop being so nice! I’m supposed to hate you, so why don’t you start being the bitch I imagined you to be, let me say my peace, and I’ll leave and you’ll never have to see me again.” Tears began to well in Sara’s eyes.
Rachael nodded. “Is that what you want?”
Sara jumped up. “Yes, it’s what I fucking want!” The tears pooled from her eyes and started running down her cheeks.
Rachael held out a tissue. “I don’t think it is. I think you want answers and you want to know if he loves you, if he loves me, if we had plans to run away together, and why … why he did it, why weren’t you enough.”
Sara took the tissue, wiped her face and blew her nose, and then sat back down. “And you think you know the answers?”
Once again a moment of awkward silence ensued between the two women. Sara wiped the smudged mascara from beneath her eyes.
“So, what’s the truth?”
“I met Michael nearly two years ago. I had just come out of a very long marriage and spent a year grieving a life I had lost. I was scared, alone, but also excited about life and most of all, excited about love. My first love had died when I was young, and I married for comfort and security and to raise a family. Now I was older and wiser, and ready for real love, so I signed up for one of those online dating sites. He was one of the first persons that contacted me, but because I was older, I immediately dismissed him as dating potential. While he was very handsome, I deemed him ‘not my type’. Yet, we clicked and he made me laugh. I found myself logging on to see his messages instead of going through the profiles to find a date.
Through persistence, we finally had that date, and it was one of the most romantic dates I’d ever had. The chemistry between us was even more potent in person than in our communications. I was falling hard and fast, so much so it scared me. He was falling too. He told me I was in love with him. I, of course, denied it. Mostly I was trying to fight against it. A few months into our blooming romance, he told me one night out of the blue that he loved me. I nearly passed out. Instead, I started the snowball that caused this whole mess. I didn’t tell him I loved him back. I didn’t know I loved him. I thought the hormones were talking. While every fiber of my being wanted to say it back, a war ensued in my head telling me I would be responding out of fear, desperation, that he was the first guy I connected with, and…what if he’s not the one? I needed to know if there were others, that I wasn’t settling for the first man that came along, that I was choosing the one I couldn’t live without.
The very next day he told me he was going to go on a date with another women he met online. That woman was you. Instead of declaring that it was killing me, that I truly loved him and wanted him, that I didn’t want him to go, I wished him good luck and cried myself to sleep.”
“So you stopped seeing him?”
Rachael shook her head. “No, but I started dating other men.”
Sara looked puzzled. “So, you two still dated each other the whole time he was dating me?”
“No.” Rachael took a sip of her tea. She took her time putting the cup back onto the saucer before she continued. “At the beginning there was no commitment, there were no promises, to you or me. He wasn’t cheating, he was just dating the two of us at the same time. While I knew about you, even details about some of your dates, you knew nothing about me.”
“So, why didn’t you stop when we got married? That’s one big fucking commitment right there.”
“We did stop and I stopped breathing.”
Sara held Rachael’s gaze. The expression on her face said she hoped beyond hope that that magical sentence would be the end of the story, but her expression changed as she realized it wasn’t the end at all. If it had been, she wouldn’t be sitting in her husband’s mistress’s kitchen sipping tea, trying to soothe the huge lump in her throat.
Rachael stood up and started pacing in the kitchen. “It’s not easy. It’s not just black and white. It’s not just a simple story of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy gets married and everyone lives happily ever after. I wish it were that easy, but this whole thing is a twisted knot, and it’s all my fault.”
“You’ve said that already. Believe me, I blame you, but not only you. He’s just as guilty.”
Rachael whipped her head toward Sara. “Exactly guilty of what?”
“Of cheating, of lying …of deceiving me.” She ran her hands through her hair. “Of making me the biggest fool.”
“He loves you.”
“Then why didn’t you just leave him alone, leave us alone?”
Wrapping her arms around herself, Rachael leaned against the pantry door, and placed her head on the coolness of the wood panel. “I tried. I couldn’t. I was too weak.” She turned her head slightly and from the corner of her eyes glanced at Sara’s shoes. “I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone in this world.”
“But you knew he was married, that he was happy with me. Why didn’t you just walk away?”
“It’s not that simple, Sara. I did try to walk away, but I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t let go. There wasn’t a day or two that would go by that we didn’t text, send a message, a song, a link, a picture, or a game request. He was there, he was everywhere, and all the great things about him that I loved dearly was all right there at my fingertips. I might not have saw him, or touched him, or had sex with him, but we connected on a level so deep that he touched my soul, he stimulated my mind, he moved me in the deepest way possible, every day. He’s my soul mate. He’s my heart. He’s my best friend.” She wiped away the tears now streaming down her face and took a deep breath. “And I think I’m the same for him.”
“I know that guy too. It’s what I fell in love with as well.”
“Well, combine that with a fire so hot, so magnanimous, that when he is near me I literally get dizzy and can’t think clearly, and my resolve melts at the sound of his voice, at the simplest touch of his fingers, and one look from his eyes.” Rachael’s lips began to tremble. “You don’t know how much I’ve hated myself for being weak, for wanting more than anything else in this world than to feel his arms around me, to hold me, to whisper in my ear that everything was going to be okay. So when he calls, I go running, because I feel safe with him. I feel loved. I feel complete. Yet, I know that he’s not mine, that he chose someone else.”
Rachael blew her nose and wiped her eyes with a tissue and said, “Why what?”
“Why did he choose me? It’s clear from his reaction last night and this morning, and now your reaction, that you both clearly love each other. Why did he choose me? Why did he marry me when he was already in love with someone else?”
“Would you believe it’s because he loves you?”
Sara started sobbing loudly. Her shoulders bobbed up and down with each sob. Rachael handed her the whole box of tissues. Through sobs and gasps of breath, she said, “How can …he love… me… and you, too?”
“Love is love. Who can control it? I’ve tried. I’ve tried to not love him, but I’m powerless. I’ve tried to love others, but am also powerless in that. I go on date after date, but it’s his face I’m looking for, it’s his hands I want to feel, it’s his lips I want to taste. I won’t let other men hold me, because they’re not his arms. I fuck them and feel empty inside. Every day I pray and hope that someone will come along and steal my heart so I can let him go, but that day hasn’t come. I pushed him away, and he turned to you. I hurt him, and you made him happy.”
Shaking her head, Sara said, “Well, I suppose you’re free now to be with him.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I can’t stay with him, I don’t trust him.”
Rachael knelt down before Sara and grabbed her tissue filled hands. “Please, please don’t leave him. He’s so scared right now. He chose you. He chose you. He could have chosen me, but he chose you. His crime was not being able to let me go, but I’m going to disappear, cut him out of my life completely. Please don’t hurt him more than what he’s hurting right now.”
“How can you ask me that?” Sara pulled her hands out of Rachael’s grasp. “He betrayed me.”
“He loves you. This was all my fault. I started this by being afraid, by not telling him how I felt, by being a coward. When I pushed him away, he could have come back to me and refuse to let me put up my walls. He didn’t. Please don’t let any more pain come out of this. Forgive him, take him back, and rest assured I won’t be anywhere around… nowhere. No messages, no texts, nothing. If I see him in public, I’ll pretend not to know him. I should have done this earlier, but I wasn’t ready to let him go. Please.”
“You’ll completely disappear?”
“I want a family, do you understand that? I want to have children, and I want my children to have a father, a father that I love and trust.”
“Yes, I understand that, and you will.”
“I want to know that I’m the only one he’s thinking about, dreaming about, loving… that it’s me he wants to make love to, that it’s me he sends his funny little notes to all day, it’s me that he shares his ideas with, it’s me he cracks inside jokes with, that it’s me he tells good morning and good night.” Sara blew her nose again. Still sobbing she said, “I went through his phone, you know, and I saw all the messages…. There’s so many fucking messages. It wasn’t the flirting that broke my heart, it was all the sharing, the intimacy. You really know him. You know how to push his buttons, but you also know how to ease his fears. He shows you a part of him he never shows me.”
“It’s you he holds at night, kisses good morning, makes love to, and whose protection he’d die giving. It’s you who shares his name, his respect, his honor, his inheritance, and one day who will give him children.”
“Why am I not enough? Why can’t he get from me what he goes to you for?”
“You can be when I’m gone. I was here first. It’s my fault. Once I let him go, that part of him will be yours too.”
“You think so?”
Rachael nodded, and sniffled. “I know so.”
Sara stands up. Rachael stands next to her. Both women stare at each other for an awkward moment.
“I came here filled with a lot of hatred for you. You’re not what I expected.” Sara picks up her purse.
“I knew you were an amazing woman, because he chose to love you. How could I hate you for doing the same thing as me?” Rachael’s lips began to quiver again. “I hate this whole situation and I don’t know how I’m going to survive, but I give you my promise to stay away.”
“He’s the one that needs to promise.”
“Goodbye, Rachael,” Sara said, turned and walked out the door.
Rachael fell to her knees and let the tears and the wails escape her. She couldn’t breathe and struggled for air. The room began to dim around her. She curled into a ball in the middle of the floor, hugged her knees and drifted into darkness.
“You stupid, stupid, stupid girl.”
Rachael cracked her swollen eyes and found herself lying in the floor, her head propped in Michael’s lap, and him gently stroking her hair.
“Michael? What are you doing here?”
“I’d say I’m saving your ass from choking on your own snot.”
Rachael sat up. “No, seriously, what are you doing here? Where’s Sara?”
“I suspect she’ll be arriving at her father’s just about now.”
“Why?” Rachael got to her feet. Her head ached and she was really thirsty. “Why aren’t you with her?”
Michael stood up and held her by the arms, helping her keep her balance. “Because I’m here with you.”
“I gave her my word I wouldn’t see you anymore. You have to leave.”
He led her to the couch and sat her down. He then walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator. He returned to Rachael, twisted the top off the water and handed her the cool beverage. “I’m not going anywhere, Rachael.”
Michael put his forefinger over her lips, moved her hand so that it placed the end of the water bottle to her lips, and then lifted the bottom, forcing her to drink. “I let you push me away once before, I’m not going to let you do it again.”
Rachael tried to swallow the water, but she found she could hardly breathe. She removed the bottle from her lips and coughed.
“I was just outside the door and I heard everything you said to Sara. I never meant to hurt either one of you, but I never should have been with her in the first place. She’s wonderful and I do love her, and I’ll do right by her the best I can, but I’m not leaving you and I’m not letting you push me away, not again.” Michael reached up and removed a strand of her auburn hair from her face. “All I ask is that you give me time to get things right, to get myself right, to get my life right, and then we will be together.”
“Shhhh. Silence isn’t a void to be filled, crazy girl. Know this one thing, you don’t get to choose for me - I choose you. It’s always been you. I love you.”
By T.L. Gray
She stooped behind the hedges, shivering. Her cheeks stung from the cold as she pursed her dry, chapped lips and watched the docile house. She pulled the tattered coat tightly around her, burying her hands deep into the torn lining of the pockets. Sniffing back the running snot, she tossed her bangs out of her eyes.
She heard the hum of a motor and then the squeal of brakes as a car turned into the drive. She twisted around and slid onto the cold, hard ground. Oh, God, they didn’t see me. Did they? She strained to hear the car doors as they opened and then closed. That’s three… where’s the fourth? She turned her head and peered through the hedges and saw the left passenger door still open. She crouched to get a better view, scraping her knee against a fallen limb.
A middle-aged man, with several bags in hand, walked up the steps holding out a dangling set of keys. A small woman followed, carrying a fat silver tray covered with a large dome. A wild-haired teenage boy pulled several packages from the trunk of the car and then slammed it down and yelled, “Hey, get out here and help me!” A young teenage girl holding a cat exited the car. She slammed the door and then bounded up the steps.
“He should’ve seen that one coming,” she whispered. “He’s so gullible.”
When she heard the storm door slam and the front door close, she sneaked around to the side of the house. She found a cozy spot beneath the bay window of the kitchen. The smell of roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing and pumpkin pie filled her nostrils, tugging hard at her empty stomach.
She eased up and peered into the half-frosted window. The family scuttled around the kitchen, setting dishes, making drinks and filling plates full of food. The girl looked to the end of the table and saw an empty place. Tears filled her eyes and hard lump formed in her throat. The family sat down, joined hands and bowed their heads. They look so happy.
She quickly moved from the window and bounded around the house, almost slipping on the slick walkway by the front door. She bounded up the steps and stretched her hand out to ring the doorbell, then hesitated. What will I say? What will they say? Her hand shook, her nose dripped and her vision blurred by the tears. They’re better off without me.
The girl turned and ran down the driveway and along the road, disappearing once again into cold, dark night.
At dinner a family prays for their lost one to come home.