Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined (a novella in progress) Chapter 1

Because I’ve decided to combine Quarantined (the short story I wrote in April or May or at some point during all this craziness) and Rekindle into a novella called … er… Quarantined, I’ve decided to share parts of the novella from the beginning starting every Thursday. I’m releasing it as a self-published Novella sometime in September. And this time I’ll offer it on more sites than Amazon — just for fun.

Anyhow, some of these parts this will be a repeat for some of my regular blog readers, but some of it has also been rewritten to tie up some plot holes and to add Matt and Cassie to Liam and Maddie’s story.




Liam Grant pounded his fist against the wall by the living room window. “I can’t believe I have to self-quarantine. I don’t even have symptoms. This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Maddie Grant glared at her husband over the edge of her book.

“It’s not like I’m happy with you being stuck here either,” she mumbled.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing.”

Liam’s jaw tightened as he turned to look at her. “Yeah, I heard you. And I get it. I don’t want to be stuck in this tiny house with you as much as you don’t want to be stuck here with me.”

Maddie scowled at him. “We wouldn’t be stuck here if you hadn’t gone to that stupid political rally.”

“I went to that stupid political rally because it’s part of my job, Maddie. Remember what that is? A job.”

Maddie stood, slapping the book on the top of the coffee table as hard as she could.  “I have a job, Liam. It’s called being a writer. I work from home. So, excuse me that I’m not some big political influencer like you.” She flounced toward the kitchen, then stopped and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Because you’re really making a difference in this world with your job.”

Liam whipped around to face her, hands on his hips, bristling from the sarcastic and bitter tone he heard in his wife’s voice.

“What, like you? Your stupid romance novels are making a real difference in the world, right? Maybe in the world of some lazy, pathetic housewives. Give me a break.”

Maddie pointed aggressively at Liam. “You know what? If it wasn’t for you, we’d be divorced by now.” She swiveled on her heel and turned back toward the kitchen. “I’m calling my lawyer and seeing if we can sign those papers electronically,” she snapped as she walked toward the refrigerator.

“We can’t sign them electronically,” he shouted after her. “I already asked my lawyer. We have to go over the settlement details before we can sign and we have to do it in person.”

Maddie walked back from the kitchen and stood in the doorway, one leg cocked slightly and folded her arms tight across her chest. “You can have it all if it means I can get rid of you.” She turned abruptly and stomped toward the front door. “I’m going for a walk.”

“You’re not supposed to go for a walk,” Liam snapped. “We’re supposed to be in the house for 14 days to make sure we don’t expose anyone else and this thing doesn’t keep spreading. If someone in the media finds out we’re going out for walks they’ll smell blood in the water and be all over it. It could look bad for Matt.”

Maddie snatched her coat off the hanger by the door. “I can go for a walk,” she said through clenched teeth. “I’ll stay six feet away from anyone I see, okay? I’ll even wear a hat and sunglasses, so I don’t ruin the career of the illustrious Sen. Matt Grant.”

She snatched a sunhat from the front closet and her sunglasses off the table by the door.

“What happened to you, Maddie?” Liam called after her. “How did you become such a bitter person?”

Maddie turned on her heel and walked back into the living room. “I’m sorry? How did I become so bitter? Maybe you should be asking how you became so distant. Maybe you should be asking how you became so preoccupied with your career and your reputation and the reputation of your stupid older brother. Maybe you should ask yourself what it has been like for your wife to sit here at home alone almost every night and every weekend while you’re out flitting around with sexy little reporters and congressional staffers and —”

Liam scoffed. “Oh please. That’s such crap. I invited you to those events plenty of times. You just wanted to sit here with your computer and your Twitter followers. You could have cared less about what was going on in my life and my career. You haven’t cared for a long time.”

Anger coursed through Maddie. She stomped out of the room and flung open the front door, making sure to slam it hard behind her. Her mind raced as she walked briskly down the sidewalk.

Why would she want to attend events where she merely stood in the corner while Liam kissed the butts of every politician in the room and laid his hands on the backs of female staffers as he talked to them, winking  at them?

Winked.

Yes, he winked at them.

Always that stupid, fake wink that spoke volumes about his relationship with those women when Maddie wasn’t around. She couldn’t remember him ever winking at her; not in the 15 years they’d known each other and the ten they’d been married.

Now here she was, stuck in her house, her safe haven, with him for the next 14 days because he wouldn’t listen to the warnings about some weird virus spreading across the country and kept meeting with clients and politicians. Oh, and, of course, meeting with the media. The stupid, pain in the butt, fear-mongering obnoxious and arrogant media, which for Liam mainly meant that red-headed reporter from the local NBC affiliate who he spoke to all the time.

“Oh, Liam, you’re always so good at keeping me in the loop,” Maddie had heard her coo through the speaker on his phone one day from his office in the back of the house.

“No problem, Wendy. You’ve always been good to us. I’m glad to give you the scoop.”

Maddie had heard a tenderness in Liam’s voice toward Wendy Jenkins that she hadn’t heard toward her in years.

In truth, it was Liam who hadn’t cared about Maddie’s life for a very long time. He was never interested in her writing or her accomplishments and had barely even looked up from his paperwork when she told him she’d surpassed her personal goal for ebook sales last year.

“Hmm? Oh, that’s great, hon’,” he said, tapping his pen against his bottom lip, reading through a stack of papers.

Maddie had stared at that pen on that bottom lip for several moments, remembering how those lips used to press against hers, but hadn’t for months now, not longer than a quick peck on the way out the door anyhow.

“Yeah. I thought so,” she said softly, knowing he really didn’t care.

“That’s a big thing for a self-published author, right?” he asked, flipping another page of the packet, his eyebrows furrowed as he studied the page.

She shrugged, annoyance hitting her square in the chest, his use of the words “self-published”, his tone striking her as patronizing.

She’d walked away and left him to continue his work, reviewing speeches or gathering dirt on a political opponent, she wasn’t sure which.

A few moments ago, standing across from him while he shouted at her, veins popping up along the top of his forehead and along his neck, she realized just how sick of it all she was. How sick of him she was. Sick of all the times she’d felt rejected and pushed aside. Sick of all the times she’d felt like she was competing for his attention with television cameras and self-serving, power-hungry politicians. Sick of the way he’d made it clear she wasn’t a priority to him anymore.

When he’d found out his diagnosis, he hadn’t even expressed concern she might catch the virus too. So far, he hadn’t even had a sniffle, but she knew it could get worse and she could be next.

All he’d done the last two days was rant about how ridiculous all this quarantining and so-called “social distancing” was and how it was going to make his job even more difficult since he’d have to do all his work from home.

What about her and how it was going to affect her? All her quiet writing time had evaporated the moment he’d announced he’d have to conduct business from their house for the next two weeks, maybe even longer. He’d never finished that private office he’d promised her all those years ago, instead filling the spare room with documents and political books, plastering the walls with photos of his clients. And to top it all off now they couldn’t meet with their lawyers and sign the final paperwork for their divorce.

She wished she had taken her friend Amelia up on her offer to stay at her apartment during the quarantine.

“I’m single, no children and no elderly parents to catch it if you do get it so let’s be stuck here together,” Amelia told her over the phone three days ago. “It’s supposed to be a mild virus for 80 percent of the population anyhow. Too many people are acting like it’s the end of the world. If it is, we can make milkshakes, pop some popcorn and watch it burn. Or we can watch a couple Brad Pitt movies. Either way you won’t have to be stuck in the house with that jerk.”

“Make it a few Hugh Jackman movies and I may take you up on that offer,” Maddie responded. “But, seriously, all my paperwork for the book is here. I like my writing space and I’m sure Liam will be locked up in his office the whole time anyhow.”

But Liam hadn’t been locked up in his office. He’d been pacing like a caged animal for two days now and Maddie couldn’t focus on finishing the final chapter of her latest book in the Spencer Valley Chronicles series. Why didn’t he just go in his office, lock the door, and finish up some projects already?

She needed a very long break from him, but she knew this walk in the cool spring air would at least provide a reprieve. She’d have to return to the house eventually of course; the house where her brooding, distasteful, self-important, soon-to-be ex-husband was practically crawling the walls after his boss and older brother had ordered him to lock himself in quarantine. But for now, she intended to enjoy the warm sun on her face, the newly sprouting buds on the trees around her, and the chirps of the birds.

***

The front door crashed closed, rattling the hinges. Liam stared after his wife, jaw tight, heart still pounding from the adrenaline.

Holy heck that woman is so  . . . he struggled for the word as he turned and walked toward the small flight of stairs that led to his office.

Evil.

That’s what she was, or what she had become anyhow.

Evil, cold, bitter.

None of those things were how he would have described her when they’d married ten years ago, but now he couldn’t think of any other way to say it.

She was mean.

Flat out mean.

And distant and cold and —whatever. He tossed his hands in the air in frustration.

He didn’t want to think about it.

He had other things to think about.

Work for one thing.

He still needed to help John write a press release for Matt’s statement to the media, updating them on restrictions that had been placed in his district to try to reduce the spread of the virus. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure why so many restrictions were being placed but that wasn’t his job. His job was to make his older brother Matt look good and that’s what he was going to do.

He reached John’s voicemail.

“John, hey, it’s Liam. Give me a call when you get this. Let me know what the latest is. I’ve started the release and need to fill in the details. You’ve got my number.”

He swiped the end button and set the phone down, pushing his hands back through his hair. He was going stir crazy in this house. Maybe he needed to take a walk like Maddie, or a run. A run would sweat out the virus, which he wasn’t sure he even had, and it’d also help him focus on something other than the tension between him and his soon-to-be ex-wife.

Ex-wife. That definitely sounded weird. But it was needed. He and Maddie hadn’t been connecting for years. It was time to move on, shake the dust off his feet, so to speak.

He’d told Maddie he had the virus when he wasn’t even sure if he did. He screamed it at her when she’d asked where he’d been all night and why he hadn’t been there for their planned discussion about the final numbers for alimony.

“I have the virus, okay?!” he’d yelled, standing in the doorway. “I’m in quarantine for 14 days and the doctor said you’re stuck here with me because you’ve been exposed already. We have to put up with each other for two weeks, maybe longer, so maybe you can just get off my back for once and shut up.”

Her angry expression had faded into a look of shock. “I have to stay here with you? Why? So, I can get it too?! Well, that’s just great!” She’d tossed her notepad and pen across the room at him, missing him by two inches. “I am so looking forward to getting sick with you.”

“I don’t even have any symptoms,” he’d shouted back. “You probably won’t get any either so don’t worry about it.”

So far, the test had only been preliminary but there was no denying he’d been exposed to it. The ambassador from Italy had been at a meeting with him two weeks ago and had already been diagnosed. Liam had shaken his hand and even sat next to him at dinner. There was no chance he wasn’t going to develop it, symptoms or not. That meant he hadn’t lied to Maddie when he’d told her he had it.

The doctor told him that based on his age and overall good health, it was most likely that his case would be mild if he did have it. They couldn’t take a chance he’d spread it to others who were more vulnerable, though, so they’d send him home and told him to self-quarantine. He knew it wouldn’t have looked good for Matt if he’d tested positive and kept going to work, possibly exposing others.

He’d cursed under his breath all the way home, wearing a mask on the subway, everyone around him scowling at him like he’d released a biological weapon in their midst.

He spun his phone around on the top of his desk and then shoved it away from him and slapped the desk in frustration. He couldn’t just sit around waiting to get sick. He had to do something to occupy his mind until John called him back. Or Matt. He hadn’t heard from his brother since the night before. He was sure Matt was busy with meetings and phone calls and would call him later.

He couldn’t focus on work anyhow. His mind was racing and being in the same house with Maddie longer than a couple of hours wasn’t helping. He couldn’t deny that he’d been avoiding home for months even before they’d agreed to the divorce. He wished he could avoid it now. He glanced out the partially open door across the hall at the spare room. He should really start cleaning that room out now. He was going to have to anyhow when he officially moved to the apartment he had already rented on the other side of the city.

He’d agreed to give Maddie the house in the divorce. He didn’t need it. It was too big for just him and he didn’t have plans on getting into another relationship anytime soon. Honestly, he was looking forward to some solitude after years of walking on eggshells around the woman he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with.

He started opening boxes, tossing papers into a trash bag he’d grabbed from the kitchen the day before. Old speeches, stained copies of his resumes, press releases from his brother’s campaign. He tossed them all. They weren’t needed anymore.

The last box in the stack by the window was covered in a layer of dust and he blew it off as he picked it up, coughing and shaking his head. What had he been thinking blowing the dust all over? Like he needed dust in his lungs if he had a virus growing in there too. He flipped the lid off the box and looked inside. Old bills, bank statements from six years ago, birthday cards from his family, and a stack of envelopes tied together with twine. He tossed the statements and bills in the trash bag and flipped through the birthday cards. He ended up tossing them too. He appreciated them but he couldn’t keep everything. It was getting ridiculous.

He held the letters, his eyebrow furrowed. What were these and why were they hidden in this box? He worked the twine loose and one fell off the top to the floor. He reached down and picked it up, looking for a name on the front. Finding none he slid out the letter he found inside.

Liam:

I won’t lie, I feel so weird writing this letter, but I haven’t been able to think about anything but you all week. I really enjoyed our night together, especially our dance alone in the courtyard outside the restaurant. I didn’t notice before that moment how blue your eyes are or that scar at the edge of your jawline. I hope we can meet again soon, and you can tell me how you got it.

Classes are almost done for the semester. I have decided to stick it out with the communications major, though I’m still not sure what I want to do with it. I’ll be spending my summer break at home, probably working at the ice cream stand again. What will you be doing this summer? I hope you’ll write me back and let me know.

Sincerely,

Maddie

P.S. Is sincerely too cold of a way to sign a letter to a person you were kissing only a couple of days ago?

P.P.S. I fall asleep every night thinking about that kiss.

Liam slid the letter back into the envelope and shook his head. Those words had been written a lifetime ago. When was the last time Maddie had thought of him in that way? He didn’t even know, but he knew it had been a long time since he’d thought of her that way. He stared at the envelope, remembering that night in the courtyard, his arms around her waist as they swayed, her hair cascading down her back and the way she’d laid her head against his shoulder and he’d breathed in the citrus smell of her shampoo.

The rest of the world had faded away and it was as if they were the only people in the courtyard, even though a few other people were dancing in the courtyard too, to the impromptu concert a couple of street performers were putting on. Her skin was so soft, her lips even softer when he’d touched her under her chin and she’d looked up at him and he’d leaned down to kiss her.

 He’d wanted that kiss to last forever and it had only ended because the sky had abruptly opened up and sent them running to his car, laughing and soaked when they’d climbed inside. They’d resumed the kiss for several passionate moments, steaming up the windows and then he’d driven her back to her dorm room, his body aching to hold her again as he watched her walk inside.

He sat on the floor by the window, crumpling the letter in his hand and tossing it across the room.

He opened another box.

Photo albums.

No way.

He was not looking at those and letting any more memories swirl in his already jumbled mind. That’s all they were — memories of what used to be, not the reality of what was now. The people in these photos were ghosts. They were ghosts of who he and Maddie used to be. They weren’t who they had become, who they were now; two people who had once loved each other, but no longer did.

He snatched one of the albums up and started to toss it toward the garbage bag. It wasn’t like Maddie would miss them. She never even came into this room. There had been a thick layer of dust on this box just like the one with the letters.

A photo slid out of the album as he started to toss it and it skidded across the floor, face up. He glanced at it as he reached down to pick it up. A smiling Maddie on the beach, her red blond hair down her back, her head tipped back and her bare throat exposed. The memory came against his will.

It was their first trip together.

Spring break.

Sophomore year of college.

On the beach.

Florida.

“Should I pose like this?” Maddie’s hand was on her hip, one leg pushed out slightly from the other, knee bent. She’d tipped her head back and laughed, the sunlight dancing across her curls. He’d snapped the shutter.

“Yep,” he’d said, completely under her spell. “Just like that.”

She’d laughed at him, playfully slapped her hand across his upper arm.

“You did not take that photo! I looked like such a goofball! You better delete that.”

He grinned and pulled her in for a kiss. “Nope. That one is my favorite so far. I’ll keep it forever and never forget the way you smiled at me in the sun on this gorgeous spring day on this gorgeous beach.”

Her smile had faded into a more serious expression and then she’d tipped her head up and pressed her mouth to his, tugging gently at his bottom lip when she’d pulled back. He’d almost exploded with desire.

 He tipped his head back, closing his eyes as he remembered that kiss. It had been an amazing, mind-blowing kiss. One for the record books, he liked to tell her for years afterward.

God, she had been beautiful that weekend. Long, red-blond hair that cascaded down her back in waves, pale white skin that seemed to glow in the sunlight. He’d been head over heels, though he knew part of it had been his libido speaking. He’d wanted to spend the whole weekend with her in bed, but he knew she’d have none of it.

She hadn’t been raised that way. For her, sex was something only had after the marriage was final. He’d sighed and rolled his eyes when she’d first told him but gradually he’d accepted it, remembering his own upbringing and how his parents had urged the same for him. Maddie was worth waiting for, he’d decided, and he’d compromised with long walks and extended make-out sessions on the beach before bidding her a good night outside her own hotel room.

He’d been right. Maddie had been worth waiting for. They had spent two years dating getting to know each other beyond a physical connection and on their wedding night they’d casted aside any physical expectations, instead simply enjoying each touch, each kiss and each rush of pleasure at just being able to be together.

Liam leaned his head forward, opening his eyes to look at the photo again. He could barely remember the last time he’d made love to Maddie. Sure, they’d had sex once or twice in the last year, but it’d been rushed, distant, cold even. It had been for their individual physical needs and nothing more. He knew that and he hated it. He clutched at his hair and flicked the photo across the room.

He hated who he had become, and he hated that it had affected his marriage more than he ever thought it would. He and Maddie had been so young when they’d married, so full of naïve idealism. They were going to change the world together. They’d buy a home in the suburbs, raise two children (a boy and a girl, of course), both have successful careers in communications and take amazing family trips to Europe every summer. That’s what they told themselves anyhow.

But now, they were barely talking. They’d never had any children. Maddie had had two early miscarriages, and one at 25 weeks. They’d taken a break after the last miscarriage, deciding they’d talk about trying again when life settled down. That had been four years ago, and life had never settled down. Shortly before that Matt had been elected as a U.S. Senator and he had hired Liam as his press secretary, meaning Liam had started spending more time in Washington and less time at home in the suburbs with Maddie.

Liam yawned and pushed himself up from the floor, staggering toward the bed that had been shoved over to the other side of the room, in the middle of the boxes and bookcases. It was the bed he’d been sleeping in since Maddie had told him she wanted a divorce. It had been a long week. He was exhausted and knew the walk down memory lane wasn’t helping to calm his jumbled thoughts. He didn’t even bother undressing when he reached the bed. He flopped down on top of the covers on his back, closing his eyes.

Maybe I should stay awake until Maddie gets back, he thought as sleep started to overtake him. But he couldn’t fight the sleep and his thoughts swirled together with dreams of the way his life with Maddie used to be.

Written by Lisa R. Howeler

I'm a mom, a wife, a writer, a photographer and a former journalist. I write a little bit about a lot of things on my blog Boondock Ramblings. In September of 2019 I self-published my first novel, A Story to Tell and published another one in May of 2020. I enjoy John Wayne and Cary Grant movies, Jan Karon's books, and I have an electic taste in music. Welcome to my blog and feel free to poke around. Fridays are Fiction Fridays, where I share a piece of fiction I'm working on.

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