This is a Novella in Progress: Quarantined. To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.
“It’s going to be okay, Maddie. We’ll try again.”
Liam’s voice had been warm, comforting, reassuring. His arms around her made her feel like her world wasn’t crumbling under her feet when she knew it actually was. He gave her hope, hope that one day they’d carry a pregnancy to term and they’d have a child of their own. But that had been four years ago, after their fourth miscarriage, and now, with a divorce looming like a dark specter on the horizon, Maddie had lost all hope of ever having children. She was 32, almost 33. Soon she’d be too old for children. The mere thought of dating again, of finding someone she wanted to have children with, exhausted her.
Liam had been the only one she’d ever wanted to have children with.
Walking slowly around the culdesac, her head down, she knew that Liam was still the only one she wanted to have children with. Despite all the anger, all the hurt, all the ways he’d rejected her over the years, she wanted nothing more than for him to want her again. She knew that wasn’t going to happen, though. He’d barely flinched when she’d told him she wanted a divorce six months ago.
“Fine,” he’d said, jaw tight, looking away from her. “If that’s what you want, I’ll call Pete in the morning and he can start drawing up the paperwork.”
“It is what I want,” she’d responded.
It had been a lie. She hadn’t wanted a divorce. She’d wanted to shake him out of his complacency, to force him into realizing how much he’d neglected her for the past four years. Her plan had failed miserably. Instead of begging her to stay, he’d practically packed her bags. He’d called his lawyer, suggested a lawyer for her, and told her they would need to decide who got what in terms of possessions, property, money.
“Of course, you can have the house and I’ll provide alimony for you if you wish,” he’d told her, a stoic expression on his face, his voice practically monotone. “And I’m sure the process will be easier since . . .” He’d glanced up at her then, looking at her for a few moments. He’d swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Since there aren’t any children involved.”
That’s right, Liam, she had wanted to scream. There aren’t any children involved because you practically abandoned me for your career after my last miscarriage. You pushed me off for years when I asked when we could start trying again. You replaced me with conference calls and press conferences and political prestige within your brother’s crooked political circle of influence.
Maddie kicked at a rock on the sidewalk and felt tears clutching at her throat. “You replaced me, Liam,” she whispered as she walked. “The girl you said you’d always love because I’m the only one who ever made you feel like you were loved unconditionally.”
The tears came suddenly, and she wiped at them furiously, afraid someone would see her and think she knew something they all didn’t because of who she was married to. She dreaded going back to the house, back to the husband who was shut up inside; not only inside the house, but inside himself.
Still, she couldn’t walk out here all day. She was actually tired. It had been a long week and she was feeling run down. She needed to rest, to keep her strength up in case she really did catch something from Liam. She walked slowly back to the house, making sure to wipe the tears from her face before she went back inside. The last thing she needed was Liam seeing her tears and asking her what was wrong, pretending he cared, when she knew he didn’t and hadn’t for a very long time.
It was quiet back inside the house. She breathed a sigh of relief and tossed her coat onto the couch. Finally, some peace and quiet. Liam had probably locked himself in his office to start working on press releases with John and Matt. She glanced at the office door as she sat down and saw it was open. She couldn’t hear Liam talking or typing away on his computer.
She groaned softly as she stood, a sharp pain shooting down her upper back. She stood and waited for the pain to subside, knowing it was stress-induced. She hunched her shoulders and clenched her jaw when she was angry or upset and she knew it was putting a strain on her back. She walked gingerly down the hallway toward Liam’s office and out of the corner of her eye she saw him in the spare room, asleep on his back, a pillow hugged to his chest. She paused and leaned against the doorway.
She remembered her friend Annie telling her how peaceful her children looked asleep, how easy it was to forget their misdeeds from that day when she saw them vulnerable and relaxed in their bed.
Liam looked peaceful.
The lines she was so used to seeing stretch across his forehead were smooth, barely noticeable. His mouth was slightly open, but he wasn’t snoring, something he’d never done, and she was grateful for. His eyelashes had always been unusually long for a man, but not too long to be unbecoming. Strands of dark brown hair laid across his forehead, the rest of it swept back due to his supine position.
A small smile pulled at Maddie’s mouth. Memories pushed their way into her thoughts. Hands clutching, mouths touching, soft gasps, clothes on the floor, giggling, and then a loud crash as the boards that held the bed up at their first apartment broke and sent the bed, and them, crashing down. They’d laid there for a few moments, the bed at an angle, their heads down, their feet up, startled expressions on their faces, their naked bodies intertwined. Then they’d burst into laughter, laughing even as they dragged themselves from the wreckage of the bed.
His eyes flashed with a mischievous glint. “The couch doesn’t have wooden slats.”
He’d taken her hand and they’d rushed to the room that served both as a kitchen and a living room and resumed their undressed rendezvous.
He sure knew how to touch her back then. How to caress her, where to kiss her, how to hold her and just what to say to make her feel safe and loved. That first year of marriage. It all seemed like a lifetime ago. She touched her fingers to her throat, realizing her heart was pounding fast and she’d flushed warm at the memories. Her gaze drifted over his form on the bed, his strong shoulders, long legs, perfectly shaped mouth. She couldn’t deny he still did something to her insides; that he still lit a fire of passion within her that made her head feel a little funny, her stomach flip flop.
Her eyelids were even heavier now. She yawned, walking back to the couch for a much-needed nap and maybe later a Cary Grant movie and a cup of hot chocolate.
The smell of bacon and brewing coffee woke him. Sunlight poured across the bedroom floor and Liam squinted in the light, disoriented.
What time was it? He looked down at his wrinkled T-shirt and sweatpants. Had he slept all yesterday afternoon and night here? He snatched his phone from the bedside table. 8:30 a.m., Thursday.
He dragged his hand through his hair and across the back of his neck, stiff from laying in the same position for so long. He inhaled deeply to try to wake himself up and smelled the bacon again. And coffee.
Who was making breakfast?
Who else would be making breakfast, Liam? he thought, walking groggily down the hallway. You and Maddie are the only ones here, idiot.
Maddie was standing at the stove with her back to him, flipping an over-easy egg. She hated over-easy eggs. It must be for him and for that he was grateful at least.
“Hey,” she said turning to face him, spatula in her hand.
“I made you some coffee and bacon. Your eggs are almost done.”
“You didn’t have to do that. Thanks.”
She shrugged, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. He had thought she would still be mad this morning but instead she seemed indifferent about it all. She slid the plate across the breakfast bar to him and carried her plate with her to the kitchen table.
“I guess I figured we should have a good breakfast before we get too sick to eat,” she said sullenly, taking a bite of bacon.
He sipped his coffee. Two spoonfuls of sugar and vanilla bean creamer. She knew how he liked it, that was for sure. Guilt dug at his chest as he dug into the eggs. He needed to tell her the truth; that he didn’t even know if he really had the virus. Maybe he’d wait until their breakfast was done at least, so he didn’t have to dodge the flying frying pan while he tried to finish his cup of coffee.
“Have you heard anything from Matt?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yeah. He and John have been busy putting out fires, but they’re both finally in quarantine too.”
“You’re his press secretary. Shouldn’t you be in on putting out the fire?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but John’s my assistant so he can handle it. I’m sure Matt will be calling again soon, pulling his hair out or going stir crazy from being stuck in the house all day. One or the other.”
She nodded and finished her toast.
“Have you talked to your parents?” he asked.
She didn’t look at him. She studied her plate of food. “Yeah. They’re fine. Mom is having a hard time keeping Dad from going in and out of stores for supplies and stopping to help everyone he knows, but they’re locked in now, trying to stay well. They’re worried about me, of course.”
Oh, crud. He had to tell her the truth so she could tell her parents there was a chance she might not catch the virus. There was a good possibility she might kill him, but he had to tell her.
“Maddie, listen. . .” She turned her head to look at him. He looked into wide green eyes and cleared his throat. She cocked an eyebrow. A cocked eyebrow meant she was ready for a fight. This was going to be rough.
“There’s a possibility I don’t have the virus.”
Her eyebrows sank into a scowl immediately and she pursed her lips, looking at him for several moments before she spoke, her tone cold.
“The doctor who took the test said he’d have the results in a few days but that there was a chance I didn’t have it.”
“You told me you had the virus, Liam. Had it. Not might have it. You yelled it at me, in fact.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just —”
“It’s just, what? You told me it was positive. Are you telling me now that you lied to me?”
“Yes, but listen … I just didn’t want to talk about it. I know I should have cleared it up, but I needed you to stay in the house and I figured you wouldn’t listen to me if I said I might have it. If you’d left and someone found out it could have been bad for Matt. The doctor wrote the case down as ‘probable’ and right not ‘probable’ is as good as positive.”
Maddie’s eyes were ablaze with fury now, crimson spreading up her cheekbones. “I have been sitting here waiting to feel sick, looking up ways to deal with the coughing and the fever if one of us gets it and you still don’t know if you really have it? Holy crap, Liam. Really?”
“I was still exposed. This is still the right thing to do.”
“That’s not the point. The point is you lied to me. Again.”
“Again? What are you even talking about?”
She turned away from him, standing up from the table, and walking to the window. She crossed her arms tight across her chest, her back to him. “Why did you want this divorce?” she asked, her voice strained.
“I said why —”
“I heard what you said, Maddie. I’m not the one who asked for this divorce. You are. Remember?”
“Only because I knew you wanted it.”
“You knew I wanted it? You never even asked me what I wanted. You never ask me what I want.”
“I could tell by how you acted that you didn’t want to be married anymore.”
He pushed his plate and mug away from him. He couldn’t even believe what he was hearing. Standing from the breakfast bar, he faced her with his hands on his hips.
“Okay. Yeah. Whatever. You know what? Just go ahead and make decisions for me, like you always do, Maddie.”
She turned to face him, her arms falling to her side. “What are you even talking about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
There went that eyebrow again. “No, actually, I don’t.” She gestured in front of her as if she was conducting a magic trick. “Enlighten me.”
That was it. He’d had enough of her acting like he was the one guilty for the collapse of their marriage.
“Like how you decided we weren’t going to try for any more children, for one.”
She was talking through clenched teeth now. “I did not decide that, Liam. You decided that by running off to run Matt’s campaign and never being home.”
“You pushed me away, Maddie. You acted like you were the only one who’d lost those babies.”
Maddie looked stunned. Her face flushed an even darker red, her eyes swimming with tears.
“I needed you, Liam! I needed you to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay and —”
“I did hold you. I did tell you it would be okay.”
“At first yes, but it was like after a while my grieving just pissed you off.”
He carried his empty breakfast plate and coffee mug to the sink. “We needed to move on, Maddie. We couldn’t wallow in our misery forever.”
He grabbed the pan from the stove next, turning to place it in the sink too.
“Our misery?” Maddie shook her head in disbelief. “I was the one who carried those babies, who lost those babies, whose body failed her, who —”
Liam’s blood boiled. He slammed the pan down on the countertop by the stove and swung to face Maddie. “They were my babies too dammit.”
Maddie stepped back, hugging her arms tight around her, gulping back a sob.
“Yes, it was our misery. It wasn’t all about you,” he continued, his voice shaking with anger. “We made those babies together and we lost them together and I stopped trying to comfort you because nothing I did helped you. I could never do anything right and —” Liam cursed again, furious at the emotion choking his words, the tears burning his eyes. “I couldn’t fix you, Maddie. I couldn’t make it right. And eventually I couldn’t fix us, and I gave up trying because I didn’t think you wanted me to fix us.”
Maddie dragged her hand across her face and turned to walk back into the living room, bone chilling exhaustion rushing over her. How could he say that? That she didn’t want him to fix them? That she didn’t want to fix this marriage? He was the one who — she shook her head, sitting on the couch, tears rolling down her face. She curled up in a ball, facing the back of the couch, pulling her mother’s quilt off the back and draping it over her.
“That’s what you always do, isn’t it?” he snapped, walking into the living room. “Just walk away and never deal with anything.”
She flung the quilt off her and sat up. “I never deal with anything? And what have you been doing to deal with things? Burying yourself in your work instead of dealing with your life at home, with your marriage that was falling apart, was dealing with things? You could have fooled me. Flirting with staffers and reporters instead of coming home and facing the disaster that was our relationship. Was that how you dealt with things too?”
Liam made a face and scowled at her. “Flirting with who?”
“You know who. Wendy. That little redhead from channel 12.”
Liam scoffed. “Wendy? I never flirted with her. She’s not my type.”
“I guess all those female staffers in your brother’s office that you wink at aren’t your type either.”
“That I wink at? I don’t wink at those women and no, they aren’t my type either. Most of them are airheads.”
“Then who is your type? Because it definitely isn’t me or I wouldn’t,” Maddie’s voice cracked and tears filled her eyes again. “be home alone every night in our bed.”
Liam placed his hands on his hips and tipped his head. “Come on, Maddie – it’s not like I haven’t been alone too. And I have been for a long time.”
He tossed his hands out in front of him then clenched them into fists and pressed them against his mouth. “You know what? I’m just done talking about this. We are getting nowhere. I’m going into my office to get some work done.”
The slamming of the door reverberated in her ears.
“Now who’s walking away from his problems?” she snapped under her breath, falling back onto the couch and pulling the quilt over her again.