Boondock Ramblings

Extra Thursday Fiction: Quarantined Chapters 8 & 9

A little update on Extra Fiction Thursday: after I finish this particular series, I will probably be retiring the extra fiction Thursday and returning to fiction only on Fridays. About today’s chapters: one of these chapters will feature some marital romance. For some readers of clean fiction this “romance” may seem a bit too suggestive, but I feel it’s important to this story to show that passion does and can exist within the bonds of marriage, even in a marriage where the couple has been married a long time. The scene will not include graphic sex, of course (sorry to disappoint those who like reading that. Ha!) but there will definitely be some suggestive sections that won’t be vague about what’sgoing to happen next.

The synopsis of the story: Liam and Maddie Grant are set to sign divorce papers when Liam comes home to tell Maddie he’s been exposed to a new virus that is shutting down the country and part of the world. Now the couple is quarantined in their home and have to face the issues that split them apart and decide if they want to sign the divorce papers or stay together. Across the city, Liam’s brother United States Senator Matthew Grant is quarantined with his wife and children, as well, wondering if his marriage could end up on the same path as his brothers. Matthew also finds himself spending his time in quarantine reflecting on his time as senator and his upcoming re-election campaign.

To catch up on the rest of this story click HERE.


Chapter 8

When the sounds of cartoons filtered through his dreams, Matt knew he had fallen asleep on the living room couch again. He’d been up late, thinking, praying, writing down thoughts he wanted to share with John and Liam when they got back into the office. He’d leaned his head back to think about some projects he knew needed tackling when the Senate was back in session again and then — well, he’d woken up here, in the corner of the sectional with children strewn around him eating cereal out of bowls, toys and comic books spread out on the carpet.

“Hey, Dad,” Tyler mumbled around a mouthful of corn flakes. “Sleep well?”

Matt squinted into the sunlight pouring through the window behind the TV, holding his hand up to block it as he struggled to sit up.

“Um, yeah,” he said hoarsely. “I think so. I don’t know. I don’t even remember falling asleep actually.”

He stood slowly, the pull in his upper back bringing a grimace.

“Where’s your mom?”

“She’s in the bathroom crying,” Lauren said cheerfully. “And her hair looks all funny.”

Matt rubbed his eyes with both hands, willing the heaviness of sleep to leave them. “What? Why is she crying?”

Tyler shrugged, his eyes glued to the cartoon on the TV. “Probably because her hair looks funny.”

“How does it look funny?”

Tyler shrugged, looking at the TV. “I don’t know. Lauren said it looked funny. I don’t want to know so I’m not going to look.”

Matt sighed and stepped over the toys and comic books on his way toward the stairs. “Guys, pick up this mess, okay? If your mom is already crying, she’s going to be crying more when she sees all this.”

Lauren was right. He could see Cassie through a small opening in the bathroom door, sitting on the floor by the tub, crying. Her hair was slicked down across her head, orange colored strands hanging down in front of her face.

“Cassie? What’s going on?”

“Oh! I thought you were still asleep.”

“I woke up and asked where you were. You okay? And what happened to your hair?”

Cassie held up an empty plastic bottle and box of hair dye. “This is what happened.”

“You’re dying your hair? Why?”

Fresh tears poured down Cassie’s cheeks. Her words flowed out of her fast, furious, mixed in between sobs. “I don’t know. Why not? I can’t leave the house to get my hair done and there are all these gray hairs sprouting up in the middle of my head and I wanted to do something to hide them because I don’t want to be old, Matt. But I am old. I’m old and I don’t know how I got here. I’m old and I have stretch marks and you deserve better than this old, run down, fat woman with gray hair who now has orange hair because she was trying to transform from brunette to auburn.”

Matt stared at his crying wife, bleary-eyed, wishing he’d grabbed a cup of coffee before he’d made the journey up the stairs. Liam had been right. It was obvious that even though Cassie had appeared “fine” she was absolutely “not fine.”

Guilt settled in his chest like a heavy stone at the bottom of a lake. Why hadn’t he asked before this if she was okay? If she was really okay?

He drew a deep breath to try to clear the cobwebs of sleep from his mind before he spoke. There were a few times a man shouldn’t speak. One was when they were drunk. Two was when their wife was drunk. Three was when either of them were half asleep. He knew there were many other times but right now he was half asleep and he was afraid to talk and say something wrong. He had to say something, though. He couldn’t simply leave his wife in the middle of the bathroom floor believing she was old, fat and — what else had she called herself? Oh right. Run down.

His knee groaned in protest as he kneeled next to her. To take the weight off of it he slid down on his butt and said cross legged. He didn’t think his wife was old but at that moment, with his aching knees and sore back, he certainly felt old.

“Cassie, hon’ where did you get the idea that you are old or run down?”

“It’s not an idea, it’s a fact.” She choked back a sob. “I don’t know why I was so stupid. I just thought if I could change my hair a little, maybe it would help me feel better, make me feel less…blah. I don’t know.”

He slid his arm around her shoulders, hugged her sideways against him.

“Oh, Cas. I love you. You feel blah because you’re stuck in this house with your preoccupied, self-centered husband with no outlet for your creativity and extrovert personality. There is nothing wrong with you. All this being forced to stay at home has been hard on all of us. I know it’s hard on me too, but we’ve needed this slow down, this wake-up call to what we’ve been missing out on while we were working so hard to . . . I don’t know. Work so hard.”

She sniffed, reaching for the toilet paper roll, ripping a piece off and blowing her nose.

“I just wanted to look nice for you,” she whispered.

He looked down at her, pushing the wet strands of hair from her face. “Cassie, you always look nice for me. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I told you that.”

“It’s okay.” She wiped her eyes. “You’ve been —”

“Being busy is no excuse,” Matt interrupted. “I should have been just as busy showing you and the kids how much I love you.”

He lifted a strand of her hair and studied it. “You know, I think I’ll like having a wife with red hair.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s orange. My hair is going to be orange.”

Picking up the almost empty bottle of hair dye, Matt smiled. “Come on. Let’s finish squirting this in your hair, do whatever we’re supposed to do to let the color get in there, wash it out and see what happens. This could be a lot of fun and what we need right now is some fun. Okay?”

Shelaughed through the tears. “Okay. I guess.”

“I’ll help you finish this up and then why don’t I convince Tyler to watch the girls tonight in the downstairs den. They can have one of those frozen pizzas that came in the grocery delivery. I’ll whip up a delicious dinner for us and we can eat out on the patio, underneath the stars. What do you say? Let me pamper you tonight.”

“I say, ‘let’s hurry up and get this hair done so you can make me dinner and rub my feet tonight,’” Cassie said with a laugh.

Matt narrowed his eyes. “Wait a minute. When did I say I would rub your —”

“Well, you said pampering. I just thought I’d give you a suggestion on how.”

Matt smirked and shook his head. “Okay, lady, you win. I’ll rub your feet, but don’t expect me to feed you grapes.”

Cassie leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Oh, no, never grapes. But you can feed me chocolate covered strawberries.”

Matt laughed. “Yes, ma’am.”

***

It was yet another morning since the quarantine had started that Liam woke up disoriented, but this time there was a woman in his bed, and he was relieved to see that the woman was his wife.

After gently sliding himself away from Maddie, making sure her head shifted softly onto the pillow, he sat up, rubbing his hands over his face. Glancing behind him he looked at Maddie still asleep, her hair splayed out around her head on the pillow. He couldn’t stop the smile that tugged at his lips as he watched her sleep. They may not have been in love like they used to be, but she was still beautiful.

His eyes made a path from her closed eyes, down her nose, across her soft lips (slightly parted) her throat (exposed by how her head was tipped back slightly) continuing across her chest and stomach, hips and legs. He hadn’t taken the time to look at his wife in this way for a long time. He realized now that he’d certainly been missing out. He also now realized how much he wished his hands could take the same journey his eyes were taking; how he wished he could gather her close like he had so many times in their marriage and make all the bad years, all the hurts they’d inflicted on each other go away.

Liam forced himself to look away, walking toward the kitchen in search of a cup of coffee. He needed to clear his head. They were as good as divorced. Why was he thinking about her this way now? There was no turning back. They’d fallen apart. They weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, they’d hurt each other too many times and besides, the divorce was what she had wanted, what she still wanted.

Something Pastor Josh had said at their wedding popped into his mind as he filled a filter with coffee beans he had ground the night before.

“A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

It was from the Bible. Leviticus? No, maybe it was Ecclesiastes. Liam couldn’t remember. What he could remember was that Pastor Josh had said it while laying his hand over his and Maddie’s hands, which were intertwined as they stood at the front of the church, their friends and family looking on.

Pastor Josh looped the rope around their wrist and hands, binding them together. “These three strands of rope signify that today Liam and Maddie don’t only need each other in their marriage. They need to be unified with God to help them on the tough days and even on the easy days. Today Maddie and Liam make a covenant before all of you to face the trials marriage may bring with the help of God, the other person in their marriage; the only person who can truly bring them through.”

The Keurig breathed out a hushed whoosh, a comforting sound as he waited for the coffee to begin dripping into his cup. He leaned on the counter top, propping his chin on his elbow.

When had he and Maddie let go of that third strand? When had they let go of God and pushed him from their marriage? Maybe it wasn’t so much that they’d pushed God away but that they’d forgotten he was even there. After the last miscarriage Liam’s anger toward God had consumed him to the point he didn’t want to talk about God or to God.

He hadn’t spoken to God since they’d lowered that tiny box in the ground after the last miscarriage. He’d always been afraid what God might say back.

Why bother? he had often thought since the baby’s loss. God’s not there. If he was your little girl and all those other babies would be here today in your arms and not in a grave in the ground.

Lately, though, Liam had been aching for the days he had trusted God, no matter what, no matter how hard life had become. He had trusted God when his dad had been diagnosed with cancer, when his mom had been in that car accident and they thought she’d never wake up again. Each time, though, those outcomes had been good. His dad’s cancer had been cured by surgery and radiation. He’d been in remission for ten years now. His mom woke up and while it was a long road to recovery, she was doing well and most days it was as if the accident never happened.

It was when the outcomes had been bad that Liam had really struggled. He had believed then that God had abandoned him, had walked away from him during the trials. Maybe, though, during those trials God had actually been closer to him than any other time.

He let out a long breath. He hadn’t prayed — really prayed — in years. Almost all of his prayers in recent years had been quick utterances like “God, please let me get to this meeting on time” or “God, be with so-and-so in their difficult time.” He wasn’t even sure if he knew how to pray anymore.

“God,” he whispered, his hands on the counter, his eyes closed. “How do I trust you even when the outcome isn’t what I wanted? Show me. Please. And show me how to accept that Maddie doesn’t want this anymore, doesn’t want me,” his voice cracked with emotion. “anymore. Help me through this. I know I don’t deserve your help, but I’m asking for it anyhow.”

Liam swiped the back of his hand across his cheek to wipe away tears he hadn’t expected.

The isolation must be really getting to me. I’m a grown man standing in my kitchen crying.

He had to admit though, the tears, and the prayer, had been therapeutic.

Yes, he’d just prayed for the first time in maybe four years and yes, he might still not find the answers he was seeking, but he felt different, liberated somehow. Somehow, he felt that no matter what happened between him and Maddie, he was going to be okay and so was she.

He walked back toward the bedroom as the coffee brewed and leaned against the door frame. Maddie had curled up on her side, pulled the covers up around her shoulders.

Reddish blond strands were draped across her face and her mouth was about the only part of her visible. He laughed softly at the sight of her, looking almost like a child refusing to get out of bed and greet the day. She never was a morning person, unlike him.

He remembered well that first week they’d been married, after the honeymoon, and how he’d jumped out of bed, made her breakfast and carried it into the bedroom, proud of his efforts. She was buried under the covers, her head completely covered. He had lifted a corner of the comforter and saw her in a fetal position, her hair a mess, but her face beautiful and peaceful. That peaceful look changed when he asked her if she was ready for breakfast. Her beautiful face scrunched up and she somehow curled her body tighter into a fetal position and mumbled something about “sleep” “morning” and “five more minutes.”

She’d eventually woken up and eaten her breakfast half asleep but as the years passed the grumpy mornings and been a bit less romantic and a little more confrontational.

“I know I have to get up for work, Liam!” she shouted more than once, tossing a pillow across the room at him.

But he’d laughed at most of the confrontations, ducking the pillow and sometimes even tossing it back. There were some mornings he returned the pillow by walking it across the room, sitting on the edge of the bed, and trailing his finger tip from the bottom edge of her nightgown, down her leg, hoping she’d wake up and start both of their mornings off right.

The ringtone from his phone startled him from his thoughts and he lunged across the room and snatched it quickly from the bedside table so it wouldn’t wake Maddie. He walked into the living room before answering it.

“Liam”

“Yeah, Tony. Hey.”

He hadn’t expected to hear from his lawyer after being told signing the paperwork would have to wait for two weeks at the earliest.

“You guys hanging in there?”

“As best as can be expected under the circumstances.”

“I know that not being able to sign the paperwork has probably been weighing on you, so I wanted to let you know that we’ve decided that as long as everyone agrees to wear masks, we can sign the papers at the end of this week. Would that work?”

Liam swallowed hard and looked down the hallway. “Um..yeah. Let me ask Maddie if that works for her.”

Tony chuckled. “How’s that been working out?”

Liam winced then laughed softly. “It’s been interesting to say the least.”

“Well, not much longer, buddy. We’ll get these papers signed and get you into your own place as soon as your quarantine is over. Any word on your test yet?”

“No. Not yet. I’m going to be calling the doctor later today to find out what the delay is.”

“Okay, well, keep me updated. If Maddie agrees I’ll clear it with her attorney this afternoon.”

After thanking Tony and saying goodbye, Liam reached for the coffee mug, stirring in cream and sugar. Walking quietly down the hall he peaked into the spare room. The bed was empty and he could hear the shower in the bathroom at the end of the hall. He looked at the empty bed again, an ache spreading across chest as he remembered the feel of her against him the night before.

Back in the kitchen he started breakfast and sipped the coffee. He was plating eggs and bacon and putting another slice of toast in the toaster when he heard the bathroom door open and bare feet against the floor in the hallway.

He would miss the sound of Maddie’s feet in the hallway when the divorce was final.

He noticed a tremble in his hand as he set the mug on the counter. His heart was pounding faster, his breath quickening as he pictured himself signing the papers. He closed his eyes tight against the image, rubbing his hand through his hair as if he could rub it from his mind.

Dear God.

A cold chill slithered through his arms and legs at the same time a piercing ring squealed in his ears. Pain clutched at his chest and gnawing nausea swelled in the pit of his stomach. Touching a hand to his forehead he felt sweat beading there. He tried to draw in a deep breath but it caught there.  

What was going on?

Could it be the virus?

He straightened himself and held his hand out in front of him, his breaths quick, yet shallow. His hand shook violently. Clenching it into a fist he willed the shaking to stop.

His mind raced to make sense of what was happening as he stumbled back against the refrigerator, sliding down it to the cool, gray linoleum. He struggled to drag air into his lungs and blackness encroached across his vision. Even before his head hit the floor, he had completely lost consciousness.

Chapter 9

The children had been ushered upstairs into their parent’s bedroom with pizza, cookies, juice and child-appropriate movies. Matt was in the kitchen cooking dinner and Cassie didn’t have anything to do other than wait. She rubbed her hands together and then ran her hands down her arms, bouncing her foot as she sat in the recliner in the living room. She was too restless to sit and wait. She stepped into the dining room and pulled two candles out of a drawer in the bottom of the china cabinet, placing them in the center of the table.

 A rush of butterflies slid up from her toes and throughout her limbs as she lit the candles, but she couldn’t figure out why. She was simply having dinner with her husband. Her husband of 15-years. The one person, except her mother, who knew her better than anyone.

She had no reason to be nervous. She looked at her hands, saw they were trembling and closed them tight into a fist. Good grief, why was she so nervous? Maybe because this was the first date, so to speak, that she and Matt had had in probably three years. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, holding her hands against her chest.

And maybe because she needed to tell Matt something she’d wanted to tell him for a month now and she wasn’t sure how he’d respond when she did.

“Dinner is served,” Matt announced, entering the dining room with two plates full of food in his hands.

He laid the plates on the table at empty places next to wine glasses full of ginger ale and gestured for her to sit down.

“Nice touch on the candles,” he said with a smile as they sat.

Good grief, she was still shaking. “Well, I thought it would give us a romantic touch.”

Romance. Something they’d had here and there over the last few years, but not very often. And now here they were, able to be romantic and instead her stomach was in knots and her mind was racing.

Her anxiety faded slowly as she noticed Matt had pulled on a well-fitting blue polo shirt, a pair of snug blue jeans and had even shaven off his four-day stubble. She studied his masculine jawline as he sipped the ginger ale and her heart raced faster as she remembered how many times she’d kissed that jawline on her way to his mouth.

“You okay?” he asked after they’d discussed what movies the kids were watching, what snacks they’d given them, and were halfway through their meal.

“Yes, but I’m nervous,” she confessed. “And I don’t know why.”

She did know why. She simply couldn’t say why. Not yet anyhow.

“Maybe because we’ve barely been alone in months,” Matt said with a laugh.

Cassie winked. “More like years.”

Matt bit his lower lip, watching her as she cut her seasoned chicken into smaller pieces.

“Yeah. It has been years, hasn’t it?”

The warmth of his hand over hers brought her gaze to his. “Cassie, I’m sorry.”

His voice was soft.

Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Why? Dinner is wonderful. I wish I had known you could cook this well or I would have had you cooking more often.”

He shook his head. “No, not that. I’m sorry for everything. For dragging you into this crazy world of politics. For neglecting you and the kids. For focusing on my job so much I lost sight of your needs.”

“Matt, I’m okay, really I —”

“Are you really? Because you always say you’re fine, but I’m worried that you aren’t actually fine.”

Cassie let out a deep breath and smiled. “Well, no, I’m not totally fine. I’m nervous about all of this stuff going on on. I’m nervous about one of us getting sick. I’m nervous about . . .” She rubbed her fingers along the top of the table. “the election and what it will mean for our family if you win again.”

Matt laid his fork down and leaned back in his chair. “I’m worried about it too, to be honest. I’ve been trying to decide if I am doing the right thing running for re-election.” He propped his elbows on the table and pressed his fingers together, tapping the tips of them against his mouth.

“But,” he said finally. “I think, in the end, it’s the right thing to do. We’ve accomplished a lot in our six years here and I know there is more we can accomplish, even if we can’t pass laws. There are other initiatives my influence in the senate can help support and push forward.”

Cassie swallowed a piece of chicken and nodded. “Right. Those are good points.”

“You don’t feel the same, do you?”

“Oh, no, I do. It’s just . . . Well, all of this has put a lot of strain on our family.”

Matt nodded thoughtfully and took a bite of roasted potato. “It has, I know, but there have been good times too. I’m not traveling across the country when sessions are over. We are all here together in the city. That’s at least a couple good things.”

Cassie hadn’t expected to feel such crushing disappointment that Matt wanted to continue his re-election campaign. She knew he was excited about the chance to serve another term; they’d discussed it before. Somehow, though, she had hoped these last two weeks at home had shown him what he’d been missing out on for the sake of his job. She remembered what she had decided a couple of days ago, though. Matt needed more of her and that included more of her support. She’d support him, no matter what, knowing that they would be in it together.

Their conversation moved to less serious topics. The weather, the latest book by their favorite Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, and what movie they could watch later.

Cassie finished her last bite of chicken and stood. “I should wash up before the kids start running down here asking for snacks.”

He followed her to the kitchen. “Cassie, I’m sorry about the whole election conversation. Did I dismiss you too quickly? We can talk about this more. I didn’t mean to —”

“Matt, it’s fine. I’m not upset. I knew you wanted to run for re-election and I’m here to support you no matter what.”

He stood next to her and handed her his plate. “You don’t have to say you are okay with this if you’re not.”

“But I am okay with this. If you feel what this is right then —”

Matt placed his hands on her shoulders, still behind her. “Cassie, this isn’t just about what I think is right. This has to be what we both want.”

Cassie turned the water on in the sink and added dish soap. “It isn’t that I don’t want it, Matt. I’m just nervous. That’s all. With everything going on in the world, it’s just making me more nervous right now. When things settle down, I’ll feel calmer.”

She turned toward him, forcing a smile. “We’re in this together. It’s all going to be fine.”

He kissed her mouth quickly. “Let’s not talk about this right now, okay? This is a night to relax, not stress. We can talk about this some more tomorrow. I’ll help you wash the dishes and then we can pick out a movie.”

Cassie nodded and turned back to face the sink. “Now, that sounds like a plan. Just no Die Hard.”

“No Die Hard? But that’s a totally relaxing movie. And there’s even romance.”

Cassie rolled her eyes.

Matt laughed and stepped behind her, reaching over her shoulder and picking up the pre-rinse sprayer next to the faucet. He pulled it out, examining it. “Do we ever use this thing?”

“I do sometimes, but no, not a lot really.”

“How does it even wo —”

Matt pushed the small button on the back and a spray of water shot from it, striking Cassie in the face.

“Oh my gosh! Cassie! I’m so sorry!”

He snatched a dishtowel from the counter, patting her face dry as she sputtered.

She laughed as she took the towel and finished wiping her face. “Usually you point it toward the dirty dishes, Matt.”

He bit his lower lip, trying not to laugh. “I’m sorry,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t know that button worked so well.”

Cassie snatched the sprayer from him, pointed it toward him and pushed the button, soaking the front of his shirt. “You mean like that?”

Matt’s eyebrows raised, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Um..yeah. Like that.”

He reached for the sprayer, but Cassie leaned away from him. “Oh, no you don’t.”

“What?” he asked, feigning innocence. “I just thought I’d put it back for you.”

“Oh really? I think I can handle that.”

Matt wrapped his hand around Cassie’s as she attempted to lean over the counter and slide the sprayer back into its place.

“Matt. . .”

“Yes?”

They both began laughing as a small struggle ensued and more water sprayed up, covering them both.

“Ah, man, looks like you’re a little wet, Mrs. Grant,” Matt said, his eyes traveling down the shirt clinging to his wife’s chest. “Maybe you need to get out of those clothes and dry off.”

Cassie smirked, letting go of the sprayer. “Very sly, Mr. Grant. Very sly.”

Matt’s smile was broad as he cupped his hand against his wife’s face, tracing her bottom lip with the palm of his thumb. Cassie’s eyes drifted to her husband’s mouth and she hoped he was about to kiss her the way he used to kiss her, before the stress of life made their romantic moments rushed and infrequent.

The ringing of Matt’s cellphone startled them both, but Matt didn’t move away. “It can go to voicemail,” he said softly.

“That’s Liam’s ringtone isn’t it?”

Matt laughed softly as the theme song from Iron Man blared from across the kitchen. “Yeah, but he can’t wait.”

Cassie glanced at the phone as the ringing stopped but then started again almost immediately. “I don’t know. Maybe you’d better check on him, see if he and Maddie are okay? I can go get changed into something more comfortable, check on the kids, and then we can pick up where we left off when I get back.”

Matt sighed, his hand slipping from her face, down her arm and grazing her hip as he lowered it. “Yeah. Okay. But don’t take too long, okay? And bring me a dry shirt, will you?”

Cassie kissed his cheek softly. “No problem. Talk fast.”

“Liam, you have horrible timing,” Matt told his brother when he picked up the phone.

He walked onto the back patio and sat on a fold out lawn chair, leaning back.

Liam wasn’t laughing, though.

His voice was strained.

“Matt. I need to talk.”

“What’s going on? You don’t sound right.”

“I’m in the ER.”

Matt sat up on the edge of the lawn chair, his heart pounding.

“Are you having trouble breathing?”

“Yes, or I was. But it isn’t the virus.

“Then what —”

“Maddie found me on the floor in the kitchen this morning. I had blacked out and was bleeding from my head. She called an ambulance, but they wouldn’t let her ride with me. Something about new protocols with the virus.”

Matt’s eyebrows raised. “What in the world happened? You’re there alone?”

“Yeah and the doctor just left the exam room. All the tests are clear. And I’m negative for the virus. He said I had a panic attack. I’m just waiting to be discharged.”

“A panic attack? Why? What’s going on? Did something trigger it?”

Did Maddie try to kill you? No, Matt, don’t ask him that.

“I was thinking of signing divorce papers right before I hit the floor. Tony called this morning and said we could come in Friday to finalize the paperwork.”

Matt’s concern faded to amusement, though he didn’t want his brother to know that. Even though Liam couldn’t see him he hid a grin behind his hand instinctively.

 He cleared his throat, doing his best to sound sober and concerned. “Oh. Okay. Well, what do you think that means?”

Liam groaned into the phone. “Shut up, Matt. You know what it means.”

Matt smothered a laugh behind his hand. “Do I? Maybe you should tell me what it means.”

“Stop gloating. I know you’re enjoying my misery.”

“Enjoying your misery? I’m just glad that you’re taking time to think through this and work through your feelings, little bro.” He laughed softly. “But I would say that if you can’t handle thinking of signing divorce papers without hyperventilating, it might mean you don’t want this divorce.”

“Yeah, I got that, Matt.” Liam sighed. “But now what do I do? Maddie wants this divorce.”

“Does she?”

“Yeah. She’s the one who asked for it, so I know she wants it.”

Matt shrugged. “Maybe she thought you wanted it.”

During the silence from the other end of the phone Matt heard Cassie’s footsteps in the kitchen.

“I have to go,” Liam said finally. “I’ll call you back later, okay?”

Matt turned to watch Cassie open the patio door and walk toward him. “Okay, but a lot later.”

“Huh?”

“I said call back a lot later. The kids are upstairs watching movies. Cassie and I are downstairs. Alone.”

“Wha — Oh. I see. Well, good luck, big bro.”

“Thanks.” Cassie tied her dark blue robe closed at the front. “The same to you. How are you getting home? Maddie coming to get you?”

“No. I’m calling a taxi. Maddie managed to get my wallet to me before the ambulance pulled out. I can’t believe I’ve been here all day being tested. Anyhow, Maddie’s been texting me. I’m going to let her know I’m on my way home.”

The brothers said their goodbyes and Matt slide his finger over the end button and then flicking the silent mode before he laid it face down on the floor of the patio.

Cassie tossed Matt a white T-shirt and he caught it with one hand. “Is he okay? What did you mean about how he was getting home?”

“He’s in the ER.”

“Oh my gosh! What happened? Did the doctor confirm his diagnosis?”

“He’s negative. It’s not the virus. It’s the divorce. The doctor said he was having a panic attack”

Cassie sat on the edge of the lawn chair, next to him. “Oh wow. It’s finally hit him, hasn’t it?”

Matt nodded. “He doesn’t want this divorce.”

Cassie tipped her head back and sighed. “Yes! I’ve been hoping one of them would come to their senses.”

“Me too. I’ll give him a call later and see how it’s going. How are the kids?”

“They’re asleep.”

Matt laughed and shook his head. “Really? This early? You mean all it takes to get them to sleep is putting a movie on and tossing them into our bed? I wish we’d known that before.”

Matt pushed Cassie’s hair back from her neck, leaned forward and kissed the skin he exposed. He pulled back and looked at her with a smile. “Well, then, I guess we can pick up where we left off before my brother interrupted us.”

She focused on the warmth of his mouth against her skin, a contented smile pulling her mouth upward. Moving herself until she was sitting across his lap, one leg on each side of him, she slid her hands in his hair as he continued to kiss her neck, closing her eyes.

Both of his hands slid up her legs slowly, tenderly, toward her back as his mouth trailed along the nape of her neck. A rush of intoxicating desire exploded in his chest when his hands met bare skin where he thought he’d find cotton. He pulled back and looked at her with wide eyes.

“I do believe you’re not wearing anything underneath this robe, Mrs. Grant.”

“Oh, Mr. Grant how astute of you to notice. I see you haven’t lost all of your observational skills after all these years.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as his hands continued the journey across her skin, up her back, across her front, pulling open the robe a little more as he pressed his lips to hers.

“Should we retire to the boudoir, my lady?” he asked hoarsely a few moments later, his body pulsating with a mounting need to feel her – all of her – against him.

His heart raced at her breath hot against his ear, her two-word answer sending him over the edge. “Yes, please.”

His heart sank at his next thought. “The kids are in our room. Asleep.”

“Oh.” She pushed her lower lip out.

He pulled her robe closed and jerked his head to one side. “Come on, follow me. I’ve got an idea.”

She stood slowly. “Matt. . .”

“Trust me.”

He tightened his hand around hers and tugged at her arm. When he opened the door to the garage she pulled back. “Matt. What in the wo—”

He turned toward her before she could say anything else, pulling her into the garage and covering her mouth with his. Sliding his hands down her back, he placed them on either side of her waist, lifting her onto the hood of the black BMW he’d bought when he’d landed that first big job as an attorney all those years ago.

He unhooked her robe, letting it fall open. She gasped as kissed her throat, her neck and then gently nibbled on her earlobe, his hands sliding down her bare back.

“We’re going to dent the hood of this car,” Cassie whispered against his ear.

“It’s just a car, Cassie,” Matt answered, sliding his arms behind her and pulling her against him. “Being with you is much more important than a car.”

Closing her eyes, lost in the caresses of her husband’s mouth and hands Cassie forgot about what she’d been nervous about before. She knew she’d have to talk to him eventually, but it could wait. She slid her hands up his now bare back. Oh, yes. It could wait.

Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined, a novella, Chapter 6 and 7

*Warning: This week’s chapter deals with the topic of miscarriage.

Normal disclaimer: The fiction I share here is not usually the final draft. It also isn’t normally the first draft. Either way, it is edited and rewritten before the final “publication” as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

If you’d like to catch up on the story you can do so HERE.

I welcome feedback, suggestions and corrections.


Chapter 6

The bundle in Maddie’s arms, swaddled in a blue and white hospital blanket, had been so tiny, motionless. Liam wanted to run out of the room and never look back, but he knew he couldn’t. That was his baby in there, in  his wife’s arms; his baby who hadn’t lived. His legs felt like lead weights as he stepped across the room, nodding at the nurse who looked at him with concern and compassion, tears in her eyes.

The nurse’s hand on his shoulder was warm as he moved to stand next to the bed, looking down at Maddie. Eyes still on the small, lifeless face peeking out from the blanket, Liam sat next to his wife, sliding his arm around her as she cried. Maddie’s hair was soft against his face as he buried it there to try to hold the tears in.

“I thought it would be different this time,” she said through the tears. “I thought this time we’d make it.”

The three other miscarriages had been early in the pregnancies and one of them had been what the doctor’s called a blighted ovum – an empty sac, or a baby that never grew enough to be picked up by the ultrasound.

Liam kissed the top of Maddie’s head and closed his eyes. “I know, Maddie. I know. Me too.”

And he had thought they’d be bringing a baby home. The nursery had been ready, the baby clothes purchased, the crib set up. When the doctor told them that the placenta had ruptured and the baby wasn’t going to survive Liam’s ears had started ringing. When he learned Maddie might be lost too, colorful lights mixed with blackness faded across his vision.

A deep breath and a head shake had kept him from hitting the ground, but the doctor still took three long steps toward him and grabbed his arm to steady him.

“Please, Mr. Grant. Sit. We’re going to do everything we can to save your wife.”

In the midst of grief was joy that Maddie had survived; that even if he couldn’t carry a baby home with him, he still had Maddie. Sitting in the dimly lit den in the back of the house, he chewed at the nail on his thumb as he remembered that horrible day and the days that followed.

There was no denying those first few months had been beyond difficult. Maddie was stoic most days, angry others. Then there were the days she spent sobbing almost uncontrollably behind the closed bedroom door, unable to get out of bed and face life, or even face him. He comforted Maddie as best as he could, tried to be gentle, tried to understand her grief and most of all he tried not to burden her with his own grief.

He had to be strong for her. She wasn’t capable of helping him heal when she couldn’t heal herself; he knew that. He also knew he should have relied more on God to heal them both, but he was angry at God; furious that God had not only let him down, but most of all that he had let Maddie down.

All Maddie had ever wanted was to be a mother. Blow after crushing blow eviscerated that dream.

Liam blamed God.

He had been raised to believe God wanted his people to prosper not suffer, that he loved them. If that was true, then why had this so-called compassionate God let Maddie suffer so much and so often?

After the loss of the baby, who he and Maddie named Abrielle, Liam buried himself in work at the public relations firm he’d been employed by during that time. When he wasn’t working, he did his best to make Maddie happy — making her dinners, making sure she had quiet time, and not pressuring her to go back to work at the small magazine she’d been working at.

She was never happy, though. She didn’t want to take the medicine the therapist had suggested. She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t answer phone calls from her parents or come out of her room for visits by Cassie or her friends. She didn’t want him to hold her and tell her it was going to be okay.

 Many days it seemed like it was him she wasn’t happy with. He finally  gave up trying to make her happy. Maybe he should haven’t have given up. Maybe if he hadn’t, she wouldn’t have wanted the divorce.

He stood from the loveseat in the den and paused at the window, looking out at the side yard, barely lit by the half moon. He rubbed his chin, biting the inside of his lip.

“I want a divorce.”

Those had been her exact words and she’d said it without even flinching, other than a small muscle jumping in her right eye, right above the small scar she’d gotten when she fell off her bike at 8-years old. Liam had used to kiss that scar, then her cheek, on his way to her mouth.

He hadn’t really wanted a divorce, but he had known in that moment it was what Maddie wanted.

She felt he’d never been there for her, that he had abandoned her.

If she felt that way, there was no changing her mind, no matter how many times he reminded her of how often he had been there.

He shook his head and drank the last of his soda down.

Maybe after the divorce, they would find the healing and peace neither of them could find when they were together.

***

Maddie poured herself a glass of milk and squeezed in a large helping of chocolate syrup. She knew it wasn’t right, but during stressful times she reached for comfort food and that comfort food was usually full of fat and sugar.

Walking to the back deck she flopped in a lawn chair and guzzled the milk, looking out at an empty backyard, a backyard she had once thought would house a swing set, a tiny kiddie pool, and a sandbox.

She could still remember the conversation she’d had with Cassie after the loss of Abrielle.

“What is wrong with my body? Women’s bodies are supposed to grow babies! It’s natural! That’s what all the books say! I guess I’m just not natural.”

Cassie — beautiful, sweet and fertile Cassie, pregnant with baby number three — shook her head and reached out to take her hand.

“Maddie, that isn’t true. There isn’t anything wrong with you. If there is a medical reason you can’t carry a baby to term the doctors will find it. Having a medical reason for the miscarriages doesn’t mean you’re not a real woman.”

Maddie had known Cassie was right, but she still struggled with toxic thoughts, thoughts that told her that her body had failed her, but more importantly, Liam. She’d seen Liam with his nieces and nephews. She knew he’d be a wonderful father and she’d wanted to make him that father. It had never happened, though, and no matter how many times someone told her it wasn’t her fault, she knew it was.

She leaned back in the lawn chair and closed her eyes against hot tears.

It was her fault Liam wasn’t a dad.

It was her fault their marriage had fallen apart.

What had happened to her? When had she become so miserable? When had she become someone that even she wouldn’t want to be around? No wonder Liam had jumped at the opportunity to divorce her.

He needed someone who had as much passion for life as he did, who wasn’t miserable and depressed and cold.

“God,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. “How did I get here, at this miserable, lonely place? Why did you abandon me here?”

A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away quickly with the back of her hand, choking out a small laugh. Maybe you’re asking why I abandoned you, huh? She shook her head. I don’t know anymore, Lord.  I don’t know where I’ve been or even who I am.

She pulled her knees up to her chest, bowing her head against them, letting the tears flow.

Father, help me let Liam go, so he can be happy again.

Chapter 7

Tiny fingers and toes, pudgy arms and pudgy legs. Cassie kissed Tyler’s newborn nose, tears streaming down her face part from exhaustion but also joy.

“I can’t believe he’s here,” Matt whispered near her ear and when she turned her head, she saw that her husband’s face was streaked with tears too.

There were days it felt like Tyler had been born yesterday, not the 13-years it actually was. Thirteen years. So much had happened during that time. Two more pregnancies and two more children, her retirement from social work, Matt’s campaign. . . . How had it all gone by so fast?

There were times Cassie thought she should have done more with her life by now, but there were other times she was happy with where she was. She’d decided to send the children to a small, private Christian school the year before last when Matt’s national profile had increased. She began volunteering there regularly, helping the children at the school sign out library books or teaching them art. Best of all, she was able to see her own children throughout the day, keep an ey on them and make sure they weren’t approached by anyone from Matt’s political world. So far, the media had left the children alone, even when they hadn’t left her alone.

The story on the opinion page of the Post last year had questioned her involvement with the school. If Senator Matt Grant’s children attended a Christian school where his wife also volunteered, could he be trusted to treat all of his constituents fairly? What about the Muslim children? Or the Buddhists? Or even the Jewish?

“How will Grant’s faith influence his oath of office to represent all of his constituents?” the columnist asked.

“It won’t,” Matt told a reporter who posed the same question at a press conference a few days later. “My faith is what inspires me to care about all of my constituents. I believe God created them and called for me to love them as he has loved me and them.” He told her later he had smiled easily, winking at the reporter good-naturedly, even though inside he had felt unsettled by the question. “And you, Jim. He has called for me to love even you.”

The critics continued to squawk, though, and after that Cassie decided to no longer read or listen to the news. She tried instead to focus all her attention on her children and family. She had buried herself in volunteering, in reading, in her Bible study, in anything to try to drown the critical voices of the world out.

She was beginning to realize now, though, that she’d also drowned out Matt and her marriage, subconsciously pushing aside anything she thought might threaten her family’s safety. Pouring herself a glass of milk she leaned back against the counter and winced. Did she really think being close to Matt was a risk to their safety? If anything, being closer to him should have been a comfort in a sea of chaos.

If she had been feeling like she had been in a sea of chaos, alone on a storm-tossed ship in the middle it, then how had Matt been feeling? He’d been the one at the brunt of it, the one taking the hits and, in almost every way, the one shielding the rest of the family from the blows.

Walking into the living room, sipping the milk, she watched Matt in the backyard with the children, tossing a rubber ball between each of them. He tipped his head back and laughed when it bounced off Gracie’s forehead and she tumbled backwards, giggling. Tyler picked it up and tossed it to Lauren, who quickly dropped it, giggling too much to hold on to it.

 Lauren bent to pick it up and Matt lunged for it at the same time, snatching it from her then gently bouncing it off her forehead, sending her into another fit of giggles. Cassie couldn’t hear what they all were saying, but she knew the children were finding whatever Matt was saying funny by their laughter and wide grins.

Cassie hadn’t seen Matt this relaxed and joyful in at least two years, probably longer. She watched him as he tossed the ball, his muscles still well defined and toned after all these years, visible underneath the t-shirt pulling against his stomach as he lifted his arms to catch the ball, stop it from sailing over the fence into the neighbor’s pool.

An ache filled her chest, moved up her throat, threatened to spill tears down her face. She bit her lip, trying to hold back the emotion but it didn’t work. Tears pooled in her eyes, streaked her cheeks and she let them roll, knowing they were as full of joy as they were sadness. She was so grateful for this time with her family, with Matt, but she was also sad that she hadn’t tried to have more of it in the last couple of years.

Matt deserved so much more from her. More of her attention, more of her comfort; simply more of her. She needed to stop holding back and lower her walls. She needed to be sure she was supporting him in every facet of life.

Running for re-election may not have been something she wanted, but it was something he wanted. He was running because he felt it was not right for the people who had voted for him, but his family.

“Lord, help me to be what Matt needs me to be for him,” she whispered, wiping another tear away. “Help us to both lay down what we want for what you want. For what you need us to do in this time.”

***

On the tenth night of quarantine, still with no sign of illness, Liam headed to bed early, shutting off his phone and laptop around 10 p.m. He slid under the covers, emotionally and physically drained. He was glad, though, that he hadn’t yet experienced any coughing, muscle aches, or sore throat. His mind was racing, filled with thoughts of work, thoughts of what this virus might mean to his parents, his older aunt and uncles, and anyone else whose health might be more vulnerable.

 His thoughts were also filled with Maddie.

She was sitting in the room down the hall, but she might as well have been thousands of miles away with all the interaction they’d had this past week.

Matt was right.

Liam still loved Maddie.

Sadly, it was growing more obvious that Maddie didn’t feel the same way about him. The anger she had for him radiated off her each time they passed each other in the house. He didn’t even try talking to her. She’d spoke her piece. Her mind was made up about their marriage.

To her it was over, and he needed to accept that.

Sleep had finally begun to slip over him when he heard a soft knock on his door. He rolled over and closed his eyes tighter, ignoring it. Ignoring her. Another knock. He pulled the blanket up around his shoulders.

The door squeaked open and then footsteps, soft across the floor.

What did she want? He was too tired for another fight.

“Liam?”

Maddie’s voice was barely audible. He ignored her again.

She spoke a little louder. “Liam?”

Silence.

She sighed in the darkness and he felt, rather than saw, her turn back toward the open doorway.

He rolled his eyes. “What?”

Silence fell over the room and he heard a breath drawn in sharply and slowly let out again.

“Will you hold me?”

He rolled over, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out her face to decide if she was serious or not.

“What?”

“Just hold me. Nothing else.”

Was this some kind of trick to lull him into a false-sense of security? He squinted again, trying to see if she was holding a weapon of some kind.

“Please?”

She seemed serious.

Very.

He heard a vulnerability in her tone he hadn’t heard in a long time.

“Um . . . yeah. Okay.”

She lifted the sheet and comforter, sliding next to him, her body warm, her feet cold. Her feet had always been cold, and she’d always slid them up his legs to warm them, making him squirm but laugh at the same time. There was a time he’d asked if she needed the rest of her body warmed up too and there was a time she’d say ‘yes’ and he’d snuggled close and nibbled at her earlobes.

He wasn’t going to ask if she needed warming up this time.

Surprise opened his eyes wide as she laid her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest over his heart and closed her eyes.

They laid in the dark listening to each other breathe until she whispered: “I tried to stay away from the news but it’s like watching a train wreck. I can’t seem to look away.”

His voice as soft. “I know.”

“People are scared.”

“Yeah.”

“They’re convinced they’re all going to die.”

“They’re not. Fear does crazy things to your mind.”

Silence settled over them again.

She laughed softly again. “Yeah. Like that time you had that spider on your arm when we were driving to my parents and you almost drove us into a river.”

Liam snorted a laugh. “Well, spiders are scary, what can I say? All those legs. . .” He shuddered. “It’s just creepy.”

Silence stretched between them again.

“Liam?”

He stared into the darkness, at the light of the streetlight bleeding in under the blinds. “Yeah?”

“If this kills one of us —”

“Maddie, this isn’t going to kill either one of us. I already told you we don’t even know if my test is positive. And most of the cases are mild, especially in our age group. We’re not in the highest risk age group. Okay?”

“But if it does . . . ” Maddie took a deep breath and spoke fast as she exhaled. “I want you to know . . . I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t like you.”

Liam laughed softly.

“Thanks. I guess.”

“And, Liam?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought you had to fix me. Only God can fix me.”

Crickets chirped outside. A dog barked somewhere down the street. Liam closed his eyes and let out the breath he’d been holding.

 “Yeah. I know.”

He laid his hand over hers, the one laying on his chest.

“Maddie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought I didn’t care. I did care. I’ve always cared.”

He had been trying not to be aware of her body warm against his, of the smell of her shampoo, of how soft the skin on her arm as he trailed his fingertips down it, of how her closeness made his heart rate increase.

But he was aware of it.

All of it.

Much more than he wanted to be.

He slid his other arm under her and she slumped into him as he moved his hand slowly up her arm, resting it just below her shoulder. He squeezed it gently then lightly touched his lips against the top of her head, her closeness suddenly intoxicating. “I love you, Maddie. Despite it all. I love you.”

He listened to her breathe and for a moment he thought she had fallen asleep.

 “I’m so tired. . .” she whispered against his neck, her breath warm. He could tell she was fading fast.

“Sleep. We can talk more in the morning.” He looked at the ceiling, barely visible in the darkness from the orange glow of the streetlight outside. “It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”

She slept but he couldn’t. Not now with her tucked against him soft and warm, kicking his thoughts into high gear. He hadn’t expected her to come to him for comfort. He hadn’t expected it, but he welcomed it and loved having her so close, even if that closeness was only physically.

 Had she meant what she said? That she still loved him?

Maybe it had been the stress and worry talking. The exhaustion even.

The only thing he was sure of was that those words had sparked a warm, comforting fire in the center of his chest. He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her hand over his heart, trying to switch his brain off, knowing he’d meant it when he’d told her he still loved her.

Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined, a novella, Chapter 5

As always, this is a work of fiction in progress. What I share on the blog is not the final draft of the novel or novella I’m working on. I reread, rewrite, and rework the stories a few times before I finally publish them on Kindle or Barnes and Noble. I also try to fix typos, plot holes, and punctuation issues in the final draft and have it proofed and edited. If you see errors in the chapters I post on the blog, feel free to send me a note on my contact form (link at the top of the page) so I can make the corrections, if I haven’t caught them aready.

Following along with the story and missed a week or want to follow along? Find the other chapters HERE.

Have some thoughts on the story itself? Let me know in the comments.

Chapter 5

Cassie climbed under the covers and flopped on her back to stare at the ceiling, moonlight cutting a square across it from the window.

What was with all of Matt’s weird questions tonight? The situation with Liam and Maddie must be rattling him even more than she realized. She rolled to her side, fluffed up her pillow, hugged it and tried to get more comfortable.

It wasn’t working.

Her mind was racing too much.

Maybe Liam and Maddie’s situation was rattling her too.

She was thinking about them and their marriage, and viruses and if her family was safe and how to get groceries if they had to shelter in place for even longer and the media and what they’d be saying for the rest of the week with Matt and his staff having still worked for a week after they knew they’d been exposed to a contagious virus and  . . . .

She squeezed her eyes shut, sucked in a deep breath, and held it for several seconds before letting it out again. She had to calm down. What was that one relaxation technique she’d heard about again? Breathe in six seconds, hold five? Or was it, breathe in seven and hold six and then let it out for the count of four or was it letting it out for the count of seven? Oh, forget it. Trying to remember the technique was making her even more anxious.

She closed her eyes and tried to focus on one worry at a time instead.

She couldn’t deny that there were days she regretted agreeing with Matt that he should run for the senate in the first place. They both had such high hopes six years ago; hopes that they could make changes for the voters who had put their faith in Matt, while not being changed themselves. But it was impossible not to be changed by the influences of Washington, D.C. Nothing in this city was like the small upstate New York town Cassie had grown up in and it was also nothing like Stevensville, Ohio where she and Matt had lived before he had been elected.

Stevensville, Ohio was small. Very small. Like everyone knows your name and your business small. It was also still her and Matt’s home in the summers when they left the city behind for much needed breaks. Only that break wouldn’t be coming this year. Not with all the craziness about viruses and quarantines and freezes on travel. Cassie wanted to cry but she was afraid to because once she started, she might not stop. She was homesick for New York and Ohio, for her own family, for Matt’s family, for the familiar she’d left behind when Matt was elected six years ago.

She sighed and opened her eyes, looking at the other side of the bed where Matt slept most nights of the week, unless he was working late and then he stayed at John’s apartment, closer to his office. She touched cool sheets, thinking of how many nights they’d laid here next to each other, back to back, rarely speaking because she knew he needed his sleep, because she knew he needed to get up early in the morning, because she didn’t want to burden him anymore than he was already burdened.

But she missed him. She missed him holding her and them talking about their future, instead of him telling her about the stress he’d been under that day and then falling into a fitful sleep. She missed his hand on her cheek as he moved closer late at night, a small, mischievous smile that signaled he wasn’t ready for sleep yet.

She missed long, slow kisses, roaming hands, but as much as the physical, she missed the emotional connection they’d once had. The connection when Matt wanted to talk with her before anyone else, when he didn’t want to make a decision unless he’d asked her, and when she’d known so much about his day, his job and his life that it was as if they were thinking like one person.

“Cassie, are you sure you’re okay with this?” he’d asked eight and a half years ago when he’d considered running for Senate.

“Yeah. I am.”

That’s what she’d said, but she really hadn’t been sure she was okay with it. She was okay with Matt wanting to help the people of his small hometown and the surrounding counties by becoming a senator from Ohio, but she wasn’t really sure she was okay with the lives of their entire family being upended. She’d given up her social worker career four years before, deciding to spend more time at home with the children. Matt’s career as a lawyer had exploded and from there he’d become involved in county politics and then state politics. When the state’s Republican party came to him and asked him to run for the senate, he’d turned them down at first. But after several meetings, a few months of consideration, and talking to Cassie, his parents, his sister and brother, and his pastor, he’d decided to step into an already contentious race for the seat.

From the moment he’d announced to the day he won the seat the lives of the Grant family had been a whirlwind. After the election, the moving began. Tyler had been 7 at the time, Gracie 3 and Lauren was born in Washington. Every effort was made to ensure that the children and Cassie would see Matt as much as possible, despite his job, but there were weeks they still barely saw him at all.

The idea of having the family living close had been a good one, but the execution of it had started to fail within six months. Meetings, conferences, sessions that ran late into the night, and media-made emergencies were constant, taking over every aspect of Matt and Cassie’s life. Matt still made every effort to attend baseball games, dance recitals, and Saturday mornings at the park, in addition to balancing his responsibilities as a senator, but that left little to almost no time for him and Cassie.

For the most part, Cassie was okay with being the last in line for his attention. She preferred he spend as much time as he could with the children during their formative years. This was a season of life, not a new normal. Time for them, as a couple, would come later, when things slowed down.

If things slow down, Cassie thought, panic suddenly gripping her, like a heavy weight in the center of her chest. If Matt gets reelected we could have another six years of this and maybe even another six after that. . .It’s already been six, I don’t know if I can take another six.

She shuddered, pulling the covers up around her, even though it wasn’t that cold in their bedroom. She tried to imagine six more years, or even more, of accusations against her husband, and sometimes even her, in the press. She tried to imagine six more years of barely seeing her husband; of feeling like her husband’s nanny, even though she loved her children desperately; and of constituents confronting her husband when they were out in public, complaining about this or that change he’d promised he’d make if elected but still hadn’t been able to.

Tyler would be graduating high school at the end of six years. So much of his life had already been consumed by Matt’s position. Would he have to endure it during his high school years as well?

Cassie knew it wasn’t only the quiet life she and Matt had led before he’d entered politics that she was homesick for.  She was homesick for time alone with Matt. She was tired of sharing him with his staff, his fellow congressmen, his constituents, and the press. She was tired of feeling like she was second in line for his attention, even though she knew he didn’t mean to make her feel that way.

Who knows, she thought, feeling sleep finally settling on her. Maybe this quarantine will be good for not only Liam and Maddie but for Matt and me. Maybe I’ll actually get him to myself for once.

***

The election had been brutal. There was no denying it. Worse than the campaigning, the traveling, the long days, had been the media coverage. Non-stop negative stories aimed at destroying Matthew Eben Grant before he could even open his mouth. The media machine was out of control. There was no denying it, especially after that first month of campaigning when one of the state’s biggest newspapers had questioned his staff’s lack of diversity. Those questions had led to him refusing to answer questions of his campaign staff’s ethnic backgrounds and horrified when a newspaper had called the head of his campaign his “one token person of color,” as if she hadn’t been qualified for her job simply on the merits of her professional experience.

From that story it was a quick jump to combing through Matt and Liam’s social media accounts, searching for anything that would sink them in the political arena. One rogue satirical Tweet from his college days, labeled as sexist by feminists, dominated headlines for a few days, but as it always was with the current 24-hour/7-day a week news cycle, the press had turned it’s hungry eyes to another candidate, another subject to devour. the following week.

The polls showed Matt losing and big, right up until election day, but the night of the election the numbers had come in fast and furious late in the evening. Matt had won by a landslide. Apparently the silent voters, the one who didn’t want to be yelled at or condemned for their opinions, had come out in droves and sent a hard message home to the incumbent and his political party: “We’ve had enough of the status quo and of corrupt politicians with empty promises and even emptier apologies.”

Matt knew, though ,that in less than a year he could be in the same boat and it could be his rear end with the boot of the voter against it as they shoved him out the door. Voters preferences were fickle and ever changing and some days nothing a senator did could make anyone happy. Matt had only been a senator for six years, but it felt like it had been 100. Now he had a small idea why so many presidents went gray while in office, though thankfully he didn’t have the same pressure as a president.

He yawned, stretching his arms out as if he intended to stand up and head up to bed, but he didn’t stand up. Instead he fell back on the couch, remote in hand. He surfed streaming services, suggested shows and movies scrolling by, but he wasn’t really seeing any of it. His mind had slipped back to five and a half years ago, to near the end of the election when the news stories were at their worst. He was being called a racist, anti-woman, anti-this, anti-that. He had lost count of all the names they had called him.

“Is this even worth it?” he asked Cassie one night in bed, snuggled close against her.

“If you can get in there and really help facilitate some change, then, yes, it’s worth it,” she assured him.

But then the win came and with it came more news stories, personal attacks against him and his family. The worst came when one of his staff members brought him an article about Cassie, accusing her of being fired from her previous job.

He was furious. “Where did they even get that story? Cassie was never fired from her job. She left to support me and be with the children.”

Scanning the story, he saw a former co-worker of Cassie’s was quoted and offered only summations, not facts. Still, the headline suggested the accusations were true. It wouldn’t have upset Matt as much if it had been about him instead of Cassie. He’d grown accustomed to being accused of inappropriate acts or offensive words, or anything else the press could come up with, but Cassie?

Cassie was off limits.

Only she wasn’t off limits.

She wasn’t off limits because he had made her fair game when he’d decided to accept the party’s urging to run.

He’d dragged her out into the open and essentially thrown her to the wolves.  

The story had been pushed to the side quickly in a few days with another news story, about another politician, overshadowing it. One of the only good aspects of the 24/7 news cycle was how fast paced it was. It meant a story that was in the forefront one day was gone by the next and even though the story on Cassie had faded fast, he still felt incredible guilt about how much he’d exposed his family during this process.

He’d always wanted to protect Cassie. Now he didn’t know how to. In a hyper-political atmosphere that was beginning to suffocate him, the negativity was coming from every side.

His phone rang and he glanced at the ID before answering it. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw it wasn’t John, a member of the Senate or the press trying to reach him.

“Hey, bro,” he said to Liam. “You hanging in there?”

“Yeah. Locked myself in my office. You?”

“Yeah. Feels weird just to be sitting at home.”

“A good weird or a bad weird?”

“Both.”

“Things okay with Cassie? The kids?”

“Kids are doing great. They don’t know much about what’s going on. Cassie’s . . . okay, I guess. She seems tired.”

“Is she mad at you for all this?”

Matt laughed. “She doesn’t seem mad, really. She just seems like Cassie. She’s cooking for the kids and me, cleaning, checking on her parents.”

“Did you ask her if she was okay?”

“Yeah, she said she’s fine.”

Matt heard a small laugh on the other end of the phone.

“What?” he asked. “No. Don’t even say it. You think ‘I’m fine’ is code for something else.”

“You know I’m no expert on women,” Liam started.

“Uh, obviously.”

“But I am learning during this that apparently when a woman says she’s okay, she’s really not,” Liam continued. “I didn’t know that Maddie was struggling, Matt. I just thought she hated me, that I was doing everything wrong, but I think she feels — I don’t know. Abandoned? She pretty much told me she feels like I abandoned her.”

Matt sighed, laying on his back, staring at the ceiling. He slid his arm behind his head. “In what way did you abandon her?”

“Staying at work too much, for one. She says I worked more so I didn’t have to face us losing the babies.”

“Did you?”

“No, I . . .”

Liam’s voice trailed off and then there was a brief silence. “Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, I did. When you asked me to be your press secretary I jumped at it because I knew I would be so busy I wouldn’t have to think about losing the babies, about that empty hole in the center of my chest.”

Matt grimaced as he sat up, propping his elbow against his knee. “Liam, I’m sorry I was so focused on the election, on me really, that I didn’t notice all you were going through.”

“Dude, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I didn’t even admit to myself how much it was bothering me.”

“I know, it’s just — I’m really starting to realize how out of touch I’ve been with what really matters in the last few years; you and Maddie, the kids. Cassie. When I decided to run, I pulled all of you —”

“Matt. No. You were doing what you felt was right. And it wasn’t just you who decided to run. We all decided. As a family. We knew this could be rough. Yeah, it’s a little worse than we expected with all the extra political drama going on these days, but we are still in this together. It’s okay. We’re all okay. Well, we will be okay, one way or another anyhow. None of this is your fault.”

Matt flopped back on the couch again. “I know it isn’t. But I still feel . . . guilty. I don’t know. What I do know is that all of this, this forced slow down, has opened my eyes up to what I’ve been missing lately. I don’t like that our family, or our country, is going through this, but it’s putting some things in perspective for me.”

Liam sighed on the other end of the phone. “Yeah. It’s doing the same for me.”

Welcome to Chapter 4 of Quarantined. Let me know in the comments if you are following along and what you think should happen next.

Since this is a novella there will be less chapters than the other stories I share on my blog, which will be good for some of you who don’t have time to read a longer story.

To catch up with the story you can click HERE.

Chapter 4

Maddie and Liam hadn’t spoken to each other for four days, other than for her to ask if the doctor had called and him to say ‘not yet,’ and him to ask if she wanted some lunch or dinner and her to say ‘I’ll make my own.’

He’d locked himself in his office, dealing with the fall out for his brother’s delay in quarantining himself after his interaction with the ambassador; writing press releases and using video chat features to do interviews with major news commentators.

She’d locked herself in the bedroom, writing bits and pieces of her novel in between pouring over news sites; scrolling through social media feeds for personal stories from those who had had the virus and were recovering. She wondered if she and Liam would eventually face the same situation, or would they be worse with one of them admitted to an ICU somewhere. Who even knew at this point since he’d lied to her about having the virus in the first place? She should have been happy it wasn’t confirmed, but she was furious he had lied to her and it made her wonder how many more times he’d lied to her.

In the evenings she binged watched Parks and Recreation while eating ice cream or popcorn, grateful she’d stocked up on groceries even before Liam had told her about the quarantine. Liam spent his nights straightening boxes, speaking to his brother through video conferencing and binge-watching Bosch, the crime show about a rugged, hard-edged Los Angeles Police Department detective; just what he needed to distract him from the restlessness he felt.

“So, how’s it going with Maddie?” Matt asked via video messaging on night seven of Liam’s quarantine as he’d leaned back on his couch and cracked open a soda.

His gaze wandered off to one side, toward something behind his computer before Liam could answer. “Tyler. Stop hitting your sister. I don’t ca—you know what, just go outside. In the backyard. You’re allowed to go in the backyard. . . . I don’t know. Hit the ball. Chase the dog. I don’t care. Just get out for a while. Take your sisters with you . . . Hey! I’m still in charge around here. Do what I say!”

He looked back at Liam through the screen. “Fun times over here. I can’t wait until this thing is over.”

Liam scoffed. “It’s only been three days for you, dude. If you can’t handle three days with your wife and kids, you’re in serious trouble.”

Matt grinned. “Yeah. I know. First world problems, right? Anyhow, what’s up with you and Maddie? I see you’re still alive, so she hasn’t stabbed you yet.”

Liam winced and rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. “Not for a lack of wanting to, I’d imagine.” He sat back against the headboard of the bed, arms across his chest. “We had it out the other night. The stuff she accused me of doing — you wouldn’t even believe it. Affairs, spending more time at work than with her, not supporting her after the miscarriages. It was all a bunch of crap.”

“Well?”

Liam scowled at his brother. “Well, what?”

“Did you do those things?”

“You know I didn’t, Matt.”

“Then why is it bothering you so much? Don’t be so defensive. You know you didn’t do anything wrong so let her rant.”

Liam shifted on the bed, focusing his gaze out the window. “I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t support her like I should have after the miscarriages. And she’s pretty accurate about working too much too.”

“And the affairs?” Matt asked.

“No!” Liam snapped, looking back at his brother. “I didn’t have an affair.” He paused, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I could never do that to Maddie. You know that. We haven’t been getting along, yes, but I . . . I could never hurt her that way.”

He furrowed his eyebrows and leaned closer to the screen of his laptop. “Do you really think I could do that?” he asked his brother.

Matt laughed. “Liam, no, I don’t, and I don’t know if Maddie really does either, but she’s scared. She obviously didn’t feel secure in her relationship with you to think that.”

Liam sighed. “Yeah, well, it’s not like I helped that feeling any. I told her I already had the virus.”

Matt shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “Oh, Liam, Liam. When will you ever learn? Never lie to a woman. When she finds out she thinks that means you’ve never told the truth about anything and you’re really a secret agent whose been living a double life.”

Liam flopped back on the bed and groaned. “I know. I know. I’m an idiot.”

“Yes, you are. Seriously, though, I don’t think you or Maddie really want this divorce. You’re both just afraid to do the work it will take to keep this thing going. It’s going to hurt, little brother, but I think you two need to work things out. I think you still love your wife or what she said to you wouldn’t have hurt so much.”

Liam shook his head and clicked his tongue, rolling to his side and propping himself up on his elbow. “Senator Matthew Grant. The hard-headed, some might say, pig-headed, youngest-ever head of the homeland security committee showing that he’s also a marriage counselor.”

The brothers laughed easily together.

Matt leaned closer to the screen, his expression fading from jovial to more serious. “Liam, lLet me give you some brotherly advice. Make sure this divorce is truly what you want before you sign those papers. You and Maddie have something special. Always have. I don’t want to see you throw this away without really thinking it through, okay?”

Liam let out a long breath, tapping his fingers along the touchpad of the laptop.

Matt pressed him further. “Promise me you’ll think really hard about all of this while you two are locked up in there, okay?”

Liam nodded. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Matt.”

The brothers said their goodbyes and Liam closed the laptop and laid back on the bed. The last thing he wanted to do was think long and hard about anything else, especially his marriage. Thinking about it all made him hurt more, but he knew Matt was right. He knew he had to be sure that this divorce was truly what he wanted, not simply something he was doing because he didn’t want to face the tough questions, work through the tough issues. In the end, though, it didn’t matter if he wanted to work through the issues. Maddie had to want to work through them too and if she didn’t, then, well, all this thinking about it all would be completely pointless.

***

With the children in bed, it was just Matt and Cassie alone in the living room. Alone. Together. With a canyon of silence between them.

Matt slumped further down on the couch, drumming his fingers on the cushion. He had no idea what to do with himself without hearings to plan for, committee meetings to gather research for, or statements to draft for the press. He should probably be on the phone with John and Liam, preparing their plan of action for when they got back into the office in the next week or so. He looked at his phone on the end of the couch, but didn’t feel any motivation to reach for it.  In fact, he didn’t feel any motivation at all to deal with his job, especially the press.

He’d already drafted a statement with John. There really wasn’t anything else to say. For now anyhow. He was sure in the next day or so he’d be getting calls from other senators looking to set up virtual meetings to draft various bills or establish plans of action for the current situation, but for now his phone had gone silent and he should enjoy the silence while he could. He would have enjoyed it, if it just wasn’t so weird.

He felt his forehead. Maybe he was coming down with that virus after all. He’d been going full bore at his job for two years straight now, but today he’d finally hit some kind of wall. He wasn’t even motivated to reach for the remote and watch television.

He looked over at Cassie sitting sideways on a chair, her legs hanging over the arm of it, her head bent over a book. She was wearing a pair of hot pink short-shorts, a loose fitting white t-shirt and her hair was falling out of a messy bun she’d piled on top of her head. Her long legs were as shapely and attractive as the first day he’d met her. His eyes followed the length of them from her bare toes to the edge of her shorts and remembered the many times his hand had traveled that path over the years.

Desire swelled in his chest as he thought about the night they’d celebrated his win. She’d worn that black skirt with the slit in the side, the slit that went from the middle of her thigh to her knee. Only she hadn’t even known the skirt had that slit until she was at his victory speech and he’d laughed later in the back of Liam’s car when he had watched her try to hold the pieces together, her cheeks flushed pink. Cassie always was fairly modest in how she dressed and he knew she never would have worn the dress if she hadn’t been rushed. The election results came in earlier than expected and she’d snatched the skirt out of her closet, the skirt she’d purchased a few days before but hadn’t had a chance to try on. She knew Matt’s acceptance speech was going to be closely watched by many since he had run against a long-time senator who had been thrown in the middle of a scandal the year before.

“I can’t believe I wore this skirt to your acceptance speech,” she hissed. “I can imagine what the press will be saying tomorrow.”

“That you’re gorgeous?”

“Or that I’m a floozy.”

Matt tipped his head all the way back and laughed. “A floozy? What happened right there? Did we just teleport back to the 40s?”

Cassie punched Matt in the upper arm, giggling. “Shut up.”

Back at the house, the children staying with Cassie’s parents, Matt had stood behind Cassie as she unhooked her necklace and took her earrings out.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, stepping closer, reaching out to touch the edge of the skirt. “I really like this skirt.”

“Oh, you do, do you?”

His finger found the slit and slipped inside, touching the skin there, on her upper thigh.

His mouth touched her bare neck, his voice husky as he spoke. “All I wanted to do was get back here with you. No kids. All alone. Finally.”

She turned, smiling, sliding her arms around his neck. “And what can we do here, all alone?”

He didn’t need words to answer her question. His mouth found hers while he gently pushed her back toward the bed, lowering her to it.

“You okay over there?”

 Cassie’s voice interrupted the memory of his hand traveling up that leg, under that skirt, that night.

“Huh? Oh yeah. Good. I’m good.”

“You miss work, don’t you?”

“Um. No. Actually. I don’t. And that weirds me out a little.”

“Oh.”

She shrugged and turned back to her book. “This break is probably just showing you how burned out you are.”

“I’m not burned out.”

Cassie was back into her book. “Mmm. If you say so.”

Am I? he wondered

Matt sat up straighter and leaned forward on his knees toward Cassie.

“We haven’t spent a lot of time together lately, have we?

She glanced up from the book, eyebrows raised slightly.

“No. Not really, but you’ve been busy. I understand.”

“Do you want to spend more time together? I mean, maybe you’re bored with me? Our life here together?”

Cassie laughed. “Matt, where is this all coming from?” She closed the book. “Is this because of Liam and Maddie?

Matt shrugged. “Yeah. Maybe. It’s got me thinking a lot, I guess.”

“So? What’s the verdict? Are Liam and Maddie getting a divorce?”

Matt sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, they’ve been meeting with a divorce attorney. The only reason they missed the last meeting was because of this craziness.”

He looked at Cassie, watched her watching him and wondered again if Cassie would ever want to divorce him. If she did, he wouldn’t blame her. He’d dragged her into this crazy political world, under a never-satisfied microscope of public scrutiny. The same with the kids. What had he been thinking? Of his constituents? The future of the country? Or had it really just been of himself and his own desire to reach a certain level of success?

Cassie blew out a breath. “Wow. Now they are stuck together in that house. That has to be super awkward.”

“Yeah. Liam said Maddie accused him of cheating on her.”

Cassie’s eyes widened. “No way.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, did he?”

“Cassie! You know Liam wouldn’t do something like that.”

“I don’t think he would, no, but . . .”

“But what? Men do those things because we’re all jerks, is that what you mean?”

“I’m not saying that but long hours, all those pretty women around, he and Maddie so distant after the miscarriages, especially after the last one.”

Matt was uncomfortable with his wife’s line of thinking. He stood and walked toward the kitchen for a glass of juice. Did Cassie really think his little brother would cheat on Matt? If she thought that then what did she think of him? He’d been working long hours too. Around a lot of pretty women, many of them more than willing to sleep with a senator to work their way up the ladder in their careers. Was Cassie drawing a line between the possibility that Liam had cheated to the possibility he had too?

He poured the juice and heard her footsteps behind him. “I’m sorry, Matt. I really can’t see Liam doing that, no. Your brother has just been under a lot of pressure and —”

“Being under pressure doesn’t lead to affairs, okay? Or not all the time anyhow.”

Cassie raised her eyebrows and held up her hands. “Okay. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I was just trying to enjoy a quiet night for once with a book. I’ll leave you alone.”

Matt turned toward her. “Cassie, I didn’t mean to start a fight either. I just —”

“It’s fine.” Cassie walked to him and kissed his cheek. She stepped back and looked him in the eyes. “You just need to unwind. You’ve been put through the ringer by the media, members of congress, and now Liam’s drama. I don’t blame you for being tense. Why don’t you go watch one of your favorite shows? I’m going to turn in early.”

“You don’t need to turn in early.”

Her mind had been made up though. She was weary of discussing Liam and politics and viruses and . . . life, quite frankly.

“I really do need to,” she said softly, already at the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “See you in the morning, Matt.”

Matt finished his juice and shuffled back to the living room. Watch one of his favorite shows? He didn’t even have any favorite shows. Not current ones anyhow. He never had time to watch television anymore. He sat on the couch and slumped in the corner of it again, even further down this time than before.

He didn’t have time for anything anymore other than political fights and trying to put out fires. He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. Dang it. What had he been thinking dragging his family through all of this? Just, seriously, what had he been thinking?

He had been thinking he could help people, change things in Washington. Most days, though, he felt like he was a hamster on a wheel in its cage, getting nowhere fast. Maybe he’d made the wrong decision deciding to run for re-election this year. He’d accomplished most of what he’d set out to do to help his constituents and then some, but there were days it was as if those wins were eroded by the opposition until they were losses again.

Laying his arm across his eyes he sighed and tried to think clearly. He needed to decide if this re-election was really what he wanted, for one, but also if it was really what was best for his family.

I’ve been off Facebook for a few days and haven’t looked at the news but based on some of the blog posts I’m reading, the events going on in today’s world are hitting people hard and spiraling them into depression. Take a break from it all today – either reading this chapter from this novella I’m working on or simply walking away from media all together and pick up a book, take a walk, or start a hobby that gave you comfort before. We have to choose to walk away from the stress so I’m encourage you (and me) to choose to do that.




Matt Grant tapped the end button on the screen of his phone and laid the phone on the coffee table next to his laptop and paperwork. He rubbed his hand across his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a tension headache pulsating in his temples.

He’d just got off the phone with his assistant press secretary, John Chambers. They’d drafted another statement for the media, answering accusations that Matt was still at work in his office in the capitol.

“Just make sure they know I’m at home, self-quarantining, just like my doctor told me to,” Matt had told John, more than a touch of annoyance in his voice.

“I’m making sure,” John said. “I’m assuring them all of us are safely locked away now. Just like the critics seem to think we should be, even though our preliminary tests are inconclusive. I doubt this will satisfy them, but we can try.”

With the statement to the press out of the way, Matt’s mind wandered back to his brother Liam, who he needed to call and check on. The doctor who had examined Liam had listed his diagnosis as “probable” for the virus, which was what had triggered this latest scandal in the first place. Matt was sure Liam would be fine but there was a small part of him that worried about his little brother developing symptoms of the virus that was sending others to ICUs across the country. Matt wasn’t only worried about Liam’s physical health though. He was also worried about his mental and emotional health.

Liam had told Matt months ago that his marriage was in shambles. Matt had barely listened, sure his brother and sister-in-law would work things out. He knew Liam still loved his Maddie, and Maddie still loved Liam.  He was sure of it. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be struggling so much with the idea of divorce and it would have been finalized months ago.

It couldn’t be easy being quarantined together during a pandemic with all the issues they had with each other, but Matt was glad they were. Maybe it would give them a chance to work out their issues and save what had been a great union at one time. As it was, their divorce proceedings had been delayed because of the pandemic, which Matt saw as a way for them to buy more time and truly be sure the divorce was what they wanted.

What made Matt uncomfortable wasn’t only that he could hear pain mixed with longing in his brother’s voice when they had talked about the divorce a couple of weeks ago. It was also that he wondered, worried even, that maybe his marriage was bleeding out in the same way his younger brother’s had and he had been too wrapped up in himself to realize it.

Matt and Cassie hadn’t had a lot of time alone lately. They actually had barely even had time to talk.

Their life had been a runaway train since the election six years ago and now it was picking up speed again as their re-election campaign was underway. Really, though, the train had never actually slowed down.

 In Washington he faced daily drama and conflict whether he wanted it or not. Becoming the head of the Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last year hadn’t helped slow things down any either.

Then there was this crazy never-before-seen virus that seemed to come out of nowhere a few weeks ago and now had him at home with his family, waiting to see if he developed any symptoms after being exposed to it more than a week ago. He was convinced if he had the virus he would have developed symptoms by now, but he had stayed home to make sure things looked good to the press and his constituents. Making sure things “looked good and right” to others seemed to be 90 percent of his job anymore, leaving little room for him to actually do good and right and accomplish the things he’d been elected to do.

All the drama in Congress left him little time to focus on Cassie or the kids and he regretted that. He regretted it even more when his brother’s march toward divorce had become a growing reality. He’d never pictured Liam and Maddie divorced. They were the perfect couple. They’d weathered some hard storms, but Matt had been sure the challenges would bring them closer together. In fact, he thought it had but now he realized he’d been too wrapped up in the campaign and job to notice how much they’d actually drifted apart.

Sure, Liam, as his press secretary, spent many late nights working with him, but he imagined when he went home, he and Maddie made up for lost time. Instead Matt had recently learned that Liam had been working at home as well, sleeping in his office, leaving Maddie alone most of the time, writing her romance novels and reaching for companionship on social media.

Matt and Liam’s parents had been the perfect example of a stable, loving marriage. Married 54 years, Tom and Phyllis Grant made it clear each day how much they loved each other. Sure, they had argued, even in front of their children, but those arguments had been resolved usually before the sun had gone down and with a fair amount of ‘making up’. Matt and Liam, and his sister Lana had been grateful the majority of that making up had gone on behind closed doors.

Standing from the couch to stretch, Matt looked out the window at his own three children playing ball in the backyard and felt a twinge of guilt. Getting pregnant and carrying three babies to term had been easy for him and Cassie. They’d never had to face the heartbreak of not being able to get pregnant or of a miscarriage. Matt felt like he’d taken being able to become a father so easily for granted.

He looked around his living room, well-decorated with expensive furniture and commissioned paintings, and thought about how much of his life he had taken for granted, especially lately. He’d taken for granted the newer model car he drove, the highly-rated bed he slept on, the full refrigerator, and even fuller bank account.

He rubbed his hand along his chin and turned toward the kitchen where Cassie was making a late lunch for him and the kids. Her dark brown hair fell to her waist in a tight braid, the bottom of it grazing the top of the waistband of a pair of red workout shorts. Her favorite T-shirt, featuring Johnny Cash wearing a cowboy hat, fit her medium build well, hugging all the areas it should, especially for the benefit of her husband admiring the view that he hadn’t admired for a long time.

He watched her stirring the taco meat in the skillet and his gaze traveled down her legs and back up again, thinking about the first time they’d met in an English lecture at college.

“Pst.”

He’d leaned over the desk to try to get her attention, but she was intently focused on the professor. He had tried again.

“Pst.”

She glared over her shoulder at him.

“Do you have an extra pen?” he whispered.

She rolled her eyes, ignored him, tapping the end of her own pen against her cheek gently as she kept her eyes focused forward.

“It’s just,” he leaned a little closer so he didn’t interrupt the other students. “I left my pen back in my dorm room and I want to make sure I’m taking notes.”

He was glad he had leaned a little closer. She smelled amazing. What was that perfume? He had no idea but it was intoxicating. Maybe it was her shampoo. The fluorescent light from the lecture hall was reflecting off her luxurious black strands of hair and he pondered what it would feel like to reach out and touch it. But he didn’t reach out and touch it. That would be weird. Even a 19-year old college freshman like himself knew that.

A year later, though, he was touching that soft dark hair while he kissed Cassie for the first time outside her dorm after their third date. And over the years he’d sank his hands in that hair in moments of tenderness and moments of passion. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he watched his wife and thought about a few of those moments, including that time in the back of his new car after he’d landed that job at the law firm in Detroit.

He could deny it. It wasn’t only the material things of his life that he had taken for granted. He had also been taking Cassie for granted. For far too long.

***

Cassie Grant turned from where she was cooking lunch for her husband and children and watched her husband pace back and forth in the living room.

She knew he was worried about the situation with the virus, the way his office had been thrown into the middle of an unexpected scandal. She was sure he was also worried about whether he’d develop symptoms of the virus, pass it on to the children, and if his other staff members would be infected, now that it looked like Liam’s test for it would be positive. Too little was known about how the virus affected the majority of people, although early reports showed that most cases were mild.

And then there was Liam and Maddie’s marriage which was about to end. Matt and his brother had been raised by parents who had been married 54 years. The brothers and their sister weren’t a product of divorce and Cassie wondered if the prospect of Liam’s marriage ending was weighing on Matt’s mind along with the virus.

Cassie wasn’t sure what her husband was thinking anymore, though, because Matt hadn’t been talking to her much lately. He’d been busy at the office, putting out fires, which seemed to pop up several times throughout the day, thanks to a 24/7 news cycle that never let up.

She couldn’t deny that she missed seeing her husband. She missed their date nights and family movie nights and him just being around the house when she needed him. But she knew that he was doing what he thought was right to try to make a difference for the people who elected him.

Turning the burner down she leaned back against the counter and watched Matt turn and look out the window where their children were playing. Her gaze fell on the back of his head, on his soft brown hair and she remembered with a soft laugh that day in college when they’d been studying in a private room on the first floor of the university library. The love seat they were sitting on was soft, plush, light maroon.

Papers and books were spread out in front of them and Matt was debating the importance of some moment in history to the future of something or other. Cassie couldn’t remember now and hadn’t cared then. She’d tuned him out long ago. Instead she had been watching him amazed at how impassioned he was about the topic at hand. She had been staring at the muscles in his jaw and how they moved as he spoke, at his long fingers connected to that manly hand, at a strand of hair that had fallen across his forehead that she desperately wanted to push to the side. And she’d definitely been watching his mouth. His lips looked amazingly kissable.

Cassie was sick of listening to him quite frankly.

“Cassie, don’t you see that —”

Cassie leaned forward and pressed her mouth to Matt’s, cutting his sentence short, touching the side of his face gently. She pulled back and looked at him, her mouth still inches from his. He had finally fallen silent. At least for a few seconds.

“Oh. Um. Okay. Was I talking too —”

“Just shut up, Matt.”

She caught his mouth with hers again, sinking her hands into his hair, moving closer to him at the same time he moved closer to her.

He slid his arm around her and held her to him gently as the kiss continued.

“So, I guess you weren’t only interested in me as a study partner,” he said breathlessly a few moments later.

“Is that the only way you were interested in me?” she asked, her fingers still in his hair, playing with it.

A grin tugged at one corner of his mouth. “What do you think Cassie Henderson?”

She answered with another kiss, and they leaned back against the seat as they kissed, forgetting they were in a study room in the library.

Three years later they were married, a year later their first, a boy, was born. That had been 15 years ago and now they had three children, an expensive home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Matt was a U.S. Senator while she stayed home with the children, her career as a social worker long behind her and his career as an attorney behind him, for the time being at least.

Sure, some of that initial passion of their relationship was gone, replaced with the everyday and the mundane, but Cassie recognized this as a season – a season during which marriage became more about comfortable moments and less about desire. It wasn’t that she didn’t have desire for Matt; it was just that they never seemed to have time for it anymore.

She startled out of her thoughts, smelling something burning.

“Oh no!”

She rushed to the stove and turned it down, smoke billowing from the skillet where she’d been browning meat for tacos. She moved the skillet to another burner and groaned. It looked like they’d be having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch today.

The blaring of the smoke alarm only made the humiliation that much worse.

Matt rushed into the kitchen, waving a newspaper at the smoke. “Whoa there! Let’s not add burned down house to our list of bizarre occurrences for the month.”

“Sorry. I guess I got distracted.”

Matt pulled the battery from the fire alarm. “No big deal, right? It might can be salvaged.”

He grimaced at the charged edges of the meat in the pan. “Or maybe the dog would like a treat.”

Cassie sighed. “I’m not sure even Barney should eat that.  I’ll just make the kids some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You want one?”

“You know what, yeah. I haven’t one of those in years. Crustless?”

Cassie shook her head. “What are you, six?”

“Sentimental reasons,” Matt said with a wink. “My mom used to make them that way for me.”

Cassie pulled the bread out of the bread box and Matt slid the peanut butter and jelly across the counter.

“So, being quarantined with me has to be pretty boring for you, huh?” he asked.

“Not really,” she said with a smile, spreading peanut butter on slices of bread. “But it is weird seeing you here this time of day or, well, much at all.”

Matt winced softly. “Ouch.”

“Well, it’s not your fault. You’re busy.”

He couldn’t read her tone of voice but sadly it seemed more apathetic, more along the line of “that’s just the way it is” than anything else.

Matt leaned back against the counter, sliding his hands in his dress pants pockets. He looked at his dress shoes, chewing on his bottom lip, thinking. First, he thought about how absent he’d been in his family’s life. Then he thought about how he was quarantined at home but for some reason he was still wearing dress shoes, a dress shirt and tie, as if he was on his way to a meeting or a senate hearing.  He had apparently forgotten how to relax, unwind, and kick back.

He cleared his throat. “I guess I can go to change into something more comfortable. It doesn’t look like I’ll be doing anything business related for a few days anyhow.”

When he returned wearing a pair of sweatpants and a Garth Brooks t-shirt the children were already around the table, munching on sandwiches and drinking chocolate milk.

“Daddy! Sit next to me!” his youngest, Lauren, called, tapping the back of the chair next to her.

“Okay. I can do that.”

His son Tyler eyed him over his glass of chocolate milk as he drank from it. At the age of 13 he waffled between being bored and annoyed most of the time.

“It’s weird seeing you here,” Tyler said bluntly as Matt sat down.

Matt looked into his son’s bright blue eyes, noticing the acne starting to form along the top of his forehead near his closely cropped hairline. He wasn’t sure how to take the comment. Did Tyler mean “good weird” or “bad weird”? Should he ask? Did he even want to know?

Luckily, he didn’t have to decipher his son’s meaning for long.

“But it’s a good weird, right?” Cassie asked, as if she could read Matt’s mind, and after 15-years of marriage, she probably could.

Tyler grinned. “Yeah. It’s a good weird. Just weird.”

Gracie, his middle daughter, smiled sweetly at Matt and then giggled around a mouthful of sandwich.

“I like you being here, Daddy.”

Matt smiled back at her, reaching across the table to cover her hand with his. “I like it too, sweetie. Maybe something good will come out of all of this, huh? At least you will all see me a little more often.”

His gaze focused on Cassie and he saw she was watching him, but again he was having a hard time reading her expression. Was she happy they’d all be spending more time together? Or was the extra time with him simply a reminder for her how much she didn’t need him around anymore?

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.


Maddie Grant glared at her husband over the edge of a book as he pounded his fist against the wall by the living room window.

Liam’s voice was strained, tired. “I can’t believe I have to self-quarantine. I don’t even have symptoms. This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Maddie couldn’t agree more. “Yeah, well I’m not thrilled with it either.”

His eyes flashed with anger as he turned to face her, hands on his hips.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing.”

His jaw tightened as he spoke. “Yeah, I heard you. Believe me, I don’t want to be stuck here with you as much as you don’t want to be stuck here with me.”

She lifted the book higher, blocking her view of 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 slapped the book closed, stood, and slammed the book on top of the coffee table as hard as she could. “I have a job, Liam. I’m a writer. Or don’t you remember the checks I’ve been putting into our bank account to help pay the bills? She walked past him toward the kitchen, but stopped abruptly, looking at him through narrowed eyes. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot that you’re the only one making a difference in this world.”

He bristled at her sarcastic and bitter tone.

“Of course I’m not. Clearly your romance novels are truly” he made quote symbols with his fingers. “world changing.” He turned away from her to look out the window again. “To lazy, pathetic housewives all over the world.”

 Maddie’s hands ached as she tightened them into fists at her side, knuckles white, nails digging into her palms. Red spread slowly from her chest to her forehead as she stared at his back, every muscle in her body constricting with anger.

She pointed at his back aggressively. “If it wasn’t for you, we’d be divorced by now.” She snatched her phone off the coffee table. “I’m calling my lawyer and seeing if we can sign those papers electronically.”

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

Maddie stood in the doorway between the living room and kitchen, one leg cocked slightly, arms tightly folded across her chest.

 “You can have it all if it means I can get rid of you.”

She turned toward the front door. “I’m going for a walk.”

“You’re not supposed to go for a walk. 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.” He watched her walk down the hallway toward the front door, raising his voice. “If someone in the media finds out we’re going for walks they’ll smell blood in the water and be all over it. It could look bad for Matt.”

Snatching her coat off the hanger by the door she kept her back to him. “I can go for a walk.” She’d clenched her teeth so hard an ache shot up through her jawline. “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. Matthew 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’s muscles tightened again at his words. There was tired of arguing with him but there was no way she was letting this one slide.

She walked quickly back to the living room, eyes flashing.

Liam knew the tongue lashing was coming and he wasn’t in the mood.

 “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 that you let your marriage fall apart. Maybe you should ask yourself what it has been like for your wife to sit here at home alone while you’re out flitting around with sexy little reporters and congressional staffers and maybe —”

Liam scoffed. “Oh please. That’s such crap. I did not let this marriage fall apart. You are the one who shredded it, Maddie. And 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.”

Maddie shook her head and pivoted, walking briskly from the room and flinging open the front door. She made sure to slam it hard behind her as she walked through.

Her mind raced as she took the front steps two at a time and made her way down the sidewalk past the neighbors’ houses.

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? Then there was the way he laid his hands on the backs of female staffers as he talked to them, winking before he walked away.

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 not in the ten they’d been married.

Now she was trapped in her house, her safe haven, for the next 14 days with the man who had become a stranger to her because he had kept meeting with politicians despite the warnings about the spread of a weird virus. Oh, and, of course, he had also kept 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.

Wendy Parker.

Cute, shapely, long red curls hanging down to her small, firm bottom.

“Oh, Liam, you’re always so good at keeping me in the loop,” she cooed through the speaker on his phone one day.

Maddie had walked by his office on her way to the kitchen. She rolled her eyes at Liam’s response.

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

The tender timbre of Liam’s voice when he spoke to Wendy was a tone Maddie hadn’t heard him use toward her in years. In truth, Liam hadn’t cared about Maddie for a very long time. He was never interested in her writing or her accomplishments. Last year he had barely looked up from his paperwork when she told him she’d surpassed her personal goal for ebook sales.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

His pen bumped against his lower lip repeatedly as he looked through a stack of papers.

“Hmm? Oh, that’s great, hon’.”

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 his way out the door anyhow.

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

He flipped another page of the packet, his eyebrows furrowed. “That’s a big thing for a self-published author, right?”

Annoyance hit her square in the chest. His use of the words “self-published”, struck her as patronizing.

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

As she stood across from him a few moments ago shouting 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 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 told her he had the virus, he hadn’t even expressed concern for her. So far, he hadn’t had even a sniffle, but she knew it could get worse and she knew 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 would make his job  more difficult since he’d have to work from home.

What about her and how it would affect her? As soon as he’d announced he’d be working from home for the next two weeks, maybe even longer, all her quiet writing time had evaporated.

 She didn’t have a private office like he did since he’d never finished transforming that spare room upstairs into her writing space like he’d promised, instead filling it with political documents and books.

Not being able to meet with their lawyers to finalize the divorce papers was like the poisoned apple on the cake.

She wished she had taken her friend Andrea 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,” Andrea 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. Plus, I’m sure Liam will be locked in his office the whole time anyhow.”

But her brooding, distasteful, self-important, soon-to-be ex-husband hadn’t locked himself in his office.

He’d been practically been crawling up the walls since his boss and older brother, U.S. Senator Matthew Grant, had ordered him into quarantine after he tested positive for the virus. He spent his days pacing the floor  like a caged animal. Why didn’t he just go in his office and leave her alone already?

She needed a very long break from him, but this short walk in the cool spring air would have to do. She’d have to return to the house eventually. 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 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.

Distant.

Detached.

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

She was mean.

Flat out mean.

He tossed his hands in the air in frustration as he walked into the office and flopped back into the black, leather chair, behind the desk, reaching for his phone.

He didn’t want to think about her anymore.

He had other subjects he needed to focus on.

Work for one thing.

He still had a press release to work on with John 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 the latest. 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 face down on the desk, pushing his hands back through his hair as he leaned back against the chair.

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. It would 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, but the truth was that his first test had been inconclusive. He was waiting for a call from the doctor’s office for the results of a second test.

Telling her the test had been positive had been the only way to shut her up when she’d been harping on him about being missing the meeting with their attorneys to finalize the alimony numbers.

“I have the virus, okay?!” he’d yelled, tossing his arms out to his side. “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 annoyance bubbled into pure fury. “Are you serious? You couldn’t have called me? I mean, why do I have to stay here? So, I can get it too?!” She’d tossed her notepad and pen across the room at him, missing him by two inches. “Well, that’s just great! I am so looking forward to getting sick with you.”

“I don’t even have any symptoms,” he’d shouted at her back as she walked toward her bedroom. “You probably won’t get any either so don’t worry about it. But, hey, thanks for being concerned about me.”

Even though the tests had been preliminary, there was no denying he’d been exposed to the virus. The ambassador from Italy had announced three days ago he’d tested positive. Liam had been at a meeting with the ambassador the previous week. They had shaken hands and even sat next to each other at dinner. Symptoms or not, he knew there was little chance he wouldn’t develop it. That meant he hadn’t lied to Maddie. Not really.

The doctor had told him that based on his age and overall good health, it was more likely that his case would be mild if he did develop symptoms, but they couldn’t take a chance he’d spread it to others who were more vulnerable, so he had been sent home and told 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 top of the 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 or Matt called him back. The only communication he’d had from his brother in two days had been a quick text: Press is blowing up. Going into quarantine at home. Be in touch.

He couldn’t focus on work anyhow.

His mind raced with the events of the last few days.

Being in the same house with Maddie longer than a couple of hours wasn’t helping.

Honestly, he’d been avoiding coming home even before they’d agreed to the divorce. He wished he could avoid it now too.

He glanced through the partially open door to the spare room across the hall. He should finish clearing the room out. He would have to anyhow when he officially moved to the apartment he’d rented on the other side of the city in a couple of weeks.

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 had once thought he’d spend the rest of his life with.

He pushed himself to a standing position with a groan, heading into the spare room. Boxes cluttered the floor and he started opening them, tossing papers into a trash bag he’d started filling the week 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. 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.

He frowned at the letters. 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 honey-brown hair cascading down her back, 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 faded away and it was as if they were the only people in the courtyard, even though a few other people were also dancing 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. 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 refused to look at old photos and let any more memories twist his already jumbled thoughts. 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 up one of the albums 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 hair flowing in soft waves down her back, her head tipped back, 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 tipped her head back and laughed, the sunlight dancing across her curls. He 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. 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 had only 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 and Maddie had moved to Washington D.C. from Ohio and Liam had started spending more time in the city 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 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 six months ago.

He was exhausted and knew the walk down memory lane wasn’t helping to calm his jumbled thoughts. He flopped down on top of the covers on his back, when he reached the bed, closing his eyes, not even bothering to undress.

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.

Find more of this novella in progress HERE. This chapter really isn’t complete but I hope to complete it in the next week or so — if my brain would ever slow down.




Atticus tightened the leather of his sandal, wincing as it laced into the blister on his ankle, bursting it open and sending blood trickling. He knew he should stop and rest, but he still had a day’s travel before he reached Capernaum and the commune he’d been directed to work with by the Apostle.

He sat back against the rock and slid the sandal off, ripping a piece of cloth off his robe and wrapping it tight around the blister. He was used to blisters and pain. He was used to caring for them by himself. He may no longer be a Roman soldier but he had carried what he learned from those days with him into this new chapter of his life, a chapter with even more uncertainty than his days as a soldier had been.

With the ankle bandaged he leaned back and reached for his wineskin, drinking cool water from it, water he had filled it with from a stream a few miles back. He thought as he drank, remembering what had brought him here at this point in his life, to a place he’d never expected to be.

The day the sky had gone dark in Jerusalem it hadn’t only been the foundation of the earth that had been shaken, but his personal foundation. Everything he had thought was real, was true, was important in life was shaken out and shown to be lacking.

***

“Atticus, you’re on crucifixion duty today.”

Marcus didn’t even look up from his scrolls as he spoke.

“Have I vexed you somehow, Centurion?”

Marcus scratched the tip of the feather across the a scroll, shaking his head, still not looking up. “No. We are short on men. They’re handling an issue in the red quarter and Pilate has ordered some Jewish teacher who thinks he is the son of God and two robbers crucified today. We need a replacement and you are who I’ve chosen.” He looked up at Atticus, jaw tight. “Don’t go soft on me, Atticus. All we need is crowd control. I won’t make you take the bodies off the crosses. This time anyhow. Go and report to Albus immediately.”

Atticus bowed his head in a curt nod, turned and walked from the garrison’s office, into blinding sunlight. He squinted, noticing the streets were more crowded than normal. He’d almost forgotten it was Passover. Jews were in Jerusalem full force, preparing to celebrate the day their ancient leader Moses had led them out of Egypt. Men, women, and children crowded the streets, pulling donkeys carrying food and supplies or simply walking and carrying their supplies with them on their backs.

Atticus wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, smearing sweat and dirt as he paused to watch the people walking. He pondered the devotion they possessed for this one God they followed, this Yahweh. He’d never understood it. He was raised to believe there were many gods and it took offering them sacrifices and performing well in life to appease them.

Perform well, live well. Make a mistake and suffer for it. It was all he’d ever known. But these Jews — they had been defeated time and time again, taken over by Rome, killed by the thousands, their bodies rotting in the desert, yet they still held on to the belief they were this god’s chosen people.

A few of the Jews were wealthy, yes. The priests, their religious leaders, and tax collectors or anyone who tied their allegiance to Rome. But for the most part most Jews were poor, living in squalor, many begging for food. Year after year, though, they journeyed here, feasting, gathering, worshipping their “one true God.”

Atticus scoffed as a beggar held up his hand, asking for money.

Ah, yes, of course, the one “true God” cared so much for them he but couldn’t even pull them from the depths of depravity and starvation. Atticus walked past the man, barely looking at him, sick of the beggars and the crowds and the long days and even longer nights. Dreams, nightmares really, had been waking him from sleep for weeks. Visions of his time in battle, of the men he had killed filled his mind nightly and he woken more than once in a cold sweat. Long soaks in the baths hadn’t helped. Prayers to Mars, the god of war, hadn’t helped. His past mocked him and it made him angry, sickness gnawing at his gut every day.

Now this. A change in his duties at the last minute. What mistake had he made to make the gods so angry at him? He knew it wasn’t having lain with too many women. It had been too long for that. So long he’d almost forgotten what the soft flesh of a woman felt like beneath his body. Walking through the crowd his eyes fell on a young Jewish woman, her body covered fully by her robes, as was their custom. She looked up at him, eyes bright and deep brown, like pools of a deep well. He walked slowly by her, his gaze roaming from her face down her throat, imagining his mouth there, kissing a trail as his hands explored where no man had probably ever explored before.

She dropped her gaze quickly, clutching her robe to her and he laughed scornfully at her innocence, at the innocence Jewish women held so closely to them, like a child clutching to a toy they thought would protect them. Innocence would not protect her. In the same way her god would not protect her. In the same way her god had not protected his so-called chosen people.

Voices grew louder as Atticus moved toward the edge of the city, toward where the crucifixions took place outside the city walls. A crowd had gathered along the streets, people pushing against each other, soldiers holding back the crowds.

“What’s all this?” Atticus asked Lucius, one of Albus’ men.

“Pilate ordered the death of a man some Jews are calling The Messiah and apparently everyone is here to watch him die,” Lucius answered, dragging a dirt covered hand across his face. “Our job is to keep the roadway cleared. The tribune in charged ordered this teacher, this so called King of the Jews, to carry his cross to Golgotha.

“Atticus!” Albus’ voice was sharp and booming as he pushed through the crowd. “You’re late. I want you along the street further up where it narrows. Keep it open. Take these men with you. Lucius included. They’re in your command.”

Albus was shorter and rounder than most Roman centurions but what he lacked in physical prowess he more than made up for in mental clarity and brutal rule. “Take whatever action you feel you must to keep the crowds back, short of killing. We have enough issues here without causing more of an uprising.”

Albus suggesting he not kill someone was new. Normally inflicting pain or death was Albus’ first suggestion to qwell a possible uprising.

“What is the name of this man being crucified?” he asked Lucius as they walked, the other men behind them.

“I know very little other than they call him their king,” Lucius told him. “Not all of the Jews, though. The priests are the one who called for his death. They said he was causing disruptions among their people.”

Atticus scowled as he walked, people pushing against him, some crying, some yelling, some looking confused and lost. He pushed to the front of the crowd, looked down the path and saw a man barely walking under the weight of a cross gouging a path in the dirt as he shuffled forward. Blood dripped from gouges on his back almost as deep as the one in the dirt made by the end of the cross.

 Atticus grimaced, throwing his arms out to the side to hold back the crowd. He couldn’t remember ever seeing such deep wounds from the flagellum. What had this man done to deserve such a beating? A crown made of thorns was pressed onto his head, sending droplets of blood into his face, smearing down it and dripping into the dirt.  

“Yeshua! Yeshua!” Atticus turned at the sound of a voice filled with despair to the right of him.

A young girl broke from the crowd, staggered forward and fell in the dirt near the man under the cross. Her fingers grazed the edge of the man’s bloody garment as she cried. The flash of sunlight off metal caught Atticus’ eye and he watched a soldier unsheathe his sword and step toward the girl.

Atticus stepped forward quickly and encircled the girl’s waist with one arm, pulling her back through the crowd, away from the punishment I’d the sword, sitting her on the ground hard.

“You can’t be here,” he growled. “It isn’t safe for a young girl.”

She looked up, dark brown eyes, similar to the eyes of the girl he’d seen before but younger, softer, brimming with tears. She gasped in a sob as he let her go, his rough hands slipping across her soft skin.

“Josefa!”

And older man rushed forward, pulled the girl to her feet, his eyes focused on Atticus as he backed away, taking the girl with them.

Atticus saw anger in the man’s eyes. Hatred even. Hatred of Rome, but also of him.

He watched the man pull the young girl back toward a woman and child near an olive tree. The family cowered together, watching him and the crowd with fear in their eyes.

There was a time when he enjoyed the fear in eyes looking back at him but for some reason it didn’t please him to see the fear in their eyes, especially the young girl’s.

You can catch up with the previous parts of this short story HERE.



The election had been brutal. There was no denying it. Worse than the campaigning, the traveling, the long days, had been the media coverage; non-stop negative stories aimed at destroying Matthew Grant before he could even open his mouth. The media machine was out of control. There was no denying it, especially after that first month of campaigning when one of the state’s biggest newspapers had questioned his staff’s lack of diversity.

From there it had been combing through Matt and Liam’s social media accounts, searching for anything that would sink them in the political arena. One rogue satirical Tweet from his college days, labeled as sexist by feminists, dominated headlines for a few days, but as it always was with the current 24-hour/7-day a week news cycle, the press had turned it’s hungry eyes to another candidate, another subject the following week.

The polls showed Matt losing and big, right up until election day, but the night of the election the numbers had come in fast and furious late in the evening. Matt had won by a landslide. Apparently the silent voters, the one who didn’t want to be yelled at or condemned for their opinions, had come out in droves and sent a hard message home to the incumbent and his political party: “We’ve had enough of the status quo and of corrupt politicians with empty promises and even emptier apologies.”

Matt knew, though, that in six months he could be in the same boat and it could be his rear end with the boot of the voter against it as they shoved him out the door. Voters, like public opinion, were fickle and ever changing and some days nothing a congressman did could make anyone happy. Matt had only been a congressman for two years but he felt like it had been ten. Now he had a small idea why so many presidents went gray while in office, though thankfully he didn’t have the same pressure as a president.

He yawned, stretching his arms out as if he intended to stand up and head up to bed, but he didn’t. Instead he fell back on the couch again, remote in hand. He surfed streaming services, suggested shows and movies scrolling by his eyes, but he wasn’t really seeing any of it. His mind had slipped back to two and a half years ago, to near the end of the election when the news stories were at their worst. He was being called a racist, anti-woman, anti-this, anti-that. He had lost count of all the names they had called him during that time.

“Is this even worth it?” he asked Cassie one night in bed, snuggled close against her.

“If you can get in there and really help facilitate some change, then, yes, it’s worth it,” she assured him.

But then the win came and with it came more news stories, personal attacks against him and his family. The worst came when one of his staff members brought him an article about Cassie, accusing her of being fired from her previous job.

He was furious. “Where did they even get that story? Cassie was never fired from her job. She left to support me and be with the children.”

Scanning the story he saw a former co-worker of Cassie’s was quoted and offered only summations, not facts. Still, the headline suggested the accusations were true. It wouldn’t have upset Matt as much if it had been about him instead of Cassie. He’d grown accustomed to being accused of inappropriate acts or offensive words, or anything else the press could come up with, but Cassie?

Cassie was off limits.

Only she wasn’t off limits.

She wasn’t off limits because he had made her fair game when he’d decided to accept the party’s urging to run. He’d dragged her out into the open and essentially thrown her to the wolves. The story had been pushed to the side quickly in a few days with another news story, about another congressman, overshadowing it. The fast pace of the 24/7 news cycle was one of the only good aspects of it. It meant a story that was in the forefront one day, was gone by the next day and even though the story on Cassie had faded fast, he still felt incredible guilt about how much he’d exposed his family during this process.

He’d always wanted to protect Cassie now he didn’t know how to. The negativity was coming at him from every side in a hyper-political atmosphere that was beginning to suffocate him.

His phone rang and he glanced at the ID before answering it.

“Hey, bro,” he said to Liam. “You hanging in there?”

“Yeah. Locked myself in my office. You?”

“Yeah. Feels weird just to be sitting at home.”

“A good weird or a bad weird?”

“Both.”

“Things okay with Cassie? The kids?”

“Kids are doing great. They don’t know much about what’s going on. Cassie’s . . . okay, I guess. She seems tired.”

“Is she mad at you for all this?”

Matt laughed. “She doesn’t seem mad, really. She just seems like Cassie. She’s cooking for the kids and me, cleaning, checking on her parents.”

“Did you ask her if she was okay?” Liam asked.

“Yeah, she said she’s fine.”

Matt heard a small laugh on the other end of the phone.

“What?” he asked. “No, don’t even say it. You think ‘I’m fine’ is code for something else.”

“You know I’m not expert on women,” Liam started.

“Uh, obviously,” Matt snorted.

“But, I am learning during this that apparently when a woman says she’s okay, she’s really not,” Liam continued. “I didn’t know that Maddie was struggling, Matt. I just thought she hated me, that I was doing everything wrong, but I think she feels — I don’t know. Abandoned. She pretty much told me she feels like I abandoned her.”

Matt sighed, laying on his back, staring at the ceiling. He slid his arm behind his head. “In what way did you abandon her?”

“Staying at work too much, for one,” Liam answered. “She says I worked more so I didn’t have to face us losing the babies.”

“Did you?”

“No, I . . .”

Liam’s voice trailed off and then there was a brief silence. “Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, I did. When you asked me to be your press secretary I jumped at it because I knew I would be so busy I wouldn’t have to think about losing the babies, about that empty hole in the center of my chest.”

Matt sat up, propping his elbow against his knee. “Liam, I’m sorry I was so focused on the election, on me, that I didn’t notice all you were going through.”

“Dude, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I didn’t even admit to myself how much it was bothering me.”

“I know, it’s just — I’m really realizing how out of touch I’ve been with what really matters; you and Maddie, the kids. Cassie. When I decided to run I pulled all of you —”

“Matt,” Liam said. “No. You were doing what you felt was right. And it wasn’t just you who decided to run. We all decided. As a family. We knew this could be rough. Yeah, it’s a little worse than we expected with all the extra political drama going on these days, but we are still in this together. It’s okay. We’re all okay. Well, we will be okay, one way or another anyhow. None of this is your fault.”

Matt flopped back on the couch again. “I know it isn’t. But I still feel . . . guilty. I don’t know. What I do know is that all of this, this forced slow down, has opened my eyes up to what I’ve been missing lately. I don’t like that our family, or our country, is going through this, but it’s putting some things in perspective for me.”

Matt heard his brother sigh on the other end of the phone.

“Yeah,” Liam whispered. “It’s doing the same for me.”

I’m sharing parts three and four of Rekindle today. To read the first two parts, click HERE.



With the children in bed, it was just Matt and Cassie alone in the living room. Alone. Together. With a canyon of silence between them.

Matt slumped further down on the couch, drumming his fingers on the cushion. He had no idea what to do with himself without hearings to plan for, committee meetings to gather research for or statements to draft for the press with his brother. He should probably be on the phone with John and Liam, preparing their plan of action for when they got back into the office in the next week or so. He looked at his phone on the end of the couch but didn’t feel any motivation to reach for it.  In fact, he didn’t feel any motivation at all to deal with his job, especially the press.

He’d already drafted a statement with John. There really wasn’t anything else to say. For now anyhow. He was sure in the next day or so he’d be getting calls from other congressmen and congresswomen looking to set up virtual meetings to draft various bills or establish plans of action for the current situation, but for now his phone had gone silent and he should enjoy the silence while he could. He would have enjoyed it, if it just wasn’t so weird.

He felt his forehead. Maybe he was coming down with that virus after all. He’d been going full bore at his job for two years straight now, but today he’d finally hit some kind of wall. He wasn’t even motivated to reach for the remote and watch television.

He looked over at Cassie sitting sideways on a chair, her legs hanging over the arm of it, her head bent over a book. She was wearing a pair of hot pink short-shorts, a loose fitting white t-shirt and her hair was falling out of a messy bun she’d piled on top of her head. Her long legs were as shapely and attractive as the first day he’d met her. His eyes followed the length of them from her bare toes to the edge of her shorts and remembered the many times his hand had traveled that path over the years.

Desire swelled in his chest as he thought about the night they’d celebrated his congressional win. She’d worn that black skirt with the slit in the side, the slit that went from her knee to the middle of her thigh. Only she hadn’t even known the skirt had that slit until she was at his victory speech and he’d laughed later in the back of Liam’s car when he had watched her try to hold the pieces together, her cheeks flushed pink. Cassie always was fairly modest in how she dressed and he knew she never would have worn the dress if she hadn’t been rushed. The election results came in earlier than expected and she’d snatched the skirt out of her closet, the skirt she’d purchased a few days before but hadn’t had a chance to try on. She knew Matt’s acceptance speech was going to be closely watched by many since he had run against a long-time congressman who had been thrown in the middle of a scandal the year before.

“I can’t believe I wore this skirt to your acceptance speech,” she hissed. “I can imagine what the press will be saying tomorrow.”

“That your gorgeous?”

“Or that I’m a floozy.”

Matt tipped his head all the way back and laughed. “A floozy? What happened right there? Did we just teleport back to the 40s?”

Cassie punched Matt in the upper arm, giggling. “Shut up.”

Back at the house, the children staying with Cassie’s parents, Matt had stood behind Cassie as she unhooked her necklace and took her earrings out.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, stepping closer, reaching out to touch the edge of the skirt. “I really like this skirt.”

“Oh, you do, do you?”

His finger found the slit and slipped inside, touching the skin there, on her upper thigh.

His mouth touched her bare neck, his voice husky as he spoke. “All I wanted to do was get back here with you. No kids. All alone. Finally.”

She turned, smiling, pushing her hands into his hair. “And what can we do here, all alone?”

He didn’t need words to answer her question. His mouth found hers while he gently pushed her back toward the bed, lowering her to it.

“You okay over there?”

 Cassie’s voice interrupted the memory of his hand traveling under that skirt, up that leg, that night.

“Huh? Oh yeah. Good. I’m good.”

“You miss work, don’t you?”

“Um. No. Actually. I don’t. And that weirds me out a little.”

“Oh.”

She shrugged and turned back to her book. “This break is probably just showing you how burned out you are.”

“I’m not burned out. Am I?”

Cassie was back into her book. “Mmm. If you say so.”

Matt sat up straighter and leaned forward on his knees toward Cassie.

“We haven’t spent a lot of time together lately, have we?

She glanced up from the book, one eyebrow cocked.

“No. Not really, but you’ve been busy. I understand.”

“Do you want to spend more time together? I mean, maybe you’re bored with me? Our life here together?”

Cassie laughed. “Matt, where is this all coming from?” she closed the book. “Is this because of Liam and Maddie?

Matthew shrugged. “Yeah. Maybe. It’s got me thinking a lot, I guess.”

“So? What’s the verdict? Are Liam and Maddie getting a divorce?”

Matt sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, they’ve been meeting with a divorce attorney. The only reason they missed the last meeting was because of this whole debacle.”

He looked at Cassie, watched her watching him and wondered again if Cassie would ever want to divorce him. If she did, he wouldn’t blame her. He’d dragged her into this crazy political world, under a never-satisfied microscope of public scrutiny. The same with the kids. What had he been thinking? Of his constituents? The future of the country? Or had it really just been of himself and his own desire to reach a certain level of success?

“And now they are stuck together in that house,” Maddie said with a shake of her head. “Wow. That has to be super awkward.”

“Yeah. It is. Liam said Maddie accused him of cheating on her.”

Cassie’s eyes widened. “No way.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, did he?”

“Cassie! You know Liam wouldn’t do something like that.”

“I don’t think he would, no, but . . .”

“But what? Men do those things because we’re all jerks, is that what you mean?”

“I’m not saying that but long hours, all those pretty women around, he and Maddie so distant after the miscarriages, especially after the last one.”

Matt was feeling uncomfortable with his wife’s line of thinking. He stood and walked toward the kitchen for a glass of juice. His wife really thought his little brother could cheat on his wife? If she thought that then what did she think of him? He’d been working long hours too. Around a lot of pretty women, many of them more than willing to sleep with a congressman to work their way up the ladder in their careers. Was Cassie drawing a line between the possibility that Liam had cheated to the possibility he had too?

He poured the juice and heard her footsteps behind him. “I’m sorry, Matt. I really can’t see Liam doing that, no. Your brother has just been under a lot of pressure and —”

“Being under pressure doesn’t lean to affairs every time, okay?”

Cassie raised her eyes brows and held up her hands. “Okay. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I was just trying to enjoy a quiet night for once with a book. I’ll leave you alone.”

Matt turned toward her. “Cassie, I didn’t mean to start a fight either. I just —”

“It’s fine.” Cassie walked to him and kissed his cheek. She stepped back and looked him in the eyes. “You just need to unwind. You’ve been put through the ringer by the media, other members of congress, and now Liam’s drama. I don’t blame you for being tense. Why don’t you go watch one of your favorite shows. I’m going to turn in early.”

“You don’t need to turn in early.”

Her mind had been made up though. She was weary of discussing Liam and politics and viruses and . . . life, quite frankly.

“I really do need to,” she said softly, already at the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “See you in the morning, Matt.”

Matt finished his juice and shuffled back to the living room. Watch one of his favorite shows? He didn’t even have any favorite shows. Not current ones anyhow. He never had time to watch television anymore. He sat on the couch and slumped in the corner of it again, even further down this time than before.

He didn’t have time for anything anymore other than political fights and trying to put out fires. He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. Dang it. What had he been thinking dragging his family through all of this? Just, seriously, what had he been thinking?

***

Cassie climbed under the covers and flopped on her back to stare at the ceiling, barely lit by the moonlight outside.

What was with all of Matt’s weird questions tonight? The situation with Liam and Maddie must be rattling him even more than she realized. She fluffed up her pillow, hugged it and tried to get more comfortable. It wasn’t working, though. Her mind was racing too much.

She was thinking about viruses and if her family was safe and Liam and Maddie and how to get groceries if they had to shelter in place and the media and what they’d be saying for the rest of the week with Matt and his staff having still worked for a week after they knew they’d been exposed to a contagious virus. She squeezed her eyes shut, took in a deep breath and held it for several seconds before letting it out again. She had to calm down.

She couldn’t deny that there were days she regretted agreeing with Matt that he should run for Congress. They both had such high hopes three years ago; hopes that they could make changes for the voters who had put their faith in Matt, while not being changed. But it was impossible not to be changed by the influences of Washington, D.C. Nothing in this city was like the small upstate New York town Cassie had grown up in and it was also nothing like where she and Matt had lived before he had been elected.

Stevensville, Ohio was small. Very small. It was also still her and Matt’s home in the summers when they left Washington D.C. behind for much needed breaks. Only that break wouldn’t be coming this year. Not with all the craziness about viruses and quarantines and freezes on travel. Cassie wanted to cry but she was afraid to because once she started, she might not stop. She was homesick for Ohio, for her own family, for Matt’s family, for the familiar she’d left behind when Matt was elected two years ago.

She sighed and opened her eyes, looking at the other side of the bed where Matt slept most nights of the week, unless he was working late and then he stayed at John’s apartment, closer to his office. She touched the side of the bed, feeling the cool sheets, thinking of how many nights they’d laid here next to each other, back to back, rarely speaking because she knew he needed his sleep, because she knew he needed to get up early in the morning, because she didn’t want to burden him anymore than he was already burdened.

But she missed him. She missed him holding her and them talking about their future, instead of him telling her about the stress he’d been under that day and then falling into a fitful sleep. She missed his hand on her cheek as he moved closer late at night, a small, mischievous smile that signaled he wasn’t ready for sleep yet.

She missed long, slow kisses, roaming hands, but as much as the physical, she missed the emotional connection they’d once had. The connection when Matt wanted to talk with her before anyone else, when he didn’t want to make a decision unless he’d asked her, and when she’d known so much about his day, his job and his life that it was as if they were thinking like one person.

“Cassie, are you sure you’re okay with this?” he’d asked three and a half years ago when he’d considered running for congress.

“Yeah. I am.”

That’s what she’d said, but she really wasn’t sure she was okay with it. She was okay with Matt wanting to help the people of his small hometown and the surrounding counties by becoming a congressman from Ohio, but she wasn’t really sure she was okay with the lives of their entire family being upended. She’d given up her social worker career five years before, deciding to spend more time at home with the children. Matt’s career as a lawyer had exploded and from there he’d become involved in county politics and then state politics. When the state’s Republican party came to him and asked him to run for Congress, he’d turned them down at first. But after several meetings, a few months of consideration, and talking to Cassie, his parents, his sister and brother, he’d decided to step into an already contentious race for the seat.

From the moment he’d announced to the day he won the seat, the lives of the Grant family had been a whirlwind. After the election, the moving began, the children were enrolled in new schools; every effort was made to ensure that the children and Cassie would see Matt as much as possible, despite his job.

The idea had been a good one, but the execution of it had started to fail within six months. Meetings, conferences, sessions that ran late into the night, and media-made emergencies were constant, taking over every aspect of Matt and Cassie’s life. Matt still made every effort to attend baseball games, dance recitals, and Saturday mornings at the park, in addition to balancing his responsibilities as a congressman, but that left little to almost no time for him and Cassie.

For the most part, Cassie was okay with being the last in line for his attention. She preferred he spend as much time as he could with the children during their formative years. This was a season of life, not a new normal. Time for them, as a couple, would come later, when things slowed down.

If things slow down, Cassie thought, panic suddenly gripping her, like a heavy weight in the center of  her chest. If Matt gets reelected we could have another two years of this and maybe even another two after that. . .

She shuddered, pulling the covers up around her, even though it wasn’t that cold in their bedroom. She tried to imagine two more years, or even more, of accusations against her husband, and sometimes even her, in the press. She tried to imagine two more years of barely seeing her husband; of feeling like her husband’s nanny, even though she loved her children desperately; and of constituents confronting her husband when they were out in public, complaining about this or that change he’d promised he’d make if elected but still hadn’t been able to.

Cassie knew it wasn’t only the town she and Matt had lived in before moving here that she was homesick for, or the quiet life they’d led before he’d entered politics. She was homesick for time alone with Matt. She was tired of sharing him with his staff, his fellow congressmen, his constituents, and the press. She was tired of feeling like she was second in line for his attention, even though she knew he didn’t mean to make her feel that way.

Who knows, she thought, feeling sleep finally settling on her. Maybe this quarantine will be good for not only Liam and Maddie but for Matt and me. Maybe I’ll actually get him to myself for once.