“I can’t believe I have to self-quarantine. I don’t even have symptoms.”
Maddie Grant glared at her husband over the edge of her book.
“It’s not like I’m happy with you being stuck here either,” she mumbled.
“Yeah, I heard you. And I get it. I don’t want to be stuck in this tiny house with you as much as you don’t want to be stuck here with me.”
“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 slammed her book closed. “I have a job, Liam. It’s called being a writer. I work from home. So, excuse me that I’m not some big political influencer like you.” She stood and flounced toward the kitchen, then stopped and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Because you’re really making a difference in this world.”
Her comments dripped with sarcasm and bitterness. Liam whipped around to face her, hands on his hips.
“What, like you? Your stupid romance novels are making a real difference in the world, right? Maybe in the world of lazy, pathetic housewives. Give me a break.”
Maddie stood, slapping the book on the top of the coffee table as hard as she could. She pointed aggressively at him. “If it wasn’t for you, we’d be divorced by now. I’m calling my lawyer and seeing if we can sign these papers electronically.”
“We can’t sign them electronically. I already asked my lawyer. We have to go over the settlement details.”
Maddie cocked one leg slightly and folded her arms tight across her chest. “You can have it all if it means I can get rid of you.” She turned abruptly and stomped toward the front door. “I’m going for a walk.”
“You’re not supposed to go for a walk,” Liam snapped. “We’re supposed to be in the house for 14 days to make sure we don’t expose anyone else and this thing doesn’t keep spreading. If someone in the media finds out we’re going out for walks they’ll smell blood in the water and be all over it. It could look bad for Matthew.”
Maddie snatched her coat off the hanger by the door. “I can go for a walk,” she said through clenched teeth, her tone mocking. “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 careers of you or the illustrious Rep. Matthew Daniels.”
“What happened to you, Maddie?” Liam called after her. “How did you become such a bitter person?”
Maddie turned on her heel and walked back into the living room. “I’m sorry? How did I become so bitter? Maybe you should be asking how you became so distant. Maybe you should be asking how you became so preoccupied with your career and your reputation and the reputation of your stupid older brother. Maybe you should ask yourself what it has been like for your wife to sit here at home alone almost every night and every weekend while you’re out flitting around with sexy little reporters and congressional staffers and —”
Liam scoffed. “Oh please. That’s such crap. I invited you to those events plenty of times. You just wanted to sit here with your computer and your Twitter followers. You could have cared less about what was going on in my life and my career. You haven’t cared for a long time.”
Anger coursed through Maddie at each word Liam spoke. She stomped out of the room and flung open the front door. She made sure to slam it hard behind her after she walked through it. Her mind raced as she walked briskly down the sidewalk.
Why would she want to attend events where she stood in the corner while he kissed the butts of every politician in the room and laid his hands on the backs of female staffers as he talked to them and winked at them?
Yes, he winked at them.
Always that stupid, fake wink that spoke volumes about his relationship with those women when Maddie wasn’t around. She couldn’t remember him ever winking at her; not in the 15 years they’d known each other and the ten they’d been married.
Now here she was, stuck in her house, her safe haven, with him for the next 14 days because he wouldn’t listen to the warnings about some weird virus spreading across the country and kept meeting with clients and politicians. Oh, and, of course, the media. The stupid, pain in the butt, fear-mongering obnoxious and arrogant media, which for Liam mainly meant that red-headed reporter from the local NBC affiliate who he spoke to all the time.
“Oh, Liam, you’re always so good at keeping me in the loop,” she cooed through the speaker on his phone that day from his office in the back of the house.
“No problem, Wendy. You’ve always been good to us. I’m glad to give you the scoop.”
Maddie had heard a tenderness in Liam’s voice toward Wendy Jenkins that she hadn’t heard toward her in years.
In truth, it was Liam who hadn’t cared about Maddie’s life for a very long time. He was never interested in her writing or her accomplishments and had barely looked up from his paperwork when she told him she’d surpassed her personal goal for ebook sales last year.
“Hmm? Oh, that’s great, hon’,” he said, tapping his pen against his bottom lip.
Maddie had stared at that pen on that bottom lip for several moments, remembering how those lips used to press against hers, but hadn’t for months now, not longer than a quick peck on the way out the door anyhow.
“Yeah. I thought so,” she said softly, knowing he really didn’t care.
“That’s a big thing for a self-published author, right?” he asked, flipping another page of the packet in his hands, his eyebrows furrowed.
She shrugged, a twinge of annoyance hitting her square in the chest, his mention of the words self-published smacking of a back-handed compliment to her.
She’d walked away and left him to continue his work, reviewing speeches or gathering dirt on a political opponent, she wasn’t sure which.
A few moments ago, standing across from him while he shouted at her, veins popping up along the top of his forehead and along his neck, she realized just how sick of it all she was. Sick of all the times she’d felt rejected and pushed aside. Sick of all the times she’d felt like she was competing for his attention with television cameras and self-serving, power-hungry politicians. Sick of the way he’d made it clear she wasn’t a priority to him anymore.
When he’d found out his diagnosis, he hadn’t even expressed concern she might catch the virus as well and actually develop symptoms, unlike him. So far, he hadn’t even had a sniffle.
All he’d done was rant about how ridiculous all this quarantining and so-called “social distancing” was and how it was going to make his job even more difficult since he’d have to do all his work from home.
What about her and how it was going to affect her? All her quiet writing time had evaporated the moment he’d announced he’d have to conduct business from their house for the next two weeks, maybe even longer. He’d never finished that private office he’d promised her all those years ago, instead filling the spare room with documents and political books, plastering the walls with photos of his clients. And to top it all off now they couldn’t meet with their lawyers and sign the final paperwork for their divorce, which she had hoped would have been finalized before mandatory quarantines went into effect.
She wished she had taken her friend Amelia up on her offer to stay there during the quarantine.
“I’m single, no children and no elderly parents to catch it if you do get it so let’s be stuck here together,” Amelia told her over the phone three days ago. “It’s supposed to be a mild virus for 80 percent of the population anyhow. Too many people are acting like it’s the end of the world. If it is, we can make milkshakes, pop some popcorn and watch it burn. Or we can at least watch a couple Brad Pitt movies. At least you won’t have to be stuck in the house with that jerk.”
“Make it a few Hugh Jackman movies and I may take you up on that offer,” Maddie responded. “But, seriously, all my paperwork for the book is here. I like my writing space and I’m sure Liam will be locked up in his office the whole time anyhow.”
But Liam hadn’t been locked up in his office. He’d been pacing like a caged animal for three days now and Maddie couldn’t focus on finishing the final chapter of her latest book in the Spencer Valley Chronicles series. Why didn’t he just go in his office, lock the door, and finish up some projects already?
She needed a very long break from him, but she knew this walk in the cool spring air would at least provide a reprieve. She’d have to return to the house eventually of course; the house where her brooding, distasteful, self-important, soon-to-be ex-husband was practically crawling the walls after his boss had ordered him to lock himself in quarantine. But for now, she intended to enjoy the warm sun on her face, the chirps of the many birds and the newly sprouting buds on the trees around her.
The front door crashed closed, rattling the hinges. Liam stared after his wife, jaw tight, heart still pounding from the adrenaline.
Holy heck that woman is so . . . he struggled for the word as he turned and walked toward the small flight of stairs that led to his office.
That’s what she was, or what she had become anyhow.
Evil, cold, bitter.
None of those things were how he would have described her when they’d married ten years ago, but now he couldn’t think of any other way to say it.
She was mean.
Flat out mean.
And distant and cold and —whatever.
He didn’t want to think about it.
He had other things to think about.
Work for one thing.
He still needed to help John write a press release for Matthew’s statement to the media, updating them on restrictions that had been placed in his district to try to reduce the spread of the virus. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure why so many restrictions were being placed but that wasn’t his job. His job was to make his older brother Matt look good and that’s what he was going to do.
He reached John’s voicemail.
“John, hey, it’s Liam. Give me a call when you get this. Let me know what the latest is. I’ve started the release and need to fill in the details. You’ve got my number.”
He swiped the end button and set the phone down, pushing his hands back through his hair. He was going stir crazy in this house. Maybe he needed to talk a walk like Maddie, or a run. A run would sweat out the virus, which he wasn’t sure he even had, and it’d also help him focus on something other than the tension between him and his soon-to-be ex-wife.
Ex-wife. That definitely sounded weird. But it was needed. He and Maddie hadn’t been connecting for years. It was time to move on, shake the dust off his feet, so to speak.
He’d told Maddie he had the virus when he wasn’t even sure if he did. He screamed it at her when she’d asked where he’d been all night and why he hadn’t been there for their planned discussion about the final numbers for alimony.
“I have the virus, okay?!” he’d yelled, standing in the doorway. “I’m in quarantine for 14 days and the doctor said you’re stuck here with me because you’ve been exposed already. We have to put up with each other for two weeks, maybe longer, so maybe you can just get off my back for once and shut up.”
Her angry expression had faded into a look of shock. “I have to stay here with you? Why? So, I can get it too?! Well, that’s just great!” She’d tossed her notepad and pen across the room at him, missing him by two inches. “I am so looking forward to getting sick with you.”
“I don’t even have any symptoms,” he’d shouted back. “You probably won’t get any either so don’t worry about it.”
So far, the test had only been preliminary but there was no denying he’d been exposed to it. The ambassador from Italy had been at a meeting with him two weeks ago and had already been diagnosed. Liam had shaken his hand and even sat next to him at dinner. There was no chance he wasn’t going to develop it, symptoms or not. That meant he hadn’t lied to Maddie when he’d told her he had it.
The doctor told him that based on his age and overall good health, it was most likely that his case would be mild if he did have it. They couldn’t take a chance he’d spread it to others who were more vulnerable, though, so they’d send him home and told him to self-quarantine. He knew it wouldn’t have looked good for Matt if he’d tested positive and kept going to work, possibly exposing others.
He’d cursed all the way home, wearing a mask on the subway, everyone around him scowling at him like he’d released a biological weapon in their midst.
He spun his phone around on the top of his desk and then shoved it away from him and slapped the desk in frustration. He couldn’t just sit around waiting to get sick. He had to do something to occupy his mind until Justin called him back. Or Matthew. He hadn’t heard from his brother since the night before. He was sure Matthew was busy with meetings and phone calls and would call him later.
He couldn’t focus on work anyhow. His mind was racing and being in the same house with Maddie longer than a couple of hours wasn’t helping. He couldn’t deny that he’d been avoiding home for months even before they’d agreed to the divorce. He wished he could avoid it now. He glanced out the partially open door across the hall at the spare room. He should really start cleaning that room out now. He was going to have to anyhow when he officially moved to the apartment he had already rented on the other side of the city.
He’d agreed to give Maddie the house in the divorce. He didn’t need it. It was too big for just him and he didn’t have plans on getting into another relationship anytime soon. Honestly, he was looking forward to some solitude after years of walking on eggshells around the woman he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with.
He started opening boxes, tossing papers into a trash bag he’d grabbed from the kitchen the day before. Old speeches, stained copies of his resumes, press releases from his brother’s campaign. He tossed them all. They weren’t needed anymore.
The last box in the stack by the window was covered in a layer of dust and he blew it off as he picked it up, coughing and shaking his head. What had he been thinking blowing the dust all over? Like he needed dust in his lungs if he had a virus growing in there too. He flipped the lid off the box and looked inside. Old bills, bank statements from six years ago, birthday cards from his family, and a stack of envelopes tied together with twine. He tossed the statements and bills in the trash bag and flipped through the birthday cards. He ended up tossing them too. He appreciated them but he couldn’t keep everything. It was getting ridiculous.
He held the letters, his eyebrow furrowed. What were these and why were they hidden in this box? He worked the twine loose and one fell off the top to the floor. He reached down and picked it up, looking for a name on the front. Finding none he slid out the letter he found inside.
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.
P.S. Is sincerely too cold of a way to sign a letter to a person you were kissing only a couple of days ago?
P.P.S. I fall asleep every night thinking about that kiss.
Liam slid the letter back into the envelope and shook his head. Those words had been written a lifetime ago. When was the last time Maddie had thought of him in that way? He didn’t even know, but he knew it had been a long time since he’d thought of her that way. He stared at the envelope, remembering that night in the courtyard, his arms around her waist as they swayed, her hair cascading down her back and the way she’d laid her head against his shoulder and he’d breathed in the citrus smell of her shampoo.
The rest of the world had faded away and it was as if they were the only people in the courtyard, even though a few other people were dancing in the courtyard too, to the impromptu concert a couple of street performers were putting on. Her skin was so soft, her lips even softer when he’d touched her under her chin and she’d looked up at him and he’d leaned down to kiss her.
He’d wanted that kiss to last forever and it had only ended because the sky had abruptly opened up and sent them running to his car, laughing and soaked when they’d climbed inside. They’d resumed the kiss for several passionate moments, steaming up the windows and then he’d driven her back to her dorm room, his body aching to hold her again as he watched her walk inside.
He sat on the floor by the window, crumpling the letter in his hand and tossing it across the room. He opened another box.
He was not looking at those and letting any more memories swirl in his already jumbled mind. That’s all they were — memories of what used to be, not the reality of what was now. The people in these photos were ghosts. They were ghosts of who he and Maddie used to be. They weren’t who they had become, who they were now; two people who had once loved each other, but no longer did.
He snatched one of the albums up and started to toss it toward the garbage bag. It wasn’t like Maddie would miss them. She never even came into this room. There had been a thick layer of dust on this box just like the one with the letters.
A photo slid out of the album as he started to toss it and it skidded across the floor, face up. He glanced at it as he reached down to pick it up. A smiling Maddie on the beach, her hair down her back, her head tipped back and her bare throat exposed. The memory came against his will.
It was their first trip together.
Sophomore year of college.
On the beach.
“Should I pose like this?” Maddie’s hand was on her hip, one leg pushed out slightly from the other, knee bent. She’d tipped her head back and laughed, the sunlight dancing across her curls. He’d snapped the shutter.
“Yep,” he’d said, completely under her spell. “Just like that.”
She’d laughed at him, playfully slapped her hand across his upper arm.
“You did not take that photo! I looked like such a goofball! You better delete that.”
He grinned and pulled her in for a kiss. “Nope. That one is my favorite so far. I’ll keep it forever and never forget the way you smiled at me in the sun on this gorgeous spring day on this gorgeous beach.”
Her smile had faded into a more serious expression and then she’d tipped her head up and pressed her mouth to his, tugging gently at his bottom lip when she’d pulled back. He’d almost exploded with desire.
He tipped his head back, closing his eyes as he remembered that kiss. It had been an amazing, mind-blowing kiss. One for the record books, he liked to tell her for years afterward.
God, she had been beautiful that weekend. Long, red-blond hair that cascaded down her back in waves, pale white skin that seemed to glow in the sunlight. He’d been head over heels, though he knew part of it had been his libido speaking. He’d wanted to spend the whole weekend with her in bed, but he knew she’d have none of it.
She hadn’t been raised that way. For her, sex was something only had after the marriage was final. He’d sighed and rolled his eyes when she’d first told him but gradually he’d accepted it, remembering his own upbringing and how his parents had urged the same for him. Maddie was worth waiting for, he’d decided, and he’d compromised with long walks and extended make-out sessions on the beach before bidding her a good night outside her own hotel room.
He’d been right. Maddie had been worth waiting for. They had spent two years dating getting to know each other beyond a physical connection and on their wedding night they’d casted aside any physical expectations, instead simply enjoying each touch, each kiss and each rush of pleasure at just being able to be together.
Liam leaned his head forward, opening his eyes to look at the photo again. He could barely remember the last time he’d made love to Maddie. Sure, they’d had sex once or twice in the last year, but it’d been rushed, distant, cold even. It had been for their individual physical needs and nothing more. He knew that and he hated it. He clutched at his hair and flicked the photo across the room.
He hated who he had become, and he hated that it had affected his marriage more than he ever thought it would. He and Maddie had been so young when they’d married, so full of naïve idealism. They were going to change the world together. They’d buy a home in the suburbs, raise two children (a boy and a girl, of course), both have successful careers in communications and take amazing family trips to Europe every summer. That’s what they told themselves anyhow.
But now, they were barely talking. They’d never had any children. Maddie had had two early miscarriages and then they’d taken a break for a year or more, deciding they’d try again when life settled down. That had been four years ago, and life had never settled down. Matt had been elected as a U.S. Congressman, he’d hired Liam as his press secretary and Liam had started spending more time in Washington and less time at home in the suburbs with Maddie.
Liam yawned and pushed himself up from the floor, staggering toward the bed that had been shoved over to the other side of the room, in the middle of the boxes and bookcases. It was the bed he’d been sleeping in since Maddie had told him she wanted a divorce. It had been a long week. He was exhausted and knew the walk down memory lane wasn’t helping to calm his jumbled thoughts. He didn’t even bother undressing when he reached the bed. He flopped down on top of the covers on his back, closing his eyes.
Maybe I should stay awake until Maddie gets back, he thought as sleep started to overtake him. But he couldn’t fight the sleep and his thoughts swirled together with dreams of the way life used to be.
“It’s going to be okay, Maddie. We’ll try again.”
Liam’s voice had been warm, comforting, reassuring. His arms around her made her feel like her world wasn’t crumbling under her feet when she knew it actually was. He gave her hope, hope that one day they’d carry a pregnancy to term and they’d have a child of their own. But that had been four years ago, after their second miscarriage, and now, with a divorce looming like a dark specter on the horizon, Maddie had lost all hope of ever having children. She was 32, almost 33. Soon she’d be too old for children. The mere thought of dating again, of finding someone she wanted to have children with, exhausted her.
Liam had been the only one she’d ever wanted to have children with.
Walking slowly around the culdesac, her head down, she knew that Liam was still the only one she wanted to have children with. Despite all the anger, all the hurt, all the ways he’d rejected her over the years, she wanted nothing more than for him to want her again. She knew that wasn’t going to happen, though. He’d barely flinched when she’d told him she wanted a divorce six months ago.
“Fine,” he’d said, jaw tight, looking away from her. “If that’s what you want, I’ll call Pete in the morning and he can start drawing up the paperwork.”
“It is what I want,” she’d responded.
It had been a lie. She hadn’t wanted a divorce. She’d wanted to shake him out of his complacency, to force him into realizing how much he’d neglected her for the past four years. Her plan had failed miserably. Instead of begging her to stay, he’d practically packed her bags. He’d called his lawyer, suggested a lawyer for her and told her they would need to decide who got what in terms of possessions, property, money.
“Of course, you can have the house and I’ll provide alimony for you if you wish,” he’d told her, a stoic expression on his face, his voice practically monotone. “And I’m sure the process will be easier since . . .” He’d glanced up at her then, looking at her for a few moments. He’d swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Since there aren’t any children involved.”
That’s right, Liam, she had wanted to scream. There aren’t any children involved because you practically abandoned me for your career after my last miscarriage. You pushed me off for years when I asked when we could start trying again. You replaced me with conference calls and press conferences and political prestige within your brother’s crooked political circle of influence.
Maddie kicked at a rock on the sidewalk and felt tears clutching at her throat. “You replaced me, Liam,” she whispered as she walked. “The girl you said you’d always love because I’m the only one who ever made you feel like you were loved unconditionally.”
The tears came suddenly, and she wiped at them furiously, afraid someone would see her and think she knew something they all didn’t because of who she was married to. She dreaded going back to the house, back to the husband who was shut up inside; not only inside the house, but inside himself.
Still, she couldn’t walk out here all day. She was actually tired. It had been a long week and she was feeling run down. She needed to rest, to keep her strength up in case she really did catch something from Liam. She walked slowly back to the house, making sure to wipe the tears from her face before she went back inside. The last thing she needed was Liam seeing her tears and asking her what was wrong, pretending he cared, when she knew he didn’t and hadn’t for a very long time.
It was quiet back inside the house. She breathed a sigh of relief and tossed her coat onto the couch. Finally some peace and quiet. Liam had probably locked himself in his office to start working on press releases with John and Matt. She glanced at the office door as she sat down and saw it was open. She couldn’t hear Liam talking or typing away on his computer.
She groaned softly as she stood, a sharp pain shooting down her upper back. She stood and waited for the pain to subside, knowing it was stress-induced. She hunched her shoulders and clenched her jaw when she was angry or upset and she knew it was putting a strain on her back. She walked gingerly down the hallway toward Liam’s office and out of the corner of her eye she saw him in the spare room, asleep on his back, a pillow hugged to his chest. She paused and leaned against the doorway. She remembered her friend Annie telling her how peaceful her children looked asleep, how easy it was to forget their misdeeds from that day when she saw them vulnerable and relaxed in their bed.
Liam looked peaceful.
The lines she was so used to seeing stretch across his forehead were smooth, barely noticeable. His mouth was slightly open, but he wasn’t snoring, something he’d never done, and she was grateful for. His eyelashes had always been unusually long for a man, but not too long to be unbecoming. Strands of dark brown hair laid across his forehead, the rest of it swept back due to his supine position.
A small smile pulled at Maddie’s mouth. Memories pushed their way into her thoughts, against her will. Hands clutching, mouths touching, soft gasps, clothes on the floor, a long, contented sight and then a loud crash as the boards that held the bed up at their first apartment broke and sent the bed, and them, crashing down. They’d laid there, the bed at an angle, their heads down, their feet up, startled expressions on their faces, their naked bodies intertwined. Then they’d burst into laughter and held each other, laughing even as they dragged themselves from the wreckage of the bed.
“The couch doesn’t have wooden slats,” he’d said, eyes flashing with a mischievous glint.
He’d taken her hand and they’d rushed to the room that served both as a kitchen and a living room and resumed their undressed rendezvous.
He sure knew how to touch her back then. How to caress her, where to kiss her, how to hold her and just what to say to make her feel safe and loved. That first year of marriage. It all seemed like a lifetime ago. She touched her fingers to her throat, realizing her heart was pounding fast and she’d flushed warm at the memories. Her gaze drifted over his form on the bed, his strong shoulders, long legs, perfectly shaped mouth. She couldn’t deny he still did something to her insides; that he still lit a fire of passion within her that made her head feel a little funny, her stomach flip flop.
Her eyelids were even heavier now. She yawned, walking back to the couch for a much-needed nap and maybe later a Cary Grant movie and a cup of hot chocolate.
The smell of bacon and brewing coffee woke him. Sunlight poured across the bedroom floor and Liam squinted in the light, disoriented.
What time was it? He looked down at his wrinkled T-shirt and sweatpants. Had he slept all yesterday afternoon and night here? He snatched his phone from the bedside table. 8:30 a.m., Thursday.
He dragged his hand through his hair and across the back of his neck, stiff from laying in the same position for so long. He inhaled deeply to try to wake himself up and smelled the bacon again. And coffee.
Who was making breakfast?
Who else would be making breakfast, Liam? he thought, walking groggily down the hallway. You and Maddie are the only ones here, idiot.
Maddie was standing at the stove with her back to him, flipping an over-easy egg. She hated over-easy eggs. It must be for him and for that he was grateful at least.
“Hey,” she said turning to face him, spatula in her hand.
“I made you some coffee and bacon. Your egg is almost done.”
“You didn’t have to do that. Thanks.”
She shrugged, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. He had thought she would still be mad this morning but instead she seemed indifferent about it all. She slid the plate across the breakfast bar to him and carried her plate with her to the kitchen table.
“I guess I figured we should have a good breakfast before we get too sick to eat,” she said sullenly, taking a bite of bacon.
He sipped his coffee. Two spoonfuls of sugar and vanilla bean creamer. She knew how he liked it, that was for sure. He was feeling guilty as he dug into the eggs. He needed to tell her the truth. That he didn’t even know if he really had the virus. Maybe he’d wait until their breakfast was done at least, so he didn’t have to dodge the flying frying pan while he tried to finish his cup of coffee.
“Have you heard anything from Matt?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I have a feeling he and John are still trying to put out fires from all this. Maybe they are in quarantine by now too.”
“You’re his press secretary. Shouldn’t you be in on putting out the fires.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but John’s my assistant. I’m sure Matt will be calling soon, pulling his hair out or going stir crazy. One or the other.”
She nodded and finished her toast.
“Have you talked to your parents?” he asked.
She didn’t look at him. She studied her plate of food. “Yeah. They’re fine. Mom is having a hard time keeping Dad from going in and out of stores for supplies and stopping to help everyone he knows, but they’re locked in now, trying to stay well. They’re worried about me, of course.”
Oh, crud. He had to tell her so she could tell her parents there was a chance she might not catch the virus. There was a good possibility she might kill him, but he had to tell her.
“Maddie, listen. . .” She turned her head to look at him. He cleared his throat. She cocked an eyebrow. This was going to be rough.
“There’s a possibility I don’t have the virus.”
Her eyebrows sank into a scowl and she pursed her lips, looking at him for several moments before she spoke.
“The doctor who took the test said he’d have the results in a couple of days but that there was a chance I didn’t have it.”
“You told me you had the virus, Liam. Had it, not might have it. You yelled it at me, in fact.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just —”
“It’s just, what? You told me it was positive. Are you telling me now that you lied to me?”
“Yes, but listen … I just didn’t want to talk about it. I know I should have cleared it up, but I needed you to stay in the house and I figured you wouldn’t listen to me if I said I might have it. If you’d left and someone found out it could have been bad for Matt.”
Her eyes were ablaze with fury now, crimson spreading up her cheekbones. “I have been sitting here waiting to feel sick, looking up ways to deal with the coughing and the fever if one of us gets it and you still don’t know if you really have it? Holy crap, Liam. Really?”
“I was still exposed. This is still the right thing to do.”
“That’s not the point. The point is you lied to me. Again.”
“Again? What are you even talking about?”
She turned away from him, standing up from the table, and walking to the window. She crossed her arms tight across her chest, her back to him. “Why did you want this divorce?” she asked, her voice strained.
“I said why —”
“I heard what you said, Maddie. I’m not the one who asked for this divorce. You are. Remember?”
“Only because I knew you wanted it.”
“You knew I wanted it? You never even asked me what I wanted. You never ask me what I want.”
“I could tell by how you acted that you didn’t want to be married anymore.”
He pushed his plate and mug away from him. He couldn’t even believe what he was hearing. Standing from the breakfast bar, he faced her with his hands on his hips.
“Okay. Yeah. Whatever. You know what? Just go ahead and make decisions for me, like you always do, Maddie.”
She turned to face him, her arms falling to her side. “What are you even talking about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
There went that eyebrow again. “No, actually, I don’t.” She gestured in front of her as if she was conducting a magic trick. “Enlighten me.”
That was it. He’d had enough of her acting like he was the one guilty for the collapse of their marriage.
“Like how you decided we weren’t going to try for any more children, for one.”
She was talking through clenched teeth now. “I did not decide that, Liam. You decided that by running off to run Matt’s campaign and never being home.”
“You pushed me away, Maddie. You acted like you were the only one who’d lost those babies.”
Maddie looked stunned. Her face flushed an even darker red, her eyes swimming with tears.
“I needed you, Liam! I needed you to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay and —”
“I did hold you. I did tell you it would be okay.”
“At first yes, but it was like after a while my grieving just pissed you off.”
He carried his empty breakfast plate and coffee mug to the sink. “We needed to move on, Maddie. We couldn’t wallow in our misery forever.”
He grabbed the pan from the stove next, turning to place it in the sink too.
“Our misery?” Maddie shook her head in disbelief. “I was the one who carried those babies, who lost those babies, whose body failed her, who —”
Liam’s blood boiled. He slammed the pan down on the countertop by the stove and swung to face Maddie. “They were my babies too dammit.”
Maddie stepped back, hugging her arms tight around her, gulping back a sob.
“Yes, it was our misery. It wasn’t all about you,” he continued, his voice shaking with anger. “We made those babies together and we lost them together and I stopped trying to comfort you because nothing I did helped you. I could never do anything right and —” Liam cursed again, furious at the emotion choking his words, the tears burning his eyes. “I couldn’t fix you, Maddie. I couldn’t make it right. And eventually I couldn’t fix us, and I gave up trying because I didn’t think you wanted me to fix us.”
Maddie dragged her hand across her face and turned to walk back into the living room, bone chilling exhaustion rushing over her. How could he say that? That she didn’t want him to fix them? That she didn’t want to fix this marriage? He was the one who — she shook her head, sitting on the couch, tears rolling down her face. She curled up in a ball, facing the back of the couch, pulling her mother’s quilt off the back and draping it over her.
“That’s what you always do, isn’t it?” he snapped, walking into the living room. “Just walk away and never deal with anything.”
She flung the quilt off her and sat up. “I never deal with anything? And what have you been doing to deal with things? Burying yourself in your work instead of dealing with your life at home, with your marriage that was falling apart, was dealing with things? You could have fooled me. Flirting with staffers and reporters instead of coming home and facing the disaster that was our relationship. Was that how you dealt with things too?”
Liam made a face and scowled at her. “Flirting with who?”
“You know who. Wendy. That little redhead from channel 12.”
Liam scoffed. “Wendy? I never flirted with her. She’s not my type.”
“I guess all those female staffers in your brother’s office that you wink at aren’t your type either.”
“That I wink at? I don’t wink at those women and no, they aren’t my type either. Most of them are airheads.”
“Then who is your type? Because it definitely isn’t me or I wouldn’t,” Maddie’s voice cracked and tears filled her eyes again. “be home alone every night in our bed.”
Liam placed his hands on his hips and tipped his head. “Come on, Maddie – it’s not like I haven’t been alone too. It’s not like I’m getting any. I haven’t for a long time.”
He tossed his hands out in front of him then clenched them into fists and pressed them against his mouth. “You know what? I’m just done talking about this. We are getting nowhere. I’m going into my office to get some work done.”
The slamming of the door reverberated in her ears.
“Now who’s walking away from his problems?” she snapped under her breath, falling back onto the couch and pulling the quilt over her again.
They 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.
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 had asked via video messaging on night seven of their 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. “Jason. 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 brother and sister 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.”
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 doesn’t feel secure in her relationship with you to think that. 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. “Matt Grant. The hard-headed, some might say, pig-headed, youngest-ever head of the intel committee showing that he’s also a marriage counselor.”
The brothers laughed easily together.
“Seriously, though, Liam,” Matt said, leaning closer to the screen now. “Let me give you some brotherly advice: make darn 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.”
Three nights later, on the tenth night of quarantine, Liam packed it in early, shutting off his phone and laptop around 10 p.m. and sliding under the covers, drained and glad he hadn’t yet experienced any coughing, muscle aches, or a 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 and he was beginning to wonder if she had any love left for him.
Sleep had just begun to slip over him when he heard a soft knock on his door. He didn’t answer. He rolled over and closed his eyes tighter.
The door squeaked open and then footsteps, soft across the floor. What did she want? He was too tired for another fight.
Maddie’s voice was barely audible. He ignored her.
She spoke a little louder. “Liam?”
He ignored her again.
She sighed in the darkness and he felt, rather than saw, her turn back toward the open doorway.
Silence fell over the room and he heard a breath drawn in deep 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.
“Just hold me. Nothing else.”
He wondered if this was some kind of trick. He squinted again, trying to see if her hand was behind her back; if she might suddenly draw a knife from there and stab him.
She seemed to be serious. Very. He heard a vulnerability in her tone that 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. Sometimes he’d asked if she needed the rest of her warmed up too and often she’d say yes and he’d snuggled close and nibbled at her earlobes.
He wasn’t going to ask her tonight if she needed warming up.
She laid her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest over his heart and closed her eyes. She remembered how comforting the soft thump of his heartbeat had been for most of their marriage.
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.”
“I know,” he said softly.
“People are scared.”
“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 settled over them again.
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 . . . I want you to know. . .” Maddie took a deep breath and spoke fast and softly as she exhaled. “I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t like you.”
Liam laughed softly.
“Thanks. I guess.”
“I’m sorry you thought you had to fix me. Only God can fix my broken heart.”
“Yeah. I know.”
Silence settled over them again and he laid his hand over hers, over the one laying on his chest.
“I’m sorry you thought I didn’t care. I’m sorry I let my career become more important than our marriage.”
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 felt under his hand, 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 hand slowly up her arm, resting it just below her shoulder, squeezing gently.
He gently pressed 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,” he said softly. “We can talk more in the morning. 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 it was only physically.
Had she meant what she said? That she still loved him? Maybe it had been the stress and the worry talking. The exhaustion even. He wasn’t sure but what 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 and knowing he’d meant it when he’d told her he still loved her.
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 on the pillow, somewhat like a halo. He couldn’t help 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.
The ringtone from his phone startled him and he snatched it up quickly so it wouldn’t wake Maddie. He walked into the living room before answering it.
“Sorry to call so early, but this is Dr. Robinson from St. Joseph’s and I wanted to call you personally to let you know that your test for the virus came up negative. You were positive for its cousin, I guess you would say: the common cold.”
“So, I’m clear?” Liam asked.
“Clear from the virus everyone is worried about,” the doctor said. “But it’s possible you could still develop symptoms of a cold or give that cold to someone else.”
“So, I’m free from quarantine?”
The doctor laughed. “Well, since the government is shutting down everything and restricting travel, you’re as free as your particular city or state will allow you to be.”
After thanking the doctor and saying goodbye, Liam pumped his fist in the air and tossed his phone to the couch.
He was free. To do what he wasn’t sure since the rest of his brother’s staff, and even his brother, were still in quarantine, still awaiting test results. Not to mention Congress and most of Washington was shut down. He needed coffee before he could decide what his next step would be. And he should probably tell Maddie.
He started the coffee and walked quietly to the spare room to see if she was still sleeping. The bed was empty and he could hear the shower running in the bathroom at the end of the hall. He looked at the empty bed again, an ache in the center of his chest as he remembered the feel of her against him the night before.
Back in the kitchen he started breakfast and poured himself a cup of coffee. He was plating the eggs and bacon and putting another slice of toast in the toaster for Maddie when he heard the bathroom door open and her bare feet in the hallway. Leaning back against the counter he sipped his coffee and thought about how much 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 thought about the divorce, 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, the idea of divorcing her sent a cold chill and a panicked buzz cutting straight through him.
When the door to Maddie’s bedroom flew open, she screamed, snatching the towel off the bed and clutching it against her.
“Liam! What are you —”
Her words were cut short by him walking briskly toward her, cupping the back of her head gently, yet firmly, with his hand and covering her mouth fiercely with his.
Pulsating need coursed through him as he opened her mouth under his and clutched at her damp hair.
She pulled her mouth away slowly a few moments later, pressing into him as if her legs were about to give way underneath her.
She looked up at him with wide eyes, breathless.
“Should you be kissing me this way? I mean, we don’t know yet if —”
He shook his head. “No, probably not. But I don’t have the virus. The doctor just called. I have the common cold. He said symptoms could still develop so, yes, I could still give you a cold. Do you want to take that risk?”
Maddie searched his eyes. She knew he was asking her more than if she wanted to risk getting sick with a cold.
She let the towel fall to the floor and he pulled her hard against him. Hooking her arms behind his neck, she hungrily grabbed his mouth with hers and he felt every tense muscle in his body relax with pleasure.
“Maddie,” he gasped, pulling his mouth away. She tipped her head back to look at him. “Please don’t leave me.”
A smile flicked across her lips. “I won’t.”
He kissed her hard, gently pushing her back toward the bed at the same time. Lowering her slowly, kissing her, he heard his phone ringing in the living room.
“Should you get that?” she asked softly.
He nodded. “I should. Hold on.”
Laying on the bed, feeling ridiculous and exposed, Maddie sat up and looked for the towel. She knew if it was work, Liam probably wouldn’t be back anytime soon. If ever.
When she looked up, though, he was standing in the doorway with the phone in his hand, against his ear.
“No, Matt. I’m not going to be in for a few more days. Yeah. Just to be sure. I’ll keep in touch, but I have some things I need to work on at home first. . .” He laughed, looking at her. “Yeah, you could say that. Okay. Bye.”
She leaned back on her elbows, watching as he held his thumb down on the off button of the phone and tossed it down the hallway toward the living room. She saw the desire in his eyes as he walked toward her, lifting his shirt over his head and tossing it across the room. “I believe we have some catching up to do,” he said when he was next to her, his arms pulling her gently into the curve of his body, his mouth lowering to hers.