Extra Thursday Fiction: Quarantined Novella Chapter 3

This is a Novella in Progress: Quarantined. To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.


Chapter 3

“It’s going to be okay, Maddie. We’ll try again.”

Liam’s voice had been warm, comforting, reassuring. His arms around her made her feel like her world wasn’t crumbling under her feet when she knew it actually was. He gave her hope, hope that one day they’d carry a pregnancy to term and they’d have a child of their own. But that had been four years ago, after their fourth miscarriage, and now, with a divorce looming like a dark specter on the horizon, Maddie had lost all hope of ever having children. She was 32, almost 33. Soon she’d be too old for children. The mere thought of dating again, of finding someone she wanted to have children with, exhausted her.

Liam had been the only one she’d ever wanted to have children with.

Walking slowly around the culdesac, her head down, she knew that Liam was still the only one she wanted to have children with. Despite all the anger, all the hurt, all the ways he’d rejected her over the years, she wanted nothing more than for him to want her again. She knew that wasn’t going to happen, though. He’d barely flinched when she’d told him she wanted a divorce six months ago.

“Fine,” he’d said, jaw tight, looking away from her. “If that’s what you want, I’ll call Pete in the morning and he can start drawing up the paperwork.”

“It is what I want,” she’d responded.

It had been a lie. She hadn’t wanted a divorce. She’d wanted to shake him out of his complacency, to force him into realizing how much he’d neglected her for the past four years. Her plan had failed miserably. Instead of begging her to stay, he’d practically packed her bags. He’d called his lawyer, suggested a lawyer for her, and told her they would need to decide who got what in terms of possessions, property, money.

“Of course, you can have the house and I’ll provide alimony for you if you wish,” he’d told her, a stoic expression on his face, his voice practically monotone. “And I’m sure the process will be easier since . . .” He’d glanced up at her then, looking at her for a few moments. He’d swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Since there aren’t any children involved.”

That’s right, Liam, she had wanted to scream. There aren’t any children involved because you practically abandoned me for your career after my last miscarriage. You pushed me off for years when I asked when we could start trying again. You replaced me with conference calls and press conferences and political prestige within your brother’s crooked political circle of influence.

Maddie kicked at a rock on the sidewalk and felt tears clutching at her throat. “You replaced me, Liam,” she whispered as she walked. “The girl you said you’d always love because I’m the only one who ever made you feel like you were loved unconditionally.”

The tears came suddenly, and she wiped at them furiously, afraid someone would see her and think she knew something they all didn’t because of who she was married to. She dreaded going back to the house, back to the husband who was shut up inside; not only inside the house, but inside himself.

Still, she couldn’t walk out here all day. She was actually tired. It had been a long week and she was feeling run down. She needed to rest, to keep her strength up in case she really did catch something from Liam. She walked slowly back to the house, making sure to wipe the tears from her face before she went back inside. The last thing she needed was Liam seeing her tears and asking her what was wrong, pretending he cared, when she knew he didn’t and hadn’t for a very long time.

It was quiet back inside the house. She breathed a sigh of relief and tossed her coat onto the couch. Finally, some peace and quiet. Liam had probably locked himself in his office to start working on press releases with John and Matt. She glanced at the office door as she sat down and saw it was open. She couldn’t hear Liam talking or typing away on his computer.

She groaned softly as she stood, a sharp pain shooting down her upper back. She stood and waited for the pain to subside, knowing it was stress-induced. She hunched her shoulders and clenched her jaw when she was angry or upset and she knew it was putting a strain on her back. She walked gingerly down the hallway toward Liam’s office and out of the corner of her eye she saw him in the spare room, asleep on his back, a pillow hugged to his chest. She paused and leaned against the doorway.

She remembered her friend Annie telling her how peaceful her children looked asleep, how easy it was to forget their misdeeds from that day when she saw them vulnerable and relaxed in their bed.

Liam looked peaceful.

Vulnerable even.

The lines she was so used to seeing stretch across his forehead were smooth, barely noticeable. His mouth was slightly open, but he wasn’t snoring, something he’d never done, and she was grateful for. His eyelashes had always been unusually long for a man, but not too long to be unbecoming. Strands of dark brown hair laid across his forehead, the rest of it swept back due to his supine position.

A small smile pulled at Maddie’s mouth. Memories pushed their way into her thoughts. Hands clutching, mouths touching, soft gasps, clothes on the floor, giggling, and then a loud crash as the boards that held the bed up at their first apartment broke and sent the bed, and them, crashing down. They’d laid there for a few moments, the bed at an angle, their heads down, their feet up, startled expressions on their faces, their naked bodies intertwined. Then they’d burst into laughter, laughing even as they dragged themselves from the wreckage of the bed.

His eyes flashed with a mischievous glint. “The couch doesn’t have wooden slats.”

He grinned.

She smiled.

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.

“Hey.”

“I made you some coffee and bacon. Your eggs are almost done.”

“You didn’t have to do that. Thanks.”

She shrugged, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. He had thought she would still be mad this morning but instead she seemed indifferent about it all. She slid the plate across the breakfast bar to him and carried her plate with her to the kitchen table.

“I guess I figured we should have a good breakfast before we get too sick to eat,” she said sullenly, taking a bite of bacon.

He sipped his coffee. Two spoonfuls of sugar and vanilla bean creamer. She knew how he liked it, that was for sure. Guilt dug at his chest as he dug into the eggs. He needed to tell her the truth; that he didn’t even know if he really had the virus. Maybe he’d wait until their breakfast was done at least, so he didn’t have to dodge the flying frying pan while he tried to finish his cup of coffee.

“Have you heard anything from Matt?” she asked.

He nodded. “Yeah. He and John have been busy putting out fires, but they’re both finally in quarantine too.”

“You’re his press secretary. Shouldn’t you be in on putting out the fire?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, but John’s my assistant so he can handle it. I’m sure Matt will be calling again soon, pulling his hair out or going stir crazy from being stuck in the house all day. One or the other.”

She nodded and finished her toast.

“Have you talked to your parents?” he asked.

She didn’t look at him. She studied her plate of food. “Yeah. They’re fine. Mom is having a hard time keeping Dad from going in and out of stores for supplies and stopping to help everyone he knows, but they’re locked in now, trying to stay well. They’re worried about me, of course.”

Oh, crud. He had to tell her the truth so she could tell her parents there was a chance she might not catch the virus. There was a good possibility she might kill him, but he had to tell her.

“Maddie, listen. . .” She turned her head to look at him. He looked into wide green eyes and cleared his throat. She cocked an eyebrow. A cocked eyebrow meant she was ready for a fight. This was going to be rough.

“There’s a possibility I don’t have the virus.”

Her eyebrows sank into a scowl immediately and she pursed her lips, looking at him for several moments before she spoke, her tone cold.

 “I’m sorry?”

“The doctor who took the test said he’d have the results in a few days but that there was a chance I didn’t have it.”

“You told me you had the virus, Liam. Had it. Not might have it. You yelled it at me, in fact.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just —”

“It’s just, what? You told me it was positive. Are you telling me now that you lied to me?”

“Yes, but listen … I just didn’t want to talk about it. I know I should have cleared it up, but I needed you to stay in the house and I figured you wouldn’t listen to me if I said I might have it. If you’d left and someone found out it could have been bad for Matt. The doctor wrote the case down as ‘probable’ and right not ‘probable’ is as good as positive.”

Maddie’s eyes were ablaze with fury now, crimson spreading up her cheekbones. “I have been sitting here waiting to feel sick, looking up ways to deal with the coughing and the fever if one of us gets it and you still don’t know if you really have it? Holy crap, Liam. Really?”

“I was still exposed. This is still the right thing to do.”

“That’s not the point. The point is you lied to me. Again.”

“Again? What are you even talking about?”

She turned away from him, standing up from the table, and walking to the window. She crossed her arms tight across her chest, her back to him. “Why did you want this divorce?” she asked, her voice strained.

“What?”

“I said why —”

“I heard what you said, Maddie. I’m not the one who asked for this divorce. You are. Remember?”

“Only because I knew you wanted it.”

“You knew I wanted it? You never even asked me what I wanted. You never ask me what I want.”

“I could tell by how you acted that you didn’t want to be married anymore.”

He pushed his plate and mug away from him. He couldn’t even believe what he was hearing.  Standing from the breakfast bar, he faced her with his hands on his hips.

“Okay. Yeah. Whatever. You know what? Just go ahead and make decisions for me, like you always do, Maddie.”

She turned to face him, her arms falling to her side. “What are you even talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

There went that eyebrow again. “No, actually, I don’t.” She gestured in front of her as if she was conducting a magic trick. “Enlighten me.”

That was it. He’d had enough of her acting like he was the one guilty for the collapse of their marriage.

“Like how you decided we weren’t going to try for any more children, for one.”

She was talking through clenched teeth now. “I did not decide that, Liam. You decided that by running off to run Matt’s campaign and never being home.”

“You pushed me away, Maddie. You acted like you were the only one who’d lost those babies.”

Maddie looked stunned. Her face flushed an even darker red, her eyes swimming with tears.

“I needed you, Liam! I needed you to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay and —”

 “I did hold you. I did tell you it would be okay.”

“At first yes, but it was like after a while my grieving just pissed you off.”

He carried his empty breakfast plate and coffee mug to the sink. “We needed to move on, Maddie. We couldn’t wallow in our misery forever.”

He grabbed the pan from the stove next, turning to place it in the sink too.

“Our misery?” Maddie shook her head in disbelief. “I was the one who carried those babies, who lost those babies, whose body failed her, who —”

Liam’s blood boiled. He slammed the pan down on the countertop by the stove and swung to face Maddie. “They were my babies too dammit.”

Maddie stepped back, hugging her arms tight around her, gulping back a sob.

“Yes, it was our misery. It wasn’t all about you,” he continued, his voice shaking with anger. “We made those babies together and we lost them together and I stopped trying to comfort you because nothing I did helped you. I could never do anything right and —”  Liam cursed again, furious at the emotion choking his words, the tears burning his eyes. “I couldn’t fix you, Maddie. I couldn’t make it right. And eventually I couldn’t fix us, and I gave up trying because I didn’t think you wanted me to fix us.”

Maddie dragged her hand across her face and turned to walk back into the living room, bone chilling exhaustion rushing over her. How could he say that? That she didn’t want him to fix them? That she didn’t want to fix this marriage? He was the one who — she shook her head, sitting on the couch, tears rolling down her face. She curled up in a ball, facing the back of the couch, pulling her mother’s quilt off the back and draping it over her.

“That’s what you always do, isn’t it?” he snapped, walking into the living room. “Just walk away and never deal with anything.”

She flung the quilt off her and sat up. “I never deal with anything? And what have you been doing to deal with things? Burying yourself in your work instead of dealing with your life at home, with your marriage that was falling apart, was dealing with things? You could have fooled me. Flirting with staffers and reporters instead of coming home and facing the disaster that was our relationship. Was that how you dealt with things too?”

Liam made a face and scowled at her. “Flirting with who?”

“You know who. Wendy. That little redhead from channel 12.”

Liam scoffed. “Wendy? I never flirted with her. She’s not my type.”

“I guess all those female staffers in your brother’s office that you wink at aren’t your type either.”

“That I wink at? I don’t wink at those women and no, they aren’t my type either. Most of them are airheads.”

“Then who is your type? Because it definitely isn’t me or I wouldn’t,” Maddie’s voice cracked and tears filled her eyes again. “be home alone every night in our bed.”

Liam placed his hands on his hips and tipped his head. “Come on, Maddie – it’s not like I haven’t been alone too. And I have been for a long time.”

 He tossed his hands out in front of him then clenched them into fists and pressed them against his mouth. “You know what? I’m just done talking about this. We are getting nowhere. I’m going into my office to get some work done.”

The slamming of the door reverberated in her ears.

“Now who’s walking away from his problems?” she snapped under her breath, falling back onto the couch and pulling the quilt over her again.

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

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

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


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.