The alcohol had dulled his senses, but he still take in how good she looked in that low-cut tank top. Looking down the length of the bar, it was clear a few other men had noticed too.
She held the bottle, tipping it toward the glass. “Another one, Luke?”
He slapped his hand over the mouth of the glass, looking up at her through glassy eyes. “Something different this time.”
“Don’t know.” He shrugged. “Let me think about it.”
The shirt plunged lower when she leaned forward, elbows on the bar, as she waited for his decision.
Her finger under his chin lifted his eyes back to hers. “Up here, buddy.”
He grinned. “Got any whiskey? That stuff from Tennessee I like?”
She snatched up the bottle from the collection behind her, poured, watching the glass, then him, then the glass again.
He winced as it hit his tongue. It burned all the way down, making him cough hard.
By the time he could speak again, she was pouring a drink for the next guy. When she didn’t look his way again after she was done, he brushed a hand against hers.
“You look good tonight, Lily.”
She kept her eye on the drink she was pouring. “You look drunk tonight.”
He grinned. “And good, right?”
She walked away without ever looking at him.
If he hadn’t been so drunk, he would have enjoyed the way she ordered him to get up a few minutes later when he slid off the stool and hit the floor. He always did like a forceful woman.
Orange streetlights streaking by in a haze of rippled patterns constituted his last memory until he woke up face down on an unmade bed, the smell of vomit thick in his nostrils. Sunlight burned his retinas and for a moment he thought he’d gone blind. Blind drunk. That was the saying and maybe it had happened to him. Pain exploded in his temples and through the back of his head. He groaned as he sat up. The world came into focus again and he didn’t like what he saw. And overflowing laundry basket, crumpled sections of a newspaper, a half -eaten banana and an empty carton of cigarettes littered the bedroom floor.
The clanking of dishes brought him to the kitchen reluctantly, his feet shuffling, as if lifting them would make his head hurt worse.
Standing straight wasn’t an option this morning. He leaned a shoulder against the doorframe for support. “You been here all night?”
She flipped a pancake onto a plate. “Didn’t think you should be alone, old man. You’d probably trip over that ugly dog and hit your head on the toilet.”
Pete, the basset hound, let out an indignant huff.
He rubbed the dog’s head in comfort. “Who you callin’ old? They, whoever they is, say you’re only as old as you feel. I don’t feel a day over sixty.”
He winced as he sat in a hardwood chair at the kitchen table, using the table to buffer his weight, knowing sitting too fast would send more pain shooting through creaking joints.
She scoffed. “Well, that’s not good. You’re only fifty-five.”
He rubbed his hand across the stubble along his chin. “Fifty-four.”
She slid a plate of eggs with a side of unbuttered toast and two slices of crispy bacon across the table next to the plate of pancakes.
“You turned fifty-five last week.” She scowled. “You were probably too drunk to remember.”
He grimaced. “Not sure I can stomach that this morning.”
“The food or the truth?”
She leaned back against the counter, folded her arms across her chest. “You’re going to have to start taking care of yourself. I won’t be around the bar anymore to keep an eye on you.”
He looked up from his pancakes, one eyebrow raised questioningly. “What do you mean?”
She tossed the pan into the sink. It clattered, metal on metal. He groaned at the pain radiating in his skull.
“I quit.” The words clipped out of her sharp, like the pan in the sink. “Tired of seeing people drink themselves into an early grave. Not exactly what the honorable Rev. James Fields wanted for his baby girl.”
He snorted a laugh, a piece of bacon pinched between a thumb and forefinger, hovering a few inches from his mouth. “Funny you’d use that word to describe him.”
She stopped mid-pour, slammed the pot down. Coffee splashed onto the table. “Get yourself cleaned up, Luke. You’re pathetic.”
The slam of the door reverberated in his head.
He thought of her that night when he methodically slid the bullets in the chamber, one by one by one by one, and held the gun in a trembling hand.
He thought of her when he tipped the bullets out fifteen minutes later, placed them in the drawer by the bed, the empty gun in its box on the top shelf in the closet.
He thought of her as liquid swirled down the sink like melted caramel two days later.
He thought of her a week later during the meeting in the stale-smelling basement of the old Baptist church.
For two months, the phone didn’t ring; the knock didn’t come.
When she finally walked up the sidewalk he stood in the doorway, hands in his front jean pockets, one side of his body propped against the doorframe, eyes narrowed in bright sunlight that caught the blond highlights in her hair. Fresh from the shower, he was clean shaven, his hair wet, but combed.
She stopped a few feet away, one hand resting on a slender hip encased in faded blue jeans. His gaze stayed on her eyes, didn’t stray, even though he wanted it to wander down the length of her, across the curves his hands wanted to touch.
“You should have left me when you had the chance.”
She smirked. “I did.”
A smile tilted one side of his mouth up. “You should have stayed left then.”
“I should have done a lot of things.”
He pushed off the doorframe and stood straight, fully blocking the doorway. “I could fall off the wagon, you know.”
She squinted back at him, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand. “You could. “
Her perfume, like lilacs blooming in spring, was intoxicating, the kind of intoxication that heightened his senses instead of dulled them. She stepped up to him, tilted her face up toward his.
His fingertips grazed her cheek, trailed along her jawline. “You’re better than whiskey, Lily. Always have been. I was just too messed up to see it.”
He traced her bottom lip with the edge of his thumb. She closed her eyes.
Pressing his forehead against hers, his voice faded to a whisper. “You sure you want to take a chance on me again?”
The answer came with her mouth warm and soft on his. Sliding one arm across her lower back, he pulled her gently against him and moved his other hand behind her head, his fingers clutching at her hair. She wound her arms around his neck as the kiss deepened. The taste of her lips sent adrenaline crashing through his veins, chasing away logic and reason.
They stayed pressed together, clutching each other, even when their lips parted. They didn’t speak for a long time; simply looked into each other’s eyes, relearning.
Sunlight glinted off the diamond when she raised her hand. “For better or for worse. Right?”
He shook his head. “All I’ve ever given you is worse.”
Welcome to the final chapter of Quarantined. To catch up with the story click HERE.
John was laughing, holding one of the national newspapers that most people referred to as a “gossip rag.”
“Matt, have you seen this?”
John tossed the paper, front page up, onto Matt’s desk.
Normally Matt found himself seething with anger when he saw an inaccurate or misleading headline but this time he simply tipped his head back and laughed loudly.
“Ah, man, this press conference might be fun,” he said with a grin, tying his tie. “You think they’ll ask me about it?”
John tossed another gossip newspaper on the top of the desk and nodded. “I’d guess someone will. TMZ is covering it too.”
“TMZ? I’m not Jay-Z or Beyonce. Are you serious?”
Matt was laughing harder now as he snatched up the folder with his notes and walked briskly toward the office door. “Come on, let’s do this. Cassie, you want to watch this one? This one could be fun.”
Cassie glanced at the front page of the paper as she walked toward the door then stopped, took a few steps backward and looked at the paper again.
“Is that me? In a robe? Where was that photographer even at to get that photo?”
Her eyes were wide as she followed Matt down the hallway. “Matt, we need to install a fence and better security. That’s an invasion of privacy.”
A splattering of camera flashes and shutter clicks met Matt when he reached the end of the stairs of the capitol and stood in front of the members of the press, many of them shoving cellphones and microphones at him. Cassie and John stood behind him, listening to a variety of questions related to the current uncertain situation with a possible deadly virus moving across the country and what Matt intended to do about other pressing national security issues when the Senate was back in session.
Matt answered the questions and was preparing to wish the reporters a good day when a reporter called to him.
“Representative Grant, is it true that while you were supposed to be quarantined with your family you had another woman at your house, in your backyard? Neighbors say they saw you kissing her and leading her into your garage.”
Several cellphones and microphones were shoved back toward him.
Matt shot the reporter a surprised expression, one eyebrow raised. “I have no idea what you are referring to Patrick. Please enlighten me.”
Patrick O’Donnell held up the paper with the photograph of Cassie straddling Matt in their backyard on the lawn chair.
“That doesn’t look like a neighbor saw me. That looks like a photographer saw me.”
Patrick pressed him. “Then you don’t deny this is you in the photo?”
“No, I don’t.”
Smirks filtered across the press pool, pens moving feverishly across reporter notebooks.
“I also don’t deny that the woman in the photo is my wife, Cassie.”
A female reporter in the front of the group rolled her eyes and shoved her pen in her pocket, clearly uninterested in the story now that she knew he’d simply been with his wife.
“She dyed her hair to try something different with her appearance. And what you see there is the culmination of a wonderful at-home date night while I was in quarantine. It was a great make out session that we later moved to the privacy of our garage so we could have amazing married sex without waking our children. Yes. There really is such a thing as great married sex.”
Cassie gasped softly and clasped her hand over her mouth. John laughed and shook his head.
“Aw man…” he said. “Looks like the old Matt has come back to us.”
Matt’s expression was a cross between angry and amused. “Any more questions?”
Laughter spread across the press pool. Patrick’s face flushed bright red as he joined in the laughter. “No, Senator. I think that answers my question.”
Matt cleared his throat, his eyes moving across them, his smile fading. “With that behind us, I have an announcement to make.”
The cameras that had been turning off clicked back on. Phones were shoved toward him to record his words. Pens will slid out of pockets again.
“This will be my last term as a senator from the great state of Ohio.”
Cassie gasped for the second time in only a few minutes. Her husband was apparently full of surprises today. He hadn’t told her he was going to tell a group of national reporters about their sex life and he hadn’t told her he had decided not to run for reelection. What had changed his mind? She looked at John and noticed he didn’t have the same surprised expression on his face that she did.
“Did you know?”
He nodded, a smile tugging at one side of his mouth. He looked slightly sheepish, rubbing his hand along the back of his neck. “You mean he didn’t talk to you yet? He said he was planning to. Um . . . Yeah. Well, we’ve been talking about it, but I didn’t know he was going to announce it today.”
“What led to this decision?” a reporter asked.
“My heart,” Matt responded with a small smile, looking up and catching Cassie’s eye.
Matt answered a few more questions then stepped away from the podium and walked toward Cassie and John, reaching for Cassie’s hand. They didn’t speak until they were locked inside the elevator with John.
Matt spoke before Cassie could. “I know. I’m sorry. I should have told you I’d made this decision, but I can’t put our family through this anymore, Cassie. I can’t put you through this anymore.”
He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her gently against him. “I don’t know what our future holds, but I am thinking private practice again. John has agreed to be my paralegal and I’ll find something for Liam to do too, some way for him to use that PR degree of his.”
“Are we going back to Ohio?”
Matt nodded. “I really think that would be best at this point, yes.” He cupped her chin in his, searching her eyes. “What do you think? I know I should have asked you before I made the announcement, but what do you think?”
Cassie smiled. “I think Tyler is going to be upset leaving his friends, but I think you made the right decision. We will all adjust.”
Matt kissed her briefly as the doors to the elevator opened. Bright sunlight pouring in from the glass doors of the capitol building bounced light off the floor and chandeliers, prompting all three of them to reach for their sunglasses.
Matt paused and turned toward John. “I’m heading home for the afternoon, John. I’ll call later and we’ll discuss this more.”
John nodded. “Sounds good. Liam and I will get the releases together for you to look at.”
Matt slid his arm around Cassie’s waist as they walked nodding at a couple members of the press, a few senators and two congressmen as they walked toward the back parking lot toward their car.
Matt lifted his phone as it rang and smiled as he read the caller ID.
“What was that? I thought we were going to draft a press release when I got in this afternoon.”
“I know. Sorry. The timing just felt right.”
Liam laughed. “Classic Matt response. Seriously, it was fine with me, I just didn’t expect you to announce it so quickly. I’ll work with John on a press release with more details this afternoon. And, hey, that whole thing with Cassie was hilarious.”
Matt laughed, his hand on the door to his car. “It was but at the same time it was concerning. I don’t like the idea of the press being able to access our property that way. I think stepping out of the limelight for the next few months should help alleviate some of that until we can get back to Ohio. Anyhow, things still getting better with you and Maddie?”
“We’ve barely left this bed all morning, does that answer your question?”
Matt winced and made a face. “Dude, as happy as I am that you and Maddie are getting things back on track, I did not need to know that.”
Liam burst into laughter. “I didn’t mean it that way.” Matt could hear Maddie laughing in the background. “We’re watching movies together. That’s all. For now, anyhow.”
“Ah man, I have to go. Too much information, Liam.”
Cassie slid into the passenger seat as Matt slid behind the steering wheel.
“So, what’s the verdict? Things still getting better over there?”
“I’d say so. They’ve been in bed all day.”
Cassie made the same face Matt had made a few moments earlier. “Oh, that’s what you meant by too much information. I mean I’m happy for them, but that’s more than I needed to know.”
“He said they’re watching movies.”
Cassie laughed, flipping back a strand of her now blond-streaked brown hair. “Yeah, sure that’s all they’re doing. But good. That means that both of the Grant brother’s marriages are on the right track then.”
Matt leaned toward his wife and cupped his hand against her face, sliding his thumb along her cheekbone. “Yes. That is exactly what that means.”
A smiled tugged at Matt’s mouth, even though he’d considered teasing his wife for a moment and pretending to be upset at whatever important news she said she had to tell him. This announcement, though, had genuinely brought a smile to his face. Yes, the children they had were exhausting. Yes, this news was definitely a shock and surprise. But also, yes, he loved his children, they were a blessing, and if God was giving them another blessing, he was more than ready to accept it.
Cassie caught her lower lip between her teeth then let it slide out again. “Are you upset?”
“Upset? Do I look upset?” He pulled Cassie gently against him and kissed her mouth gently. “This is wonderful news, Cassie.”
“Even now, with our future up in the air? With you getting ready to leave the Senate and rebuilding your law firm?”
“Even now, Cassie.” He looked at her with a furrowed brow. “I don’t know why you’re shaking. Were you that nervous to tell me?”
Cassie nodded, tears rimming her eyes even though a smile was pulling at her mouth. “I know it was silly, but yes, I was that nervous. Not just to tell you, but what it might mean for ”
Matt wiped at the tear that escaped the corner of her eye with the palm of his thumb. “We’ll make it work. I’m not worried about that.”
When his cellphone rang he let it go to voicemail, not even bothering to see who it was. Whoever it was could call back.
Cassie wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I wonder what the kids will think.”
“Tyler might not be very happy, but I think the girls will love the idea of a baby to take care of.”
His cellphone rang again. Cassie nodded toward it. “Maybe you’d better take that. You’re not out of the Senate yet. It could be important.”
Matt shrugged. “Doubt it.” He reached for the phone anyhow, glancing at the caller ID.
It was coming out of Washington, that’s all he knew, and it was probably Senate business, but that business could wait.
He placed the phone down again and slid his arm back around Cassie, holding her close. “I don’t have time for spam right now. I’ll listen to it later. Right now my focus needs to be on this family and,” he smiled as he touched Cassie’s belly. “This new baby.”
Matt rubbed his hands across his eyes and yawned. He’d been ignoring his phone and emails all day. He and Cassie had talked about the new baby, told the children, had dinner, spent some time watching a movie and holding each other and now Cassie was asleep upstairs. He’d stumbled into his office to catch up on phone calls and see what he’d been missing. One voicemail was from John, asking him to call him back, another was a call from a member of the media, and the third was from Liam, asking him about his plans for Labor Day weekend.
He reached over to click off the desk lamp as the phone rang again. He lifted it, glancing at the caller ID and yawning again. 202 area code. Someone in Washington again. He rolled his eyes, ready for his day to be over, but he decided he had better take the call this time. This same number had called four times today already.
“Hello. Glad I finally caught you. This is Alexander Marshall, Chief of Staff for the president. We noticed on the news that you’ve decided not to run for re-election this year.”
The White House? Really? Matt definitely new Alexander’s name but he needed to feel this conversation out; make sure it was actually him.
“Um, yeah. Hello, Mr. Marshall. Yes, I felt that I’d accomplished at least most of what I wanted to do here, for my constituents and that I should —”
“We understand, Matt, may I call you Matt? And I certainly would want you to call me Alexander.”
“Yes. Sure. Of course, you can call me Matt.”
He was beginning to think this really was Alexander Marshall. He certainly had the same New York accent as Alexander Marshall.
“We understand why you’re stepping down Matt, but to be blunt, we don’t think your job is done here in Washington yet. You’ve propelled a lot of the goals of our party forward in some very high-profile ways. Listen, Matt while we here at the White House, specifically the president, respect your decision to stay home with your family, we are willing to offer you a position on the president’s cabinet, which would keep you in Washington and close to your family while also still being able to serve your country, something we know is very important to you.”
Matt sat up straighter in his chair as Alexander continued speaking. His exhaustion was fading, adrenaline kicking in fast.
“As you know the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has stepped down and this is the position the president has personally asked us to approach you about and have you consider taking on. Would you be willing to at least consider this offer and get back to us by the end of the week with your answer?”
Matt’s mouth had gone dry. He shook his head as if to wake himself from the dream he was sure he was having. The president wanted him on his cabinet? Was this really happening?
“Uh, yes. Yes, of course I will consider it Mr. Marshall – um, Alexander.”
“Great. That’s great. I hope to hear by this week that you’ll be joining our team.”
As he hung up Matt felt a twinge of guilt. Had he just said he’d consider a job on the president’s cabinet, on the same day he’d promised his wife he’d consult everything with her from now on, especially if it affected the entire family? Indeed, he had.
He let out a long breath. He had to talk to Cassie about this sooner rather than later. He couldn’t keep the news from her. They’d have to discuss it and make a decision.
Whatever that decision was, though, he knew they’d make it together – as a family.
You can catch up with the previous parts of this short story HERE.
The election had been brutal. There was no denying it. Worse than the campaigning, the traveling, the long days, had been the media coverage; non-stop negative stories aimed at destroying Matthew Grant before he could even open his mouth. The media machine was out of control. There was no denying it, especially after that first month of campaigning when one of the state’s biggest newspapers had questioned his staff’s lack of diversity.
From there it had been combing through Matt and Liam’s social media accounts, searching for anything that would sink them in the political arena. One rogue satirical Tweet from his college days, labeled as sexist by feminists, dominated headlines for a few days, but as it always was with the current 24-hour/7-day a week news cycle, the press had turned it’s hungry eyes to another candidate, another subject the following week.
The polls showed Matt losing and big, right up until election day, but the night of the election the numbers had come in fast and furious late in the evening. Matt had won by a landslide. Apparently the silent voters, the one who didn’t want to be yelled at or condemned for their opinions, had come out in droves and sent a hard message home to the incumbent and his political party: “We’ve had enough of the status quo and of corrupt politicians with empty promises and even emptier apologies.”
Matt knew, though, that in six months he could be in the same boat and it could be his rear end with the boot of the voter against it as they shoved him out the door. Voters, like public opinion, were fickle and ever changing and some days nothing a congressman did could make anyone happy. Matt had only been a congressman for two years but he felt like it had been ten. Now he had a small idea why so many presidents went gray while in office, though thankfully he didn’t have the same pressure as a president.
He yawned, stretching his arms out as if he intended to stand up and head up to bed, but he didn’t. Instead he fell back on the couch again, remote in hand. He surfed streaming services, suggested shows and movies scrolling by his eyes, but he wasn’t really seeing any of it. His mind had slipped back to two and a half years ago, to near the end of the election when the news stories were at their worst. He was being called a racist, anti-woman, anti-this, anti-that. He had lost count of all the names they had called him during that time.
“Is this even worth it?” he asked Cassie one night in bed, snuggled close against her.
“If you can get in there and really help facilitate some change, then, yes, it’s worth it,” she assured him.
But then the win came and with it came more news stories, personal attacks against him and his family. The worst came when one of his staff members brought him an article about Cassie, accusing her of being fired from her previous job.
He was furious. “Where did they even get that story? Cassie was never fired from her job. She left to support me and be with the children.”
Scanning the story he saw a former co-worker of Cassie’s was quoted and offered only summations, not facts. Still, the headline suggested the accusations were true. It wouldn’t have upset Matt as much if it had been about him instead of Cassie. He’d grown accustomed to being accused of inappropriate acts or offensive words, or anything else the press could come up with, but Cassie?
Cassie was off limits.
Only she wasn’t off limits.
She wasn’t off limits because he had made her fair game when he’d decided to accept the party’s urging to run. He’d dragged her out into the open and essentially thrown her to the wolves. The story had been pushed to the side quickly in a few days with another news story, about another congressman, overshadowing it. The fast pace of the 24/7 news cycle was one of the only good aspects of it. It meant a story that was in the forefront one day, was gone by the next day and even though the story on Cassie had faded fast, he still felt incredible guilt about how much he’d exposed his family during this process.
He’d always wanted to protect Cassie now he didn’t know how to. The negativity was coming at him from every side in a hyper-political atmosphere that was beginning to suffocate him.
His phone rang and he glanced at the ID before answering it.
“Hey, bro,” he said to Liam. “You hanging in there?”
“Yeah. Locked myself in my office. You?”
“Yeah. Feels weird just to be sitting at home.”
“A good weird or a bad weird?”
“Things okay with Cassie? The kids?”
“Kids are doing great. They don’t know much about what’s going on. Cassie’s . . . okay, I guess. She seems tired.”
“Is she mad at you for all this?”
Matt laughed. “She doesn’t seem mad, really. She just seems like Cassie. She’s cooking for the kids and me, cleaning, checking on her parents.”
“Did you ask her if she was okay?” Liam asked.
“Yeah, she said she’s fine.”
Matt heard a small laugh on the other end of the phone.
“What?” he asked. “No, don’t even say it. You think ‘I’m fine’ is code for something else.”
“You know I’m not expert on women,” Liam started.
“Uh, obviously,” Matt snorted.
“But, I am learning during this that apparently when a woman says she’s okay, she’s really not,” Liam continued. “I didn’t know that Maddie was struggling, Matt. I just thought she hated me, that I was doing everything wrong, but I think she feels — I don’t know. Abandoned. She pretty much told me she feels like I abandoned her.”
Matt sighed, laying on his back, staring at the ceiling. He slid his arm behind his head. “In what way did you abandon her?”
“Staying at work too much, for one,” Liam answered. “She says I worked more so I didn’t have to face us losing the babies.”
“No, I . . .”
Liam’s voice trailed off and then there was a brief silence. “Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, I did. When you asked me to be your press secretary I jumped at it because I knew I would be so busy I wouldn’t have to think about losing the babies, about that empty hole in the center of my chest.”
Matt sat up, propping his elbow against his knee. “Liam, I’m sorry I was so focused on the election, on me, that I didn’t notice all you were going through.”
“Dude, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I didn’t even admit to myself how much it was bothering me.”
“I know, it’s just — I’m really realizing how out of touch I’ve been with what really matters; you and Maddie, the kids. Cassie. When I decided to run I pulled all of you —”
“Matt,” Liam said. “No. You were doing what you felt was right. And it wasn’t just you who decided to run. We all decided. As a family. We knew this could be rough. Yeah, it’s a little worse than we expected with all the extra political drama going on these days, but we are still in this together. It’s okay. We’re all okay. Well, we will be okay, one way or another anyhow. None of this is your fault.”
Matt flopped back on the couch again. “I know it isn’t. But I still feel . . . guilty. I don’t know. What I do know is that all of this, this forced slow down, has opened my eyes up to what I’ve been missing lately. I don’t like that our family, or our country, is going through this, but it’s putting some things in perspective for me.”
Matt heard his brother sigh on the other end of the phone.
“Yeah,” Liam whispered. “It’s doing the same for me.”
I wrote Quarantined as a short story back in April. I’ve decided to combine it with a follow-up story called Rekindle and release it at some point on Kindle Unlimited as a novella under the title Quarantined. I shared the first part of Rekindle about a month ago, but instead of linking to it, I thought I’d just share part one and two here today.
Matt Grant tapped the end button on the screen of his phone and laid the phone on the coffee table next to his laptop and paperwork. He rubbed his hand across his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a tension headache pulsating in his temples.
He’d just got off the phone with his assistant press secretary, John Chambers. They’d drafted another statement for the media, answering accusations that Matt was still at work in his office in the House of Representatives.
“Just make sure they know I’m at home, self-quarantining, just like my doctor told me to,” Matt had told John, more than a touch of annoyance in his voice.
“I’m making sure,” John said. “I’m assuring them all of us are safely locked away now. Just like the critics seem to think we should be, even though our preliminary tests are inconclusive. I doubt this will satisfy them, but we can try.”
With the statement to the press out of the way, Matt’s mind wandered back to his brother Liam, who he needed to call and check on. Liam’s preliminary test had been positive, which was what had triggered this latest scandal in the first place. Matt was sure Liam would be fine but there was a small part of him that worried about his little brother catching the virus that was sending others to ICUs across the country. Matt wasn’t only worried about Liam’s physical help though. He was also worried about his mental and emotional health.
Liam had told Matt months ago that his marriage was in shambles. Matt had barely listened, sure his brother and sister-in-law would work things out. Matthew knew Liam still loved his wife Maddie, and Maddie still loved Liam. If they didn’t still love each other they wouldn’t be struggling so much with the idea of divorce.
It couldn’t be easy being quarantined together during a pandemic with all the issues they had with each other but Matthew was glad they were. Maybe they’d work out some of those issues and save what had been a great union at one time. As it was, their divorce proceedings had been delayed because of the pandemic. As Matthew saw it, this was a way for them to buy more time and truly be sure the divorce was what they wanted and he told his brother as much on the phone just now.
What made Matthew uncomfortable wasn’t only that he could hear pain mixed with longing in his brother’s voice when they had talked on the video call. It was also that he wondered, worried even, that maybe his marriage was bleeding out in the same way his younger brother’s had and he had been too wrapped up in himself to realize it.
Matthew and Cassie hadn’t had a lot of time alone lately. They actually had barely had time to even speak lately.
Their life had been a runaway train since the election two years ago and now it was picking up speed again as Matthew’s re-election campaign was underway. In Washington he faced daily drama and conflict whether he wanted it or not. Becoming the youngest head of the Intel Committee four months ago hadn’t helped slow things down any either.
Then there was this crazy never-before-seen virus that seemed to come out of nowhere a few weeks ago and now had him at home with his family, waiting to see if he developed any symptoms after being exposed to it more than a week ago and maybe again a few days ago. He was convinced if he had the virus, he would have developed symptoms by now, but he stayed home to make sure things looked good to the press and his constituents. Making sure things “looked good and right” to others seemed to be 90 percent of his job anymore, leaving little room for him to actually do good and right and accomplish the things he’d been elected to do.
All the drama in the House of Representatives left him little time to focus on Cassie or the kids and he regretted that. He regretted it even more when his brother’s march toward divorce had become a growing reality. He’d never pictured Liam and Maddie divorced. They were the perfect couple. They’d weathered some hard storms, but Matthew had been sure the challenges would bring them closer together. In fact, he thought it had but now he realized he’d been too wrapped up in the campaign and job to notice how much they’d actually drifted apart.
Sure, Liam, as his press secretary, spent many late nights working with him, but he imagined when he went home he and Maddie made up for lost time. Instead Matt had just learned that Liam had been working at home as well, passing out in his office, leaving Maddie alone most of the time, writing her romance novels and reaching for companionship on social media.
Matthew and Liam’s parents had been the perfect example of a stable, loving marriage. Married 54 years, Tom and Phyllis Grant made it clear each day how much they loved each other. Sure, they had argued, even in front of their children, but those arguments had been resolved usually before the sun had gone down and with a fair amount of ‘making up’. Matthew and Liam, and his sister Lana had been grateful the majority of that making up had gone on behind closed doors.
Standing from the couch to stretch, Matthew looked out the window at his own three children playing ball in the backyard and felt a twinge of guilt. Getting pregnant and carrying three babies to term had been easy for him and Cassie. They’d never had to face the heartbreak of not being able to get pregnant or of a miscarriage. Matthew felt like he’d taken being able to become a father so easily for granted.
He looked around his living room, well decorated with expensive furniture and commissioned paintings, and thought about how much of his life he had taken for granted, especially lately. He’d taken for granted the newer model car he drove, the highly-rated bed he slept on, the full refrigerator, and even fuller bank account.
He rubbed his hand along his chin and turned toward the kitchen where Cassie was making a late lunch for him and the kids. Her dark brown hair fell to her waist in a tight braid, the bottom of it grazing the top of the waistband of a pair of red workout shorts. Her favorite T-shirt, featuring Johnny Cash wearing a cowboy hat, fit her medium build well, hugging all the areas it should, especially for the benefit of her husband admiring the view that he hadn’t admired for a long time.
He watched her stirring the taco meat in the skillet and his gaze traveled down her legs and back up again, thinking about the first time they’d met in an English lecture at college.
He’d leaned over the desk to try to get her attention, but she was intently focused on the professor. He had tried again.
She glared over her shoulder at him.
“Do you have an extra pen?” he whispered.
She rolled her eyes, ignored him, tapping the end of her own pen against her cheek gently as she kept her eyes focused forward.
“It’s just,” he leaned a little closer so he didn’t interrupt the other students. “I left my pen back in my dorm room and I want to make sure I’m taking notes.”
He was glad he had leaned a little closer. She smelled amazing. What was that perfume? He had no idea but it was intoxicating. Maybe it was her shampoo. The fluorescent light from the lecture hall was reflecting off her luxurious black strands of hair and he pondered what it would feel like to reach out and touch it. But he didn’t reach out and touch it. That would be weird. Even a 19-year old college freshman like himself knew that.
A year later, though, he was touching that soft dark hair while he kissed Cassie for the first time outside her dorm after their third date. And over the years he’d sank his hands in that hair in moments of tenderness and moments of passion. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he watched his wife and thought about a few of those moments, including that time in the back of his new car after he’d landed that job at the law firm in Detroit.
He could deny it. It wasn’t only the material things of his life that he had taken for granted. He had also been taking Cassie for granted. For far too long.
Cassie Grant turned from where she was cooking lunch for her husband and children and watched her husband pace back and forth in the living room.
She knew he was worried about the situation with the virus, the way his office had been thrown into the middle of an unexpected scandal. She was sure he was also worried about whether he’d develop symptoms of the virus, pass it on to the children, and if his other staff members would be infected, now that it looked like Liam’s test for it was positive. Too little was known about how the virus affected the majority of people, although early reports stated that most cases were mild.
And then there was Liam and Maddie’s marriage, which was about to end. Matt and his brother had been raised by parents who had been married 54 years. The brothers and their sister weren’t a product of divorce and Cassie wondered if the prospect of Liam’s marriage ending was weighing on Matt’s mind along with the virus.
Cassie wasn’t sure what her husband was thinking anymore, though, because Matt hadn’t been talking to her much lately. He’d been busy at the office, putting out fires, which seemed to pop up several times throughout the day, thanks to a 24/7 news cycle that never let up.
She couldn’t deny that she missed seeing her husband. She missed their date nights and family movie nights and him just being around the house when she needed him. But she knew that he was doing what he thought was right to try to make a difference for the people who elected him.
Turning the burner down she leaned back against the counter and watched Matt turn and look out the window where their children were playing. Her gaze fell on the back of his head, on his soft brown hair and she remembered with a soft laugh that day in college when they’d been studying in a private room on the first floor of the university library. The love seat they were sitting on was soft, plush, light maroon.
Papers and books were spread out in front of them and Matt was debating the importance of some moment in history to the future of something or other. Cassie didn’t know. She’d tuned him out long ago. She’d been watching him, though, amazed at how impassioned he was about the topic at hand, at the muscles in his jaw, at his long, strong fingers, at a strand of hair that had fallen across his forehead that she desperately wanted to push to the side. And she’d definitely been watching his mouth, his lips looking amazingly kissable.
Cassie was sick of listening to him quite frankly.
“Cassie, don’t you see that —”
Matt’s words were cut short as Cassie leaned forward and pressed her mouth to his, touching the side of his face gently. She pulled back and looked at him, her mouth still inches from his.
“Oh. Um. Okay. Was I talking too —”
“Just shut up, Matt.”
He laughed softly and she caught his mouth with hers again, sinking her hands into his hair, moving closer to him at the same time he moved closer to her.
He slid his arm around her and held her to him gently as the kiss continued.
“So, I guess you weren’t only interested in me as a study partner,” he said breathlessly a few moments later.
“Is that the only way you were interested in me?” she asked, her fingers still in his hair, playing with it.
A grin tugged at one corner of his mouth. “What do you think Cassie Henderson?”
She answered with another kiss, and they leaned back against the seat as they kissed, forgetting they were in a study room in the library.
Three years later they were married, a year later their first, a boy, was born. That had been 15 years ago and now they had three children, an expensive home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Matt was a U.S. Congressman while she stayed home with the children, her career as a social worker long behind her.
Sure, some of that initial passion was gone, replaced with the everyday and the mundane, but Cassie recognized this as a season – a season during which marriage became more about comfortable moments and less about desire. It wasn’t that she didn’t have desire for Matt; it was just that they never seemed to have time for it anymore.
She startled out of her thoughts, smelling something burning.
She rushed to the stove and turned it down, smoke billowing from the skillet where she’d been browning meat for tacos. She moved the skillet to another burner and groaned. It looked like they’d be having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch today.
The blaring of the smoke alarm only made the humiliation that much worse.
Matt rushed into the kitchen, waving a newspaper at the smoke. “Whoa there! Let’s not add burned down house to our list of bizarre occurrences for the month.”
“Sorry. I guess I got distracted.”
Matt pulled the battery from the fire alarm. “No big deal, right? It might can be salvaged.”
He grimaced at the charged edges of the meat in the pan. “Or maybe the dog would like a treat.”
Cassie sighed. “I’m not sure even Barney should eat that. Anyhow, I’ll make the kids some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You want one?”
“You know what? Yeah. I haven’t one of those in years. Crustless?”
Cassie shook her head. “What are you, 6?”
“Just for sentimental reasons,” Matt said with a wink. “My mom used to make them that way for me.”
Cassie pulled the bread out of the bread box and Matt slid the peanut butter and jelly across the counter.
“So, being quarantined with me has to be pretty boring for you, huh?” he asked.
“Not really,” she said with a smile, spreading peanut butter on slices of bread. “But it is weird seeing you here this time of day or, well, much at all.”
Matt winced softly. “Ouch.”
“Well, it’s not your fault. You’re busy.” He couldn’t read her tone of voice but sadly it seemed more apathetic, more along the line of “that’s just the way it is” than anything else.
Matt leaned back against the counter, sliding his hands in his dress pants pockets. He looked at his dress shoes, chewing on his bottom lip, thinking. First, he thought about how absent he’d been in his family’s life. Then he thought about how he was quarantined at home but for some reason he was still wearing dress shoes, a dress shirt and tie, as if he was on his way to a meeting or a congressional hearing. He had apparently forgotten how to relax, unwind, and kick back.
He cleared his throat. “I guess I can go to change into something more comfortable. It doesn’t look like I’ll be doing anything business related for a few days anyhow.”
When he returned wearing a pair of sweatpants and a Garth Brooks t-shirt the children were already around the table, munching on sandwiches and drinking chocolate milk.
“Daddy! Sit next to me!” his youngest, Lauren, called, tapping the back of the chair next to her.
“Okay. I can do that.”
His son Tyler eyed him over his glass of chocolate milk as he drank from it. At the age of 13 he waffled between being interested and detached most of the time Matt interacted with him.
“It’s weird seeing you here,” Tyler said bluntly as Matt sat down.
Matt looked into his son’s bright blue eyes, noticing the acne starting to form along the top of his forehead near his closely cropped hairline.
Matt wasn’t sure how to take the comment. Did Tyler mean “good weird” or “bad weird”? Should he ask? Did he even want to know?
Luckily, he didn’t have to decipher his son’s meaning for long.
“But it’s a good weird, right?” Cassie asked, as if she could read Matt’s mind, and after 15-years of marriage, she probably could.
Tyler grinned. “Yeah. It’s a good weird. Just weird.”
Gracie, the middle daughter, smiled sweetly at Matt and then giggled around a mouthful of sandwich.
“I like you being here, Daddy.”
Matt smiled back at her, reaching across the table to cover her hand with his. “I like it too, sweetie. Maybe something good will come out of all of this, huh? At least you will all see me a little more often.”
His gaze focused on Cassie and he saw she was watching him, but again he was having a hard time reading her feelings. Was she happy they’d all be spending more time together? Or was the extra time with him simply a reminder for her how much she didn’t need him around anymore?
I feel like I’m overwhelming my blog with fiction (and posts in general), but, oh well, I guess. People seem to be following along and enjoying the stories so I’ll keep going. Plus, it’s good to give readers a lot of options that aren’t related to current events.
Quarantined was not a planned project. It came to me very fast and just poured out of me so I thought I’d share to my fiction loving readers (thanks for following along, by the way.) You can find the rest of the parts at the following links: Part 1, Part 2,Part 3, and Part 4. I’ll be posting the final part Sunday or Monday. For other fiction, you can check out the 35 chapters of A New Beginning, which will be published at a later date on Kindle (so you don’t have to click chapter to chapter if you haven’t been following along) or A Story To Tell, which is on Kindle now. By the way, this blog is not aimed at selling products, so I don’t mean to share about my book on every fiction post. My books are priced very low but I wanted somewhere I could place them where people could read them in full instead of skipping from chapter to chapter and I chose Amazon because I have a Kindle. I have found some other options since then for future books. Anyhow…let’s get on with the story, shall we?!
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, 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.
Second, are all of you using the new blocks system for writing now? I hated it when they first introduced it and I still somewhat hate it, but I’m getting used to it.
Third, does anyone who uses WordPress know if you can make text single line and indent?
And fourth (I know, I said three, so sue me.), what do you think of the story so far? Let me know in the comments!
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, which was 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 two 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 and 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.
This is a short story inspired by current events. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here, if you want to follow along. This is a six-part story (possibly five if I combine two parts). For anyone following A New Beginning, the last three chapters will be on the blog Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
“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 front door crashed closed, rattling the hinges. Liam stared after his wife, jaw tight, heart still pounding from adrenaline. He shook his head, trying to relax his jaw, still clenched in anger.
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 top of 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 formers 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.
Alone, yet together on this journey. She was leaving behind all she’d ever known.
Her mother, sweet and tender.
Her father, hard and stubborn, yet she knew he loved her.
The man with her, Augustus, a Roman by birth, married her in secret in the home of Tehal, who’d been healed of her affliction by the touch of a garment.
Could she trust her future to this man with kind eyes and a caring heart?
She felt that she could, knowing they were both called to the open road.
February 27, 2020, prompt from The Carrot Ranch Literary Community: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the open road. Where will the trip lead? Who is going, and why? Follow the open road wherever it may lead!
Respond by March 3, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.