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.
I’ll be sharing another chapter of The Farmer’s Daughter tomorrow.
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?