A bit of fiction for your Thursday: Rekindle Part 1 and Part 2

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.

“Pst.”

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

“Pst.”

She glared over her shoulder at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

She knew he was worried about the situation with the virus, the way his office had been thrown into the middle of an unexpected scandal. She was sure he was also worried about whether he’d develop symptoms of the virus, pass it on to the children, and if his other staff members would be infected, now that it looked like Liam’s test for it 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.

“Oh no!”

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

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

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

“Sorry. I guess I got distracted.”

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

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

Cassie sighed. “I’m not sure even Barney should eat that. 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?

Quarantined: A Short Story Part 5

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.”

“Well?”

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

“Did you do those things?”

“You know I didn’t, Matt.”

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

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

“And the affairs?” Matt asked.

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

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

Matt laughed. “Liam, no, I don’t, and I don’t know if Maddie really does either, but she’s scared. She obviously 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.

“Liam?”

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.

“What?”

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.

“Please?”

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.”

“Yeah.”

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

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

Silence settled over them again.

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

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

Silence settled over them again.

“Liam?”

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

“If this kills one of us —”

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

“But if it does . . . 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.”

“And, Liam?”

“Yeah?”

“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.

“Maddie?”

“Yeah?”

“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.

Quarantined: (A Short Story Part 4)

So, three things before you read part four of Quarantined. First, this is the fourth part of a six part story. You can find the links here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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!


QUARANTINED (5)

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.

“Hey.”

“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.

“I’m sorry?”

“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.

“What?”

“I said why —”

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

“Only because I knew you wanted it.”

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

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

He pushed his plate and mug away from him. He couldn’t even believe what he was hearing.  Standing from the breakfast bar 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.