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Authors: Maya Brooks

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Why did
everything have to fight him like this?

It wasn’t worth
the effort.

Just when he
was about to throw the package at the wall, Laura interrupted him.

“Take them out,
put them on a plate, and shove them in the microwave. Zap them for two minutes,
if they’re still not warm, zap them for two minutes more.”

His heart beat
like a sledgehammer, and every bite seemed to grow in his mouth. His stomach
wasn’t adverse to the food, though, and he did his best to keep eating. “So…
What have you been up to?”

“Nothing much.
Missing you, working, crying in Heather’s arms over your leaving.”

Her words made
him laugh out loud. The mere thought of someone missing
him
enough to
cry was preposterous enough to belong in a comedy club.

Once he made it
to bed, exhaustion took its toll and it was a matter of seconds before he
drifted off. He fell asleep with Laura’s gentle voice in his ears.

“Sweet dreams,
lover. Call me when you wake up.”

 

*****

 

When Laura hung
up, she exhaled and forced herself to put the phone down slowly.

She
wanted
to yell, slap him, and shake some sense into him, but that would be
counterproductive. Maintaining a serene façade took a lot out of her.

What I’ve
been doing? For the last three days I’ve been worrying myself towards an early
grave. Before that, I told you to go home, to eat something, to get some sleep,
and to charge your phone, but you don’t remember any of it.

His incoherent
ramblings had all but broken her heart, and the complete silence that followed
was even worse.

Snatching the
phone up again, she called Heather.

“I have to go
to Canada.”


Canada?
When?”

“Tomorrow. What
do I do?”

“I’ll put in
for vacation for you, but you’d better call in. You know he’s been on a firing
spree.”

True, and
this will take more than a few days. Maybe I should just quit and get it over
with
.

Heather’s voice
sounded curious. “Honey, why are you going to Canada?”

“Marc lives
there.”

“And he’s in
trouble, of course. Funny, I always imagined him belonging to Hollywood.”

“Me too. A lot
of stuff I thought was American comes from there. I had no idea.”

“You know they
have winter now, right?”

“No. Crap. I
don’t have any warm clothes.”

Heather
hesitated. “Laura, I don’t think you’ll be coming back here. Keep in touch,
okay? And take care of yourself. He’s adorable, but don’t let him drag you
down.”

The kind words
created a big lump in her throat.

“I’ll call you
tomorrow.”

All of a sudden
there was so much to do, and she couldn’t decide which feeling was more
overwhelming: being mortified for him, or joyous over him asking her to come.

She scurried
around the apartment, touching random things, realized she wasn’t getting
anywhere, and forced herself to sit down and make a plan.

I have to be
there for Marc or I won’t be able to live with myself. Whatever mess remains
behind, I can deal with later.

Her wardrobe
had never seemed so poor.

How long
will I be there? A day? Forever?

She ended up
packing all her good clothes and shoes, and a few loved things that were so
small he wouldn’t notice.

What else?
Bills? I get them online. Mail? There has to be a forwarding form here
somewhere…

Marc called
again after a couple of hours. She could hear him grimace.

“As long as I’m
home talking to you, I’m not getting into trouble.”

The comment
pinched at her heart, but made her laugh too. He was still drinking, but it was
the most sober he’d sounded since leaving her apartment.

It’s harder
for him up there, surrounded by old habits.

They spent a
couple of hours playing online games, just to keep him occupied.

He wasn’t the
only one with problems sleeping. Her stomach was filled with butterflies,
keeping rest away, but she managed to slumber for a couple of hours.

She had a
peculiar feeling when she went through her apartment, checking doors and
windows were locked. Heather’s words rang in her ears.

I’ll never
come back here. It feels like I’ll be back in two days, but I don’t think I’ll
ever see this place again. Even if I do, it won’t be the same.

She had a lump
in her throat when she went to the taxi, and swallowed hard, saying goodbye to
the woman she had been.

The airport
overwhelmed her, but she made her way to the right gate, and her mood
brightened once she was on the plane. One had to gamble to win. This might be
the greatest gamble of her life, and if she won…

Either way, it
was an adventure. It was her first time in first class, and she marveled over
the flight attendants fussing over her, tending to her every need. There was
breakfast, orange juice, and all the coffee she could ask for.

Is this
plane never going to land?

A man in the
neighboring seat pulled up a terminal from the armrest, and she imitated him.

Ooh, a
computer. Games. Flight data. Four more hours, are you kidding?

When the plane
finally went in for landing, she peeked out the window. After living a lifetime
in the sunshine state, the outside snow looked so different she almost
panicked.

Wow it looks
cold. This might not have been my best idea ever.

She forced
herself to shake it off. She was a big girl, and had nothing to fear. Worst
case scenario, she could get a taxi, go to a hotel, and fly back home.

She left the
plane trying to look in all directions at once. Marc had promised to meet her,
but she didn’t know where, and the airport was huge.

At least
there’s lots of stuff to look at. Is that supposed to be a fish? Oooh, that
abstract bird is pretty cool. Holy moly what a big canoe. I hope he isn’t
standing me up.

Maybe he got
drunk again and forgot all about her, or slept through the day.

Trudging
forward, she hoped she was going in the right direction. Then he was there,
leaning against a wall, waiting for her. He had made a valiant attempt to
straighten up, was newly showered and shaved, and he held her tight.

He whispered,
“Thank you for coming, it’s so good to see you.”

Marc took her
suitcase and fumbled for her hand. She squeezed his fingers, suddenly
overwhelmed by an urge to sit down, anywhere would do, rest her head against
him, and close her eyes.

“People are
staring.”

He glanced
around and gave a slight shrug.

“Ignore them.
They don’t have lives of their own, so they want a piece of ours. How was your
flight?”

She clasped his
hand a little harder.

“It was good. I
can’t believe you put me in first class.”

“Do you want
anything? Coffee? Lunch?”

She paused and
stood on her toes to whisper in his ear.

“I want
you
.”

He rewarded her
with a warm smile that reached his eyes.

“You have me.
Anything else?”

“I’m good for
now. How ‘bout you?”

He snorted, “I
want a big fucking drink, what else is new.”

“Lately, you
swear a lot.”

He burst out
laughing, and she grinned, happy with herself for lightening the mood.

When they
reached the garage, he led her to a big black Escalade, tossed her suitcase in
the back as if it weighed nothing, and looked her over from top to toe. The
scrutiny made her cheeks heat.

“That’s your
warmest clothes, huh?”

Yes, and
what’s so funny about that?

He shook his
head, looking amused, and pulled out a jacket, a furry little hat with matching
gloves and scarf, and a pair of cute boots from the back of the car.

“I hope they
fit. I forgot your shoe size.”

She stared at
him, at the clothes, and back at him.

“How did you…
Whenever did you get time to do
that
? Wow. Thank you.”

He seemed to
find her extremely comical. “I’m not completely useless all the time. Put them
on, we’ll have to make a couple of stops on the way home, and it’s cold.”

The boots fit
just fine, and her eyes darted over to Marc who pulled out some winter clothes
for himself.

You’re the
only man I can imagine looking sexy with a knit, striped hat pulled down over
your ears.

“Are you okay
to drive?”

The words
popped out of her mouth without any involvement of the brain. Her lover
shrugged and flashed a smile that made her want to drop all her clothes.

“I made it
here. You can drive if you want to. Just remember ice is slippery. It’s not
usually this cold and snowy here, I guess nature wanted to show you some
winter.”

All of a
sudden, the car towered over her. Compared to her little Toyota, it was huge.

I wouldn’t
even get that thing out of the parking spot without crashing.

“Naah, just
checking.”

He kissed the
tip of her nose and held the door open for her.

“That’s what I
thought.”

When they
pulled out on the road, Laura stared.

The sky is
so pale, and the snow so white…

“It’s more
different than I imagined. Is snow really cold?”

Her innocent
comment made him laugh again.

“Damn, I’m glad
you’re here.”

Marc pulled up
outside a grocery store.

“It’s cold
outside but you have to come. I shouldn’t be trusted with shopping right now
God knows what I would bring home.”

If you came
home. You might wake up on Greenland…

Laura didn’t
let the thought show, she just smiled, but when she opened the door and jumped
down from the car, a wave of chilly air hit her. She could barely breathe.

“It’s like
being in the freezer. I feel like I’m actually sitting in a freezer.”

“I think you arrived
on the coldest day of the year. I’ll make you a fire when we get home, and we
can go buy you some more clothes tomorrow. Come on, let’s get you inside.” He
took a cart and frowned. “Assume we have nothing in the kitchen. Get everything
we need to survive for a couple of days.”

“Do you have
pots and pans?”

“I haven’t
looked, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.”

They ended up
with a brimming cart, and Marc balanced a coffee maker on top of it all.

“Better safe
than sorry, right?”

“Didn’t she
leave
anything
?”

“I don’t know.”

Chapter Eight

 

 

When Marc
pulled up outside the house, Laura stared and blinked several times.

“That’s where
you live.”

“Yeah, it’s not
great, but it’s home.”

Not great?
What is he talking about? This house could be amazing.

“I’m gonna get
lost in there.”

He looked as if
it was the funniest thing anyone said, ever.

“Maybe I should
put a GPS tracker on you.”

“Or draw me a
map.”

His eyes
resting on her face made her want to blush.

“C’mon, let’s
get the food in and I’ll take you on a tour. The inside is horrible. I wanted
to clean it up before you came, but I didn’t have it in me.”

The hallway
wasn’t too bad, and the kitchen seemed almost cozy.

He even has
curtains, this isn’t as bad as I expected.

Marc put a
couple of plastic bags on a counter.

“If you unpack,
I’ll get the rest.”

“But… I don’t
know where anything goes.”

Why is he
looking at me like that?

Marc’s eyes
said she was cute, but extremely silly. He opened a cupboard, and it was empty.
Another contained three glasses and a couple of plates.

“You have more
talent for this than I do. Put stuff wherever you want it to be. Buy whatever
you like.”

His eyes added
please
help,
and she nodded.

The rest of the
house was worse.

The living room
presented a smelly clutter of old glasses, bottles, cigarette butts,
newspapers, and clothes.

She squeezed
her eyes shut and tried to imagine it without the mess. The mental image became
impersonal and modern, filled with chrome, glass, and black leather.

Most of the
rooms were completely empty, or showed pathetic remains of a previous life. One
room had an abandoned toy car lying on its side in a corner. Another held a
lamp with hearts on the shade, and an old notebook.

It’s so sad
and abandoned. If this was the shards of my life, I’d probably start drinking
too. I wonder what the house was like filled with life. Was he happy here, at
one time?

“And least but
not last… Bedroom.”

A multitude of
colors and patterns assaulted her eyes.

“Whoa. I didn’t
think this would be your taste.”

“I was going to
do something about it, but it didn’t turn out that way.”

Is it even
possible to sleep in here? I bet I’d still see all this if I close my eyes.

Marc walked
across the large room and peeked into a big, half-empty walk-in closet.

“There’s plenty
of space for you to hang your clothes. I wish I could have done… I don’t know,
something, so you don’t have to feel you’re just taking the place of another
woman. I’m sorry.”

Am I just
taking the place of another woman? I hope not.

“It’ll be
okay.”

It
was
a
little weird to put her things into someone else’s drawers. Her clothes and
things looked misplaced, from another world, but she could live with it.

Marc wandered
off while she unpacked, and returned with a glass filled with whiskey and ice
cubes.

It’s gonna
be hard for him. This place keeps too many memories and habits.

She wrapped her
arms around his neck.

“I’m hungry. Is
it too late to make lunch?”

He kissed her,
much too briefly.

“If that’s what
my sweetie wants, that’s what she’ll get.” Glancing around, he added, “I don’t
know what to do with this bloody room. I hate it.”

I can see
that.

“Maybe tomorrow
we can go get some paint, and wallpaper, and stuff? Fix it up. You need new
curtains.”

“Can we get rid
of that chair?”

It’s your
chair, but it’s cute you’re involving me in the decisions.

“We should do
that right now. I’m afraid it’ll give me nightmares.”

It looked
heavy, but Marc lifted it easily and carried it into the yard. “Much better.”

They spent the
entire afternoon cleaning. The house was still cold and impersonal, but Marc
looked content when he carried huge trash bags outside.

I hope you
can put this part of your life behind you now.

When evening
came, the house didn’t exactly shine, but it was clean enough. He muttered, “We
need a new housekeeper.”

I like that
you say we. Are we really ‘we’ now?

She sat on his
lap in the large living room, which now smelled like scented candles and
firewood. The TV was on, but neither paid attention to it.

“I should take
you sightseeing tomorrow, but I don’t know if I’m up to it.”

“Don’t worry
about it. I came here for you, not for the city.”

 

*****

 

The next
morning, a scent of cinnamon and coffee pulled Laura towards the kitchen. Marc
flipped pancakes.

“You looked so
cute I didn’t want to wake you.”

She stole a
kiss and went to peek through the window. Right outside, the pale winter sun
shone on a hideous monster of a chair standing in the snow.

I already
forgot how ugly that thing is. Good thing he took it out or it would have
chased me in my dreams.

Taking a seat
at the kitchen table, she leaned her chin in her hand and watched him. How
could a man look so good in an apron with a break-dancing panda bear?

Seeing him cook
always fascinated her. Was he playing a role? Did he decide to be a master-chef
and just… did it?

He tossed a
pancake in the air and caught it.

“Show-off.”

“Yup. Is it
working?”

She didn’t have
a chance to answer: someone knocked on the door.

“Would you get
that sweetie? I don’t want to burn this.”

Answering his
door seemed scary, but she couldn’t say no, so she shuffled through the hall.

This looks
pretty good now. If we hang some pictures and get a better lamp it might be
really nice.

Not until she
actually opened, seeing three people outside stare with surprise, did she
remember what she looked like.

Oh crap.

Barefoot,
dressed in sweatpants and a hello kitty t-shirt, not wearing any make-up, and
with her hair tucked up in a big messy pile under a hair-clip, she was clearly
the last thing they expected to see.

When she said,
“Hello” she also remembered she wasn’t wearing a bra and the years hadn’t
exactly left her breasts unaffected by gravity.

Was it too late
to pull her tummy in?

Deeming from
the look on their faces, they had already seen all they needed to see.

Too much.

One of the men
was older with steely gray eyes. He frowned, and his stare reminded her of a
hawk focusing on its pray. Next to him stood a man a couple of years younger
than her, dressed in an impeccable overcoat and suit. He arranged his face into
a polite smile.

“Hello
yourself. My name is Lawrence, and this is Anne and Bill. We would very much
like to…”

The third
member of the group interrupted through pushing her way past them all. She
breezed past Laura and glared.

“Wow, groupies
have sure gotten old lately.”

What? How
rude!

She wanted to
give a witty response, but all words were gone and she closed her mouth so hard
her teeth rattled.

The woman was
too beautiful.

Her hair was
shiny, her make-up perfect, the skinny jeans didn’t reveal a flaw on her body,
and the short leather jacket seemed to be tailored for her.

That must be
Marc’s wife. Not good.

She never
imagined actually
meeting
the woman, even less having to defend herself
to her.

Marc stepped
into the hallway, waving a spatula.

“Anne, if you
ever call my girlfriend a groupie again, I will hit you, so help me God.”

The beauty
stared at him with gaping mouth.

“You’re
cooking
?
You must be worse off than these goons said, how drunk are you? What did you
take?”

He cooks for
me all the time. He’s wonderful at doing stuff around the house.

Even if she
dared open her mouth, no one would listen to her anyway. Marc waved to her to
come back into the kitchen, and feeling his arm around her shoulders was a
relief.

“I’m not drunk
you simpleminded fools.”

He pushed her into
the kitchen. “I’m sorry about this, I didn’t expect them to be back so soon.
I’ll get rid of them in no time.”

Just please
don’t ask me to make pancakes. I’m really bad at that. I buy them frozen…

Marc didn’t
seem interested in playing according to the visitors’ rules. He stepped over to
the table and topped up her coffee.

Anne came in
through the door and fixed Laura with a stare that made her shrink in the seat,
trying to become invisible.

I’m an
intruder in this woman’s kitchen, in her life. I sleep with her husband.

Marc turned a
pancake and leaned against the counter.

“Sweetheart,
meet my wife, hopefully soon to be ex. She looks like a pretty gift, but the
box is empty. Don’t mind the icy look, it just mirrors her insides.”

Anne’s eyes
flashed.

“At least my
box isn’t filled with overdoses and vomit, you ass. I pity this poor girl. She
doesn’t know what she’s getting into.”

Bill looked at
the wall and cleared his throat, Laura wanted to sink through the floor more
than ever, and Lawrence ran a hand over his face.

Marc laughed.

“Laura is
probably the only person in the world who knows who I am.”

Lawrence looked
like a diplomatic person and she expected him to try to disarm the situation,
but he went right to the point.

“Marc, we came
over to talk to you about rehab. There’s this really nice clinic not far away,
and when we were here the other day, you seemed to, uh, need it.”

Marc stared at
him without moving a muscle in his face.

“That’s it.
You’re not getting any pancakes.”

No one laughed.
No one even smiled.

He probably
needs it. He needs more than I could ever give.

Bill said in a
cool voice, “No offense to the lady, but you know it’s just a matter of time
before all this domesticity gets boring and you fall again.”

The silence was
almost tangible, and Laura looked into her mug. The dark coffee held no
answers.

Say
something. Stand up for him.

Everything she
could think of seemed so shallow. Then, her mouth opened all by itself, and she
was surprised to hear actual, coherent words come out of it.

“Give him a
break.”

Everyone stared
and she lifted her eyes, but not to meet Marc’s. She looked at Anne.

“Have some faith
in him, give him some time.”

The other woman
sneered.

“Faith? Time? I
know he turns girls out of their minds, but you must be stupid to think…”

Laura bit down a
wave of anger and interrupted in an even voice.

“It wasn’t
always bad, was it? You wouldn’t have married him if it was.”

Anne pressed her
lips together to a thin line, and Lawrence opened his mouth and closed it
again. Marc tilted his head to the side, as if interested in the answer, and
Bill shook his head.

Laura didn’t say
another word; she just kept the other woman fixed with her eyes and felt a
sense of victory when Anne made an exasperated gesture.

“Fine. He needs
to start working. No more whores and no more drugs. If he can show he’s clean
we can talk about seeing the children, but that’s gonna be a while yet. They
don’t need his shit. My lawyer will send the divorce papers to Lawrence.”

She spun around
and left, and Laura exhaled softly. Not until now did she realize she’d been
holding her breath.

Bill patted Marc
on the shoulder.

“Think about it.
I’ll call you.”

When he too was
gone, Lawrence sank down on a chair and sighed.

“Well, that was
fun. I’m sorry man, but when we were here last…”

Marc answered in
a mild voice.

“You thought I’d
be dead by now, didn’t you?”

He put down
plates in front of both Laura and Lawrence, and the lawyer helped himself to a
couple of pancakes. After taking a bite, he remembered his manners, and held
his hand out to her.

“I wish the
circumstances were better, but it is nice to finally meet you.”

She smiled when
she shook his hand. This one, she could probably grow to like.

They kept the
conversation neutral during breakfast, and Marc was the perfect host.

A little too
perfect. Are you acting again?

Once the food
was gone, Marc nodded to the lawyer.

“I need you to
draw up some papers for me. Meet me in the study.”

Lawrence
shrugged and headed off through the house, and Laura swallowed a sting of
worry.

He seems like
a decent guy. Nothing will happen.

Based on Marc’s
calls the preceding week, it seemed prudent to worry anyway.

He pulled her to
her feet and wrapped his arms around her, rocking her gently from side to side.

“Lawrence would
never stand for such a thing. I promise.”

How did you
know what I was thinking? Am I that easy to read?

She was ashamed
for being so suspicious and stuttered, “I wasn’t… I didn’t…”

She felt him
sigh more than heard it.

“Yes you were,
and I don’t blame you.”
He smoothed a lock of hair away from her face.
“I need to talk to him about the divorce. You want me to get a divorce, right?”

“Yes.”

Way to go,
sounding mousy.

The dishwasher
seemed to belong on the bridge of an alien spaceship, so she did the dishes by
hand and tiptoed through the large living room. She needed a shower and better
clothes, but didn’t want to disturb them through clomping around. The men’s
voices floated through the open door and she paused.

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