Chapter 5: There's No Place Like Home...

"I wonder if Michael ever got to sleep last night," Lauren murmured sleepily as she wandered downstairs on Christmas Eve for her morning cup of coffee.

"Hi honey," Michael said when he saw her. He was dressed in a suit and tie, clearly ready for work.

"Where are you going?" she asked as he shoved his arms into his winter coat.


Lauren's eyebrows flew up in surprise. "But it's Saturday—and Christmas Eve," she reminded him.

"I have some paperwork to finish this morning. I'll be home around 2:00 and then I'm yours until Monday."

"Well, at least let me make you some coffee," she offered as she walked into the kitchen where she saw a pot brewing. "Oh..."

"Yeah, I thought I'd make you a fresh pot before leaving," he said as eh stepped around her to grab his Starbucks travel cup.

"How long have you been up?"

"I wasn't able to get back to sleep," he answered quietly.

Lauren almost believed him until she saw the slight tremor in his hands. "He didn't want to go back to sleep," she realized. "He was so determined to stay up that he drank a whole pot of caffeinated coffee."

Aloud, she simply said, "All right then, I'll see you when you get home. Get that paperwork done quickly."

"I will," he promised as he stepped out the door.

She was still staring at the door long after he'd left. "Well this is not how I pictured spending our first Christmas together," she muttered, turning to pour herself a cup of coffee. "For that matter, marriage itself isn't turning out to be what I had in mind."

Taking a seat at the kitchen table, she allowed herself to remember how she had thought it would go. "I remember when I used to play house and dress up like every other little girl. My dream husband always rode up on a white horse to save me from the terrible things in life, like having to eat peas for supper. He was always there exactly when I needed him and he never let me down. He was sweet and kind and he smelled nice... that was particularly important when I was five years old," she reminisced with a smile.

"Of course I had to grow up. People let me down and I stopped believing in Prince Charming... until I met Michael. Despite how sad he was, he was almost exactly what I'd always dreamed of. I was certain that I could make him happy, that we would be happy together."

"But that was Before Sydney," she said, frowning into her empty coffee cup. "I hate how my entire life has been divided into two categories: Before Sydney and After Sydney," she grumbled as she rinsed her mug out and set it down in the sink. "He was happy Before, I know he was," she insisted, leaning against the counter with her eyes closed. "I could see it in his eyes on our wedding day... but everything changed After."

She stared out the window at the white lawn for a moment before pushing back. "This is just depressing," she muttered. "I need to go get dressed."

But even as she pulled out clothes and took a shower, her mind wouldn't let up on her. "Our wedding day was the happiest day of my life, I wonder if it was for him?" she mused as she brushed her teeth. "Or is there another day, something connected to Sydney, that holds that place in his heart?"

Even as she asked the question, she knew the answer. In the months since Sydney had returned, she had seen brief glimpses of the man he had been Before. There were times when he almost forgot who he was now and simply allowed himself to be. The joy that would cross his face at those times was indescribable.

"He always remembers though," she told herself. "No matter what, he always remembers who he is now... and then his smile disappears for days. He never tells me what's wrong, but I always know. He's been thinking about what life was like before she "died" again—the sadness in his eyes gives him away."

He had been wearing the same weary, sad expression early this morning when she found him after his dream. As soon as she realized that, a knot formed in the pit of her stomach. "Is that why he wouldn't tell me what his dream was about? Was he dreaming about... her?"

After she said it, the pieces fell into place. It hadn't been a nightmare, but he hadn't wanted to fall back into the same dream. He'd refused to tell her what it was. If it wasn't bad, the only reason he would be afraid of it was if it was so wonderful, it broke his heart that it was unattainable. The image of that solitary tear flashed into her mind's eye and she knew she was right.

"He's not happy... he's not happy at all," she said, sinking to the bed in shock. "All this time I thought that if I gave him time or held on to him harder he would realize that I can make him happy, but what if I can't? What if all I'm doing is making him more miserable than he was before?

"You know, come to think of it, I'm not that happy either!" she said, sitting upright on the bed. "In fact, this whole week has just shown me how unhappy I really am. What kind of marriage do I have if I feel like I have to remind my husband who he belongs with? What kind of mouse have I become if I accept that as normal?" she ranted as she yanked her suitcase out of the closet.

Throwing it on the bed, she started tossing clothes into it. "It's time to take back control of my own life... I thought going to the party would do that but instead it just showed me how out of control it really is. The only way I can get my life back is to sever it from Michael's."

Realizing what she'd just said and what she was doing, she sat down hard on the bed. "Sever it from Michael's? Do I really want to do that?" she questioned, almost frightened by the change she was making. Shaking her head, she started to pull clothes out of her bag, but then she remembered what they'd looked like the night before, playing in the snow.

Strengthening her resolve, she added some toiletries and snapped the suitcase shut. "It's time to go," she said quietly as picked up a clean piece of stationary and began to write a letter to her husband. Twenty minutes later, she wiped the tears from her face, folded the letter, and started down the stairs, bag in hand.

Lauren stopped in the living room before leaving, taking one last look around to make sure there wasn't anything else she couldn't live without for the next two weeks. When her gaze fell on the snow globe sitting next to the poinsettia atop the mantel, she smiled involuntarily.

The snow globe had been the first Christmas gift Michael had given her. Inside was a young couple taking a walk in the snow. She'd been so taken with it that she insisted on displaying it all year around, not just at Christmas time.

Making a quick decision, Lauren crossed the room and placed the snow globe in her bag, setting Michael's note in its place. "I'm sorry Michael," she whispered as she walked out the front door.

Vaughn got home at exactly 2:00 that afternoon, and he knew something was wrong the minute he walked in the door. The house was too still. It was normally quiet, that wasn't unusual. Lauren wasn't supposed to be home for another couple of hours so it wasn't the lack of company that surprised him.

No, more than that it seemed... empty. As if the stillness was seeping into every room, taking away the things that made it a home. With practiced eyes, he glanced around the room, looking for anything out of place. Everything seemed to be in order until...

When he saw that the snow globe was missing, he knew. Crossing the room swiftly, he picked up the note that was resting in its place, not wanting to read it, not needing to see the words to know what it said. She was gone.

He unfolded it anyway, hoping against hope that he was wrong... or was he hoping that he was right? Either way he began to read.

"Dear Michael,

By the time you read this, I'll be on a plane back to Virginia. I'm going to spend Christmas with my parents and then I'll come back in January to get the rest of my things.

Our marriage isn't working Michael, it hasn't been for a long time. I know that if I let you, you would continue to tell both of us that we can fix this, that we can get past this bump in the road, but we can't.

Before you say it, we're not breaking the vows we made to each other. At the heart of those vows lay the promise to always put the other person first, to do what is right instead of what is easy, to make our joint happiness more important individual triumphs.

Love, honor, cherish. Words that not too long ago held such promise for the future. They went along with phrases like, "As long as you both shall live," painting a picture of an idyllic life. But now I know it was a mirage, one that vanished when another phrase became impossible to follow: "Forsaking all others."

Did you know that you talk in your sleep? It's a dangerous trait for a spy to have, you never know what will slip out when you're unconscious. You talk about her. No, that's not right... you simply say her name in this low, longing voice. If sadness could be expressed in one word, that would be it.

Sydney. Strange how one soft sound whispered in half sleep could drown out our wedding vows, and yet it has. Her name shattered my vision of the future, and not even all the king's horses and all the king's men could put it back together again.

That is why I'm leaving. Together, we are miserable. Yes, I love you and I love being with you, but that's not what is most important. I am putting your needs first, and you can't have what you need most if you are married to me... and I can't have what I need most if I'm not what you need most.

Don't put me on a pedestal Michael. I'm not doing this just so you can be with Sydney, I'm doing this because I deserve more than a husband who is in love with another woman. And don't feel guilty for what happened either. There is no way you could ever have expected her to come back, but she did. The instant you learned she was alive, the rules of engagement changed. That is the simple truth of the matter.

Good-bye Michael... be happy."

Vaughn stared at the letter for a moment, waiting for the pain to come. After a moment, he realized it wasn't going to. No matter how hard he tried, he could feel only relief. Finally, this nightmare would be over... for all of them.