(A/N: Well, its been nearly 5 years in the making but this is it. The last installment of this story. Life has been very weird on this end and every time I think it's going to get better I get swatted again. It sucks. No question. My muses however, seem to be rearing their heads again. I may not be terribly vocal anymore but I'm still lurking. heh. To any of you who are still paying attention to this fic, thank you. Thank you for your patience and your loyalty. You have no idea how much it means to me. I hope this does the rest of this fic justice. I've been over it a few times and I think it works things out nicely. Enjoy! And as always, the fanfic mantra... Read and review should you feel so inclined. Take it easy guys... ~Egypt)
I opened my eyes and it was Tuesday. The sun was shining dully through the black out paint on the basement windows and as I rolled over, the creak of Mark's leather couch made me groan inwardly. I just wanted my bed. Ever since Glen had left the vultures seemed to have returned with a vengeance and I was so tired of living underground. If I had to stay downstairs much longer I was convinced my eyeballs were going to start shrinking and I was going to end up pigmentless like one of those fish that lived in water deep in caves underground.
Yeah, I know. Too much Discovery Channel but there really wasn't much to do when you're in hiding in your own house. At first, I thought I'd rearrange the furniture but both the giant TV and Mark's obnoxious man-throne of a couch were impossible to move without help. I'm sure one of the camera-toting piranhas outside would've been more than happy to give me a hand but I wasn't that kind of suicidal just yet.
A month and a half I'd been sneaking out the back door and into my basement. My barn had become my garage and there was no way I could've gotten the bike out without bringing down a shower of paparazzi. This was an absolute nightmare. In fact, the only thing that made it even remotely bearable was that Mark seemed to have gotten the company's lawyers involved in the process and the "leak" shall we say, had been plugged. I didn't know how they'd managed it but I suspected it had something to do with large sums of money paid out by Vinnie Mac's accountants.
That man gets a pretty bad rap but when push comes to shove and his big money talent is in some sort of trouble, he steps up and Mark is still a top ticket draw. Neither he nor the WWE could afford that kind of scandal. So whether or not Mr McMahon's reasons were benevolent, I was glad Mark had gotten the company involved. It meant we were only a couple steps away from this clusterfuck being over with.
I sighed. One down... Still hadn't dealt with the big one. Although it had gotten better in a way. Mark's reaction the day Glen had arrived had shaken me hard. I hadn't forgiven him but it did open my eyes. He was right about quite a few things. I was cold anymore and I didn't know how not to be. I figured as long as no one said anything, I was doing a pretty good job of hiding how I really felt. Holy shit was I wrong. So I bit the bullet. I had to do something.
As soon as Glen was out the door the next day, I'd pulled myself together, hopped on the internet, and started searching for therapists.
I was a mess when I got into my truck and sneaked out the back of the property (for the millionth time) and made my way into downtown Houston. I had to move while I had the motivation and while I wasn't sure I was doing the right thing, this step, the idea that maybe there was someone out there who could talk me out of this hole I'd dug myself into, was better than what I had been doing. Hell, anything was better than what I had been doing.
Rubbing my eyes, I shifted and grimaced as I let my legs fall off the side of the couch, the momentum hoisting me upright even if I had to brace myself with my hands to get any traction.
Right, shower. I needed a shower and then it was time to head back in for a session. Even after a month or so, the thought that I was telling a complete stranger about my fucked up head made me feel like a bit of a failure. I'd never had a problem getting my head right before and this whole asking for help thing stung. Then again, I'd never been in the place I was now and its not like I had anyone else I could go to for advice.
The diabetes thing I'd gotten under control pretty quickly which told me I obviously didn't really want to die but I'd been stuck in neutral for so long I forgot where drive was.
Ugh. I dumped the self-depreciating thought reel and tip-toed upstairs and into my bedroom careful to avoid all the closed windows. I gave my big neglected bed a longing look and a sigh as I shut myself up in the adjoining bathroom. I was stripped and in the shower in half a second and slowly, oh so slowly, I started to feel like a functional human being again. Hot water, soap, shampoo. If I could have, I would've stood there and marinated but wonder of wonders, I actually had something I had to do.
Hopping out, I wrapped my hair up in a towel and padded over to my closet. I had to squint to find the right jeans and tank top and it made me grumble. I really wanted some natural light but those camera toting bastards had gotten ballsy since the WWE legal team had gotten involved. Evidently it had turned into a conspiracy theory of epic proportions and they weren't just hiding down the driveway anymore. Oh no, they'd taken to wandering up and down the front of the house peaking in windows so as welcome as some chilly November breeze would've been, it was a no-go. For that matter, so was turning on the lights. They'd swarm if they saw any signs of life.
After I was decent I grabbed my phone off the bathroom counter and frowned. No call from Mark. That was kind of a bummer and I still wasn't exactly okay with feeling disappointed about not talking to him but after I'd gone to my first appointment I'd been so raw, so broken down I'd called him and he'd talked me off of my metaphorical cliff and told me he was proud of me for taking that step.
I hadn't actually meant to call him but even with everything that had happened my instinct was to call him to make it all better. That irked me but since that first trip, the ritual had been that on days I had appointments, he'd call me before I went and I'd call him after to let him know how it went and how I was feeling.
I glared at my phone again and actually considered shutting it off and turning it on again just in case the signal was lousy but stopped myself. I didn't know where Mark was to be honest and for all I knew he was still sleeping.
Whatever, I'd call him when I got back to the car.
Speaking of the car...
With a move that had become unfortunate habit, I crept out my back door and kept my head down until I was in the barn and let go a sigh of relief. Hopping up into the truck, I cranked the engine over, ran around and muscled the double doors open, and sprinted back so that all I had to do was pull out. No way was I letting them get near me.
Luckily, I was bumping over the rutted access road with no incident and that was the first sign my day was looking up. I hadn't actually seen anyone but that didn't mean they weren't there.
Before I knew it, I was sitting comfortably cross-legged on Dr Aaron's couch and trying desperately to listen to what he had to say but I was distracted. I couldn't help myself. Once Mark had figured out that I actually wanted to talk to him, he'd called faithfully every morning I had an appointment. I had a sneaking suspicion it was to make sure I kept going but I'd come to rely on him to keep me motivated.
I still hated that. I hated knowing that part of me that was still me and wanted to be different than the way I was anymore needed him, his voice, his reassuring words to find its way out into the light of day again.
"Adrian?" I shook my head and made myself focus on Dr Aaron's balding head and kind gray eyes. "Where are you in your head this morning?" He smiled. I tried to smile back. Failed. "I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall."
I shook my head, chuckling softly and readjusted myself on his couch. "Sorry. Its... Mark didn't call me this morning." I blurted before I could censor myself.
"So you want to talk to him?" He asked in his gentle, psychologist's way and I had to think about it.
"Yeah... I guess I do." I told him honestly. "But, I don't forgive him."
Dr Aaron sighed and leaned back in his chair. We'd been having this argument since I'd first walked through his door. "Only you can decide if you're willing to take that step but I really think holding onto this resentment is slowing your progress." I cringed. It wasn't the first time he'd told me that. "I know you want to forgive him..." He nudged.
I unfolded myself and leaned back against the arm rest. Was he right? No. I couldn't be right about that. Strong women did not take back cheating, lying men. I shook my head and let it drop backward.
"No, I want a time machine." I let go of a halfhearted chuckled. "I want to go back and stop all this shit from happening. That's what I want." As I spoke I reached down absently to my belt and grabbed my phone to see if he'd called since I turned my ringer off. He hadn't.
"Then why do you think it is that that's the third time you've looked at your phone since you sat down?" He leaned forward which meant it was getting to something. "Its not fair of you to want him to support you but not want him in your life."
Fair. No, nothing was fair was it? I shook my head again. "He just...always calls. I'm starting to worry is all." Dr Aaron looked less than convinced but he dropped it and looked at his watch.
"I'm sorry Adrian but I've got another client coming in. Shall we pick this up again on Thursday?" I nodded and gathered my things before shaking his hand and heading out the door. As usual he'd given me a lot to think about.
This was the part I really disliked. As I walked back out into the bright autumn sunlight I was cold from the inside out and even though I was reeling the world was still turning. I was not good at this baring my soul thing and while it had gotten easier, I still felt like I'd taken sand paper to my skin. It just didn't seem right that the cars were still whizzing down the streets and businesses carried on and life went on while I was still so stuck in where I'd been.
Luckily, I parked close and once I was shut in the dark interior of my Durango I felt like I could breathe a bit better. I let my head drop back onto the headrest and just continued to breathe for a long moment, my hand hovering over my phone and anxiety clawing at my chest for no good reason. I really just wanted to call Mark but if I kept doing that, Dr Aaron would never believe that I wasn't there to save my marriage. I really wasn't. I was there to fix myself. If my marriage had any hope of surviving, I wasn't the one who needed therapy now was I? Whatever... Mark still seemed to think apologizing was enough. I'd stopped arguing with him because he was either unwilling or unable to give me the answers I needed to hear. Well, the one answer. I wanted to know why. His story hadn't changed from the beginning. So props to him for consistency.
Oh this was just stupid. Reaching forward, I started the truck and yanked the wheel, edging into the mid-morning traffic. Once I was was through the stop and go of downtown Houston and back onto my comfortable country roads, I fumbled my phone until I managed to pull up the recent calls and found Mark's number. I pressed send and cracked my window luxuriating in the crispness of the late autumn air. I listened to the ring waiting for that familiar "How'd it go" but it dumped to voicemail. I frowned and glanced at the screen watching the little timer tick along as Mark's voice told me to leave a message and cut off into the beep. "Hey, its me. I uh...just left the office and I missed you this morning. Call me when you can. I love you." I said and ended the call.
Curiouser and curiouser.
I tried not to let it get to me even though the pit of my stomach felt hollow. God was I really this kind of dependent on his voice? I hoped not but basic physiology seemed to be telling me otherwise.
It was so stupid. He must have been busy. It was November and that meant that planning for the Christmas with the Troops was in full swing and given that he'd made every trip to the Middle East with the company, he'd be involved. That had to be it. Yeah. It was either that or maybe he'd decided that I was getting better and relaxed a little. If that was the case, I was unthrilled with his new train of thought.
Before I knew it, I was turning back onto our access road and angling back into the barn. As I shut off the engine I closed my eyes for a second and geared up for the sprint back to the house. It really sucked. I was starting to forget what the front of my house looked like but that was a thought for another time. For now, I just had to get into the place.
I hopped out of the truck and and edged to the side door glancing left to right. The coast was clear so I headed over to the house, my keys dangling at my side and at the ready.
"Adrian Calaway?" The professional voice made me jump, my head swiveling for the source. There was a perfectly average man walking toward me from the corner of the deck and damn it, I had frozen to the spot. Before I could get myself moving again, he was standing in front of me. "Are you Mrs Adrian Calaway?" He asked again and came to stand at a parade rest in front of me. I stepped away from him edging toward the door.
"Do I know you?" I managed and took another step backward. He shook his head and as I watched his hands began to move forward. Fuck me, he had to be a photographer.
I turned my head fast and ran for the house, my keys suddenly a useless ring of metal that would in no way help me get in the door. As I fought through them one at a time he shoved a manila envelope into my line of sight. "You've been served." He said and was gone as soon as my numb fingers closed around the disconcertingly weighty package.
Served? I've been served? I was being sued? What in the blue hell?
Miracle of miracles, I found the correct key, pushed the door open, and went into the kitchen tossing the summons on the counter so I could stare at it. I didn't want to open it. I didn't want anything to do with it. It had to be a mistake. I couldn't have done anything wrong. It'd been months since I'd done anything.
All of a sudden, that thought was funny. I was laughing and leaned against the counter braced on one arm as I stared at the thing like it was about to bite me. Maybe I needed to try Mark again... No. No I did not. To prove my point, I unclipped my phone from my belt and slide it down the counter.
Before I could stop myself, I picked the packet up and popped up the little flap. Jesus... this was a lot of stuff. Whoever wanted me for whatever, apparently wanted me bad and it made my stomach flip around in my abdomen. No, this was not good.
As I slid out a stack of papers, a newspaper page fluttered out and down to the floor. I dropped the rest of it beside my coffee pot and bent to pick it up. As I flipped it over for a better look my heart stopped in my chest. I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. I could NOT believe what I was looking at. It was a color photo done in that grainy newspaper way, of me latched onto Glen at my front door.
Oh Jesus I was so stupid! When I'd seen him at my door, I'd forgotten everything but how lonely I was and how good it was to see him and the rag mags and taken full advantage.
I couldn't read the words plastered in bold red letters as my eyes welled up. This was so much worse than anything I could've come up with in my head. Mark's fling talking to the tabloids was bad enough but at least what she said would probably have been partly true but this...this inference was a total lie. It was a complete fabrication. Glen was my friend but that was all and I didn't have to get a better look at what was trembling in my hands to know what was written there would say otherwise.
I dropped the thing beside the sink and held myself up with my arms to catch my breath, my fingers digging into the sand colored tiles. I thought we were out of the media nightmare. I was so sure that part was over but it appeared they'd just shifted focus.
God I wanted to throw up.
Steeling myself, I edged the thick legal document over so I could see it. Hell, maybe if I was lucky it was from the WWE's legal department and all I had to worry was testifying against these assholes on Mark's behalf.
I was not lucky.
"Oh god...no..." I blurted as I read what was in front of me for the fourth time. I had to be dreaming. This couldn't be...
PETITION FOR THE DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE
Mark was divorcing me.
My stomach was roiling as I flipped the pages to find cause. "Irreconcilable differences". That was all.
I was numb. I'd finally managed to find Hell. This was it.
The first of the tears snuck by and I grabbed my phone just as my knees gave out. I landed ungracefully on my kitchen floor and backed myself up against the lower cabinets. I couldn't stop my eyes. Its like I was leaking. I know I was crying but I think the shock won out. I couldn't make a sound as I sat there, wiping my face from time to time and otherwise staring straight ahead.
Divorcing me. Jesus fucking Christ. And because of another tabloid? Really? How could he believe what those things wrote after what they'd been saying about him? God I wanted to scream.
"Oh fuck this." I said out loud and something snapped into place. Lifting my phone, I all but punched in Mark's number and let it ring. When the voice mail picked up, I hit end and started the process over again. He was going to tell me in his own words that this was what he wanted. I needed to hear him say it to believe it.
My heart was hammering in my chest by the fourth trip around the dial, ring, voice mail routine and I had to make the conscious effort not to plaster this phone against the wall like I had my last one. The crying had stopped but it had been replaced with a fury the likes of which I was not aware I was capable of. My face was hot with the magnitude of it.
I punched the end button and then hit redial again.
What a coward! That thought made me laugh out loud. Mark was a coward. He couldn't say the words to me so he had me served with papers by a complete stranger. Didn't I deserve better than that at least? Who'd have thunk it.
"Hello." His voice was like ice when he finally answered.
"So this is it huh?" I spat clutching the phone so hard the plastic creaked. "You're gonna take the word of a god damn tabloid?"
"I'm givin you what you want. That's all." I wasn't even going to dignify that with a response.
"Tell me you don't believe what that thing says."
"You both lied to me. I know that and that says more than that fucking paper does." I'd never heard him sound this way. It was terrifying. He was so cold. So detached. He was resigned. Mark actually thought that I'd been having an affair with his best friend.
"Don't do this." I found myself saying. "Please."
"Its done. Just sign'em and bring'em by my hotel tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" I blurted.
"I'm in town." God these short answers were killing me.
"Oh." I managed and took a deep breath. "Why?"
"Got a show at the Toyota Center tomorrow night." I nodded even though he couldn't hear me and swallowed so hard it clicked.
"Mark. You have to know there's nothing between Glen and I. C'mon now." My voice was shaking right along with the rest of me. I desperately wanted to hear something...anything in his voice. I had to find a way to explain. "Mark?" I pushed after a crushing silence from his end. "Please tell me you didn't hang up."
"Why did you lie to me?" It was barely more than a hiss and when I opened my mouth nothing came out. Why did I lie when he asked me if Glen was there? I didn't have an answer. Maybe because I was afraid this is exactly what he'd think? God SO stupid. I was so, so stupid.
"I didn't...mean to..."
"Yeah but you did. And he did too. What the fuck does that look like, huh?" Mark cleared his throat and started up again. "Is this my punishment then? For all the shit I pulled?" I tried to cut in and tell him no but he bowled right over my words. "I mean, Jesus Christ Adrian, at least you didn't know who I fucked!"
"I did not sleep with Glen!" I yelled over him. "I have never been anything but faithful to you you self-absorbed son-of-a-bitch!" Mission accomplished. I heard his teeth snap together.
"What the hell did you just say to me?"
"You heard me. Suddenly you're up in arms because now you look like the stupid one. How. Does. It. Feel?"
"Adrian, you don't wanna go there. You're not exactly pleading your innocence here."
"Oh please. You know nothing happened. I love you. Glen loves you. The Globe is pissed because they got warned off of you but I was still fair game. Yeah, I should've told you Glen came to check on me but ya know what? That's a pretty small mistake in the face of everything we've done to each other." I stopped myself as realization settled over me. ...everything we've done to each other...
Mark grunted then sighed. "We fucked this all up. I can't fix it. You don't want to. Just sign the god damned papers and get'em back to me."
"So this is what you want." I made myself say the words and swallowed hard.
"I don't have any choice anymore. I dunno what to believe."
"Oh the hell you don't..." I started but as I readied my indignant response, the weight of the last few months dropped on my chest. I was all set to argue with him, tell him to talk to Glen and see what he has to say about everything. Tell him to ask his best friend what he'd seen when he'd been down in Texas with me but he was right. There was no more choice to be made. I wasn't going to let him come home. I was comfortable with our tentative long distance relationship and that was so not fair. For Christ's sake, it was his house.
I had to get out. I had to go home and try to start over. Mark had broken me with one colossal betrayal and I'd done the same thing to him by hanging around and leaving him with that tiny flickering hope of maybe...
I swallowed hard and tried to put my thoughts into some sort of order. Was I really giving up and letting him go? No matter what had happened between us, there had been more good times than bad and if he needed to be rid of me it was the least I could do for him.
Maybe he'd learned from what had happened with me. Maybe he'd be better for the next woman he fell in love with.
Oh God... Just thinking it made my head light and swirly but this was what he wanted. He wanted me gone because in all honesty, I was gone already.
"Do...I need a lawyer?" I finally asked, my voice flat.
"You got things you wanna contest?"
"No. None of this is mine. Its all yours."
"Then I guess not." Did I hear a little regret in his voice? My heart skipped hoping there was still something to hold onto. Maybe if he just gave me some more time I could find a way to look him in the eye... Start there. Build something again.
But I was kidding myself. He'd broken my heart in the worst possible way and I'd punished him with my absence. I'd exiled him from his home for months...months on half promises and words that were more ambiguous than anything else. He was hurt too.
I'd wanted him to hurt. My god had I, but while what he'd done had been like pulling a band aid off quickly, my passive aggressive shit was like a cancer eating away anything that resembled trust between us, no matter how tenuous it had been, and the stupid article in that stupid tabloid was the death blow to our relationship. Yeah, his actions had started this slow degradation but what I had done was no less cruel.
I felt sick.
"Where are you staying then?" My throat was dry but we both deserved what we were about to do. We were killing each other in memory and in deed. We just weren't healthy for each other anymore.
"Marriott by the airport." He said and sighed. He sounded tired. Maybe he was relieved I wasn't going to fight him on it. "Just drop it at the desk. They'll get it to my room and I'll have our...my lawyer take care of the rest."
...And he didn't want to see me.
"Uh...okay then. I'll start packing I guess."
"You do that. I'll let you know when everything's done and you're free of me." I heard the wry twist to his words but I had the feeling commenting on it would only make a bad situation worse.
"I'll call you when I'm leaving. That way you don't have to worry about seeing me." I shot back. "Shouldn't be more than a couple of days." And god, wasn't that the truth? All my time in Texas and the stuff that I really thought of as mine could be shipped across the country in one trip. "I'll leave the Durango in the barn."
"Take the truck. Its in your name."
"I don't want it." I didn't want anything to remind me of this.
"You need a car. Take the damn thing." He was right on that. Damn it.
"Just until I get my own."
"Its yours. You don't want it? Sell it when you get wherever you're goin'."
I couldn't believe we'd progressed to the your-stuff-my-stuff conversation so quickly. Everything felt like it was racing all of a sudden. God did I really want this? My heart told a completely different story than my head. Then again, it had been doing that since the beginning and I still hadn't let it win. Now that it had taken me to the inevitable conclusion, I wasn't about to let the traitorous bastard make me crumble and beg when I knew damn well that I'd never forget what happened. Mark was entirely right. This was the only way. He needed closure and so did I.
"I'm uh...gonna call Casey and make arrangements. I'll talk to you..." I'd been about to say 'later' but that clearly wasn't in the cards. "...whenever."
"Yeah. Bye." He said quietly and hung up. What was wrong with me that I was hoping for one more 'I love you'? I wanted to hear it for no other reason than to validate all the years and all the changes I'd been through since we met but it didn't matter anymore. It was over. We were through. He'd just had the courage to take our marriage off of life support when I didn't.
I had to take a deep breath to get myself up off the floor. My legs protested as if they were in as much disbelief as I was at the unfortunate turn of events our lives had taken and were reluctant to get on board with the exodus of Texas but I managed. I stood in my...Mark's kitchen staring at the coffee pot on the counter, then the toaster, then the matte gray of the stainless steel sink and tried to put in order what I had to do.
That was it. I had to get some boxes or something. I had to call a moving company and see how quickly I could arrange a storage unit in Michigan. I had to call Casey and see if I could crash on her and Brian's couch until I could find a job. Ah Jesus, I needed to find a job.
I backed up a step and bounced off the island, my hands reaching back to steady myself on it and all at once I started to shake. I needed to call Mark back. I needed to tell him to get out of that fucking hotel room and come home. We could fix this. Of course we could! We'd been through the worst thing I could think of already. How hard could it be to find that thing that had made us so good together for so long again?
Even though I already knew that was impossible the idea of going back to Detroit in failure made my throat constrict. I loved Texas. I loved the home we'd made even if it didn't feel much like it did anymore but staying wasn't an option. I'd be alone in Texas. I had acquaintances but how many of them had called since news of my soon-to-be ex husband's infidelity had become common knowledge? None.
I had to go home. If I stayed, everything I saw would remind me of Mark.
My legs still wobbly, I made myself make my way to the bedroom and immediately hit another wall of what-the-fuck-do-I-do-now.
Glancing at the closed and curtained window I sighed and threw them both open. To hell with whatever was outside. I just didn't care anymore. They'd done their job. They'd stuck the last nail in the coffin of my life and they were making money because of it.
The breeze was downright cold but I stood in front of it, my eyes closed, just smelling that unique fragrance that made Texas, Texas. There was nothing else like it.
I let it wash over me and with it came the flood of memories. The bar where we met, the backstage chaos that had become one of my favorite things, our wedding, the parties we'd thrown and been invited to, the quiet comfort of waking wrapped in those huge arms, late nights surrounded by friends drinking beers and listening to live music in dives all across the country, long rambling rides on the horses...
I felt tears burn trails down my cheeks but they were no longer panicked. These were tears of grief. I felt like someone I loved had died and in a way, I suppose that was about right. I was mourning the person I had been, the person he was, and the family we never started. I wouldn't ever see any of it again.
And the memories just kept coming. Hospitals. Lots of hospitals and his quiet steady presence beside me when the docs confirmed that kids were just not a possibility even though I'd managed to control my sugar levels pretty damn well. Stupid fights after long flights and late drives when we were both too strung out on travel to speak a civil word. There were petty jealousies on both our parts.
Those little jealousies had been insidious, hadn't they? There were so many times I was angry for something I caught fans doing. Those women were...Ugh. I could only wonder if my half-cocked freak outs brought on by my insecurities had made him look more seriously on them. Not that it mattered anymore.
With a sigh, I turned away from the window and went to my closet. I grabbed my beat up duffel bag and shuddered. The last time I'd touched the thing was when I had packed to go to Kansas City. It still had the tag from the flight dangling off of one of its handles.
Clutching the thing to my chest I backed up and sat down hard on the bed. I was right back where I'd been the night I'd come home. My stomach was a knot. My head was reeling and no matter how hard I tried to stop it, my eyes kept filling up and brimming over. My heart actually hurt. I was back in that moment in my mind and no matter how much I wanted to stop the replay in my brain, it was impossible.
"Hey! Glen!" I smiled as I answered my phone.
"Where are you?" He was laughing at me, that knowing tone in his voice. He knew damn well where I was. He'd helped me make arrangements.
"Kansas City International Airport... Where else would I be?" I said flatly to make sure he heard all of the 'well that's a dumb question' that went with the statement.
"That's a good thing, kiddo. I'm glad you're doing this. He needs to see you I think." My big friend said.
"I hope so." There was a little shake to my voice and I really despised it. "Its been a little rough lately. Sometimes I think he's relieved to get back on the road to get away from me."
"Nah. Believe me I see him more than you do." Glen chuckled then moved the phone away from his face to talk to someone nearby. "Sorry about that. Business and all that."
"Not a problem. Thanks for being my accomplice here. I wouldn't have had the balls to pull this off without your help." He laughed harder.
"I have never seen you lacking in the fortitude department but if you really needed me to hold your hand, I'm glad I could be of service." As Glen spoke, I felt his soft, nearly nonexistent drawl cleaning out the nerves that had been crawling all over my guts since the pilot had announced our arrival.
I'd never surprised my husband on the road before. I'd thought about it a time or two but it had been so long since Mark had mentioned my going out with the show for a while that my brain had started coming up with all the reasons he wouldn't want me there anymore. Then again, it might have had something to do with my constant negative responses. Say no enough and eventually, the asker stops asking.
I rounded a corner that was supposed to lead me to baggage claim with my little herd of fellow travelers and nearly ran into someone's back. I squeaked and sidestepped but it made Glen laugh harder. I was so glad I was comic relief.
"Are you sure I'm doing the right thing?" I blurted into my phone.
"Yes. I am. He needs a taste of the good old days, Aid." There was that calm, rational tone I'd come to rely on when Mark was concerned. Lord knew I could barely read the man anymore.
"He's not the only one." I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose while I waited for the luggage belt to start moving.
"I had a feeling that was the case. Just do me a favor and take a deep breath. I know how things have been lately. He does talk to me."
I had to fight a growl. Mark's constant gossiping with our friend was a point of contention I didn't like to think about. It was bad enough that Mark knew how out of sorts I'd been but the thought of Glen looking at me like I was an invalid sort of made me want to scream.
"Yeah...I know." I managed and switched the phone to my other ear as I looked around at the crowd. Now that I knew I was in the same city as Mark, it was like I expected him to catch me and tell me to go home.
"Have I told you that I don't think less of you?" He pressed on. "Because I don't. Its been a rough couple of years for the two of you. You in particular. I don't know that I could've come out of it in as good a shape as you have."
I knew he meant well but the more he talked about how I was the more I wanted to crawl into a hole. "I appreciate you saying that. I really do. Its just..."
"You're not good at showing weakness." He finished the thought I didn't really want to voice.
"Yeah..." Was my oh so eloquent response.
"Don't beat yourself up." I grumbled but he cut me off. "I'm serious, Aid. You need to stop it. Biology is a funny thing and there's not much we can do about it." I really hated when he was right.
"I promise to try to stop being an ass. Does that work?" I chuckled and he laughed outright. It was a good sound. A comfortable one.
"Its a start and I'll take it." He was smiling. You can hear it in Glen's voice. "Hey, do you know where the Hilton is? I can give you directions if you need'em." I shook my head even though he couldn't hear it.
"Nope. I've got it all mapquested in my bag..." I glanced around to see if there was any sign of life at the baggage claim. "...if it ever gets here."
"Good. There's some kind of party going on down in the bar. We seem to be cleaning them out tonight. Get here quick and we can make up for lost time. Okay?"
I have to admit, I liked the sound of that. I felt a smile break out on my face. "I think that is a plan. Hopefully I can catch you both down there."
"Sounds good. I'll see ya when you get here."
"Sure thing. Later hon." I was still smiling as I snapped my phone shut and stuck it back into its carrier on my belt just as the the conveyor belt rumbled to life and started spitting out bags. Naturally my old duffel was one of the last ones out but once I had it in hand, I grabbed my rental and was on the road.
By the time I pulled into the drive and found a spot to park, my heart was pounding in my chest. I honestly didn't know how Mark would take my unannounced arrival but I had it on good authority that he'd welcome it.
Glen had been putting the bug in my ear for a week. Mark was apparently more surly than usual and scaring the rookies. Maybe what he needed was a conjugal visit? That Glen had actually said that made me burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it. It had been...a while... since we'd done that but there was no way I was telling Glen that. Besides, there was a good chance Mark already had. God that was annoying. But whatever... I was sitting in a rented Chevy with my head on the steering wheel. Not exactly why I'd flown all the way to Kansas.
With a deep, cleansing breath I pulled down the mirror and gave myself a once over. Unfortunately, I looked like I'd been traveling but on the bright side, I looked like I'd looked good when I started out. It would have to do. Everything I needed to primp was packed up in the trunk and the light was horrible. If I was lucky, everyone I was about to run into would be too drunk to remember I looked like hell.
I pocketed my wallet and keys and locked the door before I could talk myself out of the walk I had to make to get inside and started forward. God I wished my heart would calm down but every step was like beating a bass drum behind my sternum. I was so nervous. How stupid was that? I was going to see my husband whom I had not laid eyes on in three weeks. And if I had anything to say about it, I was going to put that conjugal visit idea to practice. Well that thought made me smile as I pushed through the revolving doors and into the lobby.
Immediately my senses were overloaded. The room was full of milling people and the music from the bar to the left was blaring. There was definitely a party going on in there and judging from the we've-got-nothing-to-do attitudes of the stragglers in the lobby, they all wanted in.
Smoothing my hands over my freshly dyed hair, I made for the entrance.
"You'll never get in. They're keeping the fans back." A tallish guy who looked around my age offered as I walked past him. I gave him a smile.
"I think it'll be okay. There's a good chance my husband is in there." All at once his eyes narrowed as if he were trying to place me. I had never been more glad of denying Mark's suggestion that I valet for him.
"Who's your husband?" He asked, skepticism all but dripping off of the words. I could only smile wider as I gave him half a wave and made my way to the doorway.
I hadn't noticed it was roped off until I got to it and true to form, there was a large man in a suit that didn't quite fit him standing behind it. He actually made me get out my ID before he stepped aside and let me through.
Once inside, the lights were blessedly dimmer than the lobby's but the music was deafening. Normally I wouldn't have had a problem with that but my short notice plane ticket had dropped me in three stops before I'd gotten to Kansas and I was totally whipped. I wanted to catch Mark's eye, whisk him upstairs to his room and have my way with him. It wouldn't totally undo the months and months of dwindling conversation but it was a start and boy did I want that start. Mark naked was something to behold...seriously.
I made it to the bar unseen and after I'd ordered a Killian's, I parked myself on a stool and watched these people that I'd come to think of as friends as they laughed and danced and drank. It was something to see from the outside. Not only had I been removed from it all for longer than I liked to admit, I'd never seen it from this angle.
It was obvious to anyone watching that they were kindred spirits. They were from all walks of life and different backgrounds but there was a sameness to them in the way they moved and reacted and the comfort with which they interacted. It was good to see. It was a reminder of why I'd come all this way. Well, one of them. I missed this. I missed seeing them and joking and laughing. Mostly though, I missed the feel of Mark's hand on the back of my chair as the long nights unfolded. Speaking of, it was time for me to find him and put my little plan into action.
I tipped the bartender and hopped down, working my way around the outskirts of the room looking for a flash of red hair or the deep rumble of his laugh.
"Adrian?" A shocked voice spun me on my heels just in time to be bear hugged by a tall blonde Canadian.
"Adam...I can't breathe..." I wheezed and was set on my feet again.
"What are you doing here?" He laughed and ran a hand through his hair. It was shorter and I couldn't help but frown. It was something I'd missed by keeping myself sequestered in the house in Texas. "Not that I'm not happy as hell to see you." He went on, his million dollar smile flashing.
"I'm here to surprise my husband." I told him and craned my neck to see over the mass of gigantic bodies. "Don't suppose you've seen him?" Adam shook his head and looked around as well.
"He was here. Not sure where he went though. I saw him talking to some fans in the lobby but that was a while ago." I shrugged. Well at least he hadn't gone off to crash for the night or anything.
"If you see him before I do, don't mention you saw me." I gave him a grin and he was suddenly all about the plot.
"Not a word. Although I'd like to see the look on his face." Rolling my eyes, I swatted his arm and with a wave pushed further into the crowd.
For nearly an hour, I was hugged and fed drinks and told that I was a bad girl for not being out with them anymore. It was really, really great. I'd missed the feeling of belonging more than I knew and the more I realized everyone was glad to see me, the more the knot in my stomach eased. Unless that had something to do with the beer. Who knew? But I didn't mind whatever the cause. I needed to relax.
By the time I found Glen, I was however, slightly disheartened. I hadn't found Mark but there was a room full of people who promised to find a way to steer him to me if they ran across him first.
"Find him yet?" My large bald friend asked as I slid in beside him at his booth. I shook my head.
"Starting to think he went to bed."
"He might've. When you're not around he's not as social." I frowned at let my shoulders slump then raised my hand to stifle a yawn.
"I'm starting to think he had the right idea. Do you know his room number off hand?" Glen seemed to think but shook his head.
"Front desk will likely tell you." I gave him an incredulous look and raised an eyebrow.
"I sincerely doubt that."
"Yeah. Me too." He grinned and fished around in his pocket before pulling out a small gray rectangle and handing it to me. "Which is why I lifted his extra key last time I was in his room. I know its on the fifth floor but I couldn't tell you exactly where." That was not a huge surprise since the numbers changed nightly for these guys but I was glad to have an 'in'.
I knew I was grinning as I leaned in to hug him. He really did think of everything. "Okay. Wish me luck. I'm gonna get this show on the road." I said and stood up to make my way back to the lobby waving to my friends as I went. Seeing them all again had done more for my mood than anything had in...well years.
The lobby was much quieter as I walked up to the desk. Evidently the masses had given up and gone home. I was thrilled with it. My ears were ringing and the excitement was starting to wear thin. The flights and the happy-to-see-yous and the six pack of beer I'd consumed were eating at my energy level.
"Can I help you?" A pleasant if not tired voice asked from the other side of the desk and dragged my attention back to center. Looking over I smiled to the woman and played with the key on the counter so she could see I had one.
"Actually yeah. I flew in to see my husband and for the life of me I can't remember what he said he room number was." I swished the key back and forth a couple of times for good measure. I saw her blue eyes drop to the thing briefly before she started clicking away at the keyboard on her side.
"What is your husband's name?" She asked and I told her. She frowned. "It seems the directive he's indicated is that no information be given out without his expressed permission." Ooooh no. That would ruin everything. I wasn't surprised though. He was famous for god's sake. The last thing he needed were fans figuring out where he was sleeping.
"Please?" I asked and tried to look contrite. "He's been on the road for weeks and its our anniversary." It wasn't but she didn't know that. I was rewarded with a softening around her eyes. Evidently she was a romantic. I was good with that.
"I understand your situation but I could get in quite a bit of trouble if I give out this information."
"I can guarantee he won't be angry." I said with more conviction than I felt. "Here, just so you know I'm not a crazy stalker..." I pulled out my wallet and handed her my driver's license. She took it and scrutinized it like she was a cop who'd pulled me over before comparing it to something on her screen.
"Well, the address matches the one on the card he used to book the room..." She said handing it back and did some more clicking on her keyboard.
"That's because we live in the same house." I said and smiled. She must've taken it as a joke and not the sarcasm I'd intended. But it didn't matter because the next thing I knew, she had scribbled his room number on a post it and handed it over.
"Happy Anniversary." She said as she winked. I shot her another smile, this one grateful, and headed for the elevators.
This silence outside the elevator on the fifth floor was as deafening as the obnoxious music had been down in the bar. I could actually hear my heart pounding as I made my way down the corridor scanning room numbers as I went.
Over and over I told myself that he'd be happy to see me. It wouldn't have the strained discomfort that we kept lapsing into at home. This was what he'd been asking me to do. He wanted me to come out on the road with him for a bit like we used to. It was going to be just fine. The mantra ran around and around in my head until I looked up and read the door plaque I'd been looking for. With a slow deep breath I made to push the key card into the little electronic lock but as I pushed, the door opened an inch.
My heart that had been doing so much pounding stopped in my chest. I listened hard, my eyes closed as I waited for the thing to be jerked open but it didn't happen. I couldn't hear anything from inside either. Maybe he had gone to sleep.
Gathering my courage, I pushed the door open wider, the light from the hallway falling into the black room and across the bland, nothing special hotel carpet. As the knife edge of illumination hit the edge of the bed I heard the sound of sheets rustling. So he had gone to bed. Ah well I guess I was just going to have to...
"Who the fuck is she?" A woman's outraged voice snapped my head up just as my stomach plummeted. I couldn't move. I wasn't breathing. All I could do is stand in the door way and wait for someone to tell me I had the wrong room. I was sure that was what was going to happen until I heard a soft deep curse. That voice I knew.
Stepping inside, my hands had gone numb as I fumbled for a light switch. I had to see. I had to see for sure what I... A soft click and everything was live in technicolor. Oh god. I shouldn't have turned on the light. I shouldn't have looked. I shouldn't have gotten on that plane.
"Aid..." Mark's voice was shaking, his eyes were locked on mine as he eased off to the side of a woman who was everything I was not and pulled the comforter with him into his lap. "Aid...I..." He started again but I shook my head. What could he possibly say that could make what I was seeing okay?
"Mark? Who is this?" The blonde asked again and shifted uncomfortably, the entitlement her first comment had been filled with obviously deflating by the second.
I rolled my eyes up to the ceiling to keep the tears from spilling over. I wouldn't let her see that. She had no right seeing anything. My throat was so dry. My chest was on fire. And I couldn't...stop shaking. I jammed my hands into my back pockets as I tried to take some slow breaths so I didn't lose it. Oh god I was so going to lose it.
"His ex wife." I finally managed and made myself look at him. His hair was loose and tangled, his cheeks were flushed with exertion, but his eyes looked terrified. Those green orbs I'd looked into so many times were shocky and showing too much white. Good. I hoped they popped out. "At least I will be as soon as I get home." I forced the rest of the words out and it was too much. Bile was rising in my throat, my head was spinning and my face felt hot. I squeezed my eyes shut for a blink before I bolted to the bathroom, slamming the door so that there was at least some barrier between the woman in Mark's bed and my utter and final humiliation.
I don't know how long I knelt there retching over Mark's toilet but eventually the gagging lessened and my stomach got back on track. I almost wished it hadn't. As soon as it was over all I could see was his broad back arched and framed by long tanned legs. Oh god... Oh god...Oh god. How the fuck could this be happening?
I heard their muffled voiced from the other side of the door. Mark was firm. She was irate. It brought on a whole new wave of nausea. Fortunately there was nothing left to bring up so I only had to endure a few minutes of dry heaves before I heard the outer door slam, the concussion of it shaking the bathroom door. It seemed fitting. In one very violent moment, I'd been shaken like I meant nothing too.
My legs were weak as I pushed myself up and flushed before turning on the water to rinse my face and mouth.
I had to get out of there. I had to go back to Houston and pack and go back to Detroit. Jesus, did I really see what I thought I had? I felt like I was dying.
Locking my elbows, I leaned on my arms and looked in the mirror. This could not be me. This was not my life. This was not how it was supposed to be.
"Adrian..." Mark was on the other side of my door.
"No." I gasped and let my head drop, the first real sob wracking me hard. "Just...no."
"Please baby girl...let me..."
"NO!" I screamed and threw open the door. He jumped back a step as I brushed past him making for the hallway. I had to get out of that room and away from him. It was as if I could smell what they'd been doing in there.
He was quick on the recovery, damn him. He was in front of me with his hand on the heavy wood before I could yank it open too. "Don't leave like this. Let me explain." His voice shook and the one glance I afforded him showed me that he was in pain too. Good. He needed to hurt. He needed to hurt like he'd just hurt me. Fuck I wanted to die. I just wanted to disappear. I couldn't stand that pleading tone, that desperate look. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the way his chest was heaving so close to me yet totally unreachable to my senses.
"I can smell her on you." I whispered and ducked under his arm, wrenching at the door for all I was worth. He pressed more of his weight into it and what little headway I had made vanished with a resounding thud that echoed through the hallway. "Let me go Mark!" I cried, the tears winning. "Just let me go!"
"I can't... You can't go like this." He went on. His voice was breathy like he was having trouble getting oxygen too. I really hoped he suffocated right there. Then I could escape. I could get out of this fucking room and away from him forever.
"Why?" I asked out of nowhere, my face snapping up to meet his. "Why would you..." I had to swallow. My lips were starting to go numb. "How could..." I couldn't bring myself to say the words.
It was as if I'd hit him. Whatever he saw in my eyes staggered him backward and away from the door. I watched his face morph into a look of pure anguish but I couldn't take anymore. I couldn't look at that sadness on his face. He didn't deserve to feel that! Oh my god I caught him in the act! It was my worst fear live and in person.
"Don't come looking for me." I spat and threw open the door, racing out of it and away from my husband.
The elevator took too long. I could hear Mark's footsteps in the hall behind me so I ducked down the stairwell and all but ran down the five flights to the lobby. I was gasping by the time I broke through the lowest door. The party was breaking out and I cursed my timing. I couldn't bear to face my friends after what I'd seen. Could they have known and not said a word? How could they not have? It made me sick. The whole world was making me sick at that moment. I just needed to go. I needed to get out of the hotel and back to my rental and...
"Aid?" Glen's surprised voice caught me off guard but I didn't turn. I waved him off pushing my way through the revolving door and out into the cold night.
He followed me and while I wasn't surprised, it was the most unwelcome thing I could think of at that moment.
"Adrian! What happened?" He asked as he caught my arm and hauled me to a stop. As soon as I rounded on him and saw the horror and concern on his face, I broke down. I fell into my friend's chest and sobbed. My throat catching. My breath ragged. "Hey, hey... What happened? What'd he do?" He murmured against my hair as his arms wrapped reassuringly around me. "Talk to me."
"He..." I tried but I was hyperventilating and I had to go. Mark wasn't far behind me. He couldn't have been.
"He wasn't happy to see you?" He guessed and sighed. "Ah hell Aid, I thought this would be a good thing. I really did." He was trying so hard to comfort me but I could only shake my head. I didn't know if I could say the words out loud.
"Adrian!" I stiffened at the sound of my name as Mark barreled out the front door. "Baby girl you gotta listen to me..."
"Don't call me that! Ever!" I screamed and pushed away from a stunned Glen. "You don't get to say those things to me anymore!"
"Please let me explain..." He pleaded and held his hands up as if I were a wild animal he was trying not to spook as he took small, slow steps toward me. I backed away but I couldn't tear my eyes off of him. His hair was back in a sloppy pony tail and he'd managed to throw on pants and boots but that was all. His shirt was dangling from one hand. God I could see the red welts along his ribs. I knew what those were. They were finger nails. I'd left a few of my own on his body.
"There's nothing to explain." I seethed and turned to leave again but Glen stopped me.
"Somebody needs to tell me what the hell is going on." I turned my face up to Glen's and his worried gaze just hurt more.
"Ask him." I spat and crossed my arms under my chest. "I dare you. Ask him what...I...saw..." The last part was spat at Mark and he flinched with each of them.
To my side, Glen let go of a deep breath and shifted his weight before looking at his long time friend. "Jesus Christ Mark, what did you do?" His voice was so sad. It was as if he'd been betrayed too. At that moment, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Glen at least had no idea what Mark had been up to.
I watched Mark's eyes shift from me to Glen and back again. His mouth kept opening and closing as if he didn't have the words.
"The better question is 'who' did he do, Glen." I said softly and let my gaze scan the asphalt under my feet. I didn't want to look at either of them.
"God damn it." Glen sighed and out of the corner of my eye, I saw his shoulders slump. "What the hell were you thinking?"
I stopped listening as Mark started babbling. I had to get away. I put one foot behind the other and backed toward where I'd parked my rental. It was all too much. It was too ridiculous to fathom. But there I was and had been since I'd opened that door. This was my reality now. Life as I knew it was over.
Turning on my heels I got myself moving again only to be grabbed by the upper arm for the second time that night. I knew who it was this time. I could tell by the urgency with which the fingers snagged me and held on. I spun, wrenching my arm out of Mark's hand as my free palm connected with the side of his face, snapping it to the side with a crack that startled me but didn't slow my momentum. "Don't touch me." I hissed and finally reached my car.
I started the engine and pulled out without looking back. I knew what I'd see and the utter despair in Mark's eyes was more than I could bear. I'd drive myself into a tree.
I had to get home. I had to disappear. Casey would hide me. She wouldn't let him near me even if he did come looking. Not that I thought he would. I saw exactly how much I'd meant to him the second I flipped that light switch. I was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I slept for a few hours at the airport after I'd cried myself out and by noon the next day, I was back in Houston.
On the return flight I'd given myself every pep talk I could think of and miraculously, it had worked a bit. By the time I pulled my truck up to the front of the house I was full of purpose. I would make sure that there was nothing left of me here. I would disappear and after a while, he'd forget my face and with any luck my name. I needed this break clean so the wound he'd caused in my chest didn't fester.
Yeah. That was it. It was a good plan and it kept my feet moving forward. That was until I threw open that door and all that familiarity washed over me. I stood in the open doorway, my gaze roaming over the placement of the furniture, the pictures on the walls, the small touches of my own that I'd added to his very rustic interior and I couldn't move.
This was my home. This was the only place that had ever felt like a part of me. When we'd pulled that U-Haul up the long drive all those years ago something inside me had clicked. It was as if I'd found the missing piece. I had Mark, I had a new start, I had options and joy ahead of me and as much as I wanted to deny it and take a baseball bat to the bikes in the garage, that feeling hadn't changed. It still felt like my home.
Over and over again the 'for better or worse' ran through my head as I dragged my unused bag into the living room and left it lay there. Was this what they meant by worse? Could it get any worse? Sure it could. The blonde could have been one of many. I would never know and I didn't want to. I couldn't stand to hear of more.
The tears started up again, trailing down my cheeks to drip off my chin as I made my way over to the couch to collapse on it. Maybe I would wake up. I kept telling myself to. This had to be a nightmare. Had to be.
The house phone rang and I grabbed it without thinking as I tried to breathe my way through the sobs and hit the button. "Hello?" I said but couldn't have cared less.
"Aid..." Mark's voice shook and I hit the end button. Immediately it rang again. The panic in him was so not my problem. If he didn't like the way he felt, he should've thought of how I'd react before he took that girl up to his room.
God why did this have to happen? Why did he have to prove me wrong?
The answering machine picked up and clicked off. He hadn't left a message. But then the ringing started all over again. I reached up grabbing the base of the cordless phone and yanked the cord out of the wall before curling on my side on the couch that smelled like his soft, sweet, musky cologne and cried until I fell asleep.
I woke up with a gasp and shot upright in a pile of my clothes on the floor. God I hadn't dreamed of that awful night in months but here I was, shaking, my face wet with tears I'd cried in my sleep all over again. That night I had been so sure of what I needed to do. I knew I couldn't stay. I knew I needed to leave but I just...hadn't. The fear of being without the life I loved had overridden my need to leave.
And what did that say about me? I had always had a very clear viewpoint on cheating. It was unforgivable. It was the worst thing you could ever do to someone you were supposed to love and by all rights, I should have walked out the door. But I had never been in love before when I cemented the rules of my life. Everything had been so black and white then. Now? It was all gray. There were no clear answers. No perfect solutions. If I had left that night like I had planned I wouldn't be in less pain. It would have been a different kind of pain.
All of my reasoning, at this point, made no difference. Hoisting myself out of the pile I padded barefoot back to the kitchen and grabbed the divorce papers and a pen. I had to give him what he wanted.
I wouldn't look at them as I sat back down on the bed. I had to steel myself for what I was about to do. Even though I knew in my head it was humane euthanasia it felt like murder. I was effectively cutting Mark out of my life for both of our good but he was my family. I knew this was necessary but in that moment, I was giving myself a moment of painful doubt. I felt I was entitled to it. There would be no more birthdays or Christmases or Sturgises together. There would be no more late night runs for pancakes when the mood struck and neither of us could sleep. It was all ending and while I knew it was what had to be done, I deserved a moment to sit there in what had been our room and think about everything that I was giving up. I deserved this moment to formally say good bye.
I sat there and cried with my legs curled under and the papers before me on the duvet. I felt like I was pulling the plug on our life and it tore at my heart but I let the flood of misery come. I hadn't ever done it. I hadn't ever cried for what we were losing. Both of us. I was furious at him, yes. I was hurt and broken but I was changing his life too. Even though he'd initiated the action, he'd left it in my hands to finish. He'd trusted me to do what needed to be done.
As I wiped my eyes I glanced out the window watching the slant of the sun in the sky and the warm orange light that hailed the beginning of twilight. The horrible day was ending. It was ridiculous but at that moment, it felt right to end everything before tomorrow. There was no need to drag it out any further. I'd done plenty of that.
With a deep breath, I picked up the pen and had to concentrate on steadying it as I flipped page after page of legalese to find the spot that required my signature. From what I could tell as I skimmed the pages, Mark was leaving me with far more than I'd come to the relationship with. That was...unexpected. My truck was written in and so was the contents of our joint bank account. He'd kept his private one of course, but our joint account had always been the vacation fund. It was for the fun stuff, the frivolous things that caught our fancy. He hadn't made me rich or anything but he'd given me a little leeway. That was...kind of him, I supposed. There was my bike, written in as well. That was great but I had no idea how I was going to get two vehicles across the country.
As I read further, I was even more shocked. Evidently I was to feel free to take anything from the property that I wanted up to and including the house itself should I see fit. The house? Was he out of his mind? What was he thinking? I was so very confused I could only sit there and read the words a couple dozen times.
And then it hit me.
He didn't want me to go away. He didn't want to take the life I'd grown to love just because he wasn't going to be in it anymore. The thought was like a gut punch. Could that be it? Was he really attempting to keep me nearby or was it wishful thinking? Who knew, but even the thought in theory was enough to make my heart pound.
I hated that. I really did. I hated that I was still so very much in love with him. I was going to have to find a way to shut that off to keep my sanity.
As I flipped another page, the words could have been hieroglyphs for all I understood them. My mind was rolling over the thought of staying in Texas. Of staying in the house he'd offered me. It was a crazy thought. I couldn't take his house from him, could I? No, it was his and had been before he knew I existed but it was tempting...and he'd offered. The thought of those Michigan winters made my stomach shrivel and it tightened up even more when I realized I'd be playing third wheel to Casey and Brian's newlywed game. Oh god that was going to tear my heart out. I knew what that felt like to be so in love with someone and all the possibilities laid out before you that nothing else mattered. I was going to be spending a lot of time alone, that was for sure.
But that was the thing. It was the thing I'd neglected to let myself think, let alone say out loud through all of this. I didn't want to be alone and it wasn't for fear of it. It wasn't codependency or the comfort of routine. I just didn't want to wake up every morning without the person I love beside me. I'd done that. Until I met Mark, I was convinced that alone was okay. I didn't need anyone to make my life better. I just was what I was and that was okay. I'd believed that with every fiber of my being and one night, in one shitty bar, all that had changed. Mark had changed the make up of my being just by being himself. He'd never tried to change me but we fit. Or had. Not so much anymore.
I let my head fall back, dropped a couple of f-bombs, and turned to the last page. I held the thing up and scanned it. There at the bottom I found the line that needed my signature to blow it all to hell. No, not to hell. This was the rescue measure. I was giving him what he needed.
Gripping the pen a bit too tightly, I crossed my legs and braced the massive stack of pages on my knee. I kept staring at that blank line. I knew that once I signed that line I would no longer be Mrs Calaway. Yeah, it would be my last name until I got around to changing it back but after this moment, it wouldn't mean anything. God that stung. Even though I knew it was for the best, it felt like an ice pick in my back.
"Okay...just sign it." I muttered to myself and moved it, shifting the pages for the millionth time. I scanned the end of the document and all its 'heretofores" and "therebys" and "in consequence ofs" and finally to the signatures...or...lack of them. Beside where my name was to go was a second blank line. Mark hadn't signed it. What? My heart kicked into overdrive again.
What did it mean? Every part of me said it meant something but what? Why had he gone through all this trouble and not signed it?
The answer was fairly simple all in all. He didn't want this... And as I sat there thinking over everything that we had been through and done to each other. All the hurts and joys and pain and pleasure. The closeness and the distance. I came to a conclusion I hadn't ever let myself think. I didn't want it either. It took this very final testament to make it clear but I didn't want to live a life without Mark in it.
As soon as the thought was fully formed I couldn't back out. The tightness in my chest eased and my head cleared. There was so much work to be done on both our parts but I wasn't ready to let go. I wasn't. I couldn't. I loved him.
Tossing the papers aside, I jumped up. Oh my god I had purpose. I had to go and talk to him. I had to tell him that as hard a decision as it was, I forgave him. I wouldn't forget it. Probably couldn't but hating him was hurting us both because we had been two halves of the same entity for too long.
I looked at the alarm clock on his side of the bed and frowned. I looked down at the ratty old sweats I'd changed into and frowned again. Holy shit I had to go.
I needed clothes!
I was dressed again in record time. I did the best I could with my face. Make up can only hide so much and the puffy teary eyes were just going to have to stay.
Please let him be there...
I couldn't find my keys. My wallet was nowhere. I was edging close to a panic attack.
How could I tell him what was going through my mind? Everything was happening so fast. My head was a mess but maybe his was too. Maybe this was exactly how it was supposed to be.
As I located my wallet and jammed it into my back pocket, a crazy little laugh bubbled out of me. I snatched up the divorce papers and jogged down the hall to the living room. Miraculously, my keys were laying on the couch. I pounced on them with a triumphant smile.
I was ready to go. I'd burn these fucking things if that's what it took for him to realize I was finally serious too.
My hand was on the back door's knob when I heard a car door slam in the front yard. I stopped dead. If there was one in the front, they were probably sneaking around the back too. I could not wait for this story to blow over. I just wanted my world to start spinning in the right direction again. I was going to work on part one. Part two would be getting those bastards off my lawn. I paused as another revelation hit me.
Why couldn't I get them off my lawn?
Riding the high of my new found purpose, I made a list of every horrible thing I wanted to call whoever was out there and wrenched open the door ready to let them fly in one breath before I busted his camera over his head but all at once I lost the power of speech.
I could not move. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Mark was there. He was standing on our porch, his keys in his hand as if he were just coming home from any other trip out but something was off. As my eyes danced along his face, I caught his gaze and held it. Those green eyes I'd always loved so much were red rimmed and what was behind them was so very unsure.
I opened my mouth to speak but still nothing came out. I just wanted to stare at him. Now that he was in front of me there was no wrenching ache. There was no pain. It was only relief and my fingers tightened down on the manila folder that held both of our fates against my will.
As if he knew what I was thinking, he let his stare shift to the papers in my arms.
"Don't sign that." He whispered and took a tentative step through the door.
I had to close my eyes as the anxiety drained out of me. He was here. It was over. The worst of it was over.
"Don't leave." I managed on a shaking breath and lifted my face searching his while I tried to find the anger that had sustained me for so long. It just wasn't there. I could only watch him, wait for an answer that would change my world again forever.
Mark shifted his weight, shoved his hands in the pockets of his faded blue jeans and slowly, very slowly as I watched his eyes, his cheeks, his whole face, his lips began to turn up at the corners. He was smiling and as I smiled back, my body shaking, his relaxed and moved forward. His arms snaked a~round my back and lifted me off my feet. It was perfect again. It was bliss. It was the only thing I wanted in the world.
"Still my girl." He breathed against my jaw as I dropped my head to his shoulder.
It was right. And I was exactly where I wanted to be.
(Welp... C'est la vie... I'm gonna miss living in Adrian's head. But her story is told. Annnnnyway... I hope you guys enjoyed. Until the next round. ~Egypt)