For the next three months, they existed in some sort of alternate reality. Christie imagined it might be kind of like life on a movie set. On top of the family leave she'd taken while he was in the hospital, Christie had used a month of vacation days she'd been saving for the trip to Spain Jim kept putting off for the perfect moment that never quite materialized. They spent almost every hour of every day together, counting steps and memorizing the layout of the apartment, going over everything again and again, breathing each other's air, drinking out of each other's glasses (well, Jim did anyway), wearing each other's clothes (that was mostly her, except this one mishap he had with her shirt). He had clung to her like a shadow for at least the first three weeks, like he was afraid the floor might drop out from under him if his hand wasn't on her arm at all times.
Her problem was, much like a star on location for months on end, she found herself amazingly attracted to her husband. Now, she knew this could present problems for both of them, but as far as she knew, he hadn't been in contact with Anne Donnelley or any of his other conquests since he'd left the hospital. She wasn't seeing anyone else. And how could she? She'd been too busy sleeping in Jim's bed, showering and shaving with Jim, making sure his clothes matched if he was going out, making sure the apartment floor was clean and nothing was out of place so he didn't break his neck walking through the living room.
Christie had this vision of Teresa Wright tying Gary Cooper's bowtie in The Pride of the Yankees. But the whole mustache of yarn would be lost on Jim, and he didn't wear a bowtie. The one time he had worn a tie in the past few months, she'd tied the Half Windsor knot around her own neck and left it on the hanger for him to retrieve the next day. She needed a serious reality check before this got messy.
He was getting better, though. He didn't really have a choice. She was back to work and he was spending his days at Lighthouse, figuring out the new gadgets that were making his life a little more interesting and a little less difficult. Either that, or he was working on his cane and navigation skills with his O&M instructors. While the Braille learning was slow going, he excelled at getting around. Most evenings, when she got home, he would insist on taking her to a new place he'd discovered how to get to during the day. He could cook well enough to keep himself from going hungry without burning down the house, too. They saw this as an accomplishment, and it was becoming obvious to both of them that he needed her less and less as each day passed.
She almost envied Jim. That sounded horrible and she hated herself for thinking it, but he was getting to do something about his situation. He was actively working on making things better for himself, whereas she still went to work every day at her same job, doing the same thing she'd been doing for the past four years. Jim got to talk to the others at Lighthouse, Gerry and Teddi the O&M instructors. The NYPD even offered to pay for weekly counseling sessions. She didn't know if he'd ever gone, but he seemed calmer, more resigned to what he had to do. Apparently, someone or something was helping his deal with his anger, with whatever he was feeling. But he didn't talk to her about any of it. She felt almost as if he was starting to move forward while she was stuck in their horrific past. The scary part was, she didn't know how to catch up to him, or if he wanted her to, or if she should even try.
One Friday at the beginning of the sixth month, she'd had a horrible day at work. The air conditioning had stopped blowing cold air, and as if on cue, everything that possibly could go wrong had. And as if on cue, she had become the fall guy for almost all of it. She was definitely going to be working all weekend, but she had to get away of the office for at least a few hours before she exploded. All she wanted to do was take a shower and collapse on the bed.
"Jimmy?" she called as she pushed the door open, dropping her case, its contents spilling out onto the floor, as she fumbled with her keys.
"Hey Christie," came his reply as he came into the front room from the guest room where he was no doubt working on some sort of Lighthouse homework. "What's all the racket?" he inquired as he came toward her.
She groped for the light switch on the wall as she struggled with her purse strap. "I just dropped everything on the floor and all my papers flew out of the bag. I'm trying to turn the light on so I can find them."
"Oh, I didn't think about the light. Is it dark out?" he asked.
"Not quite yet but I need it." She flipped it on. "That's better."
"Can I help?" he inquired, keeping his distance.
"It's okay, Jimmy. I've almost got it all picked up, I think." She didn't want to hurt his feelings, but she also didn't want him stepping on her mock-ups. "How was your day?" she tried to inject a lightness she did not feel into her voice.
"Um, better than yours I'm guessing. Can I get you a drink or something?"
She almost turned him down but stopped. "You know, a drink would be great. What do we have?"
"How about wine? I put a white in the fridge." He paused, thinking now that he might have gotten it wrong and it was red she preferred. "I thought you might like that," he almost whispered.
She blinked twice and almost fell over from her squatted position as she grabbed at the armchair to pull herself up. "Yeah. That's perfect." She couldn't remember the last time he'd done anything like that for her. She stacked the collected files in her case and closed the lid, placing it in its spot beside the door before she walked toward him. "So, what did you do today?"
He shrugged as he came toward the living room with her glass in his right hand and a beer for him in his left. He set the glass on the table and took a seat in one of the armchairs. "Just the usual. Do you have time to sit and have a drink with me?"
"Sure. What's on your mind?" She wasn't sure who this man was or what he'd done with her husband, but she wasn't ready to complain just yet.
"Nothing really. You've just been so busy lately. I thought you might just want to sit down for a minute."
"Thanks, Jim. That's exactly what I needed to do right now." His strong, manly hands hung slightly over the edge of the chair. She wanted to reach over and take one into hers so badly, but almost as if he had sensed this, he pulled the one closest to her back from the arm of the chair and sat it in his lap.
"I guess you don't want to talk about work, and I don't want to talk about screen readers and white canes, so we'll just sit here and drink," he offered.
"How very Upper East Side of us," she mused.
"Indeed." They sat there a little longer in silence before Jim spoke again. "Chris, I, um, I don't know how to say this to you," he started.
Oh, God. She thought. What in the world is this all about?
"I wanted to thank you for being here. I don't know what I would have done, what I would do, without you. So I wanted to tell you that I appreciate what you've done and what you've given up for me. I'm not good at recognizing when I need to say thanks, so that's something I'm trying to work on. Among other things," he added.
She took a sip of wine and swallowed. This wasn't like Jim Dunbar at all. Perhaps the bullet had hit something else up there. "It's not a big deal, Jim," was her answer.
And suddenly he was moving toward her, taking a place beside her on the couch. "That's just the thing, Chris," he said as he took her hand in his. "It's a really big deal." He took a deep breath and exhaled before he continued. "So I wanted to say thank you." He left it at that.
She shook her head, although she knew he couldn't see her. What he could do amazed her. He'd figured out the computer paraphernalia in about two days, and he moved in the apartment so proficiently that she sometimes forgot he couldn't see where he was going. On the evenings when he took her on walks, sure, she could watch where they were going, but most times, she found herself forgetting to pay attention and just following him. He always got them back home. She cringed to think how little of this would have been possible if he had gone to stay with his mother in Indiana. She doubted there were any comparable resources anywhere near where their town.
"It's okay, Jim," affirmed Christie. "You needed someone, and I could help." She paused for a second. "That's all," she tried to convince herself.
He started to say something and then stopped. He'd told her how he felt and what he'd somehow find the courage to say. There was no need to belabor the point. And why would she start believing anything he said to her anyway? That was his problem and he knew it. Past actions being such a potent predictor of future deeds, he had to make her see that things were different, that he was trying to be different. And while saying the words to her was a beginning, he had a long way to go in his quest to win back her trust. He knew he needed her, but it was more than that. At first, it struck him as a weird version of Stockholm syndrome; she was the only person he'd had meaningful contact with for six months. But he knew this feeling. He'd felt it all those years before when he fell in love with her the first time.
"I'm gonna take a bath and try to get some sleep." Jim realized he'd been quiet for a long time as Christie's words broke the silence in the room and into his head. "I'm going in tomorrow morning. We'll never make our October deadline if I don't put it to bed by Monday evening, and right now the whole issue is a hot mess." She stood and kissed him on the forehead as she passed by on her way to the kitchen. "Thanks for the drink. I'll put the glass in the sink."
Jim listened to her go and waited for the water to start running before he picked up the small rubber ball and bounced it off of the wall. He sat in the living room until the noises outside the open window changed from those of night to the noises of late night. He knew the difference now. He checked the time on the face of his wristwatch. Three fifteen, and he still wasn't tired. Trying to sleep at this point wouldn't work, and more than likely, he'd wake up Christie in the process. The elliptical in the spare room would burn off some of his restless energy, but the machine was loud. Maybe a walk around the block would do the trick. He grabbed the white cane and headed for the door, thinking he'd certainly be back before she woke up or wondered where he was.
The clock beside her was dark. That explained the sudden rise in temperature in the bedroom. It was apparently a full-fledged blackout. No doubt, all the air conditioners in their corner of the city had overloaded the grid. She rolled over in the bed. Jim's side was cool, untouched. He hadn't been to bed. She rummaged around in the drawer of the bedside table for the flashlight that now found its permanent home on her side. When she retrieved it, she prayed silently that the battery still had some juice. Making sure the flashlights worked was Jimmy's job. She guessed it was her job now. She flipped the switch, and the torch lit the room. She didn't even bother to slip on a t-shirt as she walked out of the bedroom. It was so hot. She expected to find Jim asleep on the couch in front of the TV or zonked out in the guest room. He did that sometimes when he didn't want to disturb her. As she checked the first place and then the next, her heart rate quickened. He wasn't in the apartment.
"Jimmy!" she called. There was no answer. She ran back into the bedroom and grabbed her wristwatch. It was nearly 4 am. Where could he have gone at 4 am? She stuffed her feet in an old pair of running shoes from the bottom of her closet and skidded toward the front door, grabbing her keys from their peg as she slid into the hallway. The door had been closed and locked and Jim's keys were gone. She guessed that meant he had left willingly and under his own power, but she still worried. She pushed the button for the elevator but recalled that the electricity was out. Quickly, she jogged the six flights to the street level, the flashlight illuminating her path. When she burst onto the deserted sidewalk, she glanced up and down the street trying to decide which direction to try first. Then she remembered the park under the bridge. He'd taken her there several times on their walks, and they'd even gone there a few times together before the shooting. She started to jog in that direction, the breeze coming off the river cooling the semi-darkened city chilled her a bit, and she realized that in her rush she hadn't put on any more clothing than she'd worn to bed. She was now running down her street in an old pair of Jim's boxers and a wife-beater. How classic. When she reached the far end of the park, she started scouting out the benches to see if any was occupied. As she did so, she realized she hadn't thought of glasses or contact lenses in her rush. It was all going to be a big blurry mess until she got closer. As the biggest blondest lump became her husband, she slowed her pace as she approached him.
"Jimmy?" she asked, almost in a whisper. She didn't want to startle him. "What are you doing out here?"
She sounded out of breath. He'd scared her. "Nothing," he answered. "Sorry," he added a second later. "I couldn't sleep and didn't want to wake you. I thought I'd be back before you realized I was gone. What time is it, anyway?" His fingers went immediately to his watch.
"Not quite four," she confirmed to him as she sat beside him on the bench. "The power went out, and it got hot in the bedroom. I guess that's what woke me up. I reached over and you were gone. And then I couldn't find you."
"I didn't mean to worry you, Christie. I just needed some air. I had the window open, but it just wasn't enough. I didn't think you'd wake up."
She laid her head on his shoulder and let his arm snake around her back. "It's okay. I just got a little jumpy."
"So jumpy that you ran out here after me practically naked?"
Christie blushed. "Yeah, well, I wasn't thinking about my clothes at the time." She shivered beside him.
"Are you cold?" Her body was clammy with a light film of sweat, partly from fear and partly from running.
"Just a little, but it's fine."
"Wanna go back in?"
"No. This is good." She let him hold her. "What were you thinking about out here?"
"Well," he started cautiously. "It's our Anniversary."
"It's after midnight, so it's the 14th, right?" He anticipated her automatic nod. "That's five years."
She shook her head to clear it. "Oh, God. It is. I completely forgot."
"Welcome to the club," he grinned. "I don't feel so bad now."
She punched his ribs playfully. "Shut up."
"I feel like we should do something," he started.
"Did you have a plan in mind?" she wondered aloud.
"Uh, not really, but I have the rest of the day to come up with something." He had an idea, but it would take him a little effort to put it into play.
"Okay, well, you'd better try to sleep at least a little. Don't you think?"
He nodded but didn't move. "I guess I should try."
She picked her head up off of his shoulder and stood from the bench. He held out his hand to her and she took it in hers. He let her guide him back to the darkened building and they climbed the stairs back to the apartment. He led her to the bedroom and opened the windows as she climbed back onto the bed.
"You're coming in with me, aren't you?" she was almost embarrassed to ask. She wanted him beside her. She wanted his hands on her body. She watched as he pulled off his shirt, causing her to inhale sharply at the sight of his defined chest and abdomen highlighted in the moonlight. He was so gorgeous.
"What?" he asked as he walked toward her.
"Nothing," she covered quickly as she pushed the covers out of their way. He started around the bed to his side but she grabbed his hand and placed it on her own bare chest. He cocked his head to one side and took a deep breath in. He could smell her desire and found that his own matched it. He moved forward onto the bed with her as their bodies touched, moving together in the balmy night air.
The next morning, they picked right up where they'd left off just a few hours before. Then she stayed in bed with him for a half hour longer than she had planned. When she finally got up, he followed her into the cool shower. It was on the tip of his tongue to protest her leaving, but he knew that not even another go-round in the shower would be enough to convince her shrug off her work if she really needed to be there. She switched off the faucet. He toweled off quickly and pulled on some boxers from the top drawer. She exited the bathroom behind him, trailing her fingers across his shoulders as she opened the drawer to his right.
"You want coffee?" he asked as he shivered slightly under the touch.
"That would be nice," she replied. She glanced over at the clock on her nightstand. It was blinking. The power must have come back on while they were asleep or otherwise occupied.
Jim nodded and left for the kitchen as she collected her things to get dressed. Sometimes he felt like he was taking advantage of her when nights and mornings like that happened. They still hadn't worked out the trust issues in their marriage, and it was almost like the Stockholm syndrome thing going on again. But it wasn't too hard to convince himself that he hadn't done anything wrong. It wasn't like she'd been complaining; in fact, he knew exactly what the sounds she'd made and the words she'd said meant. She'd wanted it as much as he had. She was still the picture in his head.
As Christie watched him leave the bedroom to make breakfast, she fanned herself. The bedroom windows were still open, allowing the warm air to stream in and over her. She told herself that's all it was. But she knew the truth, and she also knew that before long, she wouldn't be able to deny her feelings for Jim. This thing, whatever it was they had going on now was all well and good, but eventually, their little movie would wrap. And they'd trickle back into the real world. Christie had no idea what that would happen then.