Chapter 1: -1 month, 4 hours, 8 minutes
There have, until now, only been three times in my live that'd I've ever seen my wife on the verge of crying. She hated doing it, shedding tears, and she probably hated that I saw her so close to the brink, so many times.
The first was when we were sixteen. It was an average Thanksgiving weekend; no school, rain from the night before making the sidewalks and few patches of grass slick and shiny. A routine game of football came to a (literally) screeching halt, when Helga slid for a long pass, and crashed into the metal bleachers that the city donated to Gerald Field several years ago. Everyone expected her to shake it off and join the game, but when she rolled to her stomach, and started clutching the ground, we all knew something was wrong. She'd broken her leg pretty badly, and probably would have refused any help at all, had everyone not forced it on her. By the time the ambulance arrived, she was back on her back, pressing her bright red fists over her eyes, and clenching her jaw.
She didn't shed a tear, at least not one that I saw, but I knew she wanted to.
The next time was some years later. Helga returned to town, during college, telling everyone at school that she was taking time off, but hiding the reality and weight of her situation. She, as well as Miriam, Olga, and a few other old neighbors, were fully aware that Bob was terminal. The doctors gave him six weeks to survive with the cancer that began in his lungs, and quickly migrated to his liver. Despite the fact that he survived a full two weeks after the allotted time, his death was hard and heavy as hail on the family. Miriam and Olga wept openly, and had many comforters. Helga was quiet, more so than usual, and the few people who bothered to ask how she was, only to receive a soft and sad nod, were sure to walk away, discussing the late Big Bob Pataki's 'cold as ice' younger daughter. As I left the funeral home, I noticed a person standing under the dark awning of one of the funeral home's windows, protecting themselves from the merciless rain that was coming down outside. Instead of customary black, Helga was in a heavy-looking, dark-green velvet dress that fell just past her knees.
"Bob hated wearing black." she said, and I could tell she was either congested or emotional. I assumed the both, because that's how I liked to envision Helga. Fragile enough that I could still break through her walls, but strong enough to still give me a run for my money.
"He said it was bad luck. He wouldn't even wear black shoes when he was having an After Christmas sale." she said, and I could tell she wanted to smile.
When she came forward and enveloped me in a hug, I heard her echo the words of her mother and sister from inside, "Thanks for coming." Her words were anything but special; I heard them so many times that evening, that they barely fazed me. What kept the two of us huddled under that dark awning, while sheets of rain assaulted the parking lot, was the slight tremble that came from Helga's lithe body, I could not fathom how hard Helga was trying to keep her tears at bay, until we parted, and for the first time, I saw her struggle to compose herself, before stepping back into the building.
The last time, before now, of course, is my favorite.
The moment transpired over the course of no more than 30 seconds, but the memory itself lasted for much longer. I was brought of out sleep by something soft and warm against my face. My first inclination was to turn away from it; after all, the day prior was exhausting and long, and much as I enjoyed my evening, I was tired. Nevertheless, I took the hand that was stroking my face, and kissed the palm. Helga laughed loudly in the dark room, and pulled her hand away.
"Why, Mrs. Shortman, may I ask, are you awake at this ungodly hour?" I asked her, smiling when she absentmindedly rubbed the band of her ring when I uttered her new last name.
"Just thinking…" she sighed, bringing her hand back to my stubbly chin. "Thank you." she said, quietly.
She sighed again. I could tell she was falling back asleep. Helga was most beautiful on two occasions, right before she fell asleep, and immediately after waking up.
"For picking me."
Now, I can hardly say that Helga's fight against the overwhelming urge to either scream or cry is anything close to comforting.
I've prided myself on being Helga's best friend and husband, but also her strength. Few people have seen Helga without her wall, and exterior, and despite the fact that she didn't let me see them for quite a while, that part of her, what she revealed to me was always something I cherished.
And, somehow, worse, even than the physical pain of a shattered right leg, and the emotional pain of losing her father, I managed to hurt her.
When she retreated from the kitchen, after I told her, I surmised (especially with her temperament), that she was relieving our spacious closet of all my clothes, to deposit them in the bathtub, to pour bleach over them. When I found her, in our bedroom, the lights were out and she was curled up in the bed, closest to the side that was pushed again the back wall of the room. I slowly changed out of my work clothes, and joined her. Had I not seen her when I first entered the room, I wouldn't have known she was there at all. She managed to create so much space between us, that even when I pretended to roll over, she was still out of reach.
"Helga-" I was cut off when a sound erupted from her, raspy and garbled at the same time, leaving a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. The light from our alarm clock illuminated her hand closest to me; it was clutched in a tight fist around a small pillow, the red from the clock making her harm glow eerily.
"Please talk to me." I said it so quietly; I could barely hear it myself. She turned her face toward me, but her body stayed facing the other direction. I wanted to take a minute to marvel at the complexities of her body; the ever graceful curve where her hips became her legs, the nape of her neck that always called to me. But, I inflicted enough pain for one day; I thought it best to keep my distance for the time being.
She sniffed once and her fist relaxed. She slid her hand over the sheets and found mine in the darkness, with little trouble. Reflexively, my fingers sought to grip hers, but that was not her intent. She retraced her path, bringing my hand to her face. I cupped her tiny chin, and she released my hand once it was set on the side of her face, just underneath her eyes. My hand froze where it was, when I realized what she was doing.
Cooling my hand, and obviously Helga's face, were her tears. Tears I put there, because I was selfish and heartless and too stressed out to see how much I was hurting her.
"Never again, okay?" she asked, her voice tight and hoarse. It was more a plea than a suggestion. I nodded, too taken aback to answer with words. I reached to pull her closer, and I could feel the split-second of hesitation, knowing that, not a week prior, another woman was in these same arms.
We fell into peaceful sleep, neither of us waking until the sun was well in the sky the next day. When we did wake, Helga as beautiful as ever, save for red eyes and a pink nose, her eyes held the same plea as before. 'Never again, okay?' she asked silently for the rest of the day. I hoped that my affirmation, silent as hers, was enough.
Never again, lasted exactly four weeks.
A/N: Hi! How is everyone? Good, good. Anyway, I was thinking a lot about Roses (I'm writing an original version…with my own characters, so it's on my mind a lot) and I was wondering what Arnold would have been thinking during the whol ordeal...at leat for the parts where we wasn't dead. If you haven't read Roses, this will be hard to get. Anyway, this starts a bit before Roses did (obviously…Arnold is still alive). It's not going to be terribly long, I'll admit. Three to four chapters, at the most.
Let me know what you think! Oh, and quick question: has anyone seen The Princess and The Frog? I saw it last night with my sister, and I loved it! It was amazing!!! Okay, I'm off. Actually, I'm not. I'm sick in bed with a cold, sore throat and headache. So…I'll be here. Bye!!!