IT WAS NOT without reason, that absolute devotion Allison had for her husband of almost four years. Daniel might not be as athletically built as Ed, but he was too, without question, physically charming with dark hair, blue eyes, and a lean figure of an admiring height at six feet two. There was a distinct nobility to him, a kind of alpha confidence like that of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, despite being raised in an average family with humble parents. He was a leader by nature, a frontrunner by his brilliance, a man of a rare, respected breed upon whom she was so very inclined to bestow her affection, and a spouse she still very much trusted… or so she kept telling herself these days.
When she got home, she was surprised to see his car in the garage at only four o’clock in the afternoon. She walked inside and saw a pair of women’s tennis shoes on the doormat. Already thinking the worst, a deep breath after, she proceeded into the living room.
“Are we having company?”
From the couch, Daniel turned his head to look at her. “No,” he replied, seemingly innocent. “Why?”
“Whose tennis shoes are those then?”
“What tennis shoes?”
“Those white ones by the door. They certainly aren’t mine.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Just as he finished speaking, there was a bang from the ceiling. They both heard it and looked up. Not giving it a second of thought, she barged into their bedroom upstairs to investigate, but found nobody save a bottle of hair conditioner lying sideways on the bathroom floor. She returned it to its place and hurried back down to the foyer to ascertain the mysterious pair of shoes were still there, only then, to her own doubt, they were not.
A similar incident had indeed happened two days ago. Instead of shoes, it was a lady’s bathrobe. She had learnt from the Internet about how lack of sleep could affect a person’s perception of things, but never expected her condition to worsen to this extent and this fast. All she could do was pray for her prescription to work a miracle.
Daniel had not moved from his spot when she got back. She went to sit by him, asking him about work.
“Same,” he said. “Just finished the blueprints for the SkyEagle Project. But then a few hours later, Matt received orders from above to move the assembly tasks two weeks sooner. He was ticked off.”
“That sounds like more work, and they let you leave early?”
“Is that a problem?”
“No. I just didn’t expect to see you home so soon.”
He said nothing further. His hands never stopped rearranging the photographs of an age-old album lying open on the center table.
In an attempt to steal his attention, Allison moved to climb behind him to give him a nice shoulder massage. He closed his eyes for a moment, straining his neck left and right to let in the pleasure.
“Why don’t we go out for dinner tonight? We can go to Ottimo Cibo, listen to their live music, and dance a little. What do you think?”
He gave her idea a thought. “I kinda feel like staying in for the evening. Is that alright with you?”
“Of course. It’s just a suggestion. So, what would you rather do?”
Still very much absorbed in his activity, he returned to flipping through the album. A specific photo triggering a childhood memory caught his eyes. In remembrance of a Fourth of July backyard party, he could not help a chuckle.
“What is it?” she asked him, mainly about his laugh but he was unaware of it, or did not care in the sense that he just wanted to tell his story. “This was taken in our old backyard. My mom came home after shopping for groceries and brought Peter with her. They had been seeing each other for a while, but that was the first time our families got together to have a barbecue. Meg was there too, of course. When Peter officially introduced her, I was so totally against the idea of having a sibling. As a protest, I deliberately gathered every sparkler in the house and would not share them. See how I was carrying more than my tiny hands could handle? Meanwhile, there she was, little Meggie, frowning in a corner, envious of my happiness. Boy, was I selfish as a child…”
His eyes glistened with glee as he went on to tell another sibling story brought on by a different photo, and another one after that. Allison just listened. While she recognized his effort as mere grief, much as she would like to be consistently empathetic, each time she heard him say her name in such a sweet, loving way was like provoking a storm. In time, it broke out halfway through his speech when she called “stop,” interjecting him in a harsh tone, “I don’t want to hear any more of this.”
He was just about stunned. “Excuse me?”
She came out from behind him and stood repeating to his face, “I said, I don’t want to hear it.”
“I heard you…” He looked up at her. His lips pressed together tightly as if holding back words he feared speaking, and then calmly, he let it go. “Alright.”
“Are you really?”
“I don’t understand.”
“She’s gone, Dan. Dead. If you don’t get that —”
“I know. I just… miss her. That is all.”
“‘Miss her?’ Humph. She won’t come back to you no matter how many times you dig through those old pictures of yours.”
Those spiteful words finally got to him. “Did I say something wrong again?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact you did.”
“What was it then?” he inquired, slamming shut the album and tossing it aside to concentrate on her.
“Can you be more specific?”
“How can you be so insensitive —”
“And I really don’t think asking my wife for some support in a time of need deserves an outcry.”
“‘Support?!’ Don’t even! You don’t need me. You need her! She is the only thing in your head these days and don’t you lie to me!!”
“You’ve lost your mind. I’m not continuing this conversation until you calm down.”
His calm was her weakness however. “You know what? I don’t give a shit about your needs. You’ve been cold and neglectful of me for a long time. In the last month, you haven’t once had the courtesy to ask about me. It goes both ways, Dan!”
Upon bawling him out, she stormed off before he had a chance to — if he even was going to — justify himself.
Up the stairs, she hastened into their bedroom and shut the door. Right away, she was regretting some of the things she had said impulsively back there. She threw herself onto the bed, and let her tears soak freely into her pillow. Her sobs gradually prolonged with fewer and fewer gasps in between. She only stopped crying a couple minutes later because of her phone’s vibrating on and on in her pocket became an annoyance.
Sitting up in bed, she picked up the call.
It was Adrian.
“I told you not to call.”
“I need to see you.”
“I said no.”
He caught her irritation. “What’s the matter?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did something bad happen?”
“No. Everything’s fine.”
“You can’t fool me. I can always tell when something isn’t right with you. You don’t lie very well.”
She got quiet, silently appreciating his understanding.
“Come on. Let’s meet up tomorrow.”
“Why not? You can’t possibly be on your laptop writing all day.”
“It’s not that. It’s just—”
“No more ‘it’s just.’ You need to get out of the house to vent your frustration, and you need someone there to listen, someone you trust. Who fits that role better than me? Tell you what, why don’t we meet at our usual place.”
“It’s been years since I went back. To be honest, I kinda miss it.”
“Me too. Sorta.”
“So? What do you say? 10 a.m.?”
“I don’t know…”
“But I can’t stay long.”
“As you wish. Just hang on until then. It’s your big brother to the rescue.”