I look to my left, at my beautiful wife, and see she’s trembling with fear, this once-vibrant woman who was so filled with life. I want to reach over and try to comfort her, but I know well by now that it won’t be welcome. It’s a pleasant surprise when she reaches for my hand, lacing her fingers with mine.
God, how my body aches for hers. For anything more than a kiss. At this point, I’d settle for a smile that reaches her eyes. She’s anxious. My wife hasn’t had a drink in over two weeks, at least that’s what she swears to me. And I believe her, not because I want to, but because I watched her pour out her stash when she thought I wasn’t looking.
She confessed to me a few days after Noah’s party that alcohol calms her more effectively than any antidepressant or prescription has been able to. But after seeing the negative impact it was having on our son, she’s sworn off it. Aside from an occasional Xanax, she’s trying to cope drug-free. I’m proud of her. We’ve both been going out of our way to do better, to try and communicate more, but we still seem to be tripping over each other.
It shouldn’t be this hard to love someone so much.
“It’s okay, Katy, to decide this was a mistake,” I offer gently. She pulls her hand away, and I know it was the wrong thing to say. She eyes my uniform before gazing out the window at the bustling city.
“I didn’t have time to change. I barely had time to make it to meet you at the airport. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she says, turning to me with a half-smile. “I just don’t want Noah to see it.”
Letting out a tension-filled breath, I study her profile. “Talk to me.”
“Not now, okay?”
The door swings open on my side, and I offer her my hand to help her out of the car. For the few seconds that it hangs in the air, I say a silent prayer that she’ll just reach back—she doesn’t.
“Just give me a second,” she says, as she runs her hand down her dress.
I blow out a frustrated breath, climbing out of the car alone and close the door.
“She just needs a minute,” I say to the driver, in a tone that even to my own ears sounds defeated.
“You sure, sir? I can wait. I’m supposed to–”
I pull a pack of cigarettes from my pocket and light one up. With the butt dangling between my lips, I nod and mumble, “I got it.” I take a long drag, welcoming the instant calm. He nods and greets the bellman, who starts unloading our bags.
The night is cool, and the breeze feels good on my heated skin.
I’m halfway through my cigarette when Katy finally emerges from the car. “You know I hate it when you smoke,” she snaps, crinkling her face in disgust.
Silently, I pray for patience, reminding myself for the billionth time that this is not my Katy.
“Sorry,” I mutter, forcing myself to smile at the shell of the woman who stands beside me. I’d never been much of a smoker until she went missing. Now she’s back, and it seems to be my only solace. I’ve been keeping my vice to myself, smoking on the back porch when she and Noah aren’t around. After putting Noah to bed last week, she caught me mid-drag, and I had no choice but to come clean. I expected more of a reaction, but that just goes to show how indifferent she’s become toward me. Resentment grows as I realize her griping now is due to nerves, not out of concern. As I release my next puff of smoke, I crush the butt beneath my boot, immediately pulling my pack out to light another.
She stands a foot away, eyes widening as the flame licks the tobacco. Understanding passes between us. I hate this. I hate every moment. I’ll take concern any day over anger and indifference. My wife’s still shaking. It’s hard to tell if it’s from the cool night air or her anxiety. She wears a look of uncertainty…like she’s considering climbing right back into the car she just stepped out of. She’s afraid.
“We can turn around right now and go home,” I offer once more, and she shakes her head.
Ache replaces anger as I look on at her, speaking from the heart, “You look so beautiful.”
Her face softens, and I watch the swell of her breasts rise and fall with the deep breaths she’s taking to prepare herself. She’s in a simple black sundress and heels. She may be mixed-up inside, but she’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I suck in my bottom lip as I rake my lust-filled eyes over my wife’s body, feeling myself begin to thicken in my slacks. She’s always turned me on, but I can’t even remember the last time I’ve seen her in a dress with her hair and makeup done. She’s stunning.
God, I miss my wife.
“Stop looking at me like that, Gavin,” she whispers. “It makes me feel bad.”
I wish she’d have just stood there silently for a moment longer and allowed me to appreciate her before she opened her mouth, ruining the moment. “Sorry,” I mumble again.
Her big blue eyes swell with tears. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to treat you this way.”
I know that she doesn’t mean it, and I try not to take it personally. Her moods have been all over the place since she got home. It’s not her fault, but it isn’t mine either. Yet, somehow, I’ve taken on the role of human punching bag.
She eyes my cigarette. “Finish that. I’ll check us in.”
The bellman follows behind her as I take another drag of patience and lean against the side of the stretched car. Katy begins walking toward the entrance just as a limo pulls in behind ours.
My wife stops in her tracks, her storm-filled eyes lighting up in anticipation for the man who’s about to exit the car.
Adrenaline surges through my veins when Briggs steps out, dressed to the nines in his army greens.
When their eyes lock, she gives him a breathtaking smile…one that reaches her eyes. A jealousy I’ve never experienced before takes hold as they drink each other in from feet away, as though they’ve been starving for it.
I feel like an outsider intruding on an intimate meeting between my own wife and another man.
It isn’t so cut and dry. I know that. But there’s no way I’m imagining the way he looks at her or the way she looks at him. It’s the way her eyes glisten at the sight of him. It’s the way she rushes to him, calling out his name with such emotion. It’s the relief I see in both their eyes that breaks my heart into a million shards of glass when she jumps right into his waiting arms.
There isn’t a single time in the last five months that I’ve put my hands on my wife and she hasn’t recoiled with fear or an excuse.
Son of a bitch.
He has my wife in his arms. A content smile—one that should belong to me—covers his face as he holds her close. He presses his lips to her ear and whispers softly, before his eyes lift to meet mine. It’s in this moment I know exactly who is in the space between us.
It’s a moment fit for the movies, one I already know I’ll replay over and over again in my mind for the rest of my life. The image of her coming to a stop the second I call her name. The light reflecting off her golden curls, that now reach her shoulders, as she turns toward me. The relief and heat that cover her features as she drinks me in. The swish of her dress as she takes off toward me in her heels without giving it a second thought. A dream could never have been better than this reality.
She’s fucking beautiful.
My arms are already open when her small frame slams into mine, and the air becomes charged. The smell of her perfume permeates the crisp air around us, filling my nose. Instantly, she’s lax in my arms. My body remembers hers. How could it have forgotten? I’ve replayed the few days of freedom we shared in Germany over and over so many times that I could re-enact every move, every breath, every heartbeat.
“You look beautiful,” I murmur into her neck with a raw voice filled with love. Her warmth radiates through me.
“Briggs,” she croaks, clutching me tight. Closing my eyes, I pull her a little closer. In my heart, I feel a peace that I haven’t felt since the moment we parted. But that peace is cut short the second I lift my eyes, and they land on the man whose life I’m holding.