Sarah, Returned

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Chapter Eleven

As I reach the bottom step on the staircase, Matt is beaming proudly behind the kitchen bar, a beautiful sandwich and bright orange bowl of soup laid out on a bamboo placemat with a real cloth napkin sitting neatly on the bar in front of him. A steaming ceramic mug full of what can only be the coffee I requested sits beside it, and as its sweet aroma hits my nose, I almost cry with the pleasure. Oh yeah. That’s amaretto-flavored coffee, the good stuff, with freshly ground beans. My favorite. God, I must have been suppressing how much I missed it, because I suddenly realize I’ve craved this every day I’ve been away.

Carter is sitting at the barstool next to the one with my meal in front of it, where I’m presumably supposed to station myself, a mug of something in his hand. Probably tea, as he’s not a big coffee drinker. He loves black Darjeeling tea from India, unsweetened.

Whose idea it was for him to sit there? I know he’s glad to see me, and happy I’m okay, but he’s probably also upset at all the police questioning. I mean, I would be, if the situation were reversed. We hadn’t been dating that long when I left, and weren’t even officially exclusive, though it was kind of an unsaid thing. It’s not like we were in love. At least I wasn’t, not yet. Was he? Or, is his strategic position just Matt’s way of trying to make everything go back to normal as quickly as possible?

Karen, unsurprisingly, is still sitting on the sofa, thumbing through a magazine, pretending not to notice me.

I sit down next to Carter….yep, that’s Darjeeling in his mug….and pick up the sandwich, inhaling deeply of the heady aroma. There are few things as deliciously decadent as grilled cheddar and Brie on whole grain. Welcome back to my mouth, you wonderful little sandwich. I take a bite. Oh my God, it’s heaven! Matt used real butter to grill it, not that butter-flavored spray he typically favors. He pulled out all the stops to please me. This is amazing, even better than the shower, and I haven’t even gotten to the soup yet. I slowly chew, savoring every molecule of flavor. This was so worth the three century wait.

I finish the sandwich way too soon, and almost ask Matt to make another. But, there’s the soup. A fresh, golden carrot ginger concoction that I’ve adored since childhood. I’ve got to lick the bowl clean of that soup first. Then, maybe I’ll ask for seconds.

Everyone is oddly quiet, just watching me eat, but I don’t care. I’m too caught up in the scrumptious circus of flavors dancing around on my tongue to wonder why they’re staring at me. I barely register Great-Uncle Jacob coming back downstairs and taking a seat on the barstool opposite Carter. Matt is smiling, so I guess he, at least, is simply happy to have me back, and with a hearty appetite to match. Clearly, I can’t be too injured if I’m devouring every morsel and drop of food placed in front of me.

I down the entire bowl of soup in what must be record time, and am half-way through the rich, creamy coffee, when there’s a knock on the back door.

It’s the police, of course. I knew they were coming. Seeing as I’m in coffee heaven at the moment, however, they can wait until I’m done. I don’t even bother to lift my nose out of the mug, each swallow of the beautiful brown liquid a tiny piece of paradise to my senses. I’ve got to find a way to bring a metric ton of this back to colonial Dover with me. How did I live without it for so long?

I’m so involved in savoring my coffee, it’s actually a little startling when I finally lift my head and see two uniformed state police officers waiting patiently for me on the sofa opposite Karen. Carter and Jacob have joined them in the chairs. Only Matt and I remain in the kitchen.

I look at the empty plate, bowl, and mug, a mixture of remorse and longing washing over me. I want more. Two or three extra servings would be perfect. Suddenly, I feel like I haven’t eaten in years. Considering the sparseness of food in 1699, and how difficult it is to prepare things if you are lucky enough to obtain the ingredients, that analogy isn’t too far off. Oh well. Maybe when the police are gone, before Matt and Karen go to bed, I’ll ask him to hook me up with additional fare. Knowing Matt, he’ll be happy to do it.

Ugh. I guess I have to talk to them. Crap. Reluctantly, I leave the bar and walk over to our assembled guests, Matt right by my side once more. There is a stillness in the room, making everyone seem like they’re frozen in time and place. Added to the perfect quiet, it makes the entire room seem unreal. Am I losing it? Is the stress of being away from my husband and children, back where I started, making me crack up? No. No, that’s not it. Looking at each one of them in turn—Jacob, Karen, Carter, the two police officers, Matt—it hits me. They’re waiting for me to say something, and they’re practically on the edge of their seats to hear what it will be.

I guess I can’t blame them. Not a single one of them knows what actually happened. I haven’t given anyone a single clue. All they know is I’m back and I’m safe. They are all like eager children waiting for their swashbuckling bedtime story. I have a captive audience.

Not that anyone here will be getting the real story, or course. Jacob suspects the truth, which means he has to know more about Grandma’s origins than he initially let on. If he wants to talk about it later, that’s fine, but I won’t be the first to bring it up. Karen’s presence means I can’t, and he knows it.

So, what am I going to tell them? This is what happens when you keep telling yourself you’ll think about it later--later eventually arrives, and usually sooner than you think. I’ve been luxuriating in my temporary re-introduction to modern amenities, and haven’t thought of a thing. This story is going to be totally on the fly.

Here we go. Fingers crossed whatever I say is believable.

“Welcome back, Ms. Morgan,” the female officer says as Matt and I come to stand in front of the sofa where Karen is sitting. Her badge identifies her as Officer Daniels.

Matt lowers himself down beside Karen, leaving the only open spot for me on her other side. No way is that happening. Using both hands, I push Matt against her, careful to make it look gentle, and he instinctively pushes on his fiancée in return, indicating they need to make room for me beside him. Karen gives a little “hmph” of indignation, and the quick flash of anger in her eyes lets me know she wants to argue. However, the presence of the police keeps her on her best behavior, especially since she knows she is a suspect. With a loud sigh and a put-upon expression, she moves over so I can sit beside Matt instead of her.

“Thank you,” I say, taking my fairly won seat. “It’s good to be back.”

“You understand we have some questions for you regarding your whereabouts during the past month,” the male officer says, more of a statement than a question. According to his badge, his name is Officer Baker.

“I do,” I nod, smiling, doing my best to come across as helpful and cooperative.

“Can you tell us, in detail, what happened to you the night you disappeared?” Officer Daniels asks, taking out a notepad and pen. Officer Baker turns on a small electronic device that is probably a recorder of some kind.

Sure. I walked through a portal in time, found myself in 1685, and stayed there for 14 years. I changed history by rescuing a child from being massacred in a Native raid, helped build several of the antique homes still standing in this town, met my own time-traveling great-grandmother, got married, and had four children. Any other questions?

“I needed to get away from my cousin Matt and his fiancée, Karen,” I hear myself saying, as if from far away. Looks like my subconscious is taking over this one. Fine with me. It’s probably got a more creative answer than I can come up with off the top of my head. The words come out slowly, giving the deepest part of my mind time to think.

“Why, exactly?” Officer Baker wants to know.

That one is easy. I tell them the whole story of Karen badgering and stalking me during Grandma Morgan’s celebration of life, her threats to have me put on a psychiatric hold on her word alone, Matt’s refusal to believe me when I told him, Karen’s previous threats that made me wary of her, her causing a scene after most everyone left, me agreeing to go to the psychiatric hospital but really looking for a way out of the house because I needed some space, Karen purposefully injuring herself on my car keys to make it look like I did it, the car chase with Matt and Karen, all of it. Every last bit of it that took place in this century, I re-tell with excruciating detail. It’s been 14 years, but I remember each moment of that night in crystal clear, high definition quality. You don’t forget that kind of thing. Not ever.

Karen tries to protest several times during my tale, but the cops shut her down each time. It’s my turn to talk. Knowing she has to bite her tongue to avoid incriminating herself in my attempted murder is almost as satisfying as the decadent shower and orgasmic meal.

“What happened after you took refuge in the bushes at the park?” Officer Baker asks. This is the hard part, because I have no idea what to say. May as well let my subconscious take over again. It did well the first time.

I relax back into the sofa as much as I can, and turn my tongue over to that hidden part of me once more.

“I didn’t want Matt and Karen to find me until I was ready to deal with them,” I say, feeling far away and disconnected from my own voice again. It really is like floating outside of myself, and putting my body and voice on autopilot.

“You have to understand how much stress I was under, between losing my grandmother, trying to fend off Karen’s threats to me, and my own cousin not taking my side against her,” I hear myself continue. “Honestly, I was extremely upset. Can you blame me? I thought for a long time about what to do. Eventually, I decided the best thing was to make it look like I vanished. So, I took the cash I had in my purse and walked to the nearest 24-hour drug store. Once there, I bought some pre-paid credit cards and a pre-paid cell phone, none of which could be traced. I kept some cash back, called a cab, and had the driver take me to a hotel in Boston. I stayed there a few days, then moved on to another hotel in Connecticut, then one in Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, and a couple in New York. I only stayed three or four days in each place, using the pre-paid cards to pay for everything except cabs, which I always paid for with cash. When I finally felt like I was emotionally strong enough to fight Karen for control of my life and inheritance, which I know is what she’s after, I came back. I paid a cab to drop me off at the top of Garrison Hill. I wanted to see if anything I left behind was still there. An opal ring that is quite special to me that fell off my finger when I was in the thicket, and I didn’t realize it was gone until later. That’s why I was so dirty when Matt found me. I’d been digging around up there trying to find it. When I didn’t locate it, I walked to the nearest gas station and called Matt.”

Hey. What do you know? My subconscious is pretty creative. I had no idea I was going to say any of that, but it is the perfect tale.

“And your odd clothing?” Officer Baker asks, squinting suspiciously at me. “Your cousin tells us you were dressed in colonial garb when he picked you up.”

“Not colonial,” I insist. “Just old. It might be someone’s discarded school play costume. I don’t know. I bought a few outfits at local thrift stores to avoid being too recognizable. You have to understand, I didn’t know if Matt and Karen may have hired a private detective to find me. I was doing everything I could to throw them off my trail.

Officer Baker nods, as if that makes perfect sense to him. Good job, subconscious. I would totally give you a high five if I could.

“Why did you leave so many of your belongings behind on the hill?” Officer Daniels wants to know.

“To make it look like someone took me. I thought it might buy me some time to be able to come back on my own terms. It was the right decision, because it obviously worked. The things I left can all be replaced, of course, except the ring I lost. The idea, however, was to leave things like my phone and purse, which everyone would insist I’d never leave behind on purpose.”

“And the keys in your car?” Officer Baker raises an eyebrow as he holds the recording device closer to me.

“An accident. I didn’t mean to leave them there. I was so upset, I just didn’t think about it. I had no idea until Matt told me. Ask him. He’ll tell you it’s not uncommon for me to do that when I’m distracted. The locksmiths around here love me.”

Both officers smile at that one.

“And you’re fine?” Officer Daniels inquires, sounding genuinely concerned. “No one hurt you in any way while you were gone? No one was keeping you against your will?”

“No, not at all. It was all my own doing. I’m so sorry for the trouble. I had no idea the police were looking for me, much less any federal agencies. I honestly thought Matt and Karen would search for me on their own, or hire someone, because this seemed too trivial for the police to get involved in. I see now I should have called you myself sooner, and let you know I was purposefully avoiding contact with my cousin and his fiancée. It seems a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it?”

“Normally, yes,” Officer Baker agrees. “You are an adult, and are legally entitled to go where you want, whenever you want, without telling anyone. Most of the time, we at least give a cursory look into any missing persons report after the required amount of time had gone by, but unless there is evidence of something bad happening to someone, we usually let it go and chalk it up to that person wanting to be left alone. Your case was different, because there was evidence you might have met with foul play. Leaving your belongings on the hill, along with the keys in your car, indicated reasonable suspicion you were taken against your will. Couple that with you being an heiress to an extremely large fortune, and, well, you can understand the increased resources we placed on the situation. When we found someone tampered with your car, it became an even more serious matter, and yes, we brought in the FBI. You didn’t see any of the reports of your disappearance on TV?”

“No,” I can actually reply honestly to that one. “I didn’t watch much television during my sabbatical from the family.”

“Well, we’re just happy you’re safe,” Officer Daniels says, giving me the barest hint of a smile to let me know she means it. “Of course, there is still the matter of who tampered with your car.”

“Of course,” I agree.

“As we see it,” she continues, “there are a variety of people close to you, and even a few who are only acquaintances, who have reason to want you out of the picture. These are people who either genuinely could have, or believe they might have, a claim to your inheritance if you were gone. The person who tampered with your car is still out there. In a way, you were lucky you left the state for so long. It meant whoever did this did not have another opportunity to try to hurt you. Now that you’re back, however….”

“They might try again,” I finish for her, nodding. Yet another reason to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible.

“Exactly,” Officer Baker replies. “Now, you know your cousin is the main suspect. Do you have any reason to believe he might want to hurt you?”

“None at all.”

“So you feel safe staying with him in this house tonight?”

“I do. Completely.”

“Karen is our next most likely suspect. How do you feel about her?”

“I think she could have done it.”

The feeling of saying those words out loud to the police is almost as good as the best sex, I swear.

Though I don’t look at her, I can feel Karen’s eyes trying to bore holes through my skull from across the sofa.

“So do we,” Officer Daniels agrees. “Now, we understand she’s moved in here during your absence. Do you feel safe with her in the house tonight?”

I knew it. I knew the bitch moved in. No one said anything, but she’s been acting like she owns the place since the moment I walked in the door. Matt, I love you, but you are so stupid.

“No,” I say, firmly, making sure they get my point. “I do not.”

“Do you want to stay at a safe house tonight?” Officer Baker offers. “We have several hotels and private homes where you can be sure no one will bother you.”

Nope. Not an option. I have to search Grandma’s room tonight. That means I stay here.

“I would really prefer to sleep in my own room,” I say, a picture of sincerity. “It’s been so long since I’ve been home. I’ve missed it. And, this is half my house. Karen may live here, but her name is not on the deed. Or, did something else change while I was away?”

“No,” Matt says quietly, looking down, not wanting to face either Karen or me. “It’s still just you and me on the deed.”

“Excellent. I would prefer it if she left,” I announce, and Karen is on her feet in an instant.

“If you think I’m leaving this house just because you have a delusion of me wanting to hurt you, well, you have another thing coming, Sarah Morgan,” she shouts, beyond caring what the officers think. If eyes could really shoot daggers, I would be full of them right now. “How dare you waltz in here after being gone for a month, with no word at all, making poor Matt cry himself to sleep some nights worrying about you, and think you have any say at all in what goes on here?”

“Ma’am,” Officer Daniels insists, “if Ms. Morgan says she wants you to leave, you’re going to have to go.”

“What?” Karen shrieks in disbelief. For a moment, I think she might make a lunge for the officer. If she does, she will no longer be a problem.

To my disappointment, she quickly backs down, no doubt realizing the same thing.

“It’s her house,” Officer Daniels explains with exaggerated patience. She looks docile, but I notice her hand subtly move to the gun at her side. Officer Baker does the same.

“But, I live here,” Karen protests.

“It’s an active investigation, ma’am,” Officer Baker says. “You are a suspect. The victim believes you may be the culprit. If she wants you to leave, you need to leave.”

“I will not,” Karen insists, standing her ground. She looks to Matt, hands on her hips, defiant. “Matt? Tell them I’m not leaving.”

“I can’t,” he says, helplessly, shaking his head, still refusing to look at her. “The police are right. This is Sarah’s home, and she has the final word on this. It won’t matter if I insist you stay. The police are going to make you leave, because you’re a suspect, and Sarah doesn’t feel safe with you. I’m sorry.”

“Well, tell Sarah to let me stay. This is my home. Plus, I don’t want to spend a night away from you.”

I notice she doesn’t say “I love you.”

“Sarah?” Matt looks at me, hopeful.

“No.” I shake my head, and put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, Matt. But, I don’t trust her.”

“Where am I supposed to go?” Karen demands, furious.

“That’s up to you, ma’am,” Officer Baker replies. “But you’ll need to leave now. Go get whatever things you need for a long trip, because we don’t know when you will be allowed back in the house. Much of that decision will be up to Ms. Morgan.” Then, turning to me, Officer Baker adds, “Would you like to place a restraining order on Ms. Bateman, Ms. Morgan?”

Oh, this is too good!

“Yes. Yes, I do.” I can’t help but grin a little as I say it. With any luck, I’ll be gone before they can get the paperwork filed, but simply being able to say it, and have the request be taken seriously, is such a thrill. I’ve wanted to do this for ages.

“We’ll be by in the morning to take you to the courthouse so you can file the official request,” Officer Baker assures me. “In the meantime, we would like to request everyone leave the house tonight except the Morgan cousins. You’re all still technically suspects, even Mr. Morgan. Ms. Morgan feels comfortable with him, though, and the house is part his, so we can’t make him leave without her say so. We will keep an officer stationed outside the house, as we’ve done for Mr. Morgan’s protection since Ms. Morgan’s disappearance. If anyone tries to break in and hurt either of the Morgan cousins, we will know it.”

“If she gets hurt when she’s alone in the house with me, then your list of suspects gets narrowed pretty dramatically,” Matt mumbles glumly, knowing Karen is going to give him hell over this the next time they’re together.

“True,” Officer Daniels agrees. “But, the idea is to keep her safe in the first place. She seems reasonably confident you would never hurt her. If she didn’t, we would insist she stay elsewhere, or we would station an officer inside the house.”

“Now, Ms. Bateman, if you’ll come upstairs with me?” Officer Daniels stands up and extends an arm Karen’s way. “I need to observe you while you pack your things, to be sure you aren’t bringing any weapons or other suspicious items with you.”

Karen’s pinched face turns absolutely beet red, and she clenches her hands into fists of impotent fury. She wants to scream, demand these upstart police officers leave her house at once lest she call the governor, to command them to drag me out of there to the psyche ward if they have to. But, she can’t do any of those things, and she knows it. Any resistance she puts up at this point is only going to get her arrested, and Her Majesty simply can’t allow such a debasing thing to happen. She has no choice but to do as Officer Daniels says, and submit to the lesser humiliation of being watched as she packs to prepare for her forced ouster from the house.

“Matt,” she whispers, her voice sharp as a sword, “come with me. Let Sarah stay here alone, without us.”

“You would have me leave her on her own, when she just got back?” Matt gapes at her, startled she would suggest such a thing.

“She wants the house,” she snaps, louder this time, attracting the attention of both officers. “Let her have it. For now. We’ll get a lawyer and work a way to have her legally evicted. This is our house, not hers. She left it.”

“Because of you.”

Oh my goodness. Is my dear cousin actually standing up to his fiancée for once? Taking my side, like he always used to before she came along?

Karen opens her mouth to reply, then shuts it, just as stunned as me. It has to be the first time in their relationship he’s ever said anything but, “Yes, dear.”

“Also because of me,” Matt adds, looking down with sorrow. “She left because of you and me. I can’t abandon her now, Karen. I didn’t realize until tonight just how much I hurt her. Sarah and me, we’ve been the most important people in each other’s lives since we were kids. I have to stay and make it up to her.” He lifts his head again and turns to me. “If you’ll let me, Sarah?”

Oh, geez, he’s going to make me cry, and I absolutely do NOT want Karen to see any tears on my face. But, he’s so sincere, so penitent, and starting to resemble the Matt I used to know. The Matt I thought I’d lost forever to a shiny blonde. It’s hard to not become emotional at this transformation.

I’ve tried to be detached and clinical about everything since I called Matt from the gas station, my one objective being to get in and out of 2017 as quickly as possible and return to my family. Matt is part of that family, an extremely important part, and between his change after meeting Karen and my time in the past, I’d nearly forgotten it. I remember now. It’s too much. I bite my lip, hard, but the tears are already tumbling down my face, and I reach for him at the same moment he reaches a tentative hand out for me. Soon, we’re in a tight embrace, and, to my surprise, he’s crying, too.

“Fine!” Karen screams, but safe and protected in my cousin’s arms, she sounds far away and harmless. “You choose her over me? Go right ahead. You two deserve each other. But, mark my words, Matthew Morgan, you will regret it when I’m gone, and I might not be available when you come crawling to me on your knees, begging me to take you back.”

“I’m so sorry, Sarah,” Matt says softly in my ear, ignoring her. “I didn’t know. Forgive me.”

“Of course,” I sob into his shoulder. “Anything. Always. You are always forgiven, even for things you haven’t done yet. There’s nothing you could do to make me not love you.”

I’m not sure how much time passes, but by the time Matt and I are done crying and reconciling with one another, Karen is gone. To where, who knows? Who cares? She probably went to her parents, but she may have opted for a fancy hotel, too. I’m also sure we haven’t heard the last of her.

Great-Uncle Jacob and Carter are gone, too, having slipped off quietly, not wanting to intrude on the proper reunion going on between the estranged cousins Officer Daniels seems to have left with Karen, likely to make sure she actually left the property. Only Officer Baker remains, and he’s been remarkably polite, giving Matt and me all the time we need to have our moment together.

Smiling at each other, wiping tears from our faces with our sleeves, we settle in close on the sofa, his arm snugly around my shoulders, and nod at the good officer, letting him know we’re ready to continue.

“I’ll wait outside until the night shift officer arrives,” he tells us, the barest hint of a grin twitching at the corners of his mouth. He’s happy for us, that much is obvious, and is also now plainly convinced Matt is not the one who tried to hurt me. What he just witnessed was too genuine, and he knows it.

“How will we get in touch with whoever is outside, if we need to?” I ask, still kind of concerned about Karen. What if she tries to sneak back onto the property to exact revenge? Matt and I are both targets for her ire now.

“I’ll call the house as I’m leaving and give you the officer’s personal number. I don’t know who it will be yet, so there’s nothing I can give you until then. Is that okay?”

“Of course. Matt, do you agree?”

“Yes, that will be fine,” Matt says a bit shakily, still recovering from our “Hallmark” moment.

“Okay, then. I’ll leave you two to it. Remember, you can always call 911 if there’s an emergency and you can’t get in touch with an officer. Since we still don’t know who tampered with your car, or where they may be hiding, I’d advise against going outside. We’re glad you’re back, Ms. Morgan.”

“Thank you, Officer Baker. And, the next time I feel like I need some time alone, I promise to let at least one person know I’m okay before I disappear.”

This is a promise I will likely have to keep in the near future, if all goes according to plan.

“I know you will. Good night, kids. We’ll be around to pick you up about 10 am tomorrow go file that restraining order, Ms. Morgan. Does that work for you? Or do you want to sleep in a little later, this being your first night back and all?”

“A little later would be good, I think. I’m pretty exhausted from all this. Maybe around noon?”

“Noon, it is. I’ll transport you personally.”

“Can Matt come?”

“Absolutely.”

Tipping his hat to us, he leaves, and Matt and I are alone for the first time in forever. We were never alone once he started dating Karen, and then there was my own 14 years away. It’s nice, but in an odd way, like doing something I remember from a dream.

Matt gets up and locks the door behind Officer Baker. Hmmm. That’s probably a good idea, making sure this place is secure. Even with an officer stationed outside, we can’t be too careful. However long I’m here, I don’t want to be a target for anyone, and if I am, I don’t want to make getting to me easy for them. I have to get safely back to my husband and kids.

I rise from the sofa and go check the back door, making sure it’s locked, and start testing the windows, too. Seeing what I’m doing, Matt goes around behind me and double-checks everything I just checked. If it wasn’t such a serious matter, it would be funny.

I never thought I’d witness it, but I think Matt may be a little concerned about Karen and what she may do. She was furious when she left. That fury isn’t going to fade any time soon, from what I could tell.

“So, now what?” Matt asks once we’re done locking up the house, shrugging his shoulders.

“Honestly, I could go for another grilled cheese. But, maybe we’ll save that for tomorrow. I’m beyond tired. And, it’s after three in the morning. It’s been a long day. Why don’t we just go to bed?”

There won’t be a better time to search Grandma’s bedroom than this. I have to take advantage of it, no matter how much Matt’s incredible cheese grilling skills are calling to me.

“Whatever you want. I’m tired, too, truth be told.”

I’m not sure if he is actually tired, or just eager to give me whatever I want. It’s probably a little bit of both.

“Can I ask you one question first, Matt?”

Where did that come from? I wasn’t planning to ask him anything. I need to get him to sleep ASAP, and then head into Grandma’s room. Ah. It’s my subconscious again, taking advantage of the free rein I gave it earlier. There is a question I’ve been wanting to ask for a long time. This might be my only chance to get an answer.

“Of course.”

“Why did you start dating Karen? She’s so shallow and bossy. Not your type at all. Yet, you immediately put all your independence and pride aside and became her lap dog, even to the point of asking her to marry you, and siding with her against me time and again. No. Don’t apologize. I already forgave you. I just need to know what you saw in her. Or, maybe, what she was holding over you?”

I add the last part with a playful lift of my eyebrow, just so he knows I’m not mad.

“The first part is easy,” he says with a sheepish bite on his lower lip. “She was a gorgeous woman who said yes when I asked her on a date. I’m not immune to that. Few men are, I would think. As to why I stayed with her, sacrificed my own desires for hers, and asked her to marry me so quickly? You know what? I don’t even know. I think maybe it’s because I never dated anyone like her. All the women I went out with before were college or grad students, academic types with real passions in different areas, who wanted to make the world a better place.”

“Yeah, you love those activist girls,” I laugh.

“I do. But, Karen is a socialite. You know the type. From old money, traveling in the fanciest circles in New England, a sorority girl when she was in college, no need to get a job after. She had her own condo until she moved in with me a couple of weeks ago, but it, and her whole lifestyle, are funded by her dad’s money. She has a title at his real estate development company. Director of Public Relations. But, it is just for show. Her assistant does all the work. She collects a salary without doing anything. After we began dating, she introduced me to a whole new world I never expected to be part of, or even thought about, and when I saw how fancy it was, I just wanted to live up to it, so I could impress her. It got to where I was so caught up in it that I didn’t realize when impressing her and doing whatever she said became the same thing. I wanted to feel good enough for that kind of woman. So, when she told me she wanted to get married, I asked her. When she wanted to move in here, I let her. When she did her best to push your buttons, and asked me to side with her against you, I did. Oh God, Sarah, I am so sorry. I’m such a jerk.”

He puts a hand to his forehead and looks down, like he isn’t worthy of making eye contact with me anymore.

“It’s okay,” I say, putting a hand on his arm and laughing. “I get it. Pretty girl, fancy friends, haughty family. Your primitive male brain goes on autopilot to prove yourself worthy. It’s a tale of the ages. Believe me, you are not the first. But, what I don’t get is why she was so eager to marry you if she has money of her own. Well, money being given to her. You’ve got to know our money is what she was after. She made it abundantly clear to me.”

“We have more money than her family. Or, at least, we stood to inherit more after Grandma passed, and she knew it.”

“How? We didn’t even know how much we were getting, until you spoke with the lawyer while I was gone.”

“Her aunt is Grandma’s lawyer.”

“Oh.”

So much for lawyer-client confidentiality. Aunt Attorney must have let her know how much she stood to get her hands on if she married Matt.

“Actually, it was her aunt who introduced us.”

“Oh, geez, Matt. And you never connected the dots?”

“I did, deep down. I recognize that now. But, I ignored them when I became blinded by her beauty and sophistication. We always had everything we needed and most of what we wanted growing up with Grandma, but she let us lead lives like normal kids. Karen was raised like a rich girl from the start.”

“And, what better way to impress her friends and please her family than to bring home a guy with even more money than her.”

“Exactly. But, I’m a bit rough around the edges, as you know. She had to clean me up first and teach me how to act like a rich guy, so I would fit in with her circle. And, I let her.”

“And, once she did that, you were the perfect catch for her.”

“Exactly. What a dumbass am I, huh?”

“No. You’re just like every man on the planet. You think with your….”

“Okay. I get the picture,” he cuts me off, laughing. “No need to embarrass me further. I see the whole thing clearly now, and that’s what matters. And, I realized the truth before I married her, thank God. Don’t worry, Sarah. It’s over with Karen.”

“But, you’re a legitimate rich man now,” I tease him, unable to resist turning the screw just a little tighter. I do forgive him, but it’s always been fun to make him squirm. Some things never change. “What if another rich woman comes along who only wants you for your infinitely greater fortune? Will you become so captivated by her you lose the power to control your own life once more?”

“No,” he says, slashing his hand diagonally through the air for emphasis. “I’m done being stupid. Once was enough. I know with my inheritance, things are different now. I’ll vet any potential girlfriends or wives more carefully from now on, I promise. No more Karens for me.”

“Good.” I put my hands on his shoulders, stand on my tiptoes, and kiss his cheek. At six foot four, even my relatively tall five foot nine is too short to reach his face without stretching a little. “I’m satisfied you’ve learned your lesson. We just need to be careful until we’re sure Karen knows it’s over for good. She’s going to try to get you back, you know. A woman like her doesn’t just walk away the first time there’s an obstacle to her plan. You’ve got to let her know in no uncertain terms, and you’ll probably have to tell her more than once. You want to get a restraining order with me tomorrow?”

“That might not be a bad idea,” he admits, putting a finger on his bottom lip, a common habit of his when he’s giving deep thought to something. I thought his finger was going to become affixed to that lip permanently when I was 16 and asked him to allow me to access my trust fund so I could buy my first car. “After the way she acted tonight, I can’t be certain she wasn’t the one who tampered with your car, or at least hired someone to do it. I’ll consider it.”

“Okay, then. It’s good to have you back. Good night, Matt.”

“It’s even better to have you back. Let’s promise to not let each other go again. Good night, Sarah.”

We walk up the stairs to our rooms in companionable silence, and I’m so grateful he didn’t actually make me promise out loud. He just took it as a given, as I would have in his place. It’s a promise I can’t keep, not the way he intends it. Naturally, I’ll never let him go in my heart. Physically, though, is a whole other story.

At least I can be happy when I leave, knowing he isn’t trapped by that horrid witch in a controlling, emotionally abusive relationship. I just hope, whatever I decide to tell him about me leaving again, that he understands. Please, God, let him understand.

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