One I Love
There was so much energy flowing between us I think Henry was feeling a bit electrocuted.
It wasn’t even lunch yet but he ran around the living room in circles before Sarah bribed him to settle down with small slices of orange and tiny teddy bear shaped graham crackers.
Henry ate those with gusto, shoving his small fists into his mouth, crumbs falling from his lips as he laughed at us.
Finally, his running slowed down and his eyes grew droopy. When he passed in front of me for what felt like the hundredth time, his little knees wobbled and he stretched out his hand, holding onto my knee for balance.
Sarah gave me a warm smile and a knowing look that told me she was expecting him to knock out any second now.
Of course she was right. Henry wobbled past her and she scooped him up in her arms whispering softly to him. He didn’t protest, just let out this tired yarn and rested his head on her shoulder.
Sarah half giggled when her eyes met mine and then she began humming softly, helping his sweet dreams along.
I watched her in amazed silence. There was no doubt in my mind that this woman was my entire life and in order to keep her I would spend the rest of my days trying to do what was right by her.
“I think he’s ready for his bed.” She half whispered, rising from the sofa.
“Do you want any help?” I rose, ready to talk Henry from her arms if she wanted me to.
“No, that’s okay. But could you please get me a glass of water. I’m pretty sure I ate more graham crackers than Henry did.” She giggled.
I gave her a nod and a chuckle before making my way to the kitchen. I peered into the cupboards looking for a glass when I heard a few crackling noises. I immediately turned toward the sound, straining my ears to hear.
I turned back to the glasses once again. Before I could even reach for it, I heard it again, but this time I didn’t have a chance to react.
“Sweet dreams baby boy. Mama loves you.”
I froze, my heart jumping to my throat, I was mesmerized. In awe. Confusion.
Because it was Sarah, her voice.
“I’ll be right outside in the living room, with Daddy. I hope, I hope you’ll see him in the morning.”
Her voice faded away.
I spun around the kitchen like a madman. Where was her voice coming from? My eyes roamed the counters, the pretty empty vase, the toaster, the salt and pepper shaker.
Finally I saw it, it cackled again, and I walked over near the sink and scooped up the small white receiver. This was Henry’s baby monitor, what Sarah carried everywhere with her when Henry was sleeping.
I stared down at it for a few seconds more trying to get my heart rate back in check. Her voice sounded so loving, so full of emotion. My hand shook as I tried to put the receiver down on the counter so she wouldn’t catch me with it, listening to her. But I was too late, when I turned around she was standing right there, her eyes riveted to the monitor, a small smile on her face.
“You caught me huh?”
I just stared at her, not answering, her tone of voice confused me, she sounded almost amused that I had heard her.
“It’s good for more than just listening to Henry sleep.” She half giggled.
I blinked. It made her laugh, more to herself than anything. Her eyes found mine again and something flickered in them.
“I have a confession to make.” Her voice wavered, “You wouldn’t believe how many times I spied, listened, to you on that thing.” She leaned against the counter, shoving her hands into her jean pockets.
“What? Spied? What?” I cocked my head to the side. What the hell was she talking about?
She laughed again and sighed, “Oh Matthew, you are too cute sometimes. Think about it, how many times did you take Henry to bed? How many times did you whisper to him goodnight? To sing to him?”
My heart jumped again but this time I knew exactly what she was talking about. She hear me, she had listened to everything I said to Henry through that monitor, the same way I heard her just now. It rattled me, threw me off guard.
“Uh, what?” I was trying to find the words, the right words that would explain everything.
“Don’t worry, none of it was bad. In fact, I wish I could have heard more.” She just smiled at me again. It was making my head spin.
“I uh, I.” I just kept stuttering thinking I needed to explain my way out of this. She moved then, shifted to her other side, her hair slid around her shoulder against her arm.
I finally took a breath and looked straight into her eyes. It was almost as if a lightbulb went off in my head at that moment, as if someone, somewhere, told me exactly what to say, “I meant every word.”
Her smile brightened.
“Everything I said and sang to Henry, I meant it.” I didn’t let my eyes leave hers. “Everything I promised him and you in that room, I meant it.”
I could see her hands tightening into themselves through her jeans, she was holding her breath. She always did that when she held her breath.
“And I hope I’ll still be here in the morning to see Henry, that is, if his mother lets me stay.”
My hands were shaking as I reached for the door. I was only here because Cassie insisted I come. I didn’t know how this was going to help me, but right now I was at the end of my rope and I needed all the help I could get.
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the office. I always thought these kind of doctors were emotionless and very serious. I was completely caught off guard when a smiley face gentleman with warms eyes gestured me in.
“It’s very nice to meet you Mrs. Steele. My name is Dr. Whitewater. Won’t you please have a seat.”
And even though I never imagined myself talking to a physiatrist about my problems, telling a perfect stranger that my husband left me and gone on to become an alcoholic, that my world had fallen apart and I had nowhere left to turn. I still made myself tell him everything.
“I can hear it in his voice, it sounds like longing, like he’s asking for forgiveness, but I know that just can’t be it.”
“Why not, Mrs. Steele? Why can’t your husband be asking you to forgive him?”
“Because it’s not like Matthew, no like him at all, he’s never talked about his feelings for things like that, just like when Joseph died, he just shut down. Shuts people out.”
“Sometimes people can change, they need to hit bottom so they can make their way up. Perhaps that is what happened to your husband. Maybe he hit bottom and now needs your help to make his way back up. Are you willing to help him? Willing to forgive him?”
I just kept looking at this man, how did he always know the right thing to say? “I just wish he would have come to me for help sooner. It’s so hard now.”
“Mrs. Steele, there’s always going to be things in the past that we can’t change. Things that the ones we love did in the past and can’t change. Perhaps we wish we had, or they had, but what we all can change is the now. The present. And I can’t think of a better thing for you to do than talk to your husband. Listen to him, try and hear what he is saying. If it has never been easy for him to share his feelings with you in the past than it must be a hundred times harder now, in the present.”
She just kept looking at me like she was waiting for me to say something else. I wanted to say more, but that look in her eyes made me at loss for words, so I said the first thing that popped into my mind. Don’t ask me why I thought of Joseph, I just did.
“I went to the cemetery, while you were gone. I went to see Joe.”
That statement made Sarah freeze. A sudden worry washed over her face and her breath escaped her.
“While I was there I saw Roxy too.”
“Roxy?” Now Sarah looked extremely concerned. “How was she? How is Roxy?”
“She’s good,” I quickly answered, “She looked good.”
“What, what happened? Are you okay?” Sarah took a half step towards me but then stopped.
“I told Roxy something, something that I have been carrying around with me all these years. Something that I want to tell you right now.”
It took me a couple of seconds to process what Matthew was telling me. I was just about to fling myself into his arms and drag him into our bedroom, but there was an uneasiness to his manner, something was holding him back. I tried to remember everything Dr. Whitewater had taught me, how not to push too hard, and to always be honest, with Matthew and with myself.
“Roxy?” My mind was spinning, we hadn’t heard more than a few words from Roxy since Joseph died. She called me maybe twice but I brushed her off, avoided talking to her. Matthew had just moved out of the house back then and I was in a frantic state. The last thing I needed was to talk to Roxy.
I was really afraid now, that seeing Roxy would send Matthew spiraling back into time, back into despair.
“How was she? How is Roxy?” What I really wanted to say was What were you doing over there? What did you do when you saw your brother’s grave?
Only I stayed silent. It looked like Matthew was struggling to tell me something, he sort of took a deep breath and gripped the edge of the counter. His eyes never left mine though.
I could see it was hard for him to talk. To tell me that he was even at the cemetery. I was just about to walk up to him and tell him it was okay, he didn’t have to say anything, when his words stopped me in my tracks.
“I told Roxy something, something that I have been carrying around with me all these years, something that I want to tell you right now.”
And then he was talking to me. Really talking to me, not skirting around the issue, not pausing or hesitating, he was telling me everything.
“The night before Joseph was going to get married, the night he died, everyone thought I was just late picking him up for the rehearsal dinner, but really we were hiding a secret. Or at least I thought we were. I persuaded Joe to play a song and sing to Roxy as a surprise for their wedding day. We had been practicing it for about two weeks, he really already knew it, but I made him stay late that night and run through it again.”
His voice was hypnotizing, completely making me immobile. All I could do was listen to him, really listen to him.
“And he stayed, for me, he stayed. We left late, both of us driving too fast, trying to make it back to his place so that Roxy wouldn’t be pissed. So you wouldn’t be pissed either. Joe didn’t do anything wrong, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That guy, the one who killed Joe, he ran a red light. Joe didn’t even notice. But I knew. I knew if I had just let us leave a little bit earlier, even just a few minutes earlier, none of this would have happened.”
I could see it in his eyes, all that guilt he been carrying around all this time. Everything he had been keeping bottled up inside. It was all coming out.
“It was my fault. The accident. Everyone’s heartache. Roxy’s grief. All my fault.”
“Oh baby, no.” The words just came out, I didn’t even realize I had said them until I saw Matthew blinking back what looked like tears, but he didn’t let me say anything else.
“I felt like I had disappointed everyone, especially myself. I didn’t deserve to live Sarah. Joe died, but it should have been me.”
My heart was literally screaming out in pain. How I wanted to rescue this man, take him away from all the heartache and terror that he must be living with.
“The bars, the liquor, they were just a way to escape, at first to escape the pain. I couldn’t handle that pain, it was so unbearable, it was eating me alive. But even though those first few drinks would make everything dull, it never went away completely. I would always get sober again and then the disgust would set in. I hated myself Sarah, what I had become, what I still was, everything I had ruined. I hated myself, sometimes I still do.”
His voice dropped away then, but he was still looking at me, waiting.
I knew there was nothing in this world that I could say that would make this all better for him. I realized that then, the reason why he had to take this journey alone, just like Dr. Whitewater said, he had to hit bottom before he could make his way back up.
But he was here now standing in front me, sharing with me all the things he never could before.
So I did what came natural to me, what I had wanted to do all along. I just walked up to him without saying anything and wrapped my arms around him, holding him close. Hoping he could feel everything that I was feeling.
My day had just been royally screwed. I fucking knew my Chemistry professor hated my guts, he was purposely trying to bust my balls in his class, and he was trying to do it just weeks before graduation, and right now there was nothing I could do about it, besides complain.
I yanked harder on my backpack, pulling it over my shoulder as I made my way across campus. I hated these night classes, I had just enough time to make it to the parking garage, grab my ride and head over that fucking music club Matt like to hang out at so much. Nah, I tease, I liked it there too, it was called Crossroads, not everyone on campus knew about it, so it was the perfect hangout for us. Besides, it was always pretty dark in there and I so fucking loved sitting next to Cassie in the dark, she usually let my hands roam wherever they wanted.
And my man Matt, he was really fucking good on the piano. The club manager would let him play all night if Matt wanted too. The crowd always would sit there like a bunch of zombies when he played, completely entranced with his music. It would always make me laugh like shit when he pulled out his guitar, because if these people were hypnotized by his piano skills then they were really going to be blown away by his mad guitar sounds.
The smell of gas and exhaust made me wrinkle my nose as I headed to my car. I hated the fucking parking garage and usually parked on the side street a couple of blocks from campus. But I was running late for Chem and didn’t have time to round the block so I just zipped into the garage as fast as I could. The first level had been completely filled, so like a maniac I sped up the ramp to the next one. I was lucky, there were only a couple of spaces left on the second level, they were at the far end of the lot, I had to sprint over to the stairs but I didn’t give a fuck anymore.
My mind was still half engrossed between how I was going to pass Chem and what I was going to tell Matt when I reached Crossroads, I didn’t really pay attention to the light blue Mercedes that was parked a few cars away from mine.
I didn’t pay attention to it until I heard the grunt coming from it. The car rocked slightly as I turned my head towards the sound. It was fairly dark around me so I didn’t want to just stop and stare, so I kept walking by, slowing down a little bit so I could keep listening, chuckling to myself at the lucky bastard who seemed to getting a little action tonight.
The second grunt was louder, and that one made me stop. Damn! That dude must be really into it. Then there was that long ass deep moan. Hell, this was better than Crossroads, Matt would understand if I was late.
I didn’t want to get to close so that the occupants could see me but I edged just a little bit over towards the back bumper trying to get a peek through the back window. It was all fogged up, so I could only make out the shadows of the occupants. My eyes roamed to the back of the car. It was a newer Mercedes, maybe only a couple of years old. Ugly color though, to girly for me.
I paused slightly, hey, didn’t Clay have a car just like this one? What the hell was he doing here? He graduated a few years before us; he was just here to fuck college girls, go figure.
I was too busy figuring out whose car this was; there was no fucking time to duck into my car when the driver’s door opened.
Clay got out first; he looked smug as a Cheshire cat, pulling up the zipper on his perfectly pleated kakis. His face fell to hell though when he saw me standing there.
“Ben, what are you doing here?”
I just grinned at him, a knowing grin. “Missing your college days huh buddy?” I joked trying to catch a peek at what poor girl he had just banged.
“I had an appointment.” he stuttered, “With my intern, we were just going over some things.”
“How are your things? Tired?” I started laughing then, Clay didn’t even smile, fuck this guy was such a tight ass.
“Get out of here Ben.” He looked annoyed at first but then his anger turned to complete fear when this puny little skinny dude slid over from the passenger seat to the driver’s side and got out behind Clay.
I know my mouth dropped open, I could feel it, hell bugs could have flown into it and I wouldn’t have been able to close it.
“Get back in the car!” Clay tried to push the little guy back inside in a panic, but fuck it was too late and we both knew it.
My mind started racing then, putting two and two together. Fuck it all made sense now, this over achieving, fancy dressing, trying too hard to be a ladies man in high school tight ass.
“Hah…” I wanted to laugh, in my head I was laughing hysterically, but my body was still in shock so the only sound that came out of it was “Hah.”
Clay finally just sighed and turned around to face me, this look of defeat on his face. He let the little guy move around him and stand next to him.
“Mr. Owens, I have to get back to my dorm. I’ll see you tomorrow after lab.”
The little guy looked pretty worried, his eyes shot from me to Clay and then back to me. He was trying to figure out who I was.
Fuck, he better not be thinking I was another boyfriend or something.
The thought of this was the push I needed to close my fucking mouth and actually say something.
“Mr. Owens?” That’s what came out of my mouth. Fuck, that didn’t sound right. I tried again. “This is your intern?” Okay, a little better.
Clay managed to narrow his eyes at me and then turn to the guy, “Caesar, I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t worry about anything. We’ll go over the labs after your class. I know most of the professors so that should give you an edge for finals next week.”
This Caesar dude looked really happy to be leaving; he grabbed his backpack out of Clay’s car and walked away, fumbling with his belt as he left.
Clay watched him walk away for a second then turned back to me. “Okay Ben, say what you gotta say.”
“Hell Clay, what’s there to say? You into interns? Male interns? What gives?”
“That’s none of your business.” Clay tried to brush me off.
“Like shit it isn’t.” I retorted, “Who knows about this? Does Matt know? Joe?”
“No!” Clay was pissed now, “They don’t know, and they won’t know, ever.”
“Oh, they’ll know alright, in about thirty minutes they’ll know.” This guy always got me fucking mad, and I started rummaging through my backpack looking for my keys.
“Okay, stop Ben, stop.” Clay took a step towards me, holding his hand out. I just stared at him, waiting to hear what he had to say.
“You can’t tell them okay. I’m this close to becoming a partner at my job. They have rules Ben, and their values, they’re a bit old fashioned. It can’t come out, that I’m, that I like.”
"Dudes?” I finished for him cocking my head to the side.
He just sighed and nodded.
“I don’t know man. I think you fucked with the wrong people. I don’t mean that literally, you can fuck whoever you want, I don’t care.” I picked up hand waving it at him, “But shit man, you’re a prick. You made Matt’s life a living hell. And Joe, he’s been a cool friend to you, he oughta know.”
“No. No, I don’t want them to know, nobody is going to know. Shit Ben, what do I need to do to keep you quiet?”
I just shrugged. I didn’t think there was anything he could do that would make me keep my mouth shut.
“Come on, name your price Ben. I know you have one.”
I shrugged again, “There isn’t anything.”
Clay laughed, “Everyone has a price. Name yours. What do you want? Money? Clothes? A trip somewhere?”
I was about to flip him off and get in my car when his next words stopped me.
“You need an A in a class? I know most of the professors here, some of them owe me.”
He could see it in my eyes then, the mention of an A. My eyes gave it away. He jumped all over it.
“Whose class? Just give me the name of the professor. I’ll take care of it.”
And he did.
Standing in the circle of Sarah’s arms took me back to the very beginning. When the realization that this was it, this was the woman for me took over my entire being. This was the one that I loved.
I felt that way again. I knew right then that I could scoop her up and take her over to our bedroom and she wouldn’t say no. I knew I could kiss her long, hard and deep and she would respond. I could make love to her, and her body would be mine.
But I didn’t want to just do that. I wanted to remind her.
I kept her close to me, breathing in her scent, feeling the warmth of her body. I marveled in it, savored it, just listened to her heartbeat again.
“My doctor was right.” Sarah whispered to me in the quiet of the kitchen.
“What?” I wasn’t sure I heard her, “Doctor?”
She pulled back just a little bit, enough to look up into my face. “I needed a little bit of help. Cassie told me about this doctor. Doctor Whitewater. He helped me so much.”
I don’t think she heard my gasp, or felt my arms tighten around her at the mention of Dr. Whitewater’s name.
“I’ve been going to talk to him for months now. He’s a physiatrist. He mostly listens, he’s good at that, listening. He taught me a lot of things, how to cope.” She paused then, her eyes searching mine, looking for some kind of reaction. I was still frozen, so her voice had a hint of waver as she continued on.
“He taught me how to listen, really listen. How to move on with my life. He was really nice to Henry too. He didn’t even mind when Henry got into some of the papers in his folder, or that pretty bowl of rocks sitting on his desk. He encouraged me to keep talking to you, not letting me give up of you. I’m glad I listened to him.”
“I know him.” I blurted out, I couldn’t keep this from her.
“Really? How?” She seemed startled at my tone, but her voice was still soft and loving.
“He was, my doctor too. Dr. Whitewater, he was my court appointed doctor.” Her eyes widened at my words.
“You? You were seeing a doctor?”
I just nodded at her, wondering if she was going to get angry that I kept this from her.
“How long?” she half whispered to me.
“A long time.” I let my hands move from her back up to her shoulders, I knew I had to explain this too, “About a year. The judge made me see him; it was part of my probation, after I got arrested.”
“Oh.” She breathed, her eyes still very worried.
“He helped me too.” I added, wanting her to know everything…not wanting to hold back anymore. “He’s the one who encouraged me to write again. To sing. And you and Henry, he helped me find the courage to talk to you again. To accept what happened to my life, and like you, to move on.”
She was trying not cry, I could hear her take these quick little breaths as she listened to me. I didn’t want her to cry. She had cried enough. “He’s even the one who suggested I go to the cemetery, to see Joe.”
She looked up at me sharply then, “Me too.” she said softly.
I tilted my head, looking at her, trying to fill in all those missing puzzle pieces.
“Henry and I went there to see Joe lots of times. We always made sure he had fresh flowers,” she hesitated, “We never saw Roxy there though.”
“Do you think, maybe, we could go there together one day?” I could already feel my heart start to pump that old familiar beat, the one where it wanted to share everything with Sarah, with my wife.
“I think, I think I’d really like that.” She finally smiled at me, a smile that was worth a million times more than what she was saying.
“There’s one more thing I have to tell you.” I gently moved some of the hair away from her eyes, “No, two things.”
“What’s that?” That beautiful loving tone in her voice was beginning to make me ache.
“My parents, my Dad called me while you were in Florida. He invited us over for lunch if you think you’re up for it. And later tonight, I’d like to take you somewhere, just us two, it’s somewhere I have to be, promised I’d be.”
“Matthew, I’d really love that. I’ve missed your parents so much. They still come over, call me, but it’s not the same.”
She was hugging me again, and this time I let that tiny seed of anticipation grow, lowering my head into her neck, letting my lips touch the softness of her skin, enjoying her slight shiver as I made my way along to her bare shoulder. I could remind her of this feeling, let her anticipate something too.
My parents couldn’t have looked prouder. My mom even stepped away from the door first, turning her head away so that we couldn’t see her wipe at her eyes. We both noticed it though.
Sarah beamed back at them, giving my Dad a big bear hug and taking my Mom’s hand, kissing her on the cheek before handing Henry over to her.
I don’t know if my Mom thought she was going to feed an army but there was a huge spread of food out on the table. Everything you could imagine, from roast beef sandwiches, cold potato salad, shrimp cocktails, right down to these little rainbow goldfish crackers that Henry immediately went for.
We ate in comfortable silence, enjoying one another’s company. Once we were completely full we moved over to the back porch where Henry could run around and enjoy the sunshine.
I handed Sarah a glass of iced tea before settling down next to her. My mom smiled at us, her eyes shining.
“It’s wonderful to see you two here again.” My Dad took a sip of his drink, glancing over at my Mom with chagrin, “We were a lot worried for you two, for quite a while.”
“It was a difficult time.” I answered while Sarah nodded, “for all of us.”
“We hope you two will continue to improve.” My mom placed her glass down, her eyes watching us carefully.
“We are certainly going to try.” Sarah placed her hand over mine, smiling warmly first at me then my parents.
“Hopefully one day, we’ll be celebrating just as many years as you two.” I was trying to be light, funny. But the look that passed between my parents was not one of happiness, more like pain.
“Um, Matt, Sarah, that’s just it, what we worry about. What we thought we saw before, before Joseph died, before all this started. The way you two often put unnecessary pressure on yourselves.”
Both Sarah and I were at first stunned silent at my dad’s sudden outburst, but the more we listened the more it made sense.
“Yes, you two. Don’t make the same mistakes twice.” My mom’s voice was firm, more firm than I had ever heard it.
“I don’t understand.” Sarah started.
“Me neither.” I added.
My dad put his hand up to silence us, and we both leaned back into our seats. “One of the most important things you two can do for yourselves is stop comparing, or trying to compare your marriage, your friendship, to other’s. You both are surrounded with people who love you, who support you, but we aren’t you, and you aren’t us. There were times when your Mom and I didn’t think our marriage would survive, especially after we failed both our sons, we were hanging on a thread back then, sometimes we still are. No one ever told us how hard this was going to be.”
“That’s why we’re telling you, ” My mom interjected giving my dad a warm smile, “We know you’ve already had it rough, we know you’ve already conquered demons, we just want you to know, there’ll probably be more along the way. You both have to be willing to take the ride.”
“Together.” My dad added.
“Yes together.” Mom nodded.
They both looked turned their heads at the same time, giving each other a loving smile and clasping their hands together, before looking back at us.
I think I grew more emotionally during their talk than I ever had before. Just knowing that my parents did not have the perfect marriage as I had often deluged they had, knowing that they too struggled with their own flaws and imperfections gave me a sense of appreciation for them, and a tangle of affection.
Sarah had her arms wrapped around my mom then, both of them not trying to hide their tears any longer.
“Thank you, both of you.” It took me a minute to control my voice, it cracked with each word I was trying to say, “Your words mean the world to us.”
My dad smiled warmly at me as he reached out to shake my hand, I grabbed onto it and held on tightly, locking my eyes to his.
“But you both were wrong about one thing,” I squeezed my Dad’s hand as my Mom turned sharply to look at me, I had everyone’s attention, even Sarah’s, “You didn’t fail your sons, neither of them, you didn’t fail them.”
I dropped Sarah off back at the house to change clothes. I wouldn’t tell her where we were going but I urged her to put on something nice.
After a few more minutes of quiet tears back at my parents place, the rest of the afternoon had turned into a wonderful day of happy chatter, delicious food, and the most awesome company that Sarah and I could ask for. During the course of the day they offered to keep Henry for the night, which to my delight Sarah accepted.
My parents knew where I was taking Sarah, so did Ben and Cassie, and they were all equally excited about. Not so much for the place we were going, but for the fact that what was going to happen there.
I thought I was going to have to drag, bribe, beg Ben to go with me into the flower shop, I wanted to grab some flowers for Sarah to give to her tonight, but for once Ben didn’t put up any fuss.
My goal was to grab a dozen wildflowers and head back to my place to shower and change. Ben was sniffing some pink tulips, maybe he would buy them for Cassie tonight.
Once I had my flowers in hand I headed down the aisle in the direction of the cash registers, no sooner than turning the corner that I bumped into no one else than Clay Owen of course. I knew it wouldn’t be this easy.
Clay was holding these orange flowers in a vase. He looked completely startled and even a little afraid to see me. Back at the airport he didn’t even stick around for more than ten seconds, waving bye to Sarah and nodding at me quickly before making a beeline out of there.
“Steele.” That’s all he said to me, nothing else.
It sort of made me mad, just seeing him standing there holding these flowers which were probably for Sarah, sounding so flippant and ignorant, I was ready for the throwdown, right then, right there.
“Who are those for Clay?” I went straight to the point, “Because they better not be for Sarah.”
Clay just blinked at me, tilting his head to the side in something that looked like confusion; it just pissed me off more.
“I think it’s time you back off. Sarah is still married to me, and I’ll be dammed if you think I am just going to continue to let you breeze in and out of her life as you please.”
It was Ben’s chuckling that made us both turn to look at him. Ben looked as pleased as shit, his eyes dancing merrily over Clay and me. I didn’t have time for this. I narrowed my eyes at Ben and then turned back to Clay. Clay was glaring at Ben too, I know Ben is a cocky bastard but he was still my best friend and nobody looks at him like that in front of me, except maybe Cassie.
“Back off Sarah, Clay.” Clay still didn’t look at me, but he was getting all huffy and agitated, still glaring at Ben. “I don’t know what you think you had between you two, but it ends today.”
Ben chuckled again. Clay glared harder. I was still pissed.
Finally Ben swept his hand in front of him, in my direction. It made Clay give out this little snort and he turned to me.
“Fuck.” He said under his breath, then his eyes narrowed at me, “Are you fucking with me Matthew? Have you talked to Sarah? To him?” Clay nodded his head towards Ben in disgust.
“I talked to Sarah. Your name wasn’t mentioned. I don’t know what the hell is going on between you and Ben.”
It was Ben’s turn to snort, and choke. ”Hell, Nothing Matt, there ain’t nothing going on.” then he snorted again, which pissed Clay off.
“Shit.” Clay was truly exasperated with us, with both of us. “Get your shit together Ben, I’m surprised you kept your end of the bargain.” then he turned to me, “You obviously haven’t talked to Sarah yet, at least about me.”
He took a step in my direction and I seriously thought he was going to throw a punch, my foot automatically went back, bracing myself for any impact.
“Fuck. Matthew, you better not be fucking with me, but I won’t be giving Sarah flowers any time soon. These are not for her. You need to go talk to her, or him.” His eyes narrowed at Ben again.
I looked over at Ben, he had a smirk of victory all over his face, he grinned and winked at me when our eyes met.
“Okay forget that shit. I’ll tell you myself Steele, just to wipe that look off your buddy’s face. I’m not after your wife okay. I mean I was, after her I mean, but not because of that, put your hand down Steele, not because of that. I was trying to keep an image, the image of a family man, for my job. Sarah was the perfect choice, she came with a ready made family, she was perfect for me, put the hand down Steele, perfect for my image, plus she was in love with someone else, so I never had to worry. I made her think I was into her. I tried to be into her, tried to, but it didn’t work.”
My emotions were running a little rampant here, up, down,anger, confusion.
“What the hell are you saying Clay?” I argued, cutting him off. “That you liked Sarah, that you didn’t like Sarah, that you were into her, but not into her?” I shook my head at him.
“I’m not into Sarah, Matthew. I never was. I’m not into her because I’m, I’m into…”
“Dudes!” Ben couldn’t help himself; he had flung his flowers down onto the shelf next to him and got right into both our faces. “Clay is into dudes Matt, he likes dudes!”
Clay just shook his head in disgust at Ben while I stood there trying to process what I was hearing.
“Dudes?” I looked at Ben. Ben looked at me and nodded, then smirked, and nodded again.
Clay clearly was annoyed with us by now. He gave out another little huff and rolled his eyes at Ben and then turned to me.
“Look Matthew. I’m gay. That’s it. That’s the big secret. Now you know, he knows,” he rolled his eyes at Ben again, “And Sarah knows.”
This made me narrow my eyes at him. “Sarah knows?”
“Yes Steele. Sarah knows. She found out in Florida. She hasn’t told you yet?” He looked curious for a second and then dismissed it quickly, “I’m surprised she hasn’t told you, or this little, uhh, piece of work.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, but it dawned on me just then what he said. I turned to Ben, “You knew?”
Ben gave me this victory grin that faded into slight worry when he didn’t get a similar reaction out of me.
“You knew and you didn’t tell me.” My voice was tight.
“Yeah well look Matt,” Ben was already picking up both hands, backing away.
“Yeah yeah yeah, he knew, before you go all ninja on him Steele, keep in mind that I said Sarah was already in love with someone else. That someone was you. You were a goddamn drunk and she still loved you. It was obvious to everyone but you. We all tiptoed around you Steele, because you lost Joe, we all lost Joe. He was my best friend, and it hurt like hell when we lost him, but fuck, we gave you more than enough time. Now Sarah says you’ve gotten your head out of your ass, and damn I hope she’s right.”
Both Ben and I were pretty speechless at Clay’s little tirade. His words didn’t annoy or anger me like I thought they would. The bastard was actually making a whole lot of sense, he was starting to sound like…like…Joe…
“So prove to all of us that we’re doing the right thing letting you back into Sarah’s life. I tried to protect her from you but I knew eventually I wouldn’t be able to stop you any longer. Don’t disappoint me. Don’t disappoint yourself.”
Ben had stopped smirking at him and was looking at him with something that looked like respect in his eyes. Hell, even I had to respect the guy, the way he was making all that fucking sense and all.
“Allright.” Clay started to look everywhere but at me and Ben, “I’m out of here.” He started turning away from us, still holding onto his flowers.
“Hey wait,” I found my voice then, I felt a little awkward but hell the whole situation was awkward. “I appreciate it, you telling me. Thanks.” I held out my hand to him.
He looked at me strangely for a second, then down to my hand. He reached out and grabbed it strongly, his grip was firm. “I’m sorry Steele...Matthew…I’m sorry about that party at my house. I shouldn’t have let you drink.” His eyes were sincere, “And I’m really sorry about Joseph. He was crazy about you, and sometimes, I just got jealous that’s all.”
“Thanks.” That was all I could get out, really, unless I was going to start bawling like a fucking baby. In my defense even Ben gave out a sniffle or two.
Clay just nodded at both of us then and let go of my hand. “Don’t forget your flowers Matthew. Sarah always likes the yellow ones, I don’t know why.” and then he was gone.
Ben and I paid for our flowers in silence but right before we headed out the door I had to mutter.
“You knew, and you didn’t fucking tell me.”
Ben gave out a little snort at my words, “It worked didn’t it? We wouldn’t be doing this shit right now if I had told you.”
“Oh my gosh, I haven’t been in this place in years.” Cassie was chattering a mile a minute as usual when we walked through the doors, Ben was humoring her, but Sarah and I were completely ignoring her.
Sarah was clutching my hand tightly, her eyes wide open and animated. I knew she would be nervous about being here, that’s why I didn’t tell her before, it was one of our old favorite haunts, a place where so many memories were created.
“I don’t remember it being this crowded.” She whispered to me.
To be honest, neither did I. What was once a quiet hidden hideaway had now turned into a full-fledged hangout place.
I tried not to get too nervous, because this wasn’t going to be it, there was more to come.
“Crossroads sure has come a long way hasn’t it Sarah?” Cassie seated herself on the chair Ben had pulled out for her. Sarah smiled and nodded as she sat down next to her.
When the waitress came around everyone hemmed and hawed a little bit before hastily ordering club sodas. I knew eventually one day they would all feel more comfortable drinking around me, it wouldn’t always be this hard for them, or for me.
Crossroads was our favorite hangout place back in college, and even after we graduated we often frequented there. It was one of the first places I played my music publicly. I actually played my very first single here, right here on that stage in front of Sarah.
For the first hour or so we all sat around, talking and listening to the music, critiquing the new acts that came across the stage. It felt like old times, surrounding me with all those great memories. It made me comfortable, happy, and full of courage.
So when I excused myself from our table, claiming I had to use the restroom, and the manager took the stage to introduce the next act, I was ready. Completely, one hundred percent ready.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a complete honor to have our next guess back at Crossroads. Not only have we been lucky enough to have him grace our stage when he was just starting out, we are beyond elated that he has returned to introduce his next newest single Warning Signs. Here he is, Mr.Matthew Steele.”
At first the applause sounded so thunderous to my ears, but little by little it felt good, familiar.
I reached for my guitar that I had stashed away in the back of the stage earlier and made myself comfortable on the stool in front of the mic. My eyes searched out the crowd, it was mostly new college kids, a new generation, some bored, some looking at me with interest, but my eyes weren’t looking for them, or for their acceptance. This song was for only one person in the room, and when my eyes met hers, everyone else just faded into the background.
That look in her eyes as I first strummed the guitar, it was that same look that she had when we first met in the music room so long ago, when she watched me play without really hearing me. I missed that look, more than I ever imagined.
But this night wasn’t about me, no. All I wanted to accomplish tonight was to make Sarah remember. To remind her of all the things we used to be, and all the things we could still become.
And the music, the music that I struggled so hard to create after Joe died, it all came so easy to me as I played. It rose and fell and flowed all around us. I could hear the crowd let out little gasps and ohs at the sounds and words. I could feel the emotion buzz throughout the crowd, making everyone sit up and take notice. All those reactions didn’t matter to me, because the only one that could promise me a future, that could remind me as well, was the woman sitting quietly in her chair, her brown hair falling all around her shoulders in soft waves, her eyes so beautiful and shining, locked onto my every movement, my every sound.
She understood me, understood what I was trying to say.
Our doctor was right about so many more things that neither of us had realized yet, and some things that both of learned together, but mostly the fact that what we had, what we created together would always be with us, while some things might never be the same again, it would never really go away. And maybe every now and then we just might have to touch the bottom, before we can climb back up again, but most importantly, from here on out, we would know, the warning signs.
“Your song was just beautiful.” Sarah’s hands trembled just a little bit as she slid the keys into the front door, unlocking it.
“Thank you. That means a lot to me.” I confess, my hands shook the same way but I least I could hide them in my trouser pockets.
We both walked into the quiet house, our footsteps echoing throughout the foyer. The silence wasn’t threatening it was just the unknown answered question that hung between us.
I wanted this to be special, if tonight was the night that Sarah was going to give herself back to me; I wanted her to know that I was giving myself back to her as well. I also knew that I wanted to be the one to ask her. She had done so much for me already; I needed to do this for her.
She placed her things down on the side table and turned towards me, giving me a shaky almost shy smile.
Before she could say anything I held out my hand to her, her eyes shot down to my hand and then back up to my face. She smiled at me again and placed her hand in mine.
With her hand firmly in mine, and without breaking our gaze, I lowered myself down on one knee. Her eyes widened immediately at my actions but she didn’t make a sound.
“Hey baby,” I said in a soft voice, “I know you’ve seen all this before,” I didn’t want to be all mushy, I wanted to be honest, and I wanted her to know that, “but before we go any further I really need to tell you what’s really in my heart.”
I could feel her hand gripping mine tightly as I spoke, her hand shaking again. But I could feel her, she stayed strong.
“I know I could tell you I’m sorry a million times and it wouldn’t make up for not one single thing I have done to you, not one single hurt I have caused you, but baby, my heart really aches for you, and I am so sorry for not being the man you deserve. And I don’t ever expect you to forgive me, but I hope I’ll be able to remind you of everything we once were, and promise you that if you let me back into your life again I’ll show you everything we can be. I’m sorry Sarah, I’m so sorry love.”
I thought she might start crying, I expected her to start crying,what I didn’t expect was for her to lower herself down on her knees right in front of me.
“Matthew, I know life dealt us a hand we never imagined would happen and even though it was awful, I believe with all my heart that it has made us stronger.” She was looking right into my eyes, her voice strong, but it started cracking with her next sentence, “And baby you don’t need to remind me of anything cause I remember everything about you and and I’ve missed that look in your eyes so very much.”
She couldn’t say anything else after that, but she really didn’t have too. I just pulled her into my arms right there, letting her know that we didn’t need to use words anymore. My lips found her trembling ones, my hands moving up from her waist into her soft glorious hair. The second her hair swept through my fingers her arms were around me and with a soft muffled cry her mouth opened to mine.
This kiss meant so much more than any kiss we had ever shared, this kiss was the start of our future.
It took a lot of my control to keep things slow. The blood coursed through my veins heated with desire. I wanted to ravish this woman in my arms, this woman that I had waited so long for. I tried to breath, with every kiss, with every caress, I reminded myself to breath. Her hands found their way to the front of my chest, lingering there, before sliding over my shoulders and down my back. It was all those familiar touches and ripped a groan from my throat and I just pulled her closer trying not to dig my fingers into her back.
It didn’t stop me, however, from letting my hands move up to her neck, letting my fingers stroke her collarbones before finding the straps holding up her pretty sundress, I slid my hands under those straps pulling them down off her shoulders. She just sucked in her breath and tilted her head to the side giving me better access to all that beautiful glowing skin along her neck and shoulder. My lips explored every inch of that skin, stopping to pay special attention to all those delicate areas.
I easily found the zipper of her dress, tugging at it slightly before making myself pull back to watch it fall from her body. I had missed seeing her too, I had missed everything.
I slid my hands around her waist again, hesitating for just a minute so I could feel that skin beneath my fingers a little more. Then I helped her up so that we were both standing, pulling her up against me, this time letting my hands travel to her bottom, squeezing her just a little bit. She moaned at my touch and her forehead fell forward against my shoulder, her actions totally sent the blood rushing to my head, and I just scooped her up into my arms, capturing her lips in mine at the same time, heading for her bedroom, for our bedroom.
If I thought my emotions couldn’t get any higher, I was wrong. Lying next to her in bed again sent my heart racing, feeling her bare leg wrap around me, just pure bliss.
In the midst of all that emotion, Sarah seemed to find herself, her courage, because at that second, that sweet gorgeous sexy vixen I remembered so well emerged, all more gorgeous, all more sweet, and so so very sexy.
“Matthew,” her voice was low and husky, “I love you.”
"I love you too Sarah, I always will."
And I think at that moment we both realized that as long as we stayed true, as long as we stayed honest, nothing could ever really hurt us again.
I think we both thought it was my parents at the door the next afternoon. We spent most of the morning in bed, exploring each other over and over again. It wasn’t until sometime after three that we made our way to the kitchen.
Sarah pulled her robe around her, tying it quickly before she opened the door. I was about to take a sip of my coffee but her gasp made me put the mug down and walk over to see what had alarmed her.
Roxy was hard to miss, the sun was bouncing off that golden hair in what looked like a million rays, it was almost blinding. She had this great big smile on her face as she looked at Sarah, that smile grew wider when she saw me appear at Sarah’s side.
“Surprise!” She grinned at both of us and then laughed, “You two look pretty good.”
Her tone, her voice, her bluntness. It was Roxy alright and it felt really nice to see her look so happy. I think Sarah felt it too because she let out this wonderful laugh and pulled the door wide open.
“Roxy! Oh gosh! Please come in!”
It wasn’t until the shock wore off that we noticed the little wiggling mess in her arms. “I hope you don’t mind.” Roxy’s eyes shone as she spoke, “But I brought a friend.”
“Oh a puppy!” Sarah reached out to touch the small mass of fur, “She’s so cute!”
Roxy laughed again, trying to control all the wriggling going on, “It’s a he, and yes he’s very cute.”
“Awww, so adorable. Look Matthew, isn’t he adorable?” Sarah looked so happy and so content that I had to smile.
“Yeah, he’s cute.” I reached out to ruffle the small pups ear.
His head immediately popped up from Roxy’s arms and he started sniffing at my hand.
“His name is Moses.” Roxy glanced at me with just a hint of caution before smiling again, “And he comes with a story, could I tell it to you, both?”
Moses liked the backyard; he was so small he could almost hide in the grass. The three of us sat in the patio and watched him run around. My heart kept jumping every time Roxy said his name, it had to be just a coincidence, right?
“First, Cassie told me that I would probably find you both right here.” Roxy gave us both a smirk, “And she was right, and I’m glad she was right, because this little guy can’t wait any longer.”
All Sarah and I could do was just stare at her, half happy, but more confused.
“Anyways, the story, okay, let’s see. I want to get it right.” she gave a quick sigh and then tossed her hair over her shoulder, taking a big breath as she did that, “A long time ago, before Joseph and I were even engaged, he told me a story about a boy who wanted a dog, but not just any dog, a dog named Moses. So Joe wanted to get a dog named Moses for this boy, but it was just never the right time. First the boy went to college, then the boy got engaged, then married. They almost got Moses as a wedding gift, but Joe’s beautiful girlfriend convinced him that that might not be such a great wedding present, so Joe waited, and waited, then he found out that the boy’s wife was going to have a baby, and he told his beautiful girlfriend that when the baby turned two, that’s when he would give the boy, and the baby, and the wife, Moses. He would give them all, Moses.”
Roxy was smiling throughout the story, her eyes kept glancing my way making sure her words weren’t stinging, and they weren’t, all her words were doing were making these tiny bubbles of excitement grow inside of me.
“But Joe didn’t get a chance to give Moses to the boy, but his girlfriend never forgot, and she told herself that if she ever ran into the boy, and he was with his wife, and his son, that she would do what Joe wanted, give them Moses.” Roxy looked back and forth between Sarah and I, “So, if it’s okay with you,” she looked at me, “And you,” then to Sarah, “I would like you to keep him, keep Moses.”
There weren’t words that could say what I was feeling. All I could do was get up from my chair and hug her, Sarah joining in with us. We stood there for a few seconds and I swear I could feel my brother hugging me too.
“Hey, look over there, look at that one Matt. Come on, you can do it, it’s not that hard.”
“I don’t want to.” I muttered wanting to throw down the roll of string, “This is no fun.”
“Sure it is.” Joe stood next to me, his hand reaching out to pull on the string, the kite in the air flew in a crazy pattern before it crashed to the ground.
This was the third time I had tried it and it wasn’t working. I had been coming here for three days now with no avail. Joe volunteered to help me today. The other kids at the park all had their kites in the air, all of them, except for me.
“Let’s go home Joe. Come on. This is boring.” I lied.
“No it isn’t Matt, try it again, don’t give up, you can do it.” Joe handed me the string again, “I’ll run with the kite and you pull the string okay, we’ll do it together.”
I watched in dismay as my brother began to half run with the kite, when he let it go I yanked hard on my string. The kite went straight up in the air, then took another crazy nose dive.
“Keep pulling Matt, that’s it, don’t let go, you’re almost there.” Joe heading towards me all while watching our kite, he kept urging me on, didn’t let me give up.
“See look you did it, it’s flying Matt.” Joe looked pleased; he bumped me in my shoulder with a grin.
I couldn’t help it. I smiled back at him triumphantly. This wasn’t so bad.
“Now look, if you yank on it this way, the kite will go that way. And if you bring the string down here, the kite will do that wavy thing again.” Joe was pointing at the sky, his fingers making crazy motions in the air.
I watched with fascination as my brother showed me new tricks, tricks the other kids didn’t know, they didn’t have a cool brother like mine.
“That’s cool Joe.” you could hear the excitement in my voice, “Look how high it’s flying, it’s even higher than that tree! I bet if I gave it more string it would reach heaven!”
Joe just chuckled and bumped my shoulder again, “You think so little brother huh? Heaven huh?” he chuckled again.
“Sure! I bet it would! It’s not too far away.” I tried pulling on the string again, laughing when the kite did a huge loop de loop in the air.
“You’re probably right Matt.” Joe reached out and guided my hand, making the kite look like it was just floating in the air. “You’re definitely right Matt, heaven isn’t too far away, it looks pretty close now.”
And he was right...