Evening fell. Five turned to six. The phone rang, but she let the answering machine pick up.
“We need to talk, Aurora.” His voice seemed to fill the room, and she had an image of it wrapping around her, smothering her. “Pick up the phone."
She was packing, gathering everything possible as quickly as she could, calculating the minutes before he would appear. She wouldn’t cower when he came to her. Came at her. The most dangerous time, the experts said, was now. When the woman stood up to her abuser and said enough was enough. She could hear their voices in her head, the talking heads on television who always explained why women didn’t leave or why they died when they did. She could hear her mother from that day long ago. Is that what happened? You provoked him?
Aunt Sophia hadn’t been surprised when Rory appeared at her door, bruised, but not crying. It’s about time, was all she said, taking her niece into her arms. He’s not going to hurt you again, Rory. Let’s get some ice on your face to get the swelling down, and then we’ll talk about what we need to do next.
Telling Sophia had been easier than she expected. The older woman listened without comment and without shock. She didn’t condemn Rory staying in such a marriage, didn’t ask why nothing was said until that day. She only nodded and then, at the end, without detail or emotion, said that her husband had been a very similar man who, very fortunately, very early in the marriage, went to Korea and never came back.
Pride has no place in marriages like ours. It’s what kills us, you know. Tomorrow we’ll go to your lawyer, get our ducks in a row, and get you out of it.
Now, Rory waited for his SUV to turn into the driveway, for the headlights to announce his return and interrupt her flight. The restraining order hadn’t fazed him, she knew. He was planning to walk right through it and show her who was boss.
Her new cell phone was in her back pocket. The police were patrolling, circling regularly just in case. All she had to do was call, the officer had told her, and someone would be there in minutes. The new locks would keep him out long enough for the police to arrive. If for some reason all else failed, Paul’s semi-automatic pistol was on the dresser.
You get accustomed to certain things, Rory thought staring at the clock, mesmerized by the sweep hand as it ticked off the seconds. Not anymore. He always apologizes when he’s finished, always comes back from his days away with some romantic trapping to trap me further. She glanced down at her bare left hand, sensing the lightness that came with becoming ringless after so long being ringed. Not this time. No more trappings.
The doorbell rang. She peered out from behind the curtain and, seeing a police car in the drive, opened the door.
“Mrs. DeLuca?” The officer was holding his hat in hand, looking decidedly nervous. “I’m Officer Shaw. May I come in?”
Without waiting for an invitation to sit, he took a seat on the couch, still holding his hat in his hands. When she sat in the armchair across from him, Officer Shaw took a deep breath and told her about the deer that had apparently run out and the rusted guardrail that failed to stop Paul’s SUV when he swerved to avoid it.
He was dead? Surely she misheard. Pau was dead? No. Impossible. Rory stared at the young officer as he offered words of comfort, seeing his lips move but not processing their meaning. Why would he have to tell her he was sorry for her loss? He didn’t know the bastard. Paul was dead and she was free.
“I’m sorry, I just…” she didn’t know how to finish the sentence. She watched as his fingers gripped his hat, making her wonder how often he had to break such news.
“It’s always a shock.”
“Yes. I think, I think I need a minute. I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.” Rory shook her head and leaned back, closing her eyes. She knew he was watching her, probably waiting for her to break down into hysterics. “I don’t have to identify the body, do I?”
“No, ma’am. His license did that. Mrs. DeLuca, can I call anyone for you?”
“No. I’ll call my mother.”
“Am I sure? Yes.” Rory stood up and went to the front door, an unmistakable gesture of dismissal. “Thank you for coming to tell me,” she said, opening the door.
“Mrs. DeLuca, I’m not…”
“Officer Shaw, I’m fine.”
She smiled up at him, suddenly deciding that she had nothing to hide. Not now. “Officer Shaw, he’s dead. For the first time since I married him, I’m safe. Please, you can go. I’ll be fine.”
He had to be new to this part of the job, she decided, seeing his shock as her words registered. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t know.”
“No one did. Thank you for coming, and I will call someone. I promise,” she lied, closing the door in his face. She had no intention of inviting anyone over to sit with her. However, she did have to notify people before the eleven o’clock news did. No doubt the accident would be one of the lead stories. She called Sophia first. Maggie second. Then her mother. Isadora had loved him. It was the right thing to do.
“What’s wrong, Aurora?”
“Paul’s dead.” She replied without fanfare. “He was killed in a car accident. They think a deer ran out in front of his truck.”
“Dear God! Not Paul! I’ll be right over.”
“No, tomorrow will be fine. I’m tired. I just want to go to bed.”
“That’s ridiculous, I’m coming over. You need me.”
“No, Mother. Don’t. Selina is coming over,” she lied.
“Well that’s a fine…”
Rory hung up on her.
Tomorrow she’d deal with her Mother, tonight was too soon. Tomorrow she would let Isadora take over and play the role of caretaker. It would be welcome, for once, since the very thought of having to prepare a respectable funeral made her stomach turn. For now, she sat and stared out the window, watching the shadows darken into night, trying to understand exactly what dead meant.
Not an hour later, the doorbell rang again. She refused to answer and stayed on the couch, hating the way bells signaled people wanting to talk to her, to be with her. Ignoring the bell didn’t matter since she hadn’t locked the door. Cade let himself in.
“Maggie called me,” was all he said, shrugging out of his jacket and starting toward her as she sat on the couch.
“Get out!” She leapt up and started toward him, wanting to shove him out of the door. He caught her wrists before she could reach him. “Get out! Leave me alone! He’s dead, Cayden! I don’t want anyone here! I don’t need you here! I don’t… I don’t!”
All he did was pull her to him. “Go on, Rory, get it out. Let it go. You don’t have to do this alone.”
The fight went out of her as abruptly as it came, and he felt her hands on his shoulders and then her fingers curl, clutching his shirt. “He’s dead, Cade. He’s dead,” she sobbed. “And I’m so happy about it.”