“Forsaken. The pavement pounds beneath my feet as I run…”
Run where? From what? Rory’s fingers paused over the computer keyboard. She didn’t know. But it would come to her, she was sure. Her reputation was growing, and her fiction writing had taken on an unexpected life of its own via her blog. From the Forest had published two short pieces and was asking for a third, due next week, and Primer was averaging close to a thousand hits a week. Life was good.
Forsaken, the ground pounds beneath my feet… forsaken…
Perhaps the problem was that she wasn’t sure what she was running from. Certainly not from Cade. Catching her breath as she remembered his touch, she glanced at the curtained windows and watched them sway in the breeze. Only, she’d never opened the window. Had she? Her heart pounding, she leapt up and ran to the window, slamming and locking it tightly. Then she stood there, listening to the silence and the race of her own heart. Relax. You just forgot to close it this afternoon. Get a grip, will you?
She looked around the room, seeing nothing out of the ordinary save for a broken rubber band on the floor. Where’d this come from? Oh. The box with Julie’s letters. Nothing appeared to be missing. Annoyed, Rory told herself her imagination was working overtime and to get a grip. A snapped piece of rubber meant nothing. Perhaps she had opened the window earlier. Yesterday, even. Lord knows she was good at forgetting things.
Opening up Primer, she decided that a change of topic might help her writer’s block and get her mind off intruders, real or imagined. No one would break in and not take anything, she told herself sternly as the screen for a new post loaded. When the cursor began blinking, she pushed it all from her mind and began writing:
Need versus want. I once needed to be with one sort of man; now I want to be with another. Is that particularly wrong?
When I look at him, I realize that I don't need him. I want him.
The other day we went to lunch and I behaved, was the good girl. We ate, we talked, we laughed. I ordered a dessert I can't spell, daring to try something new. It arrived, smothered in honey, ice cream, and cinnamon sugar.
I was conscious of the coldness of the ice cream as well as the heat of the plate, of the honey's texture, and the spice of the sugar…
Frustrated, Rory logged off. Could she be more obvious? Why not just put Cade’s name in there and be done with it? Lust was clouding her mind, she was sure of it.
Enough! Change the topic. Find something else to do. You aren’t accomplishing a damn thing right now!
Looking around the office that was once Paul’s, she smiled. Gone were the masculine wallpaper and furniture. It was her space now. Dirk’s portrait of her hung where Paul’s diplomas and certificates once had.
It’s time. I’m allowed. It’s my house now.
When Rory made up her mind, she did it with a vengeance, at least, that’s what Selina had often said. Besides, she was tired of acting like the proper widow, mourning the man who loathed her, all because she was threatening to surpass his success. Thanks to someone killing Julie, her professional life was living up to every fear he’d ever had. I’m allowed to do this now. When she opened his closet, she paused, taking in the thousands of dollars in suits and dress shirts, all perfectly organized, all ready for him to walk in and select the day’s outfit. Reaching out, she touched the nearest one, the dark blue woolen one he had worn the night she’d fallen against the railing after she told him no or maybe or whatever. It was something he hadn’t liked and that was that. Whatever it was, she’d long forgotten. It didn’t matter, really. He used any reason he could to remind her that he could do much worse to her.
Feeling the fabric, remembering how he stood over her, smirking as she struggled to get up. She curled her fingers around the sleeve, crushing it. You ought to be more careful, Aurora, he said as she stared up at him, shocked – as she always was – at his violence. She’d always been careful, always. And what had it gotten her? Nothing. She yanked the suit coat from its hanger. Bastard. She dropped it on the floor. The pants followed.
By midnight, everything that he had ever owned or that reminded her of him was piled in the master bedroom. An additional stack was next to it, tossed from her closet: all of her scarves, all of her turtlenecks. Everything worn to hide his abuse would go out as well.
The next morning she continued her task, pausing only to call her former mother-in-law for the first time since the funeral. “Dot, it’s Rory. I’m calling the Salvation Army to pick up the rest of Paul’s belongings. If there’s anything that you want, or that someone else wants, you have two days to come and get it.”
“How could you do this to me? What makes you think that I’m ready to box up my son?” Dorothy DeLuca demanded, not knowing that Paul’s effects had been slowly accumulating in the unused master bedroom since the day he died. The only reason they were still there was due to Rory’s unwillingness to give anyone a chance to talk about her private life. The door had been kept securely closed and, since she rarely had a visitor save for Cade, and he never asked, no one was the wiser.
How liberating to know that she would never again have to make peace with a woman who always resented her. However, her nature wouldn’t let her be remotely mean to the still-grieving mother. “I need to do this. I can’t live in a shrine.”
“When my husband died, I left his belongings exactly where they were for over a year!”
Your husband didn’t try to beat you senseless every time you displeased him. Rory bit her tongue and said nothing, half-fearing that Dorothy would tell her she had gotten what she deserved.
“Rory, you can’t go tossing his belongings out for every homeless person in the world to purchase! It’s an insult to his memory! It’s just not done!”
“Dot, I have to go now. Let me know if you’ll be over to get his stuff before Monday.” Before the woman could screech her response, Rory cradled the receiver and flopped onto the bed, staring over its edge at the dusty wooden floor for a moment before rolling onto her back and staring at the ceiling. The movement made the headboard bump against the wall. Paul usually jammed a rolled-up sock between it and the wall, “Damn thing can’t stay still, has to squeak and thump constantly,” was all he ever said.
“Why don’t you fix it?” was all she ever asked.
“I will when I have time,” his continual promise. She decided that there had to be a dozen pairs of rolled-up socks behind the bed by now.
“You ran out of time,” she said aloud, wondering if he could hear her. “You would’ve had time if you weren’t so busy fucking that slut.”
Her voice was so level, so matter-of-fact, that even she was surprised.
Even now, she wondered what would have happened had he lived. The all too-familiar “what did I do wrong” feeling crept over her as she laid on the bed, remembering how he’d ranted and raved about how she was deliberately trying to ruin his career. How she made him less than a man by not supporting him and by being cold enough to have a career of her own.
Rory closed her eyes, willing the memories away. I’m not dead, she reminded herself, thinking about that day in the park. But Paul is. It was now just as well, she decided, knowing that a divorce would have been… would they have divorced at all? Or would he have killed her?
My darling little girl, we were meant to be together, don’t you see? His marriage proposal came back to her. Paul on his knee before her, ring in hand, offering two glittering carats and promises of love. And she had believed him! Fool that she was, she had believed the softly drawled sentences and gentlemanly concern! She had accepted his control because it made sense at the time. She couldn’t hear the truth behind his words because she couldn’t listen. Her father and Robert were dead and Julie was gone and her mother was nothing but disappointed in her. You need a man to take care of you, little one. You’re my baby girl, so delicate, so beautiful!
She had accepted his apologies and presents because she wasn’t a battered woman. He never beat her regularly, just when she… She sat up, covering her ears trying to block her thoughts. Lies! Oh God, so many lies! His lies. Worse, her lies to herself! How could I have been so stupid? Leaping up from the bed, she went back to work, trying to distract herself, pushing back the memories that crowded her thoughts..
Even as she dumped belongings into boxes, she couldn’t help but remember the last time they’d gone to dinner together, just this past February. The night she dared to speak up and talk to his associates. Who were they again? Bill was the one who got her started. She remembered that much. She’d been bored beyond belief, sitting there mentally re-arranging an article and remembering to nod when appropriate and trying to eat the tasteless entrée Paul had ordered for her, when the topic of the local casinos came up.
By the end of the meal, Paul was enraged that she had the audacity to contradict not only him but also his partners and their opinions. With her mind still on her writing and on just when she could afford to leave him, she misread him and made the mistake of walking away when they got home, telling him that she had a deadline. He gave her a few minutes, letting her go up to her attic office and think she could get away with speaking to him like that – then he began climbing the steps, his heavy, deliberate tread telling her that she wasn’t going to get off lightly. There was no way out of the attic but through the steps in main hall or down the tree just outside the dormer window. She was halfway out the window when he pulled her back in. This time she had screamed.
“You will not embarrass me like that again,” he shouted, shoving her into the old armchair she kept up there. “You’re my wife, damn it, and nothing you do or say is going to change that!” He punctuated his declaration by kicking the chair itself. Rory rolled up into a protective ball and prayed that he wouldn’t kick again.
“Tell me you understand, Rory, and this will be a lot easier on you. Do you think that you’re actually able to survive without me? You’re a little nobody, Rory, remember that! You won’t last a week without me!” When he reached for her, she batted his hand away. “You’re going to regret that.” She was yanked to her feet then and the inevitable began, but this time someone was coming up the stairs.
“Don’t touch her again. Put your hands behind your head and turn around slowly.”
Words had never sounded so sweet. They came through the haze and made her want to cry. At last he would have to stop this. Someone helped her to her feet and told her to take a seat for a moment. She obeyed, shaking.
He was talking to Paul, lecturing him on his temper and being so loud that the neighbors called. Why wasn’t he arresting him? Then she found out: they were cousins. Officer Welsch didn’t believe in arresting relatives when it was simply a matter of a spat between spouses. However, if she didn’t stop her screaming, he’d arrest her. There was no need for her to call either of them those names. Paul was going to leave, and he wouldn’t come back until tomorrow when they’d both had a chance to sleep it off.
“I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to take a second call if you two go at it again,” she heard him tell Paul as the two walked down the steps. “You’ll have to be careful with her until she comes to her senses.”