Chapter 15, A.D.A. Blantyre-Tattershall
She sat alone at the side of the road, crying, the rain crashing so hard it bounced off the hood. She’d turned the wipers off long ago as they made little difference and only added to the cacophony thrumming through her car. It felt as if she were trapped within a drum. A naked rhythm, incessant, one that stripped you, bared your soul. A reminder of who is big and who is small – what Chloe imagined the last days of Christ might sound like if this wasn’t it? It was loud and she couldn’t think. Luckily, she didn’t have to as her emotions had taken over hours ago.
“Not that I need to get anywhere,” she said, though the only one in the car. The only thing within earshot – now that her cell had died from the fifty billion calls she’d attempted to make sure Kayleigh was alright – before finally finding the text that had been there all along. Dad is picking me up after school for a sleep-over – fucking smiley-face. And she’d left her God-damn charger at home on the kitchen counter for some bloody reason but couldn’t remember why she’d brought it in from the car in the first place.
“Damn! Damn! Damn!” she forced through gritted teeth, pounding her hands against the steering-wheel. “Why do men have to be so fucking stupid?” She finished, somewhat regretting the words even as she spoke them. Chloe reached for her purse, started to search then stopped to turn on her overhead light. She doubted if she had any cigarettes, not being a regular smoker, though searched like a fiend anyway, checking every nook and cranny of her car after her purse failed to pan out.
A lone bent and broken straggler, deep in the bowels of her glove compartment where her eyes had never been. Finally found after she’d removed practically every last item from the junk-drawer of her car, tossing it unceremoniously into the passenger seat beside her. With shaky hands, her fingers surgically placed over the punctures and rips as if playing the pipes, she positions herself to strike a match from the half-full package she found mere finger-widths from the smoke, her current car coming sans lighter in place of an MP3 docking station that her daughter loved. Though at the moment, trying to co-ordinate her one hand on the tobacco-flute while simultaneously striking a match on the cover held in the other, she didn’t give a flying fuck!
Her car smelling of sulfur, dead matches strewn about the floor-mats, she finally got one lit long enough to draw smoke, barely. Though stale, she relished the acrid, fusty taste, the foul smell as it mingled then overwhelmed the former fart smell of the defunct matches. She knew she must look like some junkie hunkered over her last fix and worried somebody might spot her and want some. Hell, as a prosecutor she’d seen it more than enough times, the tattoo, the image forever into her mind, her soul. She didn’t care. She took another drag.
Why did he have to go and ruin everything? She knew she was being unfair even as she asked the selfish question. Everything had been going so well. He seemed to be just the kind of man she was looking for. No, that’s not right. Should be looking for, she corrected herself, smiling, likely for the first time that day. She knew she had feelings for him – possibly more if she were being honest with herself. Kayleigh certainly did, much to her surprise, had come right out and told her and just this morning.
She’d been getting ready for work. Kayleigh watched as she put on her make-up in the bathroom mirror, already dressed and ready for school. “Yes,” she’d answered, putting on her favorite shade of lipstick, the red that made her hair pop. Not that it didn’t—pop—already! The second grin of the day reaching her lips.
“You know that Dr. guy…, Walt?”
Her hand froze, seizing like the engine of her first car.
Her father had bought it for her, used of course, handed her the keys as if it were made of gold. “Don’t forget to take care of her Chloe. A car is like a woman – she only responds if you pay attention to her.”
“Oh, I will daddy. Don’t you worry – I’ll make sure to keep it in perfect condition.” She’d answered, giving him her best doe-eyed look, the one she knew he couldn’t resist. Then she’d taken the keys and never given it another thought.
Her odometer reading had been slightly over a hundred thousand miles when he’d given it to her. All fresh (he’d detailed it himself), certified and every possible liquid, emptied and refilled.
The odometer read one hundred and twenty-seven thousand, eight hundred and fifty-two miles and froze there for eternity, never to move again. Apparently, that engine oil thingy her dad kept on harping at her about was actually quite important and should not have been ignored.
She hoped Kayleigh hadn’t noticed her mental stutter. Right – as if she misses anything! Chloe continued applying the hue, all her senses on red-alert. “Yes? What about him?” She attempted to keep her voice steady as if just another every-day conversation like others they’d had during the week. Her two personal favorites were, “Why do you always put your make-up on topless? And, “Why are boys such stupid-heads?”
“I think he’s nice.”
Chloe glanced at her daughter using the mirror to reflect the image – for once Kayleigh hadn’t noticed, appearing lost in thought.
“For a boy I mean – or man I guess I should call him.”
“Yes, I think he would prefer, man,” she added, somewhat cautiously, attempting to continue with her preparations although her mind was no longer involved with the task at hand. Then added, still trying to keep her tone conversational. “What’s nice about him?”
Kayleigh didn’t answer right away, which led Chloe to believe she’d lost interest in the conversation. So when she answered, it caught her off guard – again.
“He talks to me nice. Like a real person – not just a kid. Real conversations about real things. I like that.”
She continued applying or rather de-applying her make-up, having realized she now looked like Batman’s Joker and needed to tone it down before allowing anyone else to see the voodoo-like death-mask currently starring at her from the mirror.
“Though I don’t understand what he’s saying a lot of the time,” Kayleigh added, smiling at her in the mirror and quickly adding, “I don’t tell him though. I just pretend. You won’t tell him either, will you?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Chloe answered, giving her most serious face. “Men and boys should never be told that we don’t understand whatever it is that they’re talking about. It might get to their heads,” she winked, “and then they might think they’re smart or something.”
Kayleigh giggled. “He’s still pretty nice though. Are you going to marry him?”
“What?” Chloe watched the mirror as her eyeliner ran halfway toward her ear, of its own volition.
“Unless you and daddy are still getting back together?” Kayleigh added in haste. A last-ditch effort to keep her little-girl world held together.
“No. Your father and I are not getting back together, Kayleigh. I’ve explained that to you many, many times. It doesn’t mean we don’t both love you though, just that we don’t love each other any longer – not in that way.” She tried to be patient, gave her answer a bit of time to sink in even though her mind was screaming inside her head. Marry him! Who said anything about marriage?
“I know. I just thought I’d check to make sure.” She paused for a moment, seeming sad, yet bounced out of it a moment later. “Well then, I guess you can marry Walt if you want.”
“Not that anyone is getting married – not right now anyway.” She caught herself, her mind scrambling for answers, questions, directions out of this mess, yet approval from her daughter all the same. “Are you saying that you wouldn’t mind? That it’s okay if I were to get re-married?”
Kayleigh was quick to counter, “Only if it’s Dr. Alexander – not if you’re thinking of someone else.”
Chloe stood, stunned, frozen to the spot, her head reeling.
“You weren’t thinking of someone else, where you? I hope not. Walt is nice. He’s nice to me! You can’t do that to him. It would break his heart.”
Now was not the time for deep conversation, deep thought. She would come back to this later, replay it in her mind. She gave herself a shake. “No Kayleigh, there’s no one else. I am only seeing Walter – though we are a long way from marriage yet.”
She walked the few steps to her daughter, took her into her arms and gave her a tight squeeze. “I’m glad you feel that way, that your thinking like… well, like a grown-up should. I guess you really are growing up, aren’t you?” She held her daughter at arm’s length to get a look at her. She tried to stop the tears from coming, from ruining the make-up she’d just applied, twice, but to no avail. My little girl is growing up, changing. Just like everything else in the world.
That was only this morning. The exchange had rocked her to the core, had her reconsidering the plans she’d tentatively made just yesterday and even then things didn’t look as if they were going to work out. Sure, the plans had been made in an emotional state, likely less than a minute of actual thought going into them before she pulled the trigger. But who am I fooling? Isn’t that the way I’ve always lived my life? My heart first – then my brain? Is that why I’m running scared from Walt. Isn’t he the kind of man you want in your life? Stable, caring, innocent, a man who would worship you no matter what? So why are you all panicky and acting like a teenager for Christ’s sakes?
She rolled the window down a crack in the attempt to free the cabin of some smoke. The rain appeared to be slowing, at least a little, so with luck she would finally be on her way – if she could stop the flood pouring from her eyes.
“To what?” The thought stopped her. Her loser of an ex had picked up Kayleigh. And probably just to piss me off after yesterday’s conversation.
“What do you mean you want to move back to Boston? No, I’m not giving you my fucking consent to take her! Don’t even think of asking me again!” He’d hung up on her. She was sure that if the rain died down a little more she could still hear the ringing in her ear.
On her way to what then – work? That was how she usually filled the hours when Kayleigh was not at home and Lord knows she had enough of it. Funny, how she happened to be on the biggest case of her career, yet she hadn’t felt as if she’d worked a day yet. Usually, I’d be bustin’ balls like soft-boiled eggs, she thought, the grin sneaking up on her face. She knew why too.
“So why are you trying to fight it so hard, you dumb-ass?” She let the question linger in silence as if life or death hung upon the answer. Decided, she searched her car for where she’d thrown the phone, finally locating it on the floor behind the driver’s seat. She checked for bars. Dead. She slipped it back in her purse.
“Just as well, Dr. Alexander, this will give me time to think on the drive home. Should be a first for me, a brand-new start.” Chloe turned the key in the ignition, listened to the engine come to life. She checked her face in the mirror. Her eyes were puffy, her make-up reduced to black streaks which ran the length of her face. She looked a mess.
“Let’s see how committed you truly are? If I haven’t scared you off, yet – this should do it,” she giggled. Her decision made, the weight lifted leaving her fresh and excited. She put the car into drive and pulled away from the curb. She couldn’t wait to get to a working phone to call him. She bit her bottom lip, a tiny bit of trepidation slipping in.
I hope it isn’t too late?