This story does contain some erotic sexual content. It also contains some harsh realities surrounding domestic violence and abuse. If either of these subjects offend you, please do not continue. It's coded as a MF romantic tragedy for a reason.
Sometimes the Bad Guys Win
She cried in her sleep sometimes. Actually, she cried in her sleep a lot of the time, but some nights were worse than others. She never really woke up when she cried, and she didn't exactly sob, not so as you'd really hear her, but it always woke him up. He'd roll over and look at her face; the shadows on her skin were always different depending on the phase of the moon or the clouds in the sky or the number of cars driving by their suburban home, but she was always beautiful.
Tears shown on her cheeks in the faint light that drifted through the bedroom curtains. He never knew exactly how to help her, how to calm her and settle her restless, sad thoughts, so he did what he could. He would stroke her hair, pushing the sweat-dampened locks from her forehead. With his fingertips, he would gently wipe the tears from her cheeks, and he'd murmur nothing noises and soothing sounds to her. His voice was always soft but intense in the otherwise-silence of their bedroom. Eventually she would make a last hicoughy sob and relax against him, her breath slowing to the more gentle rhythm of dreamless sleep.
They'd finish the night like that, her body curved into a "c," her hands tucked between her knees, and her forehead pressed to his chest. On these nights his arm, protectively wrapped around her shoulders, was usually asleep long before he was. Lying there in the dark, listening to the now-calm in and out of her breathing, he would sometimes imagine all the ways he could fix it, the ways he could make it better.
The best ways were the ones she would never find out about. The commando raids late at night, sitting with a sniper rifle, watching through the scope. He had it planned down to the most minuscule of details, what he'd be wearing, what the weather would be like, and the movement of the wind over the dulled-blue barrel. He could feel the grass brush against the heavy cotton of his field BDU's as he lay propped up on his elbows, his cheek pressed to the smooth stock. He imagined her efforts to hide her delight as she read the report in the morning paper about an unexplained shooting. He'd sit across from her and smile, never letting on that he knew why she was suddenly so happy, why her dark moods had finally passed. Those were the best, and those thoughts were what kept his mind from the painful pinprick tingling of his fingertips as his hand fell asleep.
The problem was that he never knew where his sights were to be centered. Charlotte had resolutely refused to tell him any specific details about where she'd come from. "Oregon," she told him whenever he'd asked. "Outside of Portland." Then she'd change the subject with that manner of hers that said, "I've changed the subject, let's keep it changed." Unfortunately, "outside of Portland" encompassed most of the state, which was, more than likely, her point.
So he'd let the subject stay changed and tell himself it was because she loved him that she'd never be more specific. "It's your karma, Robert," she had said on more than one occasion. "I'd hate to think I put that temptation in front of you." She loved him, and that was good enough for him - most of the time.
The other scenarios were good too. He'd intercede for her, stepping in front of her monster, doing battle with her demon. She'd be so grateful that she'd never be able to dream of a life without him. Of course that was the problem with that dream. There had to be something from which he could rescue her, which meant putting her back in the position that she left. No, as good as it is to be the hero, he couldn't risk that for her.
But there were other nights. There were nights when he was just plain tired. Nights when he knew that unfinished work tasks filled his desk in box, or nights when dinner had burned and his stomach was unsatisfied. Nights after days of long meetings and longer commutes and bumper-to-bumper traffic through smog-filled streets. On those nights he would lie in the dark next to her and find that all he could focus on was the numbness moving from his shoulder to his fingertips. He'd lie next to her and wonder how it would be if he'd never met her. If he'd never fallen so hard for her charms. If her laugh had never drifted into his soul and sent roots so deep into him that the thought of being without her, the thought of losing her was physically painful. He'd wonder if perhaps he wouldn't be better off without her. He imagined life without the hassles, life without the difficulties, life without the constant walking on eggshells and tiptoeing around her moods.
He always felt guilty the morning after those nights; he'd find himself lavishing her with affection after those nights and inwardly cringing when she laughed about his sudden "amorè." She'd pour his coffee and giggle as his hand not-so-innocently brushed her robe and teased open the satin collar for an early morning peek. She'd flick the dishtowel at him as she wiped toast crumbs from the countertop. And then he loved her all over again.
The day they met started out for him like most other days. Early morning meetings to discuss whatever the business catch phrase of the week was, followed by some minor bullshitting around the burnt remains of the morning's coffee, then back to his office to wade through memos and e-mails and other, sundry details of the commercial real estate world. The phone was propped between his chin and his shoulder, and he swiveled in his desk chair to gaze out the window. His office, although a corner office as befitted his status as senior-junior partner, overlooked the frontage road aside the highway. The lack of view wasn't worth complaining about though; it was a massive step up from his former next-to- the-stairwell office he had shared with two other office drones before he took off in the enchanting world of commercial real estate development. Pushing a basket of files to the side with his foot, he propped his heels on the metal windowsill and leaned back in his "relaxed executive" pose.
That's when he saw her.
Actually, he saw her car first. Ditched cars weren't all that uncommon in late October. The first snow always seems to catch people off guard. No one has snow tires ready, and the auto/tire shops do a brisk business for the first couple of weekends after the white stuff starts to fall. This year the snow came early, even for Anchorage standards, and a car nose- or tail-first in the ditch was settling into one of those sights that quickly became commonplace.
However, it's not often that one actually sees a car take the nose-first spin-and-dive. The driver must have hit his breaks too hard or too fast, because it was a spectacular glide across the highway. It quickly became obvious that traffic wasn't going to stop, and when no one emerged from the ditched car, he grabbed his cell phone and coat and headed downstairs to see if the driver was hurt. If nothing else, he'd earn his Good Samaritan points for the winter, and it gave him a good excuse to step away from the office for a bit.
He knocked on the window first, but when the driver didn't respond he opened the door, simultaneously reaching for his cell phone to dial 911. She was slumped forward, her head leaning on the steering wheel, both hands gripped on the cracked vinyl covering. When he reached in to touch her shoulder, she raised her head and turned to face him.
She wasn't pretty. She might have been pretty, even beautiful, at other times, but her face was now a swollen symphony of purple, red, and blue. Swelling obscured her cheekbones, and her nose had the telltale lopsidedness of a recent break. His first thought was that she had hit the dashboard; that for some reason her seat belt had failed to lock when she impacted in the ditch. But once the surprise passed, he could see that the bruises marring her face were well set, deeply colored, and at least several days old.
He let out a low whistle then reached his hand down to meet her opened one. With his other hand he unclicked her shoulder belt. "Can you move, or would you rather I call an ambulance?"
She took his hand and stepped gingerly from the car. "Some Good Samaritan you are. Don't you know you're never supposed to move an accident victim?"
He opened his mouth to chastise her for being ungrateful when he saw the teasing glint in her eye. Whatever comment he planned was cut short. As she stood, she paled and swayed.
"Look lady. Be careful. Maybe you should sit back down."
Her eyes were glazed and there was a flush of fever under the paleness of her skin. "Yeah. You're probably..."
They spent a year getting to know one another. She had come to town with no apparent plan. He didn't have any direct reason to trust her, but he went with his gut, or some other place that inspired instinctive trust. He had a client who needed someone to watch a small summer cabin. Instinct or not, she turned out to be the perfect tenant. In exchange for keeping the home clean, the rodents out, and the pipes running, she got a place to stay until the owner came back up for summer hunting and fishing.
He took her out for coffee and they met for lunches. She was reluctant to talk about where she had come from. The look in her eyes whenever he asked bordered on panic, so he didn't push. But she was a near-perfect companion otherwise.
.... There is more of this story ...