Slowly, she opened her light blue eyes and smiled as I walked into her room. She tried to hide her feelings, but I knew her too well for her to succeed. As I sat on the edge of her bed, I took her hand in mine, and felt a squeeze as if she knew I needed her reassurance, the touch that always made my heart feel lighter.
I leaned and kissed her pale cheek, the corner of her mouth, her lips. She felt cool and dry, and I knew what she wanted to say. But as long as I didn’t ask the question, she would not tell me.
“I love you,” I said instead and kissed her again, lips brushing hers as sorrow nearly choked me.
“Always you too,” she whispered the response as she’d said it the first time after our first night together with moonlight curling through her brown hair, highlighting strands of golden red. Holding her had felt more than right. It had felt like what life had been missing, what the future must have to be joyful, successful.
I was about to tell her how I felt on that first night, but she drew a quick sharp breath, her eyes, closed now, pinching at the corners enough to tell me the pain was bad. As I began to stand, she pulled weakly on my hand to stop me.
It was then that her eyes told me what I never wanted to know as she smiled the smile that won my heart years ago. Her entire body stiffened. She closed her eyes. Her hand relaxed and as it did, I lifted it to my lips to kiss her once more.
The monitor over her head screamed as the jagged lines flattened one by one. Nurses and a doctor raced in to help. But Sara had placed the documents on the wheeled table used to hold the meal she hadn’t eaten.
“Do not resuscitate,” I said with grief ripping apart my heart, and pointed to the papers. I lowered her still warm hand to her side, and stood to let them replace me.
The bullet that took her had fractured into razor-like pieces as it entered her abdomen, damaging every organ except her heart. They’d operated for six and a half hours, but could not guarantee her survival since the fragments had destroyed her spleen, one kidney a section of liver, half of her stomach, sliced arteries and one lung too.
I had prayed harder than ever for a miracle, but none came, and now she was gone from me forever.
There was no reason for me to stay. She’d made all arrangements. In one hour, the funeral home would have her and I would be there to sign papers, select her urn.
As I walked out the door, resisting the urge to glance back, I brushed past her ex-husband without looking. Having seen him often enough, I knew about his dark Italian looks, receding hairline and all. His greed and need to feel like he was the most important man wherever he was, his driving lust for adoration even from those he screwed over, explained my emotions. I never liked the bastard, nor did he me. He was always late, usually intentional. And I felt sure it was a round from his handgun that put Sara in the hospital after the bullet fragmented inside her abdomen, and now put her into a grave.
“Just need to run up to Belks,” she’d told me. Outside in the parking lot a hundred feet from the entrance after she left the store, she was shot and robbed. No one witnessed the crime, or so they all said. Too many retirees had moved into our area on the coast most of them from cities and towns to the north. Where getting involved could, possibly make them the next victim. Or they just didn’t care to get involved, messing up their scheduled plans for the day. The parking lot cameras displayed the blurred images you might’ve expected a decade ago. Facial recognition software had nothing to work with.
“Sorry,” I heard her ex say without emotion. “I’ll miss her too.”
Fucking asshole, I thought, but otherwise ignored him certain he was not sorry. He was a man who beat his women locked them in rooms with chains and ropes, trapping them into his abuse until they were afraid to attempt escape.
I helped Sara after glimpsing her bruises at the gym and getting her to talk about him. Then a year later, after she underwent constant therapy, married her. Yet she never would or did press charges against him. I didn’t think it was my place to try to persuade her to have him arrested, and now wondered over my decision and hers too. Why let the bastard walk free so he might do it again?
If she had, or I had, I thought and almost glanced back at her room as if with that thought fresh in mind, I might be able to change something, anything, shook off the obvious and walked to the hospital foyer.
Outside the air felt wet. The tropical storm Sara and I discussed two days ago finally approached. We had joked about naming it as if it was a soon to be born child. Weather Channel took care of that difficult task for us. Now I no longer cared either way, them or us. It was time for me to return to a life I gave up to live a new life with her.
I steered my black 2015 Routan onto the road, drove around to the back of the hospital and parked to wait for her ex to depart. I didn’t wait long. Carelessly, he entered traffic in his silver Mercedes, as if his presence alone was enough to stop the flow of vehicles. He did so without seeing me, or caring if he did. I give him a block and pulled into traffic behind him.
By the time we’d driven the thirty plus miles to his town, night had wrapped us in its safety of darkness, safety for some, like me, not so much so for others.
He pulled into his garage as the door finished rising, closing it before he stopped rolling with the red glare of brake lights, feral eyes at the edge of a forest. I went around the block and found a foreclosed house, not unusual those days, using the driveway as if it were mine, parked to collect and focus my thoughts.
An hour later, a quick stop at the funeral home gave me time for distraction while I followed Sara’s instructions. I would keep her ashes with me until I found a place I wanted to call home now that our home was a mausoleum of past memories only. I considered burning it for a moment, and knew I could not. Eventually, I would return permanently and alter the house to fit my needs after I did.
Her eyes had lit the first time we drove past the old house and slowed after seeing a realtor’s sign at the street. I wanted to stay closer to town where I kept an office. Seeing the look in her eyes, the way it made her smile, I dared to drive on only to hear what I knew would come next.
“Slow down,” she said not able to hide her enthusiasm, even if she desired to, which I doubted she did then. “Okay, now turn around, I really think I love that old house.’
“You do realize the amount of work, updating, maintenance a house that old needs and will always need, right?” I asked knowing I sounded redundant, and knowing that if she loved it, I’d agree to buy it with her and live my life happily with her alongside me every night.
Since I had already begun turning around, she just nodded and stared out at the scenery. The house was huge, wide lap siding, plantation style with columns holding up a wide second floor veranda. It seemed to be surrounded by manicured land and endless trees, ancient live oaks, Mimosa, Gardenias, and towering long leaf pine.
I stopped alongside the realtor’s sign where there was a container holding information sheets. Sara jumped out as soon as the car rolled to a stop and headed straight for the front door.
Sighing, I leaned back and waited for what I knew was coming. Seconds later, she was talking to an older woman who had answered her knock, and Sara waved me to join her.
“You lose, friend,” I muttered to myself as I grinned, feeling that deep warmth for her that attracted me every time I saw her.
On the way back, I stopped and bought a throwaway phone, went home and opened an outdoor building, once slave housing, I had restored and then used for a utility shed. After gathering all I would need for the night, I closed and locked the building, knowing it was clean of evidence.
“So what do you think of it?” Sara asked after we toured the huge house, the amazing property and finally stood on the upstairs veranda overlooking two Mimosa trees filled with pink flowers, several hummingbirds, butterflies, and dozens of contented bees.
“I don’t really care that much for pink,” I said without looking at her.
“Where’s pink?” she asked sounding confused.
I pointed to the trees. “Right there.”
She punched my shoulder just hard enough to let me know she didn’t really think I was funny, but soft enough not to hurt.
“Be honest with me,” she said. “If you hate it we’ll look at a different house.”
I faced her, put my hands on her shoulders, and said, “Where do I sign?”
“Are you being serious now?” Her eyes searched mine for an answer, found what she wanted. She hugged me and a month later we moved in.
Again at the foreclosed house, after a thirty minute nap, I climbed into the back of the Routan, donned surgical gloves, opened packages of new clothing, dressed in black, used a new product I found online weeks ago, and sprayed the sealant on my wrists and other exposed skin. I covered my eyes with tight fitting welder’s goggles that had clear glass lenses one-quarter night-vision, coated on the outside to not reflect light. I tugged down a ski cap, spray-sealed it and my hair.
Once again outside, I checked the time. Close to 3 A.M. and stuffed shoe coverings in my pocket.
Getting in his house was easy. I found his 9mm loaded with the type of rounds that fragment on impact, sitting on his coffee table.
He snored lightly, slept soundly, and didn’t hear me approach with a knife from his kitchen. He woke sharply as the blade sliced across his neck and died in a shower of red that coated him like midnight velvet.
I’d stayed behind him, so remained clean, except for some light splatter. His newest wife was chained in the closet I imagined since that was what he did to Sara.
Might prove to be her lucky day, I thought grimly as I used the burn phone to report a disturbance at his house.
“Sounded like someone beating a woman,” I said through a voice distorter and disconnected before the woman on the other end could speak again.
By sunrise, I drove home to prepare for a short departure. I lit a fire in the huge fireplace that made Sara fall in love with the old plantation house, stripped, burned everything, stirring the ashes until nothing identifiable remained. Then, I showered twice in the outside shower once used by the household staff, yeah, slaves. Back then it had a wood slat tank above that needed hand filling or a good rainstorm. I had thought it should be kept as a reminder of man’s cruelty to others (which some might say is ironic for a man like me), and had it modernized but left open so I could watch Sara on hot summer days.
The first time she did, I had turned off the hot water. She stood naked after a swim in the river, and when the water hit her, she flesh puckered into a million goose bumps, her nipples tightened. She ran over and demanded I warm her, which I did without hesitation.
Finally, I walked naked to the river behind the house, used a rock and smashed the phone. I tossed the pieces into the deepest spot in the water, where currents swirled and pulled lighter material down to the Atlantic Ocean. Keeping the memory chip, I ground it up in the garbage disposal once back inside.
My name is Lucas Spender. Well that’s not my birth name. It’s my “for hire” name. Sara never knew. No one knew me as him except those who would take that memory to the grave and those who hired me to send them there.
It was time for me to start over once I’d grieved.
Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch All Rights Reserved