Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 6 Part 2

“I'm not sure where to begin,” I hesitated.

“Why don't you start at the beginning?” he encouraged.

I took a deep breath. “I was married.”

“Are you divorced?”

“No, I'm a widow.”

“Oh. I'm sorry. That must be hard. How did he die?”

“In the line of duty – he was a cop, but that's only half of the story.”

“OK. So, what's the rest of the story?”

“It could take a while.”

“That's OK. I have all night.”

“Let's see – the beginning. I met Alan when we were in high school. As you know, I come from a small town. Everybody knows everybody, but still, Alan and I most definitely did not move in the same circles. He was hugely popular – wealthy, handsome, captain of the football team and all that. Every girl wanted to date him, and the most popular, outgoing girls did. I was the bookworm. Honestly, I might have been invisible. He might have known my name, but that was about it. Anyway, after high school, I went off to college and Alan became a cop. He got to know my father from the local bar. Neither of them were big drinkers. They mostly just hung out there – watching sports on television and playing pool. It's a small town - It was just the men's hangout.

“Anyway, after my mom got sick and I moved back home, Alan started stopping by the house. He would spend some time helping my dad with the farm, and would end up having meals with us. We ended up spending more and more time together. Turns out, he wasn't just a pretty face – he really was a good guy. It seemed like he had grown up a whole lot since high school, and so had I. A lot of the people he had hung around with in school had moved away. We didn't have all that much in common, but we got along well. He had a good sense of humor and could make me laugh which I desperately needed at that point in my life. I love my mother, but caring for her every day and seeing her so sick – it was tough. Alan was a pleasant distraction. I fell in love. I had never been in love before – not really. I had dated in college, a few dates here and there, but no one serious. Most of them just seemed interested in hooking up, not in an actual relationship, and I really wasn't into that kind of scene. Alan seemed like a knight in shining armor, as corny as that sounds. I was so happy when I was with him. He treated me like a queen – he would bring me flowers and buy me jewelry and always picked up the tab when we went out to eat. He was always such a gentleman.

“After my mom's cancer went into remission, he asked me to marry him. My mom wasn't thrilled. He wasn't Catholic and that was a big sticking point with her. He was willing to go to Church with me though to make her happy, so that kind of smoothed things over a bit. For my part, I worried about his wild side. He liked to drive his motorcycle too fast, liked to party a little too much. I thought that he couldn't be happy with me – that I was really kind of dull and that he would eventually get tired of me. After all, I wasn't anything like the girls he used to hang out with in high school. He assured me that he had changed, however – that he truly loved me and wanted to be with me forever. So, I happily said 'Yes.'

“We were married a few months later in a nice small ceremony. It was everything I wanted in a wedding. My father walked me down the aisle and I got to wear my mother's wedding dress. Best of all, my mom was feeling much better and could be there. I was so happy that day. Standing there in the church with Alan by my side – I didn't think life could get any better.

“Alan had some money saved up and we were able to buy a small house near where my parents lived. We had some adjustments as newlyweds. All couples do, I imagine. Still, I thought we were doing pretty well. We each had our own lives. Alan liked his police work – it wasn't like it was a high crime area or anything, but there was always someone who needed help. And I was still helping out on my parents' farm. I got a job as a waitress and I also started volunteering at the library. The only thing we didn't agree on was when to start trying to have a family. I wanted a baby and Alan kept saying he wasn't ready. We were both young. I figured we had time to wait a little while.

“Life was good, or so I thought, - until the day I got his cell phone bill and noticed that there were a whole bunch of long distance calls to a number I didn't recognize. I dialed the number and a young woman picked up the phone. I told her I had the wrong number. Of course, then I was suspicious. I decided to check out his email account. I probably shouldn’t have, but the password was saved on the computer. I was crazy. I had to know what was going on. There were hundreds of emails to and from a woman whose name I recognized. She was a girl Alan had dated in high school. Apparently they had reconnected on one of those reunion sites on-line. I sat there reading message after message. He was having an affair. He had told her he planned to leave me and go to New York to be with her. I didn't know what to do. I was so angry. I printed out a whole bunch of the messages, planning to confront him when he got home from work. I wanted to scream and hit him and tell him how much I hated him. A huge storm had started outside. There was lightning and thunder and driving rain. The storm matched my mood. I sat near the door, the letters in my hand, waiting for him to come home.” I paused to take a few sips of water.

“What happened when he got home?” Mike asked.

“That's just it. He never came home. One of the other guys on the force came to bring me the news. I knew as soon as I saw John coming to the door that something had happened. I turned the letters I was holding over and put them on the coffee table and let him in. The first words out of his mouth were 'I'm so sorry.' Apparently, as Alan was driving around doing his rounds, he saw a lightning strike hit a house and set it on fire. He called the fire department and then ran in the house to see if anyone was there. There was a young teenager home. He could hear her screaming. By the time he got to where she was, she had passed out from the smoke. He carried her out. She came to as they got outside and told him her baby brother was still in the house. Alan ran back in. He found the baby upstairs, but by then the fire was too severe. He stood by the window with the baby. The firefighters had arrived and put up the ladder. Alan was able to hand over the baby who ultimately recovered, but it was too late for him. He was badly burned. He died in the ambulance.

“He was celebrated as a hero. After all, he had saved two children. His funeral was attended by everyone in town. And I was the hero's widow! How could I tell anyone the truth? – that he was cheating on me – that he didn't love me anymore – that he was planning to leave me. I didn't even tell my mother. Whenever I saw anyone, they were always expressing their sympathy, telling me what a wonderful man Alan was; how much he loved me; how they were sure he was in heaven. I was so angry with God – I didn't even want to think about heaven. I was mad at God for the fact that my husband was cheating on me, and mad at God that he had let Alan die before I had the chance to kill him myself. You know the worse part? – I had to email his girlfriend to tell her that he died. I figured that she would want to know. She actually had the nerve to show up at the funeral! She cried and cried and cried. It was all I could do not to scream at her right then and there – call her every name in the book and smack her across the face. But I couldn't, because I was supposed to be the grieving widow and I didn't want anyone to know the truth.

“I thought that in time things would get better, but it didn't. People stopped mentioning Alan so much, but they still looked at me with pity in their eyes. I was still filled with so much anger, but then the sadness mixed with it. The thing was, as much as I hated Alan for what he did and for the fact that he died, I missed him, too. I had really loved him, and I thought he loved me. I have to believe that, for a little while anyway, he did.” I could feel the tears start to stream down my face and I stopped to wipe them away. I couldn't believe I was saying so much, but once the words started coming, there was no stopping them. I had kept them bottled in for so long. I could feel Mike's gentle blue eyes on me. At times it honestly felt like he was looking, not at me, but through me, straight into my soul.

After a couple moments he spoke, “When did you decide to leave and come here?”

“It was after about a year. I just couldn't take it anymore. There was no one I could talk to. Everyone knew Alan and had such a high opinion of him. My parents and the couple of friends I had just thought I was having a hard time because he had died. I stopped going to Church. I tried to avoid our parish priest whenever I encountered him anywhere. Like I said, it's a small town – there was just no escape. I just couldn't take it anymore – pretending all the time. I eventually decided to sell our house, and move here and start over. I had some life insurance money to help out with a new beginning. My mother was so sad that I was leaving, but she knew I had reached a breaking point – that I needed to do something, or I was going to have a breakdown. I don't miss much about home, but I do miss her,” I admitted.

“I'm sorry,” Mike said.

“For what? - You didn't do anything.”

“I'm sorry that you have been hurting so much. I'm glad that you told me.”

I wiped away a few more tears. “Yeah – I'm probably really going to regret this in the morning.”

“I hope not. I won't tell anyone. I just want to be your friend.”

“Thanks,” I smiled. “I could really use one.” A pregnant silence hung between us.

“Could I ask you something?”

“What?” he said.

“How did you move on?”

“From what?”

“Your girlfriend – the one you were supposed to marry. She found someone else. How did you manage to forgive her and go on with your life?”

He took a deep breath. “It wasn't easy. Like you, I was angry and sad and brokenhearted, but in the end I just realized that it wasn't meant to be. We were something very special for a while and I'll always have those memories – I told you I've never really gotten over her, but – it was just a chapter in the story. Well, maybe a couple chapters. There was still a whole lot of the story left to be written.”

“I guess you're right. I admire you – and Sara. The other day at the party when I was talking to her I was really amazed by how she has been able to pick up the pieces after her husband left her. My pieces still feel like they are all over the floor! I want to be able to move on.”

“You will – it just takes time. Some hearts take longer to heal than others. It's been years since Amy left me. Sara, on the other hand, has always been a pretty tough cookie.”

“Yeah, well I wish the healing process could speed up a bit.”

“You can't rush it. You need to let it take as long as it takes. The hurt won't ever completely go away, but one day you'll wake up and it will hurt less.”

“You sound like you know what you are talking about.”

“I do.”

“Do you think you'll ever fall in love again?” I asked.

“I don't know,” he answered. “I'd like to. I'd like to get married and have a family – if the right person comes along. I used to think that there was only one person for each of us, and that Amy was mine, and I lost her. I don't necessarily think that anymore – I think that there is more than one potential mate for each of us. I think there are second chances – I mean there has to be, right? Look at all the people who get divorced and then get married again.”

“Maybe they just didn't find the right person the first time around,” I suggested.

“Maybe – or maybe finding the right person is only half the battle. Maybe choosing to stay in love after the initial rush wears off is the harder part.”

“Yeah. Apparently it is.”

“I look around at married people I know and most don't seem to realize how lucky they are to have someone to love. I mean, look at Sara's husband. He just didn't see how fortunate he was to have Sara and the boys. He threw it all away! Or your husband – obviously he didn't realize how lucky he was to have you, or else he wouldn't have gone looking elsewhere, right?”

“Oh – I wasn't that much of a prize,” I said. “You should've seen the girl he was leaving me for! I think she was actually a model – that's kind of hard to compete with!”

He looked at me intently. “Don't ever sell yourself short like that. Every woman – every person has their own specialness. If someone has been blessed enough to see that specialness in someone and have someone see it in them, they should do whatever it takes to hold on to that.” He turned and looked out the window for the moment, seemingly collecting his thoughts, or perhaps recalling a memory. He turned back to me. “Look, I know I've never been married and that it is hard, probably much more so than I realize. I’m not trying to condemn anybody. I just don't think people should give up as easily as they do, that's all. Love's worth fighting for. If I find love again, I'm going to hold on to it forever.”

“She'll be a lucky woman, whoever she is. I hope someone will feel that way about me someday.”

“Oh, I'm sure of it,” he said. “There is some man out there just waiting for someone like you.”

“I hope so,” I said in a whisper.

“I know so,” he replied. “Hey, in the meantime, we have each other, right?”

Mike's cell phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and looked at the number.

“Excuse me,” he said. “It's Sara. I need to take this.”

“Sure, I'm just going to go to the ladies' room,” I said and got up.
When I got back, he had his coat on.

“I'm sorry. I need to go home. Sara just got called into work for a few hours and asked if I could watch the boys. I know it probably wasn't in your plans for tonight, but would you like to come back with me? We'll probably just watch a movie or something. If you don't want to - if you could just drop me off, that would be great.”

I thought about it for a moment. “Thanks for the invite, but I should really go home. My dog will be waiting to go out.”

“Oh, OK. Well, can you at least give me a ride home? I'll have Sara give me a ride to the library tomorrow to pick up my car.”

“Of course. Come on.” I grabbed my coat and we headed outside.

“It's so cold, it feels like it might snow!” he said.

“Yeah – it's quite a switch from last week. When I talked to my mom a couple days ago, she said that they actually did have some snow on the ground!”

We got in the car and I put the heater on high. Mike was rubbing his hands together. “The heat usually comes on pretty quickly,” I said. We were at his house in a couple of minutes.

“Are you sure you won't come in?” he asked. “I'll make popcorn!”

“It's tempting.” Indeed, I would have liked to stay, but I knew I shouldn't. “But, I really need to go.”

“OK. I understand. Could I at least have your phone number or email or something, so I can get in touch with you without having to go to the library. Not that I mind going to the library . . .”

“Yeah, of course. Hold on a second.” I grabbed an old receipt and scribbled my number on it. “Here you go.” I handed it to him. “And Mike . . .”


“Thanks for tonight.”

“You're welcome.” He smiled then turned away and closed the door. I watched him walk into the house, then drove home in reflective solitude. It had been quite an unexpected evening. I felt like a huge burden had been lifted from me in telling Mike my secret. It was entirely possible that I would indeed regret telling him in the morning, but I didn't think that I would. The hurt and anger and sadness were all still there, but they felt lighter somehow, like their grip over me had been loosened a bit. It was a first step. As for Mike, I still didn't know what to make of him. All I knew was that I trusted him. I felt safe when I was with him, and I liked that feeling. I wanted it to stay. I knew he wasn't interested in me – not that way, but I could still enjoy his friendship and companionship.

I took the painting out of the car when I got home and brought it into the house. Lady greeted me enthusiastically at the door. “Watch out, Lady, you are going to get stepped on!” I successfully navigated getting through the entryway, holding the painting up as Lady jumped up on my legs. “Yes, I will take you out in a moment. Just let me put this down.” I put the painting on the table in the kitchen. When I came back from putting the dog outside, I went over and looked at the painting again. It really was incredible. Mike was so very talented. Where could I hang it? I picked it up and carried it around the house, trying to find the perfect place. I decided to put it in my bedroom so it could be the first thing I would see in the morning. Besides, no one went in there but me. I didn't have guests that often, but I didn't want to share my painting with anyone. It was mine and mine alone.

I let Lady back in and fed her some supper, then settled in with my writing. What had begun as a whim had become a ritual for me. The month was nearly half over. I could hardly believe it. I was almost halfway to my goal. I had decided my main character would go to France after all. I had picked up a few travel books at the library. I was writing about places I had seen only in pictures and throwing in phrases in a language that I hadn't studied since high school. It didn't matter. No one would ever read this story, and I was having fun. I realized when I was writing, I had a peace that I hadn't had for a long time. I could temporarily forget my life and live in someone else's. Even if Anna was a product of my imagination, it didn't matter. She and I were having fun!

I worked late into the night. The words flowed so easily. I was surprised when I checked my word count to discover I had written over 3500 words – in one night! I had reached the halfway point. I closed my laptop and headed off to bed, where I slept more soundly than I had in ages.

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