Authors: W.R. Kimble
By W.R. Kimble
© W.R. Kimble, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. This book is a work of fiction, and any similarities to real persons or events is unintended.
Huge thank you to CJ, Sue,
Julia, Carmela, Annette, Kerry, Cat, Vicki, and everyone else who helped get this book to completion and for the input, plot debates, and sometimes continuous eye-rolling. You’ve all got spots on the bus. Let’s do this.
Five years ago…
Sitting in my office, I split my time between looking at my fish tank, my computer screen, and a picture of my family. I have no idea how often over the last couple months I’ve wondered whether I was going to lose my wife and son. Not from any threat—though there has been a fair share of those—but because of my own asinine behavior. Samantha has been nothing but supportive since I got out of the hospital, helping me through my physical therapy for my arm, reminding me to do my home exercises, taking every bit of verbal abuse I’ve flung at her in my frustration. At the time, I didn’t even know it was happening. There had been no indication aside from Sam’s deep breathing and slightly watery eyes, which I ignored because I was suffering through my own pain. Later, though, after I’d calmed down thanks to a combination of painkillers and beer, when I crawled into bed beside her with the intention of holding her while we slept, I could feel her silent sobs shaking the bed. I did my best to comfort her, even if I didn’t know
I was comforting her, and it wasn’t until Claire stormed into my TV room a couple months ago while Leo and I watched a football game and gave me a very colorful dressing down that I realized what had been upsetting my wife so much and that I was the cause of it.
I didn’t bother responding to my sister’s earsplitting lecture that our father, the sailor, would have been incredibly proud of; nor did I bother trying to keep Leo safe from the advances she enjoyed making on him. The only thing on my mind was my wife and the realization of how I’ve treated her since my hospital release. I couldn’t have asked for anybody more supportive or encouraging, and instead of telling her how much it meant to me, I shouted obscenities, called her names, accused her of things… Even now I almost want to call Claire and have her come over to kick my ass again.
The point is, even through all that, she loved me enough to stay with me when she probably should have run as far away from me as possible. It took a lot to make up for my behavior, but I think we’ve gotten there. Or we
there until two nights ago when I came home from work with a proposition for my wife.
Upon returning to Young Technologies, after the rebuild from the bomb, it came to my attention that there would be no easy answer to this problem—the who’s, how’s, and why’s. Because of that, regardless of all my attempts, the only way I can think of to ensure the safety of my wife and son is to essentially keep them home under lock and key. While I’m prepared to do that if it means they are free from harm—or as free as they can be—it’s not an option that will be accepted. Leo made a passing comment the day I came up with the proposition and though I didn’t give him a response aside from a death glare that probably made all the plants in the vicinity wither and die, his words stuck in my mind. And I had to admit he was right. The only way to ensure Samantha and Tyler came to no harm was to separate them from the situation entirely. This isn’t the sort of life I ever wanted for them. They shouldn’t have to sit around wondering if I’m going to come home every evening. They shouldn’t have to worry about unseen threats harming them anytime they step outside the front door.
This is not what Samantha signed up for when I asked her for coffee that evening outside Chet’s diner.
The moment the offer was out of my mouth, I knew what Samantha’s response would be. I knew she would tell me to shove my offer up my ass and how dare I even insinuate that she and Ty would be better off without me. When it came to it, I’d never been happier to hear her telling me off than I had been that night. Maybe she would be better off, but she had no intention of finding out. She would remain with me until the very end.
I look up from the photo of me and my family the day it became whole—the day my son was born—and feel my heart falling to my feet. Samantha is standing just inside my office door looking as though she’s spent the last several hours crying. “What?” I whisper, pushing myself to my feet and crossing the room to pull her into my arms. She stiffens against me, but sobs into my chest. “Baby, what is it? What happened?”
She finally relaxes minutely, placing her hands on my chest and pushing away from me. “We need to talk,” she whispers, her voice cracking.
Immediately, I’m on high alert. “Four words no man ever wants to hear,” I attempt to joke. She doesn’t share in my amusement as she disengages from me and walks away to sit on the couch across from the aquarium. “Samantha?”
The look in her eyes when she looks at me again is utterly defeated. I reluctantly move to sit beside her, fully aware of her attempt to subtly lean away from me when I try to touch her. “I’ve been thinking,” she says while looking down at her feet. “About what we talked about the other night.” My brow furrows, hoping desperately she’s not referring to what I think she’s referring. “I think you might be right. Tyler and I might be safer if we left.”
“You don’t mean that,” I say in a low voice. “Sam, you can’t possibly mean that.”
She looks at me sharply. “It was your idea,” she reminds me.
“It was my idea to give you the option where you didn’t have one before,” I amend. “That doesn’t mean I want you to leave.”
Shaking her head, she looks away from me. “I don’t want to either, but you said it yourself, the longer Tyler and I are with you, the worse it’s going to get. Seeing you in that hospital bed after the attack nearly killed me, Matt. I don’t know how much more of that I can handle. What if next time you don’t wake up?”
“So instead, you’re just going to walk away on the chance something may or may not happen to me,” I say quietly, unable to even look at my wife right now. A first, since I can normally look at her all day long. “I know it’s not easy, Samantha. And the last thing I want is to see you hurting like you were when I was in the hospital, but do you really think I haven’t put into practice every last mode of defense and security I have at my fingertips to assure the safety of my family? If it had been you hurt, or Tyler, I would have lost my mind. And I would have done anything to see that the bastards who hurt you would get what they deserved, but at the end of the day, knowing I can come home to the two of you…” I shake my head in wonder. “That means everything to me. I’m nothing without you and Tyler, Samantha. But I can’t keep you safe if you’re not with me.”
She sighs shakily. “You gave me the choice, Matt,” she says dully. “And I’m taking it. Tyler and I are going back to Iowa.”
“That’s it?” I ask in a low voice, unable to disguise my hurt and anger. “I don’t even get a say in watching my wife and son leave me? I don’t even get the chance to fight for you?”
Finally she meets my gaze, tears running down her cheeks that I long to wipe away. I don’t touch her, no matter how much it hurts me, and I won’t. Not until she stops this nonsense. “I want Tyler to grow up normally,” she tells me. “I don’t want him living in fear. And I sure as hell don’t want him going to sleep every night not knowing whether he’s going to see his father in the morning. Matt, I love you more than anything. You know that. But I’m scared that might not be enough for us.”
I jump to my feet so quickly she shrinks back into the couch in surprise and possibly fear, but I ignore that. After everything I’ve done to keep my family whole and happy, I’m losing them. And I don’t think there’s anything I can do to change her mind. Part of me is fighting an urge to forbid her leaving with my son. If she wants to go because she’s too scared, fine, but I’m not losing my son. I might be an asshole sometimes, but I know I’d never do that to her. A child needs his mother more than he needs a father.
What about me, though? What about what I need? Am I supposed to just go back to the way I was before I met her? Not that my life has bad, but it was empty and meaningless. Or at least that’s how it seemed before I fell in love. She made me want more for myself, not just my career. I had women falling over me wherever I went, but the only one I wanted was her. The rest of them were only interested because of my looks or my bank accounts or my power. They didn’t want
Samantha only ever wanted me and the rest of it was just excess baggage. She’d come to mean everything to me in such a short time, to the point that if I couldn’t see her or talk to her at least once a day, I was moody and short-tempered, and people were likely to lose their jobs if they pissed me off. And then when Tyler came along…
Swallowing hard, I know what I have to do. It will likely destroy me. It might turn out to be all for nothing. “If that’s what you want,” I tell her, surprised a
t how even my voice is right now, “I’ll make the arrangements.”
She stares at me in disbelief and hurt and possibly anger. I don’t know what it is she has to be angry about; she’s the one leaving. Maybe she expected me to fight her a little bit more. That is what my instinct is telling me to do, but I told her when I first discussed this with her that I would go along with whatever she decided. I won’t go back on my word.
I watch out of the corner of my eye as her entire body deflates and I see the heart break in her eyes, and it’s killing me to not pull her into my arms and wipe that away. I don’t and we sit in a miserable silence for several very long minutes until she takes a deep breath and stands up. “I’ll go,” she whispers.
Everything in me is screaming at her to stay and we’ll figure this out together. I’ll step back at my company, we’ll move somewhere nobody knows us and start a new life. Whatever it takes. And when she stops in the door and turns around, the desire to do just that returns full force. “Please believe I love you, Matthew,” she whispers.
Those words cement what I need to do if I want her and my son safe. “Just go, Sam,” I say harshly. “You’ve already broken my heart. There’s no more damage to be done. Just go.”
A gasping sob escapes her throat, but she doesn’t speak again as she turns around and does exactly what I ask her to do.
The next few days are torturous. I spend every waking minute working, or at least pretending to work, while I avoid my wife. I’ve initiated divorce proceedings, arranged for a flight to Iowa and even for a car to pick up Samantha and Tyler to take them to Samantha’s father’s house. I know she doesn’t want anything of mine—money or possessions—but I setup a bank account with a very large balance that will ensure they never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
When the time for them to leave arrives, I can’t even bring myself to say goodbye to them. I know if I do, I’ll shamelessly beg her to stay, and I can’t do that. Instead, I stand at the window of my office and watch as Leo leads her down to the car. Tyler is in her arms and even from here I can hear him crying as though he knows exactly what’s going on and he’s protesting. I expect to see several bags of her possessions, but she’s only got Tyler’s diaper bag and a backpack. She’s leaving everything else behind. Including me.
She buckles Tyler in his car seat, then walks around the car where Leo is holding open the door for her. Before she gets in, though, her eyes immediately find me and we stare at each other for what feels like forever until I watch her take a very deep, fortifying breath and disappear into the car. Leo closes the door behind her and goes around to the driver’s seat.
None of this seems real. This is not how we were supposed to end. We were never supposed to end at all. And at that thought, my sense returns to me and I rush out of my office and down the stairs, knowing Leo is heading down the driveway, taking my family away from me. I fly out the front door, nearly breaking my ankle in the process, shouting after the car for Leo to just
. He doesn’t hear me, of course, and I chase them until I reach the end of my driveway. Doubled over and panting with the effort of trying to catch up, all I can do I watch the taillights speed away from me.
I fall to my knees and remain there until Leo returns to find me and drags me home.
I wake gradually, reflexively reaching across the bed for the woman who was here with me last night and who helped me tangle the blankets and sheets until the very wee hours of the morning. As those memories return to me, I smirk; a repeat performance before breakfast would be better than coffee…
It takes me a moment to realize that I’m not finding her and that the place where she slept is empty and cold. This wakes me up more quickly and brutally than anything and my eyes snap open, scanning the room. I’ve felt this sort of panic before over the years. It’s the panic of a man who’d been experiencing the most wonderful, unbelievable dream only to wake to find himself in a cold, harsh reality. Glancing around the room, I manage to slow my heartbeat to a more normal pace, then fall back to the mattress in relief. It hasn’t been a dream. I’m in a room at a beach house in Cape Cod. I’m here on vacation with my girlfriend, our son, my sister, and her family. This is our second day here. We’ve got four more before we return home.
Good. Facts are good. And it only takes me a matter of minutes before I’m confident I won’t make an idiot of myself by rushing through the house searching for Samantha and Tyler. Laughing at myself and shaking my head, I roll out of bed, scrub my hands over my face, and walk over to the large bay window across the room, pulling on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms as I go.
To say the last few months have been strange would be a vast, gross understatement and doesn’t even begin to describe them accurately. From learning of a threat that reached my ex-wife and son all the way in Omaha, Nebraska, one that forced me to break a promise to Samantha I’d made before she left me five years ago, to evacuating them and the man Sam had been living with—Tom Saunders, her best friend since childhood—to having them in my home again. After our arrival in New York only five days after seeing them for the first time in far too long, everything happened much more quickly than I could have ever anticipated. The draw that was always present between Samantha and me had returned with a vengeance, desperate to make up for lost time. Our first kiss in five years. Pushing her away and forcing myself to remember she wasn’t mine anymore. Coming home in the middle of the night and hearing the unmistakable sounds of sex from my guest bedroom where Samantha and Tom were staying. The desire I had to rush in there and drag him off her by his neck and beat him to a pulp.