CAUGHT – final.
This post is a continuation from 2 previous posts with the same title, CAUGHT and CAUGHT Continued. The earlier parts narrate how a young woman, Shayla, 17 years old and a high school student, is caught shoplifting. Shayla gets a the lucky break, when the security staff has to abandon this small fry because a group of professional shoplifters are spotted in the store: all hands on deck! Shayla decides to keep this incident a secret from her friends.
Part 3 is another excerpt of my next novel (in draft stage with the preliminary title Without a Family, OR: Loosing Dad). An event is going on in the life of Shayla’s parents, Bernice and Tom, simultaneous to the troubles that Shayla is secretly going through.
The front door opens. “Hello, I’m home. Where are you?”
“I’m here, in the living room.” Bernice refills her glass and puts the tray with crackers, cheese, pate, and some other finger food on the table. Tom probably hasn’t eaten yet; neither could she, although she will not be able to get anything down, until this confrontation is over. She feels sick to her stomach and a headache is starting to build.
Tom looks a bit haggard, his hair dishevelled, as if he had pulled his fingers through it repeatedly. He slowly moves towards her, gives her a peck on the cheek, stands beside her chair. “How’s things? Where are the kids?”
“I have farmed the kids out; this evening must be for us. We have to talk.”
“That sounds serious. Have you turned into a lesbian?” A feeble attempt at humouring her. I am not going to be charmed, Bernice resolves.
“Very funny. Just because I have gay friends doesn’t mean that I will turn gay, although sometimes I wished I were. At least I can trust other women.”
“What are you saying, Bernice, come out with it. What did you want to discuss?” He sits down across from her on the couch.
Bernice inhales deeply and releases her breath slowly. She throws the envelop with photos on the table and leans back into her chair. Stay calm stay rational. She explains:
“This is a set of photos, dates and names collected by somebody on my request. Why don’t you have a look at it and see what you think. I am very curious to hear an explanation of some kind, any.”
Tom opens the manila packet and grabs the top sheet; out slides a list of dates and places. He puts it aside on the coffee table, then slides out the whole pile of photos all at once and goes through them, one by one, without changing the expression on his face — stone faced -– putting each photo after inspection deliberately down on the table, as if he inspects a new listing, carefully and with intent.
Bernice tries to read his face, but there is nothing to read. Who is this man that can study his own betrayal in pictures and be unmoved? She wants to scream, hit him, wants to throw the vase with flowers sitting on the coffee table at him — anything to get a reaction from this cold-hearted being: her husband. But she does not and makes herself lean back in the chair, willing herself to be calm taking a few deep breaths, in and out.
“I see, you know then. It must have costs you a bundle. How much? Did you really have to do that? Why didn’t you ask?”
“I did ask,” she calmly replies. ”You lied and said not to be silly. Well, who is silly now?”
“What do you want, Bernice?” His voice is like a knife, cold steel; it lacks the emotion she hoped for.
“I want you to stop that relationship.”
“That’s not going to happen. I don’t see what my friendship with Marla has to do with our relationship and our family. But, having said that, I am not going to leave the kids without a father.”
“It has everything to do with our relationship. What happened to us that you don’t have any passion left for me?” She is unable to contain herself in the face of so much denial and speaks louder now, frustrated, her voice demanding, although she feels like crying. Tom gets up and replies:
“I feel that we have grown into friends, and I lost the attraction to you I once had. You are still my best friend and always will be. You’re the mother of my boys. You know, it’s unreasonable to expect to be married and have sex with only one person for the rest of one’s life. That is impossible and unnatural. It doesn’t mean that we can’t stay in a marriage and raise a family together. Many others do, and rather successfully. You just have to leave me some space for my own pleasures and I will leave you space for whatever you want. We are both adults and can deal with this rationally, can’t we?”
Tom is pacing the room a professor lecturing his class, but increasingly becoming more agitated, his voice still controlled and although there’s an edge to it now, he appears quite calm.
Beatrice looks startled, as if she doesn’t believe her ears, her eyes wide and her voice an octave higher than usual. She gets up as well and standing in front of him she responds: “You see, that’s exactly the point. We are not raising the kids together. You are gone a lot of the time counting on me for the kids. You promised me we would raise Abby and Shayla together. And what about our boys? They need you too. When was the last time we went on vacation as a family?”
“Well, OK, I’ll give you that. I have been away quite a bit lately. But that is truly also work related, although not all of it, I have to admit that. How much time do you want me to spend with the kids? If you want me to follow a schedule, I’m all for it. Go ahead and make one, I will maker sure then that it will jive with what I can deliver.”
“Damn it, Tom! You speak about our marriage like it was a fucking business deal. How about this: you have hurt me so very deeply; nobody ever hurt me like this before. I love you and you destroyed my trust in you. How could you? Don’t you love me anymore?”
She is crying now, sobbing loudly, unable to hold back any longer and her body crumples on the couch. She buries her face in her hands finding more tears to release than she thought possible mourning the lost love, her marriage draining away with her tears.
Tom sits back down on the couch, very still now. He doesn’t do well with a weeping woman. He immediately feels guilty and is transported back to his childhood. He carried hate for his dad into adulthood for always making his mother cry. He often came home around dinnertime finding his mom behind the stove cooking supper while wiping her eyes with a hanky, all soaked through with tears. Invariably he would try to console his mom asking “Why are you crying, mom?” She then denied she had been crying in spite of the obvious: “Oh, hi. Honey, I’m not crying. It’s OK, Tom; you go and wash up. Dinner is almost ready.”
His resolve weakens. He gets up and sits beside Bernice on the couch, puts an arm around her, gently susses her, there there.
“Oh, Bernice, I still love you, just with a different kind of love. I will never leave you. Come dry your tears. Let’s go at this in a constructive way. Now the cat is out of the bag, we can be honest. I’m sure that it’ll all work itself out in the end.”
In spite of not believing him, Bernice follows his gently spoken advice, stops crying, gets up and walks towards the bathroom, gets a tissue and blows her nose. She then splashes cold water on her face and takes the towel, softly patting her cheeks, leaving some moisture on her eyes, careful not to rub her eyes. She never does, as she believes that rubbing one’s eyes and stretching the sensitive tissue around it causes wrinkles. She had read that somewhere. Her hands tremble, her nausea is very present and a heavy feeling in her chest is added.
She takes a few deep breaths in and slowly out again and then returns to Tom, still quietly sitting on the couch. She sits down across from him. She has remembered that she did not want him to abandon her and the children. She feels stretched beyond her capacity. She looks at him and studies his face again. She feels drunk.
Tom is staring out the window, deep in thought. His features are still handsome, greying at the temples and tanned from playing golf three times a week. His hair is thinning on top, but with his new brush cut it seems less obvious. It makes him actually look quite macho. Her heart aches knowing he is not in love with her anymore. Tears are collecting in her eyes again, threatening to overflow.
“What are we going to do now?” she asks. Speaking is better than thinking; then she can somehow swallow her tears.
“I am not sure. I think the earlier notion I mentioned about a schedule, including the kids’ clubs and sport clubs, is a good idea. Then we know ahead of time where we’re supposed to be. I know we sort of did that before, but I admit I took advantage. From now on I will not make my work the priority, but see to it that I am there for the children when I need to be.”
Tom seems satisfied with his own speech and turns to her, eyes raised, waiting for her response. It’s not what he expects.
“Are you planning on seeing her again?” Bernice’s voice has recovered and she speaks business-like, almost stern. ”I need to know. I also want to know what you see in her. What you are missing in me that I first seemed to have for you.”
“Bernice, that is a very personal question and I’m not sure that I can answer that. Marla and me just hit it off. She is beautiful and young and she seems to think I’m great. I don’t get that from you anymore: that you think I’m great, I mean.” Bernice is fighting to keep back the tears, shocked by Tom’s answer.
“Is there anything I can do, anything you want me to change? We should see a counsellor. I don’t want to give up on our marriage.”
“Well, what can I say? You seem to be bored with me and the last years have been all about the kids. That was enough for you, but it wasn’t for me. Let’s just see how things go for a while and let’s not make hasty decisions. What do you say?”
Tom seems to withdraw into himself again after so much disclosure of his innermost feelings, as if he startled himself by speaking these thoughts. It is more than he ever said in their whole marriage, Bernice realized. He must be stressed as well by the whole situation. Reluctantly she slowly replied:
“OK then, I can wait a while and let’s see what you will do. I’ll give you time to sort out what you want. Just one thing: I don’t want you to bring Marla here, or take her with you when you do things with the kids. Keep her to yourself, please. Can you at least do that?” She gets up and takes a few steps closer to Tom, stands right in front of him; she can feel his breath on her cheek.
He looks down — he’s a head taller than her — then, automatically almost, he kisses her on her forehead, a gesture she always hated: it’s too brotherly, passionless.
“I promise,” he replies. They both retreat to their own spaces: Tom to the den and his computer, Bernice to her bedroom, left alone with their own truths, but not necessarily the same.
The next morning, a Saturday, Bernice’s heart hurts and the pain of Tom’s betrayal is present in every breath she takes. With her steady nature and her resolve to not be the one to ask him to leave her family, she suppresses a lot of the pain. With a schedule in place, she understands that she has now more time to herself — if Tom sticks to his promise. Maybe she should take up yoga, do something just for her.
Hey, that’s strange: Tom left her a note on the counter, in a sealed envelope. She gets a feeling of premonition that causes her neck hairs to stand up. With the envelope in her hand, she takes the few steps back to her bedroom in a hurry, closing the door behind her. She rips the envelope open with a trembling fingertip. She reads:
I felt so bad about what happened. I did not mean to hurt you. I apologize and I am begging you for forgiveness. I have made some decisions that I wanted to let you know right away. I am going to look for a space of my own and will not sleep at home for a while. I need to make up my mind and I want to give my relationship with Marla a chance. Please, understand that I have to do this for me. I will do everything for the kids, as I said I would, and the schedule on the fridge is what I would. You do not have to be afraid that I will desert the children and I will be their parent to the best of my abilities. Please, forgive me. Tom.”
Bernice sits on the bed, Tom’s letter next to her. Her thoughts seem to have slowed down: one thought trickles in, then another. How could she have been so stupid? She even thought they might have it out, and then make up, maybe even have make-up sex. How wrong she had been. He’s a stranger to her; she never knew him at all. Her marriage was a farce, all pretence.
She returns to what she did all these years: thinking about the children. What is she going to say when they come back? The boys will arrive first, soon. Shayla last. The boys will be easy; they will just accept whatever mom tells them. Abby will ask a bit more, but still, she will go with the flow. Shayla will be hard; she already has so little trust in adults. Something is going on with Shayla; she seems so distant this last week, as if she is shutting her out. She wonders what that could be all about.
I would like to invite you to leave your comments on the excepts, on your choice of the preliminary titles Without A Family, or: Loosing Dad, really anything you might like to add is welcome.