I know I shouldn’t even leave the house. Caleb is going to be home from work soon. But, dinner is in the crock pot, so I don’t have to keep an eye on it. “Come on, Brian,” I tell our son. He’s five now, and likes to be called by his middle name. So, I do as long as Caleb isn’t home. He refuses to call him anything but boy or sometimes, little brat. And he gets angry if I refer to him as anything but little Caleb or Caleb Jr.
The weather is nice, and Caleb has our only vehicle with him, so we walk the short distance into town. We won’t be able to stay long if we’re going to walk back before Caleb gets home, but I need to see him. I hold onto Brian’s hand as we walk along the stretch of road. He’s usually good, so I don’t worry too much about him darting into the road. Still, I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to him. He’s my only child, and will always be, as Caleb insists we won’t have any more kids.
It’s been three years since he was discharged from the Army, and he’s still so angry. I had hoped he’d adjust better to our new life. But, ever since the doctor stopped refilling his prescription for the pain pills, he drinks. And he gets even angrier then. I try so hard not to upset him, but I can’t seem to help it.
Finally I see town come into sight. Brian wanted to stop at the ball field by our house, but we don’t have time. “Maybe tomorrow we can come back and you can run around,” I tell him. We only have a small yard behind our house, but a lot of times I take him out to my parents’ where he can run.
It doesn’t take us long to reach Michel DiSalvo’s house. I spent a lot of time here when I was a teenager. When I just had to get away from our house, from Dad’s rigid expectations of me, I found refuge here. I glance over my shoulder before walking up to the door. I shouldn’t feel guilty for visiting a friend in his time of grief. But, I know Caleb would not like this.
A woman answers my knock, though, and I’m thrown off balance. “Is-is Patrick here?” I ask.
She nods, and I see her eyes are rimmed with red. Like she’s been crying, too. This must be Patrick’s second wife. I’d met his first a few years ago, but she never returned before their divorce. This one runs a hand over her stomach as she steps back to let me inside. I hadn’t heard his wife was pregnant. Then again, I miss a lot of the town’s gossip these days. And they’ve only been in town a little more than a day.
And this quick spurt of bitterness souring my stomach is ridiculous. I chose Caleb over Patrick nearly ten years earlier. I’m not allowed to be jealous now. “How’s he doing?” I ask as she leads me down the hall.
“It’s hard to tell from minute to minute. He’ll be perfectly fine, taking care of what needs done, and the next moment I find him with his head in his hands. He hasn’t let himself cry yet, though. Like he doesn’t want to be seen as weak.”
I remember telling him that before. That’s why I couldn’t be with him. I couldn’t have a weak man in my life. And that’s what his mother’s death had made him seem. Now, he’d lost his father as well. Did he remember those words as well.
“I’m Lynette, by the way,” she says, sticking her hand out to me. “I’m Patrick’s wife.”
“Natalie,” I tell her. “I went to school with Patrick. This is my son, Brian.” I see her smiling down at him and ask, “Do you know what you’re having?”
“A girl. We found out a couple days before Patrick got the call about his dad. I’d like to name her Michelle, after him, but I haven’t brought it up yet. He’s hurting so bad.”
Patrick always has been very close with his dad. I can only imagine how bad he’s taking this. She doesn’t even knock on the door just pushes it open. I cringe and wait for the screaming to start. It doesn’t though. She just says, “Pat, you have visitors.”
He looks up from a book of some sort, and the strained look on his face passes when he sees us. “Is this a bad time?” I ask.
He shakes his head and gestures for us to come inside. “It’s never a bad time to see an old friend,” he tells me. “I’ve just been making calls to Dad’s clients, passing on the news if they hadn’t already heard.” His voice cracks, though, and I know this is harder for him than he’s making it sound.
“We just came by to offer our condolences,” I tell him, already worrying we’ve been here too long. “I was really sorry to hear that he didn’t survive that last heart attack.”
Patrick rubs a hand over his eyes. “It was his fifth in the last two years. He kept downplaying them, and I let myself believe him that the doctors were overreacting.”
Lynette walks over and puts an arm around his shoulders then presses a kiss to the back of his head. I have to avert my eyes as they start to burn. I can’t imagine Caleb being so caring if I’d lost either of my parents. “It’s not your fault,” she tells him. “He didn’t want you to know.”
“Still I should have been here. I could have taken on some of his caseload. Then, maybe…”
“We…we should go,” I say after glancing at the clock. I need to get home and get dinner on the table. “I just wanted to say sorry. I know how close you were to your dad.”
“You don’t have to go, Natalie,” he assures me. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”
I glance at his wife but don’t see any irritation or jealousy. It’s obvious she loves him, though. “I really do. Caleb’s going to be home soon, and I need to have dinner on the table.”
I see his face tighten at that, but I turn away, tugging on Brian’s hand. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it to the funeral,” I say as I head for the door. “But, maybe I can see you again before you go home.”
“I am home,” I hear him say as I step into the hallway. “We’re staying here.”
I feel something break inside me at that. Patrick has always stirred up too many of my emotions. How was I going to avoid him for the rest of my life?
I know I tug on Brian’s hand as we hurry back toward the edge of town and our house. But, I have to get there before Caleb gets home. He doesn’t like to come home to an empty house.
It’s already too late, though. His truck is parked at the curb in front of our house. I tremble slightly but just squeeze Brian’s hand. “Go play in the yard for a bit before dinner,” I tell him.
I wait until he’s going around the house before walking inside. Caleb is standing in the middle of the kitchen waiting for me. “Where have you been?” he demands.
I keep my eyes on the floor as I step forward. “We went to offer Patrick condolences on his father’s death.”
“I told you you weren’t to go there. Why don’t you ever listen to a word I say?”
I don’t lift my gaze, so I don’t even see the first blow coming.
Patrick walks down the street, his hands shoved down in his pockets. He was keeping the firm closed for the rest of the week. He couldn’t bring himself to meet with any of his dad’s clients yet anyway. Even the thought of walking into his office had everything inside him tightening. The home office was bad enough.
He’d buried his father right next to his mother the previous morning. It was still hard to believe the last of his family was gone. Not the last, he reminds himself. He has Lynette, and the little girl that will be their family in mere months. But his father, the man he’s looked up to for so long, who had made sure everyone else was taken care of even when he was dying inside, is gone now.
He sees someone hurrying across the street and recognizes the blond hair falling into her face. He hasn’t seen her since that day in his home office, and he’s been worrying about her. She’d seemed scared that day, like she worried about how Caleb would react if she didn’t have dinner ready as soon as he got home. He’d had his suspicions before, but she has never confirmed them. Still, he worries about her. She may not love him anymore, and he does love Lynette, but that doesn’t mean he ever stopped caring about Natalie.
He hurries over to her and reaches for her arm, but she jerks away from him. He sees that it takes her a moment to recognize him. He also sees that one side of her face is black and blue, though it’s shifting toward yellow and green. He can barely draw in a breath. This has to be at least a few days old. And the last time he saw her, it wasn’t like this. His stomach twists into a tight knot at what that probably means.
It happened after she left his house the other day.
“Patrick, what are you doing here?” She looks around as if afraid someone is spying on her. It only makes him more sure of his suspicions.
“I was just going to meet Lynette for lunch. I had a meeting about Dad’s will. I’m sure you could join us, though. Where’s your son?”
“My mom’s watching him. I have to…do stuff. I can’t today.”
He still finds himself reaching for her face. “What happened, Nat?”
She looks away from him. “I ran into a wall. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
He imagines that wall has two fists and is named Caleb Sharrock. But, he’d done some work at a shelter for the law firm where he’d been working before his father’s death, and he’s seen this before. He can’t make her admit it. “You never used to be clumsy,” he says softly.
“It’s not a big deal,” she insists. “I just need to be more careful. I really need to get going.”
Patrick steps back so she can move around him. He wants to stop her, but he can’t promise her anything. He can’t get her away from her husband. Not if she doesn’t want to go. And he can’t give her anything. He can only hope he won’t have to bury yet another person he cares about.