It started raining on my way to church with the family – around 11:00AM – and it hasn’t stopped since. The wind’s picked up some, and its mournful howl rallies against the windows and rattles the doors. I don’t mind the rain. In fact, I happen to enjoy it very much. Before I die, I want to get caught in the rain somewhere with the man I love. I want the two of us to be careless and young and living for the moment. I assume that’s probably a strange goal, but I’m coming to find all my goals are strange. I’m a strange person, but I embrace it.
I wrote some more of what I hope shapes up to be my second novel. Please, please, please read and let me know your thoughts.
The car came to a stop at a red light. Brian had his window down and the sound of the tires slowly rolling to a standstill on the dampened pavement reminded him of pouring milk over a bowl of Rice Krispies. The sound was louder than the radio, which Penelope had only turned on to discourage Brian from talking. He stole a glance at Penelope, his wife, beside him. Her head was turned away from him – most likely to further discourage him from talking – and all he saw was her red hair. It had been the first thing he had noticed about her some thirty years ago. It was just as vibrant as it had been then, and he wondered if Penelope was proud of that fact. He wondered if he should tell her he noticed, if it would make her smile. He stayed quiet and his dark eyes moved to take in her entire form, but they soon became focused on her hands carelessly resting on her lap. They were small and delicate, though not exactly fragile. A ring denoted each and every finger, aside from her thumbs. The only other adornment was that wooden beaded bracelet. “Where’d you get that bracelet?” he asked.
The light turned green. Brian accelerated accordingly.
Penelope shot him a sharp look, annoyed that he had broken her reverie by talking. She regarded the bracelet in question. “My brother gave it to me the day I met you.” She paused before adding, “I thought it was lucky, so I haven’t taken it off since.” She laughed but the sound was forced and lacking in any genuine amusement. Penelope used her left hand to cover her right wrist and the bracelet. She turned away from Brian again, and he assumed the conversation was over. Then Penelope asked, “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Brian confessed with a shrug.
“We’ve been together for over three decades and you’ve never asked me about this bracelet, so why the sudden interest?”
“Why have you never told me about it?” Brian asked, trying to be clever.
“You’re impossible,” Penelope growled and that signaled the real end of any and all conversation between the two. Her face was pinched and ugly because she was so angry. She was tired of looking out the window and couldn’t stand to look at Brian, so her eyes – much like her hands – fell to her lap. Penelope moved her hands so they rested flat upon her thighs with palms facing downwards. The bracelet that incited the clipped conversation that had so upset her became the focus of her gaze. Her pinched features softened as she allowed her thoughts to drift and recalled a memory.
She had been young – just twenty-years-old – and she had been so excited to go to the boardwalk in Ashton Park. Penelope and her friends had made plans earlier in the week to fill a cooler with beer, to fill a stereo with batteries and lay in the sun on the sand. Penelope remembered being up in her small, neat bedroom. The windows were open and the ceiling fan was rapidly rotating but still, it had been hot; great beach weather. She had her bathing suit on with some shorts she had made herself by cutting up an old pair of jeans. She had been maneuvering and modeling in front of the full-length mirror in the near right corner, piling her hair atop her head and then letting it fall. Penelope had been so self-absorbed that she hadn’t heard her older brother knock on the door frame and it wasn’t until she saw him in the mirror’s reflection that she even knew he was there. Penelope had spun to face him, and she asked him what he wanted.
“Relax, Penny,” he said with the goofy grin he always wore when he was pleased with himself. “I just wanted to give you a surprise.” He had pulled the bracelet from behind his back and slid it onto her right wrist. He had planned on giving it to Sandy – his current girlfriend – but rumor had it Sandy had already received a bracelet from some other guy on the block – Tommy Cook, maybe. Penelope smiled ruefully, chiding her brother about just wanting to dump the bracelet. Her brother feigned taking offense and explained that Penelope was a beautiful girl who deserved beautiful things … like the bracelet. Penelope didn’t think the bracelet was beautiful at all, and had rolled her eyes and had playfully kicked her brother out of the room. A horn blasted outside and before she could take the stupid bracelet off, she was on her way to the beach, to the boardwalk, and to Brian. It had been the perfect day and she missed the feeling of being infinite, of being invincible. Maybe she still wore the bracelet in hopes it would be a magic talisman of sorts that could keep her young and happy. Maybe she still wore it to remind herself of better times and to remind herself of why she had fallen in love with Brian so fiercely that day.
So much had changed, been ruined and shattered. Why didn’t she just take the bracelet off? She suddenly felt weak and sad, so Penelope tore her eyes from the bracelet and resumed staring out of the passenger side window at the generic scenery passing by. She sniffed loudly and then leaned forward to raise the volume of the radio.
Ten brutal and silent minutes later, Brian parked the car alongside the curb in front of a trendy restaurant downtown. It had been a favorite and frequent stop of Brian and Penelope when things had been good – great, even – and they still had dinner there every other week to keep up appearances. They smiled wide and laughed louder than what felt comfortable. Brian even held Penelope’s hand and during dinner, they talked without raising voices. It was a nice break from the usual tension and dramatics and Brian supposed that was the real reason he and Penelope had kept up the charade – they had become so good at pretending that for a couple of hours, they could actually believe that nothing was wrong.
Brian climbed out of the car and headed to cross in front of the car to open Penelope’s door. He looked at her through the windshield and found she was still not looking at him and was still staring out of the window. Halfway to the other side of the car, Brian stopped because he heard Melissa’s unmistakable and unapologetic laughter radiating from somewhere behind him. He turned and saw her beneath a streetlight with friends. One of the friends, a young man, had slipped his arm around Melissa’s waist. Brian noted that Melissa did not cringe or subtly slip out of the embrace. He wouldn’t say she welcomed it, but she definitely had not refused it. Heat had started to collect in his chest and rise up his neck. Soon, it would flood his face and his anger would be apparent to everyone, especially Penelope. Brian had a strong desire to call out to Melissa, to have her come to him and explain herself with her head hanging low and her eyes full of shame. He also debated marching over there, pulling Melissa free of the guy’s grasp and proclaiming loudly that she was his, and not to be touched. Both of the options Brian entertained were unrealistic; he and Penelope had decided to keep the affair a secret so their two girls wouldn’t find out. As a result, divorce was not a viable option and Penelope and Brian had continued as if she hadn’t found out, and as if everything was as it should be. Sighing heavily, Brian continued to Penelope’s door and opened it.
Dinner was delicious, and the conversation wasn’t entirely terrible. It slowed and halted, but was not hostile. Fans stopped by the table to quickly say hello, as did the owner to ask about the family, the new novel and upcoming book tour. Penelope and Brian smiled and were completely engaged; no one suspected a thing. When the visiting had ceased and an awkward silence had descended, Penelope excused herself and went to the bathroom. Brian took the opportunity to dial Melissa’s number on his cell phone. The phone rang and rang and rang; there was no answer. He left a voicemail through gritted teeth, indicating he was angry but he nearly pleaded for her to call him back. He shoved the phone in his pocket before Penelope came back, and the evening continued the same way it had started.
At home that night, Penelope went to her bedroom on the far side of the luxurious house. Brian knew he wouldn’t see her again until breakfast the next morning, so he wasn’t too discreet about leaving the house. He walked out the front door and down the long, twisting drive until he reached the sidewalk. Melissa only lived about two miles away, in an attractive apartment building made of red bricks with wrought-iron railings. Bruce wanted to walk to clear his mind and to formulate what it was he would say to his lover, his mistress. Melissa hadn’t reacted as well as Brian had hoped to the idea of keeping things as they were, even though Penelope knew. He didn’t know what Melissa had expected or what she had wanted to change, but he did know that was part of the problem.
About half-an-hour later, he was standing in front of the front door of her building. Brian had been about to ring the buzzer, but he stopped and retracted his outstretched hand. He retreated down two of the three long, wide concrete steps leading up to the door and had half a mind to walk back on home. He had called Melissa and left a message; wasn’t that enough? Was he being silly and juvenile? He couldn’t afford to be so, not at his age and in his line of work. Brian turned away and was about to descend the last step when the doors opened. He turned and was surprised to find Melissa, clad in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, walking out. She wasn’t wearing any shoes and her hair was sloppily pulled back. A cigarette dangled between her thick, pink lips and he presumed she was reaching into the long pocket of her sweatshirt for her lighter. When her dark eyes lighted upon Brian, she became impressively still. It was silent before she called, “Brian?”
He took a few steps closer. “Hey Melissa,” he breathed.
Seemingly incredulous, her eyes shifted left and right. Melissa asked, “What the hell are you doing here?”
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