The front door clicked and keys jingled. My trance-like gaze broke from the fresh mug of coffee I cradled in my hands, and I looked up at the living room door. The hallway light came on. Paula was home. Late again, but home at last.
She walked in through the living room door, wearing a hard day at work and apologetic smile on her face. “Sorry, hun.”
I’d lost count of how many times our plans had been ruined. Six years together; tonight was so important. We’d lost our way and become too routine. Our relationship was in danger. We needed this! We needed to sit, eat, talk, and find ways to rekindle the flame of a stale relationship. But once again, she was late.
I forced a smile. She was still a good person. A great person. I needed to be strong and understanding, and even though deflated, I loved her too much to throw in the towel. And it wasn’t her fault. I knew that. The company she worked for was struggling, and she was needed more than ever. They depended on her.
She took off her coat and threw it over the back of the sofa, sat down beside me, and leaned in for her welcome home kiss and hug. I squeezed. She needed a squeeze.
“Love you,” I said, as we relaxed out of our hug.
“Love you too,” she said, and gave me a smile. Her smile fixed all problems. “You okay?” she asked, as she turned my wrist to see my watch. Dinner plans were shattered.
“Yeah. I think I’d prefer pizza anyway,” I lied. I was looking forward to going out tonight; we hadn’t been out for a meal together in six months. We used to eat out once a fortnight, twice a week before we got engaged, moved in together, and had a mortgage to worry about.
“You sure?” Paula sounded tired. She yawned.
“You know me, pizza wins every time.” I patted my belly and leaned forward, scooping the pizza menu off the coffee table… placed at the ready half an hour ago, when I knew our evening out would change to an evening in. “We’ll order, and then you can tell me all about your day.”
Paula grabbed a small sofa cushion and stuffed it behind her back. She kicked off her shoes and rubbed her feet, eyes closed, working away the ache. No matter what a day throws at you, the thought of kicking off your shoes and relaxing on your sofa at home would get you through to the end of it. So she’d told me over and over again. I guess she was right.
“I think the pizza place has doubled their business since your hours increased.” I was keeping it light-hearted as I lead into the inevitable, ‘So tell me about your day’. We needed to talk more, and I needed to show interest in the little things.
“Actually, I got out on time for once. It was the traffic that messed everything up,” Paula replied. She stopped working on her feet and started on my coffee, taking a few sips. Cheeky!
“I’ll make you a fresh one if you’d like,” I said, nodding at the coffee.
“This one’s fine, thanks.” She smiled and took another sip.
Menu at the ready, I pulled my mobile phone from my pocket, “Same as usual?”
“Wait a minute,” she said. “I want to talk to you first.”
She looked serious. Why did she look so serious? What had I done wrong?
Paula smiled and took my hand, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad.”
“Okay,” I answered, uncertain what was about to be said. We never had serious talks. That was half the problem. Hopefully she knew how I felt and was simply trying to work with me and find ‘that thing’ we had lost. But I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something else. Her pause showed there was more than small talk on the way. Was she pregnant? Oh, God, I hope she’s not pregnant. Remember, if she’s pregnant, smile and pretend it’s great news. We both want kids one day, so why not…
“I just wanted to say I love you.” Paula interrupted my madness, leaned close, and kissed my cheek.
“I love you too, babe,” I answered, relieved.
“You mean the world to me.” Paula looked into my eyes. “And I will always love you, no matter what.”
Why wasn’t she letting go of my hand? “I’ll always love you too,” I said. I was confused. “Are you having an affair or something?” I said in a jokey manner. It was time to lighten the mood. God, I hope she wasn’t having an affair.
“No, silly.” Paula smiled and slapped my arm. “When would I get time for that?” she added.
My mobile phone rang… unknown number.
I answered it, “Hello?”
Most sentences make perfect sense, but when the information delivered is beyond graspable, you only seem to take in the basics… the bare minimum… Richard Leighton? So sorry – wife Paula – car accident. Car accident? I looked around at my wife, but she wasn’t there. My mind worked at a hundred miles per hour… no coat over the back of the sofa, no shoes on the floor, and my mug as I left it.
“What?” I said, or thought I said. I wasn’t thinking straight. “Is this a joke?”
“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Leighton. I think it’s best I talk with you in person…” the man’s words were fading out as I got up and walked out of the living room, through our hall, light still off, and to the front door. Locked!
“Paula?” I shouted towards the stairs. No answer. “Paula?” I said to myself, trying to make sense of it all. My heart was racing, and there wasn’t enough oxygen. I leaned against the wall to keep my balance.
“Hello, Mr. Leighton. Are you still there?” the man on the phone with a sympathetic tone.
“Yes,” I said, trying to realign my thoughts. “Are you sure? Err, what… I mean, when?” I walked back into the living room, praying he’d made a mistake, or this was a sick joke. With the wind knocked out of me, standing was difficult. I slumped onto the sofa.
“About an hour ago. The paramedics did everything they could. I’m so sorry, Mr. Leighton.”
It was real. I put my hand to my mouth, readying myself for a scream.
“Can you come down to Saint David’s Hospital?” the man asked.
I paused; a delay in understanding such a simple question. “Yes.” My mind was in more than one place, and none of my choosing. I ended the call.
No matter what, she had said… She would love me, no matter what. And I, her.
I leaned to where Paula had been sitting and curled myself into a ball. I could feel her warmth, as if still with me. I grabbed the cushion and pulled it to my chest. I began to cry. She was gone, but I could still feel her in the room. She had come to say goodbye, but I knew she would always be with me.
James writes stories which are a little bizarre. He enjoys taking readers down strange and seldom trodden paths. Often dark, and always with a twist or two along the way. Comedy, thriller, horror and weird fairy tales. Stories to make you laugh. Stories to make you cry. Stories to make you leave the bedroom light on. But most importantly, stories you will want to share with your friends. But they might not thank you for it. Most of James’ stories would sit on the shelf somewhere between horror and dark comedy. There are also elements of fantasy, a generous dollop of thriller, and a toe firmly planted in the pool of sci-fi. Not that James writes all genres, but rather he writes stories which often mix two or three genres together. Forced to hide under the bed, but laughing whilst you’re there. He is a storyteller with twenty years’ experience in flash fiction, short stories, longer stories and screenplays. He rarely suffers from writer’s block and considers himself fortunate to be the victim of writer’s overwhelm. The ideas keep on coming. Where they come from is a mystery. A mystery best left unsolved. He lives in England, with his wife and two daughters. And a bunch of pets he insisted his girls could NOT have.