Read The Last Exhale Online

Authors: Julia Blues

The Last Exhale (10 page)

BOOK: The Last Exhale
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I sit back in my spot against the couch. Ask, “If he were to start loving you the way you feel you need to be loved, you think you'd stay for life?”

She twirls a few strands of hair around her finger, ponders the question. “I really don't know the answer to that.”

“Sounds like you're not too clear on what you want then.”

Her hair falls from her fingers. She kicks her legs out in front of her, crosses her ankles. “Let me ask you, how'd you end up here?” She spreads her arms outward.

I follow her eyes around my empty apartment. “Got to a point where nothing I did made a difference. Got fed up.”

“Do you have kids?”

I shake my head. That's a place I'm not ready to invite her to. Didn't have an answer for her the first time she asked in my car a couple of weekends ago. Don't have an answer for her now.

“Well, you're fortunate. Kids make walking away a lot harder. At least for the woman it does.”

My posture stiffens. “Walking away is walking away, whether you have kids or not. If the love between man and woman changes, kids won't make it any easier or harder. It's just a sacrifice someone has to be willing to make.”

“Oh, it's different. Trust me.”

Maybe she's right. I've thought about it before. Had our son been here, I would've fought a lot harder. Would've shown Rene I meant what I said when we stood before God, that death would be the only thing to separate us. But that's not how our story went.

“I just think kids complicate a lot.”

“You almost say that like you regret having them.”

She throws her head in her hands, rubs her hands down her face. “Jeez, I don't mean to sound like that. I just…I don't know.”

“We had a son,” I hear myself say.

“Had? What happened?”

“He went to sleep one night and never woke back up.”

“I'm so sorry.” She can barely look at me.

I fiddle around with the carpet. Rub my hands back and forth across it. Do whatever I can to keep her from seeing the sadness in my eyes.

“How old was he?”

Had. Was. Hate referring to my flesh and blood in past tense. “Five.”

All she can do is shake her head back and forth. Don't know if she does it to shake away thoughts about being without her own kids or to keep herself from crying.

My throat suddenly becomes dry. When I swallow, it feels like my throat is being stuffed with dryer sheets. I get up to grab another bottle of water from the kitchen. “Can I get you something else to drink?”

She declines.

When I walk back out, Sydney's standing by the front door. “Didn't realize it was so late. Gotta figure out how I'm going to get out of this.”

I say, “Talk it out.”

“I wasn't talking about the marriage.” Before walking out the door, she turns back to look at me. She looks down at her shoes, says, “The first time Eric and I met, I knew he wasn't the one for me, but I kept dating him. I kept trying to convince myself that I was falling in love with him, and for a moment, I thought I had.” She fidgets with the keys in her hand, still avoiding eye contact. “When he proposed, my soul said no, but my lips betrayed me. Here I am, almost seven years and two kids later, and I still feel the same, like he's not the one for me.”

For a moment, I feel like I'm her husband. Feel like I've been denied access into the heart of the woman I married. An innocent bystander in the demise of my own marriage.


I'm in a daze.

Been this way since getting back from Brandon's place. Don't remember picking the kids up from my mother's house. Don't remember cooking dinner or running EJ's bathwater. I'm so used to this life that I don't have to think about what I do day in and day out. It's who I am, who I've become.

Splashes from the hall bathroom reminds me my son is still in the tub. I push the door open, see him flipping around in the water like he's a dolphin auditioning to be a new member at SeaWorld. I pull the door back, leave it halfway cracked. Contemplate if I'd be a bad mother if I let him stay in there all night.

Eric Sr. walks up the stairs with a giggling Kennedy on his back. He drops her off at the top of the stairs, pats her lightly on the backside. Tells her, “Time to get ready for bed.”

“Are you gonna read to me?” she asks.

I walk downstairs, let them have their moment.

Forrester is in his usual spot by the fireplace. I bend over, pick him up. Nearly break my back. “We've got to put you on a diet, buddy.” He yawns in my face. His breath has the smell of a ten-day-old dead fish baking in an Arizona sun. I quickly put him back down.

My running shoes are tossed over by the front door. They stare
back at me. I wanna put them on, lace them up and run away from here. The more time I spend with Brandon, the more it's evident I shouldn't be in this marriage. I'm not me, not the me I used to be. Not the me I want to be.

I feel lips on my cheek. Didn't realize I was no longer alone.

“How was your workout?” asks my husband.

I straighten a family picture on the mantle. “It was fine. Ran intervals, lifted a few weights. You know, the usual,” I say, avoiding eye contact.

“I'm all for the fitness, babe, but maybe you should cut back some.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Just seems like you're either at the gym every evening or getting up at the crack of dawn to run at the park.”

I turn around to look at my husband. “I could say the same about you with all these extra hours you've been putting in at work lately.”

“It's not the same.”

“And why not? Time away from home is time away from home. Doesn't matter the reason.”

“I'm just saying, Syd.”

Forrester meows for my attention. I rub him a couple of times on the top of his head. He purrs his contentment as he walks off to his food dish. It only takes a few rubs across his fur for him to not feel neglected. Wish it were the same for my husband.

“Mom,” Kennedy yells from the top of the stairs, “I gotta pee and EJ won't let me in the bathroom.”

“Those two.” I head toward the stairs.

Eric reaches out and grabs my hand, pulls me into him. My mouth barely opens as his tongue penetrates my lips and tiptoes across mine.

“Mom, EJ locked me out.”

My husband's kiss leaves me breathless, leaves me wanting more.
He leaves me panting for air as he runs up the stairs to see what all the ruckus between the kids is all about.

I fall into the sofa.

A couple of hours ago, I was almost certain I was ready to walk out of this marriage. It made so much sense. The longer I stay here, the unhappier I become. The more I resent myself. And in return, the more I resent my husband and kids. They don't deserve this. I don't deserve them.

Is boredom really a reason to leave this home I've made?

I'm beginning to feel like that reason's not good enough, and that scares me.

•  •  •

The first thing I do after pulling into an open parking space at the job is grab my cell and call my good friend Katrina. “You were right,” I say when she answers.


“I'm falling for him.”

“I knew it.”

“How could you know? It wasn't even like that when we were at the lounge.”

She sucks air through her teeth, then huffs. “Do you really believe that lie?”

My reflection grabs my attention in the rearview mirror. Crinkled brows, a pout in my lips. Hurt written all over my face. “Hey, Kat, where's all of this coming from? I'm calling you as my friend, and right now, you're not making me feel friendly.”

“He's married, Sydney. And so are you.”

“And so is his brother, but that didn't stop you from thrusting your butt into his man parts on the dance floor.”

“Unlike you, I left it
the dance floor.”

“Wow. I can't believe you said that.” Obviously calling her was the wrong thing to do. I don't know what I was thinking. She would be the last one to remotely understand what I'm going through. Still wasn't expecting her to throw daggers my way.

“What do you want me to say? Aw, how cute. You two would be great together. Is that what you want me to say?” Her voice is full of contempt.

“Well, no. Not exactly.”

“Good, because I'm not. And I'm not going to sit up here and act like I agree with what you're doing either. It's wrong. Point. Blank.”

I can see her pointing her index finger in the air accentuating the point and the blank. “Can you cut me some slack? I've never done anything like this before,” I say, feeling more angered than hurt.

She takes another labored breath before responding. “No one gave me any breaks when Elton came home smelling like another woman. No one cut me any slack when I was giving birth and my child's father came to the hospital with fresh hickeys on his neck that I didn't put there.”

“And you married him anyway.”

“Screw you. Oh wait, that's what you're doing to your marriage.”

“Hold on, hold on, hold on. That was so uncalled for.”

“And so was your comment.” She shuffles around on the other end of the phone. “Look, we marry who we love, whether that love is right or wrong, it is what it is. If I had to do it all over again, I'd find a good man, strap him to the bed, and never let him loose. You have a good man at home. I suggest you forget about what's-his-name and do the same before it goes any further.”

I sigh loud enough for the dead to hear.


fter a long day crunching numbers at the job, all I want to do is kick my feet up at home with a beer in hand. But tonight, something more pressing leads me in another direction.

Sydney left a lot on my mind when she left my place the other night.

Life is funny.

Since the beginning of time, we are born to die. Everything that happens in between is up to chance and opportunity.

I often wonder what happened to my son's chance and opportunity. He was taken at a time when the only decisions he could make was between what cartoon he wanted to watch and which new toys he would add to his Christmas wish list. A parent should never have to mourn their child, no matter their age.

In a few weeks, Reggie would've been turning nine. Nine. Halfway to being a legal man. It hurts knowing I won't be able to show him how to shave, to tell him about women. Will never know if he'd be into sports or more into academics like my brother and me. The unknown kills a piece of me every day. His death tore Rene up. She wouldn't have any talk about having more children. Said it wouldn't be fair to his memory. I didn't push it. Sometimes, I wonder if we'd be separated if he were still living or would we have still grown apart. Questions that will never be answered.

Thinking about my son not only makes me miss him, it makes me miss the love that filled my heart. Love for my son and my wife, my love for life. In a way, Sydney's starting to bring a little of that feeling back. She's starting to help me feel good about life again, even if it's just to listen to me harp about my marriage coming to an end. Still feels good to be heard and given the opportunity to listen to her problems. Though she left me feeling a little unsettled with her reasons for wanting to leave her unhappy marriage, I still felt her pain. Still feel connected to her in some way.

I look over at the passenger seat, see the business envelope staring back at me. Never thought this moment would come, never wanted it to come. Being put in a vulnerable place will make you do some of the most unforeseen things.

The security guard signals for me to stop before going through the gate when I pull into the subdivision of darker times. I roll my window down. “Everything all right?”

“Congrats on the offer on your house! This economy has everybody making changes, but I see it ain't stopping somebody from buying your house.”

I shake my head. “You must be talking about another house. Mine isn't for sale.”

The severely gray-haired man looks me straight in the eyes. “I guess the Missus is making changes without you. Figures, since I ain't seen you 'round here in a while.”

“Good night, sir,” I say through a halfway rolled-up window. That old man is always meddling in other folks' business.

I drive toward the back of the subdivision, make a right onto a street that's become unfamiliar to me. My foot's barely on the gas. Speed limit's thirty-five, I'm driving five miles per hour. I slam on my brakes, create friction between rubber and concrete loud enough to scare the man on the moon.

As blinding as a fluorescent yellow jumpsuit in the middle of July, I see a “for sale” sign in the front yard of the house Rene and I shared for five years. Under contract. What the hell is going on here? Rene can't sell our house without my permission. My attention's so caught up in the words above the “for sale” sign, I almost shatter my teeth when I notice a familiar face plastered on the sign staring back at me with a huge grin on her face.

The whole town's laughing at me.

•  •  •

Been in the car fuming for the past two hours with nothing to do but sit and wait, wait and sit. I get out the car, pace the street back and forth to let off some steam without trying to look like a crazed man in this quiet neighborhood. Pacing makes me all the more heated in this too-hot-to-be-spring weather. I hop back in the car and put the air on blast.

I grab my cell, dial the number on the sign. No answer. End the call and dial it again. Every time Sydney's overly happy voice thanks me for inquiring about my own house I end the call. Not sure what I'd say if she answered anyway.

A blue hatchback pulls up to the curb. Figure they're interested in the house even if it is under contract. I get out the car to walk over and yell out, “This house is off the market,” just to make sure they know it's not for sale no matter what the sign says. I take the under contract from off the top of the “for sale” sign, put it in my trunk. Would've taken the whole sign out the yard if it wasn't hammered six feet below.

BOOK: The Last Exhale
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Sheikh's Offer by Brooke, Ella, Brooke, Jessica
Bratfest at Tiffany's by Lisi Harrison
Wings of Change by Bianca D'Arc
Wicked Destiny by Tiffany Stevens
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
First Offense by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy