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Authors: Julia Blues

The Last Exhale (5 page)

BOOK: The Last Exhale
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“I'm Kennedy—Kennedy Holmes' mom, Sydney.”

His eyes widen as if I've just told him he has a child he didn't know about.

I relieve him of his confusion. “From school. Mr. Carter, right?”

He gives me a blank stare.

Maybe I'm the one confused. Or maybe my child's teacher has no manners outside of the classroom.

Out of nowhere, the guy laughs. “I'm messing with you. I
Mr. Carter.”

I let out a hesitant chuckle while thinking about switching my daughter to another teacher. Not sure this is the kind of guy I want teaching my child.

He's still laughing. “You should see the look on your face.”

I say, “Ah, didn't know you had quite a sense of humor.” I shut my treadmill off, grab my towel, and proceed to the mat to stretch my tightened hamstrings.

Mr. Carter pulls the emergency stop on his machine, hops off before I have the chance to walk off. Tells me, “I am Mr. Carter, but not the one you're thinking about. I'm Brandon. Andrew's your daughter's teacher.” He looks at me with a half-smile and raised shoulders. “Bad time for jokes, huh?”

“You're twins?”


I slap him with my towel. “Funny. You had me about to call the school board on you.”

“Please don't do that. My brother would kill me.”

“As well he should. You're ruining his reputation.”

We share a smile. No harm, no foul.

He says, “People get us confused all the time. Even at our age, we still like to have a little fun with it.”

“I'm sure it never gets old.” I leave Brandon by the cardio machines and plop down on the mats. Not running in awhile only to push myself as hard as I did was not a good idea. Not a good idea at all. My quads and calves join my hamstrings in screaming for relief.

The moment I open my legs for a butterfly stretch, over walks Mr. Funny Man. I see his eyes focus in on the wet spot in my crotch area. Immediately, I become self-conscious about my sweating issue and close my legs.

“How far did you run?” he wants to know.

“Not as far as I'd like.”

“And that is?”

“You sure are quite the joker
talker, I see,” I say, my voice laced with bite.

“And I see all of my joking
talking has you a little wet between the legs.”

My face burns with embarrassment. I want to explain I've been this way my whole life, how I would sweat so much in my sleep as a child, my mother swore she was going to invent diapers for eight-year-olds. Telling him that would only make me more embarrassed, so I hold my tongue. I pull my legs in and slide my shirt over my knees. Plan to sit here and rock in silence until Mr. Funny Man finds someone else to torture.

Brandon senses my discomfort. “That was inappropriate of me. Sometimes my tongue gets the best of me.”

Wet between the legs. Tongue gets the best of me.
All of a sudden a weird feeling passes through me. Maybe not weird, but definitely inappropriate. Why has my mind taken his words to a sexual level? What if he meant it that way? Do I dare sit around and find out? “Let me get out of here before the kids make my husband run away from home.”

He reaches down to help me up from the mat.


He nods and walks to the free weights.

As I grab my keys and other items from the storage rack, I catch a glimpse of Brandon through the mirror in the middle of a bench press. Don't know why, but my eyes scan his left hand. A silver band halts my curiosity.

Yep, he's married.

Then I have to remind myself: So are you.


ene beats me home for the third night in a row this week. Ever since the night she left me hanging in the bedroom, things have been a little different around here.

Still tense, but different. She's sitting in the dining room. A plate of roast, potatoes, and asparagus is in front of her. Glass of red wine in her hand.

Maybe there is hope after all. Maybe Andrew
right. Despite it all, my wife can still bring a smile to my face. I walk over, plant a kiss to her forehead. “Smells good in here.”

“Your plate's in the oven. I'll wait for you.”

I grab my gym bag off the floor, march upstairs to wash away my funk.

Sydney Holmes.

Rene is downstairs finally being the wife I've been longing for and I'm up here thinking about another man's wife. The ring on her left hand floats through my mind. Yep, I checked. Shame on me.

I pour a small amount of Rene's shampoo in my hands, rub it across my scalp. Try to lather up my inappropriate thoughts and rinse them down the drain. If only it were that easy. My towel falls to the floor when I push open the shower door. I grab it, dry off. Spray on a little chocolate seduction body spray. Maybe my wife will be willing to make me feel like a husband after dinner.

Rene is pulling my plate out the oven as I make it back downstairs. She places it on the table. Refills her wineglass, fills mine next.

I bless the meal.

After a few bites in silence, my wife cuts her eyes up at me, says, “You seem happy.”

Her comment makes my heart pound with beats of guilt. Has one conversation from another woman caused me to come home feeling like a different man? No, can't be. My wife has surprised me with a great meal. That's what I'm happy about, right? I swallow another bite of food. “Everything's delicious.”

One of Rene's eyebrows is slightly higher than the other as she peers at me over a raised wineglass. “The gym seems to be working out,” comes out as a statement more than an inquiry.

There's nothing in her tone to let me know one way or the other whether I should be offended or not. Has my weight been the cause for her change in attitude all this time? My fork hits the plate. “So I was right, huh?”

She sips her wine ever so calmly. “I was simply giving you a compliment.”

“Well, why does it feel more like an I-told-you-so?”

“If that's the way you took it…”

I'm hungry. Hungry like I just smoked a pound of marijuana. But I've lost my appetite. Lost my desire for food and for my wife. I grab the plate in front of me, scrape its contents into the trash. Tell Rene, “Thanks for
thing.” Do my best to let my sarcasm spoil her appetite.

I'm dumbfounded. All I can do is shake my head. The longer we live in the space of complexity, the longer we will continue to have miscommunication and misunderstand each other.

“What do you want from me, Brandon?”

I look at the woman I've loved for more years than I have fingers. I no longer understand who she's turned into. “I'm starting to wonder the same thing.”

She gets up from the table, blows out the candles, takes her wineglass, and heads toward the bedroom we once shared. Halfway up the stairs, she stops, turns around. She comes back into the dining room. Without making eye contact with me, she grabs the bottle of wine off the table and heads back up the stairs. The room door shuts a few seconds later.

I can't continue living like this.

Better yet, I
continue living like this.


finish putting together an offer for a lease-to-purchase one of my clients is interested in. They knew as soon as they finished walking through the house that they were going to submit an offer. They're newlyweds expecting their first child. Love is written all over their faces. I found myself temporarily envious. Don't know if I've ever looked a man in the eyes the way she looked at her husband. Can't say I've seen a man look at me that way either. Not even my own husband.

Soon as I fax the offer to the seller's realtor, a text comes across my phone. Eric won't be able to pick the kids up from school. A new recruit got shot and killed his third day on the job.

“Are you okay?” I ask my husband once he answers his cell.

“Little shaken up. We all are. But it's part of the job.”

I understand the part-of-the-job mumbo jumbo. But somebody dies and he sends a text. I tell him to hold on while I grab my keys and head out to the car. This is a conversation to have with no one else in earshot. “No, really. Are you okay?”

“I'll survive.”

He doesn't get it. “Eric, you don't text me about somebody getting shot and killed on the job doing the same thing you do. Do you know how that made me feel to read that?”

“At least it wasn't me.”

“Yeah, not this time.”

“I don't have time for this,” he says, ready to end the call.

“Wait. Hear me out for a second.” I swallow, add moisture back to my throat. “My heart dropped when I got your text. You're right, it's not you I have to bury, but somebody
making funeral arrangements right now. I just wish you'd take a little more consideration when you do certain things.” I take a deep breath, calm my nerves. He just lost a fellow officer. No need in me adding any more stress. “I'll get the kids. Will you be home for dinner?”


We both hold the phone in silence long enough for it to feel uncomfortable.

I say, “Be careful out there.”

He makes no promises. “Okay,” is all he can give me.

I didn't mean to jump all down Eric's throat. I've been on edge ever since coming home with thoughts of another woman's husband. I know Brandon and I barely talked, but he made me laugh in a way I haven't laughed in a long time. And it was genuine at that. Not phony laughter to fill enough space to keep things from feeling awkward. Made my stomach feel like I'd done a hundred crunches in twenty seconds.

I've got to get control of my thoughts. Quick.

My husband puts his life on the line every time he puts on his uniform. It's imperative I keep that at the forefront of my thoughts, because I don't know what I'd do without him and I can't fathom how I'd be able to tell our kids that they no longer have a father. I have no time to be thinking about another man. A laugh isn't a good enough reason to even think about risking my family, especially when it wasn't

It was a good laugh, though.


“Is that it?”

I look in the U-Haul, see what pieces of my life I'm bringing on this part of my journey. Tell my brother, “Yeah, I got what I need for now.”

Andrew trails behind me as we drive a few miles up the road to my new apartment. We decided it best for him to drive his car to avoid running into Rene coming back here.

Last night was about all I could take from my wife. When I agreed to love her for better or for worse, I had no idea it would get to this part of worse. At the altar, everything looks and sounds good. You don't think about “for poorer” or “in sickness” or “in bad times.” All you see is what stands before you at that moment and what's going to go down during the honeymoon. A week later, things start looking real different.

Silence is not what I stood before God for and it definitely isn't what I agreed to.

The first thing I did when I made it in to work this morning was hop on a few apartment websites to scout out a place to live. The place I've called home no longer fits the bill. Instead of eating during lunch, I went and put in an application to a place around the corner from the gym. Before I made it back to work, I had been approved. Went to sign the lease and was handed over a new
set of keys once I got off. A moving truck was already on reserve the moment I found out I had been approved. It was halfway packed by the time Andrew was able to help with the heavier stuff.

Twenty minutes later, we pull into the apartment community.

Once inside, my brother says, “I can't believe you actually left.”

I look around at the empty space. Nothing is familiar. Reality sets in. “Man, I can't either.”

Conversation is to a minimum as we unload what's left of my life into unfamiliar territory. In nine years, I've gone from a single man to husband to father to a man alone. This is what my life has become.

It takes us about half an hour to get everything out of the truck and placed in the apartment in no strategic fashion.

“All right, man, let's get this truck back,” I say.

I stop at the gas station. Fill the tank back to where it was when I signed the truck out. “Want anything?” I ask Andrew before running inside to pay.

“Naw, I'm good.”

I pick up a pack of watermelon Bubblicious gum and a bag of cool ranch Doritos.

My twin trails me back to U-Haul where my car is parked. After checking the vehicle back in with no extra costs, I see if Andrew wants to get a bite to eat and grab a couple of beers.

He puts his cell down against his thigh, shakes his head. “Not tonight, man. Melissa's already got plans for us.” The despair in his eyes tells me her plans are no longer the same as his.

“Good luck. Hopefully, we won't be roommates anytime soon.”

He chuckles, shakes his head again. “Yeah, I hope not.”

We slap hands. I tell him, “ 'Preciate your help.”

“I know it's not easy. The least I could do is be here for you.”

“I hear you, man. I'd do the same for you.”

He puts the phone back up to his ear, rolls up his window, and drives off to a woman whose biological clock is ticking.

•  •  •

On the way back to my apartment, I drive by the gym. Curiosity makes me do that.

The lights are on. I can see her on the treadmill. From the sweat building between her thighs, I can tell she's been in there for a while.

I park my truck, but don't get out. Instead I sit here watching, thinking. Wondering if I should go in or take my behind home. If I go in, I'd probably tease her about her sweating. She'd probably joke with me about not being able to take a joke. We'd probably laugh, maybe both loosen up some.

BOOK: The Last Exhale
12.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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