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Authors: Julia Blues

The Last Exhale (9 page)

BOOK: The Last Exhale
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“Don't get me wrong, Brandon. I do care about him, but there's always been this hole in the pit of my soul that he's never been able to fill.”

I say, “Voids can lead you to places you might not be able to return from. My wife left me with a void, and now I'm here.” I reach my hand across the way to hers. Intertwine my fingers with hers.

Sydney looks at our hands together, quickly releases mine like I have the cooties. Unfolds her legs and stands up. Says, “I need to get my daughter to school.”

We walk back to our cars in silence.

Too much has been said as it is.


'm running late for the office, so I head over to a possible new client's house instead to see if it's something we can list with our firm. I stayed out a lot longer than I anticipated, fooling around with another woman's husband.

Now is not the time to think about that. I've got to focus on the job.

Gated entry. I give the gate attendant my name. “I'm going to 3158 Oakwood Drive.”

He gives me a piece of paper with writing on it. “Keep this on your dash.”

I nod, tell him, “Thanks.”

Nice brick fronts. Good spacing between homes. Yards are well taken care of. No cars parked on the street. I've already got a buyer in mind who would love this kind of neighborhood. If the inside meets my buyer's requirements, he may hop on a flight to come take a look at it tomorrow and put in an offer before noon.

The house's garage is on the side. Another check on my client's wish list. From the curb, I put the car in park, grab my camera from my bag and snap a couple of pictures. Back in the car, I turn into the driveway, walk up the curved staircase, ring the bell.

A woman with short, baby-fine hair answers the door. Her hair is so fine I can see through to her scalp. Big, beautiful bright eyes.
I nearly blush at how they draw me in. I reach my hand to meet hers and try to put my professional hat back on. “Ms. Ortiz?”

She takes my hand as she notices my name on the badge pinned to my blazer. “Yes, come in.”

What I can see of the house just from the entryway tells me she's very meticulous, keeps a clean house. I won't have a hard time selling this house at all. “You have a lovely house,” I tell her. “What year was it built?”


A little over eleven years old. “You've taken good care of the place. Barely looks a day over five.”

She glances at her watch. “There are four bedrooms and two full bathrooms upstairs, a bedroom and bathroom on this floor next to the living room, and a finished basement. Please take a look around. I have a few things to take care of before work. Press the red button on the intercom panel if you have any questions.”

“Sure will, thanks.” I flip open the portfolio in my hand and make notations as I go along.

The house is huge, too big for one person. One of the rooms is set up for a child. No sign of a husband when I look in the master closet, so I assume it's just her and a kid. On a dresser in the master bedroom is a worn black-and-white photo of a couple with a baby in the woman's lap. As I get closer, I'd be willing to gamble it's Ms. Ortiz as a baby with her parents. She definitely favors both adults.

One thing I enjoy about being a realtor is experiencing the lives of others. Something about going through their homes allows me to forget about my own life and, in a way, act as if their home is actually mine. Several times, though, some of the stuff I've seen made me want to click my heels three times, hard.

I snap pictures of every room and bathroom, one of the walk-in closet in the master. Before meeting Ms. Ortiz in the kitchen, I
take a picture of the foyer entrance, den, and living room. When I walk into the kitchen, I catch her hurling last night's dinner into the sink. I quickly toss my camera back in my bag as my motherly instincts kick in. I toss my things on the counter and find myself going through her cabinets for a glass. I fill it with water from the fountain on the outside of the refrigerator. “Here, drink this.”

She wipes her mouth, dabs at her forehead with a towel that was already wet lying next to her. That tells me she was expecting to throw up. I wonder if this is a normal occurrence for her. “Thanks,” she says before taking a couple of sips of water.

I ask, “Morning sickness?”

No response.

A man comes through the door that leads to the laundry room. He's carrying a basket of freshly cleaned and folded linen. “I'll—” He pauses, looks at me. “I didn't know you had company.”

She reminds him, “She's the realtor I was telling you I'm going to list the house with,” then introduces us. “William, this is Mrs. Holmes.”

He puts the basket down on the counter, shakes my hand. “Nice meeting you.”

“Likewise,” I say.

“I'll let you two get back to business.” He pauses, looks at her. “Threw up again?”

She nods.

Though I try not to make assumptions, I'm thinking he's her boyfriend and that maybe they're wanting to downsize to something smaller. Not sure why, when it seems their family is expanding.

“Do you have any questions?” she wants to know.

I go over the list of questions I had written down. We go over the listing contract, discuss all pertinent information.

“I want to sell this house as soon as possible.”

To make sure we're clear, I ask, “If I have a buyer, you have no problem closing within thirty days or less?”

“If you brought a buyer right now, I'd turn over the keys without thinking twice.”

“That's all I need to know.”

She coughs a few times, sounds like she's about to lose what remnants may be left in her stomach. Sipping on a little more water settles her for the time being.

“I hope you feel better,” I tell her as I make my way to the front door.

Soon as I make it inside my car, I dial up my client. “I found your house,” I say when he answers. I go over all the particulars, make sure to hit all his targets. “I'll email you a few photos once I get back to the office.”

As I expected, he's ecstatic about the house. He and his wife want to move down and get the kids situated in school before the school year ends. They'll fly in in a couple of days. I end the call, sit the phone in the cup holder, and pull out my personal cell. A missed call from Eric and a new voicemail. He's pulling an extra shift and needs me to get the kids. This is the second time this week.

Here we go again.


A spitting image of me pops up on my smartphone. “Drew, what's good, brother?” I put my ride in park, shut the engine off.

“Same thing, different day. About to look over some homework while Mel gets dinner ready.”

“Gotcha.” I twist off the cap to a sports drink, take a few gulps before telling my brother, “Love to shoot the breeze with you, Bro, but I'm about to hit the gym. Let me call you back in a few.”

“Hold up, Brandon. There's something I want to run by you.”

I lean up against the truck. “Okay.”

The familiar white sedan pulls up beside me. A smile spreads across my face when she hops out. Sydney grabs a towel and a bottle of water from the backseat. Mouths to me she's heading inside.

I put my hand over the phone, tell her, “I'll be in in a second.”

She taps on her watchless wrist.

I wink.

She blushes and walks inside Pick Your Fit.

“I don't think it's right. That's all I'm saying,” I hear my twin say through the other side of the phone.

I straighten my posture, realize I've missed the main reason for his call. “What exactly are you saying?”

“See, I knew you'd get defensive,” he says.

“Hold on, Drew. Why would I be defensive?”

“Mom and Dad didn't raise us to be that way,” he goes on.

My hand moves back and forth across my bald head, wipe the perspiration off on my gym shorts. “Man, you've caught me off-guard and I'm not so sure I like where this conversation is going.”

“Am I wrong?”

“If you're talking about what I think you are, yes, you're wrong.”

“All right, my bad. Things just looked real heated on the dance floor that night. And I haven't heard much from you since. I didn't know what to think.”

“Damn, man. You didn't have to think the worst of me.”

“My bad,” Andrew says again. “Mel has me tense around here.”

I want to tell him that's no excuse to accuse me of adultery, but say, “Look, my wife fell out of love with me. The last thing I want to do is fall for another man's wife.”

As I walk in the gym and see Sydney running on the treadmill, I realize it's a lot harder to lie to myself than it was my brother.

•  •  •

After thirty minutes of speed intervals on the treadmill and twenty-five minutes—which felt like twenty-five hours—of strength training, Sydney and I find our way to my apartment.

I point her in the direction of the bathroom. She walks into my bedroom, stops, sees the bed, turns back and looks at me.

“Don't even think about it,” I tell her.

She smiles, proceeds to the bathroom.

My brother's words come back to remembrance.
“We were raised better than that.”
I'm not doing anything my parents would be ashamed of. Not yet, at least.

I shake those thoughts off. Head to the kitchen, cut up a banana, toss it into the blender. Scoop out a couple of globs of peanut butter, two scoops of vanilla protein powder. Add it to the blender with
eight ounces of milk, a few slivers of ice. Mix it all together and spoon into two Styrofoam cups, stick a straw in each. Hand one to Sydney when she comes back into the living room.

“Thanks.” She takes a sip while looking around the place. Her cheeks pull in like she's trying to suck cement through the straw.

“Sorry about that. Got a little heavy-handed with the peanut butter.”

“I can see my obituary now: Sydney Holmes went home to be with the Lord after suffering a brain aneurysm caused by a protein smoothie gone wrong.”

“C'mon. It's not that bad.”

“And that's exactly why yours is empty,” her voice reeks with sarcasm.

I pick my cup off the floor. Two hard sucks later, my mouth is still dry. “Sucked so hard my head hurts,” I say.

“My point exactly.” She lifts her cup in the air. “An elephant would pass out trying pull this through its tusk.”

I take the cup from her hand. Toss it in the trash right along with mine. Grab two bottles of cold water from the fridge. “I'm sure you won't have anything to crack jokes about now.”

“Did you even put any milk in it? It was like nothing but a cup of peanut butter and cotton.” She shakes her head. “Wasn't nothing smooth about that.”

“Wow. I see you're not going to let up.”

She chuckles. “All jokes aside, you have some Advil?” Her hand rubs her temple.

“Okay, I feel real bad right now.”

“As well you should.”

The smile on her face lets me know she's joking, but wetness between her eyelids says something else.

I get up from the floor, kneel down in front of her, place my hands
on her face. My lips touch her temple. I kiss one side and place a kiss on the other. “Hope that helps,” I say, then leave her to grab a dose of orange-coated pills.

“Why'd you have to do that?” she asks when I put the pills in her hand.

I shrug, not sure why I did it.

“Can I ask you something?”

I nod.

“What happened to your marriage?”

Saliva in my mouth grows thick, almost as thick as the protein smoothie. “I'd be able to answer if I
the answer.”

“How long have you been married?”

“Nine years a couple of months ago.”

She sucks air through her teeth. “Going on seven for me. Don't know if I'll live to see nine.”

“That bad?”

She leans back against the sofa. “He's the best husband and father any woman could ask for, but I'm bored with him. I feel like it should be a lot more, a lot better than it is. That's what makes it bad, what makes me the bad guy.”

“You're willing to leave your marriage due to boredom?” I want to make sure I'm understanding her correctly.

“I'm not fulfilled, feel like I'm suffocating. Every anniversary is like someone is smothering my face with a hundred pillows.”

I fold my arms across my chest, press my back hard against the base of the sofa. “Have you told him how you feel?”

She shakes her head. “I've tried a time or two. Never comes out right. He ends up taking it to mean we need to go on vacation or something.”

“Well, how do you want him to respond?”

Sydney sits in the middle of my living room floor with her bottle
of water in hand. She sits and screws and unscrews the cap, keeps doing that. “I want him to keep pursuing me like he did in the beginning. He's gotten settled in our relationship and our marriage. It's not always about a new place to go or a new food to try. I don't think he gets it, don't think he gets me.”

I get up from the floor and march to the bathroom. Like the Southwest commercial suggests, I need to get away, even if it is just another square foot away. Need to be alone with my thoughts.

Listening to Sydney spill her reasons for being in an unhappy marriage makes me think of Rene. Makes me think about how despondent she's become over the years. Wonder if she felt like she was suffocating being married to me. Was I boring her to death so much that she felt leaving me would revive her back to life? Did she ever try to communicate to me in a way I didn't understand her, take her thoughts to mean something totally different? Did I stop pursuing her?

Back in the living room, Sydney's still in the middle of the floor, knees pulled into her chest, arms folded around them. She rocks back and forth, lost in her thoughts.

BOOK: The Last Exhale
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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