tagLoving WivesThe Story of A Button: Epilogue

The Story of A Button: Epilogue

byoutofshadows©

The following story is the original conclusion to The Story of a Button. At this point, I have yet to read any alternative conclusions to TSOAB due to an unexpected and unscheduled trip to the operating theatre. Painful and expensive and that was merely the bill. The epilogue has been "softened" upon the advice of beta readers and upon reflection that Rita is human too, hence, possibly capable of a redeeming, softer side. My thanks to those who have given feedback, especially DFWBeast. All mistakes and terrible aspects of the epilogue are solely mine.

*****

I could never fathom how or even why I survived. The answer only dawned on me when I read the file the men in suits had slapped down on the table in front of me almost a week later.

Greed.

That was what saved me and my last name wasn't even Gecko.

More specifically, the greed of a scientist who was suspected of attempting to sell a synthesised version of a toxin to foreign agents allegedly unfriendly to the USA. The very same scientist who was fortunately caught by the FBI and "persuaded" to produce a largely harmless placebo, which had all the nasty side effects but little of the fatal toxicity of the real thing, for a sting operation aimed at rounding up said foreign agents. Of course, neither the FBI nor the scientist expected a lab technician to steal the placebo in his own attempt at making a deal. And no one ever imagined that the placebo would end up in the hands of an angry duo and used on a bunch of traitorous friends and neighbours.

Equally unexpected was Willa's decision to call the emergency services and inform them of the poisoning case at our house before she climbed into bed with me to await death. Of course, neither of us were conscious when emergency services burst through the door and started treatment. And no one in the neighbour seemed to have noticed the men in cheap suits talking to local law enforcement and emergency services just before they broke down the door.

It only transpired later that the neighbours had thought some scandal surrounding Rita and her extramarital affairs had broken and that somehow emergency services had gone to the wrong house. Of course, none of them believed the old herring thrown out by the FBI of a gas leak. Well, as an old neighbour across the street sniffed disdainfully, "what gas leak warrants people all togged up in hazmat suits?"

The buzz declined slightly when it was later revealed that four of our neighbours died. But I had no knowledge of that when I first woke up that hazy Monday morning.

Three months earlier

My first thought when I woke up, feeling a mouthful of sawdust, was how normal Hell looked. After all the fire and brimstone that Mrs Dubois had threatened kids like me with, Hell was depressingly underwhelming. Only the sight of Willa hooked up to machines next to me told me I was still of this world.

Jackass that I was, I wasn't letting anyone or anything keep me from my wife. Two seconds after I managed to get to Willa's bedside, an alarm sounded.

"No! Stay with me! Don't you give up, Willa!"

I was gripping Willa's limp hand in mine when the doctor and nurses came rushing towards us.

"Mister, you're going to have to release her hand. We need to treat her."

I watched as they peeled Willa's hand away and closed the curtains separating our beds. I listened closely, praying against all odds that the words "time of..." didn't come out of the doctor's mouth.

It seemed like a century later when the doctor and nurses emerged. Seeing the anxiety on my face, the doctor approached me.

"Is that your missus?"

At my nod, the anxiety depriving me of the ability to speak momentarily, he smiled reassuringly.

"Your wife is recovering. The delay in the antitoxin being administered has resulted in a slower recovery but she should make a full recovery. The real trauma was suffered by the foetus and subsequently led to the miscarriage..."

The sound of blood rushing in my ears drowned out the doctor's words. A sudden memory of Ashton's words about "their baby" made my blood run cold. How long had Ashton been banging my wife? Fury overwhelmed me even as my rational mind told me I was hardly fit as a judge considering my role in this mess. Only several deep breaths later did I manage to unclench my fists and return to my bed. Despite the clear indication of my wife's infidelity, I still felt too much guilt to condemn her. Not when she was still unconscious and I hadn't heard her side of the story. Woodenly, I requested to make a call to Willa's sister to check on our kids. She was curious but decided not to press the point when I mentioned Willa and I were still in hospital.

It was later that day that the full story of that Saturday night disaster surfaced. I was stunned when the nurse showed an older, mostly bald stranger to my bed. He introduced himself as an FBI agent and at the look of alarm on my face, said reassuringly that he would be back to brief me and Willa when we were feeling better.

I felt like the air was sucked out of my lungs when he revealed that the casualties of that horrendous night extended beyond Willa and me. Becky, Elaine and Lisa had died in a car crash along with Ashton. Rita, by some miracle, had barely survived and was on life support. The doctor said she had little to no chance of waking up.

From the little information that the agent was able to give me and a whole lot of guesswork, I came up with a version of what had happened after Willa poisoned us both and Ashton ran off.

Ashton had panicked upon hearing Willa's revelation that she'd poisoned the pies and rushed back to his house, hoping to remedy the situation when it became clear that Willa wasn't leaving with him. That was pure speculation on my part but there didn't seem to be any other explanation for Ashton to be in the car with Rita, Elaine, Becky and Lisa when the crash occurred. The agent mentioned a leaking brake line which might have led to the tragic accident which was currently under investigation.

I closed my eyes but behind my lids danced the awful images of the group of women at my garage when I taught them the basics of sabotaging a car. They'd died not because of poisoning but because Rita had sabotaged her own car in an effort to frame Ashton and force his hand with regards to the alimony. And I was at least partially responsible for it.

A curious sound from Willa's bed caught my attention. Sounding like a gurgle, it seemed my wife was waking up. Willa's eyelids were slowly fluttering open. Relieved, I shouted for the doctor and as the staff rushed towards us, the agent realised any further attempts to gain information from me were futile and left. Saved by the unfaithful wife, who would have thought.

*****

Silence. That was what occupied the arm's breadth of distance that lay between me and Willa. It was odd how I could hold her hand when she was unconscious but felt the same gesture when she was awake was something I wasn't permitted to do when she was awake. After quick assurance that the kids were still at her sister's, we had lapsed into awkward silence.

"So...what happened?"

Her left hand was worrying the blanket when she wasn't clasping her hands together. She was nervous and the tell was typical of the Willa I knew.

I briefly outlined what happened to our neighbours. Her face paled and her eyes brimmed with tears.

"Oh God! I didn't mean to kill them!" she gasped before breaking into sobs.

I looked at her grimly. That wasn't the truth, at least the real blame didn't lie with her. Still, I couldn't help but feel the need to punish my unfaithful, murderous wife a little. It lasted for all of three minutes before I was sighing and trying to hug her.

"Shh.. You weren't to blame. They died in a car accident, not from poison."

"But I told Ashton about poisoning the pies and that's why they were in the same car! I caused this!"

I'm sure Willa felt me stiffen and draw away at the mention of Ashton. She sniffled and turned accusing, tearful eyes on me as if to say 'Seriously? After what you did with my friends?'

"When did you find out about the girls?"

"You mean to ask when I started sleeping with Ashton, don't you?"

"Yes, dammit!"

"Does it matter? You've been banging my friends for the last six months!"

I was left spluttering with indignation with no real retort possible. In the silence that followed, neither of us could meet the other's eyes.

Willa broke the silence. In a cold, detached tone, she revealed how she'd discovered the antique brass button from the jacket she'd bought for me on our first anniversary when she'd helped Rita clean out her closet for a charity sale almost two months earlier. It was almost exactly the story she'd begun that fateful Saturday night. Except now I knew that the friend who'd revealed all due to a guilty conscience was Lisa. It was also Lisa who told Ashton. What Lisa hadn't expected was Willa and Ashton going off the rails in their quest for revenge.

"At first, we were just fellow victims looking for a way to get back at our unfaithful spouses. But, after too much wine one day, Ashton made a move on me. I was about to push him away but when I thought of you with Rita, with the rest of the girls, I just lost it."

Looking me in the eye, Willa declared almost defiantly, "So yeah, I fucked him. He told me later that Rita hadn't given him such a good time since the first year of their marriage."

Willa saw the pain in my eyes and smiled vindictively.

"Feeling the pain, darling? It doesn't even come close to what I felt when Lisa told me the truth, you bastard! "

I couldn't bite back the words that rose to my mouth.

"At least I didn't knock your friends up! How does it feel to murder your own baby?"

Willa screamed and tried to cover her own ears. The medical staff came rushing in our direction and eventually sedated her before moving her to a nearby room. I bore the admonition of the nurses but the images of Ashton and Willa drowned whatever they said and I caught a glimpse of the potential hell our relationship was heading towards. Mutual torture, mutual hate and pain. And we were both to blame.

It was only two days later that the nurses allowed us to be alone together and that only after instructing me not to agitate my wife. By then, I had calmed down somewhat though a faint memory of something Rita had said began gnawing on the edges of my mind and a small seed of dread took root inside me.

Willa watched me with wary eyes as I sat by her bedside.

"So when did you discover you were pregnant?"

Pain shadowed Willa's eyes.

"About a month ago. I wasn't sure. I suspected when I felt the same symptoms when I had Justin, but I was in denial. I just didn't want to face the fact that Ashton had knocked me up. Rita had complained for months how Ashton had difficulty getting them pregnant in the first two years of their marriage. I was hoping it was a false alarm. But the pregnancy test destroyed all hope."

"You never thought it could be our child?"

Willa looked at me like I was some crazy person. "But you got yourself fixed a few years ago, remember?"

As I slowly shook my head, I could almost see the horror creep up on her. It complemented the dread that grew at the bottom of my stomach as the memory of something Rita said in one of her drunken fits grew clearer.

"I never went for that vasectomy," I mumbled as tears began to fill Willa's eyes.

"S-so...it could..could be our child?"

"If what Rita said is true, it was our child."

Willa froze.

"What did Rita say?"

"That Ashton was sterile."

As Willa began to wrap her arms around herself and keen softly, I tried to calm her down.

"She could be wrong. She might have been lying."

For once, I truly hoped some other guy had knocked up my wife. That she — no, we — didn't end up murdering our own child.

Stifling the ugly, guttural sobs emerging from her throat, Willa seemed incapable of speaking. Yet when she did, it was something neither of us wanted to hear.

"No! She wasn't lying. I remember her being really upset some years back after visiting Ashton's parents over a weekend. When we asked her what was bothering her, she refused to say and got drunk instead. Later, as I helped her to bed, she ranted about how useless Ashton was, how he couldn't give her a baby to save a little boy and how he didn't even know it. She changed after that. Almost right after that, she became the neighbourhood slut. I-I just never made the connection. I never knew. "

Willa buried her head in her arms and sobbed.

I could only watch helplessly as Willa wept over the child — our child — whom we had just discovered we had murdered. Suddenly, I understood Ms Dubois' dire warning regarding hell had much wider application. The hell I was in was the realisation that the chain of events I had started with that one night fling with Rita resulted in the death of four people and one unborn child, my unborn child.

Later that night, I woke to the sound of hysterical sobs and nurses running. There was a crisis of some sort and the direction of the noise seemed to be Willa's room. Alarmed, I ran towards my wife's room. The nurses could barely hold a struggling figure down on the bed as the doctor injected her with a drug that soon ended the sobs. I stared at the drops of blood that dotted Willa's sheets. The doctor pulled me aside to brief me on Willa's condition. All I heard were scattered phrases — "fragile emotional state", "suicide watch", "psychological evaluation". Nothing made sense. All I saw was the blood. The heartrending sobs of my wife alternated with the one thought that ran in my mind like a litany.

All my fault.

I was drowning in guilt when the agent came round the next day. Our friends and neighbours had died because of me. Well, technically, because of Rita who had blackmailed me into teaching her how to sabotage her car. Apparently, amidst the chaos that erupted when Ashton had run over to his house and decided to take the ladies to the hospital with his wife's car, none of the ladies managed to remember Rita had sabotaged her car. Thing was, the agent had let slip that the brake line was completely cut. And I distinctly remembered cautioning Rita against it. In fact, she'd been indignant and had sarcastically reminded me that she had no intention of killing her golden goose aka Ashton.

Despite that, I knew I was responsible and was ready to give myself up when the agent said he was here to interview Willa as he wanted to find out if anyone knew why Lisa had decided to sabotage Rita's car. The camera feed recovered from the garage camera had revealed Lisa was the last to sneak around the car that evening.

"Lisa? But why-"

A hoarse croak made us turn towards Willa's bed, she had apparently awakened in the middle of the agent's speech. Willa swallowed with visible effort before she spoke.

"Lisa felt guilty for having an affair. She blamed Rita and wanted to punish her."

A wet sheen formed over her eyes and she hoarsely mumbled, "I had no idea what she meant when she said she'd make amends."

The agent looked on uncomfortably as the nurses came over and stopped him from questioning Willa, citing her unstable emotional condition. In my mind's eye, I could picture the last moments in that car; as the car rounded the bend in the road leading to the hospital, the brakes failed and within seconds, they'd plowed into the concrete wall that lined that stretch of the road just before the hospital driveway came into view. The local authorities had put in that small stretch of wall after a couple of drunk drivers had destroyed several cars in the hospital's car park and even a part of the emergency room in a spate of accidents in recent years.

As it became apparent that Willa was in no state to be questioned, the agent left after mumbling that he would be back when Willa was in a more stable condition. While he didn't go into detail about the information he wanted from Willa, I was pretty sure it had something to do with the toxin Ashton and Willa had used.

What have I done? The question haunted me. Those moments of illicit sexual pleasure in the last eight months or so were hardly worth the misery and bloodshed we had all endured in the last week.

And suddenly, the faces of my kids flashed in my mind. Every smile, every tantrum, every quarrel that seemed so mundane, exhausting and even irritating now seemed to be so precious. My kids might lose both parents, Willa and I might go to jail. And they had done nothing to deserve this. It was all my fault and I could find no way out of this mess for Willa and me.

These thoughts were still making that endless tour of my mind when Willa woke the next day and a hesitant nurse walked into the room. Against all odds, Rita had awakened and was asking to see us, or rather Willa. The nurse hadn't openly said it but Rita was evidently nearing her end.

I hadn't wanted to visit Rita. I didn't want to see her as a human. Up till now, she was simply the monster who destroyed my marriage and the lives of her friends. Only when I saw the figure lying in that bed, tubes running all around her, connecting her to the machines constantly beeping, did I realise why I was so reluctant to accompany Willa who wanted to visit the woman who had caused us all so much grief. I didn't want to be reminded of my part in this whole tragedy. I might not have sabotaged the car and my involvement in this case was the result of Rita's blackmail threats, but part of that blame for lives lost lay squarely on my plate.

Willa probably felt a similar swirl of conflicting emotions if the fact that her grip on my arm had turned painful was anything to go by. She watched the woman who'd caused her so much pain take each breath with obvious painful effort. We stood uncertainly by the bed as Willa insisted on getting out of the wheelchair in a bid to get closer to Rita.

As if she'd sensed our presence, Rita's eyelids fluttered open. As her gaze settled on Willa, her agitation grew and her heartbeat sped up. Her hand lifted and seemed to reach for Willa. Without a word, Willa leaned towards her erstwhile friend. Rita's lips moved bit but we couldn't hear a thing, her words obscured by the oxygen mask she was wearing.

Impatiently pushing the impediment to one side, Rita struggled to speak.

"Sso-rry."

Willa's eyes brimmed with tears as she held her friend's hand and nodded.

"Just focus on recovering."

Before the nurse, who'd hurried towards Rita upon hearing the alarm triggered by the removal of the oxygen mask, could replace the oxygen mask, Rita got out her last words.

"H-help. Ss-teve."

The frantic look in Rita's eyes slowly faded as Willa reassured her she would do as asked though she clearly looked puzzled at the name Rita had mentioned. We watched as Rita closed her eyes and drifted off, clearly exhausted by the attempts to speak.

We had barely left the intensive care unit before a group of medical staff rushed past us. Almost purely by instinct, Willa's hand gripped my arm and she turned us back towards Rita's bed.

The shrill scream of alarms and the sight of medical staff working frantically to revive Rita greeted us.

"No, no, please," Willa gasped as her tears coursed down her cheeks. The sight proving too painful.

We watched helplessly as the woman who'd wrecked our lives was pronounced dead. I numbly held my sobbing wife as we turned away, aware that hatred and all other emotions were now pointless now that she was beyond our reach.

********************

Truth was a funny thing. Everyone had their own version. And I didn't mean fake news. I was to experience the flexibility of truth myself though I had no inkling of it when I woke up to a grey dawn. The FBI agent never came back after he made the revelation about Lisa. Three days later, judgement day arrived.

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byoutofshadows© 5 comments/ 7073 views/ 2 favorites

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