Angels: Bruises on a Broken Heartbycalibeachgirl©
What was he to say, he wondered; the presence of a woman, well... women, for the first time in the house in years and it was all he could think about? "Morning... pancakes sure smell good," he said, now looking down at the plate set before him. Three pancakes, which he quickly covered with melting butter and honey. "Mary, these look delicious, thank you." He took a bite, the honey slowly dripping back onto the plate from his fork.
"I'm glad you like them," Mary answered. "What would you like tomorrow?" She poured another pancake, listening to the sizzle of the batter as it fried on the skillet, reminding her of another kitchen far away.
"Surprise me." He looked at the clock on the microwave and hurriedly finished his breakfast. "I've got to go. I'll see you later. Thanks." He stood up and placed his dish into the sink.
After he walked out, she took an orange from the refrigerator and peeled it, throwing the long rind into the kitchen trash as she ate the juicy fruit. It had been months since she had had one and the memory wasn't as sweet as the real thing. She wondered how her mother really felt. It had to be better, now, even if...
The angel watched the woman eat the orange, her memory bringing the taste back to her, her mouth watering. It had been so long, she thought.
"I see you have cocoa," Mary said, nodding toward the kitchen table that evening. "Do you mind if I made some?" She moved toward the table, picking up the teaspoon lying there without waiting for an answer. "Cocoa and Christmas... all we need is some cookies, which I happened to have made, today." She walked to the counter and picked up the plate of sugar cookies. "Here," she said, offering the dish to him, waiting as he took two.
He was acutely aware of her movements as she spooned cocoa into a cup and added hot water, sadness still in her eyes. "If it's all the same," she said, "I'm going to bed. It's been a long day. Thank you for everything you've done."
It was not going to happen. He was not going to kiss her... and then, he touched his lips lightly to hers once and then again. The next thing she knew, her eyes were closed and his lips were on hers, nudging them apart. It was the kind of kiss you saw in the movies, not in real life, making her tingle, rocking her to her very soul... making her want... need... desire. She had never felt such desire for a man before or experienced anything so wonderful and dangerous and so, so right.
He watched her disappear quickly down the darkened hallway, his thoughts remembering back to the last time he saw his wife in the same hallway, the night before she died. If he could, he would have seen the angel shed a quiet tear, something she had thought would not happen, sure that she was able to accept the change of heart she was sure was best for him. Still, it hurt, no matter how much she had tried to convince herself otherwise.
In her bedroom, Mary grasped a clump of the extra fabric around her waist, trying to figure out how many pounds she lost since she had worn them last. Ten? Fifteen? She released the fabric so the jeans hung loosely on her hips. Her reflection in the mirror didn't offer a lot of reassurance. The last few years had been hard on her... hard on both her and her mother. Was it over? She had no way of knowing, this far from home. Maybe it was...
The way Kevin looked at her... as if he had known what it was like to make love to her... sent shivers down her spine. Tomorrow, she thought, she would start over, a new life.
Kevin woke early the next morning to the mouth-watering smell of eggs and bacon filling the house. "Wha?" he muttered, wiping the sleep from his eyes before remembering he had houseguests, if that was what they were. Quickly shaving, showering and dressing, he entered the kitchen and was greeted by a shyly smiling Florence. "Good morning, Kevin. I'll have your eggs ready for you in a minute." She then put two pieces of sourdough toast on a plate and followed them a few moments later with a Denver omelet, its melted cheese oozing out. Her manner, he noticed, had changed from the day before when she had practically avoided him the entire time.
He had been so tired the other day; he didn't remember buying any mozzarella at the grocery. "I'll be home about 4:30, five o'clock. Make yourself at home." Well, that was stupid, he thought, what else were they to do?
Florence took the leftover food and slid it into the refrigerator for lunch. He didn't eat as much as she thought he would.
All day, he second-guessed his decision about letting the women live with him and was pleasantly surprised when he came home to find his home cleaner than it had ever been since the accident, the shiny windows open and the bedding changed in his room, the rugs showing the track of the vacuum cleaner. Somehow, even his dress uniform, long unworn, had had the dust taken away, the medals shined.
On his dresser, he noticed that the wedding picture, pushed back for the last few years to the corner, had been wiped clean of dust and placed closer to the front. He wondered what they had thought of that. He took the picture of Lucy and moved it back toward the corner. It had taken this long to overcome the grief following the accident. He had wanted a home and a family and she had liked gardening and had so wanted children. Now, everything in the back yard was dead or dying and the rooms had remained empty... until now.
Goddamn drunk driver, he cursed under his breath, not even a scratch on him while his pregnant wife had been killed. He never even got a chance to say 'good-bye' and he so wanted to kill the man. It was then he stopped believing in God... at least, a personal God that worried about people and their hopes and dreams.
Even now, he was counting the days until the man was released from prison. He still considered stopping by for a visit... just to let him know he was waiting... waiting... just to let him know... just to give him something to think about... something to worry about. All that training had to be good for something, even if it was just to scare the living crap out of that miserable...
Perhaps he had not overcome his grief and anger as much as he thought.
His angel stood next to him, feeling his pain. In the years gone by, she had tried over and over to help him past his anguish, many times taking that torment to herself when she knew it was more than he could bear by himself.
Dinner was roast chicken with corn on the cob and garlic mashed potatoes and if there had been a question regarding the photo, no mention had been made. He decided to let it be. It was hard enough, things as they were, without discussing it and bringing it back to the present.
After dinner, he opened his laptop and worked on his monthly report, holiday or not, carefully backing everything up on his external hard drive. His promotion had resulted in more paperwork than he could have ever imagined and the loss of the one thing he truly enjoyed.
Looking up, he saw a silent and dark house. It was after eleven o'clock and he groaned. Five o'clock in the morning came early enough, no matter how late he went to bed and today, he realized, was no different. He wished he could get some sleep. Having the women in the house was making sleep impossible and when he did, dreams of what had been and what might have been filled his nights.
It was at times like this that he felt the memory of his wife come alive, as if she were still with him. If he were a man that believed in ghosts...
"...if you lose your one... and only..." the radio played as he undressed for bed, caught up in his own sadness. Would it ever go away? He wondered... probably not... at least not tonight, he thought.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," Kevin said to his secretary, trying to stifle a yawn that had followed him all the way from the house. Why couldn't he sleep? It was driving him crazy.
His angel was there, watching the two speak as they had every morning for the last year. At one time, the lieutenant was a good choice but the rules and regulations made that impossible, especially when the angel knew the young woman was never going to leave the service.
The young woman looked up from her computer. "Good morning, Colonel. It's been quiet... so far." It was a standing joke between the two; the military never had a simple day, it was impossible given the number of people involved, even if it was only a few days before Christmas... and the satellites kept their orbits, regardless of whatever was happening on the ground.
Sometimes, he thought, if it weren't for the long walks from one end of the building to the other, he wouldn't get any exercise at all. He put a hand to his stomach, deciding once again to leave the Snickers alone. It wasn't too bad but it could be if he wasn't careful. Maybe switch to peanut M&Ms? Maybe, just leave them all alone... Problem was, he knew he needed the sugar jolt the candy bars gave him during his long hours.
He just wished his wife had lived long enough to see it. The dreams they had had died that day. He should have known better than to hope for something wonderful. It was as if nothing truly good ever came his way, no matter how hard he tried.
Kevin walked over to the parking lot gate. He wondered how his 'guests' were doing at the house and wondered again just what he was doing, inviting them to stay with him. He shook his head and turned back toward the main building, accompanied by his angel who had made the trip with him ever since that day she had to leave him.
The building was silent no matter what was transpiring inside... no matter what dark secrets it hid.
He made the long walk back to his office, looking into one room after another, occasionally stopping to pick up some litter in the hallway and after reaching his office, he finally brought up his email account. Sometimes, he thought, giving out an email address didn't seem like the smartest thing in the world to do.
Eleven-thirty arrived and with three more reports done he made his way over to the cafeteria. How had it come time for lunch so quickly?
Five more hours, he thought, and the day was officially over for him, although, he realized, his day was going to push all the way until six because of... because of what? He needed to remember to call home and let them know he was going to be late and then realized they had no phone. He should have set up a calendar for them, he thought. Now, he'd have to drive home to let them know.
He walked back to the main office, told them he'd be gone for an hour and drove home. If they were going to stay with him, he'd need to get them a phone. If nothing else, it would have saved him a trip home.
Mary was vacuuming the dark green rug, again. Even though she had done it twice already, she felt she owed Kevin something more than just a cursory cleaning of his house. She wasn't sure how often he had changed his bedding but decided that every three days seemed like a good choice. Nothing felt as good as fresh sheets. She looked again at the wedding photo sitting on his dresser, noticing that he had once again pushed it back toward the corner.
The poor woman must have died, she thought. If Kevin was divorced, he wouldn't have a photo in his bedroom, would he? Surely, no man would subject himself to such emotional punishment. Besides, he had the house. No, the poor woman must have died, somehow. When and how, though, would remain a mystery, she knew, until he decided to share such a personal bit of information.
Everyone had their secrets, didn't they?
Mary looked through the living room curtains once again, wondering if they had been followed to Kevin's house, no matter how silly that seemed to anyone else. She couldn't seem to shake the feeling that she was being watched, even though she knew that wasn't possible, was it?
The angel reached out, touching her, bringing a sense of calm and safety that had been lacking for so long in her life.
In the kitchen, Florence was listening to the small television on the counter as she washed dishes from the cupboard. There was no word from Phoenix, not that she expected anything. Even if he were dead, a murder in Arizona hardly was worth mentioning in Los Angeles.
Yesterday, she had carefully hand-washed what must have been wedding china. The house, while not dirty, showed the benign neglect expected from a single man... a single, lonely man. And, there was that gray and white cat. Was it his? It had stayed on the back porch when she had walked out to hang laundry and she looked but couldn't find any cat food in the house. She opened a small can of tuna and set it out for the animal who looked as hungry as any cat she had ever seen, laughing as she did for the poor cat immediately ran over and began eating. As she moved back into the kitchen, the animal moved carefully between her ankles and then stretched out near the warm oven, giving a now-friendly purr as it closed its eyes and went to sleep.
Tomorrow, Florence told herself, they would start seeing what they could do with the backyard, throwing away the dead plants and seeing if they could save the ones that were still trying to live. It wasn't too late for some of them. It wasn't too late, she hoped, for her daughter... or for him. Was it?
The pain in his heart, she decided, had to have taken over his life to the exclusion of everything else. The poor man... he needed a wife, Florence thought, someone like her Mary. She reached for another cup, humming tunelessly as she gently washed the light dust away from it before putting it into the dishwasher. Maybe that was only a hopeless daydream... but, maybe not. Who knew what the 'morrow would bring?
The front door opened and Kevin walked in to see the two women hard at work cleaning the house. An apple pie cooled on the kitchen counter and the smell of cinnamon filled the house. In truth, he had not expected them to work this hard when he offered them a place to stay and realized that whatever money he was going to give them wasn't enough for what they were doing. He looked at himself in the hall mirror and lifted his shoulders in an expressive shrug. Christmas was only three days away. He would address the money issue then... unless something came up at the base and he never came home. It had happened, he remembered, spoiling his first married Christmas and he was greeted with tears two days later when he finally returned.
"I'll be home late, tonight. I won't be needing any dinner. This weekend, we'll get a phone for you to use and I'll give you a schedule."
As much as he felt he should share the reason for his late evening, he knew he couldn't.
"OK, Kevin, no dinner tonight." Florence looked at the full refrigerator, already holding dinner for the evening.
Later, when he came home, he might think differently, she thought. For a moment, she hated reality and wished that life had been different. Her daughter had once been on the way to a Masters' degree and then it had all happened.
Somehow, he worked his way through the weekly meeting. He would have rather eaten with the two women that had somehow made their way into his life. How it was possible he felt that way after just a few days was beyond him. Shouldn't a relationship, if that was what it was, take longer? Shouldn't it? Surely, his crush on her would fade away, wouldn't it? He was confused and worried about his feelings. He couldn't think of her as unpaid labor. When she had laughed, that one time, it was as if small bells had sounded.
Kevin pulled into his driveway close to eight and slowly walked to the front door, tired more than usual, his camouflaged coat draped loosely over his arm. He heard music as he opened the door, a change from the usual silent greeting each evening. A slight grin crossed his face. He never expected the Beach Boys to welcome him home. California girls... the California dream... something he still felt he had lost. From the kitchen he heard singing, keeping in tune with the music reminding him of his wife.
"Oh! You surprised me. I've saved you some chicken enchiladas," Mary said. "I didn't know how much you had for dinner."
She gestured toward the kitchen table, still set for dinner, fully expecting him to sit down and eat. There were those bells again in her laughter.
Kevin was going to protest, saying that he was full but remained quiet. He didn't want to be impolite and the smell... the smell was so good. It had been so, so long since he had had a home-cooked meal two days in a row. He became hungry, his mouth watering at the newly anticipated tastes awaiting him.
"Thank you. I'll just wash up." He put his coat on the back of his chair and went to the kitchen sink to wash his hands, glad the long day was over. These long weeks were killing him although before Mary and her mother had arrived, they had just seemed to fill the time.
"I..." he started to say, turning back toward the table when he bumped into her, her body molding itself to his. It had been so long since he had felt a woman next to him, even if only for a moment, even if only innocently.
"I'm sorry," he quickly said, suddenly fatigued. "Please, excuse me," he said softly, his low sexy voice doing strange things to her.
Mary gazed at Kevin, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest. Tension stretched between them like a taut rubber band as he slowly pushed himself away. He shifted his stance and shoved his hands into his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels as she began to clear the table.
A stab of pain pierced her heart, along with a familiar, stifling sense of inadequacy. He was the first man to... how could she delude herself into thinking a man like him would be interested in a woman like her for long, if at all? She had been badly burned in the game of love. She was as dull as could be, wasn't that what she had been told by John? She should have known it was only a matter of time before he would have grown tired of a boring homebody like her... still a virgin, even now. She had no desire to be loose, no matter how lonely it caused her to be. Except for her hair, there was nothing spectacular about her. She was short and somewhat skinny, she thought. Mary turned her attention back to the kitchen tasks awaiting her. Housework was all she was good for ever since John had destroyed her. How could he be so cruel? If he didn't love her, why not just say so and leave rather than tear apart her life piece by piece until there was nothing left? How could mother and daughter both find abusive companions?
"Oh, God," she said to herself, "what am I going to do?"
Another tear slipped down her cheek.
Her mother was working diligently in the hallway, taking linens from the closet, bath items for the shower, more sheets and blankets for the bed as the cool California winter approached.
"Good evening, Kevin," she said, as he approached.
"Evening," he replied, putting his hand on her shoulder, seeking that personal touch only another human could give. He had been alone too long and now knew it.
It was only after driving for a while did he think about what people were going to think all weekend when they saw him with a woman, especially one as cute as Mary. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. And then he realized he didn't care. He had been alone far too long. That's what he thought. He would ask her to the basketball game at the school.
They stopped for dinner at a Fifty's diner that had opened a year earlier a few miles from the game. Kevin looked at his plate piled high with fries and ketchup, wondering if he was killing himself eating such food. Maybe he should have ordered a salad but then he looked at Mary's face as she bit into her hamburger, a big smile on her face. It had been so long since he had eaten out with a woman without business also on the table. The last time... the last time was with Marilyn and even then, it had been about some new satellites.