SO IT BEGINS
2 April 2010
Tom Cogan forced his way through the underbrush, searching for Max, his black Labrador retriever. The dog wasn’t lost; he knew these woods as well as his owner and would return to the cabin on his own eventually, but Tom had hoped to lock up the cabin and get home before dark. He’d promised Julie he wouldn’t miss dinner—again.
A low growl told him Max was nearby. Seconds later Tom stepped around the trunk of a massive pin oak and spied him. Dirt spewed backward from the dog’s frantic pawing.
“You’d better be digging up buried treasure, Max. Otherwise you’re making me run late for nothing.” The dog stepped back from the hole he’d made and looked up at his master. “A rock? All this trouble for a damned rock?”
Tom squatted beside the shallow depression and looked closer. Was that an inscription he saw? Maybe his dog had uncovered part of a tombstone. Tom dug his fingertips under the rock and pulled it from its grave. It came away whole, a small, flat slab of slate it looked like. Not likely a tombstone, then. But yes, those were letters, spelling out more than one word. Brushing his hand across the surface dislodged most of the clinging dirt. Tom squinted to focus, but the dying light made the words impossible to read.
“Well, well. Let’s take this back to the cabin and see what we have, boy.”
Tom stood and turned back toward the way they’d come. A finger of icy wind crossed his throat and stirred his hair as it wound around his neck. Shit. He hoped another surprise snow wasn’t on the way. It was already April, and he was anxious to get bass fishing season started. In fact, he’d driven out here this evening to check on his boat. He’d made sure the cabin was still standing too, of course. Not that many people would call the modern three-bedroom structure a cabin. And not that its soundness was a real worry. He’d designed and built the place. It would stand long beyond his lifetime.
Beside the porch, Tom hosed off the remaining soil and dried the stone on his jacket before taking it into the house. Though the words had been little more than scratched into the surface, they were easy to read under the bright kitchen light. He shook his head in wonder. The initials in the inscription matched his wife’s maiden name.
“What are the odds of that, Max?” The dog, lying on the fireplace hearth, gave him no response.
Not for the first time, Tom admired his handiwork in the fireplace surround. He’d fashioned it with stones dug from the woods and the dry creek bed that crossed this property. His gaze traveled from the fireplace to the piece of slate in his hands. Julie would get a kick out of the inscription. He couldn’t help smiling as an idea how to surprise her with it came to him. He’d insert this stone dead center under the mantel. Maybe that would win him a few points, close the distance that he’d felt between them lately. How better to show her the stone’s sentiment was his own than by displaying it in a place of honor?
* * *
The despair emanating from the human sitting in the black luxury sedan had acted as a beacon to guide the entity. The drivers of the dozen other vehicles parked in the I-94 rest area had pulled in to wait out the fierce thunderstorm, but this human had come here to die. The entity, though already linked to the human’s mind, hovered in the space between their worlds. He heard and knew without seeing.
Damning financial reports lay scattered on the seat beside it, which is how the entity thought of the human. It leaned across the console, opened the glove box, and pulled out a pistol. Its wife had bought it for him the day she realized he was a millionaire and feared someone would try to kidnap him for ransom. To soothe her, it had carried the Sig Sauer 9mm, not on his person but in his briefcase or car. His talisman. His protection from harm. The entity enjoyed the irony of that as it laid the cool metal against its tongue. An icy breeze filled the car, turning what would have been the human’s last breath to a gasp. It lifted its finger off the trigger. It flinched at the entity’s raspy whisper.
“no no no not yet”
The entity, sneering at this human’s weakness, slipped into its body, settling into its weight and dimensions, as a hand into a glove. After a few seconds, the entity’s vision cleared, and his ears registered the drumming of rain on the car’s roof. A faint oily taste prompted him to jerk the gun barrel from his mouth. Tossing it to the seat beside him, he flexed his hand, judging the strength of it.
It felt good to be back. He always enjoyed his time spent in the physical world.
When he tilted the rearview mirror so he could see his new face, some of his enthusiasm waned. His lip curled. This was a far cry from the handsome, young face he’d worn the last time. That could work in his favor, though. It would be much easier to gain the trust of gullible humans when he appeared harmless. None of those whose lives he’d soon be guiding would suspect him a threat. At least, not at first.
The entity shoved the handgun back into the glovebox and rifled through the briefcase beside him. He pulled out the wallet and opened it to view the driver’s license. Edgar Mason Woodridge he read. A mouthful he’d have to change, though not officially. His powers would persuade these humans to see whatever name and address he projected into their minds.
The credit cards were worthless to him, but the nearly three hundred dollars cash would fuel his drive to Indianapolis where he’d establish his new identity, complete with a substantial credit line. He glanced back to the mirror. One item high on his list—rid himself of the ridiculous comb over the balding human had favored. He tossed the wallet on the seat. Ignoring the downpour, he turned the key in the ignition and pulled the car out of the rest area and onto the interstate.
The restraint necessary to pace himself in exacting his revenge would be torture. Exquisite torture. He was anxious to begin, now that the final piece was in place.
“Thanks to her pathetic stone.” He laughed out loud at the irony.
5 June 2010
Tom stood at the patio door glaring out over his shimmering back yard. Ungodly was the only way to describe it. The air in this suburb of Indianapolis, already thick and sticky as honey at dawn, had now reached a simmer under the noon sun. It didn’t help that he’d woken that morning with a now familiar sense of dread. He’d experienced that feeling often in the last couple of months, and it had grown stronger lately. He figured it had something to do with the disturbing dreams that started about the same time. Last night’s was a bona fide nightmare. In a panic, he’d searched the woods in the dark—always those same woods—but something new had been added. He’d seen the silhouette of a man moving toward him and felt terror like he’d never experienced in real life. When the shadowed man spoke, Tom had clamped his hands over his ears and screamed. Screamed. Like a child.
At breakfast, even though he’d been embarrassed that such nonsense as a dream had scared the crap out of him, he told Julie about it. But like she had when he told her about the other dreams, she dismissed it as a sign he was just stressed over work. He didn’t believe that was the cause, but he couldn’t offer a better explanation. He chalked up the intensity of the nightmares and his sense of foreboding as two subjects he couldn’t communicate to his wife.
Now, he pushed away those thoughts and redirected his anxiety by voicing an observation of the day’s weather. “It’s the first of June, goddammit.”
Julie replied, but she was shoulders deep in the cabinet under the sink, her voice too muffled for him to understand.
“What did you say?”
“Fifth,” she repeated.
“Today’s the fifth of June, not the first.”
He allowed himself a grimace but stifled the sarcastic response that zipped to his tongue. His mood wasn’t her fault. And if they were going to be cooped up together all day, he would be wise to let the little things slide. Because of the unseasonable weather, they’d canceled their weekend errands and took refuge in their air-conditioned home. Not a bad place to be—a two-story stucco with four bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms. Though they had formal living and dining rooms, they spent most of their time in the open-concept great room that combined the kitchen, breakfast, and family rooms in one space that took up two-thirds of the downstairs.
All morning, Tom had prowled in search of faucets, hinges, locks, and switches in need of repair. Julie had emptied the kitchen cupboards and now, after sorting, tossing and organizing, she was filling them again.
She sat back on her heels and peered up at him over the granite counter top. “I’m almost finished here. I’ll fix a nice salad for lunch. How’s that sound?”
“Great.” He said it because he should. Because he ate too much greasy, fast food at work, and she tried to counteract the cholesterol damage whenever she could. He loved her for that.
Praying that the unseasonable temperature was only a fluke and not some kind of omen, Julie stuffed the last full trash bag in the container and retreated to the kitchen. Omens weren’t something she usually watched for, but with her only child going off to college in August and her husband pulling away from her, she faced the summer with something less than enthusiasm. Keeping secrets had only added to her stress.
The morning’s work had allowed her too much time to worry. It had all sounded so simple in April when Patricia, speaking as both her friend and boss, had suggested she get certified as a real estate agent. For nearly a year, she’d worked at Patricia’s business, Sunrise Realty, taking calls, scheduling appointments, and filing paperwork. Though she worked only part time, usually three days a week, Patricia called her the “Office General” because she’d learned every aspect of both their jobs. Getting her sales license seemed a natural step. So why had she kept that plan secret from Tom?
It was true, Tom and Patricia hadn’t exactly hit it off, but he never complained that she worked outside their home. When she’d explained that with Lindsay so busy with her school, friends, and job and he working long hours to get his construction business going, she needed something to fill her days, he’d said he understood. Yet her instinct told her he would be less supportive of her becoming an agent. And she could thank his selfish, over-bearing mother for that.
A wife with a job was one thing. A wife with a career was another. A wife with a career that could result in a hefty income was a woman with power. A woman with power would remind Tom of his mother. And that would be his undoing. That could end their marriage.
Then again, they might already be headed toward divorce. Tom had changed in the last year. He wasn’t as happy running his own company as they’d hoped. He missed working hands on, though he’d never admit that to her. The last couple of months, as if he blamed her for his dissatisfaction with work, he’d withdrawn a little more each day. And then, just when she feared the dreaded words we need to talk were about to pop out his mouth, he would surprise her by transforming back into the sweet, caring man she’d fallen for twenty-four years ago. Too bad that lasted only a few days.
After a lunch eaten side by side at the kitchen island, Tom and Julie moved across the great room and settled in front of the TV. He turned to a fishing show, knowing the first time his eyes drifted shut she’d grab the remote and switch to the home and garden channel. Some twenty minutes later, he opened his eyes to find her dozing on the sofa, but he watched the do-it-yourselfers tile their bathroom floor rather than leave his recliner to reclaim the remote. His eyes closed again before the show ended.
It was late afternoon when Max signaled his need by pawing his owner awake and then trotting to the patio door. Tom stumbled after him. “Sorry, buddy. Go water something.” He’d intended to stay inside but stepped out when he saw Julie lying in the hammock. “What are you doing out here?”
“I couldn’t stand being caged another minute,” she said. “You certainly took a long nap.”
“I haven’t been sleeping well, lately.”
“I’ve noticed. Something on your mind?”
Sweat already forming on his face, Tom lit a cigarette and sat down at the patio table. He felt hungover from the naps. He’d dreamed of the woods again. Why was that so unsettling?
Julie picked up her magazine and fanned herself. “This weather saps my energy.”
“We should have gone to the lake.”
“Yeah, well, we should have done a lot of things, Tom.”
“Excuse me? Are we fighting?”
Her mouth dropped opened and the magazine stilled in mid-wave. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean … it’s just this heat.”
Tom nodded. He balanced his cigarette on the ashtray and stood. “I’m getting an iced tea. You want a refill?”
Tom re-entered the house partially sun blind and groped his way to the refrigerator. During the three minutes he spent in the kitchen, the sweat on his face chilled and dried. In the time it took him to cross the patio and hand one glass to Julie, his skin grew damp again. Neither sensation improved his mood.
“You think Lindsay will be home this evening?” he asked.
“I doubt it. When she’s not working, she’s out with friends.”
“But we don’t have much time left with her.”
“Good God, Tom, you say that like she’s dying.”
“Well … it’s like a death. After she leaves for college, things will never be the same. That’s the death of something.”
Julie stared out across the yard. For a moment, the only sound was the clink of ice against glass as she stirred her tea with a fingertip. “Maybe we’ll resume the life we had before Lindsay was born.”
“Maybe,” he said, his tone so noncommittal it stripped the word of meaning. More than age had made them nearly unrecognizable as the same couple in the wedding portrait hanging in the foyer. Lately, he thought about that a lot. Had they actually changed or just moved apart? And, whichever had happened, was it too late to reverse it?
“Just the two of us again?” She gave him a look ripe with hope.
“Yes,” he replied and then added, “sure,” hoping emphasis would disguise his doubt and fear.
Julie sighed and sank back against the hammock pillows. Tom blew a perfect smoke ring and watched it hang in the heavy air like guilt. Guilt? Where the hell had that come from? He dispersed the ring with a wave of his hand.
“Why don’t we go to the movies?” he said.
She perked up. “I’d like to see a comedy that’s opening tonight.” She wrinkled her nose. “But it’s a romantic one.”
He frowned for only a moment before his face lit with a grin. “Okay, I’ll see your sappy movie, if we can stop at The Shack afterward for barbecue and a pitcher of beer.”
Julie smiled and tossed her magazine at him. “Sounds great, but I’m blaming you when I get fat.”
He stood and steadied her as she stepped out of the hammock, then he pulled her close. “We could work off those calories when we get home tonight.” He gave her a comic wiggle of his eyebrows.
Julie grasped two handfuls of his hair and pulled his face to hers. “We’ll see about that, Old Man. Now, let me go so I can shower off this sweat.”
When she turned to go, he took a playful swat at her ass. Maybe he had it wrong. Maybe they would be all right, the two of them alone again.
Julie answered the doorbell and was surprised to find Patricia standing on her porch beside her new friend and soon-to-be business partner, Eddie.
Patricia stormed into the foyer. “Did you tell him yet?”
“Hello,” Julie said. “Do come in.”
Patricia waved away her sarcasm. “Did you?”
“No. I will. Hello, Eddie.”
Julie closed the door behind them but kept hold of the handle, hoping this would be a quick conversation and the two of them would leave before Tom came downstairs ready for their movie date. No such luck. Patricia set sail for the formal living room with Eddie pulled along in her wake.
At the archway that led into the room, Eddie turned and beckoned to Julie. Reluctantly, she moved toward him. He took her hand and led her to the sofa where Patricia was already seated.
“Do you want me to tell him our plans?” Patricia asked her.
“No, I don’t.” Though Julie knew who Patricia’s him referred to, her use of the pronoun instead of Tom’s name sounded particularly dismissive this evening. “Tom and I are on our way out to a movie in a few minutes and—”
“Which movie?” Patricia asked.
“Don’t Wake Me, so—”
“Fantastic. Count us in.”
“The reviews are wonderful,” Eddie said.
When Tom’s footsteps sounded on the stairs, Julie was still trying to figure out how to get out of the invitation she’d seemingly offered.
His face stinging from the insult of being shaved on a Saturday, Tom sprinted down the stairs. He stopped short in the entrance to the living room at the sound of Lindsay’s voice.
“No thanks,” she said to her mom. “I just stopped in to change clothes. Have fun.” As she passed him on her way out, she gave him a look and whispered, “I pity you.”
Tom surveyed the situation. Julie sat on the sofa flanked by her friend Patricia and a stranger with a shaved head. The man repulsed Tom on sight. Julie murmured an introduction. The stranger, Eddie something, looked too pink, overly scrubbed, naked—a pornographic little man. He sprang up, offering his hand.
“It’s great to meet you, Tom.” Eddie sandwiched Tom’s hand between his and pumped it.
Tom felt a shock of revulsion as if his hand had been sucked into some cold, wet, rotted thing. Though his hand was dry when Eddie set it free, he couldn’t resist the urge to wipe it on his jeans.
Eddie leaned closer. “You have a gorgeous daughter, Tom. I’ll bet you have to beat the boys away from your door.”
Tom’s skin crawled at the idea Eddie had looked at his daughter that way. He pinned the man with a glare. “Julie and I were just on our way out.”
“I know,” Eddie said. “We’ve decided to join you. It’s a double-date.”
Tom stared wide-eyed at Eddie. The man—swear to God—had giggled. Tom turned narrowed eyes on Julie who missed his scowl because she seemed inordinately fascinated with her feet. He shot daggers at Patricia instead.
She responded with her canary-feathered cat smile and linked arms with Julie. “We’ll have a blast, won’t we, Tom?”
With one hand, he rubbed his forehead where a throbbing had begun, and with the other, he jerked the car keys from his pocket. “We’re leaving.”
“Let’s take my new Lexus,” Eddie said. “You’ll love it, Tom. Top of the line, fully loaded, and rides like a dream.”
He might be headed toward hours of boredom, but he’d be damned if another man would do the driving. Tom stalked out the door. He had half a mind to take his Ford crew cab, just to see the look on Eddie’s face, but they always drove Julie’s Camry when they went out together. As Julie slid into the passenger’s seat, she flashed him an apologetic smile. He didn’t return it, but he did consider it a sign she hadn’t planned this fiasco. Still, why hadn’t she stood up to Patricia?
“This night is on me,” Eddie said, settling into the back seat. “After we take in the film, we’ll have a spectacular dinner.”
“Oh! I know the perfect restaurant,” Patricia said. She leaned over to whisper in Eddie’s ear. Eddie giggled again. Tom winced at the sound.
“Boys and girls,” Eddie announced, “we are in for a treat tonight.”
“Well, then …” Julie said.
At the lack of enthusiasm in her tone, Tom forgave her a little more. Before he jerked the gearshift into reverse, he hit the power button on the CD changer, hoping Lindsay had used the car last. Dashing his hope to torture the backseat occupants with something loud and possibly obnoxious, the disc in play was a collection of Julie’s favorite love songs. Eddie’s and Patricia’s too, apparently. During the twelve-minute drive to the theater, they sang along with every word. In steamed silence, Tom awarded them the title of Most Annoying Couple Ever—worldwide.
* * *
In contrast to the smiles of his three companions, Tom’s lips were pressed bloodless against his teeth as he crossed the parking lot to the Rockville Cineplex doors. He strode a step ahead, maintaining lead position as they joined the ticket line. He was determined not to let Eddie pay out a dime for him or Julie.
All he’d wanted was to spend an evening with his wife. He would have endured this movie, and even discussed it at The Shack afterward, but she’d discounted him by dragging along these other two. Compounding his torment tonight, Patricia had this obnoxious new “boyfriend” in tow. Had Julie actually called him that? Tom found it impossible to think of the pompous, middle-aged man as a boy anything.
Tom puffed his cheeks and then forced an exhale through the corners of his mouth. All signs pointed to this being a long evening. He reached for his wallet.
“Now, Tom,” Eddie said, “put that away. I told you—”
“So, Eddie,” Julie said, “did you say you were born in Ohio?”
Tom shot her a look, surprised she’d interrupted. But then, he supposed she’d sensed he was about to tell Eddie where to stuff his money.
“Oh no, Julie, I’m Pennsylvania born, but I lived in Chicago before I came here.”
“And you sold real estate there?”
Patricia answered for him. “He owned the top realty company.”
Eddie feigned modesty. “Too much stress. I’m lying low here for a while.”
Tom squelched a sneer. Lost his shirt is more like it. He tuned out the rest of the conversation and resorted to his habit of people watching. Scanning the crowd for interesting faces, he fixed on the woman in the ticket booth at the head of their line.
Her pale skin framed by long dark hair nearly glowed in the theater’s lighting. Never good at guessing ages, Tom could tell only that she was younger than he yet no longer a girl. Hoping to see the color of her eyes, he continued to watch, but as she dispensed tickets, she never looked up.
Sensing himself a similar object of scrutiny, Tom glanced over his shoulder and locked eyes with Eddie. Unfazed by Tom’s glare, Eddie’s eyes remained cold as he smiled before turning his attention back to Julie and Patricia’s conversation.
Tom dismissed Eddie with a shudder of disgust and glanced at, then ignored, the usual assortment of teens displaying their colorful personas. While he inched his way forward in line, he continued his appraisal of the woman in the ticket booth. There was something about her more striking than her coloring. She seemed serene. No, not that. She was … what? Lonely? Whatever it was, it made her seem isolated, as though she were not fully there.
The movement of her pale, delicate hands from money to cash drawer to tickets mesmerized him. For a second, Tom felt sure he knew this woman, but before he could place her, it was his turn to step up to the booth.
“Two for Don’t Wake Me.” He slid the money toward her hand. Their fingertips met.
This time, she did look up and …
A blur of green, leafy branches whip by as they run deeper into the woods. The shouts behind them grow closer. They cannot outrun him. They have no time left to hide. Their attempt to escape is futile, but he prays he still has time to get her out of danger, out of sight, before that monster catches up with them. Without slowing his stride, he jerks her alongside him and then pushes her ahead.
“Run. Run,” he cries, “don’t look back!”
Seeking to hold her scent, he breathes deeply. He captures one last image of her auburn hair falling in soft waves down her back. He lifts a hand, aching to touch it, but he hardens his heart and turns back to face his enemy.
For one brief moment, his rage overshadows his fear and then …
a flash of light a roar a searing pain in his chest a scream
Felled like a buck, he stares up at her. He can’t lift his hand to touch her. “I’m sorry,” he tries to say, but the blood bubbling in his throat chokes him.
And then …
Tom looked into the stunned eyes of the woman in the booth and saw clearly they were green. He realized two things at once—his expression surely mirrored hers, and she’d just seen exactly what he’d seen. Adrenaline pumped through him causing his heart to pound while his insides impersonated Jell-O in an earthquake.
“Tom!” Julie jerked on his arm.
Moving as if in a dream, Tom allowed her to pull him away, but he held the gaze of those green eyes. For a second, he saw a slight double-image, as though a transparency overlaying a solid briefly shifted. In that moment, he understood. Through the eyes of the dying man, he’d stared into a similar green gaze, and now—somehow—he’d seen the real and the imagined simultaneously.
Seated in the theater, Tom watched the movie but saw little of it. His mind kept wandering back to those woods, back to the ticket booth, back to the strangest experience he’d ever had. The longer he sat there, the more urgent grew his need for another glimpse of the woman.
Finally, he leaned over and whispered to Julie, “I’m going to the restroom.”
He passed the men’s room and stopped just inside the far left theater entrance. From that location, he had a clear view of the ticket booth. One glance told him she was no longer there. Disappointed, he turned away and started back to his seat. He nearly tripped over his own feet when he saw her standing behind the popcorn counter. He ducked into the restroom alcove. When his heartbeat slowed, he stepped out and over to the water fountain. From there, he could see where she stood.
While he pretended to drink, Tom watched her from the corner of his eye. With no customers in line, she stood motionless, looking down. Nothing visible indicated she was anything but a completely normal woman.
“Looks like a fun time in the sack, doesn’t she, Tom?”
Eddie’s voice in his ear caused Tom to jump back from the fountain. He shoved Eddie away. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
He didn’t stay to hear Eddie’s response.
A sudden chill pulled Annie Garrett from her thoughts. At first she attributed it to the theater’s air-conditioning, but when she looked up and saw the short, bald man standing on the other side of the concessions counter, the chill intensified. She gasped.
“Yes, my dear, you know me,” he said. “In some part of your soul, you remember every minute you spent with me … especially those moments we shared alone at night. In the dark.”
She swallowed against rising nausea. Her instinct told her to run, but she knew without trying that she couldn’t move. He wouldn’t let her.
He laughed. “No, you’re not going anywhere. You’ll stand here like the mindless cunt you are until I leave, and when I do, you won’t remember a thing I’ve said to you.”
A whimper rose in her throat.
“We’re going to have so much fun, you and Tom and I. Tom is the man you were thinking about when I walked up. He’s thinking about you too. Eventually, you’ll remember him and he you. And you’ll both remember me—when I will it.”
He wiggled his fingers and she felt her arms rise and dance in the air. He laughed again, and her arms fell limp to her sides.
“Oh yes, I’ll control you and him like marionettes. And when I tire of that … well, I don’t want to give away the big surprise. Let’s just say revenge is sweet, shall we?”
All semblance of his dark humor faded. He fixed her with a cold glare and a knife-sharp pain ripped through her. The scream inside her head never made it to her lips. He snapped his fingers and, for a moment, everything went black.
“Excuse me. Are you open?”
Annie blinked. A woman stood on the other side of the counter. Annie gave the lobby a quick scan, though she couldn’t have said why. A sudden wave of nausea flooded her mouth with saliva. She swallowed and said, “Can I help you?”
“Yeah.” The woman held out her empty popcorn tub. “I’d like a refill.”
* * *
After the movie, Tom drove them all to the trendy new restaurant the award-winning couple was “dying to try.” He was not surprised to see the place decorated in purple and gray—“mulberry and dove” according to Patricia—with chrome sculptures and indirect lighting, kept low for the desired ambiance.
“This decor is absolutely stunning,” Patricia said.
Tom bit down on his tongue to keep from sneering. He’d already formed the opinion that, if fully lit, this restaurant decor would resemble the food court in the upscale shopping mall his crew had helped build last year. As Patricia and Eddie oohed and ahhed over the menu, Tom suppressed the urge to mime a two-fingered gag, but when Patricia feigned a swoon over the wine list, he gave in to a snort of derision.
“Mes amis,” Eddie said with a flourish of hands, “I predict, by the end of the evening, we will claim this restaurant as our very own corner of heaven.”
An insult sizzled on the tip of Tom’s tongue, but just then Julie gave him an exaggerated ohmygod roll of her eyes, and her gesture redeemed his good humor. He gave her a smile and a wink.
After twenty-four years, his relationship with her had grown into an easy thing, maybe not so exciting but comfortable. On the job, guys griped about their marriages, and even if he allowed for their bullshit exaggeration, Tom knew his marriage could be a lot worse than just monotonous. Julie involving Patricia in their life was a strike against her, though.
Tom’s main grievance with Patricia was her habit of voicing, at every opportunity, the opinion Julie could have married someone far better. And maybe Julie could have—definitely she could have—but he couldn’t stand that a pretentious bitch like Patricia judged him unworthy. He and Julie argued less than most couples, but he blamed Patricia for nearly every quarrel they did have. Julie starting a sentence with, Patricia says … or Patricia thinks … was all it took to start him pitching fastballs.
Julie drew his attention back to the table. “You’re very quiet, Tom. Did you enjoy the movie?”
Fortunately, with one ear kept tuned to the discussion among the three of them, he’d heard enough to know the movie was a comedy they judged hilarious. “Yeah. It was funny.”
Tom ignored Patricia’s sneer at his lame response. Julie asked him no more questions. The appetizers arrived, wine flowed freely and so did the conversation between Julie and the other two. For the most part, Tom felt free to exclude himself. At times, he realized he hadn’t heard a word for several minutes. As he ate, his thoughts kept drifting to what had happened to him at the theater.
Until that night, he’d lived a life so ordinary it was almost predictable. He’d never made All-American, never made a million bucks, never made it to anyone’s Man of the Year list. He’d never enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame for anything. But this …
He’d finally experienced something extraordinary and he wanted to hold onto the memory of it. So while the rest of the foursome were eating, drinking and being oh-so-merry, he could think only of seeing The Woman again.