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PART 29 * MAY 2022 * A BREAK FROM REALITY
A sudden loud clap of thunder jolted both Deb and Mark. It was quickly followed by a vivid blue flash of lightning making Deborah shriek and grab Mark’s arm. She squeezed her eyes shut, uttering, “Ooh, Lord.”
“Whoa, baby, it’s alright,” Mark chuckled. His protective instinct kicked in and he put his arm around her waist, pulling her up close and giving her a squeeze. He asked, “Your nerves on edge?”
She pulled away from him. “What do you think?”‘
He moved back to her but kept his hands to himself. “As I recall, you and I used to sit on the front porch swing and enjoy a good thundershower.”
Again thunder rumbled and lightning cracked. This time she stayed calm but turned to fasten her eyes on his. She spoke sarcastically, “Boy, puh-leeze! I know the difference between a thundershower and a ‘threat to maybe drop a house on my head’ thunderboomer!”
Mark burst out laughing. “Deborah, we’re on the 25th floor! I don’t think a house is going to drop on us.”
At that, she couldn’t help but smile. The lightning flashed again and the lights went out. “Oh great”, she said. But it was only a moment and they came back on.
He looked back out at the sky’s horizon and said, “It looks like to me it’s lightening back up a little bit. I’ll bet the worst has passed us.” He picked up his phone to check it and said, “You know this day’s getting away from us. It’s going on noon, c’mon, I’m hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”
The thunder rumbled again. Deb stood still there where she was glaring at him. He pulled out his billfold taking a quick glance at his cash. She could see there were some hundred dollar bills and thought, ‘Are you trying to impress me?’ But she stayed still and silent.
He couldn’t stand it any longer so he asked, “What’s wrong?”
In a shy, feminine, even babyish voice, she said, “I’m not going to get in that elevator with this going on.”
She paused momentarily while he began to cajole her with, “Deb, listen to me–“
But she cut him off now with her wifely tone. “Anybody with a lick of sense knows better than that, Mark! The lights could go out and I’d be trapped in there. No way, not me.” Her stomach made a rather odd noise letting them both know she was hungry too. Of all times, she thought to herself, for that to happen. She could feel the rush of blood to her cheeks. She adjusted her top and felt silly as he laughed down his collar. Lightning flashed again, followed by thunder that rolled but didn’t sound as close to them now.
“Honey–“, he started again, but to no avail.
“You do it!” she interrupted him. “Go get us something and bring it back here.”
“Deborah, you beat everything I’ve ever seen, you know that? You get mad and you’d take on the world’s worst killer. But an elevator? That renders you helpless. I knew your nerves were shot and how upset you were when you ran out of here this morning. Twenty-five floors down by your lonesome. I half expected to find you passed out on the floor. Your anger, or whatever, you did it! And all by yourself. Now I’m telling you I’ll be with you. The storm is passing. Let’s go.”
DEB DIGS IN
She sat down on the sofa and folded her arms. Giving him the ‘I HAVE ASSUMED THE ATTITUDE‘ look. ‘DEAL WITH IT!’ She said, “Well, at least I’m still afforded choices in this world. Either you’re going to talk me to death or I may get to starve. I wonder which it will be?” Then she began to hum the Jeopardy music tune.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head in exasperation. Still, there was an amused twinkle in his eyes as he looked back at her. “Alright, “Drama-Mama”. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
As the door clicked behind him, she smiled and repeated, “Drama-Mama?”
‘I know I’m being ridiculous, she thought, ‘but still if you ever get trapped in one you’ll understand where I’m coming from, Mark. You think you’re so smart.’
Rain began to pelt against the window. Another low roll of thunder too. She went over to it and thought how lovely everything looked. The lights of the city. The raindrops shimmering on the window looked like diamonds. She began to relax. The pitter-patter was soothing. Now, this was a thundershower and it sounded wonderful.
She walked around the suite admiring the elegance. There’s a warm feeling to this place. She ran her fingers across the fabric at the booth in the kitchenette and thought, ‘I could get used to this. It’s so, so very nice. I’m glad you let him bring me here, Lord. And thank You. You’ve been so good to Mark and me. I don’t know, though, Father, what to do now. All this new stuff that I’m finding out about. It seems to be getting more and more complicated.’
Her phone rang interrupting her prayerful internal conversation. She walked over to where Mark had left it. It was on the marble countertop in the kitchenette area. ‘You remembered’, she said in a whisper. At home that was where she’d keep her phone. And his, too. Oftentimes; they would be laid together on the kitchen counter.
Although this time, she didn’t pick up the phone to see who it might be. Dave? Susan? One of the kids? Or even the killer himself? ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she thought. ‘I can’t handle it. Not yet. Whoever it is.’ It stopped ringing. She didn’t even pick it up now to see what number was there. Instead, she went over to the sofa and sat down. Just kind of getting a feel of the place. But she was still between counting her blessings and the shock of it all. She felt her neck and other muscles tightening with tension. ‘I’ve got to have some time to rest and digest all of this stuff,’ she reasoned.
She let her head drop back. The cushioned back was amazingly plush. ‘He knows the man, he said. And that he is his half-brother? And now Susan’s involved. Tessa is her sister and she knows about her sister and Mark. What a mess,’ she whispered. ‘I didn’t want anybody to know our personal business and problems. And now it’s all just ballooning out of control. Another woman. Another man. The mob. The government. Oh Lord, help me. Help us all.’
She paced back to the window. A harder, steady rain was falling now. ‘The traffic’s probably a mess too. It’d have to be. They can’t drive right in the sunshine in Atlanta much less in a storm. It’s taking him a while.’
Someone knocked on the door. It startled her. But then Mark’s voice called out.
“Coming!” she yelled back. It was as if a flood of relief washed over her. The fact that it was him, and not Alex, nor a maid. No one like that. Him.
She hurried to the door. Opening it she was shocked to see Mark standing there not only dripping wet from the rain, but along with him, he had both a bellboy cart and a room service cart from the hotel. They were loaded with things and he was tipping the attendants and letting them go. She was looking at everything from groceries to a new Mr. Coffee-maker, a stainless steel cooking set, etc. She only now realized that this wasn’t a regular hotel suite; it was a service apartment. Oh, my!
“Mark, what in the world is all this?”
Now in his hand and being held out to her was a beautiful vase of red roses.
He reached his free hand over to cradle the right side of her face. “It’s a break from reality. I’ve got to have it, Deb. For a few weeks anyway. There comes a time when a man has to have time to think. I told Alex and the people I’m working for that I needed some time to just, well, to just be. And they agreed. You can’t feel at home and rest in a hotel room or rooms. We needed a place where we could feel at home and yet be protected. The best thing we can do right now is to lay low. Both of us.” Now he grinned like a schoolboy. “What’s not to love? You gonna keep me standing here? Or can I come in?”
“Oh! I’m so sorry.” She glided forward to take the roses from him.
What had she heard him say? ‘What’s not to love’? She’d thought he would never remember that from their courting days.
“They’re beautiful,” she said. “Thank you.” She stepped back in with them and pulled the door all the way open where he could push the cart inside.
“I thought you’d like them,” he said. “Um here, let me go ahead and give you this, too.” He reached into one of the bags and pulled out beautifully gift-wrapped boxes. “Happy Birthday.”
“What?” She was shocked. “I had no idea.”
“I didn’t think you did,” he observed. “That’s what I mean baby. You and I have got to get some rest and to where we can think straight. Fast. They pulled some strings and we’re going to have this apartment for a month with full service.
She took the largest present from his hand and said, “I ~ I’ll open these later. Come on, let’s get these things put away.”
“Oh, sure,” he said. “You’ll have to decide where what goes and all that. Right now I just need to unload the cart so it can go back.” Stooping down, he added, “and on this end of the cart, I braced this one,” he said reaching for a sack. It contained a couple of to-go orders and two large coffees.
She lifted the top, “Mmmm, that smells good. I’ll get it all heated up for us,” she said. “You hurry up unloading that and get into some dry clothes before you get pneumonia.” She looked up just in time to see him yawning before he answered, “Okay.”
She set the food down by the microwave and began to hum while undoing the paper towel roll he had brought. ‘Trained him right,’ she smiled.
“Do you feel safe he asked?”
That unsettled her a little. “Yeah, I do.” She reflected a moment. “Don’t you?” she asked him.
“Yeah, I do too.”
Then she walked back to him. “You know we’re bordering on crazy? I mean, what’s wrong with us, Mark? ‘Break from reality’, you said. How are we going to do that?” She was shocked to hear herself snapping at him, but somehow she couldn’t stop. “I mean really? Tell a killer, and your Father, and everybody, ‘Excuse us, we’re too tired; don’t kill us now?” She did manage to bite back ‘and aren’t we waaay past “playing house'” together’? Even she couldn’t deal with that one right now.
“Look, I don’t know!” he snapped back at her. “Right now I’m starving. We’ll figure things out later. What was that song you were humming a little bit ago? It sounded pretty.”
“What?” she asked. She hadn’t realized she had been humming it loud enough to be heard. It took her a moment to get the tune back in her head. She began to hum it again. It hit her and Mark at the same time. Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man. She used to sing it happily all the time. Back when things were so different between them. Her mouth felt dry now. He looked at her closely.
“What’s wrong?” He turned his back to her and asked, “Thinking about Dave when you hummed it this time?”
To Be Continued