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Deb opened her hotel room door back in Florida.
Everything seems so different here. It’s like a different world. Beautiful, sunny, and a lifetime away from the heartache she had left behind in her beloved Georgia. After a refreshing nap, she’d gone out for lunch and was feeling better. Although … She knew she couldn’t just vacation now. Things had reached a climax at such a dangerous level; not only with her marriage but also with Susan in serious condition. Her heart ached for her. She hated those words: “attempted rape”. And the violence she had seen visited upon her best friend. Deb squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head, momentarily overwhelmed. ‘Switch gears’, she chided herself, ‘You will not collapse in despair now! You’re just getting started.’ Placing her purse on the bed, she pulled the new travel bag she had brought with her from the closet just inside the door. She couldn’t stop her whirling thoughts. The red truck and that lunatic on the loose. Mark? Dave and Tessa? But … why did someone attack Susan? ‘Stop!’ She pushed the ugly images from her mind. If she was going to figure anything out she had to keep her emotions in check. She remembered that one of her favorite Biblical characters, king David, would often affirm, “I will not fear.” In Psalm 56:3, his words “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” anchored her. That’s what she had to do now. She opened the drapes up to the beautiful ocean view. It looked so inviting. ‘Why not?’ And hurrying, she removed from the bag a new item. She felt a little giddy as she slipped into the new orange body-shaping one-piece swimsuit, grabbed her suntan oil, her hat, sunglasses, and beach towel, and gazed into the mirror. It was the new her. “Wow, who are you, Deborah Johnson?”
How refreshing and invigorating the water felt! The lapping of the waves from the ocean beyond the pool had a calming effect. Drawing in a deep, relaxing breath, Deb stretched out near a family that was close by. The children were squealing with joy and laughter and she could hear their music playing too. She thought back to yesteryear and how Mark and she were like that once. I never thought it would end up like this. Never. So, now what am I going to do about it? What do I want to do? she questioned herself. She reasoned in her mind: He’s not the man you married. Not anymore. She sat up. It was as if she was hearing someone else speak to her. It didn’t feel like her own thoughts because she heard the words coming back at her that she’d thought about Mark. ‘You’re not the same woman either! Not that long ago you were going to show Satan that you wouldn’t be robbed. You loved him. You were going to fight for your marriage. Now look at everything.’
Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted. She squealed as water cold as ice dripped down on her. ‘WHAT–?’ She stopped herself from leaping up as the man dripping after his own dip in the pool stood gazing down at her. She slowly looked him up and down. Head-to-toe. He was very good-looking, even soaking wet.
“I’m sorry,” he said casually. She took in a steadying breath. This was a surprise. ‘Be cool’, she coached herself. He was looking her over head-to-toe, too. He spoke again. “So, uh, you come here often?” And then he stretched himself out beside her on the edge of her towel.
“Evidently, not often enough, Mark” she replied. Let him figure out if that was a flirt or a dig.
When he didn’t say anything, Deb continued. “I missed your marriage to Tessa, and just caught the tip end of your Anniversary Party at Gregory’s.” She smiled slyly. “Where is little Ms, Seduction?”
Mark wiped the water off his face with her towel.
“Don’t. Don’t say that. Put your claws back in. I knew you had found out. But it’s not like you think, Deb.”
“Oh – it’s not?” she drew it out coyly. “Suppose you tell me how it is. And try something you’ve not been acquainted with lately, Mister. .. the truth!” She removed her sunglasses and took in another deep breath. She let it out slowly as she watched him closely. She continued coaching herself, ‘I must stay calm. Don’t fail. Meet him on his terms if you have to! And don’t back down.’
To any onlookers, it would have appeared as if they were lovers. Laying close together sharing her towel, looking into each other’s eyes. He propped himself up on his elbow and began to explain.
“She’s innocent in all this, Debbie. Just like you were.” His mouth went dry and his eyes teared up as he continued. “I–” He hesitated before starting again. “–I got into some trouble about four years back. Remember when you went to stay with your Mom to help out after you lost your Dad?”
‘Oh here we go’, Deb thought. ‘Typical Mark. It’s my fault for leaving him? But as Deb was watching and listening to him so intently to catch any lie or any clue he didn’t mean to give her, she couldn’t help noticing, as she had at the hospital in Atlanta, that he’d lost some weight and had dark circles under his eyes.
For the first time in such a long time, Mark was beginning to open up to her.
The sun was bearing down. She calmly replied, “Hold it a minute. Before you and I look like an ad for Red Lobster, let’s go get something to drink and continue this inside.’
He wiped his face with her towel again. This time it was to remove sweat, not pool water. “Okay. Good idea.” He flashed that smile that used to make her weak. To his surprise, Deb smiled back. The meet-up was being handled like two friends getting together at the beach. He was grateful and followed her lead as they made their way back up the path to the hotel. He silently watched as she said a friendly ‘hi’ as they passed others. She’d handed him the towel and suntan oil to carry while she placed her hat on her head at a fashionable tilt. This wasn’t the Deb he had started taking for granted over the years. She called back to him, “I’m hungry! And I’ll bet you could use a bite too.” Where was the explosion? The tears? Once inside her room she picked up her phone and called for a pizza and some drinks to be delivered, then turned on some soft music and said, “Give me a minute, would you?”
He sat down on the bed while she opened her suitcase and pulled out the sexy white nighty she had bought back on that other trip when she was trying to find out about — and compete with –Tessa. The one she had dreamed about.
As she entered the shower, her thoughts raced. ‘If you want answers? You’ve got to be smarter than ever and very careful how you pose the questions to him.’ So she showered, blew dry her hair enough to fluff and shape it around her face and shoulders. And she put on just enough makeup to make her look fresh and prettily sexy.
Along with the white nightie. She looked into the mirror and was pleased. Vive la différence, she thought. Adding a spritz of her perfume, she heard Mark saying, “Here you go buddy, and thank you”, to the pizza delivery man. Looking herself over carefully in the large mirror, she wondered what Mark would think. That she was coming on to him? Let him think it—
“Is it all clear, Mark?” she called out.
“Yeah, It’s just me, he’s gone.”
She glided back in fresh from her shower and he did a double take. He stood. “WOW.”
She looked him up and down. As he had just done to her. From head to toe.
She chuckled, “Oh, sit back down. You’ve been wowed before. Kinda thought you’d be used to it by now. I mean that Tessa is “Ms. Sex Appeal” wrapped up in beautiful buttons and bows from what I’ve witnessed. That is what you like, right?”
He avoided the bed now and walked to sit at the small bistro table provide by the room in front of the expanse of glass overlooking the ocean. He seemed uncharacteristically ill at ease now, looking down momentarily rubbing his legs. He had her towel draped around his neck. But when he looked back up at her he’d put on his charming smile and countered. “That doctor-man of yours does alright in the Sex Appeal department too, darlin’.”
‘Touche’. Deb smiled back and said, just as charmingly, “That he does — darlin’!”
She placed his drink and pizza in front of him and sat down with hers. When there was a dead pause, she touched his hand across the small table. “Now. Back to where we left off on the beach. Continue, please.”
He took a gulp of his drink and sighed. “Truth. Deb, I made a wrong decision. Daniel got into some trouble at school.” This caught Deb totally off-guard.
Shocked, she grappled for words. “Daniel? –Our Daniel? What kind of trouble?”
He answered, shaking his head and rubbing his temple simultaneously, “He stole a test from his professor’s desk. He was scared he’d fail and that he would get kicked off the football team, and lose his scholarship.”
She gasped and covered her mouth to maintain silence on her part.
“Anyway, he got caught. And instead of letting me know about it he went to my Father. They worked out a deal with the school. He got punished and all, but my old man moved in on me with all the criticism of how I hadn’t been a good enough son and was messing up Daniel.” He rose from the table pacing back and forth and hissed, “Ss-shoot.” That was Mark’s byward. A way of not cursing in front of her throughout their years together. Although there had been times… And, to be completely honest, Deb had thought them herself in times of stress and anger. One of the things she found herself apologizing and repenting for from time to time. He continued on relating that “Danny” also had an accident. Totaled his car.
Deb gasped again. “And you didn’t tell me?!” He glanced back at her, but ignored her accusation, continuing on full out with his confession. “He got slammed with the fees. Big-time fees. Dad paid for whatever he’d done, covering his irresponsible rear end. When I found out about everything I got hold of Daniel and straightened him out but good! I brought him back home for a little while. That’s when you were getting your Mom settled on in the Senior’s Home.” He paused to gauge Deb’s reactions. He studied her face. Her expression was stark. She had paled a little and yet there was tenderness as if she was trying desperately to understand all that he’d been through and was sharing with her now. He found himself wanting to comfort her. After a moment, he crossed back to her and took her hand in his. “He’s alright, Deb. Really! In these past few years, he’s straightened up and is doing really well. In the meantime, though, Dad has been putting the screws to me. He pressured me to pay him back and he took his ever-popular holier-than-thou attitude with me. What was I supposed to do? He bailed our son out. So I began working harder, trying to pay him back. I couldn’t break it to you. I didn’t even know how to. It was done!”
Deb eyes were brimming with tears. She sighed. “Oh, Mark. I’d have been devastated, yes. Angry? Sure. But I’m your wife! You needed me. Didn’t you know that?”
He looked a little exasperated and kept talking. “Things rocked on. Then …. your change symptoms started and I picked up a pill habit.” Again, Deb gasped and wiped the tears trailing down her cheeks away. Mark was clasping and unclasping his hands nervously. He whispered, “I’m so sorry…” hanging his head and feeling ashamed. “It started off innocently and just got out of control.”
Deb interrupted, “is that what’s wrong now, Mark? Are you on some kind of opioids or–?”
“NO!” he denied vehemently, then caught himself and softened. “No.” His exhale was ragged and his face was flushed. Deb poured him another soft drink and said much calmer than she felt, “Take your time, honey. Don’t be afraid to tell me all of it, Mark. I can handle it. I’m woman enough.”
He reached over placing his hand lovingly and gentle on the side of her face. He whispered, “I know you are, baby. I never thought otherwise. I just got caught up in a web of lies and a game of deceit and in over my head. The pills took hold of me. I started having temper outbursts and cravings. I needed more and more money. And then I met this guy. He was an undercover cop. He approached me because he said they had been watching me. And they knew I needed help. Or I was gonna get myself and maybe you and the kids killed. See, it turned out my old man didn’t get all his money on the up and up. He’s been in dirty business behind the scenes. For a very long time.”
Deb couldn’t hide her pain. “WHAT? Oh, Mark.” She put her hands over her face again. “And how long have you known that?”
“Since a little over three years ago. It was ah, yeah, a little over three years.” Then he answered the question she hadn’t asked. “That’s when and how I got involved with Tessa. My father had a scheme where he was trying to meet and get a Senator in his hip pocket. Tessa was an attorney whose work involved advising the Senator. And, like you, she was woman enough to catch any man’s eye.”
A tear rolled down his cheek as Deb repeated, “woman enough.”
To catch just his eye or his heart too?
To Be Continued.
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