Thursday, January 17, 2013

Innocent Neglect

Tara is trying to unwind in a lounge chair on her stone patio.   She can feel the warm Kissimmee sun gently caressing her skin.  The summer breeze sweeps in and wraps itself around her body.  Tara glares out at the palm-fringed trees that fill her backyard.  Warm tears begin to trickle down her cheeks.  She wipes the tears with the back of her hand.  Tara reaches over for the champagne bottle that sits on the table next to her.  She pours some of the champagne into her glass.  As she pours, the exotic smell of the champagne fills the Florida air.  When she takes a sip, Tara can feel the lively bubbles begin to dance around in her mouth.  The bubbles tickle her palette.  The champagne goes down smoothly and cools her off.  Tara glances down to see her cell phone.  She realizes its five o’clock.  Landon normally arrives home from work around five thirty.
~ ~ ~
Landon is a hard-working lawyer.  He spends many hours in the Osceola County courthouse.  Tara already knew that Landon’s career would require many hours.  Landon and Tara were both students at Florida State University.  They met during their junior year.  Landon swaggered his way into the classroom and took the seat next to her.  She can still remember the way in which his cologne caught her attention.  It smelt rustic and manly.  She can also remember their first “real” conversation.  She remembers how silly but cute it was. 
“Excuse me,” Landon said to Tara.
Tara looks over at him in surprise.  She can’t believe this cute guy is acknowledging her.
“Do you have a pencil I can borrow?”
“Oh yeah,” Tara said as her cheeks begin to blush. 
Tara begins to fumble around in her book bag to find a pencil.  She nervously hands one to him.
“Thanks!  By the way, my name is Landon.” 
He smiles at her.
“Hi, I’m Tara,” Tara said shyly.    
Landon and Tara continued sitting next to each other in class.  They instantly became friends.  They spent most of their time studying together, getting coffee together, and eating dinner together.  As they began spending more time together, their relationship became more intimate.  They started dating and remained in a relationship throughout college. 
~ ~ ~
Tara feels like she hasn’t seen Landon as much lately.  It seems like he has been working later on Tuesday and Thursday nights.  Tara is looking forward to a romantic evening alone with him.  Tara hopes that a romantic night is exactly what they both need.  She feels their marriage has been suffering, especially in the past couple of months.  She believes that they aren’t on the same wavelength anymore.  Tara wants to bridge the gap between Landon and herself.  In doing so, Tara hopes to surprise Landon with his favorite meal, spaghetti and meatballs.  This was the meal that Landon cooked the night he proposed to Tara.  She still can remember how special that night was to her. 
~ ~ ~
It is a calm, sultry night in June. It’s only been a couple of weeks since their graduation. Landon called and invited Tara over for dinner.  When Tara arrives, Landon is cooking spaghetti and meatballs.  Landon has never been one of those sweep-you-off-your feet types of guys.  You know, those who prepare a candlelight dinner.  A guy who makes a rose-petal path that leads to the bedroom.  A guy who sends your favorite bouquet of flowers to you unexpectedly.  As they eat, music plays softly in the background.  After dinner, they talk and laugh while sipping wine on his couch.  They sit hand in hand.  Tara loves how their hands perfectly fit into each others.  While sitting on the couch, Landon reaches into his pocket with trembling hands.  He pulls out a tiny red velvet box.  He stands up from the couch and walks nervously over to Tara.  Landon bends down on one knee and looks up into Tara’s eyes. 
“Tara, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.  You bring so much happiness and joy into my life.  You make me smile everyday.  You’re the reason I get up in the morning.  You’re the last thing I think about at night.  I would be the luckiest man if you would marry me.  Tara Lee King, will you marry me?”
Tara begins to cry tears of joy.  A huge smile forms across her face.  She shakes her head with excitement.
“Of course I’ll marry you, Landon Thomas Rawlings!  I love you!”    
~ ~ ~
  Tara grabs her glass of champagne and walks into the house.  As she walks upstairs, Tara hears how her footsteps echo throughout the house.  She stops and listens to the silence.  Tara begins to cry again.  She takes a deep breath and walks into the bathroom.  Tara begins to draw a hot bath in the tub. 
~ ~ ~
As she undresses, Tara notices her reflection in the bathroom mirror.  Her dark green eyes are glassy and red from crying.  Tara is only thirty-two years old.  She barely has any wrinkles on her sun-kissed skin.  Her cheeks are rosy from the combination of crying and champagne.  As she unloosens her ponytail, Tara watches as her golden curls fall down her back.
~ ~ ~
  Tara turns off the bath water and steps into the tub.  She can feel the warm sensation of the water rush up and down her body.  As Tara begins to relax, her tense muscles slowly loosen up.  Her head begins to tingle from the champagne.  Tara hopes that a bubble bath will relax her.  She closes her eyes and lays her head against the base of the tub.  As she soaks, the past couple of weeks begin to flood her mind.
~ ~ ~
Last Wednesday morning, Tara is awakened by the warmth of the sun creeping in through the bedroom window. She quietly slivers out of the bed as not to wake Landon. Tara makes her way to the kitchen. Within minutes, the house is filled with the aroma of bacon, eggs, and coffee.  Landon walks swiftly into the kitchen.
“Good morning, honey! I hope you’re hungry,” Tara said with a grin.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t stay for breakfast. I’m running late for work,”
Landon said.
Like the wind he was gone.
 ~ ~
          As Tara is getting ready for work, her cell phone rings.
“Hello,” Tara said.
“Hey, it’s Dawson from the firm.  Is Landon there?”
“He’s already left.  Wait, he’s not there?”
Tara said with suspicion.
“No, not yet. Thanks anyways.”
Tara hangs up and decides to call Landon herself.  His phone went directly to voice mail.
~ ~ ~
            After her bath, Tara brushes her hair and applies the right amount of make up.  She searches through her closet for the “perfect” little outfit. She slips on his favorite little black dress with the strappy heels. Tara hopes this will bring back memories.
~ ~ ~
     As Tara leaves their bedroom, she notices their wedding portrait from the corner of her eye. The portrait hangs on the wall behind their bed. Tara hung it there after they moved in.  Tara walks over to the portrait to get a better look at it, even though she has seen it hundreds of times over the years.  However, today the portrait seems to grab her attention.
~ ~ ~
     The photo is protected by a black metal frame.  The photo is a full length picture.  Tara gazes at Landon.  She is reminded of how handsome Landon was and still is after five years.  He has such a handsome smile and charming blue eyes.  In the photo, Landon towers over Tara.  She has always felt safe with him.  Landon’s arm is around Tara’s shoulder in the portrait.  Tara remembers how protected she felt that day.  She also felt like the luckiest girl in the world.  Landon’s face glows in the picture.  He appears to be so happy.  Tara wonders if he still feels the same.  At the bottom of the frame, “Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings” is engraved.  She believes these words are engraved for a reason.  A marriage is permanent.  It should last forever.  No one should be able to come in and scratch those words out.
~ ~ ~
     As Tara descends the stairs, she can hear Landon’s voice from the distance.  He probably arrived home while she was in the bathroom.  He normally acknowledges her with a “hey honey” when he walks in the door.  Tara follows the path of his voice.  Tara finds Landon in his office.  She notices the door is slightly cracked.  Tara quietly sneaks over to the door and peers in.  Tara notices Landon pacing around the room.
     “I don’t think she expects anything,” Landon said.
There is a pause.  He listens while the other person on the line speaks. 
     “I’ve been telling her that I’m working late,” Landon said while tapping his fingers nervously against his desk. 
     “I’m trying.  It’s not working,” Landon said.
As he said this, he turns to look at the door.
     “Ok, well I better go.  I’ll see you tomorrow at the usual time.” 
~ ~ ~
  It’s Tuesday evening and Tara decides to follow Landon home from work.  Tara knows this is wrong but she has to know the truth. Tara feels like she has to follow her gut. She disguises herself in various ways.  She doesn’t want anyone to recognize her.  Tara decides to wear a loosely fitted black top with a pair of black jeans. She also decides to wear a floppy, wide brimmed hat with her hair stuffed inside.  She found a pair of large, black sunglasses in an old purse. She made sure to grab her camera before leaving the house.  
~ ~ ~
      The only thing left to do is sit and wait for Landon.  Tara is parked across the street, adjacent to his office building. She has a clear view of the entrance. She checks her watch.  She realizes it’s five o’clock. All of the sudden, Tara begins to feel faint.  The palms of her hands begin to sweat.  Her body begins to shake uncontrollably.  She tightly grips the leather steering wheel to calm her nerves.
~ ~ ~
     Tara finally notices Landon pushing through the door. She watches him as he gets into his car and drives off. Tara takes a deep breath, waits a second, and slowly falls in line behind him.  Tara makes sure she puts enough distance between them.  All of the sudden, Tara realizes that this is not Landon’s normal route home. She continues to follow him for several miles.  It seems as though he knows where he’s going. It’s like he has been there before. Landon finally slows down and drives into a parking lot.  Tara does the same.  She parks her car several parking spaces down from his.  She watches as Landon gets out of his car and moves swiftly to the door of a coffee shop.  He stops and stands next to the Dorr as though he is waiting for someone.  Tara nervously reaches for the camera in the passenger seat.  After a few seconds, the door opens and out steps a woman. 
~ ~ ~
     The unfamiliar woman has long, auburn hair. Tara notices that she is tall and slender. She has tanned skin. She is wearing black pants and a white blouse.  Tara is so involved in this woman; she almost forgets to take a picture of them. Tara notices they are having a conversation. Landon and the woman smile at one another. Landon follows her in and the door shuts behind them.
~ ~ ~
     Tara decides to drive off and head home.  As she drives, she can’t believe what she just witnessed. Tears begin to swell up in her eyes.  The tears begin to drip down her cheeks and fall into her lap. After a few miles, the tears begin to diminish and Tara starts to get angry.  She wonders if she should even go home, home to what?  A cheating husband that doesn’t love her anymore. Tara knows that she will have to face her fears when Landon arrives home.               
~ ~ ~
Tara is sitting on the couch.  She didn’t even bother to turn on the lights.  As she sits there, Tara realizes that this could be the last day she is married to Landon.  She can’t believe this is happening to her.  Tara suddenly hears Landon’s car pull into the driveway.  She sits up, takes a deep breath and composes herself.
     “Hey honey! Why are you sitting in the dark?” Landon asked.
     “I know where you went today!”
     “What are you talking about, Tara?”
      “I followed you, Landon! I know where you’ve been going on Tuesday and Thursday nights!”
     “Oh, you do now?  So, where have I been then?” Landon protested.
     “I saw you with that woman! I have proof!”
Tara stomps over to Landon and shoves the camera in his face. Landon turns on the camera and thumbs through the pictures. Landon begins to chuckle. This makes Tara even more furious.
     “What are you laughing at? There’s nothing funny about this,” Tara moaned.
     “Tara, you know I’m not a romantic type of guy.  In fact, I’m right down too practical. I’ve taken our marriage for granted. I’ve felt lately, that your love for me has weakened. I realized that I needed to do something about it.
“Why are you telling me this now?”
     “Well….. The woman I’ve been spending time with is not who you think it is.”
    “Who is it then, Landon?”
    “Tara, it’s our wedding planner!”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Flooding Memory

As Corrinne crosses the swinging bridge, the Island of Seagrove comes into view.  One by one, bungalows are aligned along the shore.  At one time, the bungalows were alive with summer vacationers, weekend lovers, and flocking snowbirds.  Whatever the case, the bungalows are soaked with memories.  They breathed vibrant colors of yellow, orange, blue, and green.  Now, they have become wrinkled by the sun and beaten by the wind.
At the end of the bridge, there is a sign marked with “beach access.”  Corrinne drives her car into the vacant parking lot.  She gets out of her car and walks towards the dune.  Once she reaches the shore, she bends over to take her sandals off.  The warm sensation of the sand meets her feet like a long-forgotten memory. 
It is late-September, the island is breath-taking.  Corrinne crouches in the shade of a palmetto tree.  She can hear the palm leaves rustling against the easterly wind.  She can feel the sea oaks dancing around her feet.  They sway to and fro with the whistling tune of the wind.  The sky is filled with billowing clouds that hover over the horizon.  The water is so blue; it’s as if the ocean and the sky are one.  As the waves roll in, Corrinne gets lost in the low murmuring tone of the oceans song.  Memories of that day begin to flood her memory.

After leaving her morning meeting, Corrinne walks to her corner office.  Corrinne is the editor of “The Journalist.”  It is a small publishing office located in downtown Chicago.  After Corrinne and Jason got married four years ago, they moved from comfortable Seagrove to bustling Chicago.  Jason was offered a job at an engineering firm.  Luckily enough, Corrinne received the job at “The Journalist” a couple of months later. 
            When Corrinne walks into her office, she notices the monster-like weather staring back at her through the picture window.  The eastern sky looks angry.  The low, coal-colored clouds march along the Chicago skyline.  It’s as if, the city is under attack.  In the distance, Corrinne can hear the wailing scream of a siren.  The sound becomes louder and louder as it speeds by her office building.  The siren suddenly becomes muffled in the busy street below.
After making a cup of coffee, Corrinne begins to sift through her e-mails.  This has become a mechanical routine for her.  As the editor, Corrinne receives hundreds of submissions a day.  They are from aspiring authors, striving to get their novels published.  She begins to read off the titles, “The Winding Road,” The Dark Days,” and “The Accident.” 
“Hey Corrinne,” her assistant said. 
Corrinne remains staring at her computer screen.      
“Corrinne,” her assistant said again with impatience.
“Sorry Heather.  I didn’t even hear you,” Corrinne said while her cheeks begin to blush.
“There’s a man on the phone asking for you.  He said his name was Officer Gordon.”
“Is it Jason again?” Corrinne asked while beginning to laugh.
Jason loves to joke around with Corrinne.  He always knows how to make her laugh.  That is one thing Corrinne loves about Jason.
“No, I don’t think so.  He said it was an emergency.”
“”Okay.  Thanks Heather!”
Corrinne waits until Heather has left her office to answer the call.  She looks down towards the phone.  Line two is angrily flashing red.  It’s as if, it’s screaming at her.  Corrinne reaches down to pick up the phone.  The receiver feels unusually heavy.   
“Hello,” Corrinne said into the receiver.
“Hello, is this Mrs. Bryan?” the unfamiliar voice asked from the other line.
“Yes,” Corrinne said with curiosity in her voice.
“My name is Officer Gordon.  I’m from the Chicago Police Department.”
Thump, thump, thump.  Corrinne’s heart begins to pound.
“I’ve got some news about your husband.  He has been sent to the hospital-”
The phone slams to the ground.  She feels an intense wave of fear overwhelm her.  Corrinne jumps up to grab her purse.  The room begins to spin around, around, and around.  Corrinne has the sudden urge to throw up.  Her heart feels like it is pounding out of her chest.  Her throat tightens up and it becomes harder to breathe.  She feels herself beginning to lose her balance.  Corrinne reaches out to grip the corner of her desk.  She clings so hard, her knuckles turn white.  She slowly pushes herself up by the desk drawers.  She flings open the door to her office.  It sends a loud bang throughout the hallway.
“Corrinne, what’s wrong?” Heather exclaims.
“News!  Husband!  Hospital!”
These are the only words Corrinne is able to get out.
As she runs to the elevator, Corrinne feels detached from everything around her.  She rushes by her co-workers.  Corrinne can see their mouths moving but she can’t comprehend anything they are saying.  Some of them reach out to touch her but she is numb.  The elevator moves slowly down each floor.  It’s as if, time has stopped.  It feels unreal.  The door to the elevator creeps open.  Corrinne puts all of her weight on it.  The door slides open with ease.  She runs out of the building.
It is around noon.  It’s the busiest time of the day in downtown Chicago.  Corrinne’s car is parked in the parking deck two blocks down from her office building.  There is no time to drive.  The hospital is only a couple of blocks down the street.  Corrinne starts sprinting down the sidewalk.  She pushes down everything and anything in her path.  She weaves in and out of the people.  Corrinne feels destructible.  A feeling of strength stirs up in her.  It is a feeling that she has never encountered before.
As soon as Corrinne enters the emergency room, she is immediately hit by the smell.  It is a combination of disinfectant, cafeteria food, and medicine.  The smell seems to punch her in the gut.  It makes her sick to her stomach.  She begins to think about all of the patients in the hospital.  There are patients beside her, in front of her, and behind her.  There are people who are throwing up, people who are coughing, and people who are bleeding.  Her stomach clamps down harder and harder.  She starts gulping for air. 
“Can I help you?” asked a nurse from behind the desk.
Corrinne is grasping for air.  Her mouth opens and closes.  She is unable to speak.  Her body is jolting.  Her hands begin to wave franticly in front of her face.
“Ma’am!  Ma’am!  Please sit down!” the nurse demands.
The nurse takes Corrinne by the arm.  She begins leading her to the waiting room.  Corrinne starts to protest.  She jerks her arm away from the nurse.  She turns around and begins running towards the hallway.  Another nurse on duty grabs Corrinne by her arm. 
“I’ve got to find my husband!  Where is he?  Jason!  Jason!” Corrinne exclaims.
“Okay ma’am.  You have to be calm.  What’s your husband’s name?” the nurse asked.
“What’s his last name ma’am?”
“Bryan is his last name!  Jason is his first name!” Corrinne yelled.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bryan.  Just please have a seat in the waiting room.  I’ll be back soon with some information about your husband,” the nurse said.
Corrinne stomps over to the waiting room.  She takes a seat near the door.  By this time, her clothes are drenched with sweat.  Her cotton blouse is clinging to her chest.  The tips of her hair are dripping wet.
After catching her breath, Corrinne decides to call Jason’s parents.  She feels like her heart is in her throat and beating about five hundred beats a minute.  She reaches down for her purse.  She frantically rummages through it to find her cell phone.  After fumbling with the phone several times, Corrinne finally dials the number with her shaky fingers.
“Hi Corrinne,” Jason’s mother said.
“Oh, it’s Jason…”
“Slow down, Corrinne!  What’s wrong?”
“It’s, it’s, its Jason!”
“Oh no, what is it?  What about Jason?”
“Just come to the hospital!” Corrinne exclaims.   
As Corrinne waits impatiently, she sees doctors and nurses pacing in and out of the steel doors in front of her.  As they pass one another, whispers are passed amongst them.  As they whisper, they tend to point into her direction.  Some of them even look over their shoulder at her.  They seem to have a world of hurt on their face. 
As the swinging doors open, Corrinne tries to get a glimpse of the world inside.  All of a sudden, Corrinne has an overwhelming feeling of being trapped between two worlds.  An intense force tries to draw her towards those doors.  Before she realizes it, her shaky hands are reaching for the handle.  Someone from behind grabs her shoulder. 
“Excuse me ma’am, you can’t go back there,” a nurse demands. 
“Will someone please just help me!  What’s happening behind those doors?  Is it my husband?  Is he okay?” she asked angrily.
“You’ll have to wait for the doctor,” the nurse said.
“But it’s my husband…”
At that time, a doctor comes through the doors.
“Are you Mrs. Bryan?” the doctor asked.
Corrinne whirls around and his grim eyes meet hers. 
“Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  I’m Mrs. Bryan!  What’s wrong with Jason?” Corrinne asked in desperation.
“Please, let’s take a seat.”
“No!  Tell me now!”
The doctor tries to place his comforting hand on her shoulder.  She pulls away.  The doctor takes a deep breath in preparation for his next words.
“Jason is in very critical condition.  He has a very serious brain injury which has caused him to fall into a coma.”
Tears begin to stream down her cheeks.  She places her hands to her mouth.  She utters the words that the doctor has heard many times, “Is he going to be okay?”  About that time, a man in a uniform approaches them.
“Hi, are you Mrs. Bryan?” the officer asked.
“Yes,” Corrinne answered.
“My name is Officer Gordon.  I spoke to you earlier on the phone.  Your husband was hit in the head by a steel beam while on the job site.”
“You can see him when you’re ready,” the doctor said to Corrinne.  
Jason’s room is dark and damp.  It is so cold, it sends goose bumps up and down her skin.  Everything around her is white.  It feels like a heavenly dream.  The paint on the walls are beginning to chip and fade.  There are streaks of yellow up and down the walls where it hasn’t been cleaned in weeks.  The white linoleum is peeling here and there.  Everything in the room is sterile.  The room smells of metal.  The hospital equipment is creating a song of sounds.  There is buzzing, clicking, and beeping. 
Corrinne can barely see Jason lying in the hospital bed across the room.  His body is intertwined in the ghostly white sheet.  His head is wrapped in bloody bandages.  His glassy eyes stare back at her.  Long tubes are extending from his nose and mouth.  There are wires scattered up and down his body. 
Corrinne takes a seat next to his bed.  His pale, cold hand lays lonely beside him.  Corrinne reaches out to hold it.  She gently puts his hand to her face.  His hand feels lifeless and fragile.  His body seems so small lying there.  She remembers how handsome and vibrant he looked on their wedding day.  Now, he seems like a stranger to her.  His cheeks are caved in.  His face is sickly gray.  It looks like death is surrounding him.  Corrinne feels helpless.  Her mind and body is completely shut down.  Corrinne feels like a zombie. She feels torn, empty and broken. She begins to sob uncontrollably.  The tears begin to flood down her face like a river.  She shrieks at the top of her lungs.
“Why? Oh my gosh!  Why did this have to happen?  Please!  Please!  Please!  Jason, please wake up!  Don’t leave me.  I love you!”
                   All of the sudden, Jason’s heart monitor sets off an intense screeching sound that echoes in Corrinne’s ears.  A nurse screams, “Code blue!”  A group of people march in. There are doctors, nurses, and assistants.  The room suddenly feels smaller, smaller, and smaller.  Corrinne gets lost amongst all of the people.  They swarm around Jason like flies.  Corrinne can hear frantic whispering, moaning, and high pitched voices all around her. 
            “Oh my gosh!  What’s happening?” Corrinne screams.
“Someone get her out of here!” the doctor exclaims.
Corrinne is being led out of the room by several nurses.  All of the sudden, her stomach and knees become weak.  She falls stiffly to the floor with a loud thump.  She is on her hands and knees.
            At that time, Corrinne feels someone helping her up off the floor.  She turns to look and realizes its Jason’s mother.  She falls into her arms.  His mother throws her arms around her.  Corrinne buries her head into her chest.
            “What happened, Corrinne?” Jason’s mother asked in fear.
            “There was a terrible accident,” Corrinne said through her tears.
            “Accident!  Oh my goodness!  Is he…”
            Just then, the doctor approaches them.
            “Mrs. Bryan, I have some news-“
            Everything went suddenly dark.

            Corrinne is awakened by the cool surf hitting her feet.  She stands and shakes off the memories that cling to her.  Corrinne begins walking along the abandoned shore.  In the distance, Corrinne can see the all-so-familiar figure approaching her.