All Amelia has been told about the missing four years of her life is that her husband Carl found her after the car accident that killed her father, and they lived in the city together before moving to the suburbs. She has no reason to question his story, but she knows Carl, and she can tell he’s holding something back. When he cries out in his sleep for Emily, she suspects he had an affair during her missing time and is trying to hide it from her. When flashes of memories begin to return, Amelia knows she can’t sit back any longer. But once she opens the floodgates, the truth is more twisted than she ever could have imagined.
Release date: August 31, 2021
Print pages: 279
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Finding The Other Woman
I sighed and shook my head, pushing Carl's hand away from my thigh. It was already dangerously high, and I didn't want it getting any higher, giving Carl the idea that I would submit to his advances. I had no idea what was wrong with Carl lately, but since I'd come back to myself after the accident, all he seemed to want from me was sex. I liked sex as much as the next person, but his advances drove me crazy.
It was a constant battle between us. He wanted it way more than I did, which was strange because before the accident, we were pretty much on par sexually. It felt like something had changed, something had happened that I didn't know about, something that had whetted Carl's appetite for sex in a way I didn't like at all.
"What's wrong, baby?" Carl whispered beside me, his voice thick with lust.
"Nothing's wrong. I just don't feel like it right now, okay?" I said.
"There's a surprise," Carl said with an angry sigh that made me flinch slightly.
I felt the mattress dip beneath me as Carl turned away from me, and I had to bite my bottom lip to stop myself from crying. I knew I should just let it go and quit while I was ahead, as the saying went, but I just couldn't. I mean, it's not like we hadn't just had sex an hour ago when we'd first come up to bed. But I couldn't help but think that maybe if I just went along with it, then Carl wouldn't need to cheat on me. And he was. He had to be. I had caught him in the act. Okay, not exactly in the act, but I knew it was true all the same. Carl had given himself away last night.
Last night, I'd been unable to sleep. I had spent what felt like hours tossing and turning, too hot with the blankets on me and too cold with them off me. I gave up, annoyed with myself, grouchy, and tired, and yet still unable to sleep. I'd gone to the bathroom, figuring if I just lay there, I'd never get to sleep, but if I walked around a little, I might shake away whatever was stopping me from sleeping.
I had walked into the bathroom, used the toilet, and washed my hands. I remembered standing looking into my own bloodshot eyes in the mirror over the sink and whispering to myself to just go to sleep, dammit. I went back into the bedroom and that's when it happened.
Carl was lying in bed, the covers pushed off him. He was on his back, his erection pointing up at the ceiling, and he was muttering something. I crept closer, wanting to know what he was saying. I had to admit I was a little turned on at that point. The way Carl's eyelids fluttered and the way he moaned, long and low, told me this dream was an erotic dream. And I kind of liked the fact that I could affect him that way, even when he was sleeping.
I sat down on the bed, a smile playing over my face, and that's when the bottom of my world fell out. Carl was having an erotic dream all right, but it wasn't about me. As I sat down, he moaned again, and this time, he moaned out a name. Emily. I didn't know who the fuck Emily was, but she certainly wasn't me, and the name wasn't even close to my name, Amelia. It's not like I had misunderstood him.
Carl had kept moaning, his eye twitching and his lips curling up in a smile as my blood ran cold. In that moment, I knew my husband was having an affair. It wasn't just the name on his lips, although that was what had made me see it. It was everything. It explained why he could barely keep his hands off me anymore. He felt guilty because he was fucking some other girl, so he paid extra attention to me, hoping to appease the feeling. It explained why I would often catch him staring off into space, a faraway look in his eyes and a smile on his face. He was thinking about her.
Emily. The bitch who was stealing my husband.
I had thought about her all day, imaging what she looked like, what her voice sounded like, what she smelled like. I wondered what it was about her that attracted Carl to her, what she had that I didn't. I knew I was torturing myself, but I couldn't help it. I imagined Emily to be younger than me, prettier than me. She was likely more adventurous than me, letting Carl do all the things in the bedroom that I wouldn't even entertain.
I had almost reached out and woken Carl up and demanded to know the truth there and then, but instead, I lay down, my back to Carl, silent tears running down my face and my knees pulled up to my stomach. I must have eventually fallen asleep because I woke up this morning wanting to confront Carl. Still, I resisted the urge to do it.
He would only deny it, and we'd end up getting into a big fight. Or worse, he wouldn't even bother trying to deny it and I would have to face the fact that my marriage was truly over. I didn't want that. Carl's sudden constant advances bothered me somewhat, and he sometimes did things that made me want to strangle him, but despite it all, I loved him and didn't want to lose him.
You're already losing him, a voice whispered inside my head. It was a strange voice, mine and yet not ‘me’. The voice sounded like mine, but it had a slightly different cadence, and it was much more forceful than my voice, a little cynical and a lot tougher than me. It sounded strangely pleased that I was losing Carl.
I think it was the memory of that voice that finally made me blurt it out, finally made me ask the question that had been on the end of my tongue all day.
"Carl? Who is Emily?" I said.
"Huh?" Carl grunted.
I could tell by his voice that he wasn't even close to asleep, and that made me even more suspicious. Why was he pretending to be half asleep when he wasn't? If he really wasn't doing anything wrong, then shouldn't his answer have been something along the lines of 'I don't know anyone called Emily'?
"You heard me, Carl. Who is she? Where did you meet her? How long have you been fucking her?" I said.
Carl sat up, the mattress shifting slightly beneath me as he moved. He flicked on his bedside lamp with no warning, and I blinked a couple of times as my eyes adjusted to the light. When I could see normally again, I looked at Carl, determined to look him in the eye for this. I decided pretty much instantly that was a mistake. Carl's eyes were a vivid green color, the color of emeralds, and they had always been my favorite feature of his. At forty, a few small lines had started to show up in the outer corners of his eyes, but they were still far and away his best feature.
I swept my gaze from his eyes, taking in the rest of him—his hair, still full but starting to go gray around the temples, his sharp features, and his smooth, olive-colored skin. It was far from unreasonable to think that Carl could land another woman. He was a good-looking man and the years had been kind to him.
"Answer me," I demanded when too much time had passed without a response from Carl. "Are you having an affair?"
"Of course not," Carl said, shaking his head like he couldn't understand where this was coming from. Maybe he couldn't. He likely didn't know he had been talking in his sleep. "Why would you even think such a thing?"
I looked down for a second and then I peered up at Carl through my long black eyelashes. I wanted to see his face when I told him what I had heard.
"Last night, you were having an erotic dream. You were moaning and groaning, your cock was hard, and you were calling out for a girl named Emily," I said.
Carl laughed and shook his head. I looked up fully, surprised by his reaction. I had expected denial, maybe some angry self-righteousness about my accusation. But I hadn't expected this.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh. I can see you're upset by this," Carl said. He stopped laughing, but I could still see the twinkling in his eye that told me he was mildly amused. "Seriously, though, you're accusing me of having an affair based on some dream I don't even remember having? You know, a couple of nights ago, I dreamed I had a fight with some guy. I'd better get my affairs in order because the police will likely turn up and arrest me soon."
"You're mocking me," I said quietly.
Carl reached out and cupped my cheek with one hand, his thumb moving back and forth gently over my skin.
"No," he said. "Not really. I just wanted you to see how crazy you're being. Amelia, I can't control what I dream about, but I promise you that since the day we got together, I have never, ever strayed from you. Yours is the only body I have touched, the only body I have made love to, the only lips I have kissed."
I looked into his eyes again then, searching for the truth in them. I wanted so badly to believe him. And he was really trying to convince me. He was so good at it that I almost believed him. Almost. But beneath his words, there was something in him, a longing for something that he was missing. I thought he was likely telling me the truth in that he was no longer having an affair with this Emily, whoever she was, but I also knew instinctively that he had done something with her in the past. Something he missed. Something he wanted to do again.
Suddenly, a wave of exhaustion washed over me, leaving me feeling drained. I just didn't have the energy left in me to fight this out with Carl right now. And he was right in some ways. Accusing him of having an affair based solely on a dream was stupid. It was too easy for him to wriggle out of it and make it look like I was being paranoid.
I nodded my head and put my hand over Carl's where it still rested on my cheek.
"Thank you," I said. "For explaining. I guess I'm just tired."
I was tired, and I was willing to let it go for the moment, but only for the moment. I intended to do some digging and find out who this Emily girl was. And when I found some concrete evidence, something more reliable than a dream, I would confront Carl again. I wished now that I had continued to bite my tongue because now that Carl knew I suspected something, he would be more careful, and any evidence would be harder to find.
Carl leaned closer to me and kissed the tip of my nose.
"It's okay," he reassured me. "You have nothing at all to worry about."
I gave him a half-hearted smile and lay back down beside him. I faced away from him, not wanting him to get any ideas about make-up sex. The lamp clicked off, and I heard Carl shuffling around and lying down beside me, the mattress dipping again. Carl shuffled closer to me, his arm coming over my waist. I tensed up for a moment when he kissed my shoulder, but then he whispered good night and I relaxed again.
His arm around me this way felt nice. It reminded me of a time when we used to always want to be around each other, always snuggling into each other or holding hands. I smiled at the nostalgia of it all. We had been married for eleven years. Few couples even last that long, and I would be surprised if many of them who did were still in the 'can't keep their hands off each other’ stage. Maybe I just needed to cut Carl a little slack and learn to trust him again.
It was hard, though. Even in the beginning when we were in the throes of the honeymoon stage, Carl tended to exaggerate the truth somewhat. And by that, I meant that he was a compulsive liar. But he was so charming with it that I tended to overlook his flaw, telling myself it was harmless. Now, I wasn't so sure.
I finally began to slip into a troubled sleep, and as I succumbed, my last thought was, I will find out the truth, and when I do, I won't let Carl charm his way out of it.
I'm on my back, a heavy weight pinning me to the hard ground beneath me. Folds of flesh seem to envelope me, and I find myself looking up into small, dark eyes. Piggy eyes for a pig of a man. He grunts like the pig that he is, and I seize up, my body going rigid as I feel the disgusting thing poking at me between my legs.
I cry out, begging him to stop, but he shushes me, telling me this is my duty and I must learn to do it willingly, to serve him willingly. Fat chance of that. Tears run down my face as I feel the all too familiar sharp pain. I feel like I'm being ripped open, both physically and mentally.
I close my eyes, though tears still escape from beneath the lids, cutting a hot path of shame and pain and terror down my cheeks. I try to blank it out, to float away to my happy place, but I can't. I'm stuck here and I always will be. I don't have a happy place. I don't have anything except the burning pain and the constant reminder that this can happen to me at any second. And no one is coming to stop it.
It's over quickly, but not quickly enough. He leaves me lying there, cold and broken. I curl into a tight ball as he leaves me there.
"God bless you," he says on his way out of the room.
I scream, a sound full of pain and anguish and confusion. And of course, the shame. Oh, my God, the fucking shame.
I woke up with sweat covering my body and hot, stinging tears in my eyes. My whole body was shaking, and it took me a moment to remind myself that I was okay. It was just a dream. He couldn't hurt me now. I took long, deep breaths, calming myself down. I felt my rigid muscles begin to relax. The dream began to slowly fade away, though it left behind all of the usual feelings—shame, fear, disgust, and most of all, helplessness. For an awful moment, I was twelve years old again. Small, powerless to protect myself, and abandoned by the people who should have protected me.
I took a final deep breath and expelled it slowly, letting it cleanse me of the feelings. I blinked in the darkness, feeling more like myself again. I slowly became aware of my surroundings. I was lying on my side, not my back, and the material beneath me was soft, my mattress, not the cold, hard floor of my childhood bedroom. I was at home, in bed, and I was safe.
I became aware of something hard poking into my lower back, and for a second, the terror rushed back in, threatening to overwhelm me just like it always had when I was a child. I told myself to relax, it was just Carl, his arm still around my waist. I shuffled forward slightly, unable to bear the feel of his erection pushing against me in that moment.
As I moved, Carl moaned and rolled over onto his back, his arm gone from around me. He made a loud snoring sound as he shifted, and then his breathing evened back out into slightly gasping deep breaths. I instantly felt a mix of emotions, relief that his erection was no longer touching me and a flutter of panic now that I was out of the protective circle of his arms. I started to turn toward him, wanting to rest my head on his chest and snuggle up against him, but then the panic faded away, replaced by a cold anger that settled over my stomach when Carl gave out another loud snore and then began to mumble to himself.
"Oh, my God, Emily," he murmured.
His voice was thick with sleep, but I could still hear the lust residing in his words. It made me feel sick to my stomach, and when he moaned again, I knew I couldn't bear to lie there and listen to it. He was in a deep sleep, and I had no idea how long this might go on for. Each breath now was a rattling snore that he let out with a moan filled with sex and longing. He began to move on the bed, grinding his hips into the mattress, and that was more than enough for me. I got to my feet and grabbed my robe from the chair at the end of our bed, and then I went downstairs and lay down on the couch.
I curled into a ball, shivering in the cooler air downstairs. I pulled the robe tighter around me, and I stopped fighting my emotions. I let the tears come. They came in a rush of hot despair that left me feeling drained and exhausted but totally unable to sleep. I lay on the couch for the rest of the night, my unblinking gaze staring off into the distance, wishing for a different life.
I finally gave up on sleep altogether and got up from the couch at around six a.m. I went back upstairs and got in the shower. I ran the water hot, almost hot enough to scald my skin. I just wanted to feel clean again. I always felt so dirty after I dreamed of . . . never mind. I didn't want to go back there again.
After I showered, I headed for our bedroom. I needed to grab some clothes. I felt nervous about going in there, afraid that Carl would still be thrashing around and getting off with his dream whore. I finally got up the nerve to open the bedroom door and step inside. I needn't have worried. Carl was still asleep, but if he was dreaming, he was doing it quietly now. I got dressed quickly, not wanting to wake Carl before I was ready to face him, and then I went back into the bathroom.
I sat down on the edge of the bath and propped a mirror on the end of it and applied my makeup and dried my hair. As I sat there looking at my reflection in the glass, I told myself I was done worrying about the past. It was over. He couldn't hurt me anymore. Now, I had to think about the future because there was still every possibility that it could hurt me. And I intended to make damned sure it didn't.
I ran my fingers through my red hair, and I twisted it up into a loop and pinned it in place on the back of my head, teasing out a few tendrils to frame my face.
"You are not a victim. You are a survivor, and you are not going to let Carl or anyone else make you feel like any less than you are," I told myself.
I said the words with conviction, but I wasn't entirely sure I believed them. Still, I felt better now that I was dressed and ready to face the day. I stood up and looked down at myself. I was wearing a pair of black slacks and a white fitted blouse that I wore buttoned up to the neck, a string of pearls poking out from beneath the collar.
Carl had bought me the pearls a couple of months ago after I told him how much I loved the necklace a woman on the TV was wearing. It wasn't my birthday or our anniversary or anything, and he told me he bought them just because he loved me and that I deserved something as pretty as me. At the time, I had been flattered by his comment, but now I wondered about the gift. Was it another way to make up for his guilt over his affair with Emily? Fucking Emily. That bitch. I didn't know, but I would know soon enough.
I also had no idea where the money to buy the string of pearls had come from. Carl had a way of dodging my questions whenever I asked him about money. He would give me some vague answer about a bonus from work, or he would claim he found a bargain. When it came to the pearls, he had just smiled when I asked where the money came from and told me I didn't need to worry about that.
At first, I had been worried that maybe he was gambling and had gotten lucky once or twice, and then I thought that maybe he was getting into debt with credit cards. I'd waited for him to go to work and then I'd trawled through the drawers in his office looking for any statements or anything that would make me suspicious. I didn't find a thing. Wherever the money was coming from, Carl wasn't borrowing it. That left me with two choices. I could accuse him of something illegal or I could believe he was doing well enough at work to get bonuses large enough to buy pearls. I chose the latter. It was easier that way, and I didn't want Carl's gift to be a reason for us to fight.
Even now, I shook the doubts away. Right now, I was more concerned about Emily than I was about where Carl got his money from. I left the bathroom, went downstairs, and put the coffee machine on. I went to the fridge and peered inside. I pulled out a packet of bacon and a couple of links of sausage and then began to fry them. I would get to the bottom of the Emily thing, but I would do it in a way that Carl wouldn't see coming. I would continue to act like the good little wife and not even mention Emily's name again. And in the meantime, I would find the evidence I needed to make sure that when I did confront Carl again, he couldn't wriggle out of it this time.
Carl came down the stairs while I was cooking breakfast. He was already dressed, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He crossed the kitchen and wrapped his arms around me from behind, nuzzling into my neck and kissing me there.
"What have I done to deserve a wife like you?" he said.
"It's only breakfast," I replied with a laugh.
"It's so much more than breakfast and you know it. I don't say this enough, Amelia, but I hope you know it all the same. I love you," he said.
"I love you too," I said.
He released me and went to sit down at the small kitchen table. I dished up the breakfast as Carl buttered a couple of slices of bread. He put one of the slices on my plate and one on his and then he smiled up at me as I sat down opposite him.
His smile looked real. His words had sounded genuine. I had to wonder if I was being paranoid. What if the Emily thing really was nothing more than a dream? I didn't relish the idea of my husband having sex with another woman in his dreams, but I couldn't exactly be mad at him about it. It's not like he could control what he dreamed about. No one could. If I could, I'm damned sure I wouldn't dream about . . . no, don't got there, Amelia.
"Have you got any plans for today?" I asked Carl, more to distract me from the memories of last night's dream that threatened to creep back in rather than any real interest in Carl's plans. It was Sunday. His plans would be the same as every week. A chilled out day where we went out for Sunday lunch and then vegged out on the couch watching a movie afterward.
"I thought we could start the day by flying out to India." Carl smiled. "We'll stop by the Taj Mahal, of course, and then maybe on to Australia, see Ayers Rock. We'll have a nice beachside barbecue there for lunch, and then we'll head out to Paris in the afternoon, see the Eiffel Tower, maybe do a quick tour of the Louvre, and then on to Rome to see the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Finally, I thought we could go to Vegas, see a show, maybe play a hand or two of black jack. And then home for an early night for work tomorrow."
I laughed along with Carl. Every Sunday, he had a list like this of things we could go and do. It was our little routine, and it sparked a feeling of joy inside me. Even if Emily was more than just a dream, there was still a chance for us. We could get through this. I couldn't help but think that if I could just be the wife Carl wanted me to be, the wife he deserved who enjoyed wild sex without inhibitions, then maybe he wouldn't have to look elsewhere. I shook the thought away and grinned at Carl.
"So, Sunday lunch at The Fox and Hounds and then a movie?" I said.
"You know, now that you mention it, that does sound much more exciting than what I was thinking." Carl winked at me. "Yeah, let's do that."
I laughed and nodded my head, happy to play along with our routine. I stood up and picked up my now empty plate. I reached for Carl's, but he shook his head and held it away from me.
"Let me do the dishes," he said. "Grab us a coffee and go through to the family room and relax."
I smiled at him and went to grab our mugs. I filled them with hot coffee and took them through to the family room.
We were happy together for the most part, Carl and me. And in that moment, I decided that maybe that was enough after all. As I blew on the surface of the coffee and watched the tiny tendrils of steam curling through the air, I decided I would let Emily go. I would stop being paranoid, stop looking for problems in our marriage when there weren't any, and focus instead on having a nice, relaxing Sunday. I felt much better when I had made that decision and let go of the anger and the uncertainty.
The landline was ringing as we stepped back into the house after our Sunday roast. I felt a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. Only one person used that number to call us. My mother. She was the last person I wanted to speak to now, especially with last night's dream still so fresh in my mind, but I knew if I ignored her call, it would only get worse. She would turn up here to make sure I was okay. That was a joke. When I had needed her to make sure I was okay, she was nowhere to be found, but now, when I was an adult who could take care of myself, she wanted to play at being at a good mother. That was typical of my mother. She only wanted to be a parent now that it was easy. It was the same with everything she did. She only wanted to do it if it was easy, only wanted to do the nice parts. She had never been able to face confrontation or upset of any kind, instead choosing to bury her head in the sand and just enjoy the nice, easy bits.
"I'll get it," Carl said, heading toward the family room where the phone was. He looked back at me over his shoulder with a questioning glance. "Should I tell her you're not available?"
I shook my head and sighed.
"No. She'll only call again later. I might as well just get it over with," I said in a long suffering voice that I hated to hear on myself. It was ironic in that it made me sound just like my mother.
Carl gave me a strange look. He could never understand why I was always so reluctant to talk to my mother. How could he? He didn't know what my childhood had really been like. I think he felt a little bit sorry for my mom. If I told him the truth about why I didn't want to have any sort of real relationship with her, I thought he would understand, but I just couldn't bring myself to tell him about it all. I had never told anyone about it, and I had no intentions of starting now.
"Amelia, it's your mom," Carl called from the family room as though we hadn't already discussed the call, hadn't already decided it was her.
"Coming," I called back.
I walked into the family room on shaky legs, feeling like I was walking into something I wasn't strong enough to handle. I took a deep breath and told myself to get a grip. It was only a phone call, and once I got it over with, I would be free of it for another week or two until the guilt ate at my mother enough for her to call me again.
I took the receiver from Carl and curled up on the end of the couch. Carl slipped out of the family room to give me some privacy.
"Hello," I said wearily.
"Hi, Amelia. Are you okay? You sound tired," my mom said.
I felt tired. And I was far from okay.
"I'm fine," I told her. Maybe Carl wasn't the only liar around here. "How are you?"
"Oh, I'm good, thank you," she trilled. "I got my hair and nails done yesterday, and I feel like a million dollars now."
I resisted the urge to sigh. My mom was fifty-two going on nineteen. She grew up with money in a family that valued looks over brains, and it showed. She had met my dad when she was just sixteen, and by the time she was twenty, she was married to him with one child and another one, me, on the way. A stupid, and frankly dangerous, decision if I ever heard one.
"Great," I said.
"You know, Amelia, it wouldn't hurt for you to take a bit more time for yourself. Get your hair done, have a manicure. Hell, get some Botox. You're not as young as you used to be, you know," my mom said to me, getting my attention back to the moment.
No shit, I thought. I didn't say it. Instead, I made a grunting sound.
"Are you sure you're okay?" my mom said again.
"I'm a little tired. I didn't sleep too well last night," I finally admitted.
"Bad dreams?" my mom said.
She was surprisingly intuitive at times, and I felt my guard slipping down a little bit.
"Yeah," I said. "The usual."
"Your father," my mom said in a soft voice.
I grunted again. I might have let my guard down a little bit, but there was no way I was telling her any details about the dream. I knew how it would go if I did. It would go just the way it used to when I was little and told her what he was doing to me. I would tell her about his being on top of me, grunting, hurting me down there. And she would tut and shake her head, telling me I was exaggerating, that it wasn't as bad as I was implying. And then, she would tell me that it was all okay because I was doing God's work.
That was her go-to line for all the things Maybelle and I told her when we were kids. We were doing God's work. Because my father was a pastor. The irony of that was not lost on me. A pastor, someone you should be able to trust, got his rocks off by raping his two daughters, and my mother said it was God's work. And then she wondered why I stopped going to church as soon as I was old enough to make the decision for myself.
"Yeah, him," I said, pushing away the memories, the pain, and the utter hatred I felt for my mother, the woman who was supposed to protect me but who instead chose to turn a blind eye to it all.
"You're not . . .?" My mom trailed off, not wanting to end the sentence.
"No, Mom, I'm not going crazy again," I replied.
"That's not what I would say, Amelia," she scolded me. "That's a terrible word to use to describe what happened to you."
"Really? So, how would you describe my losing four years' worth of memories?" I asked.
"I would call it a blackout, or a fugue state, like your doctor did," my mom replied. "It doesn't make you crazy, Amelia. It was your mind's way of coping after the death of your father."
Four and a half years ago, my father died in a car accident. And that's the last thing I remember of my life until six months ago. Carl and my mom explained to me that I'd had some sort of mental breakdown. They were sketchy on the details, and the more I pushed for answers, the less they told me. In the end, Carl had sat me down and told me that we needed to focus on the future, not the past, and I had reluctantly agreed with him. And we had fallen back into our old life. Except for Carl's ridiculous newfound sex drive. Maybe it came from four years of living with some sort of zombie. Maybe he just had four years' worth of sexual desire stored up.
"Give yourself a break, honey. Most people would have some sort of reaction to witnessing their father being killed like that," my mom said. "Especially when the way it happened was so close to how your sister died. That made it even worse for you. It was like losing your father and reliving losing your sister all in one go."
Maybelle had died when I was twelve and she was fourteen. There was an accident. My father's car skidded on a patch of ice and slammed into a tree trunk. My sister was dead by the time the ambulance crew came. And then my father died the same way. I was the one who was driving, and my car skidded, just like his car had done all those years ago. The car hit a tree, and my father, who refused to wear a seatbelt despite the law, insisting that God would take care of him, had flown through the windshield. He, too, was dead by the time the ambulance crew arrived.
It was funny, really, because for once, I think he was right. I think God did take care of him. I think God finally got sick of the atrocities my father committed in his name, finally saw without a shadow of a doubt that my father was beyond redemption.
For the record, I thought my mother was right about my reaction to my father's death. I think that seeing him lying there on the road, the bright red blood from his broken head soaking into the white of the snow around him, pushed me over the edge. But there was one thing about it all that I didn't understand and that I still don't understand six months later. Why had his death affected me so greatly? I mean, I wasn't sad about it. I wouldn't exactly say I was happy he was dead, but I was certainly relieved. My father's death meant that all of the years of abuse were finally over. He could never hurt me again, and I felt like I could finally let go of the awful memories I had held on to for far too long.
That's the bit I could never fathom. What the hell was my mind trying to protect me from?
"I really think it would help if you let yourself grieve for him, Amelia. Just admit to yourself that you miss your father. I know he had his faults, but overall, he was a good man, a good husband and father, and it's okay to admit that you miss him."
"I . . . I can't do that, Mom. You know that," I snapped.
"I know, honey, but I really think if you found a way to do it, it would help you," she said.
I almost laughed then, but I bit it back. How could she be so dense? How could she be so far in denial that she thought I should miss the man who had made my childhood hellish?
"Maybe," I said, not wanting to get into an argument with her. It was easier this way. I would never change her mind and make her accept the truth, and she would never change my mind and make me accept her slanted view of the truth. And so we skirted around the issue, doing this exhausting dance.
My mom changed the subject then, telling me about Jenny, the neighbor's daughter, who had just landed a role in a movie. A small role, my mom hurried to clarify, but a role all the same. She told me how Jenny and her parents thought this would be her big break.
I wasn't really listening. I was just making the right noises in the right places, but I was actually grateful to my mom in some ways. She had dropped the line about my father when I needed her to, and I was happy to hear her sound pleased for someone else's success rather than listen to her banging on about her own mundane little life.
Finally, after about half an hour, my mom said she had to go. It was hard to keep the relief out of my voice, but I thought I managed it pretty convincingly. Either that or my mom ignored it pretty convincingly. More lies. More steps in our intricate dance of half-truths and outright lies.
We said our goodbyes, and I hung up the phone, breathing out a sigh of relief as I did so. Carl came into the family room a couple of minutes later.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
I smiled and nodded my head, patting the couch cushion beside me. Carl came toward me. He held two glasses of red wine. He held one out to me, and I took it gratefully, sipping it and making an ahh sound as it made its way to my stomach, warming me from the inside out. Carl sat down beside me and picked the remote control up. He switched the TV on and pressed a few buttons, and the movie started. It was some sort of action movie, something Carl had DVRed a couple of nights ago. It wasn't something I would have chosen, but I had chosen last week's movie so it was Carl's turn to choose what we watched.
The movie had barely started when Carl put his wine down and hit pause on the remote control. He reached up and began to awkwardly massage my shoulders. I knew where this was going, and I almost pushed him away, but it felt so good to have him rub away some of the tension in me. I turned around so that he could reach my shoulders easier.
"You're so tense, Amelia," he said. "You're always this way whenever you speak to your mother."
Yes, I thought. And you're always there in the wings, ready and waiting to take advantage of that fact.
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