A friend talked me into entering a flash fiction contest a few months ago. I wasn’t in the best headspace to write anything that hit so close to home and as a result, I’ve never been able to write an ending that I liked. I’m not even sure I like the piece anymore. That beng said, here it is.
Kyle welcomed Natalie home the same way whenever she went out of town or anywhere else his watchful eyes couldn’t follow. Tonight, after he retreated to their bedroom, she sat at the kitchen table with her head down, replaying his tirade and waiting for him to fall asleep. It gave her pause to remind herself that he meant the words he used, even the worst ones he would deny later. Words like hunt, beat, and threat had been spoken casually, as if he were checking off his Saturday morning errands. She had dared not counter and add fuel to the already white hot fire. Kyle had gotten physical with her before, but had stopped just short of hitting her. He preferred airborne objects and intimidation. Natalie knew it was only a matter of time before it went from his grey area to her black eyes.
She sat silently, memorizing every word he’d said. When there were good days his diatribe would remind her why she was leaving, but tonight they would assuage the guilt she felt. While her detached reaction to his outrage could be attributed to its common occurrence, this time, just this once, after years of unfounded accusations, he was right. Natalie had lied about where she’d been and if Kyle picked up even a hint of her deception, he would doggedly follow the trail.
She tiptoed into the bedroom, careful to avoid the squeaking board he complained woke him whenever she slipped into bed, often hours after him. She was careful not to touch him as she lay down and settled into her coffin-like pose. She she hadn’t slept like that in the five days she’d been gone. Natalie closed her eyes and remembered how she had lounged casually in the king size bed next to Daniel, sometimes tangled up, sometimes with only one of her hands resting delicately against him, almost as if to reassure her sleeping self that he hadn’t disappeared in the night. He had slept through her getting up and down, her reading light, her casual glances at his resting face that she was fearful he’d catch sooner or later, and through her not wanting to sleep through one more moment of her time with him than her body commanded. It was the opposite of her life at home with Kyle and she had been so desperate to see if even a brief moment of happiness could exist that she had done what she thought she never would and cheated.
It wasn’t love. Daniel wasn’t the type to fall in love, but he was great at letting Natalie enjoy the fantasy of a normal relationship and the promise of that in her future was enough for now. She understood now that things wouldn’t get better, but they could be. For the first time in a long time, Natalie sat at the table and quietly began imagining what was next.