Travis Hodges pulled into the driveway of the tiny house he shared with his wife of three years, Diana. It was, as he referred to it, a starter home. He had dreams grander than the house he imagined owning by the time he was thirty, and he worked hard every day to achieve those dreams—and for many hours every day. The day after he’d turned twenty-six, he’d started his own medical consulting company and had spent the last two years of his life making connections with the right people because, as in any business, who you know is much more important than what you know.
If he could get the contract from the men and women, all doctors, he’d had dinner with this evening, he’d have his foot in the door, a door closed to him so far. They wanted a stand-alone ER in their small suburb of New Orleans, and while Travis had helped build, outfit, and staff an ER with his former employers more than once, this would be the first to do on his own and with his own company.
In order to get the contract, though, he’d missed his wife’s birthday this evening. The dinner meeting had been last minute, and refusing would have been disastrous to his sealing the deal. He had called and left a voicemail, texted, and called two more times, but Diana hadn’t answered any of them. The two of them had fought more than once about his working so much, and he knew he was in big trouble.
As he climbed out of the car, he grabbed the flowers he’d purchased on the way home as well as the gift he’d bought several days ago. Though small, he knew the sapphire ring was the perfect gift, that she would love it. Hopefully the ring would earn him forgiveness.
The porch light is on, he thought gratefully as he hurried up the sidewalk to the front door. He hoped that meant she wasn’t too mad at him, though her silence all evening frightened him. Their fights had escalated lately, especially when he came home late, which was almost every day. He’d discovered a few months ago that she had begun entertaining herself by driving into New Orleans to the casinos, another point of contention in their marriage. She had lost much more than she’d won but didn’t seem at all inclined to stop going. He worried her gambling was becoming an addiction, but each time he attempted to talk about it, they fought and didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the day.
As he stepped inside, he called, “Diana?” Silence answered him, and he laid the bouquet and gift on the table by the door along with his keys. “Diana?” After a second thought, he retrieved the flowers and gift to carry with him so he’d have them when he found her.
When she still didn’t answer, he wandered through the house, searching every room for her. In the kitchen, he found the table set with two plates, candles, wine glasses, and a full baking pan of lasagna in the center as well as a tossed salad and a bottle of red wine. His stomach plummeted. Not only had she planned her own birthday celebration, she hadn’t eaten it. Leaving it on the table to cool was a clear sign she was furious.
After setting the gifts he’d brought her on the counter, Travis searched in his pocket for his phone and called her for the fourth time. The call went straight to voicemail. “Dammit! She turned off her phone,” he growled, his eyes locked on the lasagna. He sighed. “Can I really blame her?”
When the voicemail beeped, he said, “Babe, I’m sorry. I messed up…again. I’m home. Please come home so we can talk. I love you.”
His next call was to Diana’s best friend, Alyssa. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Travis,” he began, praying silently the woman was in a pleasant mood. The two weren’t crazy about each other.
“Hi,” she said, her voice toneless.
Travis cleared his throat, frowning over her lack of politeness, even if he did deserve it. “Have you talked to Diana tonight?”
“Earlier this evening,” Alyssa informed him stiffly. “She was upset.”
“So I guess you talked to her after I told her I would be late,” Travis replied, his voice edgy. Alyssa always brought out the worst in him. She was often catty and mean, and he had no idea why his sweet wife was best friends with her.
“Okay, so do you know where she is?”
“Are you just getting home?” she asked curtly, and he could imagine the sour look on her pretty face. “It’s nearly ten.”
“I’m well aware of the time, Alyssa. Do you know where Diana went?” he asked caustically, tired of the chiding in her voice after the short conversation.
“I don’t.” Her answer was abruptly brusque.
“And let me guess. You wouldn’t tell me if you did know,” Travis asked, sarcasm dripping from his mouth.
“You’re an asshole, and she deserves better,” Alyssa answered matter-of-factly, and the call ended before he could respond.
Filthy names for his wife’s best friend flitted through his brain, but he didn’t speak them. She was most likely right. He didn’t deserve Diana, but he worked so much and so hard to build the future the two of them had discussed. The big house with a swimming pool, two or three children, a couple of dogs—everything they could have in only five years if she would be patient.
He glared at the phone in his hand and texted two messages asking where she was and when she’d be home, knowing both would go unanswered. Anger began crawling in his body as he realized where she probably was. The casino. Again. Wasting what little money they had because she was mad at him.
Grumbling under his breath, he walked to the table, lifted the room-temperature lasagna, and carried it to the kitchen counter to cover it. He did the same with the salad and put it all in the refrigerator so they could eat it the next day. The bottle of wine he grabbed, opened, and poured a glass, carrying both the bottle and the glass to the living room, where he sat on the couch to stew in his quickly growing anger and wait for his wife.
* * *
Diana pulled into the driveway, frowning at Travis’ car parked so that the garage was blocked. Her frown became a smirk. He thought I was home, she mused as she pulled to the side so he could get out in the morning. Serves him right for missing my birthday.
She shivered as she rolled the windows of her car up, then sniffed her shirt. She’d driven the thirty minutes home from the casino with the car windows halfway down so she wouldn’t reek of cigarette smoke. It hadn’t worked, and now the fight that should be about him missing her birthday would be about her going to gamble.
Before going in and having the same fight—with one different theme—they’d had a hundred times since getting married, she turned her phone on and listened to the multiple pings and dings of texts and voicemails left after she’d turned it off. She read through the texts, which were angry in nature by the last two sent nearly two hours earlier. The voicemails she would continue to ignore for now. The first one had been heartbreaking, as usual, when he told her he wouldn’t be home for her birthday.
She’d listened with a sinking stomach at six that evening, then sat down on the floor in the kitchen and cried. He’d missed their anniversary, too, because of a work meeting. They had celebrated the next night, but the bitterness hadn’t really left even though he’d worked hard to make it special. And now he’d missed her birthday. So many cancelled dates, late nights, and weekends gone that they couldn’t get back.
Sighing, she shook her head, trying to rid herself of the bitterness she just couldn’t shake. The cigarette smell enveloped her as her hair moved, and her face scrunched up in disgust. Grabbing a hair tie off the gear shift where she kept spares, she put her long brown hair up in a messy bun so Travis wouldn’t immediately smell the stench.
Diana loved the casinos, the noises, the thrill of gambling, the excitement that coursed through her when she won. She even sort of liked the tiny amount of devastation she felt when she lost. Only two things caused a dislike of casinos in her mind: the stench of smoke, and the total loss she occasionally experienced. In her anger and sadness, she’d lost nearly five-hundred dollars this evening, a fact she would have to disclose to her husband soon. Luckily, she got paid in two days, which would slightly cover the loss.
I’m not telling him tonight, she promised herself as she climbed out of the car and stomped to the house. Tonight would be about his working all the time and missing important events.
When she stepped inside the door, Travis was staring at it as if he’d been waiting there all evening, as if she’d done something wrong. His eyes lifted to hers as she clicked the door closed and turned to face him. A nearly empty wine bottle sat in front of him, and as she watched, he lifted it and poured the rest in his glass. She leaned against the door, staring at him without speaking and wondering how to start this argument.
“I brought you a gift,” he said into the silence, his eyes on the wine glass rather than on her.
“I made a lovely dinner,” she retorted, an edge to her voice.
Travis’ eyes lifted to hers again, searching, and the anger there caused a moment of fear in her, though she knew with one-hundred-percent acuity that he would never harm her physically. “Where have you been?”
She pushed away from the door to remove her light jacket and drop it and her purse on the chair nearest the door. She remained standing next to it, one hand on the back as if supporting herself, and answered. “Out.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she replied nonchalantly, patting the back of the chair carefully.
“Casino?” Travis asked, and she shrugged. He exploded off the couch, yelling, “Goddamnit, Diana! I can smell it on you!”
“Don’t yell at me,” she said quietly, pointing at him. “So I went to the casino. If I have to celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday by myself, I might as well be doing something I enjoy. Not staring at the dinner I made for my own birthday so my incredibly busy husband didn’t have to worry about it.” Her words dripped with anger and disdain.
She watched as the guilt flitted across his face quickly and disappeared. “I called. I left messages and sent texts. You ignored all of them.”
“I sat on the kitchen floor and cried after listening to your message,” she informed him tartly. “I chose not to respond because it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. You would have gone to your meeting, and I would have been alone on my birthday. Just like I was alone on our anniversary.”
“We celebrated it the next day,” Travis reminded her, his face muscles taut with repressed anger. “You said that was fine.”
“I had no choice, did I?” Diana asked, her voice breaking a little. “You made it clear I had no choice.”
Travis sighed and his face relaxed somewhat. “I am very sorry, Diana.”
“You always are. And your apology doesn’t change a thing,” Diana told him, staring at the floor. “You’ll miss the next event, or you’ll be late. I guess I should get used to it.”
Travis moved closer to her, and she braced herself for the accusation she was certain would come. He sniffed when he was within a couple feet of her, stepped back two steps, and glared.
“The casino again,” he growled, shaking his head. “How much did you lose?”
Diana shrugged, her guilt pulling at her. “Five hundred.”
“What the fuck?” he yelled, glaring at her. “Five hundred? What about rent? Groceries?”
“I can make it back,” she yelled. “I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity when you’re working.”
“Don’t turn this around on me, dammit! I don’t force you to go to the casino every time your feelings get hurt.” Travis seethed, his hands clenched in fists as he began to pace.
“Feelings get hurt?” she screamed shrilly, watching as he paced like a chained dog. Losing the money did put their problems on her head, but she felt like he was to blame for driving her to alternative activities. She wanted to be at home with her husband, but he couldn’t be bothered to stay home. Or come home. “You break my heart!”
He faced her, his expression furious. “I am trying to build our dreams! The only way to do that is to work long hours.”
“All hours!” she screamed. “I can’t imagine you’re always working. What else is keeping you busy?”
“What the hell does that mean?” he asked, his eyes wide, astonished by her insinuation.
“You’re fucking around, aren’t you?” she asked heatedly. “You talk about being able to smell me. I smelled perfume on your shirt the other day. It sure as hell wasn’t mine.”
“You are being ridiculous! I have never screwed around, and you know it,” he yelled, pointing a finger at her, which she slapped out of her face. “While I’m busy working,” he emphasized the word, “you’re busy losing five-hundred dollars. So stop making stupid accusations to hide your own guilt.”
Diana’s eyes filled with tears. “I am well aware of my flaw. Believe me, I feel guilty about it all the time.”
“Then stop going to the fucking casino! It’s an easy goddamn fix, Diana,” he yelled at her.
She flinched at his raised voice, and his expression changed. When he reached his hand out to comfort her, she jerked away from him and yelled, “Don’t touch me! You drive me to the casino every time you cancel on me. Every time you choose your work over your wife.” She scoffed. “You claim you’re busy building our dream. What bullshit! My dream is to have a husband by my side who loves me. Not an absentee husband who may as well be fucking around.” Her chest was heaving as she hurled another insult. “You aren’t married to me, Travis. You’re married to a fucking job!”
“Better than being married to a gambling addict,” he said quietly, and the several seconds of silence that followed were filled by a heart-wrenching gasp from Diana.
She felt as if she’d been hit in the stomach. All the air left her lungs in a rush, and tears, which she had forced to remain in her eyes, spilled down her cheeks. They stared at each other, and though she saw regret in his eyes, he didn’t try and apologize. He remained silent, and so did she. She waited for him to speak because the only words she wanted to say were hard and unforgiveable. Finally, after several seconds of silence, she spoke.
“I want a divorce.” Her voice, which she had expected to be weak and quiet, was strong and solid, without a hint of the tears crawling down her face.
Travis’ expression hardened, his anger disappearing behind a protective shell. He nodded his head and pushed past her, saying, “I’ll pack a bag and go somewhere for the night. Tomorrow, I’ll call a lawyer and let you know when we have an appointment.” His speech finished, he left her in the living room alone.
Diana lowered slowly to the couch, trying to come to terms with what had unfolded in the last five minutes of her life. He hadn’t put up a fight. He hadn’t said he was sorry. Neither had she. He had agreed as if the same thought had been in his head as well. Her marriage was over, and neither of them seemed to care.
He left without a word a few minutes later, a small bag in his hand. She didn’t call out to him, just watched him leave from her seat on the couch as devastation crashed over her. She heard his key turn in the door, his last opportunity to keep her safe.
When his car was no longer in the driveway, she slumped sideways on the couch and sobbed harder than she ever had in her life. She let the anger, the sadness, and the fear of what might happen take over her soul and cried like she had lost a part of her heart.
The crying jag subsided, and she rose to get a glass of water before going to bed in their empty queen. She saw the flowers immediately, abandoned on the counter where he’d left them when he got home and found her gone. She saw the small box, cutely wrapped with a little blue bow, and she decided to unwrap it, though she wasn’t sure she even wanted his gift.
The sapphire ring she found inside was beautiful. The sapphire itself was small and surrounded by smaller sapphires in a setting that reminded her of a flower. The ring was silver, her favorite, and the perfect size for her right ring finger. She put it on, stared at it, and pulled it off almost immediately. She carried it with her to the bedroom, where she laid it inside her jewelry box. Her left hand caught her eye, and the ring on her third finger. With a wrenching sob, she removed her wedding ring as well and laid it beside the sapphire ring. She closed the box with a snap, the sound symbolizing finality and forever in her ears.
Neither will be worn after today, she thought as a cloud fell over her spirit. Without showering off the cigarette smell, without even brushing her teeth or taking off her clothes, she lay on the bed and cried herself to sleep.