“Please, please, please, let me get home,” I chanted and swallowed back the sour, bitter taste in my mouth. Beads of sweat dripped down my face and I used my bare arm to wipe them, careful not to take my hands from the steering wheel. The car had to stay on the road. “Please, please, please, let me get home before I explode,” I muttered again to no one. “I swear I won’t ask for anything again. Ever.”
The temperature knob on the dash protested, but in the end, I won the battle. Albeit, not without scars. “Dammit all to hell!” I yelled. My finger throbbed where the nail ripped after catching on the stupid thing. A broken nail sucked, but I needed warmth more than pretty pink nails.
Heat would stop the shivering. Right? The moldy stench of the long-dormant heater shot out of the vents. Blocked sinuses were a small price to pay.
The odd, gurgling noises emanating from my stomach reached DEFCON 5 volume. I refused to give in to the overwhelming desire to pull the car over and hurl my guts out. The traffic was unforgiving at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, but I still had to get home, and fast.
Sour meat boiled up from the depths of my intestinal tract, but I forced it down. Damn my stupid cousin and her culinary ineptitude. My best guess was that she poisoned me with her horrible cooking last night. I knew better than to risk eating anything that idiot made, but I couldn’t help it. It took her ages to prepare it and I felt guilty because nobody else ate it.
She helped us move into a cheaper apartment—previous one was too expensive—and was taking the spare room. Her third of the rent was going to help a lot, as long as my husband stayed away from the tracks.
It took so long for that crappy roast to cook, that both my cousin and husband ordered pizza instead. Why I felt the need to eat that half-cooked beef remained a mystery. Huge mistake.
Ugh, stop thinking about that tepid roast beef. The memory was taking over my mind, and it was not helping my plight. Get home. Get home.
Shit, I nearly took a wrong turn. It had only been a few days, but I was still getting used to a new address.
No time to turn off the vehicle or close the door. Instead, I rushed up the stairs to our apartment, my flats sliding on the old painted wooden steps.
Instant panic flooded my body as I searched my empty hands for my purse and keys. Damn. In the car. Everything was in the fucking car. Infuriated with my stupidity, I kicked the apartment door and added to the variety of dents and scratches.
Hoping against hope, I reached for the doorknob. My sweaty palms slipped and slid against the warm metal, but I breathed a sigh of relief as it turned. Success! The reprieve, no matter how temporary, felt fantastic. Safe at home. Finally, home. Dizzy and woozy, I landed my hands against the wall. Bathroom. Get to the bathroom. Now. Mary-Jane’s cheap, black high heels tripped me up and impeded my progress. What the hell? Wasn’t she wearing those when she left this morning?
Not to be a bitch or anything, but even on a fabulous sale, I’d never buy such awful looking whore shoes. When I met Gabe, I gave up on heels—much to my mother’s dismay. He didn’t like me being taller than him, and you didn’t want to poke the bear. Trust me, giving up heels was the easier fix.
Two steps down the hall, a wailing of, “Oooooohhhhhh, Gabe! Yes, yes, yes!” confused the crap out of me. Did Gabe leave the TV on in our bedroom? Wait. There was no TV in our bedroom. What the hell?
Then it all became crystal clear as I stood in the doorway and saw Gabe’s scrawny, bare ass on top of Mary-Jane—the whore—minus the whore shoes and everything else. He was still going for the gusto as my body stood there. Frozen. The next instant, my stomach fell and air was no longer getting into my lungs.
Gabe’s deep, methodical grunts and the rhythmic squeaking of our bed forced reality to set in and I rushed out, just in time.
* * *
Hands cupped under the faucet, I splashed cool water onto my sweat-covered face. Black mascara dripped down my cheeks as I glimpsed at myself in the bathroom mirror. Gabe’s face appeared above mine—the handsome face I used to rush home to see. The man I gave my heart to, but he never really wanted it.
And what happened when you finally figured out that you married someone who didn’t give one shit about you? Well, first, you blamed yourself. Then, you tried to change all of the annoying things about yourself so as not to set off your mate. Lastly, you ended up catching him in bed with your skanky cousin.
“What the fuck are you doing home so early? I thought you were at work?” he asked accusingly. As if him being inside my cousin was somehow my fault.
I wiped my face, turned around, and scowled at the imbecile before me. He was wearing a robe, my Christmas present to him last year. “You couldn’t get fucking dressed before coming to talk?” I flipped the towel out toward him. The thought made me want to hurl again.
“We thought you were at work. I swear we thought you wouldn’t be home,” Mary-Jane chimed in, now cowering behind Gabe. Good freaking God. Was this bitch for real? She reached for his arm, but he yanked it away and glared down at her. Maybe that was why he liked her—she was much shorter than him. And dumber. Both being difficult feats to achieve, but Mary-Jane fit the bill. Congratu-fucking-lations.
“Are you wearing my robe?” My heart began to beat faster, and my face heated. “Do not tell me you’re wearing my fucking robe,” I growled, shaking my head. My eyes squinted at my daft cousin, and all I could think about was wrapping my hands around her puny little chicken neck.
Unable to wait one second longer, I lunged in her direction. Gabe anticipated my move and got between us before I reached her neck, but I seized a handful of her robe instead...my robe.
Mary-Jane squeaked and ripped the material out of my hand as she backed up. “Are you crazy? What’s the matter with you?” she screamed at me, clutching my robe around her unblemished neck.
“Get your hands off me,” I said to Gabe as I struggled in his hold. “I want my robe back. Give me my fucking robe.” Mary-Jane’s face froze in terror, then she turned and ran back to my room and slammed the door. The little slut.
“Settle down,” he grunted, dodging my swinging arms. The belt of his robe didn’t withstand our tussle and it opened, revealing everything his momma gave him. Gross. His naked body, fresh from doing my stupid cousin, was more than I could handle.
I shoved him one last time with all my might. “Let go of me, you asshole. You and your hick-loving hands.” He stepped back, stunned, and stared at me as if he’d been shot.
My short burst of energy disappeared, and any minute the floor would be my new best friend. “Go. Just grab your shit and leave,” I told him, gripping the faux-marble vanity for dear life. My long hair stuck in clumps to my damp face, and I tried my best to shake it away, unable to let go of the sink. “And take your hillbilly whore with you,” I said over my shoulder.
The mirror reflected the sight of a scared stranger. She was barely recognizable—long, straggly blonde hair, mascara running down her cheeks. What gutted me the most was the look of pure devastation in her eyes. Helplessness. What the fuck was happening? I gasped for air, but I refused to cry in front of this asswipe. I would not let him know how deep this cut.
“Honey, it doesn’t have to be this way,” Gabe said as he walked up behind me. He placed his hands on my shoulders and squeezed. Again, I cursed as his face appeared beside mine in the mirror.
A loud snort came out. “Honey? When was the last time you called me honey?” I sneered at him over my shoulder, my hands still white-knuckling the edge of the counter. The touch of his filth on me was too much to take, so I shook him off. “The only time you ever acknowledge me is when you want a beer but don’t want to get up.” My legs were shaking, and my knees were about to give out, so I risked the few steps to the side of the bathtub.
The cool porcelain comforted my burning skin, but only for a moment. So much for small pleasures. “I said, I want you and that fucking idiot out of my apartment.” I reached for the closest thing and threw it. The soap bounced off his chest and landed on the floor between us.
He repeated his earlier mantra, “It doesn’t have to be this way. Look, it was a one-time thing.”
I screeched at the top of my lungs, “I said to fucking leave! Are you deaf?” Oh God, now my head was splitting in pain. I cradled my poor pounding brain and rocked on the edge of the tub.
“We can work this out. She means nothing to me,” he said, pointing his finger in the general vicinity of our room.
“Obviously, I don’t mean anything to you either,” I said, peering at him through my fingers. “I wish you could be a better man. God knows I’ve been waiting for you to change.” My voice cracked. “But no matter what I do, no matter what self-help books I read, you will always be…you.” I nodded to him and my overheated body shook.
When I married Gabe, I thought I finally found a real man, but a real man wouldn’t gamble away money his family didn’t have. A real man wouldn’t let TV shows and video games be more important than his wife. A real man wouldn’t spend so much on a car that we had to eat ramen noodles and mac and cheese most nights.
A real man wouldn’t have been inside my cousin, having the time of his life.
What the hell was wrong with me?