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A tiny goose honk of a horn startled Lesstin out of his day
dream. Not that he'd really been dreaming. He did put his car into
first and accelerate through the light even as it was turning yellow.
He swore under his breath. He had failed all the people behind him at
Other cars ran their merry dance around him, passing, turning,
and merging badly. They didn't matter; he didn't see them. He had no
real place to be. It wasn't even 10 yet, and he only had a handful of
things to do. But it was great to get out of the house and enjoy the
warm spring day.
An old favorite came on the radio. He turned it up, opened the
windows, and beat out the rhythm on the door panel. Maria had always
loved this song. He swore again and checked the clock. Almost an hour
had gone by without notice. He went through the list again, just to
“Hunting license.” He wouldn't need it for a few weeks yet,
but better to be prepared. “Make reservations.” Either a lodge or
just a good parking spot. He had slept in the back of a truck many
times. Not the most comfortable, but it served. “And get my guns
back from Adrian's boyfriend. I don't think he even used them last
year.” He never should have let Maria talk him into loaning the boy
He slammed his hands on the steering wheel. “No, no, no!” The
list wasn't working. “Later,” he said. Maybe if he acknowledged
what he didn't want to think about, it would leave him alone. For a
while. Just enjoy the weather. Feel the sun, hear the birds chirping,
see the trees budding. “It's a wonderful day.”
He drove past a small restaurant, where he and Maria had
celebrated their last anniversary. Maria. Always Maria. The memory
wouldn't leave so easily this time. He approached the closet. Just
storage in the guest room. It was mostly filled with old clothes,
books from college, and Christmas ornaments. In the back, tucked
behind old coats and shirts, was a box. It might have been opened
days before. Or years.
Work. Yes, work would keep him busy. He'd just stop in to check.
Bryant wouldn't be glad to see him, not on Lesstin's day off. But
he's risk it. They might even need him for something.
“In and out,” he told himself. He spent just under an hour at
work, checking in the with phone bank, meeting briefly with Bryant
and with Jessica. She had actually needed his permission for a few
purchases, which he was glad to give. Bryant didn't want the owner
peeking over his shoulder all the time, but didn't complain.
entire business was Lesstin's baby, and he had trouble not at least
stopping by every day. It would have been easier not to see his wife
for a week. His wife. A sour barb jabbed him in the chest. Everything was
Maria. How had he never noticed that before?
The office had taken time, but it wasn't something he could
linger on. He needed someone to talk to. Not about Maria, just
about...life. It was almost noon. He hadn't felt hungry all day, but
he called Tony, arranged to meet him for a meal.
The small box flashed through his mind. Rose petals were painted
on thick stock sides. It smelled of perfume, and was full of
hand-written letters on lined yellow paper. Every one was addressed
to Maria, in a careful elegant script.
He pushed the thought away again. Letters.
He snapped to attention, parked at the restaurant. How long had
he been sitting there? He hurried inside. It hadn't been work, but
people that kept him busy. This would work. It had to.
Tony talked about his newborn boy, and how proud they were. This
was the first time he had been out in weeks. Lesstin made appropriate
reactions, saying how wonderful life was, how interesting new
children could be. He even smiled at the pictures. He hadn't smiled
They may as well have gone to a park and just talked. Had he
eaten? Had Tony?
Maria, it's only been three days, but it feels like three years.
I miss your ebony lilac-scented hair.
Once in his car, he rolled the window down. The wind blew in,
cool and calm. He smelled flowers on it. Maybe there were indeed
lilacs. He screamed, angry. It was unfair! How stupid of him, of
Maria. He just wanted some peace, for a day, for a few hours.
Business and friends and success meant nothing. He slammed his hands
against the drivers wheel until his palms hurt, then slumped against
the air bag. He wasn't prone to crying, but didn't try to stop
himself as tears flushed the sadness out of his eyes, if not his
If time passed, Lesstin didn't notice it. He couldn't stop
thinking of the letters. He didn't remember much from his time in
Iraq. Probably best that he forgot what happened during the Gulf War.
And maybe he could have sent the letters. They sounded like him,
sometimes, if he were trying to be sappy or trying to flirt with his
wife. But the handwriting. That was not his.
I don't know how to explain it. Every time I touch your hand,
your shoulder, it's like someone is tickling me with happiness. I can
barely stop myself from laughing with joy.
He hadn't needed to read more, but he skimmed onward, feeling
more ill as he went. At first he had hoped these were the letters of
some lost love, the “one that got away” from high school or
college. He could accept that. But the man, who only signed his name
as HP, oh, cruelest of cruelties, he dated the letters. The first few
came in a month or two apart. But the last ones, these were mere
weeks. Sometimes days. The most recent was from last week. And he
answered questions, so there was no doubt that she answered back.
A metal-on-glass tapping turned his attention to the valet the
passenger side window. “Are you alright sir?” he asked.
Quickly, Lesstin pretended to drop his keys, as if he were
digging for them under the wheel.
The kid didn't know anything about loss, about pain. But it was
time to go. “Just...couldn't get to these,” he said weakly,
jiggling his keys as he easily picked them up. “Thanks.” He
didn't want for the valet to answer, just turned the car on and
He hadn't drank in years. Not since just after college, when
Maria told him to drop it or she'd drop him. Well. This seemed the
moment to try it again. Three drinks in had him feeling it. This was
his fault. He knew that. Sure, the business was successful, but even
those short daily drop ins were taking time from the marriage.
He'd heard people say things like “Love is work.” For him,
love was bliss, a thing that existed and could not be stopped anymore
than a hundred car train without brakes. It turned out, love was not
all Maria needed.
Marriage was a full time job. And he had botched it. Forget the
work, friends, life at all. He hadn't done what he needed to.
He knew about those stages of grieving. Denial, anger, that
stuff. Which one was “getting piss drunk” and would it get
His fault or not, the part that really hurt, was that Maria
hadn't bothered to come to Lesstin with her problems. Maybe this HP
had started it all, but Maria, instead of dropping it, instead of
talking to Lesstin about their relationship, had gone to another man.
It wasn't just betrayal, it was lack of trust. And what had he done
to deserve that?
Well. He wouldn't hide his discovery. The only option was to ask
her. If he didn't, then he deserved not to be trusted. Perhaps they
could work things out. The business basically ran itself. He could
take her out, spend more time at home, or with her. Yes.
Like the entire day, the trip was a blur. He didn't remember
getting into the car, or driving, or anything. Maria dominated his
thoughts, until the headlights closed in, too close and too large.
Had he missed a red light? Or just had one too many?
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