Bill had decided we would move ourselves and drive to Seattle so he could save the money his company would’ve paid for professional movers and airfare. I wasn’t keen to spend close to four days driving there, especially since I knew we’d be listening to nothing but jazz and he wouldn’t let me do any of the driving, but it wasn’t like I had much of a choice. I also hated that we’d be leaving the week before Thanksgiving, but tried to appease myself knowing we’d at least be set up in our new apartment by the time Christmas came around. Christmas had always been my favorite holiday, but this would be my first one without Gran. I’d planned on visiting her grave Christmas day, but now that that was no longer an option I had to settle on bringing a grave blanket to the cemetery before we left. Bill had thought it was a waste of money, but I used my tip money from my waitressing job, so he couldn’t say too much. That money was for me to do as I wished while my paychecks were direct deposited into his account and I was so angry at him for being so coldhearted about my Gran that I gave him the silent treatment for the first leg of our trip, reminiscing on how we came to be there in the first place.
“We’re moving,” he’d said without any fanfare.
My fork clattered to my plate hearing Bill’s words, but when my mouth opened to protest he gave me that look; the one that told me that he knew best and he shouldn’t be questioned. Unfortunately, it was a look I knew well.
My parents had died when I was seven and my Gran, who had raised me since then, passed away just a few months earlier. She had approved of my relationship with Bill because he was nothing but a proper southern gentleman in her presence and I’d never told her otherwise. He’d been that way with me in the beginning too and for the first time I’d felt adored by someone I wasn’t related to. Bill came from a somewhat privileged background and I’d felt lucky to have caught his eye, but even more so because he pursued me so zealously. He’d quickly become my whole world, to the detriment of my other friendships, and when Gran had passed away he’d convinced me to sell the farmhouse that had been in my family for generations and move in with him. I hadn’t really wanted to, either sell the house that had been my home for the majority of my life or move in with him, and I guessed my cat Tina didn’t want to either because she ran away only days after the move, but Bill convinced me it was all for the best. At the time, I’d felt so lost in my grief over losing my last family member that I really didn’t have the willpower to make much of an argument.
My friends, who I’d known for my entire life, disappeared one by one as well. None of them approved of Bill, with each of them doing their best to try and convince me that our relationship wasn’t a healthy one, but he didn’t approve of them either and said they were just jealous of what we had together. A part of me believed them, but I was stubborn by nature and determined that I would one day change Bill’s views; on me; on my friendships; on my wants and dreams and yet here we were, two years into our relationship, but I was the only one that had changed and now I didn’t know how to even start to find me again.
“Where are we moving to?” I asked, adding, “And what about my job?”
His face held no humor, but then it rarely did as he answered, “Seattle and you’re a waitress Sookie. It’s not like you’ll have a hard time finding a new one.”
He didn’t think highly of my job either, but had made it perfectly clear he’d expected me to pull my own weight financially. I’d had to drop out of the community college I was attending part time when Gran got sick and the money I’d saved for my education went towards her medical bills, so there wasn’t anything left for me to use to go back until I’d sold the farmhouse. I’d suggested to Bill that I could use that money to finish my education, but he was adamant that we had to save it for when we got married and bought our own home.
Not that he’d proposed yet.
I wasn’t even sure that I wanted him to anymore.
I’d kind of wondered if that was the purpose for our dinner in a fancier restaurant that night and the fact that he expected me to move with him halfway across the country only fueled that thought, but with his next words I knew that wasn’t the case at all.
“I’ve been promoted. That’s why we’re moving. I’m being sent to work at the corporate offices in Seattle.” He sat there smugly, always the first one to expect praise to be heaped upon him but rarely ever doled it out, and asked, “Aren’t you going to congratulate me?”
I’d never felt more confused and my brain settled on Seattle. Where it always rained? I was a child of the sun and cherished the times I could lay out with a book in hand and the radio on. Bill didn’t approve of my little vanity either saying I would age prematurely, so I’d bought some self-tanning lotion that I kept in the bathroom as a red herring and always listened for his car whenever I felt brave enough to chance it. I hadn’t been caught yet.
He had still been looking at me expectantly, so I’d forced a smile onto my face and said, “Congratulations Bill.”
I’d tuned out the rest of his self-glorified diatribe and tried to come to terms with the fact that I’d be moving away from the only place I’d ever called home while trying to find the silver lining to my situation, but the best I could come up with was hoping the change in scenery would be a fresh start for us both.
The next few weeks were busy with me packing up our apartment, but no matter how much I tried to be happy we were moving, a little piece of my heart darkened with every cardboard box I sealed. I wanted to try to find the time to at least talk to my old friends to let them know that I’d be leaving, but Bill kept track of my cell phone calls and since he was a computer guru, I didn’t dare use our home computer. I’d hoped to make the calls from the diner where I worked, but I chickened out every time I had the chance. Not only was I afraid that Bill would somehow find out, but I knew they would try and talk me out of going. It probably wouldn’t take much effort on their part to do just that, but I had nowhere to go if I stayed.
Tara and Sam were my closest friends, once upon a time, and the ones I missed the most. I really wanted to talk to them before we left and I knew hearing their voices again, finding out all they’d been up to over the last year, would be like a balm to soothe my soul, but I hadn’t realized how much time had passed since I’d last spoken to them or how much I’d missed them until I knew I wouldn’t be seeing them again. Bill would have had a conniption if he knew I’d wanted to speak to Sam since he was always worried that any man that talked to me was his competition, no matter how many times I tried to tell him otherwise. At first I’d been flattered that he loved me so much to get that jealous, but now it was just tiresome and had gotten to the point that I didn’t even make eye contact with other men if I could avoid it just to save myself the hassle later on, but I was hoping maybe with us living thousands of miles away he’d be okay with me talking to Tara again.
I’d spent the whole first day watching the scenery go by and with every mile we traveled I felt a little piece of myself die inside. The more I sat in silence and thought about what my life had become, the more I realized how much I had changed. I used to be fun loving and had more friends than I could count. Now I rarely smiled, at least genuinely, and the only person I had in my life was calling me childish every hour on the hour, caring nothing for the fact that I was giving up everything for him; had given up everything for him.
If nothing else, at least I could count on Bill to be punctual.
“Bill?” I asked tentatively. We were well into day two of our journey and were somewhere in Wyoming. The ground was covered in snow and it was the first time I’d ever seen any real accumulation. It was also the first time I’d smiled in a long time seeing it, even though I wasn’t dressed for that kind of weather. The coat I had on was fine for a Louisiana winter, but I’d need a new one now, certain I would freeze if I was outdoors for longer than it took to walk to and from the car.
“You’re talking to me now?” he drawled out.
It was a fair question since I hadn’t really said much more than what was necessary to him since we’d left Louisiana. Instead, I ignored his question and shored myself up knowing I would have my work cut out for me, saying, “Bill, I was thinking. Once we get settled I think I would like to start keeping in touch with Tara again. I’ve known her my whole life and now that we’re moving, I’d like to be able to hear about what’s going on back home.” I conveniently left out the part where Tara and Sam were friends, so I’d be able to vicariously catch up with him through her.
Out of habit, I flinched slightly seeing him tense up. He’d never hit me or even raised his voice really, but he didn’t need to. His tone and scathing looks were enough to bring me down to my metaphorical knees.
“Seattle will be your home now, so there’s no need. Besides, you’ll be busy setting up our new home and looking for work.”
“But…” I tried to continue on with my planned speech. I’d been working on it for close to two days now and ignored the warning bells going off in my head, telling me to shut up and try again at another time.
“But nothing,” he interrupted me. “You expect me to allow you to talk to your poor excuse for a friend when you haven’t even apologized for your behavior over the last two days? I don’t think you appreciate just how much I have to put up with, with you.”
My stomach and head dropped in unison from his tone and my mouth opened, ready to apologize. It was almost automatic anymore. In fact, I was sure I’d said ‘I’m sorry’ more often than ‘I love you’ over the last year, but I swallowed the words instead with my brain repeating his use of the word ‘allow’ over and over again and I turned my head to look out the window while my mind replayed our entire relationship over the last two years all over again. If I was honest with myself, I hadn’t been happy in a very long time. If I was honest with myself, thoughts of breaking up with Bill and staying in Louisiana had crossed my mind more than once over the last few weeks, but I didn’t have anything or anyone. Bill kept a tight rein on the money with my paychecks direct deposited right into his account and Bill used that to pay for my things, like clothing and toiletries, all of which, over time, he’d begun to select without any of my input. My tip money was the only money I actually got to keep, but since Bill took care of everything else I hadn’t really wanted for anything and I’d used the majority of it that I’d saved on the Christmas present I’d bought for him with the rest going towards Gran’s grave blanket.
If I left him now, I’d have nothing. Literally.
But what would it end up costing me by staying with him?
“I see you’re back to being childish,” he snapped when I hadn’t said anything and I half thought about just asking him if he even loved me anymore. It had been a long time since he’d said the actual words and even longer since I’d felt loved by him, but then I decided against asking knowing I needed to figure out what I felt before needing to know how he did.
I heard the GPS telling us to take the next exit and knew we would be settling down for the night. Bill had broken up the trip into ten hour shifts spread out over four days and my stomach growled since we hadn’t stopped to eat after having our free continental breakfast first thing that morning. The town we’d be staying at for the night was small and while there was a larger city a mere thirty miles farther down the road, it would’ve thrown off Bill’s timetable.
The motel we’d booked a room at for the night had appeared much cleaner in the photos online, but I was just grateful it had heat. My coat was definitely too thin for the kind of winter weather we found ourselves in and when the clerk said the only place in town to get something to eat at that time of night would be the bar across the street, I almost begged Bill to drive us there, but managed to keep my mouth shut since I was still being childish and shivered my way there in silence.
There were a few people scattered around the room with several sitting up at the bar and since there didn’t appear to be a hostess, we chose a table near the fireplace in the corner of the room and sat down. Bill grimaced seeing they only had standard bar fare on offer and huffed out, “I have to use the restroom. When the server arrives just order us a salad with the dressing on the side and water with a wedge of lemon.” He looked around the room haughtily, adding, “In a clean glass.”
I hated it when he got like that. Personally, I thought the bar had character. The floor was a dark hardwood with rich cherry stained wood paneling that rose up from the floor to the height of the tables and the walls were painted in an eggshell color with Celtic wall art with signs hung above each of the booths depicting Irish cities like ‘Corcaigh/CORK’ and ‘Luimneach/LIMERICK’. Surrounding the stone hearth were green hand painted phrases, I assumed in Gaelic, and were beautiful looking even though I didn’t understand them at all. It was obvious the owner had an affinity towards Ireland and I wondered if they were of Irish descent or just did it for the sake of having an ‘Irish pub’.
I was staring down at the menu debating on ordering a greasy cheeseburger or fish and chips, just to get on Bill’s nerves since I knew he wouldn’t approve, when the shadow of a person appeared over the table and I looked up immediately becoming awestruck. Handsome would be putting it mildly because the man standing there was utterly gorgeous. His blond hair was the same shade as mine and hung down to his shoulders and his broad shoulders were on display thanks to his black tank top that was tucked into faded low rise blue jeans and ended in black biker boots. Black tribal tattoos snaked down his arms and peeked over the neckline of his shirt mingling with classic Celtic designs and I shivered just looking at him, but I didn’t know whether it was just from his looks or the fact that he was wearing so little clothing when I was sure penguins would thrive in the weather going on outside. Whichever one it was, he was certainly giving me happy feet.
It had been a long time since I’d felt them.
My smile mirrored his own as he asked, “Well doll, what can I get ya this evenin’?”
I blushed clear down to my toes which only deepened when a low chuckle rumbled through his chest, but my eyes refused to look away from the living breathing Adonis in front of me. His Irish accent only added to his charm and that would be why I hadn’t seen Bill walking towards us until I heard him say, “My wife and I will be having salads if you can manage to stop flirting with her.”
The man’s gaze flicked down to my naked left hand and we both looked over at Bill, with me about to deny the fact that we were married when the look he gave me made me shut my mouth. Adonis cleared his throat, making Bill look back at him, and smirked down at him since he was eat least six inches taller, clearly not intimidated, saying, “Ask me bollix and see what they can do for ya.” I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but I could only guess that it wasn’t good. His eyes turned back towards me and his eyebrow cocked up with him smiling and asking, “Is that what you want darlin’? You got a grand bit o’kit and I’d hate for ya to lose any o’it.”
I wasn’t really sure what he’d meant, but hoped it was some sort of compliment and after everything I’d been thinking about recently, it felt kind of nice hearing it. I was curvy, much to Bill’s dismay, and had to adhere to a strict menu at home that he made up, but since I worked at a diner, I tended to get my fill of greasy foods when I was away from his prying eyes. I knew it was a bad idea before I even opened my mouth, but since I was still being childish and I felt a little stronger having my handsome temporary Irish ally at my side, I smiled back at him saying, “Actually, I’ll have a cheeseburger.”
“Sookie,” Bill warned.
My elation was quickly snuffed out knowing from that tone I was in deep trouble now and the remaining two days of our trip would surely be uncomfortable at best. My options were nonexistent at the moment since I had to rely on Bill for everything, so I gave in and with my eyes looking down at the table in defeat, I mumbled, “I’ll have the salad.”
I didn’t dare look up until I heard Adonis say, “Your orders will be right up,” and his shadow disappeared from the tabletop. Bill took a seat opposite of me and when I finally chanced a peek at him I could tell he was seething inside.
“Is that how you act whenever I’m not around?” he asked. I knew better than to say anything; knew he didn’t want me to answer since he’d already decided on the answer himself and he continued on, saying, “You flirt with strange men like a common whore?”
“I wasn’t flirting Bill,” I mumbled meekly. I barely batted a lash at Bill likening me to a whore since nasty name calling was on his list of ‘Do’s’ when he was in a mood and instead I was stuck on the accusation I’d been flirting. I doubted I evened remembered how to flirt and I certainly wouldn’t have tried with Adonis, even before Bill came along, since he was clearly out of my league.
“You most certainly were. And what did you think you were doing ordering a cheeseburger? Haven’t we discussed your weight? If you’re not careful you’ll balloon up and not be fit to be my wife much less the mother to my children.”
The more he chastised me the more I realized that the promise of being his wife or mother of his children was truly the last thing I wanted. In the beginning it was all I could think about; a white picket fence; 2.5 kids and a dog. There would be bake sales and PTA meetings and for the first time since my early childhood, I’d be a part of a normal family. I’d completely romanticized our relationship which had been easy to do when it was still new and somewhere along the way I’d lost myself trying to become what he wanted me to be.
But now? After all of the thinking I’d been doing, now I could only hope that I’d be able to squirrel enough money away before he actually proposed so I could get away from him and try and find me again, but I knew I’d have to watch myself in the meantime and play along until I could make my getaway. It would be harder to do from Seattle, but not impossible and I latched onto that thought feeling scared but happy now that I could picture a light at the end of the tunnel.
I kept my head and eyes down in submissive silence, but my temporary happiness disappeared as my stomach dropped when a cheeseburger appeared on the table in front of me. When I looked up, I saw the Adonis standing there with a grin on his face as he said, “It’s on the house. You look like you need a little more meat on your bones.”
I knew he was just trying to be nice, but he was unknowingly making my immediate future worse and I could feel Bill staring a hole into my forehead, so I snapped at my former ally, “I ordered a salad. Please take this away and just give me what I asked for.”
I wanted to beseech him with my eyes so he’d understand that it wasn’t him I was angry at, but I wouldn’t dare knowing Bill hadn’t taken his eyes off of me. Adonis’s eyes narrowed angrily back at me and he snatched the plate from the table, but as he did so it was then that I’d noticed he’d already left two salads off to the side and he pushed one in front of me, snarling, “Enjoy,” before he stomped away.
Bill hadn’t moved a muscle, so I didn’t pick up my fork even though I was starving, waiting to see what his reaction would be although I doubted it would be good.
“You weren’t flirting, huh?” he asked in a low voice that trickled uncomfortably down my spine. “Do you think he randomly offers free meals to any of the other patrons?” Bill looked around dramatically before making me and our silverware jump when he pounded his fist on the table, saying, “No! He doesn’t!” I curled in on myself when Bill abruptly stood up with his chair skittering behind him and before he stalked out of the bar he leaned down, putting his face directly in front of mine, and said, “You have no idea of how good you have it with me, so maybe you need to see what your life would be like without me.”
My first thought was that I’d be happy again, but I didn’t dare say it out loud knowing enough damage had been done for one night. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened and I knew Bill would be angry and takeoff without another word. I figured he’d be taking a walk outside to cool off and hoped he would settle down enough for me to apologize when he came back, even though I didn’t feel sorry, but I knew it was my only option at the moment unless I wanted to spend the foreseeable future with a brooding Bill. My appetite was lost though, so I merely picked at the salad for something to do and cringed when Adonis strolled by and dropped the bill onto the table without a word. I wanted to call him back and apologize, but I was too afraid that Bill would walk back in at that precise moment, so I clamped down on my lips before the words could come out.
That light at the end of the tunnel was so dim now, it was virtually pitch black.