The one that got (put) away

I’m a finish what you start kind of girl. I always cringe a little when people tell me they have multiple projects that are still unfinished. I’m compelled to complete all of my projects, even if I know what I’m working on won’t see the light of day.

All but one, that is.

In early 2013, I started writing a book I called CONTAINMENT. It was supposed to be about a marriage surviving infidelity. I knew the characters. They had a story to tell. I could hear them in my head. It should have worked. And it did…for about 37,010 words. Then, I realized that writing this story just made me sad.

Incredibly sad.

I picked it up and put it down multiple times through the middle of 2014. I tried switching to first person POV. Massive hunks of the story I had written were rewritten. But the writing wasn’t the problem, I was.

Though I found the subject matter and the journey this couple would have to take compelling, I just couldn’t live it with them.

So, yes. I have one project that will never be completed. It’s in a folder on my computer, just in case I work up the nerve to go there, but I doubt I will. Still, thanks to CRC, I can give Shel and Josh their shot at a moment in the spotlight. Here’s an excerpt from the probably never forthcoming novel, CONTAINMENT (explicit language ahoy!):

****

His lips moved, but all she could hear was the roar of blood in her ears.

She used to date guys who loved those artsy-fartsy foreign films where the dialogue coming from the speakers didn’t match the movement of the actor’s lips. There was even one who scorned both dubbing and subtitles. He claimed that if the actors were skilled enough, one would be able to follow the gist of the film through their actions. Yeah, right.

On the flip side, she’d also dated a few who preferred the crazed vigilante hell bent on saving humanity by blowing up everything in their path movies. The ones where guys like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger utter such profundities as “I’ll be back” then walk away while the world explodes around them. For her part, Shel appreciated them just as much. The movies, and sometimes the guys, might have been a bit formulaic, but they were always exciting.

But she didn’t marry those guys.

She married the one who liked superheroes and space cowboys. Who paid extra for cable channels so he could see the biopics in which famous Hollywood actors did their best to convince the world that they are just as worthy as the people they portrayed. Her man liked to watch the Weather Channel for hours on end and wasn’t opposed to the occasional cooking show as long as someone was bound to leave the set cursing or in tears. Sadistic television tendencies aside, he was not the kind of man who would ever sit across from her and say what he had just said.

“I don’t even know how it happened….”

At first she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly. After all, the white noise in her head had reached Pete Townsend levels of deafening. Reading lips was out. Her vision was nothing but a blur. Shock set in, and she tried not to blink. It was easier to cling to the soft-focus filter of self-delusion she’d draped over their marriage. Once sharpened, the pretense of safety and security she’d been clinging to would be lost. Forever. Irrevocably.

But the blessed blurring faded all too quickly, chased off by the stammering explanations and apologies tumbling from Josh’s lips. “I love you. You know I love you….”

Shel stared at his mouth transfixed. She’d kissed that mouth thousands of times. Even when he was stuffed up and snotty, when he had god-awful coffee breath, or worse, onions for lunch, she’d still kissed him. He was hers. At least, she thought he was. Until this afternoon, she thought his lopsided smile worked only for her. That was why she’d listened and believed when he said he loved her.

She’d obviously been a fool.

“I swear, it meant nothing.”

He wagged his head, trying to back up his platitudes with harsh denial, but she couldn’t tear her eyes from his mouth. It wouldn’t stop moving, no matter how much she wished it would.

“I never meant for this to happen.”

She watched as each word formed, fascinated by the exaggerated push and pull of lips, teeth, and tongue. Each denial wrapped around a moment and stretched it into a lifetime. Her lifetime. The lifetime she vowed to spend with him.

“I’d take it all back if I could.”

His vehemence slowed the instant replay of their life together to a snail’s crawl, warping and distorting the soundtrack of good times and bad until they were indistinguishable from one another. The sluggishness of her reactions pissed her off. The life they led had little space for slow-mo sequences. She was a mother. A wife. A friend. An artist. A woman in control. At least, she thought she was until about five minutes ago.

Shel blinked at last. She should have slapped him by now. If she had any balls at all, she’d have hauled off and punched him square in that lying, cheating mouth. She could push him out the door and tell him to never come back.

Or better yet, she’d bolt.

A sizzle of illicit thrill chased down her spine. She could. She should take off and leave him here to deal with the mess he’d made of their lives. He would deal with the endless rounds of appointments and disappointments. He could wait and wonder and question every choice he’d made over the last ten years of his life.

The squeal of brakes outside the window jolted her from her thoughts. Avoiding her husband’s pleading gaze, she glanced at her watch. They had fifteen minutes before Ethan would start asking about dinner. A quarter of an hour to clean up the debris left by the implosion of her marriage. Mere minutes to pull herself together or fall apart.

She rose from the sofa without saying a word. If there was one positive result from the twists and turns her life had taken in the past six months, it was that she’d gotten really good at taking blows on the chin. But this one…this was a fist she never saw coming. A part of her was proud of the way she was handling this latest bombshell. The rest of her just wanted to curl up in a ball and die.

Her knees wobbled but her back stiffened. Like a punch-drunk prize fighter, she toyed with the prospect of throwing in the towel. Could she walk away? Should she? The question was a lit sparkler, seemingly innocuous but inherently dangerous. The tantalizing taboo made her fingers tingle. For one brief moment, she tried to imagine how it might feel to be responsible for no one but herself. To be the selfish, self-aware creature she’d been before she’d given up her autonomy and her name for the sake of marriage and motherhood. She wouldn’t have to spend her days dancing around her child, begging for the stingy scraps of attention he doled out so sparingly. She wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout from Josh’s confession. She wouldn’t have to do anything but exist.

Josh slid to the edge of the couch cushion, twisting his fingers into a tight knot as he stared up at her beseechingly. “Say something. Anything.”

Shel refused to look him in the eye. She didn’t want to fall for his ‘I’m so good and steady and sweet’ thing again. Not now.

Not after he’d sat there and told her he’d fucked another woman but didn’t mean to.

***

Yeah, not so happy. Now you see why I had to put this one away. I know I would have maneuvered them to their happy ending, but the trip might have torn me up. So I returned to happier subject matter. Maybe one day I’ll get a little darker, but I can’t say when. Life can be sad, I like my books to be happy.

*closes file and backs away*