“Honey?” I sing out as I open the front door. In one hand I hold a bunch of fresh roses I picked up from the supermarket and in the other I hold my jacket. Summer in this country is sweltering. “I’m home!”
I walk down the hallway with the roses behind my back, peeking into every room as I pass by.
I find Danielle in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and as I sneak up behind her, I smile when I see her earphones in. Usually it might bother me a little not to have her greet me at the door as she used to do when we first got married fifteen years ago, but as I throw my jacket on the table, I know it’s the perfect opportunity.
I prance forward the last few steps and in a matter of seconds I pull the earphones from her ear and press my lips against her cheek.
Danielle startles and turns around, fright turning into surprise when she sees me holding out the flowers.
“For you, my love.”
As she takes the flowers into hands I experience a flashback to our wedding. She looked so beautiful on that day and she still does now with chocolate brown ringlets that fall pass her shoulders in waves and her sweet and delicate figure. When she looks up to me, joy in her eyes, I fall even deeper in love with the deep blue that first captured my attention years ago.
“Thank you,” she hugs me tight and pulls away to give me a soft kiss. “You really are an amazing husband, did you know that?”
“Now I do,” I say cheekily as I wrap my arms around her waist, pulling her against me.
“So what’s the occasion?” She asks with just as much cheek as she straightens my tie.
“There has to be an occasion for me to bring flowers to my beautiful wife?”
She looks at me pointedly and I confess with a laugh.
“Okay, yes something major just happened today.”
“Oh?” she asks curiously and I pull her by the hand towards the table in the middle of the kitchen.
I sit her down and kneel in front of her, hands on either side of her face.
“A few weeks ago I was told they were looking for a new sales executive after the other got killed in that horrific accident a few months back. I applied for the position, of course.”
I can see the light start to fade from her eyes, but I push forward, my words getting more forceful.
“They called me into the office today just before the end of my shift and Riles Granger, the owner of Telcorp, Danielle! He was there and he gave me the job!”
Danielle offers a weak smile, but I ignore it, continuing with the news that I know would make any other women laugh in excitement and joy.
“He told me if I was successful I might be offered a place in the office, The Office, Danielle.”
“That’s nice,” she says quietly, letting her eyes fall to her lap. “That is fantastic news.”
Giving up, I let my hands fall to my side and grit my teeth.
“You’re supposed to be happy about this,” I say quietly, taking deep breaths to curb my anger. “Most people would.”
“I am happy for you,” she rests her hands on my shoulders. “I really am. You are an incredibly hard worker and you deserve a position like this.”
“But?” I look her hard in the eyes. “There’s a but, isn’t there? There always is with you.”
Hurt flickers across her eyes and I almost feel bad but it soon fades away.
Danielle stands from the chair and walks past me into the kitchen to resume stirring the pot.
“But,” she continues. “I am worried about how this will affect our family.”
“Nothing but good will come from a position like this,” I argue, running my fingers through my hair.
“You mean more money?” she looks over her shoulder and her blue eyes pierce mine. “Money isn’t everything, especially not in a family.”
I curl by hands into fists and sit on the chair, resting my chin on my hands as I try to calm down.
“What more do you want from me, Danielle?” I ask her quietly and she sets the spoon down, leaning against the kitchen bench with a sigh.
“I miss having you home before dinner where you would help Rose with her homework, which, by the way, she’s struggling with. I miss seeing you for more than a few hours each day. We don’t go out and have fun anymore, not like we used to.”
I stand from the chair and make my way towards her, wrapping my arms around her delicate frame and resting my head on her shoulder.
“You know what this job means to me.”
“That’s exactly the point,” she fidgets with her hands. “It means more to you then your own family.”
I feel like I’ve been slapped in the face and quickly pull back, opening my mouth to argue.
Just then the front door slams and I hear our daughter sing out.
“Mum, dad, I’m home!”
Danielle moves around me, throwing a glance at the clock above the sink which fingers point to past seven.
“Rose,” she says sternly. “Your curfew is no later than seven, especially on a school night.”
When I feel I’ve calmed down from Danielle’s comment I take a seat next to her while we wait for Rose to appear.
Rose walks into the room, feet dragging underneath her.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I barely hear her mumble and she looks up.
Rose is a spitting image of her mother, only with my dark hair. She must have gone out after school because instead of the usual blue outfit that she wears for school, she’s instead wearing red tights with a black skirt and a black top. When her dark blue eyes meet mine, she crosses her arms and leans against the door frame, eyes hard on mine.
Just like Danielle, she’s stubborn as all hell.
“You’re late,” I tell her and she snorts.
“I know. I just said that I’m sorry.”
“You’ve said that every day this week,” Danielle rubs her forehead tiredly. “I need you home earlier.”
“It’s not my fault,” she tries to argue but I point to the chair at the end of the table.
“Sit down, Rose.”
Huffing, Rose drops her handbag and falls heavily into the chair, pretending to inspect her fingernails.
“If you’re going to ground me, just go ahead.”
“Oh we will,” Danielle tells her. “You’re grounded until I think you can keep your promises again.”
“Okay,” she goes to stand up but I point at her.
“No, sit. You’re not excused just yet.”
“What else did I do wrong?” she stares at me in confusion and I shake my head.
“Your mother tells me you’ve been struggling with school.”
“What else is news?” She leans back, glaring at me.
“I know you feel like I’ve contributed to this, but I’m not always going to be around to help you with your school work,” I tell her and she gives me a tight smile.
“Oh I know. You’re already gone so I make do.”
I sigh deeply and lean back in my chair. Danielle stands up again to check on dinner and I decide now’s a good time to tell Rose.
“I got a promotion today.”
She doesn’t look surprised, in fact she looks quite bored.
“Wow, shocker,” she says sarcastically and, having had enough, I slam my palm into the table.
“I would appreciate some more gratitude,” I yell and she flinches a little bit. “I work hard to provide for this family and you know it.”
“I don’t want money, dad,” she bites her lip and sniffs a little. “I don’t think neither mum nor I do.”
I look over at Danielle to see her looking at me, only to quickly turn away.
“We need the money,” I say more gently.
“No we don’t,” she says and stands to her feet, arms crossed tighter only it seems more for comfort than anything else. My heart hurts from the sight and I stand up too.
“Come here, Rose,” I beckon her towards me and after a pause, she obeys.
I beckon to Danielle as well and when they’re both in front of me I pull them into a tight hug. My two girls nestled in my arms.
“I know I haven’t been a good father,” I kiss Rose’s forehead and then I kiss Danielle’s. “And I know I haven’t been a good husband as of late either. I want to do better for the both of you, but I need your support and help.”
“As much as I don’t like this decision,” Danielle whispers, her lips pressed into my chest and her arms around Rose, “I will always support you.”
“Me too, daddy,” Rose whispers.
We stand in that hug for a little while. Rose is the first to pull away, leaving the room quickly without a word. Danielle stays in my arms a bit longer before pulling away to plate up dinner.
“I appreciate your hard work, honey,” she tells me as she does. “But this new idea will take a while for me to get used to.”
“Thank you,” I tell her and scoop my jacket off of the table. “I have some work to do in the office. I’ll be done for dinner shortly.”
Mixed emotions effulge me as I make my way out the room and up the stairs towards my office. Love towards my family, disappointment at their response, understanding of their response, anger that they took it so badly, worry for Rose and then, guilt for the way I’ve been treating them.
As I walk past Rose’s closed door I try to ignore the growing guilt that has grown in my chest since the first time I really started to notice Elaine Robertson.
“It’s not cheating,” I whisper to myself as I flick the light on in my office. “It’s harmless flirting.”
“But flirting just the same,” my mind reasons and I sit down in my office chair, squeezing the top of my nose between two fingers.
“I’ll change my attitude,” I whisper again. “My family needs me and I’m not fully dedicated towards my family if I’m letting another woman into my mind. My girls are all that I need.”
There’s still a part of me though that holds resentment over my family. They know how hard I’ve been working towards a position such as this and while they held nothing but disappointment about it, Elaine cheered me on.
I lean back in my chair and stare up at the ceiling, letting my thoughts take me under for just a second.
The next morning I rise early at six o’clock and go about my morning routine in deep thought. A usual, Danielle, wakes up with me and sits on the edge of the bed, watching me sleeping.
“Can you remember when we first met?” she asks and I chuckle a little, pulling myself out of my thoughts for a moment.
“Yes I do,” I say with thought. “We were at that art function that your old employer had created.”
My wife is quite the talented artist. Not many people can make it to the level she’s at now, where they own their own gallery and make a living off of their beautiful paintings. Many of them are scattered around the walls of our house, adding colour and a feeling of light to each room. Even though art was never one of my interests, I find her paintings beautiful and special.
I look up at her art piece that we hung above the bed when we first bought this place together. It’s a portrait of the two of us on our wedding day fifteen years ago. We are facing away, my arm around her waist and her veiled head on my shoulder, staring off into the beautiful pink sunset that marked our wedding day.
My eyes flick down to hers to find them fixed on me, a small smile on her lips.
“I still remember that lame joke you said.”
“Lame was it?” I wink at her before revisiting the joke. “Excuse me ma’am but I wish to break the rules. See, I read the sign that said not to touch the masterpieces but to not touch you would be a crime to humanity.”
She covers her mouth with a giggle and pushes the hair from her eyes.
“And then you kissed me, right there, in front of everyone and they all cheered.”
“I’m quite surprised the guards didn’t throw me out,” I say jokingly, smiling at myself in the mirror as I straighten my tie. I went through my cupboard last night looking for clothes similar to those of Riles, in preparation for when I take up my new position the following week.
“You’re so cheeky,” she says around a yawn that makes my stomach turn to butterflies. “You’re also a pain in the ass.”
“So are you,” I tell her and pull the black jacket over my shoulders. “And now because of our pedigree we have a pain of a daughter.”
“I heard that!” Rose yells from somewhere in the house and we laugh.
My eyes catch on the clock and I sigh deeply. I move back to the bed and wrap my arms around Danielle.
“Don’t go,” she mumbles, rubbing her face in my chest. “Take the day off and stay in bed with me.”
“While that does sound good,” I kiss her forehead, “I can’t just yet. The weekend starts tomorrow and I intend to spend each minute in bed with you.” I poke her nose lightly with my finger and she smiles.
Leaning down, I kiss her softly and deeply before I pull away with a groan.
“I have to go.”
Sighing, I walk towards the door, stopping when I reach it to turn around.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she waves slyly and with a laugh, I make my way down the hall and stairs.
As I pass the kitchen, I sing out to Rose.
“Have a good day at school, Sweetie.”
“Have a good day at work, dad,” she says with a mouthful of toast and the sight warms my heart.
As I leave the house and climb into the car I decide without a doubt that I’ll cut all ties with Elaine.
Nothing can destroy my beloved family and there’s no way I’ll let myself let that happen to us.
“Good morning, Mister Charles,” Elaine greets me as I walk towards my new office.
Today I get to move my items and belongings in preparation for the new week.
I nod courteously to be polite. She looks nice again today, the same red lipstick on but a delicate pink dress. Her hair is pinned back with a few pins, letting her ridiculously long hair fall to her waist.
“How did you family take the news?” she asks as I walk past the desk and I offer her a tight smile.
“Quite well. As you said, everyone expected it.”
“You are the best worker,” she crosses her legs and gives me a sly smile. “I’m glad your family appreciate that of you.”
I don’t say anything more as I walk into the room, closing the door tight behind me.
It’s similar to the one I was in yesterday with Riles, only this one is barer.
A simply mahogany desk sits in the middle of the room with a tall lamp beside it, ready to be used for the late night shifts that I might need.
The room is a decent size with a lovely big window against the north side, looking out over the city. A tall potted tree sits in the back right corner and once I set my box of belongings down I quickly jot down a note to ask Elaine to order in another one. My mother had obsessive compulsive disorder and part of it was passed onto me. I know if I don’t get another, I’ll probably chuck this one out the window to the ground below.
The first thing I pull from my box is the company laptop all my work is stored onto. In most cases a new computer is used and passed down with each new position, but at Riles request I keep the same one.
I set it up in the centre of the desk, turning on the power button. The Telcorp logo lights up the screen and I smile at the cursive T. The laptop is one of the best of the world, create a few years ago by one of the company geniuses that are constantly working at inventing products or improving those that are already made. It is then my job to go on and sell as many of them as I can.
After the laptop I pull out the other office supplies I often keep on hand. There’s already a phone installed which I position on the left of the laptop and then I lay out the framed pictures of my family.
One of Rose, one of Danielle, and one of the three of us. The pictures were taken a few months ago. Danielle is a big believe in keeping pictures for the generations to come so new pictures are not rare for me.
I smile at the memories deep in the photos. It was a drizzly day, but Danielle was so dedicated to getting the pictures that the rain didn’t matter.
The colour scheme for the shoot was white and blue and she spent ages shopping around for the right things she wanted. In the end we all wore a basic white t-shirt with slim blue jeans. No shoes, she decided. Rose was horrified of the idea of not wearing any shoes and I had to carry her everywhere. For a fifteen year old girl she barely weights anything and I found it fun to carry her around like I used to be when she was first born one stormy night in September.
I run my finger over the picture of the three of us, our faces squished together. Rose was in the middle, her hair falling out from the humidity. Mine was damp from the sweat of carrying her around, but Danielle’s stayed in shape perfectly. A French twist that crowned her head like a tiara.
Smiling at the memories I turn back to the box, pulling out the last items. Pens, my notebooks and logbooks, spare paper and other stationary. I have to go back for the printer and Larry, my goldfish, who swims around in one of Telcorps bestsellers – a clock enclosed in a fish tank, allowing one or many to swim around lazily just as the clock ticks.
“I have to get some more stuff,” I tell Elaine as I walk past her.
She nods her head, deep in thought as she listens to someone talking through the phone.
As I’m walking past I again notice the TV in the corner. I just manage to catch a glimpse of another attack, but I soon pass out of sight, heading for my old office in one of the busier floors of the building.
When I reach my old office, I notice two of my buddies, John and Clarence, deep in talk.
“What’s up with you guys today?” I ask as I set about unplugging my printer.
“Did you hear the news?” Clarence asks me. “There’s been another attack, this time in the city. Not sure where just yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of minutes before we find out.”
“In the city?” I frown. “That hasn’t happened in years.”
“I know,” John shakes his head. “I hope the police get it under control soon otherwise we’ll end up like Cambridge.”
Only a year ago an attack occurred in Cambridge, one of the biggest cities in the country. After multiple attacks on the boundaries, they managed to break into the city and launch an attack on the high school. It resulted in the loss of hundreds of school students, but the damage on the culture was far worse. Within a matter of weeks, the city fell to the terrorists and now it’s been deleted from the map, a city no more.
I shudder at the idea of the same thing happening here.
“I agree, John. Let’s hope the police are as good as they claim to be.”
I balance the clock on the printer and, with the cords wrapped around my arm, I make my way back the same way I came, making sure to move carefully and slowly so as not to drop anything.
When I make it back to Elaine she’s still on the phone. As I walk past, she covers the speaker and whispers loudly.
“There’s someone on the phone for you, waiting on hold. They said it’s very urgent.”
I hurry into the office, setting the printer and Larry down carefully before picking up the phone.
“Hello this is Telcorp, Jonathan speaking.”
“Hey John it’s Kirsty,” a familiar voice speaks quickly into the phone.
I pause for a moment trying to remember who she is.
“I work with Danielle at her gallery,” she explains and I snap my fingers.
“Ah yes I remember you. How are you?”
“Look, you need to get down here. It’s bad, really bad?”
My blood turns icy.
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Did you see the new attack on the news? They targeted the building across the road. I was out getting supplies but Danielle.. the shockwaves from the explosion made one of the floors cave in.”
Not needing to hear anymore, I slam the phone down and reach for my jacket.
I fly out the room, running past Elaine.
“I need to go!” I yell at her.
I don’t wait to hear her response and instead run as fast as I can towards the elevator.
“Oh God oh God,” I bounce in place as I wait for the elevator to reply. “God please let her be okay, please.”
The elevator arrives and I climb in. As the doors close and I furiously press the buttons and the feeling of dread takes hold.
Cars and people litter the streets on the blocks leading up to the gallery. A dark cloud of smoke is rising above, making it hard to breath, but I refuse to let it stop me.
When the crowd gets too thick to drive through, I pull up in the middle of the road, jumping from the car and sprinting forwards, shoving aside anyone in the way.
As I near the site I notice more policemen milling around, trying to stop the people from getting to close.
It’s an ugly crowd, with wailing and cries as people look at the tradjedy before them that was supposedly wiped out years ago.
I’m just making it through a break in the crowd when a policeman blocks my path.
“You’re not allowed through here, sir. This area is off limits.”
“No you don’t understand,” I plead. “My wife-“
I peer around the officer to see Kirsty waving at me frantically, her face bright red with tears and snot dripping from her nose.
Not caring, I shove aside the officer and jog towards her.
“Where is she?” I grab her by the shoulders and shake her a little. “Where’s Danielle?”
The woman sobs into her hands and I just manage to hear her whisper.