|Walter sat in front of the television; he did not register what he was seeing. His dinner was next to him on a small TV tray. On his plate was lasagna; the last of the leftovers from concerned family members. Walter was not hungry. He made himself dinner from habbit and not hunger. Heather did not allow eating in the living room, except she was gone and could not say anything about it. One month had gone by without a word from her; not a call, text, or any sign that she was alive. Missing was not even the right word; the hard truth of the matter is that Heather had left him. She didn't bother to leave a Dear John letter.
Walter turned off the TV, stood up and stretched. He grabbed dinner, walked into the kitchen and dumped it in the garbage. Walter stood for a moment with plate in hand. The world went on outside, but in here time had stopped the moment the truth had been discovered. Walter coming home to an empty house, Heather should have been home. At first he was not concerned. Heather could have gone to a friend’s after work or she out shopping although she usually left a note. They day went on; darkness came and “I forgot to write a note” twisted into worry. Walter called Heather’s friends asking if she was with them. They had not heard or seen Heather for the past couple of days. Walter sat in front of the TV thinking about what to do and called Heather’s parents. His in-laws stated Heather was not visiting, but they were worried too.
The call to police had been unproductive; most adults turned out to be fine. Walter fell asleep in front of the television and awoke with a kink in his neck. He searched the house and found their luggage was missing. They had separate closets and sure enough Heather was missing clothes, but nothing from the bathroom. Why bother? Toiletries would be easy to replace, but favorite outfits were a priority. Then a call from the bank sealed the reality of the situation. The day before Heather had walked in and practically cleared out their savings account. Four thousand dollars had been reduced to 200 in a matter of seconds. The transaction had been cleared, but the bank manager had called because there account not high enough to meet the minimum deposit requirement. Walter didn’t know what to tell them and that manager was annoyed. Finally he told them to close the account and mail him a check. The manager said he didn’t want to lose them as clients, but rules were rules. Walter reminded him they still had a checking account with them and would still be customers of the bank. That shut up the man and Walter could go back to his misery.
The ringing of the phone pulled him from his fog.
“Hi Walter. It’s Marie, Heather’s friend I was calling to check in. Have you heard from her yet?”
“No, not one word. Has she tried to contact you?”
“Nope and its upsetting. We have been friends since grade school. Why would she shut everyone out like this? If I knew she was having an affair at this point I would tell you Walter. Friends are friends, but what she has done to you is just cruel. It’s not like her.”
“I know Marie; everyone is upset by the whole thing.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“I just don’t know anymore. Listen I’m going to bed early. Thanks for checking in and you have a good night.”
“Walter if you need anyone to talk to you can always call me. I may be Heather’s friend, but I know you’re pretty alone right now.”
“Thanks, but I doing ok for now. Have a good night.”
“Good night Walter.”
After hanging up the phone Walter recognized the tone in Marie’s voice. The same as Heather’s parents and other friends who called a sad, despairing tone that suggested they were in pain too. Except Walter didn’t know how to reach out to anyone Heather had been his rock. The one person in the world he could tell all his fears, feelings and dreams were gone. No one could ever replace that and the knowledge that his life was darker without her was tearing him apart. Going to bed alone was harder than any other part of Heather leaving him. The empty side and the fading scent of her shampoo made it impossible to sleep in. Instead the couch became his new bed and at least that was not a reminder of the loss.
That Saturday Walter was busy cleaning up the house hoping the work would uplift his spirits. The upstairs bathroom needed a scrubbing and the bathroom garbage needed to be emptied. Walter grabbed the bag, but his hands slipped and it toppled over. The contents of the bin spilled over the tile floor and one item stood out. Picking the object up, looking at two pink lines that could knock Walter on his ass. Sitting down staring at the slender white stick and those two damn lines and Walter knew that was a positive test result. The first time had been in their late twenties a couple years after their wedding. Heather had been so excited running into the kitchen with flushed cheeks and a beautiful smile on her face. Walter thought that his wife never had looked so beautiful. The exact opposite when the miscarriage happened five months later. The doctor informed them that the baby had not heartbeat. Heather felt horrible knowing that her bulging belly did not contain life, but had become a coffin.
They had tried to conceive again, but it was much harder and produced another miscarriage. The next five years with two more and the doctors had no reasons why. Finally Heather went on the pill and gave up trying to conceive. At thirty-seven years old the time of having children was behind her and women of that age had more problems with their pregnancies.
The confusion with Walter only grew, why would Heather hide this from him? A thought began to grow in his mind like a weed, what else was she hiding from him?
Thinking for a moment wondering where else to look for more clues and it hit him. Check the nightstand in the bedroom, walking in the room looking at their neatly made bed that had not been slept in for a while. On each side were matching cherry wood nightstands that both had small lamps. Walter’s nightstand was covered in an assortment of junk, crossword puzzles, tissues, and an empty glass that usually contained water. Heather’s only had a lamp and a book, some Stephen King novel that she had been reading. Every time that guy wrote a new book Heather practically sprinted to the store to buy it. The nightstand had two large drawers and opened the top one. There were more Stephen King novels, Chap Stick and paperwork. The book on top had a crazy picture of a skeleton on the cover and Walter picked up the book. It was a hard cover and the sleeve felt smooth opening the book an object fell out. On the floor was a small picture, but it was face down so you could only see the back. Picking it up Walter turned it over and was stunned by the tiny image. His heart instantly began pounding; the air was sucked out of the room and began to spin. Quickly sitting on the bed trying to register the meaning of his two discoveries and trying to get his body under control.
The picture was of an ultra sound and by the date Heather would be three months along. No, now she would be four months pregnant. Walter felt like a complete idiot that he had not noticed his own wife was pregnant. What if Heather had been having affair? Stop, he didn’t want toxic thoughts like that racing in his mind. No matter what Walter still loved Heather and wanted her to come home. That’s the big part is that I want my wife back by my side. Walter missed the flowery scent of her hair, touching her soft skin as she slept and even the way she farted when she giggled. He was not young, but no told either and was just over the hill. At forty-one Walter was in great shape although he was getting a little belly and his hair was starting to gray. Luckily for him the way his hair was graying Heather called sexy and stated she was jealous. Then Walter decided that he had to find out why Heather left and how to get her back. The idea of being like Sherlock Holmes made him laugh and the person he was investigating was his own wife.
Walter decided to open the bottom drawer and found Heather’s laptop and cellphone. Her friends suggested that he get the phone records and see who she had been calling. But Walter found that he could not do it and the fact they were hinting that an affair was going on made it worse. It did not seem possible that she was not capable of cheating, but they had made him doubt her. First he would look into the call history on her cell phone. Then check the computer for recent search histories and any clues on where she had ran off to. Pushing the small button on the phone and nothing happened and Walter realized the phone was dead. He understood the first line of business was getting the phone charged and luckily for their phones used the same charger. After that was done Walter picked up the laptop and opened it up the screen displaying the password page.
Walter sat dumbfounded on the bed for one fleeting moment this whole mess seemed like it could have been fixed so easily. Anger boiled inside of him and for a moment he hated Heather. Why couldn’t she just have talked to him instead of deserting their marriage? The worst part is that when Walter reflected the past couple of months Heather had been happier than the last couple of years. Not as happy since the last time she was pregnant and his train of thoughts crashed. The unexpected turn in her mood was the fact that she was pregnant. Then why would Heather leave if she was happy? Then Walter considered calling their family practitioner and asking Dr. Stuart. The clinic was closed on weekends and wouldn’t open until Monday. Another road block Walter sat down and made a list of everything he needed to get done. His thoughts were organized and for now he could still search for clues while the phone was charging.
Walter heard his stomach grumble and decided he would eat lunch and then check Heather’s phone. In the kitchen he started making grilled cheese and tomato soup. Sitting at the table eating knowing the phone was charged enough for him to turn it back on. Walter questioned in his mind why Heather would leave her phone behind. The only reason was that she did not want to get a hold of anyone. For a moment he focused on his lunch taking a bite of his greasy sandwich with melted cheese. Taking his plate he dumped what was left and put the dishes in the sink.
Then he realized that he was avoiding the issue looking at Heathers phone. The worry that he would find evidence of an affair lingered in the back of his mind and suddenly the phone felt like it was a miles away. This could not be avoided any longer and no matter what Walter had to take a look. Good or bad the information on the phone could at least answer some questions. Walter walked up the stairs looking at the pictures decorating the walls. The one photo stopped Walter dead in his tracks, their wedding photo. God they were so young and Heather looked beautiful in her white dress. They both were smiling excited about the future. Walter sat down and cried the hot tears fell down his cheeks in torrents. He wiped away his tears, but more came out, finally he was mourning his marriage. Except he didn’t want his marriage to be over and he did not want to give up on his wife.
Standing up tall Walter walked up the rest of the stairs determined and ready no matter what he was going to find. He took a breath and turned the phone on. A screen appeared with a picture of Heather’s garden in full bloom. Then he found the call log and clicked and a list of numbers materialized on the screen. Flipping through the screen looking at names that Walter knew were Heather’s friends. Luckily for him Heather loved to put everyone in their contacts even the post office. Then Walter realized that Heather had called their doctor multiple times over the last couple of months. There was a few numbers he did not recognize but they were only three.
Time to investigate Walter did a reverse look up of the numbers, discovering one was a number to the Peaceful Pines. The place where they had spent their honeymoon. They had rented a cabin in a small town and spent a week only leaving the room to eat. Wow, what a memory and Heather ended up with hickeys that took a month to disappear. All the lingerie that she had bought for the trip was ruined since Walter ripped off every piece. His mind lingered there for a moment more and then came back into reality.
The cabin was an hour drive away and he was just going to do it. A rush of adrenaline surged through his body and he ran down the stairs. Sitting around and waiting had produced nothing and even if Heather was having an affair didn’t matter to Walter. All he wanted to find his wife and talk to her one last time. If Heather wanted to leave him that was fine, but at least he would know she was alive and safe. Walter backed out and left with a mission to try to get his wife back. The highway was an open road and luckily for him traffic was light. Walter thought about what if his Heather was not there. A fear grew, overtaking him making his heart to gallop. The deep dark fear was back and he could no longer ignore it.
The hard truth of the matter is that Heather had left him. That is why it took him a month to even try finding clues where she had gone. Walter was afraid that she didn’t want him to find her. The muscles in his chest clenched and the air disappeared instantly. Quickly Walter pulled the over and stopped the car. He had to get himself together and keep going, because he had to know. Since Heather had been a ship without a captain and he did not realize how much he depended on her.
“I’m a man Goddammit and I am going to get my wife!”
A new feeling came forth and Walter reveled in it. No more moping, this is why he started driving. He pulled the car back on the road and he was back on his mission. Now he understood that they only had each other and if Heather died he would be alone. There would be no children to visit or grandchildren for that matter. He had never admitted to Heather that not having children saddened him too. Why weigh her down with his feelings? Except he now understood that he should have told her, opened up to her. Then a memory came back to him and it gave a clue to why Heather disappeared.
Walter had been mowing the lawn and a beautiful spring day. The air was warm, not too hot or cold and the sound of birds were sweet music in the air. Heather’s car broke the peaceful moment and her car whipped into the drive way. A loud screech rang out as she hit the brakes. Walter looked up to see his wife jump out of the car and banged the door. Their eyes met for a moment and hers were filled with pain and tears ran down her face. Heather broke the glance first and ran into the house slamming the door so hard that it shook. Walter turned off the lawn mower and ran after his wife.
Heather was sitting at the kitchen table, no longer crying and her eyes gave a blank stare. Her body posture suggested that she wanted to be alone, but Walter knew she needed him.
“What’s wrong Heather?”
“I shouldn’t have gone! I don’t know what I was thinking?”
“To your friend’s baby shower? What happened there?”
“Nothing bad, but it’s getting embarrassing. They all know about my last miscarriage. It wasn’t that they said anything; it was how they looked at me. Poor Heather who can’t have any children and I hate the fact they pity me.”
“They didn’t mean to upset you they were just worried about you.”
“What do you know? Everyone knows that it’s me! I’m the one with the problem and you’re perfectly fine. If you were with any other woman you would have children.”
“Heather I don’t want to be with any other woman I want to be with you. And if we can’t have children I can live with that.”
“I’m not going to another baby shower. I can’t stand them and I don’t belong at them either. I should have never told anyone I was pregnant. It’s not right to burden others with my grief or problems. It’s to the point where they question why I am putting myself through misery. I must be crazy. Why would I allow myself to try to have a baby when it only ends in failure?”
“Then why don’t we stop Heather? I don’t want you to suffer just so that we can have a baby. You’re all I need.”
Walter held his wife close and felt her body relax. Slowly she melted into his hug and they embraced each other in the kitchen and Walter thought the issue was over, but it wasn’t.
That memory had answered so many questions for him. Heather was hiding, because she didn’t want anyone to know that she was pregnant. She didn’t want to be judged about her pregnancy and did not want friends to count the days until the miscarriage happened. Heather had run from him too, because she was ashamed that she was pregnant. A couple of years ago a doctor recommended that Heather have her tubers cut. The procedure was non-evasive and they would also apply an electrical current making sure that the procedure would be effective. Basically Heather would be sterilized and could never get pregnant again. They would not have to worry about birth control. Heather refused to even talk about it. She never went back to that doctor. After that any time Walter tried to talk to her about it she would only glare at him and walk away. The pregnancy could have been a mistake on her part accidentally forgetting to take her birth control. Heather was running from him, she was hiding from him.
The turn for the cabin came up and Walter took a right turn noticing how the view had changed. The road was lined with tall trees that created an umbrella that shaded the road. Walter rolled down the windows and the breeze brought in the smells of nature. The lodge came up before him and the stately building looked immaculate even after all these years. It was built to look like a log cabin, a two stories with a wraparound deck and large windows to let in light. Flowers decorated in front of the building a stone steps led you to the main door. This is where the office was located and where you checked in. Walter walked in noticing that the interior had been updated. Leather furniture was placed in front of a giant stone fireplace. To the back of the room large French doors opened to a beautiful view of the lake where a deck provided seating. Tables with umbrellas were set out and stairs led you down to a dock with canoes tied to the posts.
The desk was located on the left wall with a young girl standing behind him. Walter approached trying to think what he would say.
“Hello sir and welcome to Peaceful Pines, how may I help you?”
“I hope you can. I am looking for someone that may be renting a cabin here.” Walter said someone instead of wife and that even surprised him.
The smile dropped from her face, eyes narrowing as she looked him over. “Sir, the privacy of our customers is very important to us. If this person is a friend you should have a way to contact them. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”
“Please help me. I am looking for my wife. Here I can show you a picture.” Walter took out his phone and showed the young lady a picture of Heather.”
Her face softened and she took the phone, studying the picture. “I am sorry, but I my answer is still a no. That is our policy we can do not release information of our guests.”
The sound of the door caught Walter’s attention and an older couple walked into the cabin. They walked up behind him and Walter attention went back to the young lady behind the counter.
“Please consider my request. I just want my wife back; I miss her more than you would ever know.” His voice changed and he sounded desperate.
“No,” the woman handed his phone back to him. “Please leave or I will call the police.”
Walter understood from the look she was giving him it was a dead end. He turned and started walking back to his car. The old couple followed him and Walter did not notice. Just as he was about to get to into his car he heard a voice behind him.
“Wait a minute. I think we can help you.”
Walter turned and noticed for the first time that the couple inside had followed him to his car.
“Can we see the picture of your wife? Maybe we have seen her.”
Walter didn’t know what to say so he handed his phone over to them. They studied the photo and both began to smile.
“That is the lovely woman who is staying in the cabin next to us. Every day we take a walk to get our exercise and we have seen her.”
“Poor dear, she seems so sad too. She is staying in cabin number three, just go up the road a few miles and it’s on the right. Good luck son.”
“Thank you.” Walter watched the couple walk back to the cabin.
Seeing a couple still together after so many years made Walter more determined to get Heather back. That was his dream he wanted to grow old with Heather. He drove out to the cabin and he realized that it was the same as their honey moon. Walter approached the cabin and in the back on the porch was Heather. His heart skipped a beat and for a moment it was just like the first time he saw her. The light made her hair shine; she was sitting with her legs curled up. The way she looked when she was reading a good book. Except the box of Kleenexes beside her told him that she had been crying a lot.
“Heather” He wanted to run to her, but something held him back.
“Walter?” Heather turned to look at him, eyes and nose red. Cheeks flushed with color, eyes opened wide, and showing a mix of fear and worry.
Walter couldn’t hold himself back any longer and ran to his wife taking her in his arms. They both began to cry and through the sobs Heather tried to talk.
“Walter, Walter I am so sorry.”
“Wait a moment, Heather before you talk. I just want to hold.”
Walter closed his eyes and focused on feeling Heather’s heart beat and the sound of her breathing as it slowly went back to normal. Heather sat back down and Walter kneeled before her. He remembered kneeling before her when he proposed marriage to her and hearing that magical word, “yes”.
“Heather tell me what happened.” His voice was direct without a hint of anger.
“I found I was pregnant and when I checked I found that there was an extra pill. I must have forgotten to take one. Walter I was ashamed and excited all at the same time. I didn’t want anyone to find out.”
So far Walter’s theories were panning out, but a wave of anger hit him. There were questions that needed to be asked.
“Heather why did you leave with our life savings? You didn’t even bother writing a note! I have been going insane the last month! Did you think of that before leaving?”
“Walter, I am so sorry for what I put you through. I was scared to tell you and I thought maybe this time it will work. And then I thought of putting you through another pregnancy and I. . . . I. . . .Walter I acted like a fool. I thought if I could come back here when lives are were so happy and full of hope. It was here that we first talked about having children and I have been so stupid. This place was magic for us the first time and I thought maybe. . . . .”
The words tumbled out of Heather’s mouth and still did not make up for her actions, but it was a start.
“Heather our life savings?”
“That wasn’t really planned at all and I didn’t know how much money I would need to rent a cabin. It was a stupid idea thinking I could stay up until I didn’t have to worry about a miscarriage. None of them lasted past five months and then I thought I could tell everyone. I have been so stupid Walter and then after I left and came here it hit me.”
“What hit you?”
“Walter I understood what I had done and how it must look like! I abandoned our marriage, my friends, my life and I just walked away from it like nothing. I did plan on coming back, but then I was afraid of what you would think of me. And it didn’t work I had a miscarriage a week ago.”
“Heather it’s time for us to move on with our lives, we can no longer keep doing this. We are not going to have a baby and nothing can change that. Running away will never solve problems.”
“No, it won’t.”
“Heather, it’s time to go home.”
One year later
Walter stood in front of the birthday cake remembering the events that had transpired one year ago. Today they were celebrating Heather’s thirty-eighth birthday with friends and family. After Heather had come back, there were many phone calls to make. First to the police stating that Heather was fine and there were a few questions. The police officer hinted at filing charges for making a false report, but Heather helped change the officer’s mind. Heather did lose a few friends, they decided to tell the truth and some did not believe it. They thought it was a lie and Heather was hiding something. The next week Heather went in and the doctor sterilized her. To Heather it surprised her having that fear lifted from her shoulders and she was finally able to relax.
Walter lit the large candle in the middle; Heather did not want thirty-eight candles on her cake. Carefully he brought out the cake and looked at his wife. She was busy with their adopted daughter, Genesis. They chose the name because it meant new beginning and that was exactly what she was for them. After Heather went to the doctor Walter said they could adopt something he was not comfortable with before. He did not want to bring a child into their life that was like a consolation prize. In a way his was afraid that he would not love the child as much as their own. So he had to give up fears that were holding him back. The process took six months, but since they were not picky about race or sex it went faster. Plus she was already a year old when she went up for adoption.
Genesis was trying to grab at Heather’s necklace and was being told no. In response Genesis yelled and got an angry look on her face the same face Heather did when angry.
“Happy birthday Sweetheart.”
“Thank you and you know what. This is the best birthday yet.”
The air was filled with singing voices as everyone joined in the birthday song. Walter looked at his wife and daughter knowing that life doesn’t work out the way you wanted, but sometimes that’s all right.