MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
The King and I by Karen Sorbello

Fiction


The Drive

Lori Bernard

I tried to get comfortable in my seat. It was going to be a long drive. I looked in the rearview mirror and squinted at the sun, my beautiful Arizona sun. The smoldering orange circle was resting on the rooftop of the house across the street, pausing before it continued its ascension.

It would be a better life, a new start in Riverside, California, but Phoenix was my home. Everyone and everything I knew was here. I was leaving it all behind.

The sharp sound of a horn broke my train of thought, forcing me back to reality, to my car on the driveway and the drive ahead of me.

Andrew had already backed out of the driveway and pulled forward, anxiously awaiting me to do the same, but I didn’t care. I was leaving my town, my friends, my parents—my life for the past nineteen years. I just wasn’t ready.

I put the car in reverse, but my foot lingered on the brake. My eyes welled with tears as I looked at our house, one last time. It was rundown, undersized, and an overall catastrophe, needing more repairs than we ever anticipated, but it was hard to part with the place where so many memories were created. It was our first house together as husband and wife.

I noticed something glinting in the yard near the geraniums sleeping in the brisk October air. I quickly put the car in park and dashed across the lawn to collect the mystery object, a small toy car that had been tossed astray, left behind and forgotten. Something my son had missed when he collected his belongings and put them in one of the numerous boxes designated “Evan.”

Evan was two, and his endurance was no match for the lengthy drive. My mother-in-law generously offered to fly with him to Riverside while Andrew and I drove our two cars.

Not realizing it was full of dirt, I wedged Evan’s car between the dashboard and windshield as I got back into my seat. It was a little piece of him that I could keep with me for now.

My cell phone started to ring. It was Andrew. I cleared my throat, trying to conceal from him that I was somewhat emotional.

“Are you okay?” Andrew asked. I started backing out of the short driveway, hopefully satisfying his eagerness.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just going to miss our house.” I tried to sound positive, but I wondered if he felt the same way. “Are you sad we’re leaving?”

“Julie, I finally got the manager job, the one I’ve been trying to get for the past couple of years—the one I need to provide for you and Evan. That’s what matters. We could barely afford our mortgage. We need this. Don’t worry, everything will be fine. There’s nothing we’re not prepared for. But we need to get going if we want to beat the morning rush hour traffic.”

“Okay.” I hung up and we started driving, the house disappearing out of sight.

I remembered feeling both excited and saddened when Andrew told me that his application for the store manager position in Riverside was accepted. We both knew it would be better for our family, especially financially, if he took the job. The best part was that I wouldn’t have to work anymore. I had been working full-time waiting tables for the past three years. I was thrilled to finally have more time with Evan.

I found my favorite Avril Lavigne CD and put it in the player. I cracked my windows and turned up the volume. The cold, morning wind leisurely flowed through the car, gently tousling my short brown hair as we merged on the Interstate. I wanted to clear my mind and listen to the music, but it was hard not to think about how strange it would be to be in a new place, starting over.

Above the scattered trees hawks were hovering, their bodies tilting side to side as their wings caught the currents. They were free, without rules or demands to drive them one way or another.

After the CD had played through all thirteen tracks, I turned the stereo off, thankful that it helped to pass a lot of the time. Absentmindedly, I glanced in the backseat, expecting to see Evan, but he was not there. The car seat was empty except for a few ancient Cheerios.

Evan was born on our three-year anniversary in August, and at just past two years old, he was starting to put his favorite words together to form short sentences. Andrew and I didn’t plan on having a baby so soon, but I was ecstatic when I found out that I was pregnant. Andrew, on the other hand, wasn’t.

Andrew lived for his freedom. He usually preferred the unbounded ways of life, going with the wind like the hawks I watched soar above. When he found out that he was going to be a father, it terrified him. He began staying out even later with his friends, saying he needed to live his life before he lost it. It devastated me. I felt neglected, alone most nights, wondering if he would ever be able to accept it.

It was when Andrew held Evan in his arms for the first time that he fell in love. He felt the heavy responsibility he had as a father, and he was proud of his child.

But in the challenging role of being parents, we lost sight of our marriage and began drifting apart. We forgot that we were once lovers and acted more like partners, conversations focusing only on our son and the endless “to do lists.” We became so absorbed in our own interests and friends, that we began new lives, separate from each other, risky and secretive.

In fact, my life apart from Andrew held a secret, and it churned in my stomach constantly. Too many times I had ignored my longing to tell Andrew. I justified it with excuses of life being too busy, battling between the safety of a lie and the pain of a truth, struggling to find the right words. Like a careless driver, I had veered out of my lane, but now the warning bumps compelled me to make a correction. I had to make things right.

I had to tell him now.

I picked up the phone and dialed Andrew’s cell phone number. With each ring my heart beat faster, and I could feel it growing heavy and deep with anxiety.

“Hi,” he answered, and I felt a strong urge to hang up.

“I need to talk to you about something, Andrew.” I said it slowly, hoping he would sense the seriousness in my voice.

“Is everything okay, Jules?"

“Well, there’s something I need to tell you.”

It was a long, drawn out reply. “Okay.”

I took a deep breath, tightening a shaky hand on the steering wheel, fighting to keep the other hand steady at my ear.

“Remember that guy from work I was telling you about? Patrick?”

“Yeah. What about him?”

“Well… he liked me, more than just a friend.”

“What are you talking about?” Andrew sounded confused.

“He would ask me out for coffee after work or ask me to see a movie with him.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” I could sense the jealousy in his voice; maybe it was suspicion. “You didn’t go out with him, did you?”

Admitting to this would only be the beginning. “Yes.”

In Andrew’s silence, the hum of whirling wheels on asphalt was thunderous.

“I’m sorry, Andrew. I…”

His loud accusation tore through my confession, “I can’t believe you went out with this guy!”

He had every right to be upset. He didn’t know my situation and he didn’t have to. What I did was wrong and I had no excuse that could make it seem remotely right.

But with my shame I felt angry, defensive.

I thought about how Patrick had looked into my eyes like no one else had, or had for a long time. He made me feel valued and understood, eager to hear my every word. Each day only grew more intense—the stares, the arm touches, our connection. He offered me everything I had lost in my marriage. He had time for me. He sought after me.

I had to defend myself, to give him a reason why I allowed it to go on. “I told you all the time that I wanted to see a movie with you, but you always said you didn’t have time! You always choose to hang out with your friends instead of me. It’s like I’m not even important to you anymore.”

“None of that matters! What matters is that you’ve been cheating on me!”

In the corner of my eye, I caught a passing glance of a road sign. We were already more than half way to Riverside. What started as a straight, uncomplicated drive to our destination had changed, turning into a twisted highway of unearthed secrets, breaking like roots through the road.

But I needed to continue and tell him everything. I wanted to be completely honest. Here and now I had that chance; I had the time.

“Did you kiss him?” In my loss of words, Andrew had managed to say the very thing I was preparing to confess.

My throat tightened, as if it was trying to contain the truth. It was almost as if he already knew.

“Julie, you have to tell me.” His voice was so stern, yet I sensed he feared what I might say.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing would come out. It was so hard for me to say the word, to admit that I failed at a promise, one that I had sworn out loud to Andrew. I had made a vow, and I broke it.

“Yes.” I was almost whispering, hoping he could sense my shame and embarrassment. “It happened one night in his car after we had seen a movie. I didn’t know it was happening, and then it happened.”

“When?”

“A couple of weeks ago.” I paused, waiting for Andrew to say something, but I knew it was me that needed to say more. “After it happened, I told Patrick we couldn’t go out anymore. I said we could only see each other at the restaurant and talk about work related stuff.”

In my mind I saw Patrick’s rejected face, his eyes confused as I pulled away from our kiss. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. My body lost all restraint from one touch, and from deep inside, I had to force myself to break away.

“Did you have feelings for him?”

My feelings for Patrick were powerful, and like a moth’s attraction to a flame, it was almost beyond my control. I knew if I yielded my life to him, I would be leaving everything behind forever. But in my heart, I always thought of Andrew and knew he didn’t deserve this. Not like this, not when we had been together for more than five years.

I felt the urge to pour out my emotions, to tell him the significance of the relationship—the reason for it. I owed it to him. I owed him the truth.

“I fell in love with him.” I hurried my words to rush through the pain that I would be causing Andrew. “I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it did. It felt good to be complimented, to be noticed again. He wanted to spend time with me, to be with me. He even asked me to stay with him instead of leave with you. But, Andrew, I-I couldn’t do it.”

“Julie…”

I ignored Andrew’s interruption. I couldn’t let him think that I had changed my mind about him.

He needed to know more.

“We’ve been married more than five years! We have a child together!” My words were passionate, sincere. “I fell in love with you, six years ago when we started dating, and that’s when I chose you. I still choose you. I want to spend time with you, to talk like we used to. I want to start over with you in California. Andrew, I love you.” I was fighting the knot in my throat, not wanting it to come up and release a multitude of tears.

I became quiet, hearing every crackle of static transferring between our two phone lines, waiting for a response.

“Julie, I need some time. I have to think about this. I can’t talk right now.”

The line went dead.

I was dumbfounded. It was not unlike Andrew to avoid serious issues, but this was so significant that I thought he would want to resolve things—I wanted to resolve things. I knew he wanted the truth, but I also knew he was hurt by my betrayal.

I focused on the road, watching the yellow dotted lines disappear under my car as I tried to stay within my lane. Signs continuously flashed by, leaving me with blurred visions of green, white, and blue. I felt I couldn’t drive fast enough. The steady speed I had been maintaining up until this point now seemed too slow.

I switched through the radio stations, wanting to relieve the silence in the car, but nothing could drown out my screaming mind. As my car consumed the miles, doubt consumed my thoughts.

Will he still love me? Will we make it?

***

The phone rang, and I answered quickly.

But before I could say anything, Andrew started to talk. His voice was low, rough, and tense.

“Julie, I have to tell you something too.”

My heart should’ve dropped, I should’ve felt scared, but I could only think about him forgiving me.

“A few months ago,” he continued, “when I was out with friends, I was introduced to this girl, Lacey.”

“Did you kiss her or something?” I asked him quickly, wanting to move past this, not thinking about what his answer might be.

“No, Julie.” But he sighed, and in his hesitancy, I felt sick. “I slept with her.”

The phone slipped through my fingers, falling to my lap, but my hand remained frozen by my ear.

He slept with her?

My mind began racing, my body trembling. My breaths became deep and quick, and I began to feel faint. But I was too furious to be weak. Adrenaline surged through my veins and I became infuriated.

I picked up the phone that rested on my thighs and forcefully threw it on the floor in front of the passenger seat causing the battery to expel, shutting it down.

Without warning, thoughts came to my head, descriptive thoughts, and I couldn’t escape them.

She had been with him, my husband, the way that I had been with him, and the way that I had felt safe with him. I cringed at the thought of them together, Andrew holding her, caressing her in bed. A pain in my stomach intensified.

I was still following Andrew, but I could barely stand to look at the car in front of me. At all costs I wanted to avoid seeing his face in the mirrors, but it was hard not to notice when he began waving his cell phone out the window.

I had to know more. How could he hurt me like this? Why would he do this to me?

I reached for my phone, fumbling as I put it back together. It was only on a few seconds before it started to ring.

I answered, not realizing I didn’t know what to say or how I would say it. I was speechless.

“Julie, you didn’t let me explain…”

Outrage suddenly consumed me and I couldn’t contain my composure. “Explain what?” I shouted. “You slept with another woman! I can’t believe you got upset about me kissing someone else! I can’t believe you would do this to me.”

His voice was full of desperation. “I know you’re angry, Julie, and I want to explain. You know things haven’t been the same between us for a while. We’ve both been so busy, focusing on Evan and our jobs. I’m not blaming Evan—of course it’s not his fault!—but that’s when it started. I was afraid he would hold me back from living my life. I overcompensated for losing my freedom, but then I got used to getting away.” His voice became quieter, almost to a whisper, evading any tone that would presume blame or mockery. “We’ve only been intimate a few times since Evan was born, and I needed more. Lacey was there, but…”

“She was there because you chose to be with her—instead of me!” I yelled. Hidden behind my angry exterior was dejection. I felt unnoticed, like the last child picked for a little league game.

I had to ask him, and I couldn’t wait any longer. “How many times did you sleep with her?” I longed for it to be only once in my mind.

“I don’t know. Maybe twenty times,” he whispered.

I was reeling, and I began to suffer a sickening, repulsive feeling that made me want to vomit.

“Why?” I searched for new answers. I longed for a better reason. I wanted it to be her fault, not his.

“I told you. I needed it, the physical connection. But what I had with her was only physical. When I got away, I didn’t have any responsibilities. I was able to do what I wanted without being tied down. But, Julie, I know now that I was acting foolish and immature. When I was with Lacey, I only saw her faults, and I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I couldn’t love her, like how I love you. You are the only one I truly care about. I wronged you, and I’m so sorry. If I could take it back I would.” His voice was strong and sincere, but I was uncertain, unable to trust his words.

“How can you say this after just being with her?”

He sighed, pleading to my heart. “You have to trust that I mean what I say. I never want to hurt you again.”

“Y-you regret it?”

“Yes!”

“Do you regret us? Do you regret Evan? Do you regret marrying me?”

“Never. You and Evan are my life. I would marry you again, in a split second. And I would have a million Evans with you. I want to be with you, Julie, and I would wait an eternity for your forgiveness.”

Oh, my heart ached to believe, longing for his comfort. My anger had subsided some, but in its place dwelled doubt and apprehension. How can I trust him—trust that he would never do something like this again?

As I contemplated what I would say, we passed a sign announcing a rest stop and Andrew put on his right blinker.

“Let’s pull over,” he said.

I hung up and quickly tried to compose myself for when I would see him face to face, running the tips of my fingers under my eyes to wipe away the smudged mascara. I felt different. It would be strange to look at Andrew after knowing these secrets. How could I look at him and not think of him with her?

I followed Andrew’s car into the parking lot, pulling into a space next to him. I put the car in park not knowing what to do next. I nervously looked down, twiddling my fingers, picking at my unpainted nails.

At that moment the car door opened and Andrew sat down in the passenger seat. I leaned my body away from him, against the car door, and crossed my arms. I stared at the console, feeling bitterness stir within me.

“I’m sorry, Julie,” he said, and rested his hand on my thigh. I quickly pushed his hand away but immediately felt regretful, needing to feel his concern through his touch.

“Andrew, I don’t know who you are anymore,” I whispered.

Andrew leaned forward, putting his hands on my shoulders. His grip was tight, but I needed it to focus, and he knew it.

“Look at me.” I wanted to fight his words, but he said it so seriously I felt compelled to look. To my surprise, I had never seen Andrew so distraught and remorseful—he looked like a hollow shell.

“I love you, Julie. I would do anything to take it back. You and Evan are the only things in this life that are important to me. I don’t care about anything else. I don’t even care about this new job. It’s you that I care about. I can only hope that you still love me.”

I started to cry. I buried my face into my hands, shaking with each sob. I felt Andrew’s hands slowly trace my back and his arms became tightly wrapped around my hunched body. I gave into him, leaning on him for support. I felt fragile and vulnerable, and I knew I needed Andrew. I would forever need him. He was my life’s love, and my heart could not deny him.

“Julie?” I felt Andrew’s whisper as his cheek laid against the nape of my neck. “Do you forgive me? Can you ever forgive me?”

Several minutes went by, and my tears finally subsided. Andrew was still holding me, and I felt safe in his arms.

All of a sudden there was a knock on the window.

“Sir? Ma’am?” We were both startled by a deep, muffled voice.

A security officer stood outside my window. He had bent down and was peering into the car. Sunglasses shielded his eyes, but he was obviously uncomfortable to be interrupting.

“Sorry to bother you, but we’re closing up. The parking lot is being repaved,” he shouted through the closed window. “Take your time, but we’re asking folks to get on their way as soon as they can.”

“Yes, officer,” Andrew replied confidently. I nodded, showing my cooperation, but quickly looked down to hide my puffy red eyes. I watched him in the mirrors as he walked behind my car and disappeared out of sight.

I sighed. “Let’s go.” I looked up to see Andrew staring at me. His eyes were big, filled with concern.

“Alright, but call me in a bit and we can talk about this—when you’re ready.” Andrew gently picked up my hand and lifted it to his lips. He softly laid a kiss on my fingers.

He got out of the car and flashed me a hopeful smile. I looked away, squinting my eyes in thought.

Andrew asked for my forgiveness. But do I forgive him? Can I forgive him?

I felt sick, revolted, when I thought of him with that other woman. Would that feeling ever go away? I was still angry and hurt, and I had every right to be. But Andrew, he would always be the father of my child and the greatest love of my life. If I let her, Lacey would be the death of our marriage, of our future together. Why should I let some other woman destroy what we had?

I wanted to look beyond the resentment, to a time of healing and forgiveness. I knew it existed, I knew it was out there. But now, it was up to me to keep us together.

As I pulled out of the parking lot and got behind Andrew who was waiting on me, this time I did care.

All of a sudden, my heart began to pump. I wanted to make things right. I wanted to take him in my arms and tell him that he was forgiven, that he still had my heart.

I followed him through the parking lot and onto a short merge lane, braking near its end as I waited for a large semi-truck to pass. Quickly, I looked for my cell phone. I wanted to call Andrew as soon I could to tell him how I felt.

When I looked up, Andrew’s car was gone. Had he merged already? Did he go before the truck?

I began slowly accelerating, looking ahead for Andrew’s car.

Suddenly, the truck screeched as the driver slammed on his brakes. Its heavy body began turning sideways and the squealing tires started to smoke.

Startled, I slammed on my brakes, and the toy car on my dashboard flew through the air and landed on the empty passenger seat, spilling dirt from the yard.

There was a loud, explosive crash and I saw Andrew’s car swerve sharply to the right. It tilted over and began rolling, sliding across the concrete and coming to a dead halt as it smashed into the unshakable pine trees lining the Interstate.

Dust filled the air.

***

Nine hours later, I put my hand on Andrew’s arm. It was cold.

His body, broken and bruised, lay lifeless.

Andrew had not seen the truck when he pulled out, and he was going much too slow to avoid its deadly strike. The truck had quickly tried to switch lanes, but it had only caused it to thrust sideways making its brakes worthless.

“He’s cold,” I whispered.

“It’s very common for people in comas to be cold,” the nurse said as she unfolded another blanket and laid it over him.

The doctor had said that Andrew had suffered severe head trauma. He thought it would be best to induce a coma to prevent any brain damage. Now it was up to Andrew to enter a state of consciousness.

I pulled my chair closer and held his hand. I looked at his placid face. There was a large gash on his forehead above his right eye from the rearview mirror. His left leg was broken and he had cracked ribs. There were tubes everywhere, running in and out of his nose, mouth, and arms.

The monitor beeped, displaying his vital signs. His body was living off the heart and lung machines. It was his life support and he could not function without it.

I couldn’t help but think that our conversation in the car might have been our last. He asked me if I could forgive him, and I didn’t answer. Would he ever know my answer?

As the days and weeks passed, the only thing that comforted my mind was our memories together.

***

Almost four weeks later, the sun was just rising. I had spent another night by Andrew’s side. A cot was prepared on the other end of the room, but I wanted to be close to Andrew. My chair was pulled up against his bed and my head rested on the edge. I never wanted to let go of his hand.

Suddenly, I felt a flinch.

Startled, I sat straight up and looked at him. I was painfully still.

Nothing.

I stood up, still holding his hand, and bent over to look at his peaceful face.

“Andrew?” I whispered it, hoping he could hear my voice, hoping it would bring him back to me.

Slowly, his eyes began to open.

I smiled at him as tears of joy welled in my eyes, and I tenderly put my hands on his face.

“Andrew!” I said it softly, trying to hold back my excitement. “Andrew, I forgive you! I love you so much.”

The corners of his mouth began to curve, and he smiled. Oh, it was wonderful to see his smile!

“You’ll always be my girl, Julie Anne.”

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