Retrieval

By: Aly Martinez

The house was dark when I quietly twisted the lock so as not to wake her. God knows she needed the sleep. I didn’t know how she still functioned when her days were filled with tears and her nights weren’t much better. It was precisely the reason I stayed gone as much as I did. Or so I’d thought as I’d thrown myself into work. Money couldn’t solve my problems, but they might have been able to solve hers.

My body ached, and my lids barely stayed open despite the pot of coffee I’d downed not even an hour earlier. It was a miracle I had been able to drive at all. I should have just crashed at the office, but after yet another failed prototype, I’d needed an escape.

Instead, I’d gone home—the very place I’d spent so many nights trying to avoid.

Only one foot was over the threshold when I suddenly froze.

“Elisabeth?” I called, flipping the overhead light on.

My shoulders fell as I found her sitting on the sofa, her long, blond hair curtaining her face and suitcases surrounding her feet.

“What’s going on?” I asked as my gut wrenched, already knowing the answer.

I had no right to be surprised. I’d all but forced her hand. If I was honest with myself, it was what I’d wanted—for her. However, none of that made the pain of reality any less agonizing.

My heart raced. “Elisabeth?” I prompted again, needing to hear her say the words almost as much as I dreaded it.

“I can’t stay here anymore,” she whispered at the floor.

Acid rose in my throat.

Out of habit, I dropped my keys into the basket she’d bought when we’d first moved in. “If you fail the key basket, the key basket will fail you,” she’d announced with an infectious smile the day we had become homeowners to the two-bedroom-two-bath starter home we could barely afford. It was just seconds before I’d swept her off her feet and made love to her on the hardwood floor of our foyer in the middle of the day.

But such was life as a newlywed.

Inside that house with her was the only place I’d ever wanted to be.

Until the fantasy of forever had worn off and the walls of real life had closed in on us. Once my refuge, our home became an inescapable prison with bars built of my failures.

I couldn’t breathe inside that house any more than I could look her in the eye.

We’d only been married for five years. But, seeing her now, I felt like it’d been a lifetime since I’d peered into her eyes, promising to love her in sickness and in health.

But it wasn’t like she was the same woman, either.

Over the last six months, she’d wasted away both physically and mentally in front of my eyes.

And I’d done absolutely nothing to help her.

But how do you throw a lifeline when you yourself don’t even have a rope to hold on to? I might have been able to keep her afloat for another day, but I’d never have been able to pull her back to me.

We merely existed on the same plane. Living under the same roof, eating meals at the same table, sleeping in the same bed. But we were far from sharing our lives together.

“Are you coming back?” I asked, not willing to accept the truth that lingered in the air around us.

Her deep-green eyes lifted to mine—the red rims and the dark circles doing nothing to hinder her beauty. Swallowing hard, she shifted her gaze to the mantel on the other side of the room. I knew what she was looking at, but I refused to follow her into the past.

That might have been our biggest problem of all.

She was still living there.

And I refused to go back.

“Elisabeth?” My voice softened, but the question remained the same. “Are you coming back?”

“No,” she replied, swiping the tears from her cheeks.

A thousand arrows fell from the sky, searing into my soul. My breath hitched, and my lungs burned. This was it—the end of my life as I knew it. But, in that moment, with her shoulders hunched forward in defeat, I realized that it was the end of hers, too.

Why did that realization hurt more than the lifetime of loneliness that was awaiting me when the sun rose?

I lifted a hand and rubbed my chest, hoping to ease the mounting pressure threatening to overtake me. “Don’t do this,” I mumbled through the pain.

I wasn’t sure who I’d meant that for though.

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