HEARTLESS

(Please note: This is a work in progress. I’ve only pasted the first few hundreds words because anything over 1000+ can be considered self-published and could ruin a publishing contract. Thanks for understanding.)

ONE

Saturday…

When Frankie Campanelli heard her husband pacing behind her she winced, praying he didn’t say anything to embarrass her in front of Sage. Lately she didn’t recognize him. Ever since his brother visited two weeks ago Chance was no longer the man she married, the sweet, kind, gentle veterinarian she fell in love with.

He yelled, “Where are my damn keys? You’re always touching my shit!”

Frankie bit her bottom lip, tried to answer without escalating the situation. “Haven’t seen ‘em, but if you hung them by the door you’d always know where they are.”

Chance marched over and squeezed her arm, tried to lift her off the chair. “Excuse us,” he told Sage with a tight smile, but Frankie saw his jaw clenching as if trying to hold back his rage.

“Ouch! You better loosen your grip, asshole, or I’ll–”

He puffed out his chest, arms slightly curled, fists clenched. “You’ll what? What’re you gonna do?”

Frankie glanced at Sage. Chance had never been physical with her before. They’d had some wicked battles, but he knew better than to touch her. Taking shit from anyone was not high on her to-do list. “What crawled up your ass this time?” She yanked her arm away. “Are you looking to spend the night in jail, pal?”

“Oh, big, tough sheriff.” He wiggled his fingers in her face. “I’m so scared, officer.” And then mumbled, “Broads. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em.”

“Deputy sheriff,” she muttered, straightened her sleeve and then sat back down with Sage at the table. “I don’t need this shit,” she told Sage, Chance hovering over her shoulder, waiting for her to run her mouth, not that she cared any more. “Would you take this crap? What am I saying, Niko would never talk this way to you. He’s a real man.” As soon as the words left her lips she wished she could take them back, knowing she’d just struck the match that would set him ablaze.

Chance grabbed a handful of Frankie’s hair, dragged her off the chair and threw her to the floor. With a quick skip he booted her in the ribs and then took off out the back door. Their two-year-old daughter Dahlia wailed in the other room.

Sage rushed to Frankie’s side. “Are you all right?” Her hands shook, gently touching Frankie’s ribcage. “Maybe you shouldn’t move. I’ll call an ambulance.”

Frankie grabbed her arm. “No. Don’t. Please.” She crawled to her feet. “Let me handle this.” Dahlia cried harder, waking to another blowout between her parents. “Can you get her? I need to–” She jabbed her head toward the door. Sage nodded, speechless, and Frankie rushed out after Chance.

Poor Sage, she came over for a cup of tea and a relaxing chat and instead got a front row seat to marital bliss. Talk about humiliating. Closing the gap between her and Chance she grabbed his arm and spun him around. “Don’t you ever lay your hands on me again. That was your one freebie. Do it again and you’re out. You hear me? Out!”

Chance rolled his lips. “Whatever.”

“Ever since Jason came here you’ve been a total dick. Talk to me. What’s going on?”

His upper lip curled in disgust. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Just leave me alone and let me walk this off.”

“No. I’m sick of this, Chance. Tell me what Jason said. He had to have said something to make you do a three-sixty.” She lowered her voice, tried, “Please, honey. Just talk to me. I miss you. Miss us.”

Without responding he marched into the woods behind their rustic farmhouse. Frankie followed. Unhindered by leaves, the afternoon sun spilled onto skeletal branches of oak, maple and ash trees, bare from New England’s cruel winter beating. Frankie felt the warmth on her face and wished her husband’s cold heart could melt from the heat. But nothing was ever that easy.

Staying a few steps behind she remained quiet, waiting for him to calm down. She drew in a deep breath, inhaled the pine-scent from the massive conifers speckled throughout the woods. Of course everywhere in northern New Hampshire had oxygen-rich air. Even though she’d spent her entire life not far from Alexandria she still took a moment to appreciate God’s country, with its majestic mountain ranges and spring-fed lakes. It was nearly impossible not to notice how beautiful this area was, even while your husband was acting out more than your toddler.

Perhaps a stroll was just what they needed, a little time to relax away from their troubles. And time– as much as she hated to admit– away from their daughter’s cries. Frankie loved Dahlia more than she ever thought possible, her birth had completed her in ways she’d only read about in books, but living with a toddler was not always easy. Not that she’d trade motherhood for the world. When Dahlia was born it was as if suddenly her entire life had purpose, as if everything up until that point was just a test and now, what she did and how she did it really mattered.

Frankie watched Chance kick the snow with his boot, a scuff in his step, like he had no idea why he’d taken off and now was trying to make sense of it. She desperately wanted to hold him, tell him everything could go back to the way it was, that she’d forgive and make this day the first day of the rest of their lives. But in her heart she knew it wouldn’t be that easy. Whatever her brother-in-law had told him rattled him far beyond her realm of possibility. If only she could find out what that was, then maybe she could find a way to fix it.

 

 

 

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