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Joe spent the night thrashing at the bathroom door, desperately wanting Ariel to hear him out. That may have been asking too much, given what had happened but miracles was what he was hoping for. He had come home in a rage; work had not been going as well as he had hoped it to be.
A couple days ago, Walter had insinuated that an upcoming project would ensure Joe a promotion but it would never happen. He had taken the case, thinking that since he had already gone this far that a few more sleepless nights wouldn’t hurt. What he couldn’t have predicted was the amount of work ahead of him. Tug turned into pull when Walter had given too many demands, and given his situation, Joe almost broke down because he couldn’t focus. He turned in frivolously done files, entered wrong data in the servers and almost missed the deadline for the biggest case.
Yesterday was the tipping point. He had till midnight to resubmit his work, or he would be demoted. With so much on the line, Joe worked till the late hours, missing his own Anniversary, to keep his job. By the time he was finished, he had forgotten what day it was, and went home thinking of all the things that could go wrong. He could be fired, and then what would his family do then? He still had a mortgage and a car to pay off. He had to take care of Ariel, the woman he loved. Would she leave him? Why wouldn’t she? By now, he couldn’t think up of a single reason why she would still be with such a failure of a man.
He didn’t know how bad it had become- his self esteem. Now he sat on the carpeted floor with his head leaning on the bathroom door, waiting for Ariel to forgive him – if she ever will – and hoping for all this to go away. If anyone was great at making the bad stuff disappear it was his wife. He could glance at her once and he could feel the weight on his shoulders melt. Why then, he thought, did he have to take his frustrations out on her? On the woman whom he could never even dream of hurting the way he did last night, the woman he so called loved.
What scared him now was how he could ever make it right? Would she forgive him? He sure hoped so. He slept for a few hours till he had to go back to work. Ariel had not left the bathroom, but the vent stopped whirring and he could hear the silent echoes.
“H-honey?” he called out to no answer. “I…I’m going to work now.”
Still no answer. Joe went into the bedroom and grabbed the stationary and a pen. Scribbling some brief words, he ripped the paper from the backing and slipped it under the bathroom door. If she was still sleeping, hopefully by the time she woke up she could see how hurt he was too by his actions.
Reluctantly, as he picked up the briefcase he slammed on the floor and the coat that he flung, Joe went to work as usual. Even though, they had had a fight, the world didn’t stop for them and he knew it. There was no way he could fix his tie, though. That he left it the way it was all night. He could care less how he looked. There was no way he could even touch his tie now.
Ariel could hear the door lock behind him all the way from the bathroom as she cracked open the door to a silent house. The feeling was like the after shock of a battle field; lonely, dark and eerily silent. Barely getting any sleep, Ariel could feel the listlessness in her body take over. She headed over to the bedroom and fell on top of her sheets, reveling in the comfort and softness she needed. Feeling the insides of her pocket, she grabbed the piece of stationary that she had crumbled in there and read the message Joe left for her before he went to work.
“Please don’t hate me. I love you. We’ll make it though this.”
Crumbling the paper up, she wondered if they really could and would it be worth it. Could he get it right this time?
Joe spent the entire day thinking about what happened the night before. Work was excruciatingly long, and yet at the same time not long enough to prolong the inevitable. Whatever lied ahead of him now was only to be determined by fate, and with his luck, it might not be on his side this time.
He thought hard about what was to happen now. She wouldn’t leave him, right? Yes, he made a mistake, but that’s just what it was- just a mistake. It was getting harder to breathe, knowing Ariel could slip away from him because of a sudden lapse in character. He had never even thought he could possess an inkling of such an action towards his wife- to anybody but especially to Ariel. She wouldn’t understand. The pressure that mounted on him these last couple of months were too much to handle. But that wasn’t her fault, none of it was any of her doing.
When work was over, Joe didn’t want to go home, not to that war zone. Here, in his cubicle, home life was miles away from worry and grief as he made it out to be in front of his co-workers. Today was not the same though, because he let his indifference go too far. The drive home was just as nerve-wrecking, as he thought it would be.
When he reached the driveway, he stopped the car and took a deep breathe. Ariel was waiting for him at home and the last thing he wanted to do was confront a scorned woman. Shaking his head clear, Joe grabbed his briefcase and headed in. As expected, he was late and the house was pitch dark. Unexpectedly, Ariel was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. She was sitting down, with her face more sullen than he had ever seen before. Her arms were crossed on top of her knees, as she whispered a hello.
“Hi, sorry I’m late” he answered back, in the same whispered tone. He dropped his briefcase on the floor and started to hang up his coat.
Ariel got up but didn’t say anything. Instead she wiped a single tear that began to run down her cheek. He remained still as he waited for her to gather composure and start up the conversation. She didn’t though. Brushing his hair back nervously, Joe gave her a slight smile hoping it would break some of the tension. It didn’t. She kept her arms crossed, stoking them lightly.
“H-honey?” he called out.
“I’m done,” she suddenly answered. Her whispered tone was still present, but the fire in her words was what made him shiver. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Joe took a deep gulp, taking in his tears in one brave breathe before he approached her. “I never meant to hurt you, you know that? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. Things at work just started to get to me.”
“It started a lot longer than you think,” she spat, holding back her venom. “You promised that you would take care of me, that you wouldn’t let anything hurt me. You made me believe that you can make me happy and feel safe. But from the first day you told me about that promotion, you’ve lied. It was me who had to shelter you every time something bad happened. It was me who took care of you whenever you came home from work so tired that you couldn’t lift up your hands. It was my tears that rolled…but that’s not completely true. You’ve been miserable too, no? We’ve haven’t been intimate since the day I went to the hospital and it worries me that we never will, because you’re too busy.”
He had heard enough, and knew what was coming. Joe was not about to lose her like this, not over him being an idiot. “Honey,” he said, reaching out to hold her in his arms. “I’m sorry, you have to believe me. Y-you know I love you.”
“That’s not good enough for me anymore,” she began to cry as she felt his familiar touch. Unwrapping his arms from her was like peeling a band-aid off a fresh wound. “How can I believe that you won’t hurt me again? I can’t be with someone I can’t trust.”
Joe’s heart began to settle in his stomach and churn like butter. He couldn’t breathe as she spoke and he couldn’t help but choke up when she said she couldn’t trust him. She looked up at him with a glance and gave a sigh, before speaking again.
“I think you should leave.”
He shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not leaving you. We can fix this, please?”
“I don’t want to pretend to be happy anymore,” she cried. Turning around she shook her head, ready to leave him in his own misery.
“Ariel!” he yelled. Grabbing onto her arm with a light grip, Joe managed to stop Ariel before she could move any further. He’d had enough of this torture. “I’m not leaving.”
“I don’t care anymore,” she said brushing his hand off of her as she heading back into the bedroom, leaving him in front of the stairs. He began to reach out again but she pulled back her arms, and slapped him tightly on the face. “Don’t follow me!”
The last thing Joe heard was a loud bang coming from the bedroom door. Her slap stung badly as he felt the redden cheek with his fingers.
Ariel muffled her cries, drowning her face in a pillow at the furthest corner of the room. Holding the hand she slapped him with close to her heart, Ariel could only feel regret, painfully reminding her how she lost her cool. She didn’t mean to hit him, she only meant to push him away like he did to her. But now she couldn’t forgive him. Looking at her hand, she cried even more thinking if she had one wish, she would erase this whole ordeal. If she had one wish, she could forget everything and be happy with the man she still loved.
She was holding it in all this time, Joe thought, as he sat down on the foot of the stairs where she was sitting previously when he got home. Now he knew how much he had hurt her. In all the words that she spoke, the slap was the wake up call he needed to know just how much trouble their marriage was in, fully. So he just sat there on the step, with his head leaning on the wall and a hand on his cheek gently stroking the flesh. His eyes began to close, tired from everything that had happened. Soon, he nodded off to sleep.
In the middle of the night, Ariel gathered enough confidence to get out of the room for some water. She gulped a rather large lump in her throat as she made her way through hallway that connected their bedroom to the kitchen stairway. The lights were still out as she entered the kitchen. She’d figured Joe would be sleeping in the living room, so she peeked in and didn’t notice Joe sleeping at the foot of the stairs. He actually left, she thought. Her heart dropped and realized how real this was.
Grabbing a stool, she sat next to the wall cradling her head. She had finally done it, she finally drove him away, she thought. If they had thought this through they would be together, if she had stopped to think what life would be like without him she wouldn’t be crying like she was right now. Breathing for her had been hard to do this entire day that it seemed natural to catch a breathe one second and cry the next.
Joe could hear the whimpering and loose breathes made from behind the wall that separated them. Snapping back to consciousness, he realized it was Ariel. He slowly got up, not knowing what to expect, and saw his wife crying into her hands as if her heart had fallen into them. He saw how she gripped her mouth, trying to muffle the sounds, how the tears glistened on her face like a waterfall cascading down to the pool in her arms.
She jumped seeing his face upon hers. His sudden presence jolted her to the floor, as he tried to comfort her panic. She didn’t stop crying, though.
“Ariel, it’s okay, it’s just me.” Petting her hair softly, and placing a hand on her cheek, Joe began to calm her. He sat next to her the floor, quietly holding her closely. It was as if for that moment, in that small amount of space where they both sat, a man was just comforting his wife.
In a way that shocked them both, she wrapped her arms around him and cried, “Why did you do this? Why did you have to hurt me?”
Letting out a few tears himself, Joe held Ariel in a tight embrace, relishing in the feel and the warmth of her. He even took in her familiar scent as the huddled on the floor, but he could feel something different. It wasn’t the same feeling he got when he normally hugged her. Instead he knew why this new feeling had came to him now; he knew they were not going to make it this time and there was no way to make it right. Backing away just barely, Joe saw Ariel’s pain stricken face and stroked her cheek with a knuckle before he kissed her. As if reading each other’s mind, they smiled and held each other.
“It’s not the same, is it?” Joe knew the look in Ariel’s face as she bit her lower lip. He stroked her arm and scoffed.
“I still love you,” she answered.
“I do too,” he smiled. “but…we’re not going to make it, are we?”
Ariel gave a sigh and closed her eyes before whispering, “no.”
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