It’s dark except for the street lamps, but even they can’t break through the oppressive forest. Their branches reach out and smother the light in an effort to disguise her as she steps out of the cab. The taxi driver notices the lights are off, and the sign says closed, “You sure ma’am this is the place?” His waist is thick, his hair is not, and maybe he only wants her fare back into the city, but it doesn’t feel that way to her. She forces herself to swallow despite the tightness in her throat, and nods that she’s fine. She can’t hesitate now, it’s not this one choice, it’s a lifetime of them, all leading to this address.
It’s been spring for six weeks, but it’s cold and a northerly wind is steady as it sweeps down the mountain side. She welcomes the chill as it spreads down her spine and arms, and makes no effort to warm herself.
Everything is quiet in the small commercial district of Millwood, businesses aren’t open this late, and all the other owners have long closed shop. But she knows he hasn’t. She knows, because they’ve been talking every night for months at this exact hour. This is when he catches up, making the toys himself to build a higher profit. Maybe it’s always been about that, the profit of his struggling business, but she always thought there was more.
He’s unhappy, she knows it from the sadness in his voice, and the way he talks about his wife and son like they aren’t his, but a family on loan. She knows it, because she feels the same within herself. She was wrong in college, she shouldn’t have told him about the miscarriage, and broke his heart in one fell swoop. She was scared, and she knew that now. Everything was messy, and broken, but she needed him to know that above everything, she was sorry; she had been wrong.
Without even allowing a moment to reconsider, or take a deep breath, she steps into the little shop. He’s there, under the only lights that are on. The chime above the door goes off, and he turns his head slightly to see who it was. A slight panic rises in her chest, what if he was expecting his wife. Maybe she had someone watch their son now and then and surprised him with a visit.
He hadn’t called since she said she would be in town, maybe he only wanted to use her to listen about his day and life.
“You.” Is all he says, and then he turns back to his current project.
Cool, she tells herself, play it off cool. She pushes her hands down the front of her pants, pushing out any invisible wrinkles from the cab ride, and steps toward the counter. “The place looks great,” she cranes her neck to look at everything, in case he turned to see if she was genuine. She’s been here before, it hasn’t changed. She knows he wants it to, he’s trying to earn the money to make improvements. She even offered her expertise if he got into adding or removing walls. She can do that now, she’s an architect. He didn’t think it’d be that kind of improvements, but he promised to keep her in mind.
“Thanks.” He mutters back, and keeps working. He’s using the hammer, but he’s not pounding on it like a construction crew does, it’s soft little taps as if gently tucking each nail into it’s new home. The edges will be flat and smooth on all ends so no little child will be cut by one. She stands watching his back curve, and hands move meticulously, the only sound being his hammer, and the shuffling as he moves the project.
She does take a deep breath now, if she’s going to ever apologize, now is the moment. With small steps, she shuffles toward the employee entrance, there is a door, but it’s wide open at this moment. His face isn’t friendly, he doesn’t trust her motives, and it pains her. Her resolve begins to weaken, and she loses the fragile resolution she had.
“Why are you here?” He asks after she makes no move to speak.
She fidgets with the little button her the front panel of her pants. She’s never used these coin pouch pockets for anything, takes too long to button and unbutton them. He watches her expectantly, and she feels her face scrunch into the hideous matter it does before she cries. She bites her lip to regain control.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and he looks at her confused. She looks to the ground, and the cash register, and the little employee chart of hours scheduled that hangs on the back of the counter, anywhere but his gaze.
“For what?” He’s confused, for all he knows she’s apologizing for coming here. He puts the hammer down, not just so he can focus on her, but because his toys require his full concentration, he would never sell a toy that wasn’t perfectly made. He doesn’t just make all the toys to save money, he’s the only one he trusts to make it right.
“I’m sorry for everything.” Her voice caught and came out choked at the end, this time she bit her tongue, and forced herself to move on. “I shouldn’t have broke up with you like that… I shouldn’t have broke up with you at all. I— I was scared.”
“Vi, I’m not even mad.” He was surprised, and his voice had a hidden laugh to it. “I don’t blame you for anything ether.”
Her shoulders slumped further and her chest shook twice before she took another in another large breath, holding it longer than the last one. The small smile that played at the corner of his lips departed and his face softened.
“Have you been worried all this time that I was angry with you?”
Her eyes threatened to cry, and she turned away as she nodded.
She stood, and quaked, fragile and small in front of him. He moved to wipe her soft cheek though no tears had fallen. “Never.” He whispered. Leaning forward into his hand, she swayed into his chest, catching him by surprise, but he caught a hold of her. And there she was, her breath against his neck, her sweet nectar hair on his cheek, the small of her back resting against his hand.
Their breath quickened, and everything began to move faster, their thought process gone, as he began to take her shirt off, only unbuttoning enough to pull it off. The world was dark, except for them under the single light, no concerns for anyone, anywhere else.
Her conscious fought to make sense of the world unraveling in the little toy shop on Pioneer Lane. She told him to stop, though whispered and half-hearted. He kissed her mouth and no more resistance was found.
It’s in the moments after that reality floods back to the surface, forcing recognition. She had nothing to lose from this, but he had everything. It’s the remains of adrenaline, it’s his sons heartbroken face, it’s Caroline, it’s the child his wife is carrying… he’s angry at her, he’s angry at himself. But he can’t yell at himself yet, he’ll save that for the dark nights here where he’ll be working on more toys for happy families, while remembering this horrible moment.
He picks her clothes off of his workshop and tosses them at her; he snaps for her to get dressed. He’s not yelling, but his face looks like he could be, if one were watching through the window.
Her shirt hits her in the face like a worthless tramp, a moment of shock, and then guilt. She begins to cry. None of this was supposed to happen, she cries to herself.
She turns to leave and find asylum in the bathroom. He can’t win, he doesn’t want to hurt her, he doesn’t want to hurt his wife.
She’s been in this tiny bathroom before, she’s washed her face in this sink to regain control of herself, and she’s doing it again. She’ll never learn, she tells herself this over and over, her sister, Hazel’s face pops in, and she forces it away, she refuses to let her mind think of her parents, their disappointment. She can’t let any of it in, not right now, not in this place.
She doesn’t expect to see him waiting by the door when she steps out a moment later.
He had to stand here and wait for her to come out, he couldn’t let her go, he’s never been able to say good-bye, not to her. He’s gotten married, he’s had a son, but all he’s ever wanted was her, their lost child, and a chance to make her happy. He can’t yell at her, and let her just sneak away in the night.
He’s the one who is sorry now, he doesn’t know what he will do when he goes home this evening, but right now, he nows he can’t just say good-bye.
Thanks for reading