Rain was coming down, and the sky was overcast. A dreary day to match a dreary mood.
Carolyn Flores looked at herself in the mirror. Unlike so many of her friends, turning thirty the previous year had been no great trauma. It wasn't as if she went to bed a young woman and rose on her birthday a bent hag with a wart on her nose. Her mother had stayed with Alicia that evening, while Arturo took her out to an absurdly expensive restaurant, then out dancing until late into the night. She'd worn a flame-red dress and matching heels, toiled over her make-up, and swept her dark hair into an elegant style with curling ringlets framing her face. She wasn't ordinarily vain, but she had to give herself credit that night--she looked sensational, and she knew it.
Arturo barely took his eyes off her long enough to order dinner, let alone notice any other women. They'd been like newlyweds that night in every way, and she remembered them joking how they would have to celebrate her fortieth the same way.
Now she looked at herself in the mirror and saw a tired housewife looking back. Losing the baby had drained so much of the joy out of her, that she could barely remember being that gorgeous woman in the red dress, who turned heads and kept her husband captivated.
But why fret over how captivating she did or didn't look? Arturo had loved her with swollen ankles and an extra thirty pounds while she was carrying Alicia. He'd brought her flowers and romanced her, when she was too pregnant to get close enough to him to slow dance comfortably. He'd helped with the baby and, as Alicia grew, rejoiced with Carolyn in each stage of her development. He wasn't a tail-chaser, and he didn't embarrass her by ogling other women. When their passionate interlude on her birthday had led to a second pregnancy, she'd expected--and received--no less love and support from him.
Then she'd lost the baby, and nothing anyone did seemed to matter anymore. Nothing could ease the pain of losing a child the world never knew. Of never holding that baby, or seeing the child she'd come to love as it grew inside her. Arturo had lost something that horrible day, too, and she'd tried to be there for him. She really had tried. Yet there were times she raged at him that he couldn't know how she felt, that he couldn't be in the pain she was in. She knew that wasn't completely true, but in a way, it was. The child wasn't physically inside his body--a little life force growing inside that was suddenly snuffed out and taken away.
Never given to much bickering before, they seemed to pick arguments with each other, and things between them became increasingly strained.
And then Arturo was partnered with Lizzie Thorpe. Lizzie was pretty, tough, capable--a good cop, with whom Arturo now spent most of his waking hours. Someone whose life he guarded and who guarded his in return. Someone he had inside jokes with, ate meals with, talked with during long stake-outs...someone he traded confidences with...someone he became very close to, very fast.
Carolyn was no more thrilled to see her husband partnered with an attractive, recently divorced woman than most women she knew would have been in a similar situation, but she promised herself she would not turn into a jealous harpy. She resolved that Arturo's friendship with Lizzie would not get under her skin, and that she would understand the bond between partners for what it was, and not read something sexual into it. After all, she'd seen the closeness between Ken and Dave, and they were two men, for heaven's sake. There was no reason to read anything into it. Still, there were times their bond seemed so exclusive that it made her fear for the relationship forming between her husband and his partner. There was something in Arturo's eyes when he looked at Lizzie. It was the way he'd looked at Carolyn the night she wore the red dress.
After watching him with Lizzie, things had gone from bad to worse. Carolyn had begun making the little waspish remarks she so hated to hear from other women who succumbed to jealousy. She even went so far as to demand Arturo get another partner.
She'd lost her child, she was bitterly depressed, irritable, and the last thing she'd felt was sexy or beautiful or romantic. Then along came Lizzie Thorpe, the perfect woman. Pretty, intelligent, caring, and available. She had no evidence Arturo had ever been unfaithful, but she knew in her heart that he wanted to be. And that was just as bad.
Now twice in just the last few months, he'd brushed far too close to death for any of that to matter too much. He hadn't strayed, he was still a wonderful father to Alicia, and the traumas had brought them closer as a family. Or so it seemed. With this last incident, he'd seemed to withdraw from Lizzie a great deal, and Lizzie seemed preoccupied with her own need for counseling and time to recover. The details were foggy, but Carolyn knew they'd been forced into a humiliating sexual situation of some sort, for the cheap thrills of a sleazy--and homicidal--pornographer.
Since he'd been home from the hospital, Arturo had been quiet and sullen. He sometimes woke up screaming, and, despite the fact he would cling to her for comfort, he'd never tell her what they were about. Well, not exactly, anyway.
"Carolyn?" Arturo's voice coming from the bedroom across the hall from the bathroom startled her, as she realized she'd been staring in the mirror for many long minutes, when she'd only gotten up for a drink of water and an aspirin. It was just past dawn, but it was Arturo's day off and a Saturday, so the family had no reason to be up early.
"Coming," she responded, keeping her voice quiet so as not to disturb Alicia's sleep. She checked on their daughter on her way back from the bathroom, and found her sleeping peacefully. Smiling at the sight, she closed the door and returned to the bedroom she shared with her husband. "I needed an aspirin."
"You okay, honey?" he asked tiredly, rubbing his eyes.
"Just a little headache. I'm fine," she said, smiling. Getting back into bed, she moved closer, drawn against him by an arm that closed around her. "When are you going to tell me what happened?" she asked gently.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what you keep seeing in your nightmares. The real story."
"Carolyn, please. I told you it was an ugly scene--"
"I know. I heard you. But I also know there's more to it than what you're telling me. I also know the doctor cleared you, but you haven't touched me since you've been home from the hospital."
"For God's sake, Carolyn, what we went through was...it was...degrading and--"
"I know that, sweetheart," she said soothingly, stroking his cheek. "That wasn't a complaint. I just feel that there's something more...terrible that you're not telling me. I just want you to know that I love you, and nothing you tell me is going to change that."
"Oh, God, honey, I wish that were true." He shook his head and then looked toward the curtains that were stirring slightly with the morning breeze, carrying in the rain-scented air.
"I know you were attracted to Lizzie."
"Arturo, listen to me." Carolyn sat up in bed, stuffing a couple of pillows behind her back. "We've known each other since high school. We've been through a lot together. I know you. I saw the way you looked at her, and I knew what that meant. So I know that whatever sick thing these people did to the two of you probably had a very weird, double meaning of sorts for you."
"I can't do this." Arturo sat up, turning his back to Carolyn. The marks from the beating he'd taken had faded a lot. For that, she was grateful. She got on her knees behind him and wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her head against his.
"Try, baby. I'm here and I love you, and I know that whatever happened, it wasn't your fault."
"It's my fault I wanted it to happen," he said brokenly. "God, Carolyn, I've been such a selfish bastard. I...I wanted it to happen and then it did."
"What did you want to happen, Arturo?" she asked softly, feeling the tremors coursing through his body.
"I...I thought about having an affair with Lizzie."
"You--? Is that why you wanted me to get another partner?" He turned to look at her, and she released her hold on him, sitting on the bed so they could face each other.
"No. I didn't really know then. I was just jealous. She was pretty and a cop and with you all the time. I didn't feel comfortable with it. But then I met her and I felt like an idiot. She was so nice and seemed so level-headed and not like the home-wrecking bimbo I'd turned her into in my mind."
"She is a good person, Carolyn. She never...she didn't let things get out of hand. But I have no right to expect you to forgive me. The only reason we didn't have an affair was because she put the brakes on it." The words hit Carolyn hard, but they were nothing she didn't already know, and she had never seen Arturo look more devastated than he did now. "I love you, honey, I really do. I just... There's no excuse. I just...we got to be close friends, and I could talk to her--"
"At a time when you couldn't talk to me, is that it?" Carolyn asked, her tone neutral and not accusatory.
"Maybe partly, but that's no excuse. Maybe I was just running away. From the miscarriage, from the pain, from the things we needed to work out between us. Maybe I was just attracted to her. I don't know. I can't really explain it. I felt like I was falling for her, but I never stopped loving you. I still haven't. I never will. This is sounding like a bad love song. 'Torn between two lovers' or something like that."
"It can happen. People are capable of loving more than one person in a lifetime. That's why people sometimes remarry after they're widowed. There's more than one person out there in the world you can make a life with. Of all the women in the world, there was bound to be another one somewhere you could have feelings for. Of all the men out there, do you seriously think you're the only man I've ever found attractive?"
"But that's not the same thing."
"Oh, please. Don't be so sexist. Sure it is. If I were in a job where I was partnered with a handsome, sensitive, capable man, what guarantee is there that I wouldn't have thoughts about him that weren't completely wholesome?"
"None, but being attracted to someone and being on the verge of having an affair with that person are two different things."
"Do you want me to get past this and forgive you, or are you trying to give me some reason to throw you out and ask for a divorce?"
"Why would you say something like that?"
"I'm trying to understand this, trying to get past it, and you keep insisting on rubbing my nose in it and forcing me to see it as something unforgivable."
"I don't mean to do that. I just want you to understand--"
"That you had feelings for her and that you wanted to take her to bed? I get it, Arturo. You don't have to draw me a picture."
"And you're not angry at me for that?"
"I didn't say that. I never said it didn't hurt or didn't make me angry, or that it didn't matter. But when I thought you might die and you were in surgery, it didn't seem quite so unforgivable."
She reached over and took his hand in both of hers. "What matters to me is what you want now. If you still want her, then I don't want you with me. I won't play second fiddle to Lizzie Thorpe or anyone else. I love you with all my heart, with everything I am, but I won't be second choice. If you want her, go be with her." She paused, looking at the stricken expression on his face. Maybe his freedom isn't what he wanted after all. "But if you love me, and you want to be with me--not just because you feel obligated or because of Alicia, but because you want to be with me--then I want you to know that I'm here, and I want our life together. But you have to make a choice."
"Before you promise me too much, you need to know the truth." Arturo sighed, which still caused him some pain. "They made me...they made us..." Arturo swallowed. "We had to have sex on camera," he admitted, his voice breaking. "They threatened to kill her if I didn't. I had to..."
"What?" she prodded gently, wondering what could be a worse revelation than forced intercourse. She'd suspected that all along, given Lizzie's sudden distance from Arturo and the fact she was taking time off for counseling. Mostly she'd suspected it because Arturo had been unable to sustain eye contact with her since he'd been home.
"If I didn't come inside her, they were going to kill us both," he said, a tear rolling down his cheek. "So I did." He began to cry then, and she moved toward him, pulling him into her arms.
"You did what you had to do to live. It wasn't your fault."
"How can you want to be close to me when you know what I did?"
"When I know you saved your partner's life and your own? When I know you were as good as raped by those sick animals? You're a cop. You know what it means to be a victim, and it doesn't mean you did something wrong."
"I have no right to touch you. To expect you to love me after what I've done."
"You're my husband and I love you. We've got a beautiful little girl and a whole life ahead of us. We can let this destroy us or we can overcome it."
"I love you," he said, pulling back and taking her face in his hands. "Oh, honey, it's not a hard choice to make. I'll always feel close to Lizzie as a friend, but she's not you. She's not the woman I married, the woman who had my child...she's not you. If you can forgive me, I'll make it up to you. I promise I'll--"
"We'll start over," she interrupted. "Clean slate, new start. And it has to start with us going to someone who can help us get past this. A good counselor who can help you with all the pain inside you from what you went through."
"Anything you want," he agreed, but she shook her head.
"It has to be what we both want. Don't do this just for me. Do it for us, for Alicia--but for yourself, too. I want you to want this as much as I do."
"I do," he said, smiling a little at the words.
"I do, too," she responded, smiling back. And for the first time in months, she felt the unity with Arturo she'd felt when they first said those words.
Maybe this wouldn't be such a dreary day after all.
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