Sorry for the late start today. Here is my500 Word Challenge contribution for Day 6
His aftershave lingered with Jackie as she pulled on her robe and followed the smell of coffee down the stairs. She noticed the frayed corners of the leather-bound journal lying beside the coffee maker. She’d given it to him for his fortieth birthday and forgotten about it until she came upon it in a place he knew she wouldn’t miss. Knowing he used it pleased her, but that was before the letter, addressed to her, fell to the floor. A frown creased her brow as she stared at the envelope. He hadn’t written her a letter since high school and her instincts screamed the one laying on the floor with her name penned in his careful, deliberate handwriting did not hold good news. Her heart did a somersault. Trembling, she opened the letter, removed the sliver of paper with its strange string of numbers, and read as her world crumbled.
The pages were showing wear from the hours and days she’d spent searching between the lines for answers. But, for the journal, she would have never known. His words and deeds a perfect mask of deceit to all who knew him, especially her. Wrap it up in a bow of explanations and rationalizations, but the result was the same, betrayal, and devastation. She tried to explain the things she read, combing through his words for a motive, or justification of his actions, but any plausible explanation escaped her. He’d lost his way, his mind, or both. Reading his journal entries, she couldn’t tell the difference. He’d given no insight as to why, simply categorizing his sins, listing them by date, time, event, and name of the betrayed.
He expressed shame, sorrow, his love for her and the kids. The last transaction, conveniently left out of the journal’s documentation, he explained in the letter. “This one, I did to protect you and the kids.” How ironic. How stupid. How self-centered. Four hours later, the doorbell rang; he’d taken the coward’s way out.
Who did he think would pick up the pieces of their shattered lives? Look their friends in the face? He wasn’t here to pay restitution, ask forgiveness, or witness the untold damage left in his wake. Did he honestly believe she’d burn the journal to protect his reputation or pretend his words were fiction? He hadn’t known her at all. How much more did she need to know? Jackie ran her hand over the soft leather, placed it on the side table, and reached for the doorknob. Enough, already. Time to face the music.
With her attorney at her side, Jackie walked through the door to greet the family, friends, and neighbors gathered in her living room at her request. Each one a name listed in the worn pages of the journal lying on the table in her bedroom. She began with the truth of her late husband’s betrayal; they deserved that much. The money they’d entrusted to him was gone.
The fallout would be hard for everyone. The ramifications of her husband’s actions would move through the community like a ripple in the ocean, large and wide, before engulfing all of them. Losing the house, her place in society meant nothing to her. Relocating would be the best thing for all of them, especially the children.
Finally, she closed the door on the last guest, laying her head against the aging wood grain. Returning to her bedroom, she stared at the damnable book lying on the table and picked up the phone.
“Detective, I think you’ll be interested in the information my husband left behind.”
“What sort of information?”
“A journal. An attorney friend of the family said you’d want it. I’m on my way out-of-town, but I wanted you to know I’m sending it by courier.”
“What’s in it?”
Playing the ignorant suburban housewife came easy. She hadn’t worked a day since they married and as long as he paid the bills and kept money in her account for the kids and the household, she didn’t ask questions. “I have no idea. I know many of the names listed, but I’m afraid all the rest is gibberish to me.”
“Does your husband know you’re calling? Can I talk to him?”
“My husband isn’t available.”
The squeak of the detective’s chair traveled through the line as he sat upright.
“Where is he?”
Jackie tucked the airline tickets along with the sheet of paper holding their future into her purse, “My husband left unimaginable destruction in his wake, detective, making instant paupers of the people who loved and trusted him. He’s where he belongs, in an unmarked paupers grave at Westminster. It’s the least I could do.”
She hung up the phone, took one last look around her old life, and walked out the door. Well, almost everyone.