She loved the predictability of her days. The sun would rise, whether behind clouds or uncovered, to lay warm or muted rays across her bed. The light would always wake her, for she could stand no light while she slept. She would then yawn, stretch and slide out of bed, blinking the sleep away. Her husband would slumber on, far less a morning person than she. So she would smile, feed her baby, and drop her daughter off at daycare before going to work, a cup of coffee in her hand. Of course, not all mornings would begin that way. Sometimes the rain would lash against the windows, and she would stare at it, wishing it would stop and the sun would return. Sometimes she would be so tired after being up half the night with her daughter she would want nothing more than to shut the drapes and go back to sleep. Sometimes she would stare at her husband’s back, only barely resisting the urge to give him a good hard poke because of their argument the night before. But usually, mornings were peaceful, contented, much as she was.
Claire Dean-Wilcox was, at 27 years of age, a happily married woman of eighteen months, with a well-paying job she enjoyed immensely. Her husband, a man that had once had the reputation of a rake, was as in love with her as much as she him. Both of them loved their six-month old daughter unconditionally, and were already planning on having another baby. They had a beautiful home with large windows and yellow pine floors. She, Claire knew, was living a dream.
Two years ago, she never would have believed it. She was still in college, staring at mounting piles of studying and bills, her boyfriend had just disappeared from her life. Not the murder mystery kind of disappeared, but the ‘wake up in the morning and he’s gone, not even a note behind him’ kind. Her father had died, following his wife to the grave and leaving her alone. To top the misery off, the insurance company was refusing to honor his claim, the only thing that could have kept her in school. Only one semester away from her degree, and she would have to drop out; her courses were too demanding and the school too expensive to try working while studying. And then the impossible had happened. James Lucas Wilcox—Charles Robert Wilcox’s son and shoo-in partner of the immensely wealthy and powerful Wilcox, Slater, & Byden law firm—asked her out. He was five years older, just putting the finishing touches on an impressive college resume, when they met at a bar, where Claire had gone to have a beer and obsess. She knew his reputation, everybody did, but found herself pouring out all the problems she had. The next week a letter from the insurance company came in the mail, respectfully informing her that her father’s claim would be paid. Apparently they had discovered she was being represented by WS&B, and immediately stopped their stalling.
So, Claire went out with James, intending it to only be a polite thank-you for what he’d done. One date turned into two, two into three, and so forth. Six months after meeting him, Claire had no reservations about saying yes when he asked her to marry him. The wedding was a beautiful one, with her close friends and his large family in attendance, and came only a month after her graduation. Their honeymoon was a whirlwind, and even though there were the predictable squabbles that come when two willful people start living together, they settled into a peaceful home life. Three months after the wedding, Claire became pregnant. James was overjoyed, going into a blitz of decorating their nursery when he came home from work. Claire watched her belly swell with a mix of terror and glee, both emotions coming to a head the night her daughter was born. The happy couple named her Arrian Rose and took her home.
The morning had been an okay one. Claire neither leaped from bed full of pep, ready to conquer the day, nor wished the sun would go back beneath the horizon. She played games with her daughter, feeling the same mix of wonder and awe as the yellow-haired darling giggled and gurgled as she had the day Arrian had been born. Claire hoped Arrian’s hair would darken to a deep, polished gold—the same as her father’s. Brewing a pot of coffee as her daughter stuck stickers onto her teddy bears; Claire poured herself a mug, then swooped her angel up and tickled her as they made their way to the car. She buckled Arrian in, and then left for the daycare. After dropping Arrian off, she went to work. When she came home, Arrian (having been picked up by her father as usual) was sleeping in her crib. James was packing his clothes into a bag.
“What’s going on?” Claire asked with a slight smile. James had a habit of surprises, Claire wondered what this one was. Wrapping her arms around him, she rested her chin on his shoulder asking, “Are we going somewhere?”
James gently extricated himself from her embrace, then went to the closet for some more clothes. Puzzled, his wife looked into the open bag. Only his clothes were packed, and unless they were going away for a month and a half, there was too much there for a little getaway.
“James, what are you doing?”
He never even stopped packing. “I’m leaving, Claire.” There was something wrong with his eyes as he glanced over to her, something cold in their brilliantly green depths.
Suddenly chilled, Claire rubbed her hands over her arms, trying to speak around the sudden punch to her gut. “L-leaving, but why?”
“What’d you expect? That I’d be content to play house-husband forever? I’ve had enough, I’m going.” He replied matter-of-factly, neatly stacking the last shirt into the case and closing it with a terribly final snap. Lifting it, he walked towards the bedroom door.
Claire stood in front of it. “Is it another woman?” She asked, her voice quiet. Somehow quiet as a deafening buzz roared in her ears. Somehow she didn’t shriek it, for the buzz was fury. Her voice sounded tinny, as if far away.
“No. It’s not a woman. It’s not work. It’s not you, and it’s not Arrian.” James’s face was calm, almost benign, as his words shattered her. He ducked around his wife, walking sedately to the front door.
“You bastard. You bastard!” Claire screamed after him, grabbing his arm to stop him. “What the hell is it, then? What the hell!” She shoved him, knocking him back a step, gasping as he dropped the suitcase with a thud. His grip was hard, shockingly so, as he manacled her wrists, and the cold glint in his eyes almost frightened her. When he let her go, she didn’t move towards him again. “Every night you say you love me, James.” She whispered.
He spared her only one flat look. “They’re just words, Claire.” The door closed behind him with a quiet click.