Chapter 42

“Mom, they’re gone! He deleted them. Every. Last. One of them. Gone!” I paced back and forth across the kitchen floor, riddled with nerves. “I don’t know what to do. He had no right!”

Mom’s soft voice penetrated the chaos. “Sweetie, take a deep breath, collect yourself, then tell me what you’re talking about. What’s gone? What was deleted? Does this have anything to do with Brad?”

I inhaled deeply, releasing air with great intention. “My text messages,” I answered. “Brad went into my phone last night and deleted all of my personal messages. All of them!” Tears stung my eyes, anger piercing my self-control. “I feel so violated! He had no business touching my phone; but, now they’re gone, and I have no proof he said what he said. It was some really mean stuff, too—calling me a whore and a piss-poor parent, accusing me of infidelity, telling me no one could love a pathetic loser like me! I don’t get it. I’m as faithful as they come. I’ve never cheated on Brad. Ever!”

Mom’s voice remained calm. “I hear you. I really do, and you have every right to be upset; but, before you go jumping to conclusions, did you actually ask Brad if he deleted those messages?”

“Yes, and he has no remorse. He said I didn’t need them—said nothing beneficial could come from me having them. He also mentioned something about them being ‘damning to his character,’ and stressed that he didn’t want me to ‘have ammunition to use against him should I ever take him to court.’ What’s that about?” I ran an anxious hand through my hair. “He’s talking like we’re getting a divorce, and he’s afraid of what others will think of him. He made sure to delete everything that would make him appear like an abusive spouse or an unfit father, because he knows how he’s behaving is wrong.” I wrapped an arm around my stomach, quickly crossing the kitchen and sitting down on a dining room chair. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Breathe,” Mom coached from the other end of the line. “Don’t let yourself get all worked up. Stay focused on the present and what we can do to get you through right now.”

“Easier said than done,” I wrestled with her request. Apathetic. Detached. Unapologetic. Brad had rationalized every immoral act then blamed me for his actions. “And get this! He said I’d thank him later—like he was doing me a favor by violating my privacy and damaging my trust. When I didn’t agree, you should’ve heard his profanity. It would’ve made a sailor blush.” I bit down on my lower lip, taking several deep breaths, closing my eyes against the angst.

“He also told me I can leave whenever I want,” I continued. “Said he’d be happy to help me vacate the premises, if I was too stupid to know how to do it myself. And, if that wasn’t enough, he promised I’d never take Calleigh with me—insisted she’s not going anywhere.” Panic shook my body, heavy sobs shaking my shoulders. “He can’t do that, can he? I’m her mother—and a good mother, at that. She needs me. The courts wouldn’t let him take her away from me, would they?” For the first time since our argument, the fear became real.

“What’s he going to do with her?” Mom reasoned. “He’s at work all day and can’t be bothered to deal with her in his everyday life, as is. Why would he take her from you? That’s just one more stress he can’t handle. I doubt you have anything to be worried about.”

“I guess that makes sense,” I wavered.

“Where is Calleigh now?” Mom probed.

“Playing in the other room,” I sighed. “I didn’t want her hearing me. She doesn’t need to know anything’s wrong.”

“It’s good that you’re trying to protect her,” Mom said, “but, I guarantee you, she knows something’s going on. Kids are smart like that. They pick up on the smallest inconsistencies.”

I exhaled slowly. “You’re probably right.”

“Honey, do you need me to come get you? You know I will jump in the car and be there in a heartbeat. Just say the word.”

I weighed the distance Mom would have to drive against my actual need and shook my head. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want you here,” I admitted, “but I’m not sure what that would actually accomplish right now. I can’t run away from my problems, and Brad’s behavior might become volatile if he comes home and finds you here or me gone.”

Sadness reflected in Mom’s voice. “I understand. I just wish I knew what to do to make things better. I feel so helpless.”

“I know. Not much anyone can do right now. Just pray.”

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

“OWWW! WHAT WAS THAT?” I jolted awake in a pitch-black bedroom, grabbing my right eye to calm the instant stinging created by an unknown object hitting my face. I winced as sharp pain encased my eye. Finding Brad’s arm across my chest, I pushed the heavy weight onto the mattress, grappling to make sense of my situation. Brad hasn’t cuddled with me for years. Is his arm what hit me?

Loud moaning and groaning suddenly filled the air. I startled at the sound. “Brad, is that you?” Throwing back the covers, I patted the mattress in the dark until I found Brad’s chest with my hand. His heart’s racing! “Brad, can you hear me? Hon? Wake up!” He began to shudder. Spasm. Gasp for oxygen. I pushed myself onto my knees and began patting his face with fierce anticipation. “Talk to me. What’s going on with you? Are you in pain?”

No response. His body continued to twitch and jerk as I fumbled in the dark to find my cellphone. “Wake up!” I demanded. “Don’t do this to me. You are not going to make me a widow. Bradley Moore, wake up this instant!” He groaned and huffed, straining to catch his breath.

My heart began pounding in my ears, my right eye throbbing in unison. Lord, what am I supposed to do? Do I call 9-1-1? I have no idea what’s going on here.

I frantically searched for my pillow, sliding my hand into the pillowcase, fishing around inside to locate my hidden cellphone. “Brad, it’s me. I’m here. Can you hear me?” He grunted some more and struggled to push me away.

“Of course, I can hear you,” he slurred his words. “Why are you so close? Give me some room.” He fought with the bed sheets, arms flailing, legs tangled and trapped amidst the twisted cloth. Gasping again, he coughed hysterically, leaning over the left side of the bed. Struggling to sit up, he only partially managed to succeed. “What’s going on? Where am I?” he asked, propping himself up on his right elbow.

“I could be asking you the same thing. You scared the living daylights out of me.” I settled back on my heels and let out a deep sigh. “I was two seconds away from calling 9-1-1. Actually, I’m still debating whether or not I need to make that call. I couldn’t get you to wake up, and you were making these really strange noises. I’ve never heard anything like it before. Are you OK?” The soreness around my right eye caused a strong pricking sensation. I closed my eye and placed pressure on my cheekbone, relieving some of the ache.

“What’s wrong with you?” Brad tried focusing on me in the moonlight.

“You don’t remember hitting me in the face?” I grimaced.

“I did? Seriously? I am so sorry! It wasn’t on purpose. Shoot, I wasn’t even awake. Is there anything I can do to make it better?” For the first time in forever, he sounded genuine and remorseful.

“Just tell me you’re going to be all right. You’re really scaring me.” I felt his chest, again, my brow furrowing with my findings. “Your heart’s still pounding.”

Brad lowered his head back onto his pillow and let out a deep sigh. “I feel like I’m speeding down a hill at a thousand miles per hour. I’m not sure how to make it stop. It’s kind of fun, but, at the same time, nauseating. I feel a little woozy.”

“Are you on something? Have you taken any drugs?” I flipped on the light on my nightstand and eyed him closely through the shadows.

“Just a li’l oxycodone for my back pain. That, or methadone. I don’t remember which,” he confessed. “You should try the stuff. It’s great! Just a smidge will make you feel awesome—maybe ’cause you don’t feel anything at all—not a care in the world, Baby!” A smug smile curled the corners of his lips.

“What back pain? When did you see a doctor?” I insisted on more information.

“You know. The pain I told the doctor about in order to get the controlled meds. I call him Dr. Feelgood. He’s so much better than normal doctors.” Brad giggled.

“Are you high? I don’t know what those symptoms look like.” I realized Brad’s incoherency would keep him from giving me a legitimate answer. “Should I call an ambulance? I’m not sure you’re OK. Your breathing doesn’t sound right.”

“We can’t afford medical bills or a trip to the ER. Don’t call anyone,” Brad dissuaded. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. Just give me a few minutes to get past this crazy spell. I’m sure the loopiness will wear off. It always does.”

It always does? “How long have you been taking this stuff, and when did you last have some?”

“Don’t be a worry wart,” Brad scolded. “I’m fine…just fine.”

You’re not fine. No one has to be a doctor to determine this. How am I supposed to know when you need help? I don’t want your death on my hands. I chewed on my lower lip, glancing down at the cellphone in my hand. “As long as you stay conscious, I guess we can wait,” I caved.

Brad patted my hand against his heart. “You’re so good to me,” he gushed. “I don’t deserve you, you know that?” He kept his eyes shut while massaging his temples with his opposite hand.

“Yeah, I’m aware,” I answered. But you won’t remember saying that come morning.

“I’m just going to take a little nap,” he warned. Loud snores soon filled the air.

“That’s not a good idea,” I sighed, “but at least I can hear you.”

Hours ticked off the clock while I iced my sore eye, keeping the other on Brad. I didn’t sign on for this, I thought, watching his chest rise and fall in the dim lamp light. It’d be one thing if you cared what you’re doing to your family, but you don’t. My heart felt heavy, weighted down by the unknown. How am I supposed to love you when you don’t even love yourself?

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Not in his home office. Not in any shoebox or cubbyhole in our shared closet. Not on any shelf or in any drawer or container in the garage, either. I stood in the middle of our bedroom, hands on my hips, and groaned. “Where is he hiding them?”

Kneeling by Brad’s side of our bed, I lifted the bed skirt and peered into the darkness. “Nothing under here but a few dust bunnies,” I verified. Reaching over to his nightstand, I pulled out the bottom drawer. “Yeah, too easy,” I mused when it came up empty. “Maybe he’s storing them at his office at work.” I thought a moment then shook my head. “No. That would be too risky. He’s dumb, but he’s not stupid. He wouldn’t jeopardize his job over a few pills. They’ve got to be somewhere here at the house.”

Heading into the master bathroom, I tried putting myself in Brad’s shoes. “Hiding in plain sight is more your style,” I deduced. “Probably somewhere I wouldn’t think to look.” I eyed a variety of items on his side of the counter and lifted the toothbrush holder to view underneath. “Nope. No hiding spots here.” I scanned the room, inventorying its simplicity. “It’s got to be something obvious. What am I not seeing?”

I bent down and opened the doors under the bathroom sink. Cologne. Aftershave. Shaving cream. Extra razor blades. Adhesive bandages in a glass jar. Miscellaneous shampoo containers. A can of hairspray. Nothing capable of disguising medication. I lifted each item anyway, feeling the liquids slosh inside. I hate not being able to take anything at face value.

Tilting my head, I spotted a dark black cosmetic bag tucked behind the PVC pipes, barely visible to someone not looking for it. “What do we have here?” I asked, pulling the small pouch from its hiding place. Unzipping the top, I lifted a green plastic Men’s Multi-Vitamin bottle from inside the pouch. Unscrewing the lid, I removed the yellow plastic top and dumped a small portion of the bottle’s contents into my hand. “Vitamins. Go figure! That would’ve been a clever hiding spot.” Dumping the tablets back into the container, I replaced the lid and set the bottle on the tile floor next to me. Tweezers. Nail clippers. An old toothbrush. Travel-size toothpaste. And a prescription bottle with Brad’s name on it, dated six months prior. Oxycodone. I stared at the container in my hand and froze. They really do exist. For once in his life, Brad was telling me the truth. I bet he won’t even remember we had that conversation, though. So, now what?

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          * 

Home early from work, Brad headed toward seclusion in our bedroom. “My head is throbbing,” he called over his shoulder, passing through the living room. “I’m going to go lie down and try to get rid of this headache. Please keep the noise down.”

Not surprising, I thought, watching him disappear around the corner. After last night, I’m surprised you even went into work today.

While Brad slept, I fed and bathed Calleigh, threw a basket full of laundry into the wash, and ran a load of dishes while folding clothes from the dryer. I’m still awesome—even with only three hours sleep, I boasted to my inner self. Just try replacing me, I dared Brad. Smack me in the face—intentional or not—and I still care for our child and take care of the house without hiding out in our bedroom.

After tucking Calleigh in for the night, I ventured to our bedroom door and gently knocked on the white wood. “Are you awake? May I come in?” Always a sound sleeper, I didn’t expect Brad to answer, so I inched the door wider.

Brad groaned at the brightness spilling in from the hall. “Can you please keep the door shut? My eyes are really sensitive to the light right now.”

“Sure. Are you awake enough to talk?” I slid between the door and doorjamb, softly closing the door behind me. Walking to the foot of our bed, I carefully sat near Brad’s feet, trying not to jiggle the mattress.

Brad squirmed under the sheets and rolled to his side. “Not really, but I hear that tone in your voice. Ask what you’re going to ask.”

I sucked in a deep breath. “Do you remember talking to me last night after I had a hard time waking you up?” He tugged a blanket over his chest as a chill caused a tremor to shake his body.

“That wasn’t a dream?” He released a sarcastic chuckle, keeping his eyes closed. “OK.”

“So, you remember?”

“I remember feeling like I was racing down a hill at some wicked, warped speed—like someone was chasing me.” He grinned at the memory. “I think I was winning. Yeah, now that you mention it, I do vaguely remember you hovering over me. You seemed really scared.”

“Ya think? I couldn’t wake you up. I really thought you were going to die.” I started wringing my hands.

“You really know how to exaggerate. You know that?” Brad rubbed his temples with his fingers, grimacing at the pain that followed. “Nobody’s life was in danger. I just had a slight reaction to some medication. That’s all. No big deal.”

“It didn’t seem like no big deal at the time,” I countered. “What do you think would’ve happened if your heart hadn’t stopped racing?”

“But it did stop, didn’t it? Problem solved. Do we really need to be discussing this right now?” he whined. “I didn’t sleep well last night, and this headache won’t go away.”

“I didn’t get much sleep, either,” I stressed.

“I already said I’m sorry,” Brad scowled. “What more do you want from me?”

“How about the truth?” I suggested. “When did you first start going to a doctor for back pain?”

He pressed his temples with both hands. “About a month ago.”

I recalled the date on the label from under the sink. Interesting. The bottle says six months ago. That’s lie number one. “I don’t remember you mentioning any back pain. When did it start, and who did you see?”

“I don’t remember a date,” he avoided specifics. “Just some local doctor you don’t know.”

“And what did he say? What does he think caused your injury?” I could smell another lie brewing.

“He’s not really sure. Maybe stress. Maybe just getting older and turning the wrong way or sleeping incorrectly, somehow kinking it. My guess would be muscle spasms that are inflaming the nerves. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that; but I did need him in order to get the more powerful drugs.”

“How much stronger?” I probed. “Like prescription-strength ibuprofen strong or what?”

“Something like that,” he fibbed. Lie number two.

“I see.” I didn’t press further.

“Would you mind giving me some peace and quiet? I’d really like to get rid of this headache,” Brad groaned. “It’s nothing personal.”

“Sure. I understand. Is there anything I can get you before I head into the other room?” I stood, preparing to leave.

“No. Silence and a dark room is all I need, but thanks.”

“Yep.” I stood for a moment, watching his chest rise and fall. I will never understand why you feel the need to lie to me. I’ve never done anything, but love you.

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