Driving Home

Wind whipped her hair around her face, stinging her cheeks and making her eyes tear.
“You can’t,” she whispered “you promised.” No one answered. Wordlessly, she pressed a button on her cell phone, but the phone on the other end went right to voice mail. She did not leave a message.
He had made the promise with no prompting from her and a voice so full with emotion that she never doubted it.
After it all, she stood there alone.
She stood out on the rocks, watching ships traverse the shipping channel and the waves break against the crumbled coquina ruins of the fort. They had stood there once, together, her back against his chest, his arms around her.
“Look” he had said softly in her ear, pointing to the southwest “a dolphin.”
And so there had been.
Her phone, tight in her hand, beeped. A text message. Her heart quickened, her breath caught. She fumbled to check the message.
“I’m sorry.”
Her stomach did a slow roll to the left as she sank down on the rocks and tears, not wind, stung her eyes. She climbed down off the rocks, not noticing the oyster shell that sliced her shoulder or the warm, sticky blood that dripped down her arm as she walked through the dunes, unlocked her car, and drove away. She did not look back, but it did not matter.
There were no dolphins today.

Delaney sighed and rubbed her eyes, staring at the words on her computer in front of her. Once she finished the grant application she could leave. Lord, she was bored. She just had to finish this and get to her mother-in-law’s dinner party by 7. Not that that would offer more excitement, but anything less would just mean another fight and she didn’t have the energy.
Her whole body ached from sitting in front of the computer. She rubbed her shoulders, favoring the left one. She attributed the pain to the way she sat at her desk: cross-legged and leaning forward, her left arm supporting her body as she hunted and pecked with her right hand. She wasn’t, she sighed, much of a typist.
In reality, she wasn’t much of a grant writer, either, but the state had needed someone to apply for federal money and she had needed a job. How she had landed this position she truly didn’t know, but she suspected it had something to do with her husband’s family and their political contributions.
Why did she feel so foggy? She noticed her coworkers streaming down the hallway. Six o’clock; quitting time. Leila paused by her door, smiling.
“Goin’ home?”
“Not quite yet, gotta finish this.”
“How you feeling?” Her voice made Delaney look harder at her coworker, unsure what to make of her expression. It wasn’t, she sensed, a casual inquiry, but she didn’t understand why.
“Tired, but ok. Just have to get to a dinner.” Delaney couldn’t quite place the expression on Leila’s face; for an instant she felt as though Leila expected her to offer something more. But as quickly as the thought came to her, it passed, and her coworker smiled, tilted her head slightly as if to nod, and said good night.
Delaney leaned over her desk again, resolving to pay attention to the task before her. She didn’t know when it had started, this numb sluggishness that had taken over her body, but she couldn’t seem to shake it. She had to stay focused. She unfolded her body from its pretzeled position, stretching to ease the stiffness, and re-read a printout of the application as she walked up and down the empty hall. Just as she started to reread the last paragraph, something flashed in the corner of her eye.
Her head snapped up, her eyes turning down the hall in the direction of the flash. She couldn’t see anything but the plum carpeting and eggshell walls of the hallway. She went back to her office, slipped off her blazer, turned off her computer, and headed to the house.

As she drove home, she swore at the road construction along US 19. She didn’t remember the construction this morning, but it didn’t matter. She pushed down her aggravation and followed the detour signs. It took her ten minutes out of her way, and she checked her watch to see if she had enough time to change before dashing out again. Her bare wrist told her she must have taken it off while typing and forgotten to put it on again.
Pulling into the driveway, she cursed the closed garage door. The detour must have taken longer than she thought; Reggie had left without her. Unless he had to go out, he always left the garage door open until she arrived. Where had she left the opener? Sighing, she searched her car to no avail. Reggie was forever chastising her for losing things. Early in their marriage he had insisted on re-keying the house every time she lost her keys, a thought he abandoned after the third incident in as many months.
She parked in the driveway and went around to the front. Damn! The chain was on. She mentally ticked away the seconds before the dinner party.
She used to hate the damn things, always felt like she had to be on her best behavior for her in-laws’ politician friends and “community leaders” as her mother in law called them. She used to try to schedule dinner meetings and other events for the same night, but eventually it became too much effort to keep one step ahead of everyone.
Early on in her marriage, the conversation at one of those dinners had turned to restaurants. Delaney had related a story from her college days, when she worked as a waitress and had accidentally-on-purpose dumped a prime rib on a hostile customer’s lap. Blank stares, save for the shocked look on her mother-in-law’s face, had met her story. Later that night, at home, Reggie had berated her for talking about things that, in his words, “showed a lack of breeding.” Shortly after that, she had stopped talking at the parties and started scheduling late meetings when her in-laws scheduled dinners.
She opened the gate and walked around back. The screen door opened easily enough, but the French door leading to the family room has the safety chain on as well. She sighed, more concerned about getting to the dinner than being locked out. Through the frosted glass, she could see a bottle of chardonnay on the counter and a glass. Great, she thought, he’s already had a few drinks. He’ll be in fine form by the time I get there- late. Her eyes ached and her legs still felt numb from sitting all day. She rubbed her shoulder and neck; all day she felt as though she had been moving through molasses.
Or muck at low tide, she thought.

She gave up on getting in and changing, instead getting back in her car and heading towards the old subdivision in the historic area of town where her in-laws lived. To outsmart the construction, she took the road along the bay. She rolled down her windows and smelled low tide. Her legs started to tingle as feeling started-finally- to return. She leaned her head back, relaxing.
Her eyes closed briefly, no longer than a blink, really, but when she opened them she saw the possum in the road and the SUV coming from the other direction swerve into her lane to avoid it. Instinctively, she, too, swerved, landing the car on the soft shoulder. The possum waddled into the bushes and the car drove on.
She sat back in her seat, both hands still curled around the steering wheel. The seat belt had gone taut around her; her shoulder hurt worse than ever. She took a deep, shaky breath and unbuckled her seatbelt. She opened her door and got out, her grey leather pumps sinking immediately into sandy muck.
She stepped out of her shoes and put them in the car, looking for a towel to wipe them with. She had nothing. She saw an Eckerd’s down the road and got back into her car. She could stop there and get tissue there to clean them with.
She turned the key. Nothing. She sighed. Of course. She tried again. Nothing. How was that possible? She leaned back and looked out her window. Sunset.
Jesus, when was the last time she had seen the sun set? For that matter, when was the last time she had seen the beach? She wouldn’t have been surprised to find it all changed; she literally didn’t remember her last walk on the beach. When was it? The sun still set in the west, right?
It looked like it. Impulsively, she slipped out of her hose and opened her car door again. Silently she made her way through the muck to the water.
It was low tide and the water barely lapped at her ankles. She looked out over the bay and saw a windsurfer working the late summer winds. Further out, she saw a dorsal fin break the water.
Filled with unexplainable sorrow as the dolphin’s back crested the glassy bay, she turned from the water and went back to the car.
This time the four cylinder engine turned over with no trouble. She pulled back onto the road and continued to the drugstore. As she pulled into the parking lot of the drugstore, she saw the lights off and the gate closed over the doors. Closed? It made no sense. She put the car in reverse and looked over her shoulder to back out.
Damn, that hurt. She should really see a doctor. Slowly she eased out of her space and pulled back onto the road. She could clean her shoes off at Reggie’s parents house. She grimaced, imagining the looks on their faces when she showed up, late, barefoot and sandy. Well, it was better than not showing up at all.

“You have to start coming to these dinners, Delaney,” her husband (at his mother’s prompting, she felt certain) had said about a year ago.
“I’m sorry, Reg, I am… it just never seems to work out. Things get crazy at work, and I don’t want to lose this job.” Her voice sounded unconvincing even to her.
“They can’t expect you to work so many hours every week. Look,” he had added, and she knew this was the point of his diatribe “you’re my wife, people wonder where you are, why you can’t ever bother to show up. It looks like you don’t care, or like maybe our marriage is in trouble.”
Well, I don’t, and maybe it is,
she thought, then quickly slammed the thought down.
“Ok, Reggie, I’ll be there from now on.”
And that was that. She had faithfully attended every dinner since then, feeling numb and removed the whole time. Numb was ok, though. Preferable to feeling the hate that had started to boil up, threatening to spill over at the most unusual times.

She pulled into her in-laws driveway, at least thirty minutes late according to the voice on the radio. But while the front light was on, the only cars in the driveway were the matching BMWs her husband’s parents drove.
Did she have the date wrong? Had Reggie mentioned rescheduling the dinner when they talked today? She strained but couldn’t remember their conversation.
Well, hell. She felt worn out, had killed herself to get here, and she would at least let them know she had tried. That should count for something, although Delaney had long ago stopped trying to earn brownie points with her in-laws.
She pressed the doorbell and thought to herself about her family beyond the door. After five years, they still didn’t feel like family. The doorbell symbolized that. Reggie never had to ring the bell at her parent’s house. Hell, they didn’t even have a doorbell, but that was irrelevant- they would never expect him to knock. He still would, of course. He didn’t even go in his parent’s house without ringing the bell. That’s not how it should be with family, she thought.
After a long pause, the hall light came on and she heard her father-in-law’s shoes moving toward the door.
“Delaney!” he wore a surprised expression, then, as he glanced at her bare legs and feet, it changed to one of confusion. “Well, this is a surprise. What brings you around? Are you…” he didn’t seem to know how to finish “ok?”
“I think I must have gotten confused, I thought I was supposed to be here.” What rotten luck. She would just go in, clean up her shoes, and head home. Reggie must have worked late; she could certainly get in now.
A second head appeared at the door, her mother-in-law. “Yes?” she inquired, looking at Delaney with a cold expression.
Delaney drew back, surprised. These people- well, while not typically warm, they usually greeted her with a smile. Tonight they acted like she was a stranger, or just a passing acquaintance.
“I’m sorry; I… I’ll see you later.” She stumbled as she backed up, stubbing her toe on a pebble. She walked briskly back to her car, not looking back until the engine had started. Only then did she look back at the two-story colonial house. The door had closed, no sign that her in-laws even seemed concerned about her getting home.
She pulled out of the neighborhood and drove silently towards home, praying that this time she could get in. She just wanted to forget about the day with a hot shower and a glass of wine.
When she got to the house, she found the garage door closed and the house dark. She experienced a momentary sense of panic; had she forgotten about a business dinner with Reggie’s company? She dismissed the thought; had they had such an engagement and she had failed to arrive, Reggie would have called her cell phone. She reached into her bag to check her phone.
Except her phone wasn’t there; neither was her bag. Damn, damn, damn, where had she left it? She must have left it all in her desk in her rush to get to where she thought she had to be. Sighing, she climbed back in her car and headed back to the office.
She drove along US 19, the construction workers long gone for the evening, the traffic light. She turned off to head west to her office, her mind blank. Few days had seen so many annoying events in such quick succession.
Why was she even bothering? The thought charged into her mind unheralded. To get her bag and get home, she told herself, focusing on the literal aspects of the question. I just want to go home.
She pulled in front of her office building where the cleaning crew had just gotten started. They let her in and she rode the elevator to the fourth floor. She stepped off, and automatically, too tired to think, turned right, then left, then into the third office on the left.
Except this wasn’t her office. Her office was two doors up on the right. She paused in the doorway, noticing this office for what seemed the first time. Odd, but it felt like she had… forgotten about this office. Who uses this? she wondered. She rubbed her brow, wondering how she could just forget an office in her hall. Her shoulder burned and the sand on her bare feet felt caked on.
She looked again at the office, empty except for office furniture. The walls had no personal items, the desk empty except for a computer and an empty inbox. Something flashed in the corner of her eye. She turned quickly and felt the burn in her shoulder. On the floor lay a black and gold fountain pen; the hall light must have caught the clip. She bended to pick it up, then paused, horrified by what she had forgotten.
She sank into one of the chairs and closed her eyes, her head echoing with voices, words spoken in this office. Familiar and warm and scary and unknown.
“I will be there, please wait for me. I have never made you a promise before, but I’m making one now. Tomorrow morning, at the rocks, seven o clock.”
Her eyes slammed open, memories tumbling over one another in their rush to the front of her brain so fast that they tripped over one another, blurring together but each sharpening itself as it appeared. Her heart raced, her head throbbed, and her shoulder ached so badly she thought it might split open.
Her shoulder; something about her shoulder. Cautiously, she looked over at it, scared to see. Unwilling, unwanting to believe what she saw. She put her fingers to the wound on her left shoulder, bits of crushed seashell clinging to the bright red blood barely trickling out of the cut.
The rocks. The fort.
And she remembered it all. She was never supposed to be at work today. There was no dinner party. There was no husband, hadn’t been since she left two months ago.
He was supposed to meet her there and they were going to leave together, head off for parts unknown. He used to work with her, used to occupy that empty office. They fell in love sitting across that desk, and when he quit she thought part of her had died. She had left behind a marriage, a life, and had planned to leave her job, too… not for him, but for her.
She was so tired of feeling numb inside, of feeling nothing. With him, she felt everything. Without him, nothing.
But feeling everything meant she felt pain, too.
“Wait for me; I’ll be there. Just, please, wait.”
But he didn’t show up.
She knew what she had to do. She raced into her office, grabbed her bag and raced out again, stopping only to pick up the pen left behind. She ran to her car, mindless of her bare feet and her injured shoulder. She pointed her car towards the beach. Home.
She had to find a dolphin. If she couldn’t, she would wait.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.