The Wryters' Block

Shaping, Designing, Sculpting Words

Anguished Heart, Part I

Anguished Heart

Part I

By

c. Arsoleen Woolcock

            Diane Langford packed quickly. She tossed a few articles of clothing into one, large suitcase. Then her fingers slowed, stopped grabbing at things to take with her. She realized that she couldn’t take everything just yet, that her eyes were sloppy wet, and her breathing sounded as ragged as a car’s bad muffler. She wiped her eyes. All she could see in her mind’s eye was Steve’s face – so handsome with his dimples and boyish grin. Inside she knew that she couldn’t take another minute alone in the house – the silence, her unmet needs, and the loneliness that would strangle her if she didn’t leave. She’d come back later for the rest of her things.

She zipped up her suitcase and then straightened. With hands planted firmly on her hips, she heaved a big sigh. She took one last look around her bedroom, envisioned her husband Steve’s muscular, fit body lying there on the huge king-sized bed with his bare chest revealed. In her mind’s eye, he smiled up at her with his arms opened wide, beckoned to her in invitation. But any possibility of that happening was so long ago…

She brushed back remnants of tears, lifted the suitcase from the bed, and headed into the living room. Her eyes lit on the fireplace, where in winters, she and Steve lounged in front of it, watched burning logs of red and gold while they sipped mugs of hot chocolate, snuggled under blankets on the couch. Many a time, they admired flakes of falling snow viewed from the picture window and raced outside to have playful, snowball fights. A smiling family portrait gazed down at her from over the mantle. A big screen TV mocked her from its corner in the room where they watched love stories and action movies that they both enjoyed. She squeezed her eyes shut. Am I doing the right thing?

Diane left the luggage where it was and glided into the kitchen. She placed the note she’d written to Steve on the table, knowing it was his habit to sit there leisurely after work with cup of coffee and newspaper in hand. With quick strides, she retraced her steps, grabbed the suitcase, and closed the door to the house behind her.

Outside a gentle breeze stirred, and light rain started to fall. Was it a sign? She didn’t know. How she wished that God would intervene, would come down from Heaven and tell her whether to leave or stay! But what were the chances of that? She had only her gut instincts to rely on – that and her husband’s words and actions that told her that he no longer cared.

She sat in the station wagon with her luggage aboard and started off down the road. She tried to feel happy, to smile, when all she really wanted to do was to run back to her house, watch “The Young and the Restless” on TV, and later fix a dinner fit for a king – her king, Steve.

Diane stepped on the accelerator. She hoped that with each passing mile, the doubts about leaving, the guilt, and the remorse would all dissipate. Yet, how could she have stayed this long?

Her mind sifted back through the years. She smiled in remembrance. The years had been good ones. She and Steve had been happy. They had been! Both career-minded and ambitious, they put off having kids. They rejoiced in each other’s successes and were content with just each other. So the years rolled past with no children to brighten their days. Maybe now, that was best.

It was so sudden. No warning – no late nights out. She hadn’t any reason to suspect that Steve was dissatisfied or unhappy. He came home from work as usual, poured his coffee, sat down, and announced that he wanted a divorce. There had been no feeling in his voice, no eye contact, no preparation for the heartbreaking anguish that shook her entire body.

“We’ll sell the house, split the money, and go on with our lives,” he told her in matter of fact tones. He did not bat an eyelash from behind his black-rimmed glasses, never once looked up at her. He turned the page of the newspaper and continued to read.

Well, how the hell could a person do that – love fervently one day and the next go on with separate lives? How dare he even think she could! This was her life – the house, her job, and him. They were all connected. They were her lifelines. How could she suddenly let go? And hadn’t just last night his lovemaking was sweet, gentle, and passion-filled? If he did not love her, then how could he have made her feel so beautiful and so loved?

She remembered looking at him as if he’d just turned into a zombie. What happened to him today at work? Did something fall from the sky and hit him over the head?

“What – what did you just say?” Diane asked him, not believing what her ears heard. Her hands gripped the edge of the countertop, and she tried to hang on for her life, fearing that at any moment she would die a slow and painful death. So, this was what torture felt like!

“Look, Diane, I want a divorce. I just feel tied down,” he said. He took a moment to sip his coffee as if they were talking about something as casual as his favorite team’s football score. Then he folded the newspaper he’d been reading and placed it on the table. He took off his glasses and unloosened his tie, and then he looked up at her. “I want to be free.”

Her speech might have failed her, but her feet moved toward him and her hands flailed out at him. She wanted him to hurt just as she was hurting.

Moments later, she remembered him locking her arms in his hands to keep them from ripping him apart. Then she fell limp against him, felt him wrap his arms around her to hold her close. She felt his fingers weave themselves through her hair, heard his gentle voice, “Diane, sh-h,” as though she were a small child. “Sh-h-h! Sh-h-h…”

“I want to be free” drummed itself in her head. Did that mean that the love they shared, that the love he once avowed to was gone?

Diane fell to her knees and wept in front of him. Yes, she felt ashamed, but nothing mattered anymore. Her life was as good as over. She heard Steve’s footsteps walk away. He turned his back on her sadness, on her misery, and undying love for him. The reality was that they had no marriage. Suddenly, that revelation hit home for her. She would give Steve the divorce that he so badly wanted.

The next morning Diane awakened feeling dead. Had she been run over by a sixteen wheeler? Then as she lay in bed alone, Steve’s robotic words came back to her hauntingly clear, “I want to be free.” When she could lift her head and body from the bed, she called in to work. She was sick and did not know when she’d be able to return. She roamed through rooms, discovered that Steve spent the night in one of the guest bedrooms, and that he’d, apparently, left for work. Well, bravo for him that he could act like nothing out of the ordinary had happened!

It took hours for her to snap out of her reverie. Then she showered and changed. Should she cook dinner? Had Steve been honest when he said he wanted a divorce? (Good question!)

She couldn’t make herself leave, and for weeks, they lived in the same house, breathed the same air, but lived in separate rooms and barely mumbled a word to each other. She would still prepare his meals, tried to concoct exotic feasts for him to indulge in. She would find herself going into his bedroom, brightening up his living quarters with live, scented flowers from their garden, and making up his bed. But Steve only thanked her by coming home later and later.

Once when she tried to wait up to confront him, she fell asleep on the couch, only to find him gone by the next morning. How he must have laughed at her, she thought, when he found her lying there on the couch in a see-through negligee she’d bought, hoping that he would see her and come to his senses!

Her days were filled with sadness and longing. She had long since given up her high-paying position as a chief finance officer at a well-known business firm where she worked. What difference did money and material things make when you lost the only thing in the world that truly mattered most? What she wanted was Steve’s lips on hers; his smile; his eyes gazing into her own; the words “I love you” uttered from his lips. And her nights were cold, bleak, and lonely. Diane needed Steve’s warm arms wrapped around her.

Enough! With those memories cutting deep into her heart, Diane knew that the choice she made was for her own good. It was hard living in the same house with someone you loved who didn’t love you back.

Her foot pressed even harder on the accelerator, and she put miles and miles between her and Steve. That was what he wanted, wasn’t it?

Up ahead she saw signs advertising a resort area, Foxwood Hills. She swung her vehicle off the interstate and headed in that direction. She wheeled along slowly, glanced around at the rows and rows of cottages, which were spaced several meters apart. She passed a beautiful pool which looked inviting, and her spirits began to lift.

“I’m free,” she said to herself. “World, here I come.”

“Hi. I’m Diane Langford…uh, Diane Smith, I mean,” she told the man behind the desk when she checked in. All too soon she would use her maiden name anyway. She might as well start using it now.

The man behind the desk eyed her with a smile. “Alright, Diane Smith, I believe you said it was. Take the fifth cottage.” He reached on the wall behind him, which displayed a number of keys, and handed her one to cottage number five.

Once there, Diane felt a tremendous weight lift from her shoulders. Maybe that night she would get a good night’s rest for once instead of tossing and turning all night long and staring into wide open space. She climbed back inside her car to drive to the cottage, not seeing the smile that curved the handsome features of the resort’s owner.

The cottage was everything Diane imagined it would be, though she did not expect it to be quite as lavish. Upstairs the kitchen was equipped with refrigerator, stove, dishes, utensils, even a dishwasher. The dining area, also upstairs, was simply divine with beautiful, rose-colored drapes hanging at the large picture window which overlooked the pool. Downstairs there were two bedrooms, a living room, and a bath.

After she finished exploring, she set her suitcase in the larger bedroom. She yawned, suddenly feeling her eyelids droop. And with good reason because she hadn’t slept in weeks! She climbed onto the four-poster bed, and within minutes, Diane drifted off into a deep sleep.

Hours later, Diane awoke abruptly, then suddenly remembered where she was. When she moved to get up, she was overcome with a wave of nausea that almost made her crawl back under the covers, but her rumbling stomach growled in protest, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten all day. I need food, she thought, and the smell of steaks and seasonings that wafted into the room smelled divine.

She frowned, cocked an ear to the sounds that came from upstairs. There was someone up there. She was sure of it. A man! She could hear him singing and rustling about up there in the kitchen. Here in the cottage that she just leased!

Well, she meant to set things right, alright. She would calmly go upstairs and politely tell this person that he had to go. Obviously, there was some mistake. She climbed the stairs carefully, almost colliding with the person on the top step.

“Ah! I was just coming down to see if you were awake.”

Her eyes widened. It was him – Ryan Jensen. He handed her keys to this place earlier. She couldn’t explain it. One minute she was fuming, and the next, she was laughing uncontrollably, for Ryan Jensen had corn meal and flour splattered all over himself. He looked so comical standing there in an apron.

“What are you doing here?” she managed to say. “I didn’t know we had complimentary room service, too.”

“Um, yeah. Come and join me.”

“You’re on. This I gotta see.”

The table was set superbly with steaks, fried fish, and salad all waiting to be eaten. A large pitcher of tea filled with ice and lemon perched in the middle of the table, and for dessert Diane spied what appeared to be lemon meringue pie, her favorite! Once they sat down to eat, Diane ate heartily, realized that she had barely eaten anything since Steve asked her for the divorce.

Diane learned that Ryan was a widow. His wife died three years ago of pneumonia. He had one son, Derrick, who lived overseas. Rob said he loved swimming, horseback riding, and wooing very beautiful women, he told her shamelessly.

“Tell me about yourself,” he said with a grin. He cupped his glass of tea. “I want to know more about you.”

“There’s really not that much to tell,” Diane said with a sigh. “I’m – I’m in the process of getting a divorce,” she stuttered. Already her smile faded.

“I’m sorry. I can tell you’re still upset about it.”

“Well, I won’t detain you any longer,” Diane spoke. “The food was good. I enjoyed the conversation.” She took in a huge gulp of air. “What I really need most right now is solitude.”

“Didn’t I tell you when you drove up?” Ryan asked, his eyebrows raised in question. He set his glass on the table. “You’re staying here with me. There were no vacancies.”

“No vacancies!” Diane repeated. “Stay here with you!” Her brows furrowed together. “Surely, you should have known that I would not agree to such an arrangement. We don’t know each other.”

“Diane, calm down. There are two bedrooms. You can keep the one you’re in. I’ll take the smaller one. And,” he emphasized, “I promise that I won’t do anything that you don’t want me to do.” He saw her mouth fly open. “I meant I won’t take advantage of you.”

“I’ve got to go. That’s what I’ll do then. I have to leave.”

“You can’t do that. The closest hotel is many miles away. Please stay.”

Diane shrugged. She had to admit that she did not want to get back on the highway. And right then, she felt another wave of nausea. She fought back the huge desire to heave up everything she’d just eaten. She swallowed hard. Plus, she couldn’t exactly go back home. What was there for her anyway? Nothing but silence and loneliness.

“Alright. I’ll stay.”

******

Steve’s footsteps trod through the house. He ventured from one room to the next. He clicked on the television to watch the news, but its sounds were annoying. He tried reading the paper, but the words were all a blur. Not knowing where Diane was tore away at him. Finally, he searched through the cupboard, grateful to find some wine his wife used for cooking. Maybe that would chase away his demons.

Why did she have to leave? So many nights he thought he’d go crazy with her lying in the next room, so close. He longed to have gone in many times, tell her that he loved her, make her his wife again. But, he couldn’t. Oh, God, he couldn’t! What if his doctor was right? What if he did have cancer? He didn’t want Diane to see him lying helpless in some hospital room, having to wait on him hand and foot while he wasted away in some vegetative state.

Never in his life had he cried so as when he’d read the note Diane left him. He couldn’t believe she had actually gone. He raced upstairs, taking the steps two at a time, burst into their room. Many of her items were gone. He searched through her closet, stared into empty spaces left vacant. He could see stray hangers and shoes and dresses that he’d bought for her still intact.

How he wanted to kick himself! He’d been a complete fool! He should have known that Diane wouldn’t stay with him forever with his acting like a louse. She was sensitive, intelligent, vibrant, and passionate. And the one thing that hung in his mind was her need for love. She craved being kissed and held.

“Diane, if only you could have put up with my callousness just a bit longer! By then, maybe I would know. . .”

******

“Diane, what’s going on in there? I’ve been waiting for at least two hours or more.”

“Coming! I’ll be right out!”

Diane finally decided on a vivid, red swimsuit that she only wore once when she was on her honeymoon with Steve. It was the only one she’d brought with her. It had fit her then to a tee, but now, as she surveyed her body, she noticed that she’d gained a few pounds as the material stretched snugly across her abdomen. She wrinkled her nose and slid on an elegant crocheted coverup that matched the swimwear. She whirled around again in the mirror. Even so, she still looked great.

“Wow,” Ryan said and let out a whistle. “This was worth the wait. You’re beautiful.”

“Thanks,” Diane said. “You don’t look too bad yourself.” She could not help noticing his strong body, the muscles in his arms, the ripped chest and abs beneath a snug-fitting T-shirt…

Ryan and Diane walked to the pool and dove in. The water was liquid heaven. They swam for hours. After their swim, Ryan excused himself and walked back to the cottage, reappearing with a surprise picnic basket.

“You know, Diane,” Ryan said, “You make me happy.”

“Really?”

“I don’t want to take advantage of you. But, may I please kiss you before the evening is over?”

Diane raised her eyebrows. They barely knew each other, but the moment seemed surreal.  Diane leaned in and brushed her lips against his.

Ryan leaned forward as well, pushed back her hair. He grabbed her face tenderly and slowly teased her quivering lips again and again before taking the liberty to kiss them fully.

******

Days passed. Steve had not eaten or slept. The sound of the ringing doorbell startled him. How he hoped it would be Diane!

“Dr. Marler! What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t wait to tell you the good news. The tests proved negative. You don’t have cancer…the growth is only a small tumor that we can remove surgically in our outpatient office…”

Steve turned away; his head, downcast. What had he done? He had driven the woman he loved out of his life! He never wanted anyone else but Diane.

“I thought you’d be pleased. What’s wrong, man?” Dr. Tom Marler and Steve had been golf buddies for years now. Since Steve hadn’t kept his appointment with him, Tom took it upon himself to deliver the good news in person.

“I was sure – so sure that I was about to die. I – I’ve asked my wife for a divorce. She’s left me.” Steve shut his eyes tightly and plopped onto the nearest sofa.

“Steve, why didn’t you wait and let me be the judge of that?” Tom faced Steve squarely. “You’ll have to go and find Diane and tell her how wrong you were. With luck, you’ll live to be one hundred years old.”

“I have to find her. I can’t live without my wife.” Suddenly, life took on new meaning. He’d find Diane and bring her back home to where she belonged.

Steve had no idea where Diane might have gone. After Dr. Marler left, he called all the places they enjoyed and had gone together. None of their relatives knew of their pending situation, he was sure. He did not believe that she would have gone to them just yet. He climbed into his car and drove aimlessly, racking his brain with the same question, Where are you, Diane? Finally, as he continued to drive, he spotted signs ahead announcing cottages for rent or lease. Maybe, just maybe, she went there. It was well worth the try. A mile more to go! He pressed his foot hard on the accelerator.

Arrows pointed left led him to his destination. Steve swung his car in that direction and drove down a long road and pulled in at the information center and office. He climbed out of his vehicle and went inside. “Is there a Diane Langford here?” he asked the woman at the desk.

Linda Nivens had just been hired as a receptionist. She flipped through the pages in the registry she held in her hands. “Diane Langford,” she repeated. “No, I’m sorry, sir. We don’t have a Diane Langford.”

Steve turned away to go. “But there is a Diane Smith,” he heard the woman say.

“Diane Smith! You do have a Diane Smith,” he said with a chuckle, already relief surged through him. “She’s my wife – Diane Smith Langford. Which cottage is she in?”

“She’s in number five.”
“Thank you! Thank you!” He kissed the startled woman on the cheek because he was so happy. He’d found Diane. He’d make her understand.

The place was very beautiful and peaceful, Steve thought. Maybe Diane would ask him to join her. They’d turn this situation around. They’d vacation and laugh and enjoy themselves. His nerves pumped up, he parked with a newfound confidence near Diane’s grey station wagon.

“Diane! Diane!” he called. He climbed the wooden steps two at a time and rang the doorbell.

“I’ll get it, Ryan,” she yelled. He was probably asleep, anyway.

Diane opened the door, for the moment speechless. “Steve! What – what are you doing here?”

“Aren’t you going to ask me in?”

“I guess so. Come on in.” Diane opened the door wide for Steve to enter. “I suppose you’re here to discuss the divorce, right?” Diane’s voice hardened. She peered up into Steve’s eyes that seemed all aglow. She’d only been gone for just a few short days and already he actually appeared happy. Her breath caught in her throat. How could you live with someone for years and still not know them? How could a heart change after vows were made in front of family, friends, and God?

“No. There’s going to be no divorce, Diane. I love you. I love you, dear, very much. I only said I wanted a divorce because I thought I might have cancer. I didn’t want to put you through that.” He saw Diane shake her head in bewilderment. “Baby, I love you, and I have come to take you back home.” Steve reached out for Diane, but she moved away from him. He began to realize then the consequences of his actions. Yes, he had been an utter fool.

“Diane, who is it?” Ryan asked. He came out of his bedroom, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

Steve frowned. “Maybe I should ask you who are you. I’m her husband, and I happen to be very much in love with my wife. I was a fool to ask for a divorce because I thought I was dying. I just got word of the new test results today.” Steve closed his eyes and turned back to Diane. A new fear engulfed him and gripped his heart like a vice as he realized that he might have lost Diane. He turned to her now, his voice pleading, “I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I do love you. I need you back.”

“Diane, I think you need some time alone to figure this out,” Ryan interrupted. “Steve, is that it?” he asked. I want you to come with me to make yourself a reservation at one of the other cottages. We have an opening that just became available. You’ll be in cottage one.”

Steve scowled as Ryan walked past him to the door. It was hard to say anything to this man who may have held his wife, who may have stolen her heart…

“Diane, you know where to find me,” was all Steve could say.

Diane watched the two men walk away. They were alike in some ways, yet they were very different. Why hadn’t Steve confided in her? And what was this attraction that she felt for Ryan?

Diane fell asleep that night with much on her mind, but her dreams were beautiful. When she awakened the next morning long before dawn, her skin and eyes held a special glow. She felt ecstatic, knew that she could conquer every demon. She was very much in love, and it showed. Conscious about the time, she still dressed with extra care, applied a smidgen of make-up, and pulled a comb through her thick hair. When she was ready, she flung open the door and raced to the arms of the man she loved.

-0-

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