He sat stoically as he read her text. He couldn’t fall to pieces in public. He had clients to deal with, coworkers to work with. No, his private hell would have to wait. He’d have plenty of time to fall apart when he got home. All the time in the world. Maybe all of eternity to piece himself together.
She had been his saving grace, his last hope at finding love. While he seemed uncaring, he was in fact an unrepentant romantic. He was the type to cry at the movies, to be moved whenever he saw a beautiful sunset. He appreciated art, and music, and he felt keen and deeply. He was a passionate man, a man of strong emotions. Often those emotions were like a tide, drowning the weak with it, leaving him alone on the banks of the shore.
But Toni was not like other women. She matched his passion. Their love was a tempest at sea, waves crashing upon the other, winds howling, the fury of the rain destroying everything in its path, but always they remained at the end, their lovemaking the more satisfying. No one doubted that they belonged together.
They had lived together for several years, planned on getting married some fine day, though neither was eager to disrupt the status quo. Nothing was amiss that morning when he went to work, nothing until he read the text.
“I’ll be gone by the time you get home.”
No explanation, no warning, it was just over. He tried several time in vain to text her, to call her, but her phone had been shut off. Calls to her mother we also ignored. All her friends claimed that they had no idea what was going on. He had been cut off, left in the dark. The storm had been replaced with a dangerous calm. He feared what the silence portended.
He went through the motions, and no one knew that something was amiss, except for a few that actually knew him. He went through the day, dealt with his clients expertly and professionally. He knew how to control the raging storm within. It would consume him at nightfall, but for now he had work to do.
Somehow he managed to survive the day. Already he could feel the veneer peeling back. He needed to be strong just a little longer. His goodbye to his coworkers was a little more curt than usual, his smile seemingly forced, but they were all professionals. They gave him his space. They knew he would come back in the morning, and whatever issue was bothering him would be dealt with.
But he had no plans on returning. Not tomorrow, not ever again. He drove to the nearest liquor store, bought a bottle of their most expensive whiskey, and drove home. He opened the bottle as soon as he shut off the car and downed as much as he could handle. Already the tears began falling, the first signs that presaged the impending storm.
He took a few more swigs, and stumbled out of the car. He could not handle his liquor, which was why he rarely drank. He was all about controlling his emotions, but he intended to lose control. He had no need of restraint. The full force of his fury would be unleashed.
He walked to their bedroom, ignoring everything else. In the room, her clothes were strewn about, as though she wanted to make a hasty exit and couldn’t decide what to take. That more than anything, even more than the one solitary line defeated him. She was obsessive about keeping her spaces clean. She had no intention of returning, of that he was certain.
He stumbled down the hall to his office and fell onto the sofa and continued to drink. Already a quarter of the amber liquid was gone. He drank some more and broke down, racked in rolling waves of sobs that seemed unyielding, so utterly despondent that he didn’t hear the alert notifying him that Toni was messaging him.
He drank until he could feel nothing, or maybe until he felt so much that he became numb to it all. He tried to stand, stumbled a bit and fell face first, grazing the side of the end table with the side of his face. He briefly registered the throbbing pain, but he pulled himself up, crawled to the safe, and managed to enter the combination on his forth attempt.
Once inside, he opened a small locker, the one where he kept his gun, and pulled it out. He laughed because he had always kept the gun loaded in spite of Toni’s protestations. Had he had needed to load it, it would have defeated him in his present state, but all he had to do was to release the safety, put the gun into his mouth, and press the trigger….
When Toni returned the next morning, worried as to why he hadn’t called her after her last text, she raced into the house. Her father was doing okay after his heart attack. Fortunately it was a minor thing, not requiring open heart surgery. He’d have to undergo a procedure soon to open up a couple of blockages, but he would be okay.
She walked into the office to drop off a couple of packages that were left on the front door when she saw his legs from behind the desk, and the walls behind him splattered with his blood and Toni screamed.
It took the investigators only minutes to deduce what had happened. He had only gotten the last line of Toni’s message, the one telling him of her father’s emergency, and that she needed to race the three hours to where he lived, that she we would be back as soon as she could, but that she would be gone by the time he got home.
And he never read her last message, telling him that her father was okay, and that the worst was over. “I love you,” she wrote him the last message, the one he would never see, “and I’ll see you in the morning.”
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