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A Shadow Past
What really happened the night she broke up with John…
Jessie had finished up at the university early, with a plan to have a nice relaxing evening with her fiancé. At least, that’s what the plan had been. She kept ignoring the nagging little voice in the back of her head, the one that kept telling her something was wrong…seriously wrong. She refused to acknowledge it; she was engaged to be married, had a job she loved, and was looking to the future. She was not going to let something silly like misplaced intuition interfere with the path she had chosen.
Taking the keys from her pocket, she unlocked the door to the little bungalow she had rented a short distance from the school. Going straight to the bedroom, she stripped off her clothes and pulled the new negligee and matching panties from the top drawer of her dresser, tossing her clothes into the dirty clothes basket as she headed to the shower. Not wanting to take time to cook that evening, she decided a call for delivery was in order. Thirty minutes later she was sitting on the sofa, flipping through the delivery service menu when she heard his key in the lock. Pushing that little voice into the deep recesses of her brain, she forced a smile to her face as John walked in.
"Hey," she said, rising from the sofa.
"Hey yourself," he replied, but it was more an autonomic response than a true greeting.
"How’d your day go?" she asked as she made her way over to him, lifting her face for a kiss.
John gave her a perfunctory peck. "Long." Setting his briefcase down next to the table, he headed for the bedroom.
"You hungry for anything in particular?"
The light illuminated the doorway as he flipped the switch. "Don’t care. Pizza’s fine," he said as he took off his dress shirt and slacks, pulling on a pair of jeans and white T-shirt.
Jessie sighed. While she really didn’t care for confrontation, she knew this situation needed to be addressed. Tossing the menu on the table, she went and sat down on the sofa, waiting for John to come back into the room. She didn’t have to wait long. He strode out of the bedroom, not even glancing her way as he went to the refrigerator, pulling out a beer and twisting the cap off. He took a long drink before coming back into the living room.
"You didn’t order mushrooms for the pizza, did you? You know I hate them."
Jessie shook her head, biting her lip as she did so. "I haven’t ordered yet."
"Why not?" he asked in a surly tone.
"John, we need to talk."
He rolled his eyes as he took another swig from the bottle, then plopped down in the recliner. "About what?"
"Well, for starters, you could tell me what’s bothering you."
John leaned back against the recliner, letting the beer bottle dangle between the fingers of his right hand over the side. "What makes you think something’s bothering me?"
Jessie shrugged, drawing her legs up and wrapping her arms around her knees. "You’ve been…kind of moody lately. Not acting like yourself."
"Hmmmm," he said as he pinned her with a cold stare, bringing the bottle to his mouth. "What do you mean, not like myself?"
Jessie sighed as she regarded the man she was soon to call ‘husband’. "I don’t know…short tempered, sullen, like you’re mad." When he remained silent, she continued. "We used to sit and talk, laugh together, share things. We enjoyed each other’s company. It seems like something’s changed, and I don’t know what it is."
"Something’s changed…huh. Brilliant observation."
She grew impatient at his noncommittal answers. "John, we used to be in sync. Now, it’s like we’re on two different planets!"
John drained his beer. "Well, if you’d pull your head out of your ass and get your priorities straight, things might be a little more copacetic."
The room grew eerily quiet. John had never spoken to her that way before. "Wh-what?"
Pushing himself up out of the chair, he went back to the kitchen, throwing the empty beer bottle into the trash and pulling another one from the fridge. "It’s been six weeks, Jessica. Don’t play stupid with me." The cap came off the beer, but this time he just let it fall to the floor before he took a drink.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed back the angry retort that hovered on her lips. "John, I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you’d just come out and tell me, it would make things a heck of a lot easier."
"When are you going to resign?" The blank look he got prompted him to continue. "Your position, in the archaeology department?"
"Where in the hell did you get an idea like that?"
"People are starting to talk, Jessica. By now you should have turned your full attention to our wedding, and getting ready to run a household."
Jessie was so shocked by what she was hearing, she wasn’t able to formulate anything more than a strangled squeak as a response.
Oblivious to her reaction, he continued on. "The Huntingtons have a reputation to uphold. The social circles we travel in, the political clout we have access to means there’s a certain standard of living we’re required to maintain. It’s been six weeks since you’ve accepted my proposal; more than enough time for you to have properly prepared and turned in your resignation."
Jessie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Sure, John’s family was well known; he came from a long line of distinguished psychologists, but she had had no clue about this hoity-toity attitude he was projecting. "John, I don’t know where you got the idea I had any intention of resigning, because I don’t. I’ve worked too long and too hard to get where I’m at."
He shook his head in a condescending manner. "Jessica, being a doctor’s wife is a role that takes a lot of time and effort. To divert attention away from that for your meaningless hobby would be an insult to me, to the Huntington name. If you absolutely must have a hobby, it would be much better to adopt a charity and organize a fundraiser. That would be an acceptable pastime."
Jessie’s mouth dropped open. "You…pompous…ass. In case you mislaid your brain somewhere, which is evident by the crap spewing out of your mouth, I already have the title of doctor in front of my name. My work is not a hobby, it’s my career, a part of who I am!" Her world was being turned upside down, and it just got worse when she realized he was laughing at her.
"I’m sorry," he said as he raised a hand, chuckling to himself, "You’re actually serious? Comparing your ‘title’ to the one I’ll receive when I complete my psychology degree would be like comparing one of those honorary degrees they hand out versus a real one that’s earned. I mean, come on, it’s not like you’re making any major contribution to society by digging through the garbage of some extinct civilization. Psychology on the other hand is an honorable profession, and has a positive influence on society as a whole."
Jessica felt like all the air was being sucked out of the room. She watched the man she thought she loved morph into a virtual stranger. His brown eyes that had once held a sparkle were now devoid of any emotion, the boyish charm gone, as if it had never existed. She actually felt physically ill. Getting up from the sofa, Jessie walked numbly into the bedroom as her brain tried to process what was happening.
John followed close behind, continuing his diatribe. "It’s high time you set aside your little shovel and bucket, and became a real woman. Put together your resignation this evening, and you can turn it in tomorrow morning. I’ll give the excuse that you were magnanimously allowing the head of the department extra time to find a replacement for you. My mother can get in contact with the country club and you both can go assess it as a possible reception venue, although I’m not sure if it’s large enough for the number of guests we’ll have."
Jessie swallowed hard against the bile rising in her throat. Looking down at the diamond engagement ring on her finger, she realized it symbolized nothing more than a lie. Disbelief, frustration, hurt, anger…they were all hitting her like a tidal wave, and she was drowning. There was only one thing Jessie was sure of at the moment. Turning to face him, she pulled the ring from her finger, the gold band scraping against her knuckle as she yanked it off. It was almost comical the look of incredulity on his face as she placed the ring in his hand.
"I can’t believe how wrong I was about you…about everything. You’re not who I thought you were," she said flatly.
"What are you doing?"
"It’s over, John. I don’t know what happened to you over the last few weeks, or, if you’ve always been like this, why I couldn’t see it before. You’re not the same person I met, the person I fell in love with. That person would never have said what you just said to me."
"You…you’re joking, right? I’m giving you the opportunity of a lifetime, and you’re going to throw it away because we’ve had a little disagreement?"
"Is that what you call this, a little disagreement? You stand there and ridicule me, try to tell me what to do, act like you’re a god or something, and expect me to say ‘oh, okay honey, whatever you want’? If you think I’d ever do that, you’re fucking delusional."
John was doing a good imitation of a fish out of water the way his mouth opened and closed. Coherent thought apparently eluded him. Looking down at the ring in his hand, he asked, "What am I supposed to do with this?"
Was he a total idiot? "You can shove it up your ass for all I care. Just get out."
To say that the evening had gone south was an understatement; unfortunately, it was about to turn into a nightmare.
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