1691 words (6 minute read)

Where Were You?

I felt like I’d slept for hours.

“What time is it?” I said.

Pacy didn’t respond other than to whisper: “Sam.” She just stood there, staring at me as if I were a phantom.

Cooper was on the bed. He whined and pawed at me frantically.

“Pacy,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

She reached one hand towards the bed and raised the other to her mouth. But she did not approach.

“Pacy!” I said. “What the hell is going on?”

Finally, she spoke:

“Where were you?”

***

The day began with a fight, and Pacy and I never fought.

That should have told me something.

It didn’t.

***

I left work that day irritated. This was not what I had been hired to do.

On my first day at the Observer, my editor, Gloria, a direct and demanding West Virginia native, dropped a cell phone in my lap, instructed me to turn it on and keep it on, and then told me to leave. News does not happen in the newsroom, she said. So go find some. I had no beat, just a mandate to find stories that people would want to read. About anything. That was the job description. As long as I delivered, Gloria said, the system would not change.

Sometimes, however, I failed to find the stories. I would drive down winding roads connecting faded coal towns, walk littered riverbanks in the shadows of shuttered industrial complexes, sometimes even knock on random doors in search of some whiff of a story, only to find nothing. After a few days of such fruitless searching, my phone would ring. Only, it wasn’t Gloria. It was the assignments editor, ordering me back to the newsroom, where nothing happens. This was my punishment: Time served making pointless beat checks to short-tempered zone officers and waiting for the fax machine to spit out car crash death notices from rural police bureaus. That’s where I was that Friday, and why I left work irritated.

I drove home and walked through the front door of our two-story house in a hilltop neighborhood overlooking the Allegheny River. Cooper leaped off the couch when he heard the alarm beep. I dropped to a knee to greet him and he pressed his body against my chest.

Pacy was in the kitchen. “How was work?” she asked.

“Annoying,” I said.

I walked to the liquor cabinet, grabbed a glass and filled it with bourbon. I tilted the glass and drained it. Then I poured another.

“Well, just so you know,” Pacy said slyly, “I plan on letting you ravish me tonight.”

“Is that so?” I said. “Well, I guess that depends on your attitude.”

Of course, it had nothing to do with her attitude. It had everything to do with how many glasses of bourbon I would drink. And one minute into the evening, I was working on my second. The odds of me joining her at bedtime were diminishing.

***

I awoke on the couch. My glass sat on the coffee table. Pacy stood in the middle of the room, glaring at me. 

“Sleep well?” she said.

“Must have fallen asleep,” I said.

“Obviously.”

She turned and went into the kitchen. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. My head pounded, a pounding that only grew worse with the realization that I had to work a Saturday night shift. I shuffled into the kitchen and put on coffee. Pacy finished eating cereal, placed her bowl in the sink and announced that she was going to the gym.

“Give me a second,” I said. “I’ll take Cooper for a walk. We can leave together.”

She went upstairs and packed her gym bag. I put on shoes and grabbed Cooper’s leash. In the hallway, Pacy sidled past me and left without a word.

Now I was mad.

“Hey,” I said, following her outside. “The silent treatment? For falling asleep on the couch?”

She did not respond.

“You’re taking this too far,” I said.

She walked to her car and drove away. 

***

Pacy called shortly before noon.

“Yes?” I said shortly.

“I’m at the store. Do we need butter?”

I opened the fridge.

“Yes.”

“OK,” she said. “Also … I’m sorry.”

I immediately softened.

“No, I’m sorry,” I said. “I know I shouldn’t have fallen asleep on the couch.”

She came home an hour later. We hugged in the front hall.

“I’m just crazy,” she said. “But you should know that by now. I’ve never tried to hide it.”

“You’re not crazy,” I said. “You’re perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”

Cooper, who had been asleep, walked into the hall. When he saw Pacy, his ears flattened and he wagged his tail.

“You know,” I said. “He’s pretty tired from our walk. We could probably leave him down here for a while.”

Pacy smiled.

“I’ll meet you upstairs.” 

***

She slid into bed fully dressed.

“You’re going to have to work for it,” she whispered into my ear.

“Gladly,” I whispered back as my hands slid down her hips.

Pacy thinks she’s lucky to have me. The opposite is true. From the moment I first kissed her, those many years ago in her mom’s bar, I have often wondered how it is that someone like me, someone so average in every way, could be with someone as extraordinary as her. As with many things in my life, before and after, it never made sense.

***

We lay in bed next to each other, breathing heavily and holding hands. 

“That was … amazing,” I said.

“I agree,” she said, rolling over to kiss my cheek. Then she moved to get out of bed.

“Don’t go,” I said, knowing she would. She always did.

“I have things to do, Sam,” she said.

“Stay. Just this one time.”

I opened my eyes and found Pacy staring at me with a little smile. She kissed my forehead and rolled over. She stood, slipped on a t-shirt and stepped into a pair of blue pajama bottoms.

“I’m leaving.”

“Oh, fine,” I said. “But I’m staying.”

“I know you are,” she said.

“Do me a favor, Pace, and wake me up in 45 minutes,” I said. “I have to work at three.”

“OK,” she said, then walked out of the room.

***

I’m not religious. I’m not even sure that I believe in a god. Especially not now.

Yet, for some reason, long ago, I fell into the habit of saying a short prayer every night before bed. Just in case, I suppose.

’God, I pray for Pacy. I pray for her health, happiness and safety. I pray I can be the man that she deserves.

God, I pray for my family and my friends.

God, I pray for everyone in the world. I ask that you provide us all with wisdom, understanding and compassion, so we can start treating each other better.

God, I pray for courage and compassion and understanding. 

I thank you, God, for everything you have given my friends and my family and me. Thank you, God, for everything.’

On this day, the last day I or my life would ever be Normal again, I did not pray. Instead, as I drifted off to sleep, I dreamed of that night inside that little bar, a night that still plays in my mind like a fantasy. It was the night I walked in after driving for hours, saw her, and kissed her for the first time. I remembered how I pulled my head back and looked into her eyes, and how she gripped the sides of my shirt and pressed her body against mine.

“I couldn’t help it,” I whispered to her. “Because this isn’t over.”

“Good,” she said.

The dream continued: There I was, sitting at the bar while she finished her shift, watching her blush as she touched my hand when placing a beer in front of me. There was the excitement I felt when she slid into my car, holding my hand and directing me down a gravel road to the old barn where she had played as a child. I felt my body shake as I placed a blanket on the grass, then slowly removed her clothing, one item at a time. I whispered her name as we held each other in the moonlight, feeling that no matter what happened in my life it would be OK because Pacy would be with me. I held her in my arms in the still night, the crickets chirping, a stray lightning bug flitting in and out of the old barn. I stroked her hair and felt better than I’d ever felt, ever, in my life … 

Then the dream ended. My eyes snapped open.

I was awake. Pacy was back, only now she was wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days. I felt like I’d slept for hours.

“What time is it?” I said.

Pacy didn’t respond other than to whisper: “Sam.” She just stood there, staring at me as if I were a phantom.

Cooper was on the bed. He whined and pawed at me frantically.

“Pacy,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

She reached one hand towards the bed and raised the other to her mouth. But she did not approach.

“Pacy!” I said. “What the hell is going on?”

Finally, she spoke:

“Where were you?”

From the hallway below came a man’s voice.

“Mrs. Smith?” the voice said. “Is everything OK up there?”


Next Chapter: My Husband is Missing