Joy had wanted so much more. How had they arrived at this place? It started off as the marriage of her dreams. Steve was always good to her. They talked about everything. They both worked at the university and loved traveling and hiking. Whenever possible, they were off on adventures to new, exciting places. It really didn’t matter where they were or what they were doing as long as they were together. He always made her laugh…until he no longer did. She couldn’t even place when everything started to change. He became irritable, increasingly less affectionate and was gone often.
Then came the day she’d walked into the garage to ask him a question. She found him, in a corner, whispering on his cell phone. What she heard sent chills up her spine.
“I know I have to do something about Joy – about our marriage. I know I have to make the problem go away!…OK, I’ll take care of it!”
She turned and quietly went back into the house before he could see her. Questions flooded her mind. “What is going on? Is he having an affair? Or worse?”
He walked into the house, locking his eyes on hers. Tears sprang up and she turned away. Instantly, he grabbed her arm and swung her around to look at him. His eyes bored into her as his face filled with rage. “Why did you have to come out into the garage? What did you hear?”
She stared at him in disbelief. He’d never been like this with her. Thoughts whirled in her mind, but she couldn’t make sense of any of them, except one. “Please, Lord, help me. Please! Please! Please!”
Her mind became a little less frantic and anger was all she felt. “What are you talking about? What’s going on, Steve? Is there someone else?”
He looked at her incredulously. “What? No!”, but he wouldn’t say anything more in reply. Instead, he turned the focus and blame back on her. “You always have to know where I am and what I’m doing. I can’t get a moment’s peace. Why couldn’t you just leave me alone?”
She stared at him and the anger overflowed. “You’re my husband! Why shouldn’t I know what you’re doing? I was going to ask if you wanted to go for a walk. Something’s wrong and I thought we could try to talk it out. Then I find you telling someone you had to take care of me and our marriage. And what problem has to go away? Is there something more or just me you have to get to go away?!”
She couldn’t read the look on his face.
“Answer me, Steve!”
“ALRIGHT! I’ll tell you.” He paced the floor, stopped at the window and was silent for a moment. “You know about the grant John Hasip, Brian King and I received to research the promising autism treatment.”
He hesitated and then continued. “We were so excited and everything started out great. We set everything up and had advertised for human subjects. A month ago, I was entering the latest information into the computer when I noticed some of the grant codes for the funding didn’t match the completed work. We hadn’t even started the actual testing, but a great deal of the money was accounted for already.”
“When I confronted them, they told me that they had taken the money and put it in an undisclosed account. Evidently, it started with John taking a small amount with every intention to pay it back. Brian walked in, saw an opportunity and took it. They said it got out of hand and they tried to make me understand.”
He turned and looked at her, his eyes pleading her to understand. “I was furious! I told them I would have no part of it. That’s when they told me, to assure I went along with their plan, they had added some information that linked me to everything. It’s bad, Joy. It makes me an equal party to the theft.”
She took a few minutes to process what he’d said. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why was ending our marriage even mentioned?”
Steve drew a breath and answered. “Since they’re both single, you’re the one loose end. They wouldn’t believe me when I told them I hadn’t and wouldn’t tell you anything. They knew how close we were. I probably wouldn’t have believed myself either. So, they’ve increasingly demanded that I do something about you…our marriage…and if I didn’t, they would. They’re desperate men and I didn’t question that they would follow through.”
“The thing is, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell you goodbye. So, I took the coward’s way and started pulling away from you, hoping you would eventually do the same. But you’ve always been so faithful. You pursued me. I’ve always loved that about you.”
He folded in on himself and shook with grief. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry, Joy. I’m so, so sorry…”
She enveloped him in a hug. Her life had just stopped and the tears poured. There would be many more conversations. The police would have to be notified and there would probably be jail time. She had no idea what would happen after this moment. Really, all she knew WAS this moment…when time stopped and grace entered her heart in the midst of pain, uncertainty and fear. There was the smallest glimmer of hope.
The Giver of grace had met her here, where her life fell apart. She had finally heard the answers to all the myriad of questions about why her marriage was failing. They had haunted her. She felt crazy, but quieting the questions and accusations in her head was like balm to her wounded heart. She actually felt relieved in some way. They loved each other. She had no idea what the future held for them, but they would face it together.
~ Joanna Lynn
(Flash Fiction – Goal: Complete story in 1,000 words or less)