Happily Ever After | A Short Story
There are happy endings. Believe me. They usually don’t happen in my stories, and rarely in real life, but I once with my own eyes a nice guy get the girl. I once saw a couple in love with each other. It was a sight to see! I wanted to write a story where both happen, and this is that. The story's sad, but sweet and sappy, and will, I hope, leave you smiling. Please let me know if it does.
Ten years before, and every year before that for as long as he could remember, Patrick had woken up from nightmares. This morning, however, it was the sound of chirping sparrows that welcomed him back to consciousness.
Still half asleep, Patrick smiled gratefully as his mind began reflexively recollecting the pieces of his world outside of that morning’s dream. In that dream, Patrick was walking through his office, introducing a new hire to the rest of the team. As mundane as it was, he was happy to escape the nightmares that haunted him most of his life. Ticking time bombs, or awkward nudity in front of crowds, or neverending falls from the edge of random New York City skyscrapers. Patrick was glad to forget about the fright that came with being chased by vicious animals that he could have fought off if only his hands and arms worked. Those nightmares ended soon after he met Clare.
The birds still singing, Patrick opened his eyes to see Clare under his arm—the same position they fell asleep in the night before. Her face was planted on his chest, keeping her thick afro brushing against his chin and her open mouth trailing a slight line of drool that kept her left cheek stuck to his right nipple. Patrick’s smile widened, and his breathing deepened as his transition from dream to real world continued.
Patrick mumbled, “Morning, beautiful.” But as he craned his neck to kiss Clare on the forehead, his eyes caught sight of the clock on their nightstand, and he said, “Dammit, we gotta get up.”
She spasmed with shock and rambled, “What the fuck? What? What happen?”
“The time, babe. It’s five. We were supposed to be out by four.” Patrick slid from under her head and began to wipe the crust from the corners of his eyes.
“Oh, shit.” she said, now fully awake.
“Exactly. Let me jump in the shower first.” He started a quick walk toward the bedroom door on the other side of the room. The rush to the bathroom was an impulse Patrick had learned at a young age. “I’m quicker,” he added. Clare nodded, and he was out the door.
While walking, he thought about their flight. As late as they were, he was confident the two of them could make it in time. In Patrick’s mind, he was reorganizing units of time with the clockwork precision he had developed after 2,205 conscious days of morning routines as the middle child in a house of three sisters, two brothers, and a single mother.
Up until he was seventeen, Patrick’s mother acted as the family alarm clock. At 6:30 am she would scream loud enough to fill up both the boys’ and girls’ rooms with the words, “Time to get up!”
On one particular day, they boys pushed her patience. With loud footsteps, she walked up the stairs with a bowl full of ice water and splashed the oldest of them in the face. He jumped out of bed with a holler and wide open eyes, expressing the shock of a brain still trying to figure out what was happening.
“Get ready for school!” His mother shouted.
Stumbling out of the bedroom at six in the morning, disheveled and disoriented from a sleep filled with nightmares of vicious animals, Patrick said to his now fully awake older brother, “Let me go first, I’ve gotta pee.”
“You snooze you lose bedwetter. Next time you get splashed you can go first.”
His mother interjected, “Patrick, either prepare your clothes or help me make breakfast. We got too much to do to have you just sitting and waiting.” He held his piss while his brother stunk up the bathroom with junk food fueled, teenage sized turds, and fogged up the mirror with his hot, refreshing shower.
Patrick’s childhood feelings toward his mother would sway from love, to pity, to anger, but no matter which he felt, he desperately wanted her attention. When given a choice he’d always decide to be her helper—to do anything he could in the hopes of being blessed with a smile or a kind word of encouragement that let him know that he was indeed special to the woman that gave him life. She was tough but distant, like a new moon, and he wanted so bad to feel in his gut, not to just assume, that he would be protected by the animals of the world by her strength.
That morning his search for protection took the form of whipping batter and cracking eggs in the cluttered Harlem kitchen. At his mother’s side, and beside his two sisters, Patrick helped make sandwiches, cereal, and bacon while the pressure in his bladder only increased. On a step stool, he stood in front of the stove and poured the oil that the bacon produced into a metal bowl that his older sister would use to cook scrambled eggs.
He would pour slowly, not only out of concern for possibly burning himself but because he was looking out of the corner of his eye for any sign that he was doing a good job. Love from his tired mother instead came in the form of a pat on the butt and the words, “Hurry up before Gerald jumps in the bathroom next.” He did hurry up, but the practical advice was not enough to soothe him. Patrick was left wondering what he could do to get more.
“I thought you had set the alarm.” Patrick asked Clare, as he opened the door to the bathroom.
“No. When we talked about this yesterday, you said that you didn’t trust me with the clock…”
“I didn’t say I didn’t trust you.”
“But that’s what you meant.”
With the bathroom door open, and Patrick in mid-stream, he responded calmly, “I was saying that when we set the alarm on the clock last time you seemed to have issues with it. I was saying that I could do it, but then you said that you would use your phone.”
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The pitch of her voice rose, and Clare responded, “I said ‘I could.’ You just kissed me on the cheek like a child and went back to watching the movie.” Patrick understood what was happening. After ten years with Clare, Patrick could feel the rising tension in the air. The heat wasn’t new, but as their relationship grew, it was increasingly rare, just as his ability to deal with it became better. This time he assumed the cause to be the jarring wake up and the stressful situation that they woke up to.
In his mind, the tension transformed into care, then love. He forced an early stop, flushed the toilet, quickly washed his hands and then walked to the bedroom and meet Clare on the floor rug as she packed away delicates that were drying from the night before.
With a smile and a soft voice, he said, “Baby, when you mentioned using your phone, I just said ‘cool,’ then went back to the movie. Maybe I didn’t say it loud enough, and I’m sorry. But I would never dismiss something you’ve said to me. I take you very seriously. You are the love of my life, and we’re going to have a fantastic vacation.”
Patrick focused on her, trying his best to radiate calm from his eyes—trying to let know that they didn’t have to dance the dance of angry people.
“I’m sorry if I didn’t hear you,” She said, ”And that I didn’t say something when I felt you were ignoring me.“
“No problem.” He gave her a kiss on the lips and said with raised eyebrows, “We all right?”
“Great. I’m gonna jump in the shower real quick. Besides packing up, we should be good?”
“Yeah, we should perfect.”
He gave her another kiss and said, “We already are,”
“You’re so corny,” she said as she shook her head with a mock frown.
“But it’s true.” He got up and walked back to the bathroom.
Clare sat on the floor folding her cashmere sweater and a few other delicates that she didn’t want to put in the dryer the night before. There was an urgency to the moment, but she folded slowly as she heard the water from the shower turn on. Her smile widened while thinking about her husband and what he had just done. She was thankful for him, though also acutely aware that their hang-ups had a way of surfacing, no matter how hard they tried drowning them. For at least this morning, Patrick had pushed her’s back down. It was up to her, however, to keep them there for as long as possible.
She closed her eyes and sat there on the floor, perfectly still, in an exercise she had learned in a victims’ group a few years ago. The troubles of her still groggy morning mind seeped out with each calm exhale as she thought about the trip they had planned, the fantastic job she had, and the extraordinary love that she has found. The fight in her left and she continued folding.
Clare’s first fight with a man was one she desperately wanted to win, but couldn’t. It began on an unseasonably cold Philadelphia morning with her uncle pinning her body down when he was supposed to be babysitting. Being only a child, her fight against him was short lived. It wasn’t just the size of her body, which could have done some damage to the sickly forty-year-old who was slowly pulling down her pants, but the size of her mind. Clare had no real idea what was happening, so though she felt that everything was terribly wrong, she didn’t have the mental wherewithal to stand against an adult she had known all her life. The fabric of her soul was slowly pulled apart thread by thread, but she couldn’t be sure that the torture wasn’t somehow her own fault.
Her uncle continued to violate her over the course of that summer as her parents traveled through sub-Saharan Africa to spread the good news that Jesus had died for the sins of the world.
Few people knew about the violence of her childhood. She added Patrick to that very short list when they decided, as a romantic gag, to celebrate their eight months together on a warm spring day.
They both took personal days off so that they could enjoy each other, and the city, without the crowds a weekend day out would bring. They laid in bed later than usual and made a point to be slow and gentle in their morning’s lovemaking. After getting out of bed, their celebration continued with them making each other breakfast (Patrick made Clare’s favorite dish of veggie omelets, bacon and grits, while she made his standard breakfast of a banana protein shake, a large fruit bowl, steak and steamed broccoli).
They went to a new exhibit at the Studio Museum, jogged down the west side running path, and then came back up through the relatively empty uptown streets while everyone else worked. The sun’s reflection from cold office windows illuminated even the shadows as they jogged passed Morningside Heights. After a long shower together at Clare’s place, the two made their way to Central Park with a bag full of dinner.
As they walked, Clare looked down at their locked hands, looked up at Patrick bashfully, then smiled with a contentment that had been rare after her summer in Pennsylvania.
At the park, they sat on a grassy hill while Patrick sipped a sloppy mimosa from a sticky glass. He said, “I’ve never had a better eight-month anniversary in my life.”
“Out of plenty, I’m sure.” Clare laughed. “Just wait until we get back to my place though.”
He took another sip, “This is perfect.”
She winked at him playfully and picked at a grape.
He laughed and said, “I’m serious. Being with you…” He searched for the words, “I feel appreciated. I know sometimes it may feel that I'm a little needy...”
“I never think that...”
“No, let me say this while I’ve got enough alcohol in me to power through it.”
She chuckled and said, “Go on.”
“In the past, I’ve sometimes felt like I was in overdrive. That I would do way too much and get so little back. You know... I’ve got some issues that I’m trying to iron out, but it’s like you understand without me having to explain myself all the time. Which I know I’m doing right now,” she chuckled. “But you care about me without me having to, like, burn myself out being your man.”
“I appreciate how lucky I am.”
She leaned over and kissed him. When she straightened herself up, they were both looking beyond. Her eyes fixed themselves on the calm of the green space while she grabbed at another grape. It popped with the first bite, and Clare chewed, feeling completely safe with the man who she had fallen in love with over the course of a few months. Disturbing that joy was the rise of a familiar fear that always seemed to shake off whatever happiness Clare could glean from life. The fear was that maybe she was wrong about Patrick. That perhaps he was just using her, wanting her for now, but ready to discard her when he was done, like their now empty bottle of champagne. She was “beautiful,” but was that all she was?
Her body tensed up, and she shivered as though fighting off a fever, or some other internal enemy.
She said, “Patrick?”
He sat up after having laid on his back to appreciate the sunshine. “Yeah?”
She could see the concern on his face as he looked at the somber, straight slit that replaced the smile she had been showing off most of the day. She couldn’t help the change in expression, as she was doing all she could just not collapse right there on their blanket and cry.
She breathed deeply and said, “When I was nine my uncle raped me repeatedly over several months.”
Patrick’s eyes opened wide, and he said nothing. Clare took it as an invitation to continue, so she did.
“The first time it happened, I had come out of the shower and was putting on my clothes on when he walked into the room. He said that I was very pretty and that he knew I would become a beautiful woman one day. Then he walked towards me and…”
Clare’s face tightened as Patrick reached for her right calf and grabbed it with a gentle hold, while at the same time, with subtle movements, massaging it.
“It’s all right. You… You don’t have to talk about it.” He said.
“I know.” She placed her hand on his, though her gaze still remained on the ground. “He raped me every day I was there until the day before my parents picked me up. I never told them. I never told anybody other than my therapist, and now you.”
Patrick got up from his spot and sat behind Clare, putting his legs around her legs and wrapping his arms around her as her back leaned into his chest. He would go on to ask a few questions about how she thought the incident might have affected her (“I can’t say for sure. Though I do have a hard time trusting people.”), whether her uncle was still alive (“No. He died about fourteen years ago of, basically, liver cancer.”), but for those first several minutes he said nothing. Patrick held her, and she could feel the iron bars that had been keeping her shoulders rigid give a little. The static of her mind quieted some, and she leaned against him. Allowing Patrick to lend her some of his strength, which gave her peace, if only temporarily.
Patrick was rinsing the soap off and thinking about what they needed to do to get going. The day before he had planned to make a quick breakfast, but that was out the window. Food and the ability to take their time getting ready was really their only loss from the late start. To hurry things along Patrick was brushing his teeth in the shower while finishing the morning piss he cut short to talk to Clare.
After a two minute wash up he hopped out and kissed Clare on the cheek as she hopped in.
“Hurry up and get dressed my sexy clock watcher,” she said before she pulled the curtains closed.
“Putting ‘sexy’ in front of it doesn’t make it any better,” he laughed and closed the door.
In the bedroom, Patrick opened his underwear drawer to pull out a random boxer brief and an undershirt. Lifting his gaze from the clothes he caught sight of himself in the mirror. He stood there and examined his naked body with roving eyes. Patrick observed the toned physique that he worked so hard in the gym to maintain. He looked through the musculature and began to examine the mechanics behind his body’s movements. Like a machine, it consisted of joints and points of pivot made to keep him doing. While he looked at himself, that was all Patrick could see: a doing machine.
Before Clare, Patrick’s last relationship was a seven-month marathon with a woman named Judy. What he didn’t notice at the time was the toll that always doing took on his mind: the lifting, the planning, the getting, the listening, the fucking. All without having much done for him in return. After a quick four months, they moved in together because her lease was up, and because she asked if she could.
“Sure,” Patrick said.
It was a theme that had subtly run through almost all of his relationships, but Patrick had never confronted it until his attempt at making dinner for Judy one cold winter night.
“What you want for dinner tonight?” He asked. He was looking into the fridge, scanning for options, while she read a book in the living room of the one bedroom brownstone apartment...
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