Friday, July 25, 2014

Chapter 7-2: Heartlines

                “Hey sweetheart, what are you doing out here,” Ben asked through his open window as he pulled into the driveway.

                “Waiting for you.” She folded the paper she’d been scouring for job listings and set it into the lawn chair as she stood. For the past two months she’d been searching every day for a job but nothing had come up that she was either qualified for or interested in. With rent and the bills, they were getting by, but just barely. If she could find a job, it would help out immensely with the finances. Maybe then they could get a kitchen table and some chairs. Or a dresser so she could finally put away all the clothes that were still living in cardboard boxes in the bedroom.

                Ben scooped her into his arms in a huge kiss. “I got promoted today!” he announced.
                “That’s fantastic news! I thought you didn’t think you’d get promoted this month?”
                “I didn’t. I didn’t think I’d been an E-2 long enough but I guess I was wrong. Let’s go out to celebrate tonight. What would you like to do?”

                They decided on dinner and a movie, the staple of most of their date nights. Instead of the usual diner they usually frequented though, they were ‘upgrading’ to the fancier Italian restaurant.

                “You look beautiful.” Ben came up behind Hanley as she put the finishing touches on her make-up.
                “That’s what you always say.”
                “Because it’s always true.”

                When the movie let out, the two walked over to Antonio’s. Despite that it was a weeknight, they had to wait a few minutes before being seated.
                “Do you know what you want,” Ben asked, as they looked over their menus.
                “Maybe. I’ve narrowed it down to the wood fired lasagna or the eggplant.”
                “I’d go with the lasagna,” Ben suggested.
                “You’re only saying that because you won’t eat eggplant,” she laughed.
                “Well, when I end up with your leftovers, of course I want you to get something I’d like,” he grinned at her. “I think I’m going to get the spaghetti.”
                “Oh, that sounds really good!” In the end, they ended up with two plates of spaghetti with meatballs and a basket of garlic bread.

                Ben’s promotion only came with a small pay increase which did little to alleviate some of the financial stress they were both feeling. Ben knew she was looking and also knew about the college opportunity she had passed up to move to Wickery Glen with him so he tried not to bring up the burden he felt often. She could tell though, in the tense muscles of his shoulders and the way he looked over their cart when they went grocery shopping. She knew she really needed to find a job quickly.

                With this in mind, Hanley decided to head over the library. Maybe an internet search would yield more results than the local paper. Four hours later, she was sitting in the same spot, though she’d run out of job ads and had started looking up cute cat videos when her phone rang.

                “Hal,” she answered, cringing apologetically at the librarian. That woman could really scowl! She made her way downstairs quickly and outside before continuing her end of the conversation.
                “You’re going to be in town this weekend?” A smile spread across Hanley’s face. She hadn’t seen her family since moving to Wickery Glen. “And you have a girlfriend?” Hal had never done any ‘serious’ dating so the fact that he had a steady, exclusive girlfriend was news to her. She must be pretty special. “Sure, I think we can make time for a night out with the two of you. There’s a bar pretty close to the house, if you want to meet at our place and walk over.”

                As she started walking back home, she passed the pet shop. She’d passed it numerous times before, always checking the window for wanted signs but maybe it was time to go in and ask directly.
                It looked as though there was only one person working at the moment. Trying to ignore her urges to play with all the animals, she strode to the counter. “Hi. I was wondering, do you have any open positions?”
                “No, not at the moment. Maybe in a few months try back,” the woman suggested. Having lived in St. Claire for most of her life, Hanley had never realized that finding a job could be so difficult. In St. Claire, restaurants were always in need of more servers, retail always needed more clerks, especially during the holiday seasons, and there were internships at local businesses as well. In Wickery Glen, positions were very limited and it seemed as though once someone found a job, they held onto it for the long haul leaving little for newcomers.

                “Ben, sis, it’s good to see you guys. This is Anja,” Hal introduced the blonde woman with him. Though they were just headed to the bar, she was dressed to the nines; her flawless body displayed in a tight dress that hugged all of her curves, her long legs ending in impossibly tall strappy heels. Beside her, Hanley felt like a bum in cotton and denim.

                “You have a quaint little apartment here,” Anja said, looking around the neighborhood. “I live over across the river. It’s not much but it’s mine.” Hanley only half listened as Anja launched into the sordid details of her move from Aurora Skies and her tempestuous falling out with her parents.
                “Uh-huh, that’s nice,” Hanley murmured, not quite sure what she was agreeing with.
                “Nice? That my parents were trying to force me into an arranged marriage? Are you even listening to what I’m saying?”
                “I think what Hanley meant was that it’s impressive that you’ve managed to do so well for yourself on your own. Admirable even.”
                “Of course that’s what I meant. Ben just says things so much better than I do, don’t you sweetheart,” she wrapped her arm through his, trying to suppress a grin. “Nice save Eastman,” she whispered.

                Once they arrived at the bar, Hal went to order a round of drinks. The rest of the group headed over to the pool table, grabbing cues while Ben racked the balls.
                “I think I could give you some tips on your form,” Anja slowly looked Ben up and down as he bent to make his move. Hanley cocked her head, trying to decide if her brother’s girlfriend was flirting with her husband.

                “Thanks, I think I’ve got it,” Ben thrust his cue stick forward, connecting with the cue ball with a loud crack, breaking the triangle into every direction and sinking four of the other balls.
                “I guess you do. It looks like maybe you could help me improve my form,” Anja purred at Ben. She sidled up next to him, watching as he calculated his next move.
                “Excuse me,” Ben brushed her out of the way as he took his shot. Neither he nor Hal seemed to be paying any attention to Anja’s tasteless behavior.

                “I’m going to get some food. I don’t really feel like playing,” Hanley made her way over to the bar and ordered another round of drinks and a plate of onion rings. By the time the game was over, Hanley had downed four sorrow annihilators and was feeling a bit dizzy.
                “Despite your prowess, I still won,” Anja taunted Ben as they made their way to where Hanley was sitting. “I think you owe me a drink.” She leaned into him, touching his arm in a way that suggested she’d met him long before tonight.

                “I don’t know who you think you are but, where I come from, it’s incredibly rude to flirt with a married man.”
                “Han, honey, it’s okay.”
                “I’m not interested in all this drama. I’m out of here. Halden, call me if you want to go out again, alone. See ya around Ben,” Anja winked before heading to the door.

                Ben pulled his wife towards the dance floor, ignoring Anja as she stalked from the bar. “Hanley, sweetheart, you know the only woman I’m interested in is you.” She smiled at him, slightly embarrassed of her outburst.
                “I just can’t she would have the audacity to flirt with you, right in front of me and Hal.”
                “She was flirting? I didn’t even notice.” He pulled her in close, his hand resting on her hip as she swayed with him.
                “I don’t know how you couldn’t…”
                “You’re my everything, simple as that. No need to even mention it again.” As he pulled her more closely into him, she was distinctly aware of his hard chest pressed against her. Each slight brush from her cotton shirt as they swayed slowly on the dance floor left Hanley breathless with desire. “Han, are you okay,” Ben pushed her back by her shoulders a bit, concern clouding his eyes.
                “I think we should go home,” she pulled him towards the door.

                No sooner had he unlocked the door than she crushed her mouth to his, desperate to soothe the ache she’d felt on the dance floor. She slid her hands under his shirt, raking her nails against his stomach. She felt Ben tense and then groan against her mouth before he reached to pull her vest down her arms. She wrenched her mouth from his and ripped her blouse over her head.

                The stairs quickly became littered with articles of clothing as the two made their way to the bedroom. Ben pressed her into the door, pulling her lower half against the length of him, his hands tight on her hips. As he trailed wet kisses along her collarbone, Hanley let her head fall back as she was lost in utter ecstasy. With one hand, Ben loosened his grip on Hanley and fumbled behind her, finally getting a grasp on the doorknob and opening the way to the bedroom.

                Hanley stumbled as the door fell open behind her but Ben reached out for her, catching her in his strong arms. She breathed him in; he always smelled of his citrus shampoo with the faint remnants of the oils he used to clean his guns at work. As she wriggled out of her skirt, Ben slid his arm around her, tumbling her back into the bed.
                “I don’t know what’s gotten in to you,” he moaned before he sucked lightly at the sensitive lobe of her ear,” but I think I like it”.

                They awoke the next morning, sticky and tangled around each other. “How do you feel?” He lightly stroked her ribs, a lazy, satisfied smile on his lips.
                She smiled back at him before grimacing and stretching up to cradle her head. “I think I have my first hangover.”
                “C’mon. I’ll take you to get some coffee.”

                “Ben, I don’t know if I can stay in here.” Being in the coffee shop felt like pure torture. The lights felt like spotlights straight through her retinas and the smell of the coffee was almost enough to make her hurl. When the barista fired up the grinder, Hanley felt like someone had taken a buzz saw to her skull.
                “I promise, it’ll be worth it once you actually get the caffeine in your system,” Ben assured her. He quickly ordered two strong black coffees.
                “Coming right up,” the barista chirped happily. Though he may have been charming on any normal day, Hanley could only narrow her eyes and glare at him. He cringed and rushed about his station, hurriedly pouring the cups and pushing them across the counter.

                They took a seat in the corner of the shop, far away from register. “Feel better now?” She nodded slightly as she took her first sip. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you last night before we left for the bar. We got our workup papers yesterday.”
                Hangover forgotten, she winced. “When,” she had to know, even knowing she wouldn’t like his answer.
                “We leave in three months.” The threat of the looming deployment had weighed heavily on her. She had known that deployments would be part of her husband’s job when they got married. Now though, with an actual date in mind, it felt real. I’m going to be alone.
                “You won’t be alone.” She started, wondering if she’d said that out loud. “Todd’s going too and Emme will be right next door.”

                A couple weeks later, Ben came home to find Hanley sitting on the couch still in her pajamas. She didn’t look up as he entered. “Hanley?” She didn’t react and he wondered if she even realized he’d come through the door. “Honey, are you okay?” He reached out, resting his hand on her shoulder.

                Suddenly, she was up and in his arms. He felt her tears, wet against his shirt. “My mom, she died last night.”
                “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.” Though he couldn’t take off of work, especially not with all the preparations they were making before they left, he scheduled a flight home for Hanley straight away.

                After the service, the family followed behind the casket to the gravesite, to say their final words to the deceased and toss the obligatory handful of dirt on the casket. Hanley felt her brother’s hand, heavy on her shoulder. She reached for it, grateful for the comfort.

                Hanley gripped her brother’s hand as they walked through the front door of her childhood home. People milled about everywhere, casseroles lining the counters. Aunt Renata was busy playing hostess. Hanley suspected that her aunt needed something to do with her hands, to keep from breaking down herself. Hal extricated himself from his sister, to greet one of the neighbors who had stopped by to express their condolences. When Mrs. Miller started towards her, Hanley dropped her head and quickly turned away, finding a quiet corner in the room. She didn’t know what to say to these people and couldn’t summon the nerve to engage in small talk.

                She felt someone take a sit beside her and then a hand cover her own. “Your mother loved you, very much,” her father assured her. “She was talking about coming to Wickery Glen, to visit and to make amends. When she got sick, I tried to convince her to call you but she was sure that she had more time. Not even the doctors thought the cancer would progress so rapidly. She wrote you a letter. Let me go get it.” He came back, handing her a sealed envelope, addressed in her mother’s distinct handwriting.

There’s so much I wish I could tell you. So much I should have told you, instead of the angry words we shared the last time I saw you. I regret those words every day. I’ve always wanted what’s best for you and thought that as your mother, I knew what that was. I couldn’t accept that you were a grown woman who could decide on her own. I made a lot of stupid decisions about love when I was your age and I was so afraid that you’d be repeating my mistakes that I tried to keep you on the path I thought you should follow. I wish I had been there for your wedding and I wish I could be there for all the next steps you’ll be taking as a new wife and, someday, a mother yourself. No matter where your choices take you, you always follow your heart and I want you to know I’m proud of you for that. I’ll always be looking down on you, wherever you go.

                Though she would have loved to say that the letter made everything better, Hanley knew that it didn’t. It didn’t erase the fact that her mother had been absent these last few months and that she’d missed her chance to fix things before she’d died.

                “Todd and Emme suggested we should go to the county fair,” Ben suggested. Life had moved on since she had come home from St. Claire. Though the grief was still fresh, Hanley knew she couldn’t dwell on the past. Even without a physical countdown, she could feel the days tick by, leading up to day that Ben would get on that bus and leave her. She wanted to make every minute they had left count. With the weather abnormally hot, the pair dressed coolly and headed for the far side of town.

                “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hanley grinned like a kid. Even in St. Claire, they’d never had a carnival like this one. Balloons waved in the breeze and the colorful tents beckoned everyone who drove by to come in.

                They wandered around the carnival grounds, trying to decide what to do first. When Ben spotted the photo booth, Hanley made a beeline for it, insisting that they needed more pictures to hang on their walls.

                Afterwards, they made their way to the game tents, challenging each other to skeeball. Three games later, it was obvious that Hanley was better than Ben at the game. Neither was able to earn enough tickets for the giant panda at the prize booth though.

                “Ben, please,” Hanley begged, nudging Ben playfully with a puppy dog pout on her face.
                “Han, we could just buy a goldfish. I’m sure it’d be cheaper.”
                “But that’s not nearly as fun as winning one!”
                “Fine,” he shook his head, trudging towards to the ticket booth to purchase tickets for the goldfish toss.

                After twelve tries, Hanley still hadn’t won a goldfish and finally gave up. “I swear, this thing is rigged!”
                “Of course it’s rigged. It’s a carnival.” She leaned over, punching him in the arm as he laughed at her.

                “You’re going down Eastman,” she said, running over the rock challenge and handing the attendant tickets for a race.
                “Oh, you think so,” he smirked. “You do know I do this for a living, right?”

                When the starting bell rang, Ben launched himself up the wall. Hanley had barely made it off the mat before he was halfway up, racing to the top.
                “Give me a fighting chance,” she shouted up to him, groping for a toehold.
                “Nu-uh. You wanted this challenge, I’m not going to let you win,” he called down to her as he slapped the buzzer with his free hand before dropping gracefully back to the mat. Even though she had already lost, she forced herself to finish the climb and tap the now-silent buzzer before accepting defeat.

                “That’s my girl,” Ben pulled her in for a sweaty kiss when she finally made it back down.

                With less than two months to go now, the pair decided to make Sundays “brunch days”. After reading raving reviews about Belle’s in the paper, it was decided that their first Sunday brunch would be at the famous bakery.
                “These pancakes look delicious,” Ben grabbed for his fork as soon as the waitress set the plate in front of him.

                “You know, I do know how to make pancakes, right?” Hanley had ordered crepes, something she didn’t know how to make at home. Looking down, she crinkled her nose, gagging at the smell. “It smells rancid! Why would they send this out?” She jumped up from the table, bolting for the patio door. 

                When she still hadn’t come back to the table, Ben went inside to look for her. Just then, she emerged from the bathroom.
                “Are you okay?”
                “Yeah, I think so. Those crepes just smelled awful. You couldn’t smell them?”
                “They smelled fine to me. We can get you something else,” he offered as they made their way back out to the porch.
                “It’s okay. I’ll just stick with the coffee.” As she sat back down, she pushed the plate as far across the table as she could until the waitress came back to retrieve it.

                The next day, Hanley walked over to the gas station. Though yesterday had been the first day she’d actually gotten sick from certain smells, she was beginning to suspect that the crepes hadn’t been rancid at all. Especially since Ben had thought they smelled fine. She’d noticed that she had been more tired lately. She’d also felt lightheaded and dizzy. After yesterday, she was beginning to suspect that it was all tied together.

                In fact, she had a pretty good idea just what her symptoms all pointed to.

Chapter 7.1                                                                                                                                                         Chapter 7.3


  1. "She could tell though, in the tense muscles of his shoulders and the way he looked over their cart when they went grocery shopping. She knew she really needed to find a job quickly. "
    I can sympathize with this so much--I remember being unemployed and depending on my partner to support me. Even grocery shopping became really tense.

    Ben is such a sweetie. It's going to be so hard when he's deployed, especially since Hanley is so alone. I don't think Emme is going to be much consolation.

    And Anja was just a hussy! Poor Halden. Ben's so great, though--not even noticing. I <3 him.

    That picture of the carnival entrance is amazing!

  2. I know that a baby will be an even harder financial burden on them but all I can think about is: "Yay! Pretty babies! Cece want! Cece want!

    It's so sad that Evangeline died before fixing things with Hanley, but I hope she can still move on from that. She still has Ben, and he seems like a really great guy. Here's hoping you don't kill him off. : (

  3. I think this is first time I'm not excited for the possibility of a baby. If the worst ever did happen to Ben when he's deployed... No! I don't wanna think about it! They're too cute together. Happy family, please?

    I hope Hanley does find a job soon. It must be rough for them both, and if they're having money troubles too.

    Poor Evangeline. That letter almost had me, but I held myself back. I wished that she and Hanley could have made up, but at least she knows her mother is sorry.

  4. Aw, how sad, Evangeline died before they could reconcile. The letter is nice, but hearing it from her mother, while her mother had lived, would have been better.

    It'll be tough on Hanley being without Ben for a while, especially without any family nearby. It looks like Ben and Hanley were making the most of their time together though (maybe a little too much, with the result pending on a pee test, lol).

  5. Congrats to Ben on making E3! Here's hoping E4 comes quickly as well.

    Oh Hanley! I know I shouldn't have, but I had to chuckle at her a lot this time around. Welcome to the world baby girl. It's tough out there.

    Aw. Evangeline didn't get her opportunity to make it right with Hanley. :'( With a little one on the way I know Hanley will be missing her even more now.

    Your set up at the County Fair with the goldfish game was ingenious. Very clever!

    Baby! Whoooot!