Arthur Brent is going to meet someone rather nasty.
Excerpt from my novel "The Right Thing"
Mike Allen noticed the curtain move again, and this time the robed woman in curlers stood there gaping at him. She had a phone in her hand. He started up the SUV. Parked two doors down from Carolyn’s house, he’d been watching since he’d made the phone call, hoping she might come out.
But with the damn nosy woman watching from directly across the street, Mike decided he’d attracted too much attention already. How would he explain it if a cop just happened by and asked what he was doing there? As he drove by Carolyn’s house, he saw the garage door open. Mike drove to the stop sign and looked in the rear view mirror. Damn woman had come out of her house, phone at her ear. He took a right and pulled over, out of sight from Ms. Busybody.
When Carolyn drove by, she took no notice of the SUV parked at the curb. Giving her a block head start, Mike followed. Carolyn drove a few miles east and entered a shopping mall parking lot. Mike parked two aisles from her. He watched her go into the big Holt’s Family Supermarket.
Pushing her cart, Carolyn heard the voice behind her say, “Well, who’d believe it? Twice in one day!”
Carolyn turned. It’d been two years since she last saw him. Mike stood behind his own empty shopping cart. He smiled until he got a good look at her face. His grin disappeared when he saw that the makeup didn’t quite hide the faint remains of the bruises around her eyes.
“Hi Mike, it’s been a while.”
“It was nice to talk to you again, Carolyn. Hey! It’s good to see you!”
“You too. Funny I’ve never seen you here before. Shop here often?”
“Thought so. So tell me. Why’d you follow me here? Because you did—didn’t you?”
“I can’t lie to you. Never could. Yeah, I did.”
“I wanted to see you again.”
“God, Mike—you know how Arthur is. If he ever found out I talked to you he’d . . .”
“He’d what? Beat on you again? I know what’s going on. Jesus Christ I can see it.”
“And why should you care all of the sudden? I’ve learned to roll with the punches, Mike. So now that you’re divorced suddenly you’re worried about me? About my well being? You should have thought about that years ago.”
“You never should have married Arthur. You know that. Carolyn I never stopped caring about you.”
The little gray haired woman cleared her throat and pushed her cart forward.
“S’cuse me,” Mike said.
When she passed, Mike said, “Can we talk somewhere where it’s private? Just for a few minutes? No one has to know.”
Carolyn looked up and down the aisle as if Arthur was about to jump from behind the potato chip rack. “I can’t.”
“C’mon . . . for old times sake.”
“Oh Mike, I don’t know. I shouldn’t. Really I shouldn’t.”
“Carolyn, we’re just old friends, nothing more. C’mon, we can go over to the River Park. It’s only a couple miles away. What d’ya say? Ten minutes. That’s all I ask. Ten minutes.”
Carolyn felt like the drummer from Green Day was hammering on her heart with both sticks. She found herself saying, “Ten minutes? You sure?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“Well—okay . . . I’ll follow you then.”
“I’ll go out and park right next to you. I have a white SUV.”
She thought Jesus! What the hell am I doing?
Carolyn checked out her groceries and pushed the cart out to her car. Mike had pulled his white SUV alongside, window down. He said, “You want to follow me?”
“Go on ahead. I know where the park is.”
“Sure you’re gonna follow?”
“Just go ahead. I’ll be there.”
His look said he didn’t believe her, but Mike pulled away. In a minute he was gone.
Carolyn got in and started the car. When she got to the stop sign, she waited. A right turn would take her home; a left turn would take her to the park. The man behind her in the pickup truck beeped a short blast on his horn. Carolyn put her blinker on and turned right.
Jesus I can’t do it. If Arthur ever found out he’d kill me.
Ahead the traffic light turned red. While waiting in the left lane for the light to change, Carolyn unconsciously put on her left blinker.
What the hell am I doing?
When she got to the park, there were only two vehicles in the lot, a mini-van and the white SUV. Carolyn knew the park well. She knew why Mike wanted to come here. Back when they were together they’d come to the River Park to sit on the big aluminum glider swings. The park stretched for miles on either side of the river, and some days they’d spend the whole afternoon and walk through the entire park. The glider swings were spaced every so often along the riverbanks on both sides of the river. There was a swing about a hundred yards from the parking lot, secluded from view because of the surrounding trees and bushes. Kids not yet old enough to drive came here to neck.
Carolyn parked on the far side of the lot, about as far away from Mike as she could. Without a look in his direction, she got out, locked her door and started on the path toward the first swing. When she got there, she sat and waited. A few minutes later Mike came and sat beside her. He left about two feet between them.
“Hasn’t changed much,” Mike said. “The trees are bigger though. It’s been awhile.”
Carolyn said, “I always loved to come here. After we broke up, I never came here again. This is the first time since then.”
“I honestly didn’t think you’d show.”
“I wasn’t going to. I was on my way home. I changed my mind.”
“I’m glad you did.”
“I can’t stay here long. Arthur will . . .”
“Arthur doesn’t know you’re here.”
“Thank God for that.”
“You can talk to me, you know. I know Arthur. I can’t believe we were friends once. I can imagine how it must be for you.”
“No, Mike. You can’t imagine. You’d never believe how terrible it is . . . how terrible he is.”
“Then why do you stay with him?”
“Because of my son.”
“That’s no excuse and you know it. You could both leave him. Women leave abusers every day.”
“You make it sound so simple. Everyday women aren’t married to Arthur. I stay with him because of what he’ll do to Jeremy if I don’t.”
“He’s abusing the boy, too?”
“Not physically. Not yet. But he’s threatened it. He said if I ever leave him he’d kill me. And I believe him. He said I wouldn’t be the only one either. When I asked him what he meant by that all he said was, “You think you’re so smart, you figure it out.”
“Carolyn you have to get away from that son of a bitch!”
“How? Just walk away? He’ll find me wherever I go and he’ll kill me—and he’ll kill my son! I’d never forgive myself if something happened to Jeremy. I have to stay with Arthur. It’s my fault that . . .”
“Your fault? Carolyn! What’s your fault? That’s Arthur talking now. He’s got you so brainwashed that you think everything’s your fault. Does he tell you you’re fat? Does he say you’re ugly? Call you names all the time? You can never do anything right?”
Carolyn stared at the water, thinking Mike you don’t know the half of it.
“Carolyn, that’s blatant abuse if I’ve ever heard of it. Lately I’ve been reading about it. Because of you. And because of what’s going on. And believe me. Arthur is a classic abuser. You of all people must see that. He’s brutal. Sarcastic. He fits the mold perfectly. Beats the shit out of you and tells you that he loves you.”
“Mike I gotta go. I’m feeling sick. I have to get back. I have to make supper. When he comes home and finds out . . .”
“Christ, Carolyn—look at you! You have black eyes! I can tell you’re hurting when you move! You have to stop this madness! You have to leave him before he puts you in a hospital or worse! Before he starts beating on your son! You have to leave him!
Carolyn cried, “And where the hell am I supposed to go? He’ll follow me. He won’t let me go! Mike what can I do?”
“You know where I live. You can come stay by me. You and Jeremy. After the divorce I kept the house. I have plenty of room.”
She doesn’t look convinced.
“Carolyn, don’t worry . . . really—it won’t be a problem. And no strings attached. Okay? You can stay as long as you like.”
“Oh Mike I don’t know . . . there’s just no way . . . I can’t.”
“You can. This has got to stop. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I still care about you. I care about Jeremy.”
“Mike . . . I don’t know. All my things . . .”
“Don’t worry about that. Just get out. When you’re ready, call me. You can do it today if you want. You and Jeremy can be out of there today.”
“Mike I have to think about this.”
“Then think about it. But please Carolyn. Whether you stay by me or go somewhere else, you and the boy can’t stay with Arthur. Can’t you see that?”
“I know, Mike. I know. But give me a day or two. Just let me think, all right? I—I’ll call you. Okay? I’ll call you and we’ll talk about it again.”
“I promise, Mike. Honest.”
“I don’t know. But I’ll call. I promise.”
Mike got up from the swing. He reached his hand out to Carolyn, and she took it. When she stood, they faced each other. When he hugged her, she clung to him. When her reserve broke, she shuddered. When the dam crumbled and the tears came in torrents, he held her tighter. For a few moments they stood there until she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. From the parking lot an elderly couple made their way down the path.
She released him and said, “Mike, I’m so scared.”
“It’s going to be all right. Carolyn I promise.”
“Let me go first. If someone saw us together . . . Mike—please don’t come to the lot till after I’m gone. Okay?”
Carolyn turned to go. Then she turned back and gave Mike a quick peck on the lips. Mike watched after her as she hurried up the path to her car.
“Yes, Ms. Olson?”
“Ms. Sanders is here.”
“Send her in.”
“Good morning Mr. Brent,” Gladys said when she entered the office.
Arthur Brent looked up from his reading glasses. “Have a seat, Ms. Sanders. What’s up?”
The woman was in her mid thirties. Her short blonde hair had a way of jumping back in place when she flicked her head to the side. Usually dressed conservative, although not nearly as severe as Ms. Olson, today Ms. Sanders looked different. Much different. The short skirt revealed more thigh than Arthur had ever noticed. The blouse looked to be a size too small, the top three buttons undone, the breasts straining against the white fabric. Red lipstick. Green eyes. An iridescent, bright green. She wasn’t wearing her glasses.
The Brent Agency employees were keenly aware of Mr. Brent’s strict mandate for time and schedules. Small talk was frowned upon. Get your business stated and get back to work. There were goals to be achieved, deadlines to keep. Gladys Sanders had been working for the Brent Agency for nearly four years, and knew the score as well as any of them.
She said, “Mr. Brent, I finished reading a submission today. I think this one has promise. I’d like to talk to you about it if you can spare a few minutes.”
“Ms. Sanders, that is what we’re here for, isn’t it?”
“Ms. Sanders, if you don’t mind my saying so—it’s your appearance. I never realized that your eyes were so . . .”
“Green?” she said.
“I see. Well, they do make you look different.”
Gladys hesitated. Brent waited.
“The new me, sir.”
“Oh? The new you?”
Her cheeks flushed a tinge of red. If the truth were known she liked her boss a little. Actually she liked him more than a little. Gladys thought he’s good looking in a way. But what of it? He’s never taken any interest in me. And let’s not forget that he’s married, isn’t he? None of us even know his wife though, only that her name is Carolyn. He keeps her well hidden. He’s just a private person, I guess. Wonder if she’s as fat as the rumor mill says?
Actually none of the office people had ever even seen Mrs. Arthur Brent, with the exception of Ms. Olson, and old “Dry Hag Olson” was worse than Mr. Brent when it came to the social graces. At any rate Ms. Olson had never given anyone a physical description of Mrs. Brent, only stating one time that “She was a nice lady.”
But here was Mr. Arthur Brent looking at Gladys Sanders. Was Mr. Brent looking interested? All of the sudden? After all this time? It sure looked that way, didn’t it?
So instead of changing the subject back to the work at hand and the new novel submission, Gladys said, “Well, sir. I feel liberated. I know how tacky that sounds but for the first time in a long time I feel free. I finally broke up with my boyfriend and I moved into an apartment downtown. It’s such a relief.”
“Well. The new you. I have to admit, Ms. Sanders—I have to admit I like your new look.”
“You do? Why—why thank you, sir.”
“Now, to the business at hand. You think you found a live one, is that right?”
“Yes sir. An historical novel with a great story line. It’s well written and well researched. I have a feeling about this one. I think it could be big.”
“As big as Private Property, Ms. Sanders?”
“I don’t know if I can say that, sir. After all, Private Property was more of a success than I ever imagined it would be.”
“Well. I should have taken your advice then, shouldn’t I have?” Arthur said. “I have to admit I was dead wrong on that one. To my misfortune and Bishop’s good fortune. Don’t you agree?”
What the heck is going on here? Gladys thought. Brent never and I mean never admits he’s wrong. At least I’ve never heard it before.
Gladys looked away. “Well sir I guess I do agree. Honestly I wish we would have gone with it.”
The lighting flash of resentment in Brent’s eyes was gone when Gladys looked up. He was smiling that awkward, unsure smile again.
“Ms. Sanders, how long have you been with us? Three years? More like four, isn’t it?”
“It’ll be four years next month, sir.”
Uneasy, stammering for words, Arthur Brent said, “Ms. Sanders . . . after all this time, we’re being rather formal, don’t you think? Maybe it’s time to thaw the ice a bit. Would you mind terribly if I called you Gladys?”
“I’d like that, Mr. Brent.”
“Arthur. Call me Arthur.”
“I don’t know if I can do that, sir. You’ve always been Mr. Brent to us. It might sound like I was speaking out of turn if the staff heard me refer to you by any other . . .”
“I’ll tell you what. Gladys. When no one else is around you can call me Arthur. It’s fine. Really. Will you do that? For me?”
Gladys smiled. “Okay, Arthur.”
“There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Brent raised his eyebrows. “Still formal?”
“No . . . Arthur.”
Brent smiled again. “Good. Now . . . the historical novel you’re referring to is titled . . . ?”
“An American Patriot. The author’s name is Mr. Glenn Marshall.”
“Yes. An American Patriot. I want to look over the manuscript.”
“Ah . . . would you like to have it right now?”
Gladys blushed as soon as she said it. The innuendo wasn’t lost on Brent.
Brent knew that she knew. “I’d appreciate if you’d bring the manuscript, Gladys. Now would be fine. Thank you.”
Having Gladys fetch the manuscript wasn’t the only thing Arthur appreciated. When she left the office, Gladys threw her hips forward and gave her walk just a little extra. On the promiscuity scale the hormone levels looked to be peaking, another fact that didn’t go unnoticed by Mr. Arthur Brent, Agent Arthur Brent who harbored the little secret. He was scared to death of women, because for some unknown reason, they terrified him. Could it be true ? Was Ms. Gladys Sanders interested?
When Gladys returned with the boxed manuscript, Brent asked her to wait. He opened the box and quickly read through the query letter. Gladys was right. The author made the work sound interesting enough to want to read more. Brent plowed his way through the eight-page synopsis. This was enough for Brent to dive right into Chapter One. Engrossed, he forgot for a moment that Gladys was sitting there. The book, it seemed, was that good.
Brent looked up. “I’m sorry, Gladys. Didn’t mean to ignore you. I have to admit it. This is very good.”
“I thought so too.”
“Does Mr. Marshall have any other credits?”
“It’s his first novel, sir.”
“Really? I wouldn’t have believed it. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to read the book. If I still have the gut feeling when I’m done with it—then I think we’ll go with it. It would be a perfect fit with Tarpon Publishing, don’t you think?”
“I was thinking Tarpon or maybe Finish Line Publishing, sir.”
“Yes. I think I’d talk to Mrs. Heckert over at Tarpon first, though. But we’re putting the cart before the horse, aren’t we?”
“I’d be willing to bet that Tarpon will take it, sir.”
“Maybe. Well then, to keep ahead of things, before we go to lunch I’d like you to draft a letter to Mr. Glenn Marshall and inform him that we intend to make an offer of full representation.”
Time to plunge right in Arthur thought, fearing now that she’d refuse. “I thought we’d discuss An American Patriot over lunch. It’s on me. What do you say?”
“I think I’d like that, sir. I think I’d like that very much.”
“Gladys, I thought we weren’t going to be formal.”
“I’ll have to work on that, sir.”
“Well, back to work then. Lunch at 12 sharp? Ah . . . meet me out back—do you know where I’m parked?”
“I’ll be there.”
At the door, Gladys turned and smiled. For a few milliseconds he felt the stirrings of an erection, dampened by a pang of indecision. Strange. It wasn’t until Gladys was gone that he realized why. Then the pulse rate of his heart nearly doubled. Hers had been the smile of a predator.
The dim lights of the well-appointed restaurant reflected a faint glow on the soft red leather upholstery in the private booth. The three cocktails had left Arthur with more than a pleasant buzz. On occasion he might allow himself perhaps one drink, two at the very most. He looked across the table at Ms. Sanders, mystified for a moment by the blouse buttons and the cleavage beneath.
Brent looked up, and their eyes met. The alcohol didn’t seem to have any affect on Ms. Sanders, other than the fact that her lips now seemed redder, fuller. The green eyes seemed larger.
“Thank you for lunch, Arthur. It was very nice of you to ask. I’ve never been here before.” Gladys raised her glass. “Excellent martinis.”
“My pleasure. So. It’s settled then,” Arthur Brent said, catching himself, nearly letting the words slur. “I’ve read enough of An American Patriot to agree that it’s as good as you say. In that case I think we should let Mr. Marshall in on it, don’t you think?”
Gladys said, “Should I send the letter? Or would you rather I just called him?”
“Maybe you should call him when we get back to the office. And send the letter as well.”
“I’d like to play hooky for the rest of the day,” she said, “but I’d get in trouble with my boss.”
Judging by his look, Gladys realized the thought must be alien to Brent.
She added, “I was just kidding.”
“Let’s say you did play hooky, Ms. Sanders. What would you do with the time?”
“Well . . . the first thing I’d do is buy the boss a drink. About time I paid for one, don’t you think?”
“By God why the hell not?” Brent said, feeling it. His attempt at a grin better resembled a grimace.
The waiter appeared as if by magic.
Ms. Sanders said, “Two of the same, please.”
“Right away, Miss.”
Brent felt something touch him under the table. Reflex moved his leg away.
Gladys said, “Oh, excuse me.”
He felt it again. She’d kicked her heels off. She ran her foot up and down the inside of his calf. He didn’t move this time. He felt her other foot now.
When the drinks came she continued the massage. She thanked the waiter.
“Do you want to know what else I’d do today, that is if I didn’t have to go back to work this afternoon? If my boss let me play hooky today? Want to know what I’d do, Arthur?”
“What?” Arthur croaked, the fear crawling up his spine like a giant, furry spider. He couldn’t meet her eye. Instead he drank nearly half of the stiff cocktail in one breath.
Gladys leaned forward. Arthur couldn’t help himself. He gaped at her breasts, swollen against the restricting top. She whispered, “I’d take my boss’s keys and drive him back to my apartment.”
“What? What did you say?” Arthur leaned forward.
“I said, Arthur, that I’d take my boss’s keys. Then I’d drive him back to my apartment. And what would I do then? Then I’d spend the rest of the afternoon fucking him.”
She took a sip of her drink.
She was squeezing his leg so hard now that it hurt. Arthur could feel the blood pounding in his temples, keeping metronome time with the throbbing in his groin. He grabbed for his drink, catching the top of the glass with his thumb. When he saw that it didn’t spill, he drained it. Arthur dug in his pocket for his keys. They fell out of his hand and landed on his plate. Embarrassed, he wiped them off with his napkin.
“I’d better not drive. I’m not used to—not used to drinking this much, Ms. Sanders. Thank you for offering—to drive I mean.”
Arthur focused on her glass. She’d already emptied it. She said, “No problem at all, Arthur. Shall we go?”
At the apartment building, Gladys parked the Jaguar in her spot.
Arthur raised his head from the headrest. “Huh?”
“I said we’re here. Arthur are you all right?”
The bright lighting in the underground parking garage blinded him for a moment. “I’ll be okay. I feel better now.”
Gladys took the keys from the ignition, handed them to Arthur and said, “Come on in then. I’ll make some coffee.”
They took the elevator to the fifth floor. The two-bedroom apartment was spotless. The big windows faced south, and when Gladys opened the drapes the room filled with the late afternoon sunlight.
She said, “Make yourself comfortable. Coffee coming right up. We’ll have you good as new in no time. I need some coffee myself.”
Undecided, Arthur remained standing. Glancing around the room, he saw his reflection from various angles. Obviously Gladys must be a mirror lover. Mirrors dominated the room. In addition, it seemed every horizontal surface held a candle. His eyes came to rest on one of the end tables. One of the framed pictures showed a Dallas policeman in uniform. Both Gladys and the cop grinned from the second photo.
“Nice pictures.” Arthur said.
On her way to the kitchen Gladys turned and said, “Me and my brother Jeff. He’s a Dallas cop. Works the second shift. Go ahead Arthur, have a seat. Don’t be shy. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Gladys disappeared into the kitchen and hit the button. She always had the coffee prepared ahead of time. Always. After going to the bathroom she opened the medicine cabinet and selected a pill bottle. She removed a red and blue capsule from the bottle. Reconsidering, she removed a second one. After returning the bottle to the cabinet, she went back to the kitchen.
In the kitchen, after she poured the coffee, Alice opened the two capsules and shook the contents into one of the mugs.
“Cream or sugar?” Gladys called.
“Ah . . . cream no sugar please.”
Gladys mixed the cream well. Mugs in hand, she went back to the living room. Arthur remained standing.
“Ms. Sanders, I feel much better. I don’t think . . . ah . . . I think I’d better go now.”
“All right. But at least have your coffee before you leave. Here.” She handed him the mug.
Arthur accepted the mug. He took a sip. “Taste’s good. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Don’t you want to sit down? Relax a minute before you go?”
“Ah . . . no . . . I just—I have to get going.” Arthur set the mug on the coffee table. “I have to get back to the . . .”
Gladys thought and here we are at the moment of truth, ladies and gentlemen. It’s now or never.
“Sit down, Arthur.”
“I said sit down.”
“I . . . ah . . .”
“I said sit the fuck down. Now!”
“Now you’ll drink your coffee.”
Arthur had set the mug out of reach. When he leaned to retrieve it, on the leg of his slacks Gladys saw the outline of his erection. He kept his eyes down. He sat at the edge of the couch and drank.
Gladys thought so there we go. I always suspected it. Never can be too sure. But you’re the type sure enough, aren’t you Arthur? Well, guess what? It looks like you came to the right place! And now I’m going to make you hurt. I’ll let you have your little jollies, but I promise it’s going to hurt. You’re going to hurt bad, Artie old boy. Real bad.
At 9PM Carolyn waited. Arthur was late, much later than usual. And she wouldn’t dare ask him about it when he came home.
“Okay Jeremy, time for bed.”
“Aw mom, can’t I stay up a little longer?”
“School tomorrow. If your dad comes home and you’re not in bed . . .”
“Can I stay up till he comes? Then I’ll go right to bed. I promise. He won’t know.”
Another little victory. Why not?
“Oh I suppose, but when we hear him come you have to get right to bed, okay?”
At 9:30 Carolyn saw the lights from the Jaguar coming up the driveway.
“Jeremy. To bed. Now.”
The boy went to his room. Carolyn heard the car door close.
What were Arthur’s words this morning? This conversation isn’t over and when I get home you’d better have a damn good explanation or there’s going to be hell to pay.
Now Carolyn was worried. She had no idea what it was that she was supposed to explain.
Arthur entered the kitchen from the garage. He glanced at the dinner on the table. His newspaper was in its place. Carolyn stood opposite his place at the table, watching.
His face she thought. What happened to his face? It looks like somebody beat him up.
His voice sounded an octave higher than usual. Arthur said, “And just what the fuck do you think you’re looking at? Well? Answer me.”
“Arthur. What happened? You look . . .”
He walked to the head of the table. Instead of sitting down, he laid his arm in front of the still steaming plate of mashed potatoes and grilled pork chops. In one motion he swept the food and glasses and dishes off the table and watched for Carolyn’s reaction when they went crashing to the floor.
“This is what happened. See? Look what you went and made me do.”
Carolyn took a step back.
“And now dipshit? What are you going to do about it? Now you’re going to clean up your fucking mess. I’m going to bed. If I hear any noise I’m going to get back up and slap the living shit out of you. Got it?”
“Arthur I . . .”
“God dammit woman I asked you a question.”
“Yes I got it.”
Arthur walked past her down the hallway to the bedroom. He slammed the door.
Stone faced, Carolyn scurried to clean up the mess.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m going to call Mike. I don’t care anymore. Tomorrow I’m going to take Jeremy and leave here.
The next morning at breakfast Arthur said nothing about the night before. Nor did he bother to acknowledge his wife seated across from him at the kitchen table. He seemed to be in good spirits, although his pleasant demeanor didn’t extend past his son. Carolyn was getting the silent treatment.
He won’t be silent when he comes home tonight and finds out we’re gone. That is if Mike really means what he said.
“So. How’s school, son?” Arthur asked.
“Fine, dad. I got an ‘A’ on my book report.”
“You did, huh? What was the book about?”
“It was about the Alamo. I had to stand up in front of the class.”
“Were you scared?”
“At first I was. But then it was fun.”
“Really? Giving speeches already, are we? Well, that’s good to hear. Jeremy, you have to read as much as you can. That’s what I do, you know. Maybe someday you’ll take over my job. How do you think you’d like that, son?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Uh huh. I like to read.”
For some reason this struck Arthur as funny and he barked one of his rare laughs. “Just remember, son. That trait comes from your father’s side of the family.”
Jeremy smiled. “Okay dad.”
Ignoring his wife, Arthur pushed himself away from the table. “I’ll see you tonight, son. Time to go to work. Oh yeah—you know what? I bought something for you. It’s at the office. A present. Something you’ll really like. I promise. I’ll bring it home tonight.”
“Cool, dad! Thanks!”
Carolyn keyed in the number.
“Hello. This is Mike Allen. Sorry, I can’t come to the phone right now. If you’d care to leave your name, number, and message, I’ll return your call.”
“Mike, this is Carolyn. I . . . I’ve been thinking about what you . . .”
Mike’s voice came on. “I’m here. Carolyn, are you all right?”
“Yeah. I just wanted to talk to you.”
“I was thinking of you. I’m glad you called.”
“Mike did you really mean it? Will you take us in? I can’t stay here anymore.”
“It’s okay. Carolyn. Stop crying. It’s gonna be okay.”
“Oh Mike I can’t stay here anymore.”
“Doyou want to come here today? If you want to come today it’s all right. Anytime. Do you want me to come pick you up?”
“No. No I have to pack some things. I have to wait till the bus drops Jeremy off.”
“Can you pick him up at school?”
“I suppose—I suppose I could. But when Arthur finds out . . .”
“Look. Carolyn. You’re taking the first step. Part of that is not worrying anymore about Arthur.”
“Oh Mike, you don’t understand. Arthur will be crazy. He always promised that if I ever left him he’d find me and kill me. Mike I’m so scared.”
“Carolyn. Listen to me. No more crying. Everything’s going to be all right. Call the school. Tell them you’re going to pick up Jeremy for a dentist’s appointment or something. Get him and come here. You know where my house is, don’t you?”
“Yes. I know.”
“Okay. Do you want me to meet you at the school?”
“No. I’ll get him. Then I’ll come to your house.”
“Good. Carolyn you’re doing the right thing.”
“Mike do you think I should leave Arthur a note?”
“No! No note! Just come. We’ll worry about Arthur later. I think when he goes home to an empty house and your car is gone and Jeremy is gone he’ll be able to figure out what happened. When the time comes I’ll deal with that son of a bitch. But right now isn’t the time. Don’t worry. I’ll never let Arthur lay a hand on you again!”
In the school parking lot, Jeremy said, “I have to go to the dentist, mom?”
“Then how come you came to school? Where we going?”
Jeremy opened the passenger door. He looked in the back seat.
“Mom, how come there’s suitcases back there?”
“Cause we’re moving, honey.”
“Away from your father, honey. We’re moving away.”
“Moving away? Mom—dad was going to give me a present tonight! What are you doing? Dad’s gonna kill you!”
“That’s why we’re moving. We can’t stay there anymore.”
“But he was going to give me a present!”
“I’m sorry about that, Jeremy.”
The boy shot her an angry look.
“Mom why do you have to be such a dipshit? Can’t you do anything right?”
Shocked, Carolyn glanced over at her son. Defiant, he stared back. The miniature version of Arthur Brent turned away from his mother. Under his breath he mumbled another slur.
Carolyn decided not to scold him. Not now.
Driving, staring at the road ahead she thought oh my God . . . my son . . . am I already too late?