Small Cuts (15) Oliver

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Back to Oliver:

Elaine’s hesitation spoke volumes. Still, I had to know. “Lainey, say something.”

She nodded, took a deep breath and… at the very same moment both our phones started to ring. “Don’t answer it,” I said, as she pulled hers from her purse. “If it’s important they’ll leave a message.”

She frowned at the screen and I knew what she thinking. She wanted to answer it, if only to delay a few minutes more. And a delay could only mean one thing: my feelings weren’t returned. The phone stopped ringing and she tucked it back into her bag. I waited. She stared at the ground.

Rubbing my hands over my face, I said, “Just tell me, Elaine. I need you to say it. And we’ll move on. We can pretend I never said a thing…”

The phones which had gone silent both began ringing again. This time Elaine answered. With a muttered curse, I pulled mine out of my pocket and looked at it. It was a number I didn’t recognize, but it was local. Whoever it was had left a voice mail the first time. “Hello,” I said, my frustration bordering on anger.

The caller confirmed my name, told me his, said he was with the Philadelphia Police Department. “Police?” I repeated, my nerves jangling the way they do when you’ve been caught at something. “Is there a problem?”

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”

I was about to ask what kind of accident, when Elaine made a noise —something between a gasp and a shriek. When I glanced over, she looked like she was about to collapse. I reached out a hand to steady her, but she was shaking so badly, I pulled her close. The officer had continued speaking, and I had only caught words and phrases as I tried to comfort Elaine. “…very serious condition …unconscious … lost a lot of blood …Jefferson Hospital ER…”

Accident. Serious. Unconscious. Blood. Hospital. Hospital…

“Sir? Sir?”

I shook my head to clear it. “Yes, I’m sorry. What? Who?”

“Your wife, sir. Genevieve _____.” He paused. “Can you drive? Or can you call a friend to bring you down to the hospital?”

Genevieve. I felt like the temperature dropped by about forty degrees. I said, “I’m in the city. I’ll get a cab. Jefferson, you said?” He said yes. I said, “I’ll be right there.” I disconnected and held a weeping Elaine by her shoulders. “Elaine. I have to go. Gen’s been in a serious accident.” She gave a little cry and covered her mouth. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“James.” She choked through her tears. “James.”

“What about James? Elaine, I need you to pull yourself together.” That sounded harsh, but I didn’t have time to waste. I tried to be gentle, when I added, “Come on, now, honey, I have to go.“

“He’s been in a crash… here in the city. He’s here in the city. Oliver.” She kept repeating herself over and over. “In the city. In the city.” I gave her a little shake to get her attention.

“Was that him on the phone?” Had he he followed her? Or maybe me after I drove past the house? And he knew. He knew what was going on. My mind whirled. We could deal with it. Make an excuse. Elaine and I getting together alone wasn’t all that unusual. But if he’d seen me at the house… I didn’t have time for this. I repeated my question, “Was that James you were talking to?” She shook her head no. “Ok, who was it then?”

“The police.”

An icy finger of dread crept up my spine. “Ok. What did they say? Where is he? Where is James? Was he hurt? Did he have to go the hospital?” I asked.

“He… he… he,” she sobbed. “He’s gone.They couldn’t save him.”

In that moment, I could not define how I felt. My best friend was dead. My wife severely injured. On the same day. At the same time. What were the chances? And I despised myself for the sickening thought that suddenly now Elaine was free. Who thinks something like that at a time like this? Was I a monster? Go to Genevieve. Right. I could self flagellate later. I had to figure out what the hell to do right now. I couldn’t leave Elaine like this, but I had to go to Gen. “Come with me. Gen is at Jefferson.” I put an arm around her shoulder and began moving toward the main entrance. She stiffened and I thought she was going to resist. “Please, Elaine. Just stay with me.”

“Where are we going?” she asked. “Jefferson?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s where they took James, too.”

Small Cuts (14) Elaine

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Now here is Elaine again:

When Oliver pulled me against him I completely lost my composure. Part of it was nerves, part of it was my loneliness, but the rest of it was Oliver’s warmth, his strength and his transparent feelings for me. I found myself relishing the feel of his arms around me, his gentleness and the sweet words of comfort he murmured in my ear. “It’s ok, sweetheart. I’m right here. Everything’s going to be alright.” In that moment, I desperately wanted to believe him.

With a deep shuddering breath, I pulled away. “I’m sorry, Oliver. I can’t. This is all just so…” I didn’t finish, unable to find the right words. What was it, exactly? Scary? Wrong? Overwhelming? Any one of those words fit, but didn’t cover the whole of it. Beneath each of those feelings lay the undeniable truth. I was here because Oliver wanted me. I needed someone to want me, to love me the way I always hoped James would.

“All so…?” Oliver prodded. I averted my eyes but he stepped forward and held me by the shoulders. “Talk to me, Lainey.” He paused, lowering his head. “Or maybe don’t say anything at all.”

He moved in to kiss me but I braced my hands against his chest, keeping him at a distance. The pain and disappointment showed in his eyes. I shook my head to clear it. “Don’t. Don’t do this, Oliver.”

He nodded, shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. “I think I fell for you the moment I laid eyes on you,” he said softly. “All this time waiting. Wanting you. Falling in love with you. It’s been torture.”

“But … but James,” I stammered and Oliver stiffened.

“James is a fool,” he said sharply. “He doesn’t deserve you, Elaine. He doesn’t make you happy.”

He was right. James didn’t make me happy, but I still wanted him to. I wanted my husband to love me the way he did when we first met. What had gone wrong? I felt the sting of tears again and looked toward the ceiling to keep them from spilling over. “And Genevieve? What about Gen, Oliver?”

He sighed heavily and lifted a hand, let it drop. “Oh, Elaine… if only we’d met each other first.” His voice gruff and full of emotion, he said, “I love you, Elaine.” He paused, swallowing. “I’m laying it all on the line, right now. I love you and I want to be with you. I haven’t figured out what the hell to do about it, but there it is.”

My stomach knotted and my already racing heart squeezed in my chest. A thousand thoughts ran through my head in quick succession. Life with Oliver. For a moment I allowed myself the fantasy —imagining the way he would love me, cherish me. I pushed a fist against my sternum to steady my breathing. I thought of James’ reaction. Would he be stoic, logical, always the lawyer, thinking out the details of a separation? Or would he fight for me, beg me to stay, profess his undying love for me? Perhaps that was more the fantasy. Nevertheless…

“Elaine.” Oliver gripped me by the shoulders. “We don’t have to decide anything right now. I just want you to tell me… Do you feel the same way? Or have I just made a huge mistake?”

Nevertheless, I thought. It was the fantasy I chose to believe. I have to tell Oliver… He’s my friend and I owe him the truth.

“Lainey?” Oliver said, breaking my reverie. “Say something.”

I nodded and started to speak, when at the same time, both our phones began to ring.

Small Cuts (13) James

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Now back to James.

My gaze shifted from my reflection in the rearview mirror as the car passing my house suddenly sped up. Could my eyes have been deceiving me? That looked just like Oliver’s car. I watched the driver turn the corner, barely pausing at he stop sign at the end of the block. With a second look, I was positive it was Oliver. And that could only mean one thing —he was coming to my house, while I wasn’t home, to be with my wife.  

I hit the gas and made the turn to follow him. I expected the silver Volvo to circle the block and return to my street but it continued out to the boulevard. What was Oliver up to? Maybe he saw me. I slowed and put some distance between us but not so much that I would lose him. 

At each intersection where he could make the turn to go back to my neighborhood, he continued on. This didn’t make any sense. If Oliver was heading into Center City —the way he appeared to be— there was absolutely no reason for him to have driven past my house. In fact, it was in the opposite direction from the route he should have taken from his own home. Once we were on the expressway, I had no way to easily turn around and so I figured on seeing this through. Perhaps when I discovered exactly where Oliver was going, his detour would be explained.

My initial reaction —shock and anger— had given way to confusion and doubt. Would Elaine really do this to me? Would Oliver? My wife and my best friend. This wasn’t the kind of thing I ever expected to happen to me. This happened to other people. I blew out a breath. Ok, maybe it wasn’t really happening. Oliver must have had some other reason to be on my street. He obviously wasn’t in a hurry. He’d been staying relatively close to the speed limit the whole way. Finally, he put his turn signal on and merged into the left lane to take the Vine Street Expressway. I stayed a few car lengths back. 

He took the first exit onto Broad street, heading south. This could get tricky. Following in city traffic was much more difficult than on the highway. Nevertheless, I managed to keep up as he wound his way over to Rittenhouse Square. I slowed as the silver Volvo pulled into the parking garage of The Park Hotel. A breakfast meeting? With a client maybe? Had to be. Although it still didn’t explain what he was doing driving past my house on the way. 

I glanced at the time. Damn. I was really going to be late for the golf outing. I would definitely miss the buffet breakfast but if I hurried, I could be there for tee time. I drove around the square planning to retrace my route and found myself in the wrong lane for the expressway. I passed the on ramp and merged into the right lane so I wouldn’t miss the next one. Of course, everything goes wrong when you’re already late. I took the next on ramp and immediately realized it was the eastbound expressway which would take me back to center city. Now I’d have to circle around a second time. I hit the gas and prepared to merge with traffic. I never saw the other car change lanes. 

Philadelphia Skyline Image via Flickr