Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

SORRY CAN'T SAVE YOU: A Mystery Novel, Page 2

Willow Rose

  I finally get the courage to ask:

  “Will you stay the night?”

  He twitches and nervously touches the edge of his shirt.

  “I should…I need to…”

  My heart beats violently in my chest as he says the words. He can’t be serious. He can’t be talking about leaving already. I want to tell him please don’t go.

  Stay, and we’ll make popcorn, we’ll watch a movie, anything you’d like, doesn’t have to be just for the kids. I’ll cook. I’ll make the lamb you love so much; you remember that? I can make that for you, every day if only you’ll stay with us. We can have a glass of wine; we can sit in the living room, holding hands, not saying anything if you don’t want to.

  His eyes avoid mine, and he turns away. I feel the desperation rise inside of me. Did I do this to him? Is this my fault? Am I pushing him away?

  “I…can’t. Not tonight…”

  I have barely opened my mouth to try and talk him out of leaving before he runs off. The screen door slams shut, hard, and Damian comes out to me. He has just been in his room to put the bunny away.

  Only gone for one second.

  The boy stares at the door, then up at me. “Where is Dad? Where did he go? Did he leave again?”

  I lean on the counter as I feel like the entire ground has been removed beneath me—the carpet literally pulled away.

  What have I done?

  “Did Dad leave again?” Isabella asks a second later when she comes into the kitchen too. Then she looks up at me, her eyes fuming.

  “What did you say to him?”

  Chapter 3

  I don’t know what to do, where to go. I try to go to the bathroom to let the tears flow, but my son soon knocks on the door because he has to go—now—and I leave. I walk into the pantry, then sink to the white tiles, crying between cans of diced tomatoes and baked beans, water bottles, and pasta. I cry, feeling like an idiot. Why did I have to go off on him like that? Why couldn’t I have been more kind to him, make him feel more welcome in his own home? Why did I have to say all those awful things? The fact is, he can’t help it. It’s just too hard for him to get back to an everyday life with everyday problems and little—to him insignificant—things that need to be done.

  It started after just a few days at home. I woke up because he was awake, walking around in circles in the bedroom. Sometimes, he was crying; other times, he was just restless and couldn’t lie in bed with me. One night, he wasn’t there when I woke up. He had left in the middle of the night and came home reeking of alcohol. That started a new pattern where he’d go drinking at night with his war buddies, the other soldiers from his flying squadron. Night after night, he’d be gone. Then the anger came. We still have punched holes in the doors around the house to remind me, and the kitchen chair he kicked was never the same even after he tried to fix it. No one sat in it after that.

  Then, one day, a week earlier, he backs me into a corner and starts yelling at me, screaming into my face in front of the children. I get hysterical, and I am screaming, threatening to call for the Security Forces, the SP’s. He then grabs me around the neck and holds my throat tight like he wants to strangle me, his eyes piercing me. Everything is chaos. The kids are screaming at him to stop, and once he realizes what he has done, he lets go, then stares at me for a few seconds before he grabs a bag, fills it with a few things, and leaves. I beg him to stay and tell him it’s alright; I’m not mad at him. I want him to get better, and maybe we can get some help…that I know it isn’t him, but a disease that makes him do those things.

  But it is too late.

  “I don’t trust myself around you,” he says, then leaves.

  I can’t believe he gave up on us that easily. I just want my husband back.

  “Can I go to play with Joe?”

  I lift my head and see Damian standing in the entry to the pantry. He doesn’t even wonder why I’m sitting on the floor, crying. He has seen it too much; he’s gotten accustomed to seeing me like this. The thought makes my stomach churn. Why am I such a wimp? Why can’t I just be strong for the kids?

  I grab a bag of Oreos, then eat one and hand one to Damian. He takes it, and I nod. “Go ahead. I’ll pick you up a little later.”

  Joe is the kid who lives across the street from us, and Damian’s best friend. Those two hang out every afternoon, biking in the street or skateboarding. That’s what I like about living on base. You can let your kid run around the neighborhood without having to worry about anything bad happening to them. Joe, Jr.’s mother, Sandra, was in Ryan’s squadron in Afghanistan at Fagrad Air Base on their latest deployment. I often think about asking her what happened to my husband…if she knows. But I feel like I’d be prying, asking her to share details she can’t or doesn’t want to.

  What happens in Afghanistan apparently stays over there. That seems to be the mantra between them since I never hear them talk about anything, even when we have barbecues or hang out otherwise. They never talk about what they did or mention things they experienced. Not even the good stuff.

  Damian smiles, then asks for a second Oreo, and I give it to him, then eat a couple more myself, thinking I deserve it, going through what I am.

  Then, my phone rings.

  It’s my mom who calls. And my dad. My mom always has the phone on speaker, so my dad can be in on the conversation, which I am actually very happy about. I find it a lot easier to talk to my dad than my mom. He’s less judgmental and doesn’t always tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I ought to do.

  My dad used to be a pastor at a church up in the panhandle of Florida, where I was born and raised in a small town called Crestview. I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a very safe environment. We never had much money, but we never lacked anything either, and my parents were always around, which I liked a lot. They always believed in being close to their children, and since my dad retired, they too moved to the Atlantic Coast and live now in Dundee Beach, where they have bought an apartment close to the beach. They follow my life closely, especially now that Ryan and I are having trouble. They want to be there for me, which I appreciate, I truly do, but I just so wish I had better news for them.

  “Has Ryan come home?” my mom asks, just like she asks every time they call. I can hear the anxiousness in her voice. It’s vibrating in that way she can’t hide from me, even though she almost chirps the words out like she is asking me about the weather or something else less uncomfortable.

  “As a matter of fact, he has,” I say with a deep sigh.

  “Really?” she says, and I know she is looking at my dad, smiling and relieved. I also know he is nodding reassuringly, like he is saying, told you he’d come home. It’s been rough on my dad since he loves Ryan like a son. Growing up, there was only my sister and me, and she’s not married. He and Ryan used to bond and talk for hours. He has more than once asked me if he should have a talk with him and try to convince him to come back home, which I have, of course, told him not to. It would only embarrass Ryan, and he doesn’t need that right now.

  “But then he left again,” I say with an exhale. I can just see their disappointed eyes as they hear the words. “He…it’s just too difficult right now.”

  They’re silent for a few seconds. I can hear my mother’s heavy breathing and know they’re still there.

  “It’s okay, sweetie,” my dad finally says. “He’ll be back. He’ll come around. He just needs time, is all.”

  “Yes, he needs…time,” my mom repeats. I know she doesn’t mean it. She thinks he’s a wimp for running away from his family and that he needs to act more like a man and take care of us. My mom is old-fashioned like that, and she doesn’t understand. She’s also the one who told me just to stop thinking sad thoughts when I went through a period of post-partum depression after having Damian. She doesn’t understand why depressed people don’t just stop, why they don’t just not think about the things that make them sad. So hearing her say this, I know she’s at least trying to be understanding.

  I close my eyes and rub them tiredly. “Listen…Mom…Dad…”

  “I’m sure it’ll get better,” my dad says. “Put your faith in God. Put Ryan in God’s hands. He’ll help you both get through this.”

  “I will, and I am,” I say.

  “We’ll pray for him,” my dad says, and I smile warmly. I want him to come over and hug me in his bear-arms so badly. I miss him terribly. I just can’t really deal with their sad and concerned expressions right now, so I’ve been avoiding them. Also, my house is an utter mess, and I don’t want my mom to see that. I can’t take her worried looks and the disapproving shaking of the head.

  “Let’s have lunch soon,” I say, hoping they’ll want to meet somewhere else, so I won’t have to clean. I don’t want the kids to be there either. I’ll just end up having to excuse them constantly.

  He’s going through some stuff right now… She’s in a bad mood; you know how it is with teenagers… He doesn’t normally act like this… Maybe she’s coming down with something.

  “Sounds good, sweetie,” my mom says. “You know I like that lobster place. Maybe we should go there? Maybe Tuesday next week?”

  I nod, knowing I won’t have the energy and will probably cancel. Still, I play along for now.

  “Let’s do that.”

  I have barely hung up and gathered myself before I hear my son scream.

  Chapter 4

  I drop the phone and run outside, heart in my throat, worry nagging in the pit of my stomach. Has he hurt himself on his bike? Did he fall from that magnolia tree in Joe’s yard again, even though I told him to stay out of it? I sure hope nothing is broken. I can’t spend the rest of the day at the ER again. I simply can’t do it.



  He is running toward me. He doesn’t seem hurt; I am relieved to see. There are no visible bruises, no blood, and no limping or grasping of the arm.

  “What’s going on, Damian?”

  The boy stops. I feel confused and scared, yet strangely calm now that I can see he is physically alright.

  “Damian, what happened?”

  He stares at me.

  “Where’s Joe, Jr.? Did he do something?”

  Damian shakes his head. He looks determinedly at me, then pulls at my hand.


  I sigh. “Damian, if nothing is wrong, then can’t I please go back to the house? I have so much laundry I need…”

  “No,” he says. “Come.”

  I stare into his eyes. Something in them makes me decide to follow him. Plus, I can’t take another argument right now. He’s dragging me inside Sandra’s house. I hope she won’t be angry with me for walking in like this without knocking.

  “Hello?” I say. “Sandra?”

  Damian pulls me toward the stairs. “Come.”

  “Damian, Joe, Jr.’s mother needs to know I’m here. I can’t just…”


  I walk up the stairs, feeling more and more worried as I take each step. Something seems to be strangely off here. Where is Sandra? Why isn’t she answering when I call her name? Isn’t she here? Has she left her kid home alone? No, that wouldn’t be like her; she wouldn’t do that.

  Maybe she’s in the backyard? Or could she be asleep?

  “Damian, maybe we should…”

  “Come, Mom. Come,” he insists.

  I follow him into the master bedroom, protesting, telling him we can’t just walk into people’s bedrooms. It’s not right. Yet, we do it anyway.

  He stops in front of a closed door. I know it leads to the master bathroom since the house is exactly the same as ours. Damian grabs the handle and turns it. I pause, thinking this is odd. Why is he taking me to Sandra’s bathroom?

  “What’s in there?” I ask.

  He doesn’t answer but opens the door. Inside, I see Joe, Jr. He’s standing, bare feet on the floor, staring at the bathtub. The water is overflowing, and he’s getting soaked on his feet and the bottom of his pants. But that’s not the worst part. It is what he’s looking at that makes my blood run cold. Inside of the tub lies a person. Inside of the tub, half-sunken into the water lies his mother.

  “I don’t think the boy even realized she was dead,” I tell Investigator Rick Thibodeau from the Special Investigations Office, who arrives along with the ambulance after I called for help. After realizing what had happened, I grabbed both boys, and I took them to our house, where they are now playing on the floor with their toy cars. I am struggling to keep it together, but I do it anyway. My hands are shaking, but I hide them behind my back. I speak slowly to sound normal. I don’t want to frighten the kids.

  “I’m not even sure he understands it now,” I add. My breath is ragged, and the words kind of jumble out of me. I’m not even sure it makes any sense, but by the look on the investigator’s face, I think it does. “He was just staring at her in the bathroom like he expected her to get up at any moment.”

  “But you were certain she was dead?” he asks.

  I nod. I keep seeing Sandra in front of my eyes, images of her in that water, her skin blue, almost purple, her eyes staring dead into the air in front of her. When I touched her, she felt so cold; it made me shiver. I tremble again just from thinking about it. I keep seeing her face, over and over again, and her arms.

  Those deep cuts on her wrists.

  “There was blood in the water and on the floor. There was no pulse when I felt her throat. She was ice-cold when I touched her. I’d say she’s been dead for quite some time, probably even before Joe, Jr. came home on the bus. He might not even have noticed anything until he needed to go to the bathroom.”

  I say these words without even knowing if I’m right. Where did all this come from? Am I just guessing?

  The investigator nods and takes notes on his pad.

  “So, it was suicide; I take it?” I ask cautiously. I saw the cuts; I feel confident in what I have seen. Yet somehow, I still want to be reassured.

  He nods again. “Looks like it.”

  “I guess you get that a lot?”

  He sighs and sends me a warm smile. It doesn’t feel comforting; on the contrary, it gets a little creepy. Maybe it’s just the situation. Everything about it makes me feel sick to my stomach.

  Those dead eyes.

  I shake my head. I can’t keep thinking about them, or about the rest of her in that water, that blood-filled water. I have to focus on where I am right now, talking to the police.

  “It happens,” he says. “It can be tough coming back, you know?”

  I swallow, thinking about Ryan. The words linger in my head for a long time, and I don’t really hear what he says next. It happens. It can be rough getting back. This is my greatest fear. This is exactly what I worry about every waking hour of my day—that the love of my life will give up. That he’ll decide it’s not worth the fight anymore. If only he’d let me help him…if only he’d talk to me and tell me what was going on. If only he’d seek help.

  I nod, looking at the kids playing behind me. Joe, Jr. seems oddly oblivious to the fact that his life has just been changed forever.

  “I know.”

  “All right, Mrs. Davis,” he says, closing his notepad. “Can the boy stay here till we get ahold of his father?”

  I nod. “Of course.”

  Suddenly, my heart bleeds for Joe. This is going to kill him. Sandra and Joe are divorced, and Joe lives off base now. He had an affair while she was deployed, and they split up right after she came home. But they were good at sharing the kid, and the divorce seemed decent. It wasn’t brutal, as far as I know.

  How do you tell your child that his mother is dead? How would I ever tell my children if Ryan wasn’t here anymore?

  I sit down as the Special Investigations Officer leaves us, but I don’t stay seated for long. My hands are trembling, and I am a mess. I get back up, then walk to the cabinet, grab Ryan’s scotch, and pour myself one. I drink it all in one gulp, trying to subdue all my e
motions and force away all my fears while the boys continue their play.

  I stifle my tears while secretly praying this won’t happen to my children. I don’t know how any of us would be able to live on after a thing like this. Yet, I still prepare myself mentally for it, for the fact that this could be Ryan.

  Maybe not today, but one day.

  Chapter 5

  Two days later, we have a barbecue at the Colonel’s house. I sit with the wives and one husband in the patio chairs, as usual. I glance toward the soldiers from Ryan’s unit who are standing by the grill, all in civil clothing, which is rare to see, each with their beer in hand. I am hoping Ryan will show up, at least to hang out with his war buddies, but I don’t know if he will. He hasn’t called or contacted me since he was in our kitchen a couple of days ago.

  I find it absurd for them to have a barbecue only two days after one of their own killed herself. Sandra isn’t even buried yet, and still, they insist on making burgers and eating hotdogs. They don’t mention her at all, at least the spouses don’t. I don’t know what the others are talking about. I wonder if it is because they’re terrified like me. Maybe they’re scared to talk about suicide and PTSD—because talking about it brings forth the fear, makes it real somehow. I wonder what Joe is doing tonight. And Joe, Jr.? Is he all right? Have any of them even stopped by to check on them? Make sure they’re okay?

  I kind of want to bring it up in the conversation because I’m scared of Ryan hurting himself, but I don’t dare to. They’re talking about school right now and the new principal that no one likes. It seems like a safe topic. No one can get upset, or maybe everyone is upset about it, but they’re allowed to be. The guy is an idiot who has made the rules for absences even tighter. If you’re late by even just a minute, you’ll get detention. A lot of moms are complaining about that. I’m not. My kids ride the bus. They’re always there on time. Besides, I can’t worry about something like that. To be honest, I wish that was all I had to be concerned about. But it’s not. I doubt it is for the other spouses, either.