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[ the calm before the storm ]
by kHo

It was never dull, she´ll give it that much. It was good and it was great, and it was bad and it was horrible, but it was never dull. Mort was a mystery, and that´s what he wrote, and that´s what he knew. She never knew exactly what it was about him that attracted her, that drew her in, only that it did. And actually, that is probably exactly what it was: the not knowing.

She liked those eyes of his, those deep dark eyes that told you so much yet so little. Eyes that you thought you could read, only you couldn´t because he put a guard on them. Eyes that spoke of sadness yet championed joy, eyes that told you stories when there weren´t any to tell. He had the kind of eyes that rendered you speechless just because they looked your way. That made you forget what you wanted to say even when, especially when, it was important that you said it.

In the beginning she used to look at him and sigh. She´d look at him with that skin and those lips and that hair that never knew what it wanted to do, and think how lucky she was. Lucky that he wanted her, lucky that it was her he held in his arms. She was lucky that this beautiful soul that he had within him wanted her by his side. Through his good times, through his confusing times, and sometimes even through his particularly dark times. Sometimes, but not always.

He used to read to her, back when they were still in college, late at night. It never mattered to her what he read. Sometimes it was poetry, and it made her smile. Sometimes it was stories he wrote, and it made her smile. Sometimes it was textbooks for classes neither of them took, and that made her smile too. It never mattered what the words were, because his voice was perfect and the smile was always there even when he hid it, and she liked listening to the low rumble as she rested her head against his chest.

She used to laugh when he´d be in the middle of kissing her and jerk back with his eyes lit up. She´d smile and nod as he apologized and ran to his computer, mumbling to himself as he threw on her tattered robe and immediately started tapping away on the keys. She´d lie in bed and smile and think to herself that wasn´t it amazing the passion with which he wrote. She´d think it was wonderful the way his fingers flew over those keys, and while she wished he were by her side, the sound of that clickety-clack lulled her into a peaceful sleep.

They had their problems and they had their fights, and there were moments that she said this was it. Moments when she said it was enough, and it was through, and no more. But it was never true. It was never enough. It was never through. Even when it was it wasn´t, not really. Because he was Mort, her missing part. The storm to her calm. The tall grass that swayed in the wind to her clean-cut lawn. The other half of that piece of her that wasn´t quite right when he wasn´t there.

He never let her read his stuff until it was done and perfected, and sometimes not even until the editor had seen it, and she tried to not let that hurt her feelings. He´d tell her he didn´t want to disappoint her, and that her opinion was the one that mattered the most, not the least. He´d say all the right things in all the right ways, and she´d feel relieved and happy, and they´d make love and it was always good. Then she´d remember he was a writer, and she´d wonder if he´d meant it or if he knew that´s what the protagonist would say to his girlfriend to shut her up.

When it came to the important stuff though, he stumbled around the words and they never came out right. When he told her he loved her for the first time he blurted it out in the middle of reading a book about axe murderers. He continued on with the sentence so smoothly she almost wondered if it wasn´t actually part of the book. When he asked her to marry him he forgot to get down on one knee and cursed loudly and said never mind before she even had time to say that yes, of course she´d marry him. He told her once that his fingers know how to talk better than he does, and it sounded ridiculous at the time, but eventually she started to think maybe that wasn´t so ridiculous after all.

So they got married and they moved into a big beautiful house and bought a cabin in the woods, and Mort used to joke that now all they needed was a white picket fence and 2.5 kids. He used to tease her late at night and ask her if she´d prefer him to cut their third child horizontally or vertically, and even though that was disgusting and she´d hit him, she always laughed. When she told him she was pregnant she warned him that he had two more to go before he got the chainsaw out, but he interrupted her with his tongue in her mouth and they fell onto the bed and made love like it was the first time again.

His writing decreased while she was pregnant and sometimes he´d bitch that their happiness was ruining his career. He said it with a smile and he was kidding, but part of her knew he meant it. He always wrote best when he was upset about something, and Mort was the kind of guy that was upset often. Except she was pregnant now, and he so badly wanted a family, and he was happy. Sometimes she´d catch him in the middle of the night hovering over his computer and fussing to himself, tugging her robe around him agitatedly. He told her it wasn´t fair that he had so much to say but couldn´t say it, that it drove him nuts to not be writing.

She asked him one time why he always wore her robe when he wrote and he smiled and told her it was because she was his muse. She laughed and told him to be serious, and said if she was his muse then why was she never allowed to read his stuff. He said he was serious, and he hated it when she told him he wasn´t, and then he´d slammed the door in her face and disappeared for three hours. When he calmed down he said the robe smelled like her, and it kept him warm like her, and when he wasn´t wearing it the flow never came. She wondered later if he ever knew how much that meant to her.

When she got stomach cramps he told her to calm down and that she was fine. She saw the worry in his eyes and knew he was being calm to make her calm, but it still aggravated her. When they persisted he drove her to the hospital and held her hand and told her the plot to his new book and he made sure to curse as much as he could because he knew it made her laugh. When the machines started beeping and she felt the blood pouring out of her and she saw his ashen face she didn´t complain when they forced him out of the room. They left two days later and he didn´t say a word in the car except to ask if she was hungry.

She didn´t eat for three days and she never stopped crying, and he held her and shed not one tear. He stroked her hair and muttered things in her ear in a tone that was almost comforting, but she couldn´t hear him over the dull constant roar of pain in her heart. She couldn´t stretch her legs out much less get up to walk, so when she had to go to the bathroom he carried her and never stopped talking even though she never answered him. The pain never left, but the fog lifted eventually, and when she made him breakfast a month later she saw the first tear track down his face but never saw another.

She tried to talk about it, because it hurt and it always made her cry, but she knew she needed to get it out. His eyes never met hers and he´d tell her talking was only a reminder, and she told him she didn´t need a reminder because she´d never forget. He wouldn´t talk about it, and he wouldn´t talk about anything else really, and he started to spend more and more time at his computer. She thought briefly to herself that it was almost a shame that she ever came out of her self-induced coma because at least then he still touched her.

She´d talk to her friends but he was the only one she wanted to talk to anymore. None of them knew what it was like. Some of them tried to sympathize, and they´d make little noises in the back of their throats, and she´d think bitterly that she knew that noise because she´d made it too and it had never really meant anything. She tried for a long time to understand that people go through grief differently and that writing had always been Mort´s salvation, but it never took. She tried to understand it but she couldn´t get past the fact that he never touched her, and he never held her, and that it had been three months and they hadn´t made love.

When they finally did it was because she´d stripped naked in front of him and thrown his laptop on the other side of the room. She´d screamed at him and ignored the tears pouring down her face and said she needed him. She said she needed him to touch her because she didn´t feel there anymore and she knew he wasn´t there anymore either and maybe together they could be again. She said she needed him to make love to her because she forgot what that felt like, and she was afraid she´d never remember if he didn´t remind her right now.

When he kissed her it felt like a stranger, and when he fucked her it was too slow and too careful and even when she dug her nails into his back she knew she wouldn´t be coming any time soon. It was methodical and clinical and there wasn´t much warmth in it, but he held her afterwards and that was okay because at least that was familiar. He looked at her with those same eyes of his and she saw so many things in them that he wasn´t saying that she had to turn away so he wouldn´t see her cry. He held her for a while before slipping out of bed, and he left a cold place in the bed beside her, and that was okay too because that was familiar to her now as well.

The sex got better, because they´d always fit just right, and eventually it even got good again. It got to the point that the only time she felt close to him was during sex and she found herself wanting it a lot more often than she used to. It took her a while to figure out that what she was taking for arousal was actually loneliness but she never told him because he was clickety-clacking away again at that damn computer. She used to love that sound but now it felt like a knife stabbing into her heart and every time he stepped away from it she had to grit her teeth to keep herself from chucking it out of the window.

The first time she met Ted she´d cried in front of him and the whole produce section of the Winn Dixie. She´d been buying lettuce and was trying to decide which tomato was the ripest when he´d met her eyes over the avocados. He´d smiled at her and she´d smiled back and he´d said she had to be the saddest woman he´d ever seen comparing tomatoes. She´d asked him what he meant and he´d pointed to her eyes and she´d immediately started crying because she couldn´t remember the last time Mort had known what she was thinking just by looking into her eyes. She cried because how could he when he wouldn´t meet them anymore.

Ted had taken her next door for coffee and hadn´t even asked her to talk to him. He´d smiled at her and said it was his treat, and that a pretty lady like her shouldn´t cry in the produce section. His voice was soft, and kind, and it lilted in the slightest hint of a southern accent. He told her about his home back in Shooter´s Bay without her asking and his voice was so soothing she found herself laughing and not knowing why. When she had to leave she gave him her number and didn´t even think about it until she was already half way home.

It was innocent when they started meeting regularly, really. It was just coffee, just lunch. It wasn´t hotel rooms and naked flesh and candles and clawing and sweat and sex at first. It was salad, and spaghetti, and tea, and wine, and the occasional movie, but mostly it was laughing. Laughing, which is something she never knew she missed so much until she started doing it again. She almost had herself convinced it would stay that way except when she went home and looked at Mort she found she couldn´t tell him about this really nice guy with a really sweet accent she´d met a month ago.

It was months before he kissed her, but it wasn´t long after that that she was screaming out his name with her heels digging into his calves as she came. It started with an accidental but probably on purpose kiss as he held the door to her car open and it ended at a motel with a flickering red neon sign and rooms that were stark and bare and probably infested with crawling things that she´d rather not think about. It was never about love for her though. It was about comfort, and being touched, and someone not knowing that she wasn´t whole anymore, and probably not even caring. Or, it started out that way.

She used to be terrified of what Mort would say when he found out, because no matter what this thing with Ted was, she always loved Mort more than anything. She´d slink home at 6 in the afternoon like she was past curfew and she´d kiss him quickly on the cheek before running to the bathroom, and she´d shake in the shower wondering when he was going to confront her. She even got to the point where she thought maybe he was waiting for her to tell him, but he never looked at her any differently and she thought maybe he never even noticed it.

But he did, obviously. She was never sure what it was that tipped him off. She didn´t know if it was the smell of Ted on her, or the look of guilt in her eyes. She didn´t know if he´d been following her for months or if it was just that night. She didn´t know if he ever cried about it or if he was as dead on the inside as he had seemed to become since they´d lost the baby.

All she knew was him screaming in her face and turning around, and her wanting to get out of bed to comfort him. All she knew was him turning around with that gun and that look on his face that said Mort didn´t live there anymore. And he moved out, and he cursed at her, and he screamed at her, but he still never shed a tear. And now she was with Ted, and the sex was still good, but she still wasn´t whole.

Because the calm doesn´t mean anything if the storm´s not there to put it in perspective.

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