“And here, at the end, I can say that I have known no sweeter, deeper madness of being than to drown in the fragrant glory and forgetfulness of her hair.”
“Let’s finish the south wall,” I pleaded, “then I swear I’ll go buy you a coffee.”
Drowning in the scent of paint, I leaned into my husband’s side and squeezed him gently. His familiar chuckle rumbled low in his chest as he bent to pick up brushes.
“Absolutely not. We have to sleep sometime, Tobi,” he stated. Turning to look back at me, I could see the exhaustion set in his shoulders. His denim shirt was covered in multiple hues of yellow and hugged tight across his back, the edge of his ponytail resting at his collar. “Come on. Let’s clean up; we’ll start again early tomorrow.”
A part of me felt the tug of disappointment yet agreed it was probably best we get some rest. We’d been at it for fourteen hours straight, sore muscles and tired eyes serving us no purpose at the gallery we’d been commissioned to finish before the weekend.
“Fine,” I said, scooping up my own brushes. “But I want a muffin. A big double chocolate chip one with a million calories.”
Glancing around, I took in the progress we’d made on the flat. The whitewashed brick was now exposed and brought in the level of distress I’d been hoping for; vaulted ceilings lifted to skylights showing off the midnight stars and rough pine floors added masculinity.
“Baby,” he murmured, reaching out for my brushes. His voice was raw from disuse; we’d spent most of the day in silence as we painted just the occasional sigh or quick kiss to break the quiet. “Stop over-analyzing. We’ll get a feel for it tomorrow when our eyes are fresh. Breathe.”
I walked over to him at the sink, holding out my brushes darkened with charcoal grey, knowing he was right. He was always right.
I’d accepted the fact years ago when I first met my husband he was more talented than I’d ever dream of being. He had this way of taking a wholly ruined piece of material and transforming it into something which literally stole your breath from your lungs. It was painful to watch at times, the way it completely took over his body and shut him off from me. He’d go nights without sleeping, days without speaking. I’d learned to wait for him to come back to me because I understood it. We called it “disengagement” and learned to accept each other’s random schedules of artistic rush.
“Since when are you so calm, cool, and collected about this massive of a job?”
Smiling, he took my hands and wrapped them around his neck, dropping the paintbrushes onto the counter. His hands were warm on mine but the trickle of soapy water sent chills down my arms.
“Working with you brings me contentment I don’t feel when I am working alone,” he stated, looking down at me with dimples punching holes into his cheeks. “We should do this more often.”
I stretched high on my tip toes, kissing the edge of his jaw and pressed into his chest. His words silenced the doubt inside my heart; if he was content, then I knew not to stress over the small things.
“Well, I know something else we should do more often,” I whispered, grazing his ear with my lips.
“Mmmm, do tell,” he smiled, his hands tightening around me. His thumbs brushed tiny circles right on the tender spot where my stomach met my ribs.
The floor creaked beneath our feet as I trailed kisses down the side of his neck slowly.
I felt his arms circle my waist, his deep laugh burrowing into my neck as he leaned down into me. It’d been several days since I’d heard his laugh and the sound of it spiraled goosebumps across my arms. I never got over how happy it made me to make him happy.
“I don’t know what’s worse. Your hunger for work or your hunger for carbs,” he said. “Let’s get this cleaned up so we can go home and-”
Glass shattered behind my head, shards embedding themselves into my neck bone and setting my skin on fire as the end of his sentence vanished into the explosion. I felt his arms disappear around my ribs and instead grab and tug me to the floor roughly.
“Stay down,” he yelled, tucking me beneath him. “No matter what, Tobi, stay down!”
Three Days Earlier
Curled on the couch, I felt the buzz of my cell phone ring under my hip. It was two in the morning and the vibration sent a jolt of worry through me. I hadn’t spoken to Noah since he’d left that morning, knowing he’d be home as soon as he finished up at the art show with his senior students. He’d been working for weeks to get it wrapped up, the final show of the year always being the biggest. Six seniors were showcasing their semester pieces in the hopes of catching both buyers’ and gallery owners’ eyes. The End-of-Year show was Noah’s baby and I had learned to accept I’d see him only occasionally at best while he prepared for his pride and joy.
My phone screen showed a number I didn’t recognize and an area code not fitting any of the surrounding areas. I would’ve guessed a new client trying to reach me if it hadn’t been for the random hour.
“Hello, this is Tobi Russell,” I said.
“Hello? Can I help you?”
Disconnecting the call, I laid the phone on the coffee table and waited to see if the caller would dial again. After a few minutes of quiet, I stood and paced to the bedroom. The sound of the front door made me jump before I heard Noah’s voice call my name.
When I saw him, I immediately knew something was wrong. After shows, Noah was filled with satisfaction and exhaustion. He would often pass out the minute he was home. The look on my husband’s face was not that of pleasure the show had gone well; it was fear.
“Tobi, you’re ok.”
Not a question. A statement. Dropping his bag, he marched toward me, yanking my arms away from each other and wrapping them around his stomach. His hands crashed into the back of my head, pushing me into him so tightly I couldn’t breathe.
“God, I was so worried,” he growled, kissing the side of my face. His hands never paused, brushing through my hair and down my back and cupping my face. I couldn’t remember a single time we’d been together I’d seen him so nervous. “Why haven’t you been answering your phone?”
“Noah, you haven’t called,” I mumbled, pushing back from him. “Wait. Was that you that hung up?”
Noah’s fluttering hands and kisses ceased as he held me at arm’s length all at once.
“What are you talking about? I called a dozen times. I never hung up.”
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou