As detailed in the Arthashastra, what duties and obligations were…
He didn’t even bother to read anything further on that one. He couldn’t even pronounce it, much less know what it was or what could have been detailed in it.
Panic rising, he skimmed ahead to the next question, the text before him no longer in any kind of logical order, rather a series of words that he wasn’t sure were even in English since he couldn’t understand a word of what was written.
Around him, anonymous heads were all focused on the papers in front of them, the sounds of pencils furiously scratching paper echoed in his ears. With heads down, he couldn’t quite tell who else was there in the room with him until he spied the U-shaped hairline of Kevin’s round head bopping up and down as he wrote.
Kevin knew enough to be composing an answer, while he was a complete blank. How could he let himself fail like this?
What had he done to his future?
The taste of bile filled the back of his throat.
Beads of sweat lined his forehead.
The room went dark.
Next thing he knew he was bolt upright in his bed, his heart pounding thunderously within his chest, the palpitations feeling like horses galloping inside his torso.
Moments before he was sitting in a classroom, staring down at a test for which he had no answers. The only thing he was able to fill in was his name and even that he was unsure he had spelled correct. Searching his memory for the knowledge needed for the rest of the questions had been fruitless; in his fictional history, he hadn’t attended even one class through the semester to learn the material. In those bleak seconds before he snapped back to consciousness, he became besieged by a hopelessness so intense, so overwhelming, he began to hyperventilate in his sleep.
Gasping for breath, he jolted awake, slowly realizing it had just been a dream. As he opened his eyes, he found no desks surrounding him, no board up at the front, no anonymous teacher rattling off the time remaining to fill in the answer bubbles and complete the essays.
It wasn’t the first of its kind; this minor nightmare haunted him many times before. The test’s subject matter sometimes differed but always it was the same crushing realization he didn’t know any of it and how could he when he had skipped out on class for weeks, sometimes months. Occasionally the panic would set in before he even got a glimpse of the exam, because after a year of cutting the class, he couldn’t even locate the room in which it was to be held.
Nor was he alone in having them. He knew Pam also experienced similar bad dreams where she bombed a test or missed an assignment deadline to leave her with a failing grade.
You’re not crazy. A lot of people have them. I bet even Dwight has dreamt about flunking Beet Harvesting 101 at some time.
He laughed, from deep in his belly, when she made light with her joke. But she got him, knowing what to say that would be funny and yet reassuring even after just a short while of knowing one another.
They’d first discussed their similarly terrifying, nocturnal events long ago, over one of many lunchtime conversations back when he was first getting to know the receptionist with the 100-watt smile and electrifying giggle to match.
It’s just an anxiety dream. Understandable that you would have them now, with a new job and all. I had a few crazy school dreams during my first month here.
She offered up the explanation after he detailed how real it felt as he read question after question, unable to even guess at an answer for any of them. Nodding along as he described his dread, she shared how she had looked up the nightmare’s meaning long before, after the first time she herself went back in time to algebra class in her sleep. According to her detailed research, her deep dive, as she had cleverly called it, it was a quite common manifestation of worry and reaction to being overwhelmed by challenges.
But this one he just had felt different, and not just because it had been so long since the last time he flunked a 2AM exam. This one seemed more real and more affecting, as evidenced by his breath which was still not back to a steady rhythm even minutes later. Normally after waking from a dream such as this, he could glance over at his wife’s slumbering form and his racing heart would slow as the sounds of her gentling breathing reached his ears. As he would nestle closer to her, the warmth from her body would settle his mind and quiet the noise in his head.
But noise was what he needed this morning and instead it was completely silent inside his room and apartment. No movement came from beside him, no children cried out from down the hall, and even the subtle sounds from outside his window were not the same in Philadelphia as they were back in Scranton.
And he knew that even if he were home, even if Pam were beside him, the fermenting troubles between them were just another source of his anxiousness, and her presence may not be enough to stop the worry that lingered long after the dream was over.
Eventually his anxiety settled to a manageable level and he was able to fall back asleep for the few hours left until morning. Tomorrow was another presentation to the frustratingly inconsistent Peter Roy of Bridgeport Capital, who once again was threatening to pull his funding. In of itself, this hedge fund douche was one layer of the stress he was trapped under. But following the meeting he would head back home to his family.
And the problems that awaited him there.
Problems that weren’t as simple and clear-cut as a shaky investor or not building brand awareness fast enough.
Problems that hadn’t completely surfaced but seemed to be festering just beneath, not unlike the moisture that had been trapped inside their kitchen cabinets and without a release had turned to the toxic mold that Dwight insisted had gone beyond any possible remediation.
Mold in the kitchen, Dwight could take care of, and had. Mildew in their relationship, that was for them to tackle before it turned black and poisonous. And though the patches forming seemed small and easily wiped away, he knew each innocent argument, each bout of unspoken concerns, each uncomfortable silence at the end of their conversations, all left a bit of dampness behind. Dampness that was settling in and starting to spread.
He hoped to do a thorough clean over dinner. Dinner alone, away from the children, away from the dishes and the laundry, away from any interruptions. Dinner at the place that always brought them joy. Where he’d taken her on that very first date when they finally worked through all the issues that had almost destroyed any possibility of a them. Where he hoped they could do it again and find their way back to the hopeful future he was planning for them.
He arranged the date in the days before coming back to Scranton. He contacted Isabel and she agreed to stay with the kids. Reservations were made. He would leave Philly early, arrive home in time to kiss the kids and then surprise Pam at the office with the dress she wore on their first visit to Christopher’s.
She couldn’t really be mad about the dress. He meant well. It was just another grand Jim gesture that didn’t go exactly as he planned, like a few months back when he tried to get them some paid time off and instead got them a week trapped inside a crowded work bus. Then, at least she got pie. And tonight, she would get dinner out at their favorite restaurant, just them, and maybe a chance to maybe talk about what was troubling her. Away from the office and the kids and the mounting pressures they both seemed to have, they might be able to really talk, like they had many years ago when he first brought her to Christopher’s.
But for the life of her she couldn’t understand how he could even begin to think she could fit into a dress from over five years ago… after having two babies. Could he be speaking truth all the times he said he didn’t notice she had gained any weight? She always assumed he was just being sweet knowing how self-conscious she was about it. Maybe, he really didn’t notice it, which would make sense since her was noticing less and less of her lately as he gave so much of his attention to the new love in his life, Athlead.
It was the thing about the dress that had her stewing as she shut down her computer and grabbed her sweater from the back of the chair, but only just slightly, and then just little more as she caught sight of the shirt she had thrown on that day. It was one of the older, less flattering, permanently stained with random spots of baby food tops left to choose from in her closet when she hadn’t been able to get around to the laundry again. Hidden under her painting sweatshirt, it hadn’t much mattered. She’d spent much of the day working down in the warehouse on her mural. But looking down at them again, the stains seemed to have taken on a life of their own, darkening and expanding, like mold spreading on week-old bread, black spores invading what was once fresh at an alarming pace.
Slipping on the old cardigan only vaguely helped dress up her style, but it was missing a button so she couldn’t close it completely. Even if she could cover her frumpy blouse with it, the old thing she kept in the office for warmth, wasn’t remotely what she would have chosen to wear for a Friday night date.
It didn’t help her frustration any, feeling so drab in her clothes while Jim was styling a fancy new sweater he must have picked up in Philly being she’d never seen it before. At least, she noted, he wore it over the same checkered shirt she remembered from their first date, but that hardly counted when all you could see was the collar. Still, even if he had worn the exact outfit from years ago, she wasn’t sure it wouldn’t have made her more upset. It was only a further reminder at how out-of-shape and matronly she had gotten, while Jim had only gotten more polished and more fit and was able to not only wear his same shirts from back then, but fill them out better. And that added a layer to everything else she'd been feeling as Jim went on his own journey of evolution without her.
The new job in an industry she knew little to nothing about, the city living, the hob-knobbing with athletic celebrities, they all were changing him while she stayed the same Pam only with extra weight and a fear that as he stepped further into start-up subculture and a trendy new lifestyle, she might not be enough for him. Not when she was happy in their simple Scranton life and he clearly wanted more.
She’d kept things light during the car ride using the drive to catch him up on all he missed with the kids and at the office, the latest Dwight nonsense and how her warehouse painting was going, keeping to her herself about the commissioned mural she was up for. She would tell him when there was news to share, good or bad. His Beesly would be music to her ears if the former, while she would need his supportive words to boost her up after being rejected in the case of the latter.
He filled her in on the latest at Athlead. She refrained from asking too much, not wanting to get into any deeper conversations about any of that until she had her favorite drink to give her some liquid courage. Only then might she be able to freely speak her mind about everything.
Despite it being a busy Friday night, Beth made her way right to the table, a beaming smile spread across her face and a basket of rolls and breadsticks in her hands. As she set it down, she apologized for having to rush off again but mentioned how excited she was to catch up when she came back in a bit with their cocktails.
“You will be having a Berry Smash?”
Beth stated with the lift of her brow as if to inquire if there might be any reason she might not, clearly thinking they might be insane enough to go for three under three. Little did she know how the two they had at home were currently more than Pam could handle with Jim being away for half the week and her left to parent on her own. Another pregnancy was so far out of the question, the possibility was as distant as Philly felt from Scranton.
“Oh, absolutely,” Pam responded revealing nothing of the little issues that began the night or the bigger ones that lately plagued her sleep and had her dreaming of failing tests in high school again.
Beth was off with a promise to return soon with their drinks and a few more minutes to catch up when she came back.
So far Jim hadn’t been able to recognize just how difficult it had been for her, acting as a part-time single parent, not to mention office administrator and supportive spouse. In their calls she mentioned some of the mishaps, but also held a lot back. He learned about the lice, but she downplayed much of it, not wanting to stress him before the important meetings he had. She complained about Phillip’s recent slip back to waking multiple times per night and how Cece’s tantrums had taken a turn for the worse. Still, it may have been hard for him to fully appreciate because the nights Jim was home were the same nights Phillip would slumber peacefully throughout and Cece was mostly too excited to see her Daddy to act up too much.
She, however had been noticing the subtle differences in him over the last few weeks. When he arrived home from his Philly trips, he remained in Athlead operational mode, similar to what she witnessed when she surprised him there, showing up with Darryl on his interview day. He played the part of corporate dynamo well, operating on all cylinders while at his Philadelphia office. Upon coming home, he kept in character, except his pistons seemed diminished from their overuse, and functioned at less than their full power, at least until after he got some time with the kids. He would immediately drink up their kisses and giggles and even the tears that still occurred – they were babies after all, even the excitement of Jim’s presence didn’t have the power to prevent all the meltdowns of a toddler and preschooler. Slowly their energy would transfer to him, recharging his battery while slowly switching him back to Scranton Jim mode.
And he would continue like this until he had to go back, letting his revitalization go on and on, banking as much of the fun of being with the kids to keep in reserve for when he was gone. Of course, when the attention he showered on them and the help with parenting he provided her with, departed along with him to Philly, that’s when things would go south fast again.
She was a little surprised when he told her they were having dinner away from the kids, before he had any real time to see them and get his recharge going, but she was glad for the night off from everything and thought it would be her best chance to tell him how it really had been with him gone and what she was feeling.
Between them, sat the basket of bread Beth left, its shadow much bigger than the container itself due to the subtle light thrown off from the votive.
Without her drink yet and knowing when Beth arrived back with it, she’d want to hear all the latest news with them, it was not the time to start the more serious discussion. She wasn’t quite sure how to begin to tell him what she was thinking anyway. How lately he’d been making her feel unappreciated, how she didn’t want to move—she was happy in Scranton, and how scared she was that he was flourishing as she stayed stagnant. Her fear that he’d keep wanting more, not just in his career but from all that was his life and he’d wake up one day feeling she and the kids were not enough for him. With everything she wanted to say, she knew it was going to take more than one drink to get it all out. She might need a second.
She pulled the basket towards her to grab a roll. The shadow followed growing larger behind it. Pushing the container back after taking one, she was confused as the dark silhouette painted on the table didn’t move until she looked up at her husband, his face hidden behind the long menu that threw a new shadow down where the basket’s had been.
“Looks like they changed some stuff on the menu. Oooh, Beesly, you might like one of the new dishes.”
“Like what?” she replied, momentarily forgetting all else as she heard him sing her nickname. She grabbed her own menu, quickly scanning it for what he found. Spotting it almost immediately, he really did know her so well, she smiled again and she was about to agree when the familiar chirping began, the sound dampened from being in his pocket, but loud enough that she could hear he was being summoned during their time.
Back home no more than a few hours and already some member of his new work staff needed something from him, something that as usual, couldn’t wait.
It was too much to hope he could just ignore the call, but once he pulled the interruption from his pocket and glanced at the screen to see which of his partners was infringing on their time, alarm clouded his eyes and he held up a finger.
“Sorry hon. I’ve really got to take this.”
That he rose from the table to answer the call in private left Pam to grow angrier still that aside from the fact they couldn’t even enjoy a night out without Wade or Isaac or Colin needing something to take his attention away, he didn’t feel he could discuss whatever this latest issue was in front of her. He used to include her in everything, good and bad, turning to her with his dilemmas and work problems, granted most of them were related to Dwight and so were hers too. But as it pertained to Athlead, it was all hush, hush, a precedent set when he joined the company without telling her.
Her twitching eyes and pursed mouth might have clued him into the ire building up, if only he’d seen them. Her flared nostrils and creased forehead may have kept him seated and his call brief, but she sat with the menu raised high and her head low, her loose, curly hair and the long list of dinner options hiding her expression from him.
Already speaking as he turned away from her to head for the restrooms, he almost crashed into Beth on her way back with their drinks.
“Where’s the fire?” she joked as she set Pam’s tall pink cocktail down on the table.
‘In Philly,’ Pam answered silently and solemnly to herself.
“Yeah, someone at his office needs him.” It was hard not to let the annoyance she felt seep into her response, but she kept her voice even and muttered the remaining thoughts she had about the call in her own head, ‘during my time as usual’.
“Wait, I thought his office is your office?”
That’s right, they hadn’t been here in a while. Since before Phillip was born and while the news of a second child was worth a share with Beth by birth announcement, email exchanges, and holiday cards, news of his second job was not quite in that same category.
“It was, well it is, but he’s got this other venture he’s part of now too. Jim joined forces with some old classmates to start a new sports marketing company….”
‘…without telling me’, she neglected to add aloud.
Beth, not noticing Pam’s disapproval of it all, asked more on the news, leaving Pam to share general details of the last few months, those she knew of anyway since there had been plenty she didn’t.
“Well, isn’t that exciting?”
Jim arrived back at the table before Pam could answer. Not that her true feelings wouldn’t be an overshare with Beth, even with Jim not around. She was a friend and always had good advice but this was a private matter. And maybe this wasn’t the most suitable place to have the discussion after all, not when Beth would see them at less than their best if things got too heated.
Jim was back, dropping into his seat and taking a sip of the drink now in front of him.
“I was telling Beth about Athlead, and how you take off to Philadelphia for half the week.”
The expression on her husband’s face, not quite as unnerved as when he got up to take his call but still showing signs of worry, now lit up like a neon sign as he spoke animatedly about the new company. Pam, however felt the control of her emotions deserting her and reached for her drink. Jim noticing it finally after he been rambling for a minute or more, abruptly shifted gears.
“Oh, did Pam show you the latest shots of the kids? Phillip is growing like a weed.”
“Not yet, but I can’t wait to see when I come back to take your order. Be back in a jif.”
Neither Pam or Jim brought up the call once left on their own, instead returning to talk of the kids now that Pam had pulled out the small photo book she kept in her purse. Even Jim had not seen the latest photo she had added to it, a shot of him and two bundled-up munchkins making angels in the freshly laid snow.
“When did you take this?”
“Two weekends ago, from the upstairs bedroom. I spied you guys out the window and used the good camera to take it. I had to get Oscar to help me print it out though since you know how bad I am with it.”
She thought she caught the furrow of his brow as she spoke but only for a second as it smoothed again as he passed his finger along the sheer plastic slip with the photo underneath.
“It’s beautiful. You really caught the magic of the moment.”
“Right? I want to do a painting of it when I get the time.”
“Adorable…all three of you. Though I can barely see the kid’s faces they’re so bundled up”
Beth was back, coming up from behind Jim to look down on the photo.
“I want to see more, but let me get your order in first. The kitchen is getting crazy.”
Orders in, including one for a second drink, and alone at the able again, conversation still stayed light, fun even, as it often was when he was home. The last month tended to occur this way always, with both of them genuinely enjoying the company of their children and each other they tried hard to avoid letting anything negative infringe on their limited family time.
But she hadn’t forgotten that she wanted to bring up the more difficult topics. Just maybe she’d wait until after the food arrived and they’d started to eat, when Beth wouldn’t be coming back to see more photos and chat in her own limited windows of time.
Beth wasn’t kidding when she said the kitchen was crazy. But then she thought it was maybe just her own anxiousness making the wait feel so long, until Jim brought it up too.
“I forgot what this place is like on a Friday. I haven’t even seen Beth since she took our order.”
The basket of bread was empty and Pam was beginning to regret not ordering an appetizer as Jim suggested they should, the two rolls not quite enough to counteract the effects of the drink she slurped up as Jim had droned on about her least favorite topic to Beth.
“Me neither and I’m starving.”
She watched Jim look around the restaurant, following the direction of his head when at the same time they both spied Beth chatting with the large table in the corner as she took their orders.
“Looks like it might still be a little bit,” she remarked even as she saw Beth catch her eye and apologize for the delay through her expression.
Between the hunger building and the alcohol traveling deeper into bloodstream, she felt her body start to pulse like a phone set to vibrate. Her annoyance, not just from the wait but the buildup of all she had been feeling earlier, was nearing the same level as when the kids’ spaghetti dinner would inexplicitly explode all over the microwave, leaving sauce splatters on its ceiling, walls and even the underside of the tray that took forever to get it sitting right again after she took it out to wash it.
She didn’t want to act on her irritation, but she was having a hard time not bringing up how she felt about him taking the call earlier, especially since ever since it, he’d left the phone on the table, its presence slowing taunting her each time she spied it sitting next to his empty plate.
“Oh, here she comes.”
Jim announced Beth’s impending return just in the nick of time. She knew she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to talk about the stuff bothering her just yet, at least not without it coming out as an attack.
“She doesn’t have our food, but we can ask her to bring us some more bread at least.”
It was then she felt the pulse start up again in her body, at least she thought it was that before she realized it was the just the dance of Jim’s phone which was thumping again as another call came in.
Beth was just arriving at the vibrating table, her smiling face a stark contrast to the taut glare on Pam’s. As Beth came up next to her, the clenched fists at her side tightened further in efforts to absorb some of the building rage. She wanted to avoid a complete blow-out in the presence of the waitress who had seen plenty of fights over dinner, just never between her and Jim.
Gritting her teeth and forcing a plastic smile on for Beth’s benefit, she half-joked and half-hissed at her husband, “No, don’t you dare take that call. I mean it Jim. Whoever, whatever it is …if you pick up that phone so help me.”
She watched his worried eyes dart from the phone at his side up to the top of her head, avoiding direct contact with the glare of hers, then over to Beth, the expression changing in them to one seeking support from an ally. Getting none, or not nearly enough, he looked once more at Pam, this time meeting her icy jade stare, pleading for her sanction to pick it up.
“Pam, please I’ve got to. It’s not what you think, but I really do need to take this call.”
He had it in his hands by now, finger ready to tap the screen as soon as she would lower her eyes and nod her okay.
She hadn’t yet.
Nor would she.
Instead, like cowboys in a standoff, she held fast to her weapon, the cold eyes threatening him to release his grip on his own, the still ringing phone. Beth, standing by as the witness was possibly the only reason the impasse had lasted as long as it did.
“Whoever that is…” Pam announced as much for Beth to understand her position as for Jim to, “they will have to wait. Or better yet, figure out whatever the big problem is for themselves.”
“You don’t understand. It’s not...”
He must have known how long he had before the call jumped to voicemail because he abruptly stopped pleading, not even finishing his sentence before he picked the phone up, or at least tried to.
Both she and Beth looked on in disbelief as he raised it up, only to have it slip from his hands and drop clumsily to his lap. He was fast to retrieve it but apparently not fast enough. A mien of smug satisfaction grew on Pam’s face as she listened to him say hello repeatedly.
Hah, intercepted by voicemail, she thought haughtily, until the vibration began again, this time accompanied by the distinctive marimba sound that she knew had not been the same ringtone playing earlier from her husband’s phone; he must have thought, when his phone started blowing up on a regular basis, in switching it from the default to one less conspicuous and annoyingly loud, she might take less notice of how often it rang. Instead, it only made her take note of it more, the change itself drawing attention, just like all the minor changes in him appeared to her illuminated as if a giant spotlight followed him, highlighting every mutation no matter how small.
Had he switched back the tone after the last call and for what reason?
It took a second for her to realize it wasn’t that he had changed his tune. It was her own phone ringing and interrupting their dinner.
It was completely hypocritical, she knew, when she immediately reached for her purse to dig out her phone from it but she didn’t care. This was a whole other circumstance. It wasn’t a regular thing for her to get calls during the limited time when Jim was home. Even when she did, she most often let them go to voicemail. Penny’s boy troubles would keep until she had time to call back. Her dad’s queries about her and Jim and the kids didn’t have to be answered immediately, especially when there was little new to tell him from day to day.
But this call could be the one she was waiting for, regarding the mural. Or it could be an emergency, regarding their kids.
It was the latter, the kids, but with Isabel’s inexperience and tendency to overreact she expected it was more emergency-adjacent than true crisis.
“Calm down Isabel. No green poop isn’t exactly normal but he might have been eating the Play-Doh again. The last batch I made was green.”
But it had to be a month old, and she wondered if the homemade variety was subject to mold like food or her cabinets.
She looked across the table to find a mixed expression of panic and mild confusion on Jim’s face. Beth wore a similar look as she tried to assess from Pam’s if she should wait or could return to kitchen to check on their order. Pam shook her head and waved her off, mouthing, “go, go. It’s nothing, even though she wasn’t entirely sure what the situation was back at home.”
“Well, was he crying before the green poop? …Then it’s probably not that. He had Rengy when you put him to bed, right? …. It’s a little toy horse with FS on the side. It’s usually in the crib. It’s like his Woobie, but Cece is always hiding it from him.”
In the Play-Doh colored eyes staring back at her she thought she caught a little spec of pride. As much trouble as it was always having to find or retrieve Renegade the horse from Cece, she knew it pleased Jim that Phillip had become so attached to the small, plush Florida State mascot, the souvenir he brought his son back from his Florida trip. It only was too bad Cece liked it more than the alligator puppet or the FSU match game he brought back for her. They’d finally gotten Phillip to a point where he only needed it at night to sleep, but were still working on getting Cece to stop with her not-so-funny pranks of stealing it.
“Isabel, just how long has he been crying?”
She looked up at Jim again to signal to him to have Beth wrap up the food she was at last walking back to the table with.
“Isabel, relax. If Cece won’t go back to bed just put on a Backyardigans DVD and let her watch. No, it’s okay. I know what Jim said but it’s okay. You do what you need to in the situation. I’m sure Phillip is fine but just in case we are leaving right now. We should be home in a half hour. Can you handle it until then?”
“It was Isabel?” she half announced, half asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence during the drive home. “That call you took earlier. It was her, wasn’t it?”
“To my defense, she didn’t say anything about green poop. Or how overwhelmed she was for that matter.”
Focused on the road, he couldn’t see her face. Had he seen it, he might have gotten it. He might have picked up from her expression that what Isabel felt in one night was a fraction of what Pam had been going through for weeks. But his eyes stayed glued to the road and his ears only heard the frankness of her words, but not the undertone behind them.
“Yeah, well those two can be a handful when you aren’t used to taking care of them.”
A beat passed. Pam turned her head to look away from Jim and out the window before she spoke again.
“And even when you are, doing it alone is tough.”
He thought her heard some bite in her words now, an invitation to an argument, but he didn’t want to begin anything that might start a bigger discussion. Not when there were heading home to a night of possibly sick and very overtired children. Sidestepping the landmine, he tried to make her laugh instead.
“I made a mistake asking Isabel. I should have asked Dwight.”
The joke got a slight chuckle out of Pam intermixed with a shudder he caught in his peripheral vision.
“Not only would they both be asleep when we got home, but the den might have been remodeled.”
She laughed again, but he could tell it was still guarded. Beth’s innocent questions at dinner had set off another firestorm of hostile feelings and pent-up resentment that seemed to be packed up along with the dinner to go. It lingered in the car along with the aroma coming from the doggy bags.
“I’m sorry tonight got cut short.”
Silence filled the car again except for the sound of the deejay chattering about how fast he abandoned his resolutions that year before announcing the next song.
Habitually, Jim extended his arm across the console to reach for her. Settling his hand on her lap, he wasn’t quite sure how she would respond. He knew the night had not been the opportunity he intended it to be and instead had perhaps made things even more tense.
From the corner of his eye, he tracked the movement of her hand and braced himself to be swatted away. But she didn’t, and instead she placed her hand gently on top of his. Still, neither of them spoke, too scared of the damage words might do. For tonight, they would both once again set aside their concerns, ignore the deepening black decay building around them. In that moment, in that touch of their hands, there was no umbrage, no anger, no ill. Nothing but love radiated through their bonded skin.
The contact, that love, which pulsed from her hand to his told him they would get through this rough patch. Somehow, he knew they would be okay. They had to be.