Jackie didn’t enjoy the thought of prison. Then again, not all prisons are defined by the penal code.
She watched her fingers slide over the silver of the blade. It glinted in the moonlight, spotlighting her as if she were being hunted.
Maybe prison wouldn’t be too bad. She could start a sewing class like Martha Stewart, except she couldn’t sew.
Looking down at the knife again, she lifted it and flipped it in the air. Spinning in a full circle, she caught it with the opposite hand, then jabbed it straight out, piercing the wind’s heart.
Maybe she wouldn’t need the knife. An ugly laugh burst out at the thought. No, she would need it. She looked up past their bedroom window at the moon and acknowledged the red halo. Its bad omen fit her mood.
Charlie was up there in bed. Probably reading some crap about war and Middle Eastern terrorists. The office bookshelves overflowed with the garbage. And since his last stint in Iraq, he couldn’t seem to get enough of it.
There was a time when she was so in love with him. But she couldn’t remember it.
She pricked her forefinger with the knife as she turned it in slow circles. Leaning against the wood rail of the deck, she pushed her sweaty red hair away from her face.
It was hot, Texas hot, even for Christmas. No snow here. No seasons much either. Not that it mattered. There was only one season inside their home, and it was dead winter.
She turned toward the door. Eyes with dark circles stared back at her through the window. She looked old. Tired. Ironically, the circles would probably disappear after a week in prison, she thought.
She patted her back pocket to make sure her car keys were still there and then yanked open door. She had no intention of going to prison. He was going to say yes. Her daughter depended on it. She depended on it and whether or not he agreed was irrelevant. Tonight, she would have her say.
Her feet slid across the carpet and up the stairs. God gave her a push when the butterflies nearly choked her to a standstill at the landing on the second floor. There was no backing out. That little girl needed her to do this. And she would. No more anger. No more impatience. No more bruises. It was over.
His goofy smiled winked at her from a picture on the wall. His fingers splayed wide, in sharp contrast to its recent fists. She remembered the silly dance he’d performed, his arms out side, when she took this photo.
She ducked into the hall bathroom and the vomit hit the sink. Pausing, she took the time to breathe. Slow, deliberate, deep breaths.
Prison was a small sacrifice. Let’s go, she told herself.
She grabbed the towel, swiped her mouth and walked down the hallway, passing photo after photo from their family albums.
One was of Charlie with his infantry squad in Iraq. The Night Ravens they called themselves. None of them smiled and all wore the battle-weary look after months of war. Ignoring them, she pushed open the bedroom door.
She hated that stupid big, black hardbound book resting in his hands. His calm hands flipped the page, and for a minute he appeared to be the sweet man she married. Not drop dead gorgeous by Hollywood standards but a handsome man nonetheless. She used to love to stroke that chiseled chin and kiss his sharp nose.
But she knew somewhere inside that man was another. An angry, aggressive man plagued with nightmares and unseen threats.
The Army officer she knew had already checked the doors and windows of the house three times before going to bed. She knew he would be up three more times before morning to check again.
The Smith & Wesson 45 was under the bed loaded with an 8-round clip. A Louisville Slugger leaned against the wall near his pillow.
Her puny knife was no match, she thought, faltering for a second.
He looked up and she smiled weakly at him. She folded the knife under her hand against her arm, hoping he couldn’t see it. He went back to his book.
“I’m filing for divorce.” Her voice carried through the room.
He laughed and didn’t even bother to look up. Jerk.
“Charlie, I’m filing for divorce.”
His grey eyes wisped over her face and settled on her. Her heart lurched.
No matter what, the girl she used to be still loved him. But, damn her.
The binder of his hardbound book creaked as he closed it. On the bedside table, the ancient clock ticked. She had never noticed it was so loud.
It rang louder and louder. He put the book on the heirloom table and looked at her again.
She froze. The time had come.
Charlie slung the covers back and walked over to her. She flinched but kept her feet still. He was so close she could feel him and she tilted her head back to see his face.
She fingered the knife in her hand.
“No,” he said. “You aren’t.”
The back of his hand pounded across her cheek.
Blood squirted. The smell filled her nose. She tasted acid on her tongue. Her stomach tightened and her chest hurt.
Damn, but his arm was fast. Fear burned down her spine. Through the haze, she chanted to herself. Maddie. Maddie. Maddie.
Pulse racing and goose bumps flaring, she swung the knife from behind her back and aimed at his heart. But she was too slow. His forearm blocked the stab and the knife fell to the floor. He grabbed a fist full of her hair and jerked her back. With his other fist, he pounded his knuckles into her face and her cheekbone cracked. She fell to the floor but managed to stay crouched on her feet. His hands squeezed into her long hair.
Dear God Jackie, don’t cower, the words screamed in her head. A year of martial arts classes and he doesn’t know about them. Let them work.
Intertwining her fingers, she pinned her hands on top of his, pressing them into her skull.
When he pulled back for another punch, she spun around, stood up and kicked him square in the groin. He let go of her and clutched between his legs.
His roar deafened her but she kept going.
With him bent over, she turned her fist up and jerked her arm with as much power as she could and connected with his jaw. He fell on the floor, writhing and spewing all manner of insults. For good measure, she kicked him again.
Jackie turned and flew through the hallway and down the stairs. The bags she packed were already in the car.
Hearing the thuds of feet upstairs, she increased speed and snatched open the door to the garage. Her finger punched the garage door opener on the wall and its creaking sound climbed insanely slow upward.
Fumbling with her keys, she opened the silver Mercedes, jumped into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. Watching the stupid garage door opening in her side windows, she started the car. Go you damn door, she shouted to herself.
When she finally was able to hit reverse, Charlie staggered out of the house toward the car. He pounded on the hood, screaming.
Barely missing the rising door, she screeched into their cul-de-sac with him stumbling after her. The steering wheel spun through her fingers. The car jerked in the right direction. Slamming into drive, she floored the gas and never looked back. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Well, at least she wasn’t headed to prison.