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For some reason, the first thing he did when he got back home was get his wedding album.
At first, he felt nothing. It was peculiar. Usually, he felt so many things that he couldn’t number or contain them. Usually, he felt excited. Happy. Curious. Today, he had been scared. So, so scared, for an entire day while he drove around. It was worse than when Dre had gone missing the second time. This time, the fact that Lanie was gone too had nearly done him in. Why couldn’t he keep track of his family?
As he stared at the cover, there was nothing. This book, that he had picked out at the wedding store to put Ian’s pictures in, was simple, understated, and elegant. Something she would like.
The anger surfaced in him again as he flipped through the album, and for a moment he was afraid his fingers might light the pages on fire. But then he didn’t care. Let it burn, he thought. That whole day had been a worthless lie, anyway. Just a worthless lie.
Their whole wedding had been captured in that one book. As he flipped through it violently, he didn’t care when some of the pages ripped. He had always thought marriage would be nothing but an unreachable dream. That he was doomed to wander like Cain from woman to woman, cursed to never find home.
He should have known not to hope. He should have known that trusting a woman would lead to this eventually. He should have known that he would fail. Did he deserve any better?
And now, she was gone. She had stolen everything from him and disappeared.
Sent him on a wild goose chase. Tricked him. Played him for a fool.
With a scream, he heaved the album at the wall with all his strength. With a loud rustle of a hundred pages, glossy photos rained down like the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah, burning him to the ground.
“Why?” he screamed as he gripped the edges of the rug. “Why would you give me everything I wanted, and make me think I was finally starting the rest of my life, only to rip it away?”
His eye caught the big photo of the three of them from that day on the wall near the back door. Soon the crash of glass and wood from the frame echoed in the house, and he yelled as he tore the picture into as many pieces as he could.
He cut his finger on the glass as he tried to pick up one of the photos from the album. Blood dripped onto the pile of filthy garbage.
This was a picture of them saying their vows. The glow from the sun cast Lanie in gold. He remembered being dazzled and nearly missing the pastor’s question to him. The first in a series of “I do” questions.
“Well, I guess I don’t then. You sure didn’t.” Blood smeared her face as he shredded the picture.
Next were pictures of some of the decorations at the reception. Beautiful blocks of wood painted or brushed with words like “always” and “forever” and “happily ever after.” Dripping with crimson rage, he destroyed all of them, too.
Next, he paused on a picture of Dre. He looked adorable in his little suit, gazing up at Ben with a silly grin as they held hands by the chocolate fountain. After wiping his bloody finger on his pants, he carefully folded the picture and put it in his pocket. His anger melted into grief for his boy. What was Lanie telling Dre about him? Did Dre miss him? Did he think Ben had broken his promises?
Where were they? Where were his babies?
Deep sobs tore up from inside him, and he curled on his side with glass crunching beneath him.
“My son,” he wept, though no one could hear. “My children.”
Lilah tried to call him. She texted him. Over and over until he blocked her number. Then it was Rowan. Even Bob tried. He blocked them all. He thought about putting his phone on do-not-disturb, but she might try to use someone else’s phone to call him. Still, despite the conversation he’d had with the police, he couldn’t take the chance that she might change her mind and try to call.
Night fell, and there was still nothing. Feeling sick, he popped some Tums. Then chased it with Gravol, and finally some Tylenol. Nothing helped.
A raging, all-consuming craving hit him. His life had never felt more out of control. He needed brandy. A million Xanax. A truckload of Valium. He could smoke a lifetimes worth of crack in that moment, if someone offered.
While the tub filled with cold water, he grabbed every tray of ice in their freezer. Sitting in the pitch dark, he took deep breaths and focused on the stinging cold seeping into him. He breathed, and reminded himself that now was not the time to go off the rails. She would come back. She was angry at him, clearly, but she just needed some space. She’d be back. He needed to keep it together, because if she came back to find him over the edge, she’d leave again.
When he emerged from the bath, he considered going to bed. But he hadn’t spent a night away from her in almost eight months. More than two-hundred nights of falling asleep with her beside him.
After spending a few hours watching the TV that they had rarely used, he stayed up all night in the attic, watching out the window. It cut his soul at first, but he needed to feel close to her, so he played his guitar. Just yesterday, they had sat together, and sang together for their friends. As long as he didn’t think about the stark contrast between then and now, he could envelop himself in the memory of that song, of those three minutes with her when he thought he would die from happiness. He had a smoking hot, fantastic wife. An amazing, smart son. Two more babies on the way. Good health, a job at his dream company, a great house, and friends he thought he could count on. He’d finally felt that he could rest, that the hard times were behind them. They’d made it. They’d survived. Now, onto happily ever after. He’d taken for granted that he’d finally achieved the blissful, peaceful life he’d prayed for.
She’d be home tomorrow. She had to be.
He played that song, and then played it again, taking hit after hit of that magic moment until he was certain that she could hear it, wherever she was. She would hear it, and come back. He didn’t sleep. He didn’t move. He didn’t think about anything other than those three minutes when his life had been perfect.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13