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Chapter Twenty Three

March 24

You know the old saying 'a watched pot never boils'? Well, the same can be said about a clock. The red numbers on the digital alarm clock seemed to be reluctant to turn. The house was quiet. Rielynn had fought sleep, her body already adjusted to Malaysia time. It was only due to playing hard with Parker and my purposeful neglect of giving her naps that she had given in.

My own body was rebelling against the time change. Actually, I felt like I was rebelling against a lot of things. My brain was rebelling, chastising me for not letting Nick go after Charlie. My finger was rebelling against the hard scrubbing I had done to get the foreign panty cooties off of it. My heart was rebelling against the threat of breakage.

I was at war with myself.

The numbers on the clock lazily rolled from 11:59 to midnight. It was a new day. Charlie had to come home eventually.

By 12:30 I was about ready to give up. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to put up a reasonable fight even if he did come home. My tongue would tie and ---

Captain Kangaroo lifted his head. He didn't bark, instead snuggling his poodle-y body tighter against my leg. He had spent the last half hour licking my knee with his rough tongue. I strained my ears and sure enough, I heard the front door opening.

A million things to say ran through my head, some wittier than others, some just in-your-face while others were more beat around the bush. I had never in my entire life expected to have a conversation like the one that was coming straight for me.

I was sitting up in bed, arms crossed when Charlie walked in. He had his doctor's coat draped over his arm and looked, as usual, tired. but he also looked different to me. Just like the house, I knew I hadn't been gone long enough for him to change, but it was a feeling I couldn't shake.

He didn't notice me at first. He took his time hanging his coat. It wasn't until he walked towards the mirror and must have seen an odd shadow and the bedside lamp on the lowest setting that he realized he wasn't alone.

"You're back."

His voice sounded different, just like it had over the phone. I wondered for a moment if he was sick and then I realized he didn't deserve a damn pity party. The throbbing in my knee reminded me that my give a damn was busted.

"What did you do while I was gone?"

I couldn't believe how calm I sounded. It was almost like I was June Cleaver waiting for hubby to get home to present him pot roast, pleasantly asking how his day was because mine was so inconsequential.

"I was at the hospital. You know that."

"You didn't have any visitors here?"

He still hadn't removed his shirt. He held on to the top button awkwardly. "What happened to your knee?"

Leave it to him to spot an injury and change the subject. He stepped forward and let go of his shirt. I pulled the sheet over my lap, effectively covering up Captain Kangaroo in the process.

"Did you have anyone over? Anyone?

My voice was losing the calmness. Charlie stopped, his knees pressing into the end of the bed.

"Of course not. What the hell's wrong with your. You're acting crazy."

The word 'crazy' ended in the most God awful voice. It sounded like a fourteen year old boy was talking. I reached over and yanked open the nightstand. From it I removed a baby wipes container and held it out. "Then explain this."

He gave me a strange look, but he moved over to my side of the bed and took the box. I had a ridiculous vision of Nick leaping from the shadows and punching him out after all. It had taken everything I had to convince him to leave and he did it begrudgingly.

The sound of the lid snapping upwards pulled me back to the present. I saw Charlie's eyes focus. His fingers pulled up the pair of panties. They hung in the air between us.


"So?" I finally said.

He didn't answer. Instead his wrist flicked. I don't know how I knew but I sensed he was just going to leave rather than endure a confrontation. My own hand shot out and grabbed his shirt. His body turned and the sound of ripping fabric rent the air.

The room was dark but it wasn't dark enough for me to second guess what I saw. My sharp intake of breath was just as loud as the ripping shirt was. I stared in disbelief. Charlie froze only a second before running out of the room, but it was too late.

The bare chest I had expected to see had been covered.

By a red silk bra. A bra that most likely had lace details.

A bra that was missing a set of matching red panties.