impact

r | sexual content

It wasn't good.

One minute everything was relatively normal. It was raining outside, thick, cool droplets of water pounding against the Earth, almost violently. The heat was turned on too high in the building, and the windows were fogged up, obscuring anyone's view of the street. She was leaning against his desk, her legs towards the door, her neck twisted around to look at him. Their discussion was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. She watched him over her shoulder as he picked up the receiver. His expression changed from jovial to casual to concerned to blank, all in the span of a few seconds. She couldn't make out the words from the person on the other end of the line, but she could tell he or she was crying.

He said nothing for what seemed like years. His eyes were trained straight ahead, focused on some point on the wall.

"What hospital?"

That definitely wasn't good. Hospitals were never good. Unless you knew someone who was pregnant. And Jack didn't.

"Okay."

He hung up the phone, fingers lingering on the handset for a moment.

He blinked for the first time since the phone rang.

He exhaled.

"What's wrong?"

Inhale.

Exhale.

Blink.

"There was ... ahem ... a car accident. Marie's in the hospital."

Her hand involuntarily fluttered to her chest, re-buttoning the next to the next to the last button, hiding the bit of cleavage that had been exposed when she unbuttoned it this morning, ostensibly because of the stifling heat. She opened her mouth to ask about the severity of the accident, but no words came out.

How could she ask that question without it seeming ... wrong?

"I have to go to the hospital."

He made no attempt to move, staring ahead into space, at that spot on the wall, fingers still tracing useless circles on the phone.

"Do you ... want me to drive you?"

She mentally kicked herself. That would be the epitome of inappropriateness.

"No."

He finally stood up, walking past where she sat on the edge of the desk. She kept her eyes down until the door shut behind him.

It was a good minute before she trusted her legs enough to stand.

Exiting his office, she tried to get to her desk, but Martin stood in her path. Her legs felt like they might fail. She wasn't sure if her voice would work either.

"Sam. I saw Jack rush out of here. Is he okay?"

"Yeah ... um ... his ... Marie was in a car accident. She's in the hospital."

She found herself rubbing her stomach, unconsciously caressing the skin that he had kissed a lifetime ago.

"Oh my God!" He looked absolutely horrified. Like she had just told him they had two minutes before Armageddon. He didn't even know Marie, did he? "Is she okay?"

"I don't know."

She hadn't asked. She couldn't ask. How could she ask?

"What about his kids?"

His kids. God. She hadn't even thought…

"I don't know. I don't know anything."

It was possibly the truest statement she had ever made in her life.

-

She squeezed the shampoo onto her palm, massaging it into her hair, sliding her fingers through the strands just like he did, a lifetime ago, when her mouth had ...

She shook her head, splattering little soapy droplets against her shower curtain. When she stuck her body under the forceful spray, they were washed away by deflected liquid. She closed her eyes and let the water flow down her face. The heat began to wane, so she twisted the knobs until the spray stopped. She stepped out of the shower, drying her hair with an oversized towel. Walking past the phone, she debated for the hundredth time picking up the receiver and dialing one of the numbers she knew by heart. Instead, she kept walking, sitting down at her dresser. She dug into a jar to get the last bit of the moisturizer, rubbing it into her dry skin. Her fingers slid easily over her cheeks.

The hair dryer silenced the morning news program coming from her television and the barking of the dog from outside. But it didn't do anything for the voices in her head. They shouted at her over the buzz of the appliance.

Why do you feel so guilty? Why now?

She hadn't engineered this accident. She wished no harm to the woman. It wasn't like she was driving to Jack's office to confront him when it happened. But there was a huge knot in her stomach and a tightness in her throat now that she couldn't get rid of.

What if she uses this to her advantage? Uses this to sink her hooks back into him?

She dropped the hairbrush on the counter and rubbed her eyes.

That's a horrible thought. His wife ... ex-wife ... almost ex-wife ... is in the hospital, possibly dying, maybe dead already, and that's all you can think of?

"No," she told her reflection.

What if something happened to his children? He'll be devastated.

She chose the body lotion that he didn't prefer. The one that didn't cause him to lean into her personal space, inhaling so deeply that sometimes she feared others would hear it. The one that didn't cause him to give her a small smile when she walked past him and the breeze let him get a good whiff of it. The one that didn't cause him to spend extra time kissing her legs when they ...

She closed her eyes, as if that would somehow banish the memories from her mind. They were nice memories. Pleasant memories. But now ...

She dressed like she was going to funeral. And maybe she was, in a way.

-

Walking by his office, she actually did a double take. He was sitting at his desk, looking at a file, just like this was a normal day. She blinked forcibly. He was still there. She contemplated going in for several seconds, finally rapping lightly on the door. He looked up and nodded for her to come in.

"Didn't expect to see you here today."

He set down his papers and leaned back in his chair, resting his arms on the edge of his desk.

"There isn't really much point in me staying at the hospital, and people aren't going to suddenly stop being missing just because of events in my personal life."

'Hospital.' So she was at the hospital. She was still alive. A bit of the weight seemed to be lifted off her chest.

'Personal life.' So she was part of his personal life. Well, of course. She was his wife ... ex-wife ... almost ex-wife ... the mother of his children. His children.

"Are your kids okay?"

"Yes. They weren't in the car."

She wanted to ask more, but couldn't find the words. Her concern for the woman in the hospital was real. She didn't wish her ill-will. But any question about her condition ... in this situation ... she hoped Jack knew better. He seemed to sense her discomfort.

"Another driver had a heart attack. His car went out of control and crossed the center line. Hit her head on. Fortunately, she wasn't too seriously injured. Both of her feet are broken; she'll be in wheelchair for a little while, but that was the extent of her injuries. She's going into surgery today to set the broken bones and get a screw inserted. She's pretty doped up on the morphine and there's family there taking care of her, so there wasn't much point to me sticking around."

It sounded rehearsed. Like he had practiced it in the car on the way to work. She had a feeling she was getting the same speech that he would be giving to Martin and Danny. Nothing too personal. Nothing added, just for her ears.

She told herself she didn't really have the right to be hurt.

"I'll be out in a minute."

She nodded and left his office. She sat in a different chair, next to Martin, away from where Jack would be sitting. She busied herself with her notes and her files until Jack exited his office and joined his team.

"Didn't expect to see you here, Jack," Martin said softly. "How's your wife?"

Ex-wife. Almost ex-wife.

He began the same speech he had given her. She stared at drop of coffee slowly falling down the side of Martin's cup.

It was still raining outside.

(fin.)