“That’s enough, you two,” Stephen huffed, waving at the blank page. “Continue. I’m interested to hear this.”
“Right.” Bethany patted Dominic on the forearm. “A man who pays attention. I’m not just talking about knowing her favorite movie or how she takes her coffee. I’m talking about details. Little things that would slip under the radar—unless you’re the one who loves her. You would notice them.” She smiled. “Yes, the devil is definitely in the details. Did that help?”
“Not even a little bit,” Dominic answered.
“Well, I tried!” She whipped her coat back and swept toward the house. “Texas called, Wes. It wants its rodeo clown back.”
“Oz called. They’re missing a witch.”
Travis laughed. “Told you not to go there.”
“Are you crazy?” Wes said, taking off his hat and fanning himself with it. “I want to go there even more now.”
The voices around Dominic faded out until he couldn’t hear anyone’s but Rosie’s, traveling to him from the past. In the darkness of the Montauk hotel where they stayed on their honeymoon. Over the phone when he called her from Afghanistan, his heart tearing in half while listening to her try not to cry, telling him to be safe. In the mist of a breathless meeting in their shower, her back squeaking up and down on the tile. Details. Details. He had those.
Swallowing hard, Dominic picked up the pen and started to write.
Rosie’s heels clicked in the silence of the mall parking lot. The night breeze swirled around her calves and caressed her neck. She breathed it in deeply, grateful for fresh, clean air after eight hours of sucking in various perfumes. There was no respite from the cloying odor except for the break room, and that smelled like reheated chicken and stale donuts. This afternoon, she’d gotten stuck behind a stalled school bus and arrived three minutes late, so she’d been forced to demonstrate a scent called Green Monster.
Two bottles had been sold.
Both to female customers who wanted to play a joke on their boyfriend.
Rosie didn’t even bother waiting until she’d reached her car to take off the heels. She gripped them by the stems and cooled her feet on the chilled asphalt, one step at a time. She’d have to remember to wash them off before getting into Bethany’s dream bed.
Weirdly, she wasn’t quite as excited to sink into the exquisite mattress tonight. It might be perfect and ergonomically designed, but . . . a lot was missing. Things she’d grown used to and possibly, maybe, taken for granted. Such as Dominic’s breath in her hair, steady and deep and reliable. The way he’d brush their knuckles together when the night was too dark to see each other’s face. And just that simple touch would lull her back to sleep. Even the dip of the mattress when he turned over, the one that used to wake her up and annoy her . . . She found herself waking up in Bethany’s bed, troubled by the absence of it.
This was normal. Any kind of change was hard. It wasn’t that she missed him. She needed to remember that. What would she miss? His brooding silence? Their total lack of a social life? Seriously, he hadn’t taken her out in . . . years. They had friends, but those relationships never got nurtured because they always stayed home. Dominic didn’t expressly ask her to stay home, but growing up they’d done everything together. Now they were adults and going out separately never seemed like an option. Almost like there was an unspoken rule between them and it was cemented by Dominic’s possessiveness.
If she hadn’t gone to Zumba class one night over the summer, she wouldn’t have been there for the formation of the Just Us League. It might never have been formed at all.
Rosie stepped on a pebble and winced.
“You okay, Rosie?” called the security guard from the mall door. He’d been supervising Rosie’s walk to her car since she’d gotten the job years ago. Such a sweetheart. His watching over her was slightly odd, considering he didn’t do it for anyone else, but he was such a harmless grandfatherly type, she never questioned it.
Hopping on one foot, she waved back. “I’m fine, Joe!”
Lost in her thoughts—and the twinge of pain in her heel—it took Rosie a moment to see the envelope on her windshield, tucked beneath one of the wipers.
Her name was written across the front in a familiar hand.
Rosie’s stomach winged up to her throat like a startled bird as she plucked the envelope out of its place. With it in hand, she looked around the empty parking lot, as if her husband might be leaning against a lamppost, but there was no one there, save the McDonald’s wrappers and shopping bags blowing in the wind.
She took out her car keys and unlocked the door, waving one final time to Joe before climbing into the driver’s seat and locking the Honda. After a moment of deliberation, she set the letter down on the passenger seat and started the car. She’d read it when she got home and changed into her pajamas. But she made it two feet before she slammed on the brakes and threw the car back into park. With a deep breath, she retrieved the letter and switched on the overhead light, sliding the folded piece of paper out of its home.
You have a freckle behind your ear, in a place that’s impossible for you to see. I’m not sure if anyone has ever told you about it, but sometimes I pretend it’s my secret. The first time I kissed it, we were at homecoming. Beginning of senior year. I pulled your back against my front and the lights went up. The dance was over and it felt like we’d just gotten there. We looked around and everyone was gone. When you turned your head, that’s when I saw the freckle, right in the crease where your ear meets your head. I leaned in, kissed it, and you told me you loved me for the first time. Whispered it while they stacked the chairs around us. Do you remember that? I was convinced that freckle was magic. The secret way I made you fall in love with me. When you left, my first thought was, I should have kissed that freckle more. I bet you didn’t know you married a ridiculous man. Will you please just consider the possibility that I love you more than you realize or than I’m capable of expressing with words?
If that’s too much to ask, suffice it to say, I’m proud to have you as my wife.
I’m proud of the person you were that night at homecoming, the person you became when I was away, and most of all, the person you are now. You’re incredible. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you often enough.
The letter fluttered into Rosie’s lap. Her fingers were tingling too much to hold the piece of paper for a second longer. You’re incredible.
In that moment, that’s exactly how she felt. Light and heavy all at once. Substantial.
Rosie was a strong woman and liked to think she didn’t need a pat on the back. But Dom’s letter was just truth. It was revealing and she couldn’t deny the new energy flowing through her, knowing she made someone proud.
I should have kissed that freckle more.
She could almost feel Dominic’s lips behind her ear, whispering those words that made her feel so desirable. Not as a sexual object, but as a singular woman. As Rosie. A hot mudslide seemed to break loose inside her, traveling all the way to her stomach. She suddenly felt so full. So aware of every inch of her skin and every breath entering and leaving her lungs. Her thighs felt uber-present on the seat, covered in goose bumps, and she moved them around, just to feel the soft, worn-in material of the driver’s seat rasp against her panty hose. She tipped her head back and recalled that night at homecoming, her lips lifting into a smile. This was how she’d felt then. Like a woman. Like the object of someone’s notice.
She could do anything when she felt like this.
Heart trapped in her throat, Rosie read the letter again. And again. She was preparing to read it a fourth time when a knock on the window shaved approximately nine years off her life.
Joe the security guard waved from the other side of the glass. Thankfully he kept his flashlight averted, because she didn’t need the sweet older gentleman getting an eyeful of what Dominic’s letter was doing to her body. Her nipples were in rigid points, her thighs squeezed together, those tiny muscles inside of her bearing down, searching for that invading thickness her husband usually provided.
“You all right in there, Rosie?” came his muffled voice through the window.
“Yes,” she croaked, stuffing the letter back into the envelope. “I was just getting ready to leave—thanks for checking on me.”
Joe nodded. “Wouldn’t want to catch hell from Dominic,” he said almost absently, throwing her a wink. “Or miss out on that extra fifty dollars a week he gives me to make sure you get to your car safely.”
“He . . . what?”
“I’ve been putting it into a college fund for my granddaughter.” He chuckled. “She wants to do something with computers. Hell if I understand any of it. You take care, Rosie!”
Shell-shocked, Rosie stared at Joe’s retreating back. Until he turned around and waved her into action. Fingers still tingling, she started the car and pulled out of the lot, grateful the road back to Port Jefferson was mostly empty this time of night, because no way should she have been operating a motor vehicle. On her way through town, she found herself taking a detour down one of the side streets, just off Main, and stopping in front of the empty commercial space she’d been dreaming about since it appeared for sale in the classifieds.