He closed his eyes and leaned forward, pressing his forehead against the cool metal of his truck, breathing in and out through his nose, trying to quell the incessant nausea. He’d started drinking on Tuesday night after Rosie left and now it was Friday. He’d remembered to send Stephen Castle, his friend and boss, a text before going on the kind of bender that would make a rock star proud.
That’s all Dominic had had the presence of mind to type to Stephen—and it wasn’t a lie. He was sick. Just not with anything that could be cured.
Dominic heard the crunch of gravel behind him and braced for noise that would surely split his brain down the middle. “Jesus H. Christ,” Stephen said, his voice obnoxiously chipper for eight o’clock in the morning. Or any time of day, for that matter. His work ethic made him a great construction foreman, but Stephen’s smiling face was the last thing Dominic wanted to see right now. Unfortunately, he had a solid work ethic of his own and the guilt of missing two days on the job had him feeling like shit on top of everything else. “You still sick, buddy?” Stephen patted him on the shoulder. “Go home. I don’t need the whole crew catching the plague.”
Stephen turned Dominic by the shoulder, jerking back when he saw his face.
“What the hell did you catch? Malaria?”
“I don’t have time for this,” Dominic said, pressing a row of fingers to the center of his splitting forehead. “Don’t act like you don’t know Rosie is staying with Bethany.”
“I . . . Oh. Shit.” Stephen’s hand dropped away. “No, I didn’t know, man.”
Why did that piss Dominic off even more? Leaving her husband wasn’t a big enough event that this tiny-ass town with a rabid gossip mill didn’t know about it? Swallowing the acid in his mouth, Dominic moved to the back of the truck and hefted out his toolbox, just in time for Travis Ford to approach with a shit-eating grin a mile wide. He had the swagger of a man who didn’t need to work, just wanted a hobby in between commentating gigs at Bombers Stadium and getting heavy with his fiancée, also known as Stephen’s other sister, Georgie.
The pair had accidentally hooked up over the summer after pretending to date in an effort to clean up Travis’s “bad boy of baseball” image. It had worked in a way they’d never expected and the guy couldn’t be flying any higher. Or be more obviously devoted to his girl.
I used to be like that with Rosie.
Right up until the day he’d joined the marines and left for his first tour, anytime he and Rosie were in the same room together . . . he saw nothing else. There was simply nothing and no one but the girl who’d held his heart since middle school.
It was still that way. Nothing had changed in that regard. Never would.
He hadn’t been in the same room as her since Tuesday, and thank God. Thank God she hadn’t seen him drunk and raging and calling her turned-off cell phone in between swigs of Jack Daniel’s. He wouldn’t have been able to stomach her seeing him weak.
The ex–baseball player propped an elbow on the raised back gate of Dominic’s truck and took a long pull from his paper coffee cup. Then he lowered it, hesitating. “Heard your wife left you.”
If he’d had an ounce of energy left in his body, he would have decked the cocky motherfucker. As it was, Dominic was too numb to move. Couldn’t even feel the toolbox in his hand. “You have something to say about it?”
“Wait, wait. Hold up.” Stephen stepped in between them with a look of outrage. “How come Travis knows and I don’t?”
Travis grinned into another sip of coffee. “You don’t really want a reminder this early in the morning that I’m moving in with your sister, do you, Stephen?”
“No.” He held up a staying hand. “Please, God, keep it to yourself.”
“Bought an autumn centerpiece for the dining room table last weekend,” Travis continued undeterred, obviously enjoying himself. “Has little pumpkins and pinecones sticking out of it. Cute as hell.”
“Are you done?” Stephen complained. “This man’s marriage is over.”
The cavern in Dominic’s chest widened, but he hardened his jaw, refusing to let the turmoil inside show on his face. “Look, if you two assholes wouldn’t mind? I’d like to go knock some walls down.”
Travis tipped his coffee cup in Dominic’s direction. “What you should have done is knocked your own walls down and let her in—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Stephen’s voice was rife with disgust. “You’ve been in a relationship for one minute and think you’re an expert?”
Dominic turned on the heel of his boot and headed toward the house, leaving his two friends to argue behind him. Today was demo day on their new flip, and he found sinking a sledgehammer into old Sheetrock cathartic most times. This morning, he physically needed the outlet. Already frustration was curling his fingers into fists.
His wife was supposed to be by his side.
He was working, but the money he earned would no longer provide for her. Knowing that was a constant punch in the gut.
I provide. That’s the one thing I’ve never fucked up.
Dominic’s father had been a quiet man, but he’d been driven. After his single mother had passed, he’d left Puerto Rico at age twenty to find a fresh start in New York, where he’d met Dominic’s mother after only a month. With a young family to care for, he’d worked impossibly hard to make ends meet in the beginning. Sick days didn’t exist for the man, and he’d managed to pass on the importance of dependability to his son. Wake up, work, create security for his loved ones. As long as he was doing those things, they would be content. Providing was a no-fail way to communicate love, wasn’t it? So where exactly had Dominic gone wrong?
A few crew members were scattered on the porch when Dominic climbed the stairs and they called greetings to him, but he just kept walking, letting the roar in his ears build and block everything else out. He took a cursory glance at the markings made in thick black Sharpie on the walls, indicating where beams or pipes lay on the other side. And then he picked up the closest sledgehammer and buried it in the old Sheetrock.
Nothing. None of the pressure in his chest abated. If anything, it grew worse.
The sound of his breathing rasped in his ears as he picked up the heavy tool again, raised it over his head, and destroyed another section of the wall. In his mind, he could see Rosie packing her suitcase on their marriage bed. Her words that had split him wide open, sure as he was splitting open the wall.
I don’t love you anymore.
His next assault on the wall absorbed the humiliating sound that left his mouth. Men didn’t lose their heads like this. Or break down in front of other people. They were supposed to be rocks. Constants in the lives of those around them, never wavering. But he couldn’t stop lifting the sledgehammer and driving it full force into the wall.
Finally, he had to quit thanks to his screaming muscles and the two sets of hands that ripped the tool away. Dominic tried to get it back, but the whiskey he’d ingested the night before chose that moment to rise up and set his throat on fire. He barely made it outside before throwing up his breakfast in the grass behind the house.
Dominic’s legs wanted to give out. He needed to sit down. But he’d already shown too much of his hand with everyone watching. No, he’d stand, thank you very much. He’d given in to the pain enough for today. Hell, enough for a year.
As the rush of sound in his ears started to fade, Dominic heard himself laboring to breathe. Heard the passing traffic in the distance, the shift of the yellowing lawn around him. He wasn’t alone.
“You’re welcome,” Dominic said, keeping his back turned to Stephen and Travis. “Saved you some work.”
“Well, hold off next time, man. We like breaking shit, too,” Travis returned. A few moments ticked by. “Look, I was, uh . . . trying to make light of the situation earlier. Knowing you, I thought you’d appreciate me forgoing the one-armed, back-slapping man hug and an off-key rendition of ‘Kumbaya.’”
Dominic cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’d rather die.”
“But it has recently come to our attention . . .” Stephen said drily, “that you might actually need to talk.”
“You sure?” Dominic glanced over at Travis, who toggled his eyebrows. “I’m willing to break my fiancé-fiancée confidentiality just this once.” A shadow crossed his face. “When Georgie broke up with me, I would have sawed off my fucking leg to find out what she ate for dinner. Or what she wore to bed—”
“We get it,” Stephen said, exasperated.
Travis held up both hands. “All I’m saying is . . . I have the goods.”
Dominic ground his jaw together to keep from asking for information. Was Rosie upset? Did she give a shit at all? Was she still wearing those goddamn high heels that gave her blisters and made her hobble around the house at night? How many times had he hidden them in the back of her closet, hoping she’d put on the flat slipper-looking shoes instead?
Was she eating dinner at a normal hour?