SCARLET

                His eyes opened in a cold sweat.  A cold breeze seized the room; Sam noticed the open window, letting in the frigid air and the twilight's fading rays.  Slowly, he rose from the familiar bed.  As he paced to the window, he looked back to the red-haired addiction lying silently in the bed.  For the past years, this room, this bed, had been Sam's escape.  Recently, it was the prison he couldn't escape.  His mind faded like the twilight, as he placed his forehead on the frosty window.  It faded to the day of his temptation.

               The afternoon sun blazed, assaulting Sam's exposed skin.  High up on the scaffolding of the in-complete apartment building, there was little protection for the sun's rays.  The only relief was the water bottle Sam's co-worker Dan tossed him as they made their way to the elevator.  Up here, Sam could see for miles, even to the neighborhood where he and Jen had just bought their first house.  He imagined her at home, obsessively aligning knick-knacks on the shelves.

"So dude, a bunch of the guys are gonna hit the bar tonight.  Would the mistress mind if you came out?" Daniel asked, interrupting Sam's thoughts.

                "My ball and chain wouldn't mind.  What about yours?"  Sam responded, oddly uncomfortable referring to Jen as a ball and chain.  Frankly, Sam couldn't have been luckier.  Each day, Jen greeted him with a hug and kiss.  She loved him.  Sam was usually too tired to return such affection.  However that would change as Sam remembered his Sunday reservations.  A night out would be a treat.  Sam smiled pleasantly with himself, and his plan to woo his wife again.

                "No way, she's out of town.  She's working an airline flight to London, said something about being home Saturday night.  Got no beef with that, time to hit the bars for me.  I can be almost out of my hangover by time she lands." Dan quipped, as they entered the elevator.  A piercing ring resounded around the construction complex; the day shift was done.  As much as Sam found the sun exhausting, the thought of working in the moon's chill was worse. 

                "All right..." Sam thought it over, "I'll come out.  I'll just call Jen at home.  She's probably out shopping anyways."

                Sam waved goodbye to Dan as he headed for his Ford Yukon.  As he got in, Sam flipped open his phone and speed-dialed home.  Jen's authentic voice answered voicemail.

                "This is the Parsons' residence, of Jen and Sam!  Sorry, but you should have called sooner.  Leave a message and we'll call you back.  Love ya, bye!"  Sam always thought the message was absolutely too perky; it didn't seem so bad now.  It brought a smile to his face.

                A stern beep sounded.

                "Hey Jen, I guess you are out.  Just calling to let you know that the guys are going to hang out tonight.  I'll be home a bit late; please don't wait for me.  Love you babe."  Sam closed the phone and turned over the engine.

                 A happy-go-lucky Dan pressed Sam to slam down another drink.             

                "Dude, I've had enough."  Sam argued; Dan wasn't ready to back down. 

                "You are such a stiff!" He shouted over the pounding bass of the music, "Open that wallet and that mind of yours a bit.  Enjoy yourself!"  Dan waved to the bartender for another, who acknowledged him promptly.

                "Seriously, I think it's time I go, while I can still drive."

                "That's what taxis are for.  Now," The bartender placed a pint in front of Sam, "Drink, and be merry."

                That was two hours ago.

                Sam drunkenly slumped to the bar stool.  No longer was the bass pounded; it was blaring into Sam's eardrums like D-Day bombs, and Sam could feel his nerve endings losing all feeling.  Barely conscious, he slumped onto the counter as Dan came by again, a scarlet-haired beauty in tow. 

                "Look here little buddy.  I got you a present."  Sam was hardly responsive.  "Come on, man," Dan gave Sam a wake-up tap, "You got plenty of life in you."

                "Hey, Dan.  Hello, pretty lady." Sam replied in a stupor, the words flowing uninhibited.  The scarlet lady flashed a practiced smile at the married man.  Slowly, she walked her fingers up his side, before roughing his hair. 

                "Whoa!" Sam knee-jerked. 

                "Oh come on Sam!  One woman, for the rest of your life?  Really?"  Dan's words were like a sour vinegar, made sweet by the work of the drinks.  Any other time Sam would have punched the guy for saying his wife wasn't enough.  Right now, the Jack Daniels and hard tequilas took over.  Sam lazily looked around at the scarlet woman.  One woman.  One time.  Sam promised himself, in his one clear moment: Jen will never know.

                That was four years ago.

 

                Jen pulled into the hospital parking lot.  After a day of simply fighting her mind and driving around the suburbs, she has ended up here.  The bruises had darkened, no longer the fresh blue but a deep purple.  Nervously, Jen pulled up her shirt, to see her stomach.  Her lips quivered as she saw a similar purple bruise; she lifted a silent prayer. 

                Flashing lights caught Jen's attention, as an ambulance pulled into the hospital, EMTs operating like a military unit.  Swiftly, they opened the doors; doctors rushed out of the hospital; a team of specialists quickly began attending to the victim on the gurney.  An I.V. stand was quickly on scene as the patient was wheeled inside to safety.  As soon as it all happened, the ambulance was gone and the hospital returned to the calm. 

                Jen felt a fresh wave of loneliness.  There was no one there to rescue her.  No doctors to heal her wounds, to mend her marriage.  No one was rushing to ensure her baby was safe.  In the dark Ford Yukon, Jen Parson felt like all powers in heaven and earth had deserted her. 

 

                A stir behind him forced Sam to snap back to the present.  The scarlet woman, whose name Sam had never learned, began to rise from their bed.  For the past four years since that night at the bar, Sam and the woman had come to the same motel, the same room, and the same bed.  A dirty orange carpet gave the room a retro look, and Sam was certain the beddings were still the same as that first night.

                "Hey sweetie," came the intoxicating invite of the woman.  She sat up straight in the bed, holding the sheets to her chest.  For the first time in four years, Sam didn't turn back.  Looking outside at the people on the sidewalk, the cars passing, Sam's mind, and his heart, wondered where Jenny was.  A day had passed since their last fight.  He had woken up from his stupor to find her and the car both gone.  Was this for real?  For the first time, the thought crossed Sam's mind: will she come back?

                "Hey," he heard rustling from the bed, "it's night, let's just sleep it off, like we did the day."    Warm arms wrapped around his bare chest.  Instead of a comforting embrace, it made Sam sick.  The embrace, it felts like the grip of a snake, crushing life from his body.  He removed her arms and began to dress.  He never looked at her.

                "Come on.  Let me help you forget about that wife of yours."  Her words were like venom. The moment stopped Sam.  Suddenly, Sam's mind was wrapped in fog, disorienting him.  He slumped back, onto the bed.  In that moment, all energy felt sapped from his bones.  Yet his mind raced.

                How could you?

                How could you treat her like that?

                You are a monster.

                You could never love.

                Are you a man? 

                You are a coward.

                You are a monster.

                Go dig your grave. 

You don't deserve to live. 

                Sam sat up sharply; the words ringing firmly in his ears and mind.  As if someone in the room was whispering them.  Looking at his hands, he noticed the severe shakes overriding his motor controls.             "God, I'm a monster." He whispered.  His head whipped around as he heard the door open.

                "Okay, this is too much crazy.  When you are ready for some lust, call me.  I don't need baggage."  The scarlet woman left, slamming the door, leaving Sam alone with his thoughts.

                It didn't take along for Sam to pay the bill and ditch the room.  As he got into the car, Sam could feel the shakes worsening. 

                God, I'm a monster.

 

                Fearfully, Jen unlocked the doors, and stepped onto the pavement of the parking lot.  The sound of her shoe on the cement car lot surprised her, sending more adrenaline through her bloodstream.  Tightly wrapping her jacket around her body, she began her slow walk to the hospital doors.  Outside of the car, Jen felt the biting cold of the November night.  Several times, she halted, simply staring at the cement pavement, unsure of the next move.  She could feel the same paralyzing fear come over her the closer she got to the doors. 

                Yet she was this close.  She couldn't back down. 

                Finally, she got to the doors; the steel handles were a shock to her palms, as she entered the hospital.  It was silent; several people waited in the lobby.  A mother and her child, a couple at the receptionist and a crying man in the corner: Jen felt like they all were staring at her.  Her breath quickened; her mouth turned dry.  Jen knew they could all see the blue bruise.  Would they think she was simply a whore off the streets, or maybe a gang victim?  Jen felt her vision blackening out, and her knees shaking.  As she was about to turn, Jen was stopped by a blonde haired nurse.

                "Ma'am, are you all right?"

                "Help me."  Jen blacked out.

 

 

 

The End

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