“Hi Daddy!” Alexis yelled, back from cheer practice.
“Hey honey,” Frank said. His voice cracks like he’s thirteen again. Unsure how to mention the text, he forces a smile. Why did everything flow so well when I practiced in the mirror? Stupid text. Stupid car battery. Stupid cops. Except Officer J. Bobby. Frank sighed, dreading supper. Even with a cop on patrol, the thought of someone taking his daughter and haunting her insides didn’t sit well. He had no appetite.
Alexis throws her crimson gym bag down near the kitchen table and washed her hands. The house feels warmer with her return but incomplete without Eve.
“Dad? Are you okay?”
He’s spaced out, staring at an empty white square shaped plate. “Yeah,” he shakes it off. “I’m okay.”
Frank serves buttered rice, grilled broccoli and seasoned chicken breasts grilled to perfection. He wants Alexis to grab her phone and see the message so they can talk about it.
“She’s still at Aunt Liz’s. There was Shiraz, so…”
“Oh gosh, wine makes mom such a motor mouth. I’m glad she’s having fun, though. Thanks for making dinner, it’s so good.”
Frank never mentions the text as Alexis dominates the conversation. And here’s my other motor mouth. Frank smiled. Every topic was school or friend related. He learned about her ineffective spotter, who failed to catch her during tumbling practice. The three boys who asked her to the dance and couldn’t decide who to go with. She’s animated and open. Nothing like him — that makes Frank happy. Soon after, she finished, and he sat with a half-full plate.
“Alexis.” He joins her at the sink. “Oh, honey you don’t have to wash those.”
“Score!” she flings the green and yellow sponge in the sink and walks off. Frank gently grabs her hand.
“Did you check your phone?”
Alexis looks at him, baffled. “Yeah… why?”
“Are you in any trouble?”
Frank releases his grip and grabs the phone. “There’s a strange message here. I wasn’t trying to pry; you left your phone on the counter and I saw it pop up. Is someone bothering you, honey?”
“That’s not my phone.”
“What? This is your phone case.”
Frank examines the black silicone case littered with gold sparkles. He remembers when Alexis bought the case, Eve gushed about it so much Alexis scored one for her birthday. They shared a similar taste in style.
“That’s mom’s phone,” Alexis said. “Remember? I got her that case.”
It’s Eve’s phone. A message for her… To haunt her insides. Frank nods. His heart plummets in slow motion. The clock reads a quarter to seven. The blackness of night settled outside earlier than normal. Eve was an hour away. Officer Bobby wouldn’t be by until nine.
“Daddy? Are you okay?” Alexis asked.
Frank shakes his head and put his elbows on the kitchen counter, struggling to breathe. Alexis rubs his back.
“Is she… cheating on me?”
Alexis meets Frank’s eyes, shocked. All he sees is Eve in front of him. Slender, wavy honey cranberry colored hair, big brown caring eyes, and tender touch.
All the disappointment in his life returns. Struggles with his weight. The names, jokes. He sees the police station again laughing at him. His boss telling him how worthless he is. The fear of losing his job and having to push that cart. Faces looking out their window at him, judging. The shame. The pity. Frank re-read the message, confused, conflicted. Haunt your insides… I’ll take you tonight…
Alexis takes the phone from him. Frank watched her read, imagining Eve and her excuses: You’re boring, I’m interested in someone else… You’re too fat. I want a divorce.
“This must be him,” Alexis said, pointing at the screen. “She’s not cheating on you. There’s a guy she said that’s bothering her. Mom didn’t want to tell you because she knows how stressed you’ve been with work.”
“What — what guy?” Frank looks over Alexis’s shoulder. “Who?”
“I don’t know. She said he’s watched her from the bench on the corner whenever she goes running. He’s approached her. I didn’t know it was this crazy though…”
“Mom told you all this?” Frank rubs his chest. He saunters to the table. Cold chicken and rice stare back at him. “How long has it been happening?”
“Maybe two weeks. I think. She said she blocked the number though, so I’m not sure how she’s still getting these messages.”
“That’s why she hasn’t been out running.” Frank stares at the phone, hurt and agitated. He kicks himself for being so consumed in work to not recognize Eve’s pain. Worse, for thinking she cheated on him.
“Why’s my gun out, Dad?”
Frank looks at the BB gun propped up by the back door. He forgot about his biggest problem: this mysterious guy. Was he coming here? Eve’s sister’s house? “Oh, um, nothing just… it’s nothing.”
“Mom loves you.” Alexis said. They hug. Maybe she could sense his fears. “Don’t worry.”
Officer J. Bobby rolled past the house at nine. Frank waved from his window. He came by again at nine-fifteen, nine-thirty, and ten. At ten-thirty, Frank came out with a cup of fresh medium roast sweetened with cream and sugar. He also gave away the leftover donuts. He had to get in better shape.
“Oh wow, thanks!” Bobby said. He’s three bites into a cruller, happy as a clam. “Appreciate it.”
“See anything? Seems calm out here…”
“No. Neighborhood is quiet. Peaceful even.” He takes a sip of coffee. “Mm. There are stars. Haven’t seen those in a while.” He looks up at the sky in wonder. “I wish I lived over here. Your block is nice.”
“Where do you live?”
“South side. No one sees stars over there unless they get knocked out. Can’t wait to leave. I’d move over here in a heartbeat.”
Frank looked around, admiring his home. It was nice, simple. He remembers carrying Eve through the yellow front door in her sexy, strapless wedding dress. “Let’s make love forever, baby,” Eve told him that day. Her brown eyes were big and willing, excited to start her new life.
Another car approaches and slows—Eve. Why is she back from her sister’s already? Frank’s entire body grows nervous to see her, but can’t understand why. The passenger side window slides down.
“Hon?” Eve looks at Officer Bobby and Frank. “What’s going on?”
“Good evening, ma’am,” Bobby said.
“I’m okay, we’re just talking.” Eve nods and pulls into the garage. “My wife, Eve. I better head back in.”
Officer Bobby nods. “I’ll be around. Thanks again for the grub.”
Frank found Eve in the bedroom, already undressing for the shower. “Eve. We need to talk.” Frank swallowed hard, holding her phone at his side.
“Okay,” she whispered. Her honey cranberry hair flows down her shoulders when she takes her pony out. She’s nude beneath her smooth, mauve colored robe she secures around her waist. It’s been so long since he’d seen her body. Eve was willing lately, but Frank, not so much, until now. Worst timing ever. He shakes it off. There were bigger concerns.
“I saw the messages. The texts from some guy?” Frank began. “I heard he’s been in the neighborhood, sitting on benches watching you run? Why didn’t you tell me? What if something happened to you?”
Eve slumps on the edge of their bed. Unable to look Frank in the eye.
“Alexis told me everything. You have a stalker!”
Frank takes her hand. Eve looks down, away, and up to the air, holding back tears. Anytime Eve cried, he cried with her. It shattered his soul to see such a beautiful life’s light dim. It was the same with Alexis.
“Frank…” she wipes tears with the lacy sleeve edge of her robe. “I… It’s not a stalker,” she bites her lip hard. Tears leap out her eyes. “I slept with a man…”
“What…” Frank squeezes her hand. “What?”
“Ouch! Frank…” she winces back, out of his grip. He stares at her hard, and silent. “I’m sorry… I—I told him tonight I wanted nothing to do with him, and to leave me alone.”
“Tonight? Eve! What the…” he paces the room. “How long were you fucking this guy? Why did Alexis say that you said he was bothering you!? Were you even at your sister’s?”
“I was! I saw him on the way from Liz’s. And Alexis… I lied to her. A week ago, she picked up my phone, thinking it was hers, and saw a text from him. He was getting clingy and I played it off like it was a message from someone bothering me. He was. But I had it under control…”
“Under control? So, you betrayed me, and lied to our daughter.” Frank slides his hands over his face. He stares at their king size bed, imagining Eve with another man in it. Their room is quietly intense.
“Who is it? And how long?”
“It was one time.”
Frank almost falls to the floor. One time was too many. He hoped she misspoke about that sleeping part. He feels weak again, like at the station. His chest tightens. He grunts, clutching the bedpost. Once a tear falls, he knows he can’t look back up.
“Frank…? Are you okay… honey?” Eve strokes his back.
He jerks away from her touch. He stumbles over and sinks into the cold leather brown armchair in the room’s corner. His head is in his hands. “Once.” Frank sniffles. “Why, Eve? Why at all?”
“I don’t… I think I was just… you were so bothered with work and worried about your weight so much I feel like it kinda just… pulled us apart. I love you. I… selfishly wanted to have fun elsewhere, if not with you. I was weak. I’m so sorry Frank! I wasn’t thinking!”
Frank sighs. He didn’t realize the power his job took over himself and the household. As well as his insecurities. Now his wife went and slept with someone else because he wouldn’t. Still, it shouldn’t have happened. She could’ve talked to him. He could’ve talked to her.
“I’m so sorry. I made a mistake. I love you, Frank…” she cries. “I love you!”
Frank stares at the floor for an extended time. “Who is he?”
Eve sighs and sniffles.
“Eve!” Frank yells. “Who is he?”
Frank stares at her. He remembers Captain Gomez again. ‘Yo Murphy! Remember fat Frank from High School?’ Frank remembers Murphy’s uninterested eyes earlier at the station. The punches to his gut in school alongside Gomez. He was there all along. The sender of that text.
“Officer Murphy? Oh my God… I can’t believe you, Evelyn.”
Frank leaves. He stops in the living room, staring at the TV through tears. A replay of the evening news is on. He finds Eve’s keys on the counter and considers leaving… Eve sobs loudly from the bedroom and Alexis stretches her head out. She makes eye contact with Frank and quickly shuts her bedroom door. He snatches the keys from the counter, sending Eve’s wallet flying. It’s unlatched, papers flutter out of it. Curious, he picks them up. Eve’s lottery tickets. She played off and on for years, filling his head with dreams. If we won, you wouldn’t have to work anymore. We can travel… we can set Alexis up for life…
“Tonight’s numbers are nineteen, forty, three, seventeen, forty-four, and seven! Some lucky winner is now responsible for one hundred million dollars!”
Frank listens to the announcer, shuffling through the three tickets.
Alexis comes out of her room again. “Daddy?” Frank sees her through a fog, running to him slowly. “Dad!?” she screams.
What’s wrong, honey? Frank wants to ask; his mouth fails him. He’s dizzy. Eve comes out too. Something clutches his chest.
“Frank!” Eve wails. “Oh my God, baby!”
Eve’s face fades. No, don’t go, I love you… He feels the carpet on his face, it’s familiar and soft. Officer Bobby stands over him, his face lit up by red lights flashing through the windows. I’ll just sleep… Frank hears his name, over and over. Every inch of him hurts. Time slows, starts, and stops.
A week later, Frank wakes up in the hospital. Eve is there beside him; her eyes are sleepless and red. She hugs him gently, slathering him with delicate kisses and apologies. Doctors explain to Frank he suffered a heart attack and if he didn’t get himself in better shape, he may not make it to his forty-fifth birthday. Eve cries. Frank can’t talk much, but nods he understands.
There’s more bad news. While he was out, his company proceeded with layoffs, just as Frank suspected. Eve tells Frank she called his boss and told him to shove it when the letter came, reminding Frank of their good fortune. He insists it was a dream, but Eve logs into their mobile banking app, displaying their balances.
“Our life has changed forever. I promise I’ll never hurt you again. I’m so sorry Frank. Please don’t leave me, please…” Eve begs at his bedside. He gently squeezes her hand and forgives her.
When Frank fully recovered, he stopped at the police station, locked in arms with Eve. He asks to see Officer Jacob Bobby and slips him an envelope. In it, a check written for a considerable sum to live off of forever. Frank thanks him for his kindness and swift action the night of his heart attack. Officer Bobby thanks Frank profusely and shocks everyone when he snatches off his badge and returns his firearm to Captain Gomez.
“I’m leaving the south side!” he declared.
Before they leave, Frank looks at Captain Gomez and Officer Murphy with dangerous eyes. “Fuck you and fuck you, bitch.” Frank says to them both. Neither say a word.
Following doctor’s orders, Frank drops weight and gets toned, feeling healthier than ever. Alexis, still happy and thriving, goes off to college a few years later.
And like they always dreamed, Frank and Eve spend their days making love and traveling together, without a worry in the world.