This is the fourth part of a new sci-fi story I’m working on. To catch up, you can read part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here. Also, this is a very fresh rough draft that I’m still working through, so any constructive feedback is welcome! Enjoy.
It was darker than I expected when I got back home. Weird weather we’d been having this week, I figured.
I opened the door and strolled inside, nearly ready to pass out. I hadn’t had a whole hell of a lot to drink, but I’d had enough and my mind was a little fuzzy. Plus, I hate to admit it, but I’m not as young as I used to be, and I gotta be up early most days for work. I can’t just stay out until all hours of the night and morning and drink myself numb like back in the old days. I got responsibilities and a body to take care of.
Mona was standing in the living room. Waiting for me, apparently, with the way she was glaring when I came in. She didn’t look too happy.
“Hey, babe,” I said.
“Rob. Nice of you to come back home.”
I shrugged. “Well, yeah. I always do.”
“Where have you been?”
“Out. Around town. You know, hanging with the guys. Having a few drinks and all that.”
“Only a few?”
“Yeah. I had like two or three.” Maybe not everything I was telling her was the exact whole truth per se, but that part was. Like I said, I can’t go too overboard on the drinking anymore. Although even two or three drinks was maybe more overboard than Mona would have liked.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Sure. It’s like ten. Need to get to bed soon.”
“Rob, it’s one in the morning.”
I looked up at her and blinked. “Huh?”
She slowed down her speech in that condescending way she always does. “It. Is. One o’ clock in the morning.”
“Bull,” I said. “I may have been drinking, but I was keeping track of time. I left around eight, after dinner, and I was only out for two hours. Okay, maybe like two and a half. So I guess it’s maybe closer to ten thirty or eleven now. But I know for a fact it ain’t—”
“Rob, check your watch! I know what time it is!” Mona shouted, gesturing toward the silver device on my wrist.
“Uh, it’s broken,” I said, covering it up with my sleeve. The funny thing about a fancy high-tech doohickey like this watch was that, for all the great stuff it could do, it didn’t actually tell time. “But look, I couldn’t have been gone more than—”
“Rob, I’ve been here waiting up for you for hours,” Mona continued. “I know exactly how much time has passed. It’s not my fault if you’re too drunk to realize that.”
Looking back, there were of course other clocks in the house we could have looked at to settle this once and for all. I wouldn’ta minded seeing her admit just how wrong she was. But at the moment I was too buzzed to think of it, or just too mad to let her be right this time. She had just made it into an attack, after all, and I didn’t want to let it slide. “Look, I am not drunk!” I yelled. “I know how much beer I can handle and how long I can stay out. What, am I not allowed to hang with the guys anymore and go where I want without you always nagging at me every single second?”
“That’s not what I said, Rob,” Mona insisted. “But this is getting ridiculous. I worry about you, you know—but I guess I’m the only one. It’s obvious you don’t really care about me. Not enough to call or come home at a decent hour.”
“Look, now that just ain’t fair,” I started. “I…” My voice trailed off. I couldn’t quite think of what to say. I did care about her…didn’t I?
“What?” Mona asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I gotta get to bed. I can’t do this right now, and I got work in the morning.”
“Rob, we are not done talking about this!”
I didn’t answer. I just stumbled off to bed.
But see, that’s one of those conversations that you really can’t forget, at least not for a long time, no matter how much you try to pretend you’re big and tough and you don’t care. ‘Cause, believe me, I tried, and I just couldn’t get over it. A couple days later I was still thinking about things. It hadn’t felt right when I ran into Mona—that other Mona—in that bar in the other dimension. So I came home, and I hadn’t gone back out since, but things still weren’t quite right here either. And maybe Mona was right. Maybe I could do something about that. Maybe I didn’t have to keep escaping to some whole other universe if I could just start fixing the way things were at home a little bit.
I got the idea when I was taking a walk in the middle of the day. I didn’t go too far—maybe just ten minutes from home, twenty round trip. Mona was still at home when I got back. I stepped inside, hand behind my back.
She looked up. “Oh hey. Thought I heard you go out like an hour ago.” It actually wasn’t an accusation. Just a conversation.
“I stepped out for a little bit,” I said. “But I’m here. And…uh…I got these. For you.” I reached out my arm and held out a dozen roses in front of her.
Her face lit up. “Oh, Rob,” she said. “They’re beautiful. Thank you.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it.”
She took the roses from me and smelled them. “And they’re fresh, too. Wow. Where’d you get fresh flowers around here? Didn’t that place on Third Street close down a while back?”
“I—uh—I know a place,” I said. “Not too far from here. You know, tiny little cart in the back of an alley. Real small and out of the way. You probably wouldn’t know it. At all.”
“Well, they’re wonderful,” she said. “I’d better get a vase for these.” She started walking toward the kitchen.
I followed after her. “Hey,” I said.
She didn’t look back. “Hmm?”
“Hey, so. Are we…you know…are we cool?”
She paused, then sighed, then turned around to look at me. “Rob…”
“I do,” she said. “I like the flowers and I appreciate the gesture. I really do.”
“But you and I still have a lot of problems, Rob. And flowers can’t fix them all.”
“Yeah, but, I mean…I’m trying, right?”
“Maybe a little. You’re starting to. But there are things we still need to talk about between us.”
“Like where you keep disappearing to, and why you stay out so long. I still haven’t forgotten the other night.”
Well, there it was. I couldn’t believe this. So ridiculous. Guess I wasted all that money on flowers for nothing. Those things ain’t cheap, either. “Look, I already told you, it wasn’t even that long,” I said. “And as for the where…well…there’s some things I can’t exactly talk about…”
“See? I knew it,” Mona said. “You’ve got some secrets. Something you don’t trust me with.”
“It’s not like that,” I said. “It’s just—”
“No, that’s exactly what it’s like. We’ve got to trust each other. Otherwise this thing we have can’t work.”
“Oh, like you trust me?” I shot back, raising my voice higher. “‘Cause that’s not how I see it. Can’t even let me out of the house or let go of a stupid grudge from a few days ago. Even after I went and got you flowers.”
“Can’t you see it’s not about the flowers?” she shouted. “It’s about us! And your secrets! And how you’re never here for me! And—”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t have to put up with this. “You think I’ve been gone too long before?” I asked. “Well, not long enough, apparently. Not if your whiny ungratefulness is what I have to come back to every night.” I stormed off toward the door.
She kept talking and yelling, but I honestly don’t remember what she said. It was the same kind of stuff we had both been saying all along. I just needed to get out and escape. I could use another trip to another dimension.
To be concluded…
Click here for part 5!