'Cause when I'd fight, you used to tell me I was brave-Taylor Swift
For the first few minutes, she was waiting for Jim. She was. It was just a fact. As the tears streamed down her face, she stayed tense, waiting to hear the creak of his footsteps on the stairs. She knew he wouldn't find her. This would be the last place he'd go. But. Maybe. Just maybe. He'd look for her. He'd wonder where she was. He'd call her name.
When she heard the stairs creak, her heart jumped into her throat, and she lost the ability to breathe. The tears halted, and she waited to hear her name called. She waited to hear the footsteps go room to room.
She could hear them. He'd reached the top of the stairs; they were louder now. He was walking into one of the rooms and…
The bath was on. He'd turn on the bath.
Melinda rose after the water had been running for enough time that she was sure he was in the shower and not still undressing. She walked downstairs, limbs stiff and cramped from having been huddled on a closet floor. Her lasagna was cold, but she sat down at the table, eating bite after bite without tasting one flavor.
Jim stood in the shower, letting the water run over him. He couldn't move, he felt like his body was frozen. He was stuck in another moment, back in the kitchen. He'd touched her.
He'd touched Melinda. He'd moved closer to her, and she'd tensed up, put her arms up to protect herself. He had never seen Melinda look at him that way, with such fear.
She hated him. That was the only answer.
He couldn't blame her. Their marriage had just begun to dissolve and Jim no longer knew how to fix it. That was Jim's thing. He had always been able to make her smile, to fix things, to just take Melinda to a moment where nothing hurt, where everything was okay.
Not anymore. She didn't smile when she saw him. She absently kissed his cheek if Aiden was around, but that was it.
And there in the kitchen, it had almost seemed like she wanted to spend time with him. It almost seemed like there was a chance. So he'd moved in, the ache in his heart had been too big to ignore. He wanted to touch his wife, he wanted to hold her. Holding back wasn't an option, not anymore.
And she'd frozen, arms up between them to keep him away. He'd felt like he'd been stabbed in the heart. Her eyes had been so wide, so full of hurt.
So he'd played it off. Of course he'd played it off. He'd been sleeping in a separate bed for weeks and she hadn't said one thing. She hadn't gotten angry. She hadn't been sad. He'd gone into their bedroom every night, waiting to see if she'd stayed up for him. He'd gone to see if she cared.
She didn't. Hadn't said a single word. Hadn't looked betrayed at breakfast. She'd just kept up her careful avoidance of him.
And here they were, faced with a weekend together.
"We are officially lame."
The words he'd spoken in the kitchen came back to bite him. How had it come to this? Two strangers living in the same house.
He braced his hands against the shower wall, realizing that there were angry tears streaming down his face, mixing with the water. What was he doing here, really? He was going to just let this happen?
She'd left the kitchen, she'd left him in disgust after he'd touched her. He couldn't blame her, right? Not after what he'd said. Not after that night they'd fought about Aiden.
He hadn't taken his words back. Maybe in the moment he'd meant them. Maybe in the moment he'd been too hurt, too angry himself.
And now it was too late. Now they carried meaning far beyond a moment of anger and fear.
Now they were an ultimatum.
She didn't want him anymore. She didn't want him in her house. She only loved Aiden, she could do with her husband.
And he couldn't blame her. He pounded his hand against the shower wall, trying to process, trying to get past this, trying to breathe so that when he got out he could face his wife without breaking down.
Melinda was in the kitchen when he walked back down in pajama pants and a t-shirt. She was picking at a nearly whole lasagna, really just moving pieces around with her fork.
"Good?" He said, forcing his voice to remain steady as he grabbed a glass from the cupboard. He'd just get some water, go back upstairs, and stay in the guest room. Leave her alone. Give her the space she deserved.
She lifted one shoulder in response, not meeting his gaze.
He hated himself for that moment earlier. Things had been normal, she'd been getting alone, she'd been friendly even, and he'd ruined it. Like he ruined everything.
"Good," he replied, listening to the water glass fill. That's all he had to do. Fill up his cup and leave. She wouldn't miss him. He'd spent almost a month sleeping in another room and she hadn't said one word.
He braced himself, pressing his eyes closed, trying to focus. He just had to leave this kitchen without saying anything.
"What happened to us?"
The words hung in the air. He couldn't breathe.
"When did we get so typical?"
He inhaled, exhaled, kept it steady. "It's inevitable, right?" He said, turning around to face his wife. She'd pushed away her lasagna, and, without thinking, he took her fork, grabbed a bite.
She was looking at him, so closely that Jim almost choked on the lasagna. "You're right," he said. "Not as good as mine."
Truly, he hadn't tasted it at all.
"Sleep well," he said finally, after another moment had gone by without Melinda saying anything.
"You're still sleeping in the guest room?"
The words came after he'd stepped out of the kitchen, after he was down the hallway, uttered so quietly he knew she hadn't meant for him to hear.
But he had.
He swung around, and she startled.
"Yeah," he said. "Unless you don't want me to."
They were at least six feet apart. Jim didn't know what to do. Should he step closer? What did her question mean?
"No," she said. "That's a choice you made for yourself without consulting me." She stood up, placing the barely eaten lasagna into the refrigerator, and turned to face him. "So shouldn't coming back be another choice you make without asking me first? It's not like my feelings matter in this relationship."
"It's always about you," he said, and her eyes snapped to meet his. "It's your feelings. It's you got hurt. What about me, Melinda? I'm not allowed to hurt? You didn't say one goddamn word to me when I moved down the hall."
"So was it supposed to be a test?" She asked, throwing her hands up. "You move out and I'm supposed to start kicking and screaming? I'm not going to fight to keep you if you don't want to be here in the first place. What the fuck sense does that make."
He felt frozen. He didn't know what to say, and her words spun around in his head. "I'm not going to fight to keep you if you don't want to be here in the first place."
"Fine," he said. "Throughout our marriage I always made the first move. I apologized first, I admitted I was wrong, I didn't give a shit about being right or keeping my pride because all I wanted was you. But I'm done with that. You don't want me either, Melinda. The past month, I tried to give you space. I tried to make it easier on you because I know you're angry with me. But you can't even talk to me. You've avoided me at every moment."
"Giving me space?" She said. "That's literally code for just staying away, or you know, avoiding like you just said. Don't fucking tell me that you were being a big hero by leaving me alone." Her voice broke. "That was the first night we didn't sleep in the same bed since you died."
Since you died.
Since you died.
He'd come back to her, though. Surely that was enough.
His hands fell at his side. "Fine," he said. "You win. I died. It's all my fucking fault for getting shot helping your stupid friend with her stupid ghost. It's my fault for moving heaven and earth to come back to you. It's never enough, you know?"
He threw his hands up in the air, stepping towards her. "It's never enough. I came back to you."
"I didn't ask you to," she sobbed. "I didn't ask you to. I wanted you to move on. And then I went through months of torture trying to see if you were inside Sam, if you were still there, but you know what? There is so much Sam in you. There is so much disbelief." She shook her head. "You didn't tell me no. I said you wanted a normal wife. You didn't tell me no."
"Maybe because I do," he said. "But not in the way that you think. I don't want a wife who can't see ghosts, no. But I want a wife who will for once in her life, for once in our marriage, put me first. Before ghosts, before our son, before Eli, before Rick or Ned or Delia. Before any random person who walks in here needing help. Put me first."
He left the room, unable to say anything else. He couldn't believe what he'd just said to her, when he barely meant any of it. All of the anger, all of the hurt. It had all boiled over. And he was right, wasn't he. She'd never prioritized him. He'd put so much of himself into this, just begging her to make it work, and whatever ghost she was dealing with always came first.
When there had been a bomb threat, who had she clung to? Eli. When it was their anniversary and ghost shit happened? She dropped everything to take care of it. When their son's life was threatened? All she could focus on was her own life.
Jim made it upstairs, sat on the edge of the guest bed, sitting there with his head in his hands, shaking with emotion.
It was over, wasn't it? Ten years in, and there was nothing left, nothing to show.