He was on his knees crying the kind of cry that is a high-inducing mix of extreme joy and extreme sadness. She was giving him the time to feel he gravitas of it all, giving herself time to forgive. It took eleven and a half minutes. She loved him more than she loved herself, almost. Or definitely. It was hard to say which.

She walked over and kneeled at his side, her body shielding his from the congregation. She put her hand on his shoulder– they were partners. She cupped a hand around the back of his head– he was hers to take care of. Both. 

This was the last time. Nearly freezing. When he blew, anyone who looked could see the smoke (except him, probably). 

He heard her car and some part of him knew it was too late. But. One more and the dogs watched him snuff it dead on the wooden rail. She was calling for him. He put it in his pocket. The dog barked a response. He pointed an angry finger at the dog. 

“Honey, are you outside?” 

He took a deep breath. Smiled– practiced his nonchalance. 

“Honey?” He could hear the frustration in her voice as she approached the sliding glass door. 

He grabbed the railing, then bent over to inspect it. This is how she found him. 

“Didn’t you hear me calling?” 

Big smile. “Hi, Baby. No, I didn’t. What’s up?”

She eyed him suspiciously. It upset him. “What are you doing?” she asked.

He bent back down to the rail. Swallowed. “This rail seems to be a little loose. I was thinking I should fix it.” He attempted to shake it.

She bent to get a closer look at the accused. He attempted to shake it again.

 Slowly (delaying), slowly she followed the wooden stem to the top of the railing, which led her to her husband’s thinning waist, the Christian shirt she had bought him for Christmas, his shoulders, his broad neck. Her eyes lingered on his stubbly chin. Please, God.

“Jessica?”

She allowed her eyes to linger on the muscles around his lips, tightening defensively. Please, God.

“Jessica!”

 “Yes.” She kept her eyes on his lips. Tried to hold the feel of them in her mind.

“What?” The sweet lips twitched, ever so slightly, and she knew it was too late for prayer. “What’s the problem now?” he said.

The once blue of his eyes was a thin gray ring around the darkest of black. “You have to move out.”

He held the hand she had placed on his shoulder in his rough, calloused grip, turned his head to kiss the tears streaming down his wife’s cheek. “I’ll go, my love. I’ll go.”  

               

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