Phyllis tossed the magazine to the side of the bed quickly closing the distance between them as she rushed into his arms. “Hey,” she breathed, feeling his chest rise and fall with a deep sigh. She pulled back a bit, looking up into his eyes. “I was beginning to get a little worried. I’m guessing by the sound of that sigh things didn’t go very well.”
Billy shook his head, taking off his jacket and tossing it over the back of the chair before slumping down on to the edge of the bed and loosening his tie. He pulled her onto his lap, kissing the top of her head gently as she allowed it to fall against his shoulder. “You could say that.”
Her lips brushed softly against the side of his face. “Tell me,” she whispered.
“Ugh,” he groaned, closing his eyes and leaning back to lay flat on the bed, pulling her beside him and wrapping his arm around her waist. He turned to face her. “You were right,” he said softly. “It was exactly how you said it would be.”
“Being right isn’t nearly as much fun when it makes you this miserable.” Her fingers ran lightly against his face as she looked deep into his eyes. “I really wish I’d been wrong this time.”
“Well you weren’t. She was angry or hurt or something…I’m not even sure if she knows what she is, but she definitely was not wishing us well.”
Phyllis narrowed her eyes at him. “You didn’t actually think she was going to wish us well?”
“Well no, but I thought maybe I’d get civility.”
She huffed. “Optimism reigns, huh?”
He sighed again, smiling as he pulled her a bit closer. “Well, I’ve seen firsthand that what seems impossible can happen—look at us.” He brushed his lips against hers, relishing in their happiness even if only for a moment.
“I take it she didn’t go for the idea about the kids?”
“No. In fact she adamantly refused and I’m still not finished with that. I don’t think she can do that…you know, legally—I don’t think she has the right to refuse to allow me to take my children. I’m not doing it without her permission. She has full knowledge of where they’ll be. We have joint custody for God’s sakes.”
“Billy.” Phyllis hesitated, sensing his frustration already growing. The last thing she wanted was to cause problems for him and his children. “Maybe we should just..”
“No,” His hand grabbed hers and his eyes grew serious, “Don’t even think about it. She does not get to do this to us. She’s not going to get her way…not this time. Her whole life…her whole damn family has lived in a world that they think they control everything. They just think they can snap their fingers and the rest of society will bend to their every whim. Well, it’s not going to happen this time. I’m going to call a lawyer and find out what I need to do to make this happen.”
“You really think that’s the best way to handle this? I mean we could have a ceremony here with the kids and we could still go away and have our honeymoon. It’s not that big of a deal. I don’t want to cause any kind of…”
“You’re not.” He cupped her face in his hands as he softened his voice. “That’s just it…you’re not the one that’s causing the friction—Victoria is—and the sooner she realizes that, the better off we’ll all be.” He sighed again, noting the worried expression on her face. “Listen. I don’t want you to be worrying about this. Everything is going to work out. I promise.”
She nodded. “Well…considering the wedding announcement went so well, I’m assuming you decided to hold off on telling her about the house.”
A puff of air escaped his lips and he saw her eyes widen. “I was going to, but she insisted on knowing what else I was going to tell her.”
“I’m sure she loved that.”
“Actually, that’s the really strange part,” Billy said quietly. “After the way she reacted to the wedding, I was expecting some serious fall out too, but she really didn’t react at all.”
“Maybe she didn’t remember the house?” Phyllis suggested, shrugging a bit.
“No, she remembered it. As soon as I showed her the photos, she said it was the house that we looked at before Katie was born. She knew exactly what it was—even asked if it was back on the market.”
“That’s weird,” Phyllis said slowly, lacing her fingers through his as she lay beside him, “And then she just dropped it when you told her we bought it.”
“Yeah,” he breathed. “She kind of did. It was like she didn’t care…like the house didn’t matter to her anymore and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe now that she knows it’s not going to be ours, she really doesn’t care. Who knows, maybe once she has some time to think about the wedding, she’ll feel the same way about that and she’ll get over the anger there too. Maybe I won’t have to do any of the legal stuff and she’ll come to the realization all on her own.”
Phyllis propped herself up on her elbow, her hair tickling his face as she loomed over him. “You’re cute when you’re delusional,” she giggled, as she pushed herself up to sit.
Billy stared at her slack jawed, “What are you doing?” he whined.
“I’ve got things to do, sir,” she smiled. “I don’t time to lay around and cavort with you.”
“Awww…come on, you can make time, can’t you?” He moved forward on the bed, toying with the hem of her shirt.
She giggled again, pulling away. “Nope,” she teased, “I’ve got a couple things I want to do tonight, but I’ll make you a deal. You stay here and order us some dinner and I’ll make these errands as quick as I can so I can get back here to you, okay?”
Billy nodded as he watched her quickly dash out the door.
She turned the lights off just before pulling into the long winding driveway. Though she was fairly certain they weren’t living there yet, she certainly didn’t want to take any chances. There would be no easy answers to explain why she’d decided to drive here tonight. In truth she had no answers at all, easy or otherwise. Luckily for her, college students typically didn’t care why you needed a sitter as long as they got paid.
All she knew was she needed to see it. She needed to look at the possibility of the life she could have had and know that it was all over. It didn’t seem that long ago that she’d sat in this very same driveway with Billy and talked about that porch where their children would play. And now….he was probably making all sorts of plans with Phyllis. Soon they’d be moving in, making the house their own, making their own memories. It was supposed to be her house, her family, her dream.
Victoria felt the tear slide down her face. “It was supposed to be mine,” she whispered. The idea of him being here with her made her sick. What’s worse is they’d be here now with her children, masquerading as this wholesome depiction of what a family should be. It was wrong. It was a lie. It wasn’t fair. She had to protect her children. She had to hold onto her dignity, her self respect, the last shreds of pride she had left.
With trembling hands, she reached down into the floorboard, her hand quickly finding the handle of the gas jug. It had seemed serendipitous almost—how her eyes fell on the jug as she walked to her car. She’d forgotten about it being there. Ironically, it had been Billy that had purchased it, keeping it around for the landscapers to use to fuel their equipment. Now it would be used to fuel something entirely different.
She climbed out of the car, walking around the side of the house, through the small gap in the trees where she’d imagined Johnny would play. Her eyes fell on the swingset in the back and small screened in back porch that she and Billy had both loved. Her feet felt heavy as she walked slowly up the bricked steps. The smell of gasoline was strong in the air, but strangely enough, she’d always the found the smell to be pleasant—another idiosyncrasy many didn’t know.
There was something almost calming about the way the gasoline settled into the nooks and crannies of the bricks—as if it belonged there. She watched as it dripped down into the brush that surrounded the windows and doors on the first floor. In her mind, she wondered how long it would take for the entire house to engulf and she was almost disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to stay and watch. It would be on the news, she thought to herself. That would have to do.
She took a breath, reaching into her pocket for the matches. She struck one and stepped back before tossing it towards the brush. The flame was impressive, immediately catching a tall branch above the eave, and beginning to rain down fiery leaves on the roof. She threw another match towards the porch, watching with interest as the screen’s wooden frame began to almost melt under the flame’s heat. She sighed before moving quickly back towards the car. Placing the matches and jug back in the passenger seat, she backed down the driveway quickly—waiting until she was far down the road before turning back on the lights.