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Tormentor Mine(85)

By:Anna Zaires

“He was still passed out when I went to work, so I confronted him when I returned,” I say as steadily as I can manage. “I told him to pack his bags and get out, said I was filing for divorce the next day. We got into a huge fight, and both said hurtful things, and I—” I gulp down the lump in my throat. “I forced him out of the house.”

Peter glances at me with mild surprise. “How could you have forced him out? He wasn’t the biggest guy I’ve seen, but he must’ve outweighed you by at least fifty pounds.”

I blink, distracted by the odd question. “I threw his car keys and his bag in the garage and yelled at him to get out.”

“I see.” To my shock, a faint smile touches the edges of Peter’s mouth. “And you think you’re at fault because he drove and got into an accident?”

“I am at fault. The police said he had double the legal amount of alcohol in his blood. He was drinking, and I forced him to drive. I threw him out and—”

“You threw his keys out, not him,” Peter says, the smile disappearing as his fingers tighten around my hand. “He was a grown man, both bigger and stronger than you. If he wanted to stay in the house, he could’ve done so. Besides, did you know he was drinking when you told him to get out?”

I frown. “No, of course not. I had just come from work, and he didn’t look drunk, but—”

“But nothing.” Peter’s voice is as hard as his gaze. “You did what you had to. Alcoholics can appear functional with a lot of drinks in their system. I should know; I’ve seen plenty of this in Russia. It wasn’t your responsibility to check on his blood alcohol levels before sending him packing. If he was too drunk to drive, he had no business getting behind the wheel. He could’ve called a cab, or asked you to give him a ride to a hotel. Hell, he could’ve slept it off in your garage and then driven.”

“I…” It’s my turn to stare out the window. “I know that.”

“Do you?” Releasing my hand, Peter captures my chin, forcing me to meet his gaze. “Somehow I doubt that, ptichka. Have you told anyone what really happened?”

My stomach twists, an unpleasant, heavy ache settling low in my belly. “Not exactly. I mean, the cops knew he was drinking, but…”

“But they didn’t know it was habitual, did they?” Peter guesses, lowering his hand. “No one knew except you.”

I look away, feeling the familiar burn of shame. I know it’s the classic spousal mistake, but I just couldn’t bring myself to air out our dirty laundry, to admit that the marriage everyone praised was rotten inside. Initially, it was pride, mixed with equal amounts of denial. I was supposed to be smart, a young doctor with a bright future ahead of her. How could I have made that kind of error? Were there warnings signs that I missed? And if not, how could this have happened to the wonderful man I married, the golden boy everyone said had so much promise? Surely, it was a temporary situation, a fluke in an otherwise perfect life. And by the time I realized the drinking was here to stay, there was another reason to keep quiet.

“My dad had a heart attack about a year into my marriage,” I say, staring at the naked branches swaying in the wind. “It was a bad one. He almost died. After the triple bypass, the doctors told him to keep stress to a minimum.”

“Ah. And learning that his beloved daughter’s husband turned into a raging alcoholic would’ve been stressful.”

“Yes.” I could’ve stopped at that, let Peter think I was simply a good daughter, but some strange compulsion makes me blurt out, “That wasn’t all, though. I was afraid of what people would say and the judgments they’d make. George was good at hiding his addiction from everyone—in hindsight, I guess the acting skills should’ve been a clue about the whole spying bit—and I also became a pro at pretending. The nature of our work helped with that. I could always be ‘on call’ if we needed to cancel an outing last minute, and George could have an ‘urgent story’ come up if he was having trouble sobering up.”

Peter doesn’t say anything for a few moments, and I wonder if he’s condemning me for my cowardice, for not seeking help before it was too late. That’s another thing that weighs on me: the possibility that I could’ve done something if I’d been more open about our problems. Maybe I could’ve gotten George into rehab or under psychiatric care, and the tragedy of the accident would’ve been averted.

Of course, the man standing next to me would’ve killed him regardless, so there’s that.