“Simms,” she says in a low voice, unnaturally calm. “Walk back to your bedroom, tell your wife to shut up, grab your keys, and bring them to me.”
“C’mon, Carrie,” he whines. Simms is as petulant as a boy whose mother dotes on him too much—one of the reasons Carrie dumped him in high school.
Thirty years later, he is just as weak.
“Now, Simms. Hurry.”
Simms turns, complying with her request, not because he loves her—but because he loves his wife far less.
“Goodness, Simmy! Who is at the door this late? They woke up the dogs…” Two furballs yip in terror, tucking themselves under her girth.
“It’s Grady from school,” he casually lies, rummaging on his dresser for car keys, grabbing his wallet as an afterthought.
“Well, I don’t see why whatever it is can’t wait until morning. I have to get up early, Simmy. You know how busy I am.”
“It can’t be helped. Something is wrong with the building’s electrical system. I’ll be back shortly.”
“I wouldn’t have married a high school principal if I knew how chaotic it’d be!”
She rolls over in a huff, sending the dogs scurrying.
He resists replying.
What good would it be to say things out loud that he’s not brave enough to admit to himself?
🜋 🜋 🜋
“I need your car, Simms. I don’t need you.” She slams the passenger door shut. He hasn’t sat next to her in a car since prom, but that was a lifetime and a hundred pounds ago.
“Well, Carrie. Tonight you get both. Where are we heading?”
“East Lane in Oaklawn.” She stares straight ahead, ignoring his shocked expression.
“Drive me there or get out.”
“Are you going to explain any of this?”
Carrie looks out into the night, her face reflected in the window, middle aged, sharp-eyed, full mouth, still beautiful. She wears slim black slacks and a jade green sweater. It brings out the auburn in her hair, faintly graying at the temples. She looks like a shopper at a home goods store, picking out throw pillows.
“What’s wrong with your car?” he asks.
“Repossessed,” she states in her matter-of-fact way. She’d always been a truth teller, her realistic worldview tempering his idealistic one. “I figured if you couldn’t negotiate a cost-of-living adjustment for your faculty, then you could give me a ride.”
There are shadows under her eyes. She looks exhausted, he thinks. Not like her. Carrie could always fall asleep when they were kids. The library. Mr. Phelps’ Earth Science class. The school bus. Under the bleachers.
“Why are we going to the worst neighborhood in town?” he tries again. “You know what happens over there.”
“I’ve taught at the high school longer than you’ve been in administration, Simms. Of course I know the neighborhoods.”
The silence is heavy between them—like the time she told him she was pregnant. He rubs his bald head, a migraine threatening.
“C’mon, Carrie,” he says, just above a whisper. “What’s going on?”
She stoically crosses her arms, her gaze straight ahead. Her face is occasionally illuminated by the odd streetlight.
He leans forward to turn on the radio. She snaps it off.
Stubborn. God, this woman is stubborn. He shakes his head imperceptibly. She’d shut down like this in meetings whenever he discussed new curriculum or district mandates. She’d met him with a stony face when he told her he was getting married. She’d withdrawn completely when he admitted to cheating on her during his sophomore year of high school.
🜋 🜋 🜋
They drive across town in the dark.
The houses grow shabbier, yards cluttered. Vacant storefronts pop up as they continue on.
Why’d he even come? Simms considers pulling a U-turn, dropping her off, and heading home himself, but neither option particularly appeals to him.
“Park next to Speedee Mart,” she says, clutching her purse with both hands.
“Do you want me to go inside?”
“Do you need to go inside?”
“I think I have to pee,” he admits.
“Go inside if you want.”
“You aren’t going inside?”
“No, I’m not.”
Two lanky youths in dark hoodies walk past Simm’s car, heading behind the convenience store. Carrie’s eyes follow them.
“Hey,” Simms says, putting a hand on her shoulder. “C’mon, Carrie. What’s going on?”
“I’m going to need you to not ask me any questions, Simms. Just let me do what I need to do.”
Before she opens the car door, Simms locks it.
She looks at him, annoyed. He turns his whole body to face her, not knowing what to do with his hands except stare at them.
“Carrie, remember when you visited me at college—the last time we broke up?”
“Simms, we set the Guinness World Record for break ups. You want to narrow it down?”
“The time I got injured on the baseball field.”
“Yep. Broken bat. Senior year.”
“When I said I wanted to see other people, you said it felt like a baseball bat to the face.”
“Well, that’s how I feel now.”
Carrie begins to tap her foot, anxious to make the transaction and leave. She unlocks the door by hand and starts to get out of the car.
“How many MMEs is Connor up to?” Simms asks.
“Since the back surgery? 240.”
Simms exhales audibly. MMEs. Opioid dosages are prescribed in morphine milligram equivalents. Her husband is taking three times what is considered safe. As a science teacher, she knows all of this.
“He can’t get another script, Simms.”
“Carrie, you know he can’t sustain that level.”
“You know he doesn’t want to,” she counters. Her eyes water, but even in high school she could hold her emotions in check. He watches as she swallows hard. “I’ve never seen someone in so much pain.”
“You cannot buy him pills, Carrie—that’s assisted suicide.”
“Not buying them is assisted torture!” she replies, more harshly than she wants. “Just let me do what I need to do. No one asked you to come.”
“You’re putting me on the spot. I don’t want to see you break the law. I—I care for you. You know I do.”
“Simms,” Carrie murmurs, eyes closed. “Connor is the only man I’ve known who’s never lied to me—not even once. He’s been an amazing husband and a great father. He’s been my best friend for decades—”
“Do you love him?” Simms interrupts, bracing himself for the impact of her response.
“I trust him. Entirely. And that is love without all the nonsense, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so,” Simms mutters, feeling both sick at heart and foolish.
“At this point, I would do anything to help him find relief. So, I’m going behind this store. You can choose to call the cops, wait for me, or not.”
Simms puts his head in his hands.
“If you want to fire me tomorrow, I can give you my ID and keys.”
“C’mon, Carrie. That’s not necessary.” He shifts in his seat, looking out the driver’s side window. The weight of the years settles on him, the missed opportunities with her, the endless chances. How’d he ever let her go?
“I’ll be back shortly,” she says.
“Okay. I’ll wait right here,” he lies, watching her navigate the broken concrete parking lot.
In moments, he throws the car door open, quickly catching up with her, watching her do what she needs to do for a better man than he’d ever be.