Thriller Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

What could have been romantic firelight glinted off the scratched and dull gold band Jayde twisted around her knuckle. She sat in silence with her husband next to her, wondering why she’d fought so many years for this. When she realized this would be her thirtieth Valentine’s Day spent with Caleb, it should be marked by something special. Something that symbolized their achievement. Not everyone can say they’ve been together their whole life. Now, she turned to Caleb with the light feeling of dumping the weight of holding up both ends a marriage gone and wondered what made her try to begin with.

The quilt took a couple months of sewing in secrecy to preserve the surprise. Once it was finished, Jayde looked at it and understood it was truly decades in the making. The back was a single, twin size piece of broadcloth. Caleb liked cloth that was cool to the touch. Stitching on the border from receiving blankets that swaddled their children, when they were still children, Jayde nearly got misty-eyed. Triangles for the outer part of the blocks were cut from the linen tablecloths passed down from Caleb’s grandmother. Old fabric of a quality that was hard to find anymore. The design for the inner blocks was cut from scraps Jayde kept in a cedar box buried deep in the sewing room closet. Jayde only opened the box if she had a new piece to add. She kept her scraps in order, with the idea that this was her personal, private scrap book putting a smile on her lips. These, she cut into squares and stitched them together to form the shape of a heart. All of them as meaningful as the linen and blankets. She hadn’t expected that Caleb would remember them. Though, it stung her soul that he did.

Jayde’s friends had bragged about the hundreds of dollars they’d spent on their prom dresses. She happily described the sheen of the ivory rayon that had become the dress waiting at her sewing machine with the hem pinned to the perfect length. As they finished their pizza and argued over who would get to pay, Jayde froze. Caleb was being seated with Amber Jacobs at his table. The humiliation left her too stunned to speak. She walked out without paying. She sat in her car, cycling from crying, seething, wishing to die and back around again. All her friends had seen Caleb with Amber. She could kiss her self-respect goodbye if she went to prom without breaking up for at least a while. She couldn’t stand the idea of not presenting herself in the gown and having anyone but Caleb pin a corsage on it. There had to be a good reason she’d take him back or she’d seem desperate.

She drove by the riverfront as a crowd was heading to an event at the concert hall. She veered off the road before the bridge. Dozens of people had seen what she’d done. There were two people pounding on her window before the car could go under. She had to spend a night in the hospital, but the nurse made sure she had Caleb’s phone number correct.

The Friday before prom, Jayde ditched first hour to wait down the block in her dad’s old Ford until Amber’s mom went to work. She shimmied in a window with scissors in her back pocket. Amber’s red gown with fake glass gems sprinkled all over the bodice still had the three-hundred-dollar price tag on it. The gems had to be stuck back on after the piece had been sewn into a heart for the quilt.

Jayde couldn’t give up her scholarship to the community college in the next town, but Caleb had announced he was going to the university almost three hundred miles away. Her parents would expect a reason to give up free college that was better than her boyfriend. She would be horrible to ask him to give up his plans for her. The simple answer was to wash some pills down the sink as she brushed her teeth. She forgave herself for deceiving Caleb when Zach was born to a mother with a ring on her finger. She would make it up to Caleb by sewing as a home business while he went to school. She had every intention of supporting the dream family she’d won.

She had no idea how much demand there would be for alterations and custom tailoring. Wedding parties flowed with cash and kept the rent paid. The living room was taken over by mirrors and sheets hung up as changing rooms.

Still, success hadn’t focused Caleb’s wandering eye.

Wedding parties brought in two to ten bridesmaids. They usually travelled as a pack and took over the living room and snooped in the kitchen.

One woman getting a white gown set off her friends’ need to seek romance. Caleb had no shame about coming home and chatting while Jayde’s clients waited around for fittings. The girls would model Jayde’s creations like Caleb was a pageant judge. Caleb assured her his compliments were only building rapport with the customers. One would think someone would be smart enough not to flirt back with a man’s wife just across the room. Jayde would have to focus on her work while these girls twirled their skirts and flipped their hair for him. He would pinch the fabric around the waist to show where the dress needed to be taken in. Jayde would pin in silence as the tip of Caleb’s tongue swept his pursed lips with these girls sticking out their chests.  

For this reason, she made sure each customer filled out a form with their address, whether they were paying or not. It might have been easier to keep a strip of the fabric already in the house, but she wanted the same satisfaction they got from tempting her husband. The ones who lived alone were less flirty when they returned for the final fitting. For them, there was no doubt someone had dug through their hampers and rifled through their closets. Finding their obscenely tight t-shirts with a square cut out caused paranoia, or roommate drama. The mood was more professional the next time she would see the wedding party. One piece of jersey knit had a pink heart. It made the middle of the quilt a heart within a heart.

The last row came from one woman. Jayde couldn’t help but smirk when she left town fearing there was a mad stalker after her.

Caleb had decided a business loan was a better bet than a student loan and bought the brake shop. They were able to buy their own house within a couple years. Caleb built permanent fitting rooms in what was originally a den and Jayde had elegant couches and a mini fridge with water and soda for her clientele. For years, Jayde had to put out small fires, but the woman at the beauty shop was a stubborn bitch.

By now, Jayde could pick a standard lock in under a minute. She had to buy a lock to practice on when Trisha changed to a more complex lock. Gloves became essential after a Trisha filed a police report. She got so tired of seeing her confident smile after finding chunks cut from one of the many blouses with plunging necklines. She finally broke after Jayde added a pricey blue silk to her scrap box. It still didn’t go the way Jayde wanted when she heard Trisha had gone to Caleb to weep over it.

She got so tired of hearing Trisha’s name. The woman would always be at Caleb’s shop instead of staying in her own. She always went to Caleb for change when the bank was down the block. It was infuriating when Caleb said he was allowed to have friends. Jayde made a day trip to her sister’s but told Caleb she was spending the weekend. She snuck in and slept under Trisha’s bed for a night to be sure Caleb didn’t end up there the minute he was left on his own. She collected the blue paisley heart when that awful woman left for her morning job.

Red paper with white hearts was the perfect wrap to show the purity of the love Jayde had put into making the quilt. It was only when Caleb’s face fell as he admired it that Jayde knew she had wasted her life on him. He had denied that he ever really betrayed her. He expected her to believe he was just friendly, only joking, or merely a sympathetic ear to every woman he leered at. That he had been with Jayde and Jayde was his only one. When he said one name, she knew he was completely full of shit from the beginning. One name, and she knew her marriage was over, and had been before exchanging vows.

Caleb went pale when he saw the first block. He ran his fingers over the tacky gems as though the only way to complete the memory was to have his hands on them. Jayde had made sure Amber Jacobs couldn’t go to prom in her dream dress. Caleb still knew who had planned to wear those phony diamonds all those years ago. Jayde saw how he pawed the stupid heart and felt a sudden emptiness. She had loved their children. She had loved her work. Now, seeing the horror on his face, she couldn’t remember loving him.

The fire reflected in the patio doors looking like they could be consuming the home she had tried so hard for so long to build with Caleb. The quilt hung over the chair, no longer looking like the one she had imagined wrapping him in her love with. She stood up and flung his wedding band into the trees, hoping never to see it as long as she lived. She turned and looked at Caleb with a disgusted sneer. Jayde took his hand and stroked his fingers, one last time. She dropped the hand into the fire. Ash and bone would be less conspicuous to get rid of. 

February 19, 2022 02:14

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