I Can Smell It
Written by Hayley

NOTES: In answer to the Minor Characters Challenge. Sort of adapted from Redell's lovely poem The Lewis', that I asked to use but could never finish the original. Maybe I will someday.

~

I won't cry. I won't. I won't let him do this to me again. My husband, by title, is late coming home from work. I call every night when he is late, and sometimes every morning when he works the nightshifts. The secretaries all say the same thing. "I'm sorry Mrs. Lewis, his shift is over and I have no idea where he is."

Usually I go to bed and wait until he comes home. I should have known sooner. The way he would always go straight to the bathroom and shower, or change behind closed doors. What was I supposed to do? I was happy with him those first few weeks before I noticed the sated and glazed look his eyes when he would come home. That look only came from... but he couldn't... he was an honest man.

That was how I knew. He was honest. Too honest to not let his conscience start to rule. Hugging myself I slipped deeper under the covers. He would turn away from me when I offered myself to him. I wanted him. I still do. He is a fine man, and great in bed, no lie. I admit it; I was attracted to him from the first time he walked up next to me.

I just wonder whom it is that makes him pull away and look at me hurt. Like he had a right to be hurt! He was getting everything, and I was getting nothing. I'm beginning to make subtle suggestions I know. The coldness towards him, the trivial fights. I want him to come out and tell me. In a fit of rage, in a small confession over dinner- hateful words or soft, I donít care. I just need to know. Does he still love me, or is he holding on to preserve some image.

I didn't call tonight. Instead I wait for him on the couch. I need to know. I can't live like this. Part of me wants to let it go on the way things have, but I know I can't live a lie like that. That's not the naÔve girl my momma brought me up as. So I'll ask him straight out... I hope.

The door opens. I left it unlocked because I don't want the dramatic preamble of the lock twisting, and slowly allowing entrance. My life's not a soap opera, no matter how much it may appear to be.

He seems surprised when he sees me there. I wonder what I look like to him. I look at him and I feel the betrayal. He's too used to me being in bed to button his clothes all the way up, or correctly even. My lips purse in disgust. Too used to my foolishness.

"Where have you been?" I ask, feeling my throat grate and I taste something bitter in the back of my throat.

"Barbara... what are you doing up?"

"I decided to wait for you. Where have you been," I repeat.

He doesn't answer, and the trapped look in my eyes confirms it. He knows he screwed up. He knows he took advantage of my situation. I look at him, travelling beyond the wrinkled shirt and to his pants. What I find there sends a stab of hurt through me.

"Your dinner is getting cold," I say stiffly, making a show of moving my eyes back up his body. Maybe my life is a soap opera; right now I want the begging and pain in his eyes. I need it. But I can't bring my self to ask him. The door is still open, and he pushes it closed. His head is bent and I watch him closely as he moves to the kitchen.

He stops and looks at the painting. His eyes linger there, and I smile cruelly. I've never felt this way before, and I feel wildly evil and like it.

"Where did you get that painting, Meldrick?"

He looks up startled, and my smile widens.

"I... I got it about two years ago. It was recovered from a crime scene."

"Really, and... how did you come across it?"

"My partner saw it... he... knew how much I liked Teddy--"

"Kellerman?"

His eyes drop for a second and then meet mine again. "Yeah. Mikey got it for me."

"Mikey," I murmured, "Mikey, Mikey, Mik- Oh! The blonde boy at our wedding." Enunciating 'wedding' loudly I narrow my eyes. He nods again, picking up a fork and stabbing it into the green beans I had prepared.

"I'll have to call him and tell him what an asshole I think he is for showing you this piece of crap. I mean, I owe it all to him that it hangs in our dining room-"

"Stop raggin' on Mikey."

I walk around the table and lean down to sniff the air around him. I can smell it. The smell of sex radiates his entire body, and I don't smell a new feminine perfume. No, instead I smell masculine cologne that I know Meldrick doesn't wear. I smile again, laying a hand on Meldrick's shoulder, feeling him flinch.

"Well, tell your partner... I hate his cologne."

I hear a small gasp, and relish in the feeling of him pulling away and standing. I raise my brown eyes and see the shocked look in Meldrick's eyes.

"How did you know?" He asked.

"I didn't... until now," I reply, feeling my heart sink again, "a man, Meldrick Lewis? You were cheating with a man?"

He doesn't answer. He's a coward.

"Do you love him?"

"I..." He hesitates shaking his head.

"Oh come on," I laugh harshly, "you either do or you don't, hubby."

His eyes lower and my smile widens unbelievingly.

"You're in love with him, aren't you? You are! And you don't know what to do, because you've never felt this way before!"

I laugh as it all becomes clear. He's afraid. He's scared of facing reality. The fool. He'll be left with nothing. That gives me a sense of satisfaction.

"You fuck him brainless but you can't tell him you love him. I hate to tell you this, Meldrick, but it won't last. Just like this won't last."

"Barbara," he squeaks. I've never heard him sound so weak.

"No! I want to strip everything away from you, defile you, make you feel like I do now- Knowing that you don't have someone who loves you when you come home."

"Mikey--"

"It won't last. You'll just screw him over like you screwed me over. So have fun while you can. It won't last, Meldrick. It won't. Better end it while you still talk to each other."

He just stands there and takes the abuse and I don't mind giving it to him. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know it's true. I calm down, feeling my heart slow, and I calm.

"End it Meldrick. End it so you don't hurt him like you're hurting me now."

I walk away, back to our bedroom and cry into my pillow before getting up and packing a large suitcase. He's sitting on the couch, the dishes clean and drying in the kitchen. He looks dejected, and I pity him.

"Maybe I'll come back," I tell him softly, "but I want you to know... I want Mikey to know what you've done. Tell him you destroyed me, and if he's smart, he'll get as far away from you as he can."

I walk out the door feeling satisfied. Slamming it behind me, I wince and walk down the drive to my car. Throwing the heavy suitcase in the back I drive away.

He's a fool. What he has with Mikey won't last. Nothing with him ever does... only his job. Sometimes I wonder how that survives, but it does. Unlike me, as long as he has his job he can push through everything. He'll ruin Mikey. Just like he ruined me. I feel it, and if I knew where this Mikey lived I would tell him. But I don't. So I just drive until I find myself in front of my momma's house. Tears are streaming down my cheeks and she holds me. I don't tell her the details, but she knows it's Meldrick.

~ Two Years Later
~

I call him to find out how he's doing. He's never mentioned Mikey again, but today was different.

"You were right, Barbara, you were right."

By now I haven't forgotten what I told him. I nodded.

"What happened to Mikey?" Mikey. I don't know his whole name. I always knew him as Mikey. I don't want to know anymore.

"He's gone, Barbara, he resigned."

"No, Meldrick, what happened to him?" I repeat again.

"I broke him..."

I sigh. "I told you."

There is silence and I feel his pain. He'll have to live with it though. Maybe one day he'll learn.