Two small words holding the weight of the universe within them, two vastly different implications battling for supremacy. Her chest aches from sobbing, eyes burning with tears constantly on the verge of spilling out. She’s been this way countless days in recent months. Caroline sighs deeply, sprawling across her beloved wing back chair with the blood-red brocade that seems to come to life in the dancing light from the fireplace.
The words spin through her mind like a tornado, devouring everything in their path, the good they could hold near fully eclipsed by the fear of the pain they could cause. On the one hand, they are a litany of hope after ninety-seven days apart. In one week, their feet will once more tread the soil of the same state. It wasn’t planned, but it is exceedingly welcome after a long winter filled with blistering internal storms. On the other hand, they denote a turning point, the day the news she’s been dreading will arrive. The path is split; one filled with light, hope and wonderful possibility, the other darker than a moonless night, leading to the end.
Caroline’s head drops back over the arm of the chair, her legs dangling over the other. She tries to distract herself by staring at a spot in the paint that needs touching up. With thoughts of what to make for dinner, or the work she needs to get done.
It wont work.
It never does.
She knows that all too well, yet still she tries. In one week, he gets news of his new job placement. He’s finally following his calling to teach, and coming from a family of teachers, Caroline understands that better than most. It’s wonderful to see him so passionate about something. If only her happiness for him wasn’t filled with dread of him being placed on the other side of the country.
Her neck beginning to ache, Caroline pulls herself back up, leaning her head into the crook of the chair to watch the flames. She knew when they began that things wouldn’t be easy; polyamory comes with enough challenges without throwing a power dynamic and long distance into the mix. Toss in the fact that his wife barely tolerates the relationship, preferring to pretend it doesn’t exist, and even a simple phone call becomes an ordeal. After nine years of waiting for a second chance she was sure would never come, Caroline was more than willing to battle the odds.
She just didn’t anticipate this.
The thousand miles that have separated them for the last eight months has been difficult enough, between her busy work schedule and him losing his job, among a host of other issues. She’s flown down to see him twice now, and if it weren’t for a freak weather event that sent him and Molly running to stay with family, those would be the only times they’ve had since this second chance began.
The difficulty finding chances for a phone call or video chat is high enough without adding a time difference, and if the cost of a visit goes much higher, it becomes impossible. Caroline has tried many times to make herself be alright with only seeing him once or twice a year, and every attempt has ended in tears. If he ends up too far away, the only options are end it, or live through the hell of seeing and talking to him even less.
The thought of losing him to this new job sends a few heavy tears sliding down her cheeks before she is able to fight them off, furiously rubbing her face dry. She’s sick of crying. The alternative of holding it all in until it comes out sideways as anger at her husband, or their sweet black lab, isn’t any more appealing. Caroline gives in to the tears, her body wracked with sobs once more, fear and grief burning a hole in her chest.
Though they start silent, they do not remain that way, catching the attention of Onyx napping by the fire. She stands, stretching, her black coat shimmering with flecks of gold from the light of the fire. Moving to close the gap, she sits in front of the chair, nudging Caroline with her cold, damp nose until her head is precisely where she wants it – Caroline’s lap.
“Hi, sweet girl.” Caroline hiccups, lowering one hand to stroke her soft head. “Yes, Mommy’s upset again. I know, you hate that.”
Onyx grunts, her version of talking, slipping one paw and then the other on to the chair. Before Caroline can realize it, the entire front half of a not quite full-grown lab is laying across her lap and stomach. The tears begin to slow, the hint of a smile tugging at one corner of her lips. It’s difficult to stay so sad when Onyx insists she’s a lap dog like this. Caroline attempts a deep breath and her entire body shudders, pain radiating out from the center of her chest. Another deep breath, and another, until the trembling subsides, the tears dry again for the time being. It’s just as well. Jackson will be home soon. After close to a decade, naturally he’s seen her cry, though she usually prefers solitude when her emotions get the better of her like this. She always has.
Coaxing Onyx off of her, Caroline pulls her phone from the pocket of her hoodie to check the messaging app she uses in place of texting. Mason hasn’t seen anything she’s sent in the almost four hours since their first video chat in weeks.
“Of course he hasn’t.” She chides herself, rolling her eyes. “Molly’s home.”
Usually they’d chat off and on through the evening, swapping photos of dinner and such to feel more apart of one another’s daily lives. Until Molly’s phone broke the day before she had some big emergency. Ever since then, he’s been lucky to have his phone for more than a handful of minutes every few hours. Three days of dealing with it has been bad enough, and it could be several more days before it was remedied. Caroline shoves her phone back in her pocket, fighting back anger.
She doesn’t know what the emergency is. She hasn’t asked, he hasn’t offered, and it will likely stay that way unless she needs to know. That’s usually best when it comes to anything Molly related. Whatever it is, it’s the reason he’ll be in town in a week, and Caroline wields that information as a sword against the anger at having their communication severed this way.
Standing, Caroline attempts to stretch the tension out of her muscles, a series of odd creaks and groans escaping her in the process and garnering an odd look from Onyx. She knows she needs to figure out dinner, but the emotional strain of the day has left her with little appetite. From the moment she wakes until sleep finally takes her, the fear lurks just under the surface, churning her stomach and sending her heart racing at the slightest thought. Even her dreams aren’t peaceful, leading to many a late night bingeing some show or another and passing out on the couch.
Seven days and she could be counting the days until he moves closer – or counting the pieces of her shattered heart.
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