Was it really possible she might be having a baby? Owen stared at the closed door, mixed emotions churning inside him. He'd wanted to start a family years ago, when he and Celine first were married. But she'd wanted to wait. For what, he didn't know. But then, she never really seemed like the motherly type. And now...what were the chances the baby would even be his? It could be anyone's; Charles', Jackson's, God only knew who else. Was it even possible that it could be his? That morning a few days ago was the first time they'd had sex in...he couldn't even remember when. He had a nagging fear it was too soon for it to his child.
He left the bedroom and went downstairs into the living room. It was dark but for the low burning fire. He sat down on the sofa and stared at the flames. He didn't remember building a fire. Surely Celine hadn't...he raised his eyes to the ceiling. Would she even know how to build a fire?
“Who cares.” He groaned and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. He again felt like he was trapped in the twilight zone. Celine's behavior made no sense to him. He didn't even recognize her anymore. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. He chuckled in spite of himself. God, he was losing his freaking mind.
The scene from earlier, in the guest bedroom, played through his mind. She had moved his things back upstairs into their bedroom. Did she really intend for him to sleep in their bed with her? He thought about their session in the shower and his crotch instantly began to throb and harden. In all the time he'd been with Celine, he'd never wanted her this bad. He'd had his sexual needs over the years and desired her that way...but never this intensely. Never on this level. Because it wasn't just sexual. He craved her touch and the way it made him feel inside, not just on the surface. He hadn't felt this kind of emotional need in two years, not since...
He let the thought roll away before it fully materialized. And yet he couldn't deny the truth behind it. He stared at the shadowed ceiling and began to wonder if his wife was really being as passionate and kind to him as he thought she was. Maybe it was all just a figment of his imagination. Had his heart and mind finally been pushed too far – and cracked? Crazy people didn't know they were crazy. They didn't know that the way they perceived the events of their lives were out of sync with reality. Was that where he was at now? Could he really just be imagining it all? Wanting it so bad, needing it so desperately, that he was making it happen – if only inside his own mind?
Owen chuckled dryly and closed his eyes. “Bud, you are one messed up motherfucker.”
He opened his eyes slowly and sat forward. He had to get out of here, if only for a few hours. Right now, reality felt too surreal and it was beginning to freak him out. He left the sofa and grabbed his jacket and keys. As he went out the door, a chilling thought clawed at his mind.
What if I really am losing my mind?
After stripping out of her clothes and pulling on the negligee, Sabrina stood at the sink and studied her reflection in the mirror. The stress of the last few days were taking its toll. Her eyes stared back at her, tired and weary. Her skin seemed pale and her hair limp, although she wondered if that wasn't simply her own worn out impression of herself. Owen didn't seem repulsed at the sight of her.
Owen. Outside, a truck started. Sabrina tensed and listened as it pulled around and drove away.
Her hand reflexively went to her stomach. Could she really be pregnant? If she could be one hundred percent sure it was Owen's, she could find joy in the thought. But the chances were very slim that a baby right now would belong to him. And with such odds stacked against her, and against Owen, she prayed that it was merely the stress making her sick. She didn't want a baby until she knew without a doubt that Owen was the father.
Sabrina looked away from her disturbing image and returned to the bedroom. Did Owen really think she didn't want to have his baby? Was that the impression she'd given him when she refused to talk about it? Surely that was how he interpreted it. How could he not?
Sabrina went to the window and looked out. Thunder rumbled low in the dark sky. A summer storm. Sometimes they were the worst. Owen's truck was gone and she wondered if he would be back tonight. If he would be back at all. But of course he would, if not for her, then for his ranch. This was his ranch, his very life. And yet, there was a look in his eyes lately that said he didn't feel like anything here belonged to him.
Weariness and nausea overwhelmed Sabrina suddenly and she went to the bed and crawled under the covers. She pulled the blankets up under her arms and laid on her side, staring at the digital clock on the night stand. It only read eight-thirty. She closed her eyes and thought about where she'd gone that day, and what she'd set in motion. Her hand flattened subconsciously on her stomach. For the first time, a sliver of uncertainty and guilt worked its way into her heart. Was she truly capable of going through with it? And if she were capable of such acts...did she even deserve to have an innocent life placed in her hands?
Sabrina sat up a little as her heart began to race, almost uncontrollably. For a moment she felt like she couldn't breathe, and wondered if the stress of everything had suddenly become too much for her heart. But she forced herself to calm and breathe deeply. Her pulse softened, slowed. It was just anxiety...and maybe a little panic. She'd convinced herself that what she'd done today was an act of retribution for both her and Owen...but laying here alone, darkness pressing at the windows and a storm brewing outside, she began to doubt her own motives. Had she, in reality, just wanted a clear path to Owen? Was she using the crimes and betrayal of others to simply get what she wanted? If that was even a possibility...could she live with that?
She sat up straighter and stared at the cell phone on the stand next to the clock. Could she really gain any peace of mind from it all? Or would it systematically tear her mind apart, and in the process tear her and Owen apart? Owen had suffered so much already. She couldn't risk causing him more pain. She would find a way for them to be together...but not like this. It wasn't right any way she tried to look at it. The others might deserve the punishment...but she couldn't be the one to punish them. Not to this degree anyway.
Not knowing how she was going to keep her promise to Owen that everything would be okay, she picked up the cell phone and slowly opened it.
“Are you waiting for something?”
Tony sat at the bar with a shot glass of Irish whiskey before him. He slowly swirled the dark liquid in the glass then downed it in one shot and looked at Sammy.
“Give me another.”
Sammy grabbed the bottle and dumped another shot in the glass. “Is there a reason we're just sitting around?” He asked and replaced the bottle beneath the inside of the bar. He flattened his hands on the top of the bar and watched Tony again swirl the whiskey in the glass then down it.
“Patience, Sammy.” Tony spoke low, his Irish and Italian heritage mingling in his speech. “It isn't time to go. Not just yet.”
Sammy shook his head. “I don't under-”
Tony's cell buzzed. He reached casually into his jacket and withdrew the phone, flipped it open and spoke with a gentleness few of his colleagues ever heard. “Sabrina. You held out longer than I expected.”
Sammy frowned, started to speak when Tony held up one finger to silence him.
“I understand.” Tony said into the phone. “This is a hard line for anyone to cross. A woman like you...don't need that on your conscience. I want you to relax and put your mind at rest.” Tony smiled warmly, a real affection in his eyes. “Don't you worry about a thing. Your conscience is clear. Have a good night, lass.”
Tony slowly closed the phone and replaced it in his jacket pocket. He slid his glass towards Sammy. Sammy reached for the bottle and dumped some more whiskey in the glass.
“So the gig's off?”
Tony swirled the glass, tossed the whiskey down his throat and set the glass down heavy on the bar. “Nothing's off.” He stood up off the barstool. “Grab Bruno and lets go.”
Sammy reached behind the bar again and this time came back with a baseball bat. He circled around to the front of the bar. “I thought she called it off.”
“She did.” Tony said as they headed for the door. “Conscience is a bitch and it holds back about ninety percent of the human beings on this planet from doing the things they really want to do.” He looked at Sammy. “Then there's us...the other ten percent. We get the job done for those who are held back by their humanity.”
Owen sat silently behind the wheel and stared at the tavern's neon signs. He wanted to get drunk. Hell, he wanted to get downright shit faced. Anything to fill up the emptiness and numb his mind. He was going crazy anyway, why not wrap it up with a wild drunken run off a cliff?
Owen wiped his hand over his face and shook his head. “Are you really that much of a pussy?” He muttered aloud. “Just take the easy way out and be done with it, huh?”
Who the fuck would care? Really? Celine? Owen chuckled, but it was dry, cold. So maybe he wouldn't check out...but he sure as hell could get wasted.
He shoved open the door and stepped out, closing the door hard. He took a step towards the tavern when he heard low organ music, barely audible over the traffic and the rumbling clouds overhead. He looked around for the source. His eyes came to rest on a small Assembly of God church across the street. It seemed so insignificant, even lost, among the rest of the buildings. As he stared at the church, a dim light came on inside, as if beckoning to him.
Owen raised his eyes slowly to the sky overhead as a few raindrops splattered on his face. “Are you shittin' me?” He asked bitterly. “Really?”
He shook his head and started for the tavern again when he faltered and looked at the little church once more. Releasing a harsh breath, he veered off the sidewalk and headed across the street. “What the fuck are you doing, man?” He muttered as he slowly climbed the front steps of the small building. “You gonna pray? Really? You think God gives a damn? Think again.”
Despite his bitterness and doubts, he pushed open the front door and stepped inside. The small entry room was dark, a faint glow from the main sanctuary his only light. He moved slowly into the sanctuary. It was small with only five pews on each side of the single aisle. The soft lighting was coming from the front of the room near the podium.
Owen walked up the center aisle, glancing around, looking for whoever turned on the light. He saw no one. On the wall behind the podium was an image of Christ on the cross. Christ's face was turned upward towards heaven, a look of pain and sadness in his eyes. Owen sat down on the first pew before he even realized what he was doing. He stared at Christ's face.
“My God, my God...why have you forsaken me?” Owen murmured, remembering the scripture from his youth. He shook his head slowly. “He turned his back on his own son...why the hell should he care about me?”
“You think God doesn't care?”
Owen jumped to his feet and spun around at the sudden presence. A middle-aged man stood a few feet away in the aisle. He wore jeans and a t-shirt. Owen frowned. “Who are you?”
“Well, not an angel, that's for sure.” The man chuckled and stepped forward, holding out his hand. “Hank Matthews. The pastor.”
Owen accepted his hand doubtfully as he surveyed his clothes. “You don't dress like any preacher I ever seen.”
Hank chuckled again and shrugged. “The last time I checked, God didn't have a dress code.”
Owen was suddenly very uncomfortable. There was a confidence in Hank's eyes that, for some reason, scared the hell out of Owen. Why had he come in here? He cleared his throat and ducked his head a bit as he went to step past Hank. “I didn't mean to intrude. I'll be going.”
Hank touched his shoulder in a fatherly way. “No need to go. This is God's house, not mine. Everyone is welcome.” Hank studied Owen's face as Owen avoided his eyes. “You must have come in here for some reason.”
Owen shook his head. “I don't know why I came in.”
“I see.” Hank nodded slowly, a smile curving his lips. “Then the reason must be God's rather than yours.”
Owen looked at the man. Where the hell did his faith and assurance come from? And why did it piss Owen off? “I don't believe in God.”
“True blue atheists rarely set foot in a church, son.”
“Oh, I know there's a god.” Owen said coldly. “I just don't believe in him. I don't believe he gives a fuck about any of us.” He jabbed his finger at the image of Christ. “For crying out loud, he forsook his own son.”
Hank just looked at him, his eyes warm and understanding. “Is that really how you interpret it?”
“That's how it is.” Owen spit out harshly. “Christ did everything his father asked of him and still God turned his back on him.”
Hank nodded slowly, looked at the floor for a moment then raised his eyes to Owen's. Tears glistened in the preacher's eyes. “Do you want to know what I see when I read that scripture?” He asked low, soft. “I see a son doing what had to be done, doing what no one else could do. And I see a father who couldn't step in and stop it, but who also couldn't bear to watch his only son be tortured, and had to turn away because it hurt too much to look.”
Tears burned Owen's eyes. “I envy you, preacher. Your faith. But there's some things that are just too broken to believe they can ever be fixed.”
“Sometimes, son.” Hank said softly. “God has to tear things down to the foundation before he can build up something even better.”
The tears slid down Owen's face. He looked away and wiped his hand over his eyes. He stared at a delicate glass vase sitting on a small table in front of the podium. He stepped over and picked it up, holding it carefully in his hands, then looked at the preacher and smashed the vase down on the floor.
“That's my life.” He choked out as fresh tears filled his eyes. “And like that vase...it can't be fixed.”
Owen walked away with forceful strides, shoving the front door open hard and rushing out into the storm.
Hank stared after the young man for a long moment, then squatted down and stared at the shattered vase. “He thinks you're through with him.” Hank murmured as he began to carefully pick up the bigger shards of glass. “But you haven't even begun your real work in him.” Hank raised his eyes slowly to the ceiling and smiled. “Have you?”