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The Secret Life of Mrs Faulkner - Chapter One

"How well do you really know someone?"

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Cruel World:
He was vaguely aware of someone entering the room and the sounds they were making, how they were disturbing the peace he had created for himself, interrupted his little world and penetrated the barrier that he had built to keep people out. 

"Tom?" the female voice asked, though to him it sounded distant and far away. 

Go away, God dammit, he thought angrily, just leave me alone. All I want is to be left alone. All he wanted actually was to sleep, but since the death, he hadn't slept at all, his mind would not let him. Memories of her flashed before his eyes, torturing him, laughing at him, teasing and taunting him. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her. He just wanted her back with him. The woman pulled the curtains open and light that seemed to him unnatural streamed in. Go away, he thought once more. 

But the woman persisted. "Tom?" she asked again. It was Cheryl's sister Linda, he knew this not only from her shrill and slightly piercing voice but also the pungent aroma of her perfume. She had a certain panache for overdoing it with the perfume, always smelling as if she had been marinating in it for hours on end. The strong scent filled his nostrils aggressively, making him screw his nose up against the intrusion. Linda sat down near the edge of the bed and looked around the room, taking everything in. From the open wardrobe bursting full of Cheryl's clothes, to the shoe rack that was kept in a neat and tidy order. Tom had a few paintings and family photographs placed around the room, but it was mainly Cheryl's influence in here. This was Cheryl's sanctuary, her place to escape the demands of motherhood for a few moments, whenever she could afford it. This was her marriage bed haven. 

"Tom?" Linda asked once more, her voice seeming to be more high-pitched and shrill than usual. "You need to get up now," she said. 

Need to get up, he thought, says who? "I can't," he managed to croak out feebly. 

"I know," she said sympathetically, though to Tom it sounded forced and fake. "Today is going to be a hard day."

You know?How can you know? She was only your sister, you two were at each other's throats most of the time. You didn't speak to her for fifteen fucking years. She was my wife, my lover, my best friend, my soul mate, my everything. Cheryl

"I can't," he croaked out again. It was bad enough that he was having to bury his wife today, on the day after he buried his mother five years ago, but public speaking? Well, he hated that. Even just the thought of getting up and having to address an entire congregation of people who pretended to know his wife was horrifying for him. But he had to, not only for his wife but for himself and his children. For everyone there. He had to. 

"C'mon," said Linda, trying to persuade him. "Your sister has cooked breakfast for everyone, it smells delicious," she laughed a little, but it was a hollow laugh that was devoid of all character. "I can't face the family members on my own, Tom. I need you there with me."

Need me. Everyone needs me. Good Ol' reliable Tom Faulkner, everyone needs him, everyone relies on him. Who can I rely on for support or help?

"Just give me half an hour," he said, finding strength from somewhere, but how long these inner strength reserves would last, he didn't know. Linda thanked him and left, closing the bedroom door behind her. Tom slowly sat up in bed, swinging his feet onto the carpet below, which to him seemed cold. Everything was cold. Desolate. He stood and attempted to stretch, his back creaked and cracked, an awful sound that snapped the silence. He tried to walk. It felt as if his legs gave way underneath him and he collapsed slightly, falling in a heap, grabbing onto the edge of the bed for support. 

If he had it his way, he would stay there in a heap by the bed. But he had to do this. Pull yourself together man. You can do this. You have to do this. For Cheryl. He pulled himself up and managed to shuffle, his legs seeming to find strength with every small shuffle they took. By the time he made it to the small bathroom and turned the shower on, his body seemed restored, which struck him as very odd. 

Memories flashed in front of his eyes as he stood under the water and washed with soap. The first time he met Cheryl, their first date, the first kiss, the first time they slept together, meeting the parents, the engagement, the parties that were held afterwards, the wedding, the birth of their daughter Sue, buying the house together, Jason's birth, the children's birthday parties, arguments, tears, tantrums, smiles, holidays and vacations, camping trips, leaving old jobs and starting new jobs, school visits, parent/teacher meetings, ballet recitals, soccer practices, graduations and purchasing cars. For the last twenty something years, his life had revolved around Cheryl. 

I miss her, God how I miss her.

He got out of the shower when he looked down and saw that his skin was bright red, like a boiled lobster from the heat of the water. He grabbed a towel from the cabinet, looking around the bathroom that he and Cheryl had shared. All her makeup and beauty products were nicely organized, all the little tools that she used in a container, proudly on display for anyone who may see them. Cheryl was so organized and into it, unlike him. Half the time he didn't know whether he was coming or going, but Cheryl had brought order to his life.

But now she's gone

He dressed again slowly, hating the fact that he had to wear black. It was a shade that made someone fit in and fade into the background, but at the same time they stood out. He supposed a whole party of people in black would really stand out to the passersby and the general public. They, of course, would know what was going on, everyone knew that this group of people would be attending a funeral and burying someone. He stood in front of the mirror and examined himself when he was finished dressing. His once dark hair was starting to thin and gray, his belly protruded slightly over his pants and his posture wasn't what it used to be.

Middle aged spread. You're turning into your father
. Ten more years and you'll have a poor comb-over and an even bigger belly

He went downstairs, following the smell of cooked food mixed in with Linda's personal marinade. His sister was sitting at the table, a plate of food in front of her, Sue and Jason next to her, Linda and her husband Doug there also. They all looked up at him when he entered the room.

His sister Paulette smiled at him sympathetically before speaking. "I've cooked us breakfast. There's cereal if you want it, or if you want hot food I've cooked bacon, mushrooms, eggs, sausages, and tomatoes. I can make you a plate?" she offered. 

"Toast," he simply said. "I want toast." The smell of the food was repulsive to him, making his stomach turn and do a somersault. 

"Oh," said Paulette, surprised. "Okay, I can get you some toast." She stood up and went to leave the table. 

"Sit down," Tom said. "I can make toast myself." He headed into the kitchen and put some bread in the toaster, though he wasn't hungry but he knew he had to eat. If he didn't, then people would force him too, and that was worse than not eating at all. His sister sat back down awkwardly, smiling at everyone as if everything was okay. Uncle Doug tried to strike up a conversation with Sue and Jason, who gave one-word answers and mumbled responses. 

Tom stared out the kitchen window into the yard. There was washing on the line, which he supposed either Linda or Paulette had done. The lawns had been mowed also and the gardens tidied up, which meant that Doug had been recruited to the Faulkner housework brigade. He remembered when he and Cheryl had first purchased this house. Sue had been little more than a year old. Cheryl had wanted to escape the city and apartment living. She wanted a house with a yard and a white picket fence. She envisioned her children playing in the street with the other neighborhood kids and going to the local park and learning to ride bikes and rollerblade. 

He remembered what Cheryl had said to him also. The promises she had made. She had vowed to the turn the house into a haven for them, a warm living environment for their growing family. He remembered that she had said the yard and gardens would be the best in the street and that the other neighbors would envy them. Tom shut his eyes hard against the tears, glad that he was facing away from everyone else. 

I wouldn't want to unleash the Spanish fucking Inquisition. 

"Tom," said Linda in her high-pitched voice and breaking him from his thoughts. "Tom your toast is burning." 

Tom looked at the toaster and saw black smoke starting to pour out of the appliance. He quickly pressed the button that popped the toast up and saw that the toast was charcoal black and completely burned. He grabbed the two pieces of toast, despite the fact that it burned the pads of the fingers slightly, and threw them on the bench, leaving them to cool down. 

Fuck, shit, dammit, ass, bitch
, he raged internally. He just wanted to get upstairs and back to bed. If he went back to bed, then all of this would go away. He would close his eyes and everything would go back to how it was supposed to be. The world would be put to rights. He abandoned the burned toast and stormed out of the front door angrily, 

"Tom!" he heard his sister call out after him, but he ignored this and walked across the lawn, heading straight for the car. For whatever reason, the keys had been left in the ignition, which was something he hated. He started the car and backed out of the driveway and onto the street. As he drove off, he saw that his family was standing outside, watching him leave. He had a moment of lightheartedness. God how he loved those kids. They were his everything. He would do anything for them, he loved them so much. But right now he just needed to be alone with his grief, so he could come to grips with his own situation. Then he could help them. He had to help himself first. 

He drove across town, though he wasn't aware of what he was doing, the car seemed to be driving itself, knowing where to go, where to take him. He pulled up outside the old building and drove around the back, getting out of the car and climbing up the fire-escape ladder until he was on the roof of the building. The building had been empty for some fifteen years now but the local government hadn't done anything with it, leaving it as it was. It had been an art supply store, and Cheryl had worked here when Tom first met her and while they were dating. He remembered back to the times that he and Cheryl had climbed up in the early hours of the morning and had sex. It didn't matter the season or the weather. 

He smiled when he thought back to that memory. Cheryl had always been the daring type. She loved trying new things and testing the limits. It wasn't 'let's just have sex in public, let's do it in crazy places in public.' Like the roof of her workplace, or underneath the pier, toilet stalls in bars and restaurants, the beach, the lake, changing rooms at the mall and once at the haunted house at the fairgrounds. They had snuck around back and done it behind the mirrors that distort body shape. She was so wild and daring. 

He stood up there and watched the slow town below. It wasn't the most exciting place he lived in. One had to create their own fun and entertainment. He and Cheryl had created hours of fun and entertainment, even after the birth of the children. Cheryl was very imaginative and so always had ideas and suggestions. Most of them were inexpensive, like picnics on the front yard, which the kids had loved for a few years until they demanded family trips. At first, a simple trip to the shopping center was fine, but then that grew tedious for them and they grew yet more demanding. He wouldn't have it any other way, though. His two children were amazing. 

Tom stayed on top of the roof of the abandoned art supply store for a few hours, until he was ready to face the world once more. He climbed down the ladder and got back in the car, checking his watch. It was nearing one pm, the funeral would start soon. He started the car and drove back the way he came, stopping off at the store to purchase a pack of cigarettes. He hadn't smoked in years since Sue was born, but all of a sudden he had a craving for the smokes. His father used to smoke in times of crisis. When he lost his job, Tom remembered his father sitting out on the porch puffing away. When Uncle Reg died, Tom's father was once more puffing away. When his wife died, a cigarette was in his mouth. It was his security blanket, and now apparently Tom had adopted the habit. 

Just like the old man. Not only will you look like him in ten years time, you'll also be smoking like a chimney like he now is when he can't handle life, and you'll also be bitter like him. Like all the Faulkner men. We're all bitter and twisted about something

By the time he reached the small church where the funeral was to take place, cars had already started filling up the parking lot and the street. Tom had to park around the corner and walk. As he headed for the church, people were smiling at him sympathetically, giving him strange little nods and head tilts. Women wanted to hug and comfort him, telling him that everything would be okay.

Oh, so I'm a victim now? I'm a figure of pity and ridicule to you people? Fuck you

"There you are," said Paulette, running towards her brother, arms outstretched. She was now dressed in colors of mourning, her makeup understated and formal except for the lips, which were painted an earthy brownish rose shade. She held her brother to her breast, almost in tears. "We were worried sick about you. We thought we would have to send out a search party for you."

"I'm here now," he said in an automatic tone of voice, that was devoid of emotion. He just wanted to get this over and done with. 

"Sue and Jason are already inside, sitting up front with Linda, Tracie, and Cheryl's parents." Paulette rolled her eyes slightly and Tom felt the need to laugh, but this feeling stayed with him, never breaking the surface.

Tracie was the youngest of the sisters and the most dramatic by far. Everything had to be about her and if it wasn't, then she quickly found a way to make it about her. She was the biggest attention seeker Tom had ever met. On the day of his and Cheryl's wedding, Tracie had been upset because she was going last in the procession. She wanted to be first, instead of Cheryl's best friend. She wanted everyone to see her first. The whole setup had been changed to accommodate her and make her happy. Then later on at the reception dinner she got drunk and danced on the table. Not even on her older sister's wedding day could Tracie bear to stand back for one moment. Now it was the funeral of her sister, only God knew what Tracie had in store for the guests. 

The funeral of his wife was an out-of-body experience as if he was seeing this through someone else's perspective. Watching through eyes that weren't his own. He remembered sitting there and being very proud of his children for saying their pieces about their mother, both of them holding back tears until afterward, wanting to get the message across. Linda said something, but he was paying even less attention for that. Cheryl's mother and stepfather said something also, which he only got half of. Then it was Tracie's turn and she rambled on about herself and how she would miss Cheryl the most, and how this affected her the most. 

Screw you, Tom thought unkindly as he saw Tracie walk back to her pew. She had dressed inappropriately even for a funeral. Then it was his turn to say something. He didn't want to, but he had to. For Cheryl
He shuffled up to the front of the church and got his notes from his pants pocket. He scanned them quickly and then threw them aside. 

"I had a whole speech planned out but I'm not going to say any of what I wrote. What do you say when your wife of twenty-six years dies just shy of her fiftieth birthday? What am I supposed to say to you people? That this is a cruel world? That I am lost without her? Nothing I say will make me feel better. Nothing I say will bring her back. I want to be anywhere but here right now, but I came today because I knew that if I didn't I would regret it. My father never went to my mom's funeral, and look how bitter and twisted he is now. I came here today for myself, for my children and for Cheryl. We all knew a different Cheryl, but I believe that I knew the best Cheryl. So all I will say to my wife is thank you, and I love you." 

He went and sat back down and the proceedings continued on but he didn't remember much. He remembered getting up with his children and helping to carry the casket out to the waiting car, ready to take Cheryl to the cemetery to be buried. He was very proud of his kids in that moment. Very proud. As soon as the hearse drove off, the skies opened up and it rained. 

Mother Nature just has to fuck with me one last time. First by taking Cheryl away from me, and now making it rain while I say goodbye

More speeches were said at the cemetery, and the whole event was closed with a prayer from the pastor, the same man who had married Tom and Cheryl twenty-six years earlier. The drive back to the house for the wake was painful. but not as painful as having to stand there and talking to people he didn't know, talking to people who pretended to know Cheryl. Those fake mourners who thought by showing up to the wake they were helping when really they were hindering everything. The mere presence of these people was annoying to Tom. And the food. These people kept on bringing food. Not only was the freezer in the house full of frozen casseroles, lasagnas, baking and roast meat, but the other freezer in the basement was full of food. He wouldn't need to do grocery shopping for the next year. They could just live off meat, casseroles and home baking. 

It was late evening by the time the strangers left his house. Tom was outside, sitting on the steps of the front porch, smoking away and watching the neighbors get back to their normal life after doing their 'duty' to Tom and his family. Sue and Jason were in their rooms, away from everyone else, probably crying in private, like Tom wished he was doing. 

"Can I join you?" Doug asked. Tom shuffled over and made room for his brother-in-law. 

"Cigarette?" asked Tom. 

"Linda will kill me if I say yes," replied Doug. "So yes, I will have one. An afternoon of dealing with Tracie, I deserve this."

"Can you believe her?" Tom asked. 

"Her speech? We all expected that. Drinking too much at her sister's wake and proclaiming that she was the hardest done by of the friends and family? We all expected that as well. Throwing a tantrum and telling people what she really thought of them and the blaming it on grief? Well, it was only a matter of time."

"I could very happily never see her again, for the rest of my life, and it would be no loss to me," Tom said, taking a long drag of his cigarette. He offered his lighter to Doug, who lit his cigarette, closed his eyes and inhaled appreciatively, releasing the smoke with relish. 

"Cheryl wouldn't want that, though."

"Yeah," he sighed. "I know." The two men puffed away in silence, watching the sky slowly start to go darker, the first stars starting to appear. The rain had eased right off, apparently only wanting to appear for the burial and part of the wake. Tom stood and stubbed his cigarette out into the grass and Doug quickly did the same. 

As Tom turned to go back into the house, Doug asked him "Hey man are you okay?"

"Yeah," answered Tom, sounding defeated. 

"Actually okay? You buried your wife today and I haven't seen you cry or mourn at all since she died. Paulette and Linda are really worried, man, they both think you're in denial. Linda keeps asking me to ask how you are, but I can never do it. But are you okay? You can always talk to me or cry on my shoulder if need be, we're family."

"I'm fine," said Tom. "Thanks for the offer." 

"Excuse me," said an unfamiliar voice. Both Tom and Doug turned around and saw a man in his early forties standing on the front lawn. He was nicely dressed and he had some flowers.

Go away, strange person who claims to know my wife. We don't want you here. I don't want you here. I am so sick of people showing up, pretending to mourn and pretending to know Cheryl. 

"Who the hell are you?" Tom asked. 

The young man came forward until he was standing near the porch. "Can I please have a word with you in private Mr. Faulkner?"

Tom gave him a questioning look, wondering what his game was. He then looked to Doug for inspiration, but his face was blank. "About what?" he finally asked. 

"About your wife."

Great, another fucking mourner with words of condolence or inspiration through this tough time

"I don't want your charity," Tom said. 

"If it pleases you, Mr. Faulkner?" the man asked as if he called the shots. 

Very well asshole

Tom motioned for the man to follow him, going through the side gate into the back yard, the only private place on the property now. Inside was too risky, what with Linda and her big ears, and Cheryl's parents with their loose lips. 

"So, what can I do for you?" asked Tom. The man presented Tom with the flowers, which he accepted, though he didn't know what to do with it. If it wasn't food people were bringing, it was flowers. 

"This is a hard thing for me to say, and I imagine it will be harder for you to hear Mr. Faulkner, so I'm going to come right out and say it, hoping that it will be like a band-aid, the quicker you rip the less painful it is."

Oh, get on with it for God sakes

"Mr. Faulkner," the man said. "My name is Michael Bennett, and I was your wife's lover."
Written by LauraDanielle
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