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The Break

They had planned it as the holiday of a lifetime, but Jen had known all along that it was her final attempt to save their marriage. She'd had very little help from Alex, as usual, other than a few affirmative nods and grunts over his evening bottle of Scotch. Now here they were in San Francisco, in a lovely boutique hotel with a balcony and a magnificent view of the bay. It had cost and arm and a leg, but she'd worked so hard for so long, she figured she at least deserved it.

Maybe now they were here, and she was taking her first holiday in eight years, she would "chill out," as Alex was always saying she should – and if she "chilled out" maybe he would in turn open up and actually speak to her. If, that is, he could remain sober long enough.

Alex was actually happy to be here – it was a city he had always wanted to visit, and he had probably mentioned this to Jen in the early days, before he started drinking. Before he stopped communicating. Before the accident. He knew it had been his conscious choice to take this path, to drown his sorrows, to take the pain away, to hide from the reality that he had been, in part, responsible for Josh's death.

But now he WAS here, he was going to make a conscious effort to curb his drinking, to enjoy himself and to at least TRY to open up to Jen about how he felt, as she was always saying that he should.

He was struggling, though. The hotel bar had an excellent array of single malts, and there was a very well stocked mini-bar in their room. But on their first evening he did succeed in taking it fairly easy – a couple of miniatures from the mini-bar, just one double Macallan Speyside from the hotel bar while Jen was drying her hair, and a single bottle of red over the lovely seafood dinner they'd enjoyed at a cosy little Italian place just off the Wharf.

They chatted over dinner too. Small talk – the flight, the hotel, the food, the fog starting to roll in and obscure the beam from the lighthouse on Alcatraz – but talk nonetheless. They also made plans for their stay, things they both wanted to do. It wasn't easy chat, like the early days before the accident, but it was something.


Four good days. Alex had kept his drinking more or less in check, and they'd had four good days. They'd done everything they had planned on their first evening, and more – Muir Woods, Wine Country (yeah, tough one that, ha), the Golden Gate, the Museum Of Modern Art and Alcatraz. They'd talked more too, had progressed beyond small talk to actually talking about their feelings. How he felt about her fourteen hour days, her weekends away at conferences and seminars, how she felt about his drinking and detachment... even about the accident.

It was over lunch on their last day there that she dropped the bombshell. It made sense as soon as she'd said it, everything suddenly clicked into place. He'd sat in stunned silence for maybe two minutes, staring at his lobster linguine congealing on his plate, before muttering "How could you? All these years." Then louder, "HOW COULD YOU?" Heads turned. Then standing, knocking over the dregs of his wine, "HOW COULD YOU? I COULD KILL YOU RIGHT NOW!" Then he'd stormed out of the restaurant, only realising when he was on his third double in the nearest dive bar that he had the cash and the card. Not caring though, let HER sort that out.


His shivering woke him. His clothes were soaked through from the sea spray and the fog, his mouth like a dustbin, and on checking his pockets he realised he no longer had the card or any cash. He ached all over, and the knuckles on his right hand were swollen and bleeding a little. He dragged himself upright and then made his way back to the hotel, all the way wondering how he was going to play it. Aloof? Angry? Apologetic? But when he get back Jen wasn't there – nor had she been, both beds were still made up. Where the hell was she? Their flight was in seven hours!

The young man on Reception confirmed from the key card system that no one had been in their room since they left for lunch yesterday. Alex had tried her mobile the moment he realised she hadn't been back, and had been trying it regularly since. Still turned off. He'd left several messages, sent numerous, increasingly frantic, texts. Then as night fell again – flight missed, obviously – he'd phoned the police.

Initially they didn't appear concerned – he'd mentioned they'd had "a tiff," so the police assumed she'd just done what he'd actually done and gone on a bender. But after they'd checked that she had indeed missed their flight, and had spoken to the maitre d' about "the tiff," they became much more interested. So interested, in fact, that just before midnight they arrested him.


Three days sober. The longest sober spell in eight years. Not by choice, obviously. But after three days – with no body or physical evidence other than the subsiding knuckles now attributed to a bar fight (corroborated by both barman and doorman), they'd had to release him. He'd managed to find a flight home, booked on their backup card, and hadn't even thought about a drink. He felt hollow inside, and just wanted to be home.


Now three years sober, Alex was a changed man. Though he still thought of Jen every day – of what had happened to her that night – he had moved on. He had a new job – minimum wage, but there was plenty in the bank thanks to Jen – and a new girlfriend, their catsitter's mother, who was much more supportive than any of their (well, Jen's) friends in the early days, after what he now thought of as "the second accident."

Jen's disappearance was now a cold case, the lead detective assuming now that, upset, she'd gone for a walk on one of the quieter piers (she'd been seen heading alone along the Embarcadero after "the tiff") and had somehow stumbled into the turbulent waters of the bay and had been swept out. Alex would never know for sure.


Jen sat at the bar, nursing a very dry martini – "just show it a photo of a bottle of vermouth, Javier" tickled her every time – and thought about her life now. Three years, and she'd made a whole new life for herself in this small pueblo. A good life. A happy life. A much less stressful life, with plenty of money in the offshore accounts she'd set up in her eight years at the company, money that had come in very handy procuring the passport and new ID she had needed to leave the US.

She didn't feel bad any more, though initially she was worried that they were actually going to try him, and then after he was home that her disappearance would spark his drinking again. But she needn't have worried, he was fine. Alex was easy to keep tabs on due to his cavalier approach to social media, and she was happy that he was well, working, in love again and still sober. Better than she'd hoped for, though she knew that once he stopped blaming himself for Josh that he could turn his life around. 

She'd only thought of the plan, and the lie she needed to tell, the morning of what should have been their last day in San Francisco. 

So simple, so effective.  

"It was me who left the front door open, not you."


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