Heidi gave me a son and then I killed her. Lucky were the bastards who learned life lessons from close calls. I envied those lucky bastards.
“Don’t drink tonight. I want you to put another baby inside of me,” my wife whispered as her hand slid up my leg under the table surrounded by twelve of our closest family and friends. Heidi picked my favorite steak house in Omaha and reserved the party room for my special day. I had no idea until everyone yelled surprise.
I loved her beyond words.
“And for the birthday boy?” The brunette waitress winked at me, readying her pen against the pad of paper in her hand.
I grabbed her hand and pressed it to my erection. “I’m not going to have any issues granting your request.”
“We’ll see.” Her curt response held little confidence.
My parents drove in from Denver to surprise me, but my two-year-old son, Harrison, stole the show. They took turns gushing over him with Heidi’s mom. I didn’t anticipate being a father before I graduated college; I also didn’t anticipate meeting the woman I couldn’t live without at the exact moment I needed her the most.
She was a nursing student at the hospital they sent me to the day an ACL injury shattered my football career. I called her an angel. Heidi insisted it was the drugs they gave me for the pain.
“Monaghan said you’re going to be his agent when he goes Pro.” My dad gave me a curious look.
“Monaghan is full of shit. No team in their right mind will draft Pretty Boy. He’s going to be a teacher. That right there shows you he’s too much of a pussy to have a serious chance in the NFL.”
The Cornhusker’s young quarterback shot me a smirk from the other end of the table. We both knew he’d go Pro, but I wasn’t going to inflate his ego on my birthday.
“Language, Hopkins,” Heidi warned.
When she called me by my last name, I squirmed in my chair. It always meant a punishment would follow—and all of her punishments were doled out in the bedroom.
I loved her beyond words.
The night marched on without missing one perfect beat.
Dinner. Friends. Family. Food. Drinks.
My wife outdid herself. She excelled in making every day perfect. She also excelled in making me feel irresponsible for drinking. Every time the waitress placed another drink in front of me, Heidi’s lips pursed into a disapproving frown.
I let it slide without argument. Before he died, her father drank a lot of alcohol and was abusive. When we met, she thought I didn’t drink. At the time, it was true. Football was my life. I treated my body like a temple. But after my injury, I settled into a life where my body was no longer a temple and the occasional drink was exactly what I needed to ease the pain of lost dreams.
Heidi thought every guy who drank was an abusive alcoholic. I made it my mission to prove her wrong so maybe someday she, too, would relax a little and have a drink on special occasions.
“Happy birthday, Flint. Take care of my babies.” My mother-in-law, Sandy, hugged me as everyone said their final birthday wishes and goodnights.
“That’s code for hand the keys to your wife.” Heidi nudged me with a playful smile that I knew was not at all meant to be playful.
Sandy squeezed my cheeks and looked into my eyes. “I think he’s fine, sweetie. Nothing like your father was so give him some slack.”
I shot Heidi an I-told-you-so look. Her mother loved me. I was everything her father hadn’t been. Heidi hated that I could do no wrong in Sandy’s eyes, but I loved it. A dangerous pride came with so much confidence.
After she fastened Harrison into his car seat, Heidi held out her hand.
“I’m fine.” I opened the driver’s door.
“You’re not. You drank a lot tonight.”
“I weigh a lot.”
I slipped into the driver’s seat. “Call me Hopkins, baby. I like where that leads.”
“Flint, I’m serious. Our child is in the backseat.” She stood between me and the door so I couldn’t shut it.
“I want to be in my birthday suit with you. Get in so we can get Harrison to bed.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, raven hair flowing in all directions, blue eyes piercing mine.
Heidi shrugged. “Great. Then don’t be a chauvinistic pig. Just let me drive.”
Thunder rumbled in the distance as a few drops of rain fell from the night sky.
“You’re going to get wet.”
She huffed and stomped to the other side of the car. “Stubborn ass,” she mumbled as she buckled up.
“Language, Mommy.” I chuckled as I started the car.
“There will be a special place in Hell for you, Flint Hopkins, if you kill us or anyone else with your drunk driving.”
I put the car in drive and cupped the back of her head, pulling her forehead to mine before letting up on the brake. “You’re my world. I would never hurt you. I love you beyond words.”
“Jesus, Flint …” she whispered. “Your breath reeks of whisky. I’m begging you. Let me drive.”
I released her and let up on the brake. As much as I loved my wife, I also loved being a man. And a strong man knew his limits and didn’t have to be told when he was or wasn’t capable of doing something.
Three days later I buried my wife in a cemetery two blocks from our house.
A Special Place in Hell—10 years later
Happy people should come with a warning.
“Hello, Attorney Flint Hopkin’s office. Amanda speaking … Yes … Okay … I’ll let him know. Thank you for calling. Have a fantastic day.”
Who says fantastic? The word comes from fantasy which means not real. My secretary, who did not come with a proper warning, tells everyone who calls here to have a “not real” day. She should work at Disney World.
The intercom on my office phone buzzes. I sigh. “Amanda, my door is open and no one else is here. You don’t have to use the intercom. I can hear you just fine.”
“How am I supposed to know if you’re on the phone?”
She rotates in her chair. I glance up from my computer, meeting her gaze.
“I don’t like to spy on you. When I do, the look you give me creeps me out.”
I scratch my chin. “I give you a look?”
She curls her blond hair behind her ears and gives me a sour face. “Yes. You never smile. It’s creepy.”
“Never?” I cock my head to the side.
“Well, except when Harrison shows up after school. The corners of your mouth turn up like…” her lips twist “…an eighth of an inch. And most people would miss it if they weren’t actively watching for it.”
Smiling is overrated. And she’s right; my son gets the best parts of me. What little remains.
“Who was on the phone?”
“Before you informed me of my creepiness, you paged me.”
“Oh, yes, Ellen Rodgers will be fifteen minutes late. She got held up at work.”
“Running late. Not a good sign. Probably means she’ll be late with rent each month.”
“Yes, Flint. You’re probably right. She got held up at work, a place she goes to make money. That’s definitely a sign that she’ll be late with rent.” Amanda swings back around to her desk.
“You’re rolling your eyes at me.” I return my attention to my computer screen.
“I would never do that, Boss.”
Twenty-five minutes later, there’s chatter in the waiting room. My focus stays on my computer. There’s no reason to give Ms. Rodgers the impression I have nothing better to do than wait for her.
My phone vibrates on my desk.
AMANDA: Ellen Rodgers is here. I imagine you know this. She’s not a client, so I wasn’t sure if her arrival warranted an intercom announcement or a verbal announcement since your door is open. How do you want me to proceed with this delicate situation?
ME: You’re fired.
AMANDA: For real!!!! Gosh, I have so much laundry to catch up on at home. Thank you!
Note to self: Never hire a female secretary again.
ME: Not for real. Send her back and get me that research I requested three days ago.
AMANDA: I’ll send her back. And I put that research on the bookshelf behind your desk 2 days ago. : )
“Women,” I mumble.
“Hello.” The woman applying to rent the space above my office charges toward me with her hand held out. “I’m Ellen Rodgers. I apologize for my tardiness.”
I stand and shake her hand. She’s unexpected. Cheerful—in need of a warning label. I let her enthusiasm for life slide this time because she’s easy on the eyes.
“Flint Hopkins. And it’s fine.” I glance over her shoulder to our audience of one. Amanda shoots me a sly grin. I narrow my eyes until she turns back around.
“Please, have a seat,” I point to the chair by my desk.
Ellen drops her handbag on the floor with an ungraceful thump. She must live out of her purse.
I home in on her shaky hands unbuttoning her gray wool coat that’s overkill for the sixty-degree day. “Forgive my appearance. I had lunch with a four-year-old girl who has a few coordination issues.”