Saturday, April 10, 2021

WHEN DWAYNE DIED (the sequel to SUKI) Chapter 4

  You are invited to watch this chapter unfold step by step as the editing process shapes this story.

When Dwayne Died

Copyright 2016 by CF Winn

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Chapt. 4

Those that long for clarity might try to find it by meditating, listening to music, or by talking it out with others. Many do so with the expectation that once they have this clarity, all will be well—the clouds will part and they will walk softly on top of a sea of tranquility, armed with a peace and deep wisdom that they can impart to the less fortunate, confused masses around them. 

But in the real world, clarity is merely a clearly defined perspective on a situation. And as the realization sets in that no one ever promised to hand over clarity on a satin pillow with a complimentary chocolate, and that sometimes it comes with a side of heartache and confusion, we are forced to keep going, with our newfound perspective, in a reality that is constantly moving forward toward the next life lesson. 


After her birthday, Savannah waffled through each day as if she were tranquilized. Her fire, her passion for life had been extinguished and her relationship was snuffed out with one swift shot to her heart. He doesn’t want to marry me. Suddenly, the girl who preached truth, who usually doled it out in brutal handfuls without apology, had been struck down and stung by its directness.

She licked her wounds in a broody husk, with a tongue scarred by statements she herself had made in the beginning, when Dwayne asked, and asked, and asked her for the last time to marry him. Until Savannah finally shut him down. I don’t want to get married now, Dwayne. I need to see how I feel. I’ll get there. Be patient, Dwayne.

She worked, completed task lists, and went about her business as if her darker self was not sitting on her shoulder. It nudged her, it reminded her, he doesn’t want to marry you, every time she let go of what had happened. Every time she dared to smile or laugh. As if it were not enough that her dead daughter was on her other shoulder whispering, I’m dead, whenever Savannah felt as if she might live again.

Then one Sunday afternoon, when they were both off from work, Dwayne took her by surprise.  “Savannah, you’re going food shopping, right? I’m coming with you.” It was an unusual request, she usually shopped alone or with Aaron, but the appeal perked up one piece of her desperate soul. The one piece that had been clinging to the hope that it might love fully again, the one fragment that hadn’t been mangled in the absence of four words she now knew she’d never hear. 

Although the tension should have eased after their shared dream and after her birthday dinner, because she was hurt, Savannah withdrew from Dwayne and crawled back into the fortress she had built after the miscarriage. She crawled back into four walls of avoidance that would have kept her safe if not for the cracks that allowed self-pity and rejection to seep in.

The voices in her head tormented her with what she believed to be the truth. Except for pleasantries she and Dwayne exchanged between working and sleeping, and those voices, it was silent in their house.

 Savannah had forgotten how to converse. She had no good answer to what he had just proposed. Instead, she jumped, and two coupons fell. Her stomach flipped several times, and her hands shook, even though they should have been weighed down by nervous sweat that coated her palms. For a second, Savannah was transported back to the beginning, to the newness of them as a couple, when his voice had the power to make her feel grateful for every conversation. When his attention made her tremble the way she was trembling now.

She bent to pick up the coupons. Savannah believed they held more value in the world than she did. One dollar off for laundry detergent and one dollar off of three of Dwayne’s favorite cereals—both offers represented money, tiny slips of paper that were worshipped by bargain shoppers.

She looked up at the man who had once professed himself love on larger pieces of paper. In love notes that had impacted her destiny more than the coupons she was organizing ever would. Savannah had become a person who poured her effort and energy into meaningless tasks even though deep down she knew that one honest love note or one grand gesture in which she shared her truths could’ve saved them. 

Dwayne’s expression revealed nothing but patient expectation. She knew he was waiting for an answer from someone who was afraid to want or feel anything. “Yes I am. Wait. You want to come? Why?”

Dwayne beckoned her with one finger. When she stood up and inched over to him, he gathered her into his arms and smiled down at her. His eyes were the same deep, warm brown that she had always gotten lost in. Not this time. Savannah turned her head away and leaned her cheek on his chest.

He doesn’t want to marry me.

The thought came and went like a fast car on a busy highway, carrying her a safe distance from his touch. It was only eleven thirty in the morning and that phrase had already saved her from succumbing to her feelings at least a million times.

“We need some time together Sweetheart.” Dwayne kissed the top of her head. “And I need to make sure you get enough Hi-C. You know how I love my Hi-C!”

Savannah kept her cheek on his chest. She was sure that if she looked up, he’d be grinning down at her. His smile could break down the walls she knew she needed to survive.

He didn’t ask me to marry him when he should have.

She ignored the stabbing pain in her chest. As he stroked her hair, Savannah lifted herself from his arms. She landed back in the wedding that had helped her realize how important this man had become in such a short amount of time.

As the edits continue, there will be more Chapter 4 to read.

Have you started Chapter 1 yet? 

Chapter 2?

Chapter 3?

Have you read the book that started it all? SUKI is available on Amazon:

CF Winn is the award-winning author of The COFFEE BREAK SERIES, a quirky group of short stories meant to be read while on break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Her first novella, SUKI, has been grabbing hearts and hugging souls all over the United States.  The sequel, WHEN DWAYNE DIED, is coming soon.

The BOOKLIFE PRIZE (a division of Publisher's Weekly) describes CF WINN's MOORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: "This novel is a unique and original storyline that readers will likely find much enjoyment in. Winn's fiercely plotted storyline makes for a suspenseful read. Every plot point feels as if it is being revealed at precisely the right moment. Winn's word choice makes for a joyful ride through unexpectedly dark terrain."

You can now order SUKI in paperback at BOOK REVUE, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores, by email at Learn more about SUKI at BOOK REVUE.

Her blogs have been syndicated on multiple sites including The Masquerade Crew. More posts like these can be found at Humor Outcasts and The Patch where she is a regular contributor.  

FOLLOW her on TwitterFacebook, and CF_Winn on Instagram.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

When Dwayne Died (the sequel to SUKI) Chapter 3

 You are invited to watch this chapter unfold step by step as the editing process shapes this story.

When Dwayne Died

Copyright 2016 by CF Winn

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Chapt. 3

Energy flows between two people when there is a release of control and a willingness to let someone in. The energy connects them. It fuses spirit to spirit and creates a euphoria that feels like it will last forever. But connections can be broken, like glass, when their fragility is forgotten, and they are not handled with care.     

Savannah’s twenty-third birthday began like every other day since the miscarriageshe opened her eyes, but instead of getting up, she lay in bed, wondering why she had been spared instead of Suki. The mattress was soft, her bones sunk into hollowed out spaces and trapped her between the folds of the comforter. If she stayed there, it would seem like she was resting, and no one would bother her. If she stayed there, she could disappear inside herself. Then no one would expect her to do anything. No one would expect her to act like everything was okay and she wouldn’t feel the pressure to force down the sorrow that bubbled up and made others uncomfortable when they were around her. 

Getting up meant struggling through her morning routine. To avoid looking at the aged stranger in the mirror. To fend off thoughts of self-loathing while she brushed her teeth. It meant that she washed her face with soap and water and a mix of teary grief that seemed to never run dry. Savannah’s twenty-third birthday began just like every other day did. With the expectation that she would feel this way all the time now that her baby was gone.

She rolled over. Dwayne was far away, as was the urge to kiss the back of his neck and rub his chest. That feeling had faded, along with the memory of the last time he had smiled and gathered her into his arms.

Thousands of mornings had come and gone, unnoticed, unappreciated, uneventful. She had retired to bed the night before every one of those mornings, peaceful, happy, completely unaware that it could not last. Unaware that she was not destined to remain a beige smear of happiness on the colorful life she had signed up for when only good things seemed possible. That in order to learn the lessons that would grow her soul, the universe would have to shake things up. To wake her up.

When she slid off the bed, she was careful not to shake it. She stood in front of the window. Pale light peeked through the curtains. The sun was not up yet, but it was on its way. She crossed her arms, her way of accusing it of disturbing her gloom. She knew that the sun would eventually bust through the sheer fabric and soak the room, so she kept moving. If she could not anesthetize herself with numbness, she would stay busy and fool herself into believing that she was avoiding another day of pain. Another day of promise for her and other people she didn’t care about as much as she cared about her daughter. The light chased her, and she ran from it, because the darkness had become a more comfortable space. Because the longer she hid in the dark, the more likely people were to forget about her, and the less she would feel a need to live up to what she thought they wanted from her. She wouldn’t have to pretend to be something she wasn’t. She wouldn’t have to pretend that she was healing. And she could quietly drown in her own despair without everyone telling her how she could be better.

She moved slowly. Her legs were heavy and hard to lift, even to take a few steps. Savannah hardly slept anymore because she hated to close her eyes. Her dreams were everything she wished her life was—joyful scenes of her and Dwayne and Suki smiling and hugging each other. Spending time together. The dreams felt so real that when she came out of it and saw only two shadowy forms in her bedroom instead of three, her heart sank.

Dwayne’s disinterest kept Savannah from sharing her feelings. She used his distance to support her own theories about how disappointed he was with her. Part of her longed for the old Dwayne to appear, the one who would do what he always did and let it go. He had the power to convince her that it was okay to forgive her body for malfunctioning.

She made it to the bedroom door, then stopped to look back at him in the bed. One of his arms was splayed across the pillow instead of around her waist, where it belonged. He seemed like he was already moving on, but without helping Savannah. Without taking her along with him. Her resentment saw the old Dwayne as the new Dwayne, almost single, if only he could shake Savannah and her imperfectness. She was convinced that this Dwayne knew she would stall their happiness by not being able to get over losing their daughter.

This new house was quiet. Here, Aaron stayed downstairs, where the rooms were large enough to feel like an apartment and being next to the laundry didn’t bother him. Savannah cocked her head and listened, then she wandered down the hall. Aaron and his girlfriend would sleep in till late morning. 

She peeked into the spare room, just in case. A floorboard creaked and reverberated off the bare walls before it disappeared into a soundlessness that squashed her expectations. There was no baby in her crib, lifting her arms and crying out when she saw her mama. Savannah stared at the empty space that still housed old boxes and packing materials from when they had moved in. After finding out that she was pregnant, they’d bought Dwayne’s childhood home from his parents and planned to use the extra bedroom as a nursery. They were going to paint it a pale yellow. Suki would be the first grandchild on Savannah’s side of the family, and they were excited to pass down Savannah’s own crib, like a torch to the new generation. It was supposed to go in the left corner, so that Suki could see the Asian Maple outside of her window.

The ache in Savannah’s stomach pressed hard until her grief had nowhere to go but up into her heart, where it swelled till it felt like it would explode. Before it could, Savannah turned away. She left the little bedroom and went to the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror, in front of a reflection that had changed. She hurled hateful darts at the gaunt, pasty face that stared back, its eyes begging for forgiveness it knew it didn’t deserve.

 You’re so weak and immature. How could you possibly take care of a kid? And you’re mean. That last fight you had with Dwayne was horriblethe one before the doctor told you that Suki was dead. Why would you tell him that you don’t want to have a baby with him? A guy like that is not used to dealing with anger like yours. Everyone loves him because he’s a nice person. What is he even doing with a bitch like you? Be careful what you wish for, they say. One word. Karma.

Her thoughts popped up in little word bubbles, piling on top of each other until the room was filled. Like a hoarder, she had become someone who couldn’t let go of anything, no matter how much it weighed her down. As long as Savannah listened to the voice, she was never alone. It sapped her energy, but she let it go on and on. Sometimes she got so wrapped up in what it had to say that she barely listened to people who were right in front of her. The voice was relentless. It wouldn’t let Savannah get away with what she’d done. It reminded her of every mistake she’d ever made. It convinced her that there were reasons why she’d never be allowed to have a baby. Because if she did, then that baby would have no choice but to love her back, and Savannah didn’t deserve love.

As the voice chattered, Savannah showered and dressed. Then she went to the kitchen to have breakfast. She was in the mood for pancakes. After she ate, she would prepare Dwayne’s dinner. She was finally back into the old routine of making a meal in the afternoon and leaving it in the refrigerator for him to warm up when he got home from work. They didn’t eat together anymore, even on her nights off.

It wasn’t until she was flipping the first few pancakes that Savannah realized it was Saturday and almost ten. During the work week, Dwayne would have been up and gone before dawn; he was the  engineer behind new designs and prototypes of things like toilet paper holders and outdoor dishware for big companies like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, so he needed to be at the factory early. 

Savannah had jumped at the sound of Dwayne’s voice when he insisted that she stay home to celebrate her birthday. She had been lost in thought, getting rid of old food from the refrigerator and scrubbing the shelves. “Make sure they know you aren’t working on your birthday.” He had been brusque about it, and he stated it as if they had been in the middle of a conversation. Not as if he had appeared out of nowhere and expected her to know who “they” was and what had motivated him to say that. His voice had sliced open Savannah’s cocoon of busy. She was leaning in to clean the back wall of the refrigerator and almost bumped her head on the shelf above when he startled her. Dwayne didn't ask if she was okay. Instead, he issued the order a second time and walked away. 

She did as she was told, and now she had a rare weekend off from her job at the bookstoreeven though she didn’t feel like there was anything to celebrate. Savannah adjusted the heat under the pan and fought to hold back the tears that were building. Oh my God. Stop it already. You cry about everything! What if Dwayne sees you? Do you think this crying nonsense is going to make him like you any better?

“Happy birthday.”

Savannah’s body shook just like it had when Dwayne had interrupted similar thoughts. On that day when her body was half in and half out of the refrigerator and she believed that wiping away ketchup stains and stale crumbs was the same as wiping away unwanted emotions and moods. She almost spun all the way around. She almost revealed freshly puffed, red-rimmed eyes before she caught herself and dropped her head. She hid her face, but could still see who had spoken. “Hey, guys. Good morning.” She gave Aaron and his girlfriend Chrissy a quick, forced smile and turned back to the pan on the stove. She let her long hair shield her eyes from view.

 “That smells really good,” Aaron said.

The pair flanked Savannah, trapping her in a bear hug. She wanted to push them away so that she could breathe. After they released her, they pulled out chairs and sat down at the table. The noise of the legs scraping the floor made Savannah cringe. She wanted to rip her ears off her body and hide behind the couch. Taking deep breaths, she focused on the spatula in her hand, on lifting a pancake and transferring it to a platter. Then lifting another. “Can you get some plates, Aaron?”

Chrissy took napkins from the holder and began setting the table with them. Aaron got up and went to the cabinet to her left. As he passed by, he squeezed Savannah’s shoulder. Somehow, he always knows. But as much as she appreciated it, his touch felt like a thousand knives ripping her nerves apart.

“Where’s Dwayne?” Aaron asked.

“Still sleeping, I guess.”

Chrissy called out from the living room and interrupted them. “Hey! Bart shed his skin again!”

Bart was a boa constrictor that Dwayne and Savannah had gotten at the beginning of the year, before they knew about Suki. Bart was short for Bartholomew; the name Savannah had given the snake as soon as she laid eyes on him. They took him everywhere, to the grocery store and street fairs in his own hobo bag, as if he was one of those tiny dogs that fits in a woman’s purse. 

At home, Dwayne would take Bart out of his tank and put him on the bed or on the couch near Savannah when she watched TV. Bart loved the warmth of Savannah’s hairit was thick and long enough to tickle the curve of her back—he crawled up into it, climbing until he reached the top of her head. Then he would poke his face out, so it looked like they were watching TV together.

Under Dwayne’s watchful eye, Bart had been trained not to wrap his body around Savannah’s neck. When Chrissy called out that he had shed his skin, Savannah smiled a little. He was loved by the entire household, as much as their dog Mingh was. When Savannah frowned, it was because she remembered that he would have been nowhere near as loved as Suki would have been. Nowhere near as much as she still was loved.

Aaron ran to see Bart’s transformation, and Savannah called out, “Dwayne will be happy.” Savannah’s mouth said the right things, but her thoughts were always elsewhere. While Chrissy and Aaron whooped about Bart, Savannah imagined how much fun her birthday would’ve been if she were still pregnant.

“In this light, the new skin on his body is kinda purple,” Aaron said. “Savannah, come here. Come look before it changes.” Savannah lifted the last pancake from the pan and turned the fire off. Her eyes had already glazed over into disinterest, and she felt like she had to drag herself into the next room to appease Aaron. 

When she turned the corner, Bart raised his head like he was expecting her. They locked eyes, and that’s when Savannah remembered her dream. Her gait suddenly changed into slow, deliberate steps, like a sleepwalker whose mind is lost in the folds of another reality. She bent down and looked into Bart’s tank, into grey eyes that revealed fragmented images of a dream from the night before. Or was it this morning? 

The tilt of Bart’s head as he watched Savannah watch him. The way he looked like he was trying to tell her something when he flicked his tongue. These were familiar pieces of a larger puzzle that Savannah struggled to reconstruct. When the last corner was fitted and the picture was suddenly clear, Savannah stood up fast. Her gasp was mistaken for effort. She walked back into the kitchen. She put syrup on the table with the platter of pancakes.

Aaron and Chrissy bounded in behind her, prattling on as if Bart was a child who had just lost is first tooth. “That was so cool, right?” Chrissy poured orange juice into her glass.

Aaron nodded his head. “What’d you think, Savannah? You didn’t say anything when you saw him.” Aaron tapped her shoulder. “Savannah? What’s wrong?”

Her mouth twitched. It spasmed with excitement, but she couldn’t speak. Savannah wanted to explain, but the images that made sense in her head seemed impossible and even ridiculous to put into words. Aaron and Chrissy stared until she finally blurted it out. “I think Suki tried to talk to me.”

Now, Chrissy and Aaron looked at each other. Savannah imagined more word bubbles, just as judgmental and disapproving, but this time sprouting from their brains instead of her own. Spewing thoughts that no one dared to say out loud. Confirming what Savannah already feared. That she was losing her mind. The bubbles were everywhere, poking her while her skin burned with shame.

Chrissy and Aaron leaned in until their faces were too close. The lack of air squeezed and reshaped Savannah’s personal space into woozy boxes of uneasiness. They scrutinized the specimen they had trapped, and with one look, they had a silent conversation about her as if Savannah wasn’t even in the room: What is she talking about? Does she think she saw a ghost? Did you hear or see something? I didn’t. Did you? Maybe she should go to one of those grief groups. Or maybe she should see a counselor.

Savannah’s own thoughts pressed hard, like bullies, pushing, shoving, and taunting her to finally confess that she was going crazy: What the hell is wrong with you? The dream had nothing to do with you talking to your dead daughter. And even if we could all stretch our imaginations why would you tell anyone that? You sound like a lunatic. You never think before you speak. Hello? Anyone home? They are staring at you. Talk! Say something! Oh my God, what is wrong with you?

“The thing with Bart…it just reminded me…I had a dream. He was in it. And I think he brought me a message from Suki.” After making a full confession, the word bubbles dropped to the floor, smashing into a million pieces along with the judgement Savannah thought she’d seen. Aaron and Chrissy continued staring at her, but with different eyes than Savannah had imagined. They weren’t looking at her in an Are you kidding me kind of way. She had their full attention. They were waiting for her to go on.

She hoped the deep breath she took was filled with courage and articulation. “You know how they say that in dreams we get messages, but sometimes they have to be interpreted because they’re cryptic or come in the form of symbols?”

Savannah didn’t see them nod. She had already dropped her head and was examining the grain in the wood of the table. To focus. To try and remember every almost forgotten detail.

 “And the symbols or messages usually come to us as something familiar?” She reached for a napkin and began tearing it into tiny pieces. First, she dropped the pieces in a small pile, then when she continued speaking, she would divide them into even, orderly sections. It would keep her from looking at Aaron and Chrissy. She didn’t want to see herself reflected in their eyes: pitiful, pathetic, hopelessly hanging on to a dead baby and a man she didn’t deserve. She didn’t want to see expressions that might echo fears she didn’t want to believe, but also couldn’t quite let go of.

“So, this dream was about a snake. A giant snake…a huge one that was purple—just like Bart was. It could talk and it was trying to tell me something, but in the middle of our conversation, the sound went out, like on a TV when you press the mute button.”

Aaron knocked over the saltshaker when he sat back. The sound and her own surprise forced Savannah to look at him. His hand was over his mouth. His eyes revealed that he was interested, not afraid for her sanity.

Chrissy glared at him before she turned back to Savannah. “Well, what did you guys talk about before the sound went out?”

Savannah spoke slowly, working hard to remember exactly what she had heard. So she could relay it word for word. “Now that I think about it, it wasn’t much of a conversation at all. It was just the snake talking and me struggling to hear it. Because even at first, the volume was cutting in and out. It wasn’t staticky, but I couldn’t hear too clearly, even though I tried to. Even though the snake got really close to me.”  Savannah looked around the room. “We started off here in the kitchen and dining room area. The snake was a few inches from my face, like it was studying me or something. Then it said, Mama you look so sad.” She swallowed down the mawkish pits that had found their way to her throat. Through thin membranes not equipped to hold back such strong emotions. If she didn't get rid of them, she wouldn't be able to talk without crying.

“Everything happened so fast. I didn’t even get a chance to say anything because then it moved down the hall and into my bedroom. When we got there, it started to say, And just when you think... but the sound disappeared even though I could see that the snake’s mouth was still moving.”

Aaron spoke up. “Well, it said, Mama. I can see why you think Suki might have been talking to you. So, then what happened? Did you wake up?”

“No. The snake just kept moving around. It was darker in the bedroom, so in the dream I had more of a feeling that it was still talking. And more of a feeling that it was Suki. Not like I had any real evidence. You know what I mean?”  

“Oh!” Savannah’s head popped up. Now she was looking at Aaron and Chrissy instead of at the table and her napkin piles. “And there was someone else there, but I couldn’t see who it was. It looked like a shadow, but I just knew someone was there, ya know? Like I said before, like a feeling, like the way you know things in dreams.” Savannah caught her enthusiasm and rolled it back into herself. Then, she stood up. She had said too much and would probably regret it later. “Anyway, let’s eat already.”

While Chrissy poured orange juice for everyone, Aaron suggested that Savannah go get Dwayne. “Maybe he’s up. I’m sure he’s hungry. That boy could beat anyone in a pancake eating contest.” Savannah nodded. She was still struggling to remember more of her dream. She had forgotten about Dwayne.

When she got to the bedroom, she opened the door carefully. Dwayne lay on his side, still facing away from her.

“Are you awake?” she loud whispered. In the past, Savannah would have bounded in and jumped on the bed, throwing her body over his and attacking him with kisses. Now, she crept quietly toward him.

“Hmm?” he asked. Although he made the sound, he didn’t stretch and roll onto his back, smiling before reaching out for her like he always used to.

“I made pancakes. I thought you might want to get up and have some?” Her voice trailed off and the statement became a question. Savannah stood next to the bed, playing with her fingers and staring at his back.

Before everything happened, he would’ve jumped up and said, “Pancakes sound good, Baby! But not till I get a bite of you first!” Then he would’ve grabbed Savannah and peppered her face and neck with tiny kisses and love bites, while she giggled and returned the affection. But now, he said, “Oh yeah? I’m pretty hungry.” Then, he flipped over onto his back.

Savannah walked to the window and pulled open the curtains. “Bart shed his skin. Aaron said he looked like he was purple for a few minutes.”

Dwayne didn’t respond, and when Savannah turned to see if he had heard her, he was frowning. “Are you playing with me?”

He needed a haircut. Savannah’s hands ached. She was dying to be allowed into his space. To be allowed to smooth down the pieces of hair that stuck out and made him seem tired and older than he was. “What are you talking about?” she asked.

Dwayne shook his head and smiled. “Nothing. I was just confused for a second.”

He was the most genuine person Savannah knew, but his smile was crooked and it never made it into his eyes. “Hold on. You were just pretty annoyed with me—for saying that Bart shed his skin. So, what’s up?”

As soon as she asked the question, Savannah started edging toward the door. She expected Dwayne to get mad. To tell her to drop it. To growl about her always making such a big deal out of everything. Her heart pounded a warning signal and the palms of her hands released fear and insecurity in a thin film of sweat. Better to leave and cry in the bathroom alone.

“No. I’m good. It’s just that I had a dream…” he said. His voice softened into a trail of thoughts that seemed far from the unhappiness that had settled in around them.

I had a dream…four words that were the key to their connection. The lock that kept Savannah’s true self from interfering in her life lessons opened so she could come forward and take the wheel for a minute. Now her knees trembled, but with an energy, an excitement. The part of her that ruled with ego and self-doubt was pushed into the backseat and forced to watch as if bound and gagged.

“Tell me.” Her hesitation disappeared in a rush of something faint but familiar—the certainty that this moment was important, that it had been planned long before either of them had even been born. She sat on the edge of the bed. With her consciousness split, she could take mental snapshots from various angles and perspectives—ones that she would keep and analyze later.

“It’s kind of hard to explain…” he said. Savannah locked eyes with Dwayne. She understood without needing to hear about it. She moved, barely a lean-in, but instantly detectable between souls that had known each other for more than just two short Earth years. That recognition closed the distance that had rifted them for weeks. It inserted itself like a shot the doctor gives without warning. It took the ache away like a fast-acting medicine and felt the same way it had when Dwayne and Savannah had met for the first time, when they shook hands and almost remembered that they belonged together.

Suddenly, those four words, I had a dream, thrust them back onto the same page, and Dwayne’s speech streamed with a new fluidity. “You were there, and so was Bart. But he was huge! And he was purple! At first, I couldn’t hear any kind of sound, but somehow, I just knew he was talking to you.”

Another click. Savannah realized that the large shadow she hadn’t been able to identify in her own dream was Dwayne. Her ego popped its head forward from the backseat, We had the same dream!

 Dwayne continued, “Then the lights went out and I couldn’t see anything, but I was finally able to hear. Bart sounded like a little girl. He said to me, And just when you think I’m gone, look at the one you love most, and you’ll see I never left. I tried to find you, but I couldn’t see. It was like I was blind. I called out, but you didn’t answer. I wanted to tell you that Suki was here so you could talk to her also.”

Savannah saw Dwayne’s tears before she felt her own streaming down her face. She reached out and rubbed his arm, and he stroked hers. She hoped that maybe now they would find release and relief in each other. That knowing Suki wasn’t in pain or blaming either of them for what had happened, they could get back to each other.

Savannah crawled across the bed and smooshed herself into a ball against Dwayne. Then, with him rubbing her head and kissing her shoulder, she told him her version of the dream.

“I love you, Savannah,” he said when she finished. “It’s been so hard to see you so upset and not be able to help you feel better.”

What about you? You never talk about it.” Her higher consciousness instigated one last, selfless move before retreating again. The way her stomach dropped when she heard words come out of her mouth as if someone else had spoken them revealed that Savannah was back to being a mere human being, flawed, emotion-filled, and impulsive. She had not yet learned that the beat between breaths is where we find the best of ourselves. And she did not know that much later, when she looked back on these moments, she would realize that without having taken this painful path, she would never have become who she was meant to be.

What about you? You never talk about it. Deeply buried in that statement was a hard truth. That she had never allowed Dwayne to talk about the miscarriage. About how it had affected him. About how it had hurt him. Her stomach tightened with the fear that she had just given him the opportunity to do so. She was ashamed of how she had told herself that she was protecting him all this time by avoiding the subject. By not talking about it. Another hard truth. Now she admitted that she had been keeping him from burdening her with his pain.

Dwayne answered as if he knew her fear. “I’m okay. Really. I’m just worried about you.”

She snuggled closer. “This is what I need, Dwayne. It seems like when we lose our connection, we lose everything. I’ll try harder. I promise. I don’t want you to be stressed about me.”

After a few more minutes, Dwayne finally moved. “I can smell those pancakes. I’d love to have some. That is if I’m still allowed to.”

“Of course you are. But only after you look at the one you love most.” She rolled over to face him. He was smiling. “Now kiss the one you love most.”

His approach was soft, but he lingered as if his lips knew they should never leave hers. When they finally separated, Savannah shifted so that Dwayne would have room to get up. He grabbed her arm and pulled her wrist to his lips. As they pressed gently against her skin, he told her he loved her a thousand times and in a thousand ways—and not one of them required words.

That night they went to dinner at her mom’s house and feasted on Savannah’s favorite roast beef meal. They talked and laughed and fed each other chocolate birthday cake with whipped-cream icing for dessert. It had been a while since things had felt normal. Since they had felt like a unit. Like a family.

Sometime after Savannah blew out the candles, after she relaxed enough to believe that everything might finally be okay, Dwayne handed her a gift, a small package wrapped in shiny silver paper and topped with a red bow. The size and shape of the ring box gave it away. Savannah’s pulse quickened when she realized that she had been ready to marry Dwayne for longer than she had allowed herself to believe.

She smiled and tore at the paper, thinking of how he was about to propose at her birthday dinner, in front of her family. It was a corny, goofball move, one that Savannah would’ve made fun of if she had witnessed it with another couple. But after everything that had happened, she felt lighter and more forgiving. I would’ve planned something less traditional, but this is fine. It is so Dwayne. And that difference between us is one of the things that balances us so well.

When she opened the box and spied the pear-shaped stone, it was a welcomed surprise. He knows me so well. Amber—her birthstone—an unusual choice for an engagement ring, but at the same time, the perfect choice. Dwayne always said, “You are so different from anyone I’ve ever met. But in a good way. You’re just so…so…real.”

Savannah stared at the ring in the box. She waited for Dwayne to put it on her finger and pop the question. Finally, he came up behind her, put his arms around her neck, and his chin on her shoulder. “Go ahead and put it on. I can’t wait to see if it fits. I had to sneak and measure your finger while you were sleeping.”

Her stomach flipped. Savannah smiled and put the ring on as if she had understood that this was just a birthday gift. “It fits perfectly,” she said, and held out her hand. She stamped down the feeling that her relationship would never be as strong as it once was. That it was broken in a way that couldn’t be fixed and it was her fault. But when the stone loosened and fell out of the setting, Savannah watched it roll away without trying to retrieve it.  

Have you started Chapter 1 yet? 

Chapter 2?

Did you read the book that started it all? SUKI is available on Amazon:

CF Winn is the award-winning author of The COFFEE BREAK SERIES, a quirky group of short stories meant to be read while on break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Her first novella, SUKI, has been grabbing hearts and hugging souls all over the United States.  The sequel, WHEN DWAYNE DIED, is coming soon.

The BOOKLIFE PRIZE (a division of Publisher's Weekly) describes CF WINN's MOORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: "This novel is a unique and original storyline that readers will likely find much enjoyment in. Winn's fiercely plotted storyline makes for a suspenseful read. Every plot point feels as if it is being revealed at precisely the right moment. Winn's word choice makes for a joyful ride through unexpectedly dark terrain."

You can now order SUKI in paperback at BOOK REVUE, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores, by email at Learn more about SUKI at BOOK REVUE.  

Her blogs have been syndicated on multiple sites including The Masquerade Crew. More posts like these can be found at Humor Outcasts and The Patch where she is a regular contributor.  

FOLLOW her on TwitterFacebook, and CF_Winn on Instagram.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

WHEN DWAYNE DIED (the sequel to SUKI) Chapter 2

After watching This Is Us -- Number Two, I felt like I needed to release this chapter a little early. Miscarriage and baby loss is heartbreaking, but we all heal in our own way and in our own time.

For those of you who want to start at the very beginning, you can download and read SUKI, but if you want to read Chapter One of WHEN DWAYNE DIED before you read Chapter Two below, click here:

When Dwayne Died

Copyright 2016 by CF Winn

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Chapter 2

            There's something sweet about watching a couple fall in love. Audiences eat up steamy movie scenes or romantic passages in a book because they are hungry for the same kind of joy in their own lives. If it can happen for that plain jane farmgirl from Iowa, why can’t it happen for me? I already live in the big city. I don’t need to move there. I’m way cooler than she is and once I’ve hooked Prince Charming, he won’t be able to keep his hands off me.

At the beginning, just like in stories, everything is so fresh and new that even bad habits can seem endearing. But as time goes on, those bad habits are quietly labeled TO CHANGE LATER. In real life, sometimes after only a few months, respect slips away and judgment slides in. Resentments and criticisms are tucked away, building, simmering, swirling, until that one inevitable nasty fight, when the glow of early love is finally smothered by baggage and scars that can no longer be ignored. 

           After the procedure was over and Savannah was stable, the doctor said that she could go home. No longer pregnant, rather than focusing on healing, she ached for the piece of her that was lost. She willed her bloated stomach to move, to stretch and make room for a tiny hand or a shifting foot, to wake her from her nightmare, but the lump in her throat swelled and choked her instead. Her womb was useless, a phantom limb that wouldn’t shelter new life and a happiness that could have taken her and Dwayne to the next level of perfect.

            “Sweetheart, it's me.” The hospital curtain was closed. Dwayne's voice could barely be heard on the other side of it.

  “You can come in.” Savannah called to him from the gurney, where she lay flat on her back, staring at the ceiling. The nurse had told her that she could take her time getting dressed. The metal rings clanged as Dwayne pushed the curtain open, but Savannah stayed still, finding it hard to tear her eyes from the ceiling. She studied the bends and cracks in the acoustic tile, taking comfort in its imperfections. It was only when Dwayne held her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist that she dared to look at him. Does he know how broken I am?

His face, the one that had fought for his country, the one that hardened and set when he spoke up for others, seemed to shrink into fear and uncertainty when he saw her. “I'm so glad you're ok.” His chin trembled and he squeezed her hand. Savannah’s wrist was marked up from the IV and her fingers went limp rather than squeeze him back.

            “Dr. T said that I lost a lot of blood.”

           Dwayne bent to rub her head. “You did. They were all set up to give you a transfusion just in case you needed it. No one even told me. After two hours, you still hadn't come out and I had to ask what was going on.” His brown eyes glistened, and his voice shook while he recounted his side of the story. She stared at his caramel hand resting on top of her pink one, protecting her, while at the same time gathering strength from their connection. They appeared to be linked as if it was a regular Monday and nothing had changed.

 Savannah listened from a place outside the scene, the way she would watch a movie. Although the monologue wrenched her heart, and she wanted the main character to reassure Dwayne, Savannah remained a spectator. A wall had sprung up between her brain and the rest of her body. It left her feeling foggy, like she did on mornings when she would snuggle into her pillow rather than getting up to face the day. Instead of reacting, when Dwayne paused, she struggled to sit up. “I'm so hungry. I really want to get out of here.” Her words were flat, as if she had not just had her child and most of her soul ripped from her body then tossed in the trash somewheredead, useless, and with any luck, eventually forgotten. 

Dwayne used his free hand on her back to help her change positions and asked, “Do you need anything?”

“Can you give me my bra and shirt from the chair behind you?” He turned away to get her clothes, and when he released her hand, things shifted as quickly and subtly as the seasons did. Right now, summer was turning into fall. A few leaves littered the ground, but it was still warm enough for shorts. The feeling that something was different hung in the air. What should have seemed so comfortable and familiar didn’t fit the way it had just days ago. 


        Savannah dressed in silence. Dwayne averted his eyes as if they had never shared a friendship, a bed, and almost a family. She was sure that whatever had caused her to miscarry their daughter would show on her bare skin, so she moved quickly, keeping herself and her defects covered. When Savannah was done, Dwayne left to get the discharge nurse and some food.

          She was pushed to the exit in a wheelchair and driven home by Dwayne. During the ride, Savannah stared at the tuna sandwich in her lap but she only saw the hole she wanted to throw herself in. When they arrived at the house, she dropped her soggy lunch in the trash can at the curb.

           He unlocked the door and the sound of the keys and the latch echoed throughout the house. Dwayne filled the emptiness with a quick list of directives: That Savannah take time off from work to recover. That she rest enough and eat enough and let him take care of phone calls. Dwayne would go back to work the next morning. He would leave her alone to do all the things he had ordered. So she could have the quiet she needed to shake this off and recover. So that things could go back to normal. As if it were a regular Monday and nothing had ever happened.

Savannah nodded in his direction and escaped to bed. As soon as her head hit the pillow, grief doubled up on the silence. Dwayne turned on the TV in the other room, but the chatter could not cover up the lack of sound. There was no baby fussing or gurgling or crying out to eat. The gloomy stillness cloaked them both like a heavy blanket that stays damp no matter how many times you run it through the dryer. Neither of them was brave enough to acknowledge it, and over the next few months, the sadness would spread like a mold, thick and toxic.

For the next few days, she didn't cook dinner for them to enjoy together, or prepare food and leave a container in the refrigerator for Dwayne like she used to. Instead, he would bring home take-out for them both. The tins of beans and rice from the bodega that she had always loved sat untouched until they smelled, and Dwayne finally threw them out. Savannah showered at night. Not in the morning, either getting up with Dwayne and chatting with him from under the water while he brushed his teeth or jumping in after he would leave.

            During the day, she tried to watch TV. She would stare at the screen before looking around and wondering where she was. When it all came rushing back, she'd fall on the bed sobbing and pulling at her hair, unable to escape a reality she’d never asked for. Aaron was staying away, and by the time Dwayne came home, Savannah was silent again, curled up on her side, under the blankets, pretending to sleep. Crying so hard left her with headaches that made her nauseous. And facing Dwayne meant facing that she was a failure, unworthy of being his partner. Polarizing guilt kept her numb even when he left cards and love notes on her pillow to try and bring her back.

After a week and a half, Savannah finally forced herself out of bed before Dwayne got home. She showered. She cried into the hot water and again while she dressed in sweats. By the time she was done, the sun had begun to set. She made Dwayne's favorite dinner—lobster tails, rice, and green beans—and she struggled to push away the ache that kept her grief trapped in her throat and chest.

His eyes lit up when he walked in and saw her setting the table. “You're awake. How do you feel?” Dwayne dropped the takeout bag and hugged her. “I'm sorry I smell like diesel. I’ll shower in a sec. I'm just so happy to see you moving around—and dinner smells damn good!” He held her tightly, wrapping his arms around her, just under where her thick, wavy hair ended at her waist. Her cheek was pressed hard against his chest, and Savannah inhaled deeply. She willed his scent to take them back to a time when she couldn’t imagine ever enduring this level of pain. “I'm still sore, but I'm sick of lying in bed. It feels better to stretch my legs and do something constructive.” 

           Dwayne moved his hands from her lower back to her shoulders. He bent to kiss her, but she leaned away and turned her face to hide her puffy, bloodshot eyes. His lips caught the top of her head. He dropped his arms and stepped away, mumbling something about getting cleaned up before dinner. Within seconds, she heard the water in the shower hitting the granite floor. Steam appeared, slowly drifting into the hallway toward her. Savannah felt it pulling her, urging her to join him. But the doctor says we can’t have sex for at least three weeks. She stayed where she was. He lost a child too you know. A fleeting thought, for she had buried her instincts alongside her baby.

            Savannah went into the kitchen to let their dog in. After she had come home from the hospital, Mingh sat next to the bed each night whimpering and nudging her hand, eager to resume their routine and go for their evening walk. She'd push him off, getting up only to feed him and put him in the backyard when his bowls were empty. Now, he lay outside his doghouse, head resting on his paws. “Mingh,” she called. He popped up at the sound of his name. “C’mon puppy. Ready for a walk?”

Mingh bounded up the stairs. Unencumbered by resentment at having been ignored, he jumped up on Savannah and smothered her with kisses. For a moment, she forgot her pain. She allowed herself to giggle while she rubbed his back. But as soon as he moved away to get his leash off the low hook they had hung it on, she remembered that Mingh also depended on her. And she could not be trusted. Her smile disappeared. She took the leash from his mouth and clipped it on his collar. Then she growled, “Let's get this over with.”

She let the dog lead the way out the front door and down the steps. It was the first time she'd been outside since her world had become unrecognizable. Colorful leaves finally carpeted the wet ground, but their brilliant reds and yellows seemed duller than last year, when Dwayne and Savannah had planned to live happily ever after. She shivered in the cool air, having forgotten to put on a jacket, no longer aware that things like the weather change every day, sometimes even in seconds. Sometimes taking us by surprise.

I hate feeling this bad. Like I'm stuck or trapped and this is never going to end. I didn't ask for this. Do I deserve it and I'm not owning up to it? Why did it happen? Her sadness piled up on itself when she thought of how her universe had split into two places, death and despair. She thought of how each had lured her in with their sorrowful, liquid tones. How they had shelled out her insides and passed them around in the darkness. To pick through and choose her best pieces. To separate them. To turn them, so she couldn’t be strong, so she couldn’t heal, so she couldn’t be who she was meant to be.

Savannah breathed in the smell of the woods that surrounded their block. Its mustiness kicked up a notch as soon as she felt the first few drops of rain. She looked up. It was a desperate sight, the bare branches of the trees exposed and vulnerable, reaching for things that were no longer there. Specks of water fell softly through the ring of light that haloed the lamp post. Behind the weather, stars winked at her. They were only visible when the clouds shifted. As if the universe had conspired to protect the secret to happiness that Savannah longed to rediscover. As if it would only be revealed when Savannah was strong enough to remember to cherish it every second of every day.

She thought of Suki, the daughter they had named before she could come to be. Even though she had been wanted, she had only been an idea. A plan for how they could live and love forever, first through Suki, then through her children and their children and on and on because Dwayne and Savannah were sure a love like theirs could never run out. 

Her tears mixed with the rain that dotted her cheeks and chin. Every birthday and special event had already been planned. Every bump, bruise, and hurt feeling had already been kissed and hugged away, yet Savannah would never know if her daughter could feel the enormity of her emotions behind every fantasy, hope, and dream. Is she okay? Is she watching me now? Does she know how much we miss her?

Her questions were answered with emptiness, silence, and an atmosphere of disregard that clung to the pavement. Savannah was stuck, weighted down by the heaviness in her heart. She would watch helplessly as the rest of the world moved forward. And she would keep her distance, afraid that she might infect everyone. 

          Mingh finished peeing on the grass along the curb and tugged at his leash. Savannah wiped her eyes and shook her head, as if she could erase her feelings at will. “C'mon Mingh. Time to go home.”

            Dwayne and Savannah began sleeping apart. They shared the bed, but kept to opposite ends of the queen-sized mattress, leaving each other to brave the dark alone. As Dwayne tossed and turned, Savannah wondered if nightmares plagued him the way they did her. Is he also haunted by holes where joy should have been?

            Savannah woke early on Friday morning, the weekend of a long-planned ski trip. She stared at Dwayne's back, wondering how they had gotten so far away from each other. Maybe this trip will help us. She extended a hand out toward this man she wanted to cling to during the worst time of her life.

Her fingertips barely grazed him when the guilt crept in. How dare you expect him to make you feel better. He lost his child because of you. How about how he feels? He wants children and you probably won’t even be able to give him any. What if you are built like your grandmother? What if you have eight miscarriages too? How selfish can you be? The truth burned enough to make her pull away. She rolled over, turned her back on him, and let the tears fall. Ever since the procedure, crying had become as instinctual as breathing.

It took some time, but finally, her thoughts and tears faded. It was only a temporary reprieve, for soon enough, new thoughts and tears would arrive to take their place. Savannah got up and made sandwiches for them to eat on the road. They had planned the ski trip months ago, when they knew that their time alone was coming to an end and getaways would be limited. They were going with another couple, Kim and John, and their four-year-old daughter. Tori was supposed to be Savannah's opening act, much needed practice for the young mom before Suki arrived. Since she did not want to ski while she was pregnant, Savannah had planned on being a pretend parent for the weekend. She would watch Tori while everyone else skied.

        “Are you sure you want to do this?” Dwayne asked her as they loaded the car, then again when they drove to Kim and John's house, and once more when they stopped for gas before heading to the mountain. “I'm fine if we cancel. If you're not up to it, then we shouldn't go.” Savannah knew that what he really wanted to ask was if she was in pain, but she was glad he didn’t. They were enduring a shared nightmare. The only answer was: unbearably so.

          I’ve destroyed his future, Savannah thought. I can’t take this away from him too. Dwayne loves skiing. He needs something more than watching me mope. She nodded her head at him. We hardly speak unless he asks how I’m feeling. At least there’s still some connection. She smiled and he brightened. But she knew she needed to aim that smile on herself. To light her insides up. To turn her beacon back on so they could find their way back to each other. “I keep telling you, I'm fine. Let's go and have some fun. That's what we need right now.” Savannah pulled out her camera and snapped a picture of him at the gas pump. “Yeah, that's right. The camera loves you, Babe.”

Dwayne posed for the picture like the goofball she used to know. Then, when he put the nozzle back in the pump and walked toward her, he reached for her hand. Savannah’s hormones were still out of balance, so the smell of the gas flipped her stomach and made her woozy. She turned away to breathe some clean air and Dwayne stopped, just inches away from her. The squeak of his shoe reminded her of the stoppers on her old roller skates. Orange blocks of rubber that allowed you to halt everything and instantly change your direction, your intention, your attitude.

“Savannah. Are you coming?” The irritation in his voice pushed her forward. “Yep. Coming.” The goofball was gone and so was the opportunity to smile and share a kiss. To reconnect. To remember who they were to each other and why they were here. Somehow, she had messed up again.

Savannah sucked in her bottom lip to keep her chin from trembling. As long as her head was lowered, Dwayne wouldn’t see her tears brimming or her pale complexion or her raccoon eyes. As long as she kept her head lowered, he couldn’t see how weak she was. Behind her mettles were frailties, pushed down, stifled, hidden under a fa├žade of strength and independence. The truth was, Savannah was still a baby. Her age showed in the way she was trying to figure out who she was going to be. How she was going to contribute to the world. Doubt and insecurities flailed around under a cloak of confidence, under the guise of someone with clear goals. If she let him see the needy, vulnerable person she knew she was, Dwayne would probably leave her. 

She wondered if she would ever not look exhausted again. She wasn’t even twenty-three yet. She was barely old enough to drink and gamble. But in one short month, her youth had disappeared and been replaced with the timeworn insides of someone who had seen enough tragedy to write a really sad book.

As they approached Jay Peak, Dwayne whooped loudly. “I can’t wait to get up there and do my thing!” Savannah stared at the trails that striped the mountains and felt another brick plunk down in her stomach. It settled next to all of the others, packing itself in firmly. Soon, she’d be heavy enough to stay drowned in her own darkness. Dwayne’s one exclamation, his one attempt at joy, had shaped the new brick, thick with jealousy and resentment, for it was becoming clear that he couldn’t or wouldn’t join in on her misery. She chastised herself again for being selfish but let her toxicity coat her stomach and its contents. Then, when they passed Alice’s Table Restaurant, she felt something bubble up between the bricks. Hope, and the last bits of her true self that weren’t dreading more long days without Dwayne. She eyed the restaurant and planned a date night.

When they arrived, Kim and John were already there. Tori was jumping into drifts and making snow angels. Her wet snowsuit glistened in the sun when Kim called out for her. The foursome checked in at the lodge and got the keys to their chalet. Tori stuck herself to Savannah’s side, and she chattered about what they were going to do that weekend. “Mommy says that I can wear nail polish now, so we can do our nails. But only if I promise not to suck my thumb. Mommy says I have to be a big girl now.” Tori’s lisp pulled at Savannah. It twisted her, it made her want to fold up into herself so she could not be seen.

Dwayne smiled at Tori and reached into the car to lift their heavy suitcase. Another brick. Savannah reeled at the easy smile and the tender looks he gave away. Those things are meant for Suki. Not for some kid that’s not his. Shame filled her face when she caught herself. It is not Tori’s fault that Suki isn’t here, you crazy person. It’s yours. Stop being mean.

Dwayne had left the tiny overnight case for Savannah to bring in. She grabbed the small bag and took Tori's hand. “I’m sure you can handle not sucking your thumb. You’ve definitely gotten much bigger since I saw you last. What else do you want to do besides nails?” Her own hand burned with betrayal. She felt like she was being watched; not just by her boyfriend, but by the daughter she would've given anything to hold. Tori giggled and listed their itinerary while Savannah struggled to breathe beneath her sham of a smile.

Kim pried Tori away. “Let Savannah get inside. Girls Day isn't till tomorrow, and that's only if Savannah is feeling well. Remember that I told you that she was sick and is still trying to get better?" Savannah cringed under Kim’s supportive look.

“I know, Mommy. And the baby in her belly got sick too, right? So I have to be very gentle and no hugging.” Everyone averted their eyes but Tori. She stood right in front of Savannah and held up a lifelike infant swaddled in a crooked diaper. “You don't have to worry about me, Savannah. I'm very good with babies. I practice all the time with my dolls.”

 Words and sentences tumbled out of Savannah’s mouth, channeled by a kindness the universe piped into her body. It bypassed the bricks in her stomach, it took over her throat, her face, her mouth, her muscles. So that she wouldn’t choke and break down. So that she wouldn’t smack the baby doll right out of Tori’s hands. So she wouldn’t say things she would regret if her sanity ever returned.  

“I'm not worried at all, Tori. Just let me unpack and then we'll start with dinner. Do you think you're ready to help cook?” Savannah didn't wait for the answer. She continued to her room, hoping no one noticed her shake, or the zig zag in her walk as she struggled to stay on her feet. She closed the bedroom door quickly, before anyone could hear the guttural sobs that she clenched and swallowed between desperate breaths.

That night, Savannah edged herself into the curve of Dwayne’s body. She wrapped her arm around his waist and kissed the back of his neck. The doctor had cleared them for sex, and they could even try to get pregnant again, but Dwayne kept still. “Sorry, Savannah, I'm tired.” 

She rolled away before his indifference could tighten her stomach and take all of the air from her. For the rest of the night, she fine tuned the silent cry she had become good at. She purged this new grief without a sound. She let his rejection wind its way around her organs and her bones without resistance. It released itself easily, without the pushing and straining that came from fighting back. Without waking and inconveniencing anyone. She started the process of giving up on happiness privately, without pressuring Dwayne into comforting her or caring for her. He could sleep and dream and reset while she stayed up all night, spooning her pain.

John, Kim, and Dwayne left in the mornings, right after breakfast. While they skied, Tori pulled out her toys and prattled on about anything and everything, animated and endless, a normal child born into a family that had played by the rules: boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, then have kids. 

Savannah smiled and nodded at Tori only after she had sunk into an unconscious clone of herself. She needed to stick to her commitments, no matter how hard it was. To entertain and protect the child. To do and say the right things. To fool everyone with programmed responses. And to wear a tough outer shell that would not be penetrated by pesky emotions. 

Tori was scheduled to take a nap at two o’clock, so Kim popped in at the chateau. “Are you sick of playing nanny?” Savannah had just picked the little girl up from the living room floor to carry her to bed. When Tori spied her mother, she whined, plunked her head on Savannah’s shoulder, and wound her arms more tightly around Savannah’s neck. Savannah could not pull away, no matter how much she wanted to. Her head was stuck in Tori’s grip, locked in the same space as the child’s innocence, a prisoner to the feeling that mothers get when babies lay their heads down and skin is upon skin. The feeling that bonds them in trust. Succumbing to the knowing that their little heads will be kissed and rubbed and never pushed away. Forever and ever. I want this with my baby. Forever and ever. Her clone stepped out for a coffee break and Savannah almost forgot herself. She almost gave in to the feeling that Suki was using this child as a vessel so that she could comfort her mama’s broken heart.

The spell was broken when Tori spoke. “Mommy, go away. Savannah is going to tell me a story about a sweet little angel that keeps her company when she can’t sleep.” Kim’s eyebrow arched and curled to match the smile playing on her lips. But when her brain caught up to the story synopsis, her mouth straightened into a concerned line. “You okay, Savannah? I can put her down and you can go get some air.”

The clone was back. It addressed Kim’s concern with a brusque, dismissive tone that warned her not to argue. “Don't be silly. I'll read a book until she wakes up. Go have fun.” Kim blew Tori a kiss and closed the door behind her when she left.

Savannah tucked Tori in. She fluffed the pillow and imagined that the child she had just placed on the bed was Suki. That she had dark hair and dark eyes and cocoa skin. Tori’s blond hair and blue eyes dissolved into the baby Savannah longed to read to, to make up stories for, and to hug. A perfect combination of the perfect parents.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to grow up very fast. Maybe even too fast. She listened to the adults talk their important grown up talk and watched them doing important grown up things and she thought, “I want to be grown up too.” Savannah spoke to the wall behind the bed, just above Tori’s smiling face. The wall had become a screen, with images that played out Savannah’s inner angst. “She tried to do grown up things, but she wasn’t very good at it. The harder she tried, the worse she failed. And the worse she failed, the longer she stayed up at night, plotting ways to be better. Soon, she wasn’t sleeping at all.” 

Tori touched Savannah’s arm. “Aww, that poor little girl. Mommy says that if we don’t sleep enough, we don’t get to grow up into happy people, because we stay cranky.” Her words were slurry and her hand was heavy enough that it needed Savannah’s arm to support its dead weight. Savannah wanted to yank herself away before Tori tiny fingers could burn into her guilt and ignite more feelings she wasn’t ready to experience. Instead, she casually backed up and let Tori’s hand drop to the mattress. The word Mommy cut Savannah when Tori said it. She bled anger and frustration every time those two syllables sliced her eardrums. Isn’t she a lucky kid? She has a mommy. The thought escaped into the atmosphere, surfing away on sarcasm and bitterness before her clone could catch it. Before it could be contained. Before she could stop herself from directing her negativity toward someone who didn’t deserve it.

Savannah added another boulder to her already heavy chest. The guilt she gathered and hoarded would eventually finish her off and put her out of her misery. She smiled sweetly, folded the sheet under Tori’s chin, and pushed the story on. “One night, the girl was up, tossing and turning, and thinking and worrying, when all of a sudden, a bright light filled her bedroom. It was so bright that the girl shielded her face with her hands because she thought the light might blind her.” Tori’s eyes were droopy but still interested half-moons. She murmured a sleepy, “Oohh” and blinked a few times before her eyes shut completely.

Savannah continued her story, in a clear voice that she pushed through the veil that separated her and her daughter. She hoped that Suki could hear the story, even after Tori fell asleep. “The girl was scared, but then a small, sweet voice cut through her fear. It cut through the barricades the girl had set up to protect herself, and it found her heart.”

“‘Hello,’ said the voice. The girl squinted at the angel that floated before her. The angel was a tiny thing, only the size of a newborn baby, but she had the face of someone who knew lots of things. She had the face of someone who understood more than the combined perspectives of all of the grown up people the girl had ever talked to.” Tori’s breathing was heavy. Her eyes danced beneath her closed lids. Savannah inched backward on the bed and wondered if Tori was dreaming of the angel. If she could picture how beautiful and wise and perfect she was.

“The small being hovered in front of her. Bursts of light reflected off her wings. The girl blinked away the brilliance. She whispered, ‘Hi’, and waved an unsure hand.”

Savannah lifted her own hand and waved at the wall. She wished again that her daughter was there with her. A cool tingle appeared at the base of her neck and crept up to kiss her chin and jawline and a piece of her cheek. She wanted to believe that Suki had just crawled on to her lap, that she was there with her, but she wrote the feeling off as a hormonal surge. One that would disappoint her if she let her imagination run away with it. One that could bring on tears.  So, she jumped back into her story, to keep her mind occupied with thoughts she knew she was making up.

“The angel came closer. Her compassion reached out and hugged the girl. Her words found their marks, they eased the injuries the girl's soul had sustained. ‘Mama,’ the angel said, ‘I am here for you. To let you know that I am okay. To let you know that I love you. To help relieve your pain. Take your time. I promise I will stay until you can rest, Mama.’”

The words seemed real. Maybe because Savannah wanted them to be real. Maybe because she needed to believe they were. Maybe because Suki really was with her in the mountainside chateau, nestled in Savannah’s lap, her head resting peacefully against her mother.

 Savannah pulled her legs up into her chest and hugged them. She had been cheated. She not been allowed to shower her daughter with the love that had grown alongside her baby for a few brief months. She rocked back and forth and let her maternal instincts fill and tangle the space where her heart had shrunk into a cold, hard pebble. She let them expand and push into her sorrow; love wrapped around loss, a knowing that was bubbling to the surface. A knowing that could ease the life lesson she had chosen for herself once upon a time. When she finished the story, it would be filled with truths that would one day shape the rest of her life.

This time, Savannah’s voice was less shaky, a little stronger, “The girl surrendered. She snuggled into her pillow and let the angel soothe her as if they had been allowed to grow together in a physical lifetime on Earth. As if the circle of life had rotated through the usual cycle, and the roles were now reversed. When the parent becomes the cared for, after they have given all that they have and all that they know to these tiny child creatures they adore. After their giving has been so much that it is their turn to take. Little do they know that in that taking, they are still giving. They give their children the opportunity to learn that their love is unconditional too. They give their children the opportunity to show their gratitude. To prove that they learned something from their parents’ examples. That we mattered to them.” Savannah shifted the story closer to home and let it sound as personal as it was.

Savannah was stroking Tori’s hair. She pulled away and moved to the far corner of the bed where she could turn her back on the kid who wasn’t hers and finish her story. “The angel stayed close, even after the girl’s body relaxed and settled into the mattress. Even though the girl thought the angel’s voice seemed to be drifting away. ‘Rest, Mama. So that when you wake up, you will be able to appreciate the newness of the day. So you can walk more slowly through the moments, to feel how much beauty and joy is still out there. All is well, Mama. You will be forever loved,’ she said.

The girl let the weighty night and her hundred-pound life push her eyelids closed. She was still so young. She had hardly lived, but she was tired. She struggled to speak and slurred the one single thought that connected them. The one thought she would hold onto whether she was awake or asleep. ‘I love you more, my angel. You will be forever loved, and wanted, and missed.’”

The imaginary conversation grounded Savannah; it planted a seed beneath the comings and goings of her former life. Beneath the life she would have to return to eventually. The seed vibrated, and a tiny bud pushed forth, as if it had been waiting for the nourishment that came with perspective. It began to grow.

Savannah stood up and left Tori to nap. The need to tell Dwayne about what she had just experienced pushed out another excited bud. She sat on the couch in the common room and opened her book to read, but she mostly stared out the window and waited for him to come back. So she could share herself. So she could play out a hunch—that hearing about this experience might help his pain too. But as the glare of the sun on the distant slopes faded, and the emptiness of the chateau filled her stomach each time she checked the clock, eventually Savannah’s enthusiasm disappeared. She put her head down and fought back lonely, hot tears.

Dwayne returned after the rest of them had already eaten and cleaned up. His cheeks were flushed red from the wind on the mountain and he reeked of the whiskey dinner he had at the bar in the lodge. “Hey! You guys are a bunch of party poopers! Why'd you come back so early?” He stumbled when he pulled off his boots on the rug by the door. Bits of snow fell from his hat and melted in tiny pools of water as the heat from the fireplace reached him. He stared past Savannah and said, “Crack open some beers, John.”

Savannah pretended that the knots in her stomach were not there. She focused on staying in the lines as she and Tori colored at the table. She was beginning to cling to the five-year-old just so she could hide her emotions behind playing games. Behind excuses about giving Tori's parents some time alone. 

Savannah saw Kim and John exchange glances. “C'mon, buddy.” John said. “I need some help with the bed. Something's loose and the squeaking keeps waking me up during the night.”  

Dwayne was unsteady enough that he brushed against Savannah when he passed by. He still didn’t acknowledge her. Savannah used a purple crayon to outline the dress of the princess on the page in front of her. Then she studied it. She didn't sigh and think of how Dwayne used to make her feel beautiful. Instead, she thought of how this trip reminded her of the early days, when Dwayne drank too much. Seeing him like this made her worry.

It was hard for Savannah to recall times when Dwayne disappointed her. For the most part, she wished to be more like him: laid back, disciplined, sensitive, forgiving, thoughtful. But back when they had first decided to live together and they began moving her stuff into his house, things got a little rocky. 

Dwayne longed to take care of Savannah. He made no secret of it. “I’ll show you that I can be a partner you can rely on. Maybe then you’ll quit all of your jobs and marry me.” At that time, Savannah knew the pressure to work full-time and to branch out independently was getting to him, and that he’d begun drinking to ease the tension. She watched him spread himself thin, all the while claiming that he had it under control. Like a dam trying to hold back a constant rush of water, eventually the load became too much. Then, one night they went dancing and a side of him that Savannah had never seen before made an unwelcome appearance. 

Crawdaddy’s was a popular club with bright blue lights and smoke machines that made the sticky wooden floor and worn leather bar stools seem nicer than they really were. As soon as they arrived, Dwayne made a beeline for the bar and ordered two beers. Savannah pushed past a group of guys catcalling her and rushed to stand next to him.

"What do you want to drink, Savannah?" he asked.

She looked down at the two bottles in front of him. "One of those isn't for me?"

"No. I didn't think you'd want beer, and this placed is packed, so I ordered two, rather than having to try and get this guy's attention later. You want me to get you a Kahlua and milk?”

 Savannah looked at the dance floor. One of her favorite songs was playing, and she wanted to dance with Dwayne, but she was annoyed. Was he planning on bouncing with a bottle in each hand? "No thanks. Just a Sprite for me. I'm the designated driver."

He shrugged and turned to talk to the bartender.

Why would he think it was okay for me to drink when I'd be driving us home? In college, Savannah was on her way home for Thanksgiving break when the car she was in was hit head on by a drunk driver. She knew firsthand the dangers of driving while intoxicated. The firemen on the scene had used the jaws-of-life to get her and the two other passengers out of the mangled vehicle. After forty stitches in her head and months of physical therapy, Savannah still could not remember the impact, but she was finally able to use her injured leg normally.

Dwayne handed her a glass. "Here ya go, Sweetheart. Let's go find a table. Mike and the guys should be here soon."

 Savannah took a sip of soda while another wave of annoyance washed over her. She had no idea that Dwayne had invited his friends. "Are they bringing any girlfriends or dates or anything?" She yelled over bobbing heads and hurried to catch up to him.

            "Uh, I don't know," he said over his shoulder before making a run at a table in the corner where a couple was gathering their things to leave.

He reached the table and plunked one bottle down. The other was already at his lips. Savannah eyed him, then carefully slid out from behind two girls purring slurry adorations at each other. Their mascara was running, and they held hands. Savannah was sure that if just one of them let go, they would both fall over, onto the floor.

"You're so beautiful." The blond one said to her friend.

“No, you're so beautiful. Every guy here wants you," the other responded.

Savannah wanted to smirk. She wanted to elbow Dwayne and people watch and be amused about sloppy scenes like this one. Instead, he was in a dark corner, starting his second beer. She wondered why she was there.

Eventually, Dwayne’s friends showed up. They had not brought anyone, so Savannah was left to dance alone while they ordered shots. They ribbed each other and she drifted further out onto the dance floor. The crowd allowed her to join them and she allowed their rhythm to push her thin frame along.

  One after another, guys approached her, parade style. They filled the distance between her and Dwayne with their sweaty, gyrating bodies. They never asked if they could join her, instead they muscled between other people and got too close. Their breath smelled like salami and alcohol.

 Each time, Savannah backed up and politely shouted over the pulsing bass, "No, thank you!" Some nodded and moved on, but others pretended not to hear her. They grabbed her around the waist. In those cases, she'd repeat herself by shouting in their ears. Then she’d turn her back on them, firmly ending the interaction.

One guy though, refused to release his grip. "It’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to worry. I'm engaged." Still holding on to her, the man held up a black onyx pinky ring and grinned.

Savannah scowled. She grabbed his finger and bent it back. She didn’t let go when he cried out in pain. "Not stupid and not interested. Leave me alone." 

 Suddenly Dwayne appeared. The ex-marine towered over both of them. "Is there a problem here?" Savannah let go of the guy’s finger. She frowned at Dwayne when he put his arm around her waist and pulled her close to him.

The guy backed away and held up his palms. "Nope. Uh, it was really great meeting you." He shoved several people aside as he pushed through the crowd away from them.

 Dwayne turned her around and bent to kiss her. He smelled of booze. His hand shook so much that he almost knocked her glasses off her face. "Hey, Baby. What are you doing dancing without me? Every guy here thinks you're alone and wants to get with this fine piece of ass." He squeezed her and smiled.

 "Are you kidding me?" Savannah wriggled out of his arms. "Go back to drinking with your friends." She turned from him.

  "Hey, hey, hey. What's going on?" He moved in front of her and gently took her hands. He swayed slightly and slurred his words, but his touch was soft and his voice curious.

  "Why did you bring me here? Was it to be your driver so you could drink and hang with your buddies? You could've just taken a cab."

   He dropped one hand and led her by the other to a dark corner that wasn't so crowded. This time he kept her close and made sure that no one stepped on her. For the first time that night she felt like she was with him.

    Dwayne leaned her up against the wall and placed one hand on either side of her head. Then he brought his face close to her ear. "I hate that you think I don't want to be here with you. I love you. I love you so much. I want things to be perfect for you, for us. Sometimes I just need to blow off some steam and I go too far. I'm sorry. I'm here for you. Not for them." He pointed in the direction of his buddies and their table. Moving his arm threw him off balance, but Savannah caught him.

    She sighed. "You don't need to ignore them and only be with me. I just thought everyone would be laughing together, instead of you all joking around and me sitting alone at a table full of men. And I don't understand why I'm the only woman here. Didn't you tell them to bring someone?"

     "I did tell them to bring someone, but none of their girls are as cool as you. They want to cling to the guys all night long—even if other women are around—and my boys need to blow off some steam, too." 

He leaned on the wall with his shoulder and took her hand in his. Her tiny fingers disappeared. "I get what you're saying. It wasn't fair to leave you all by yourself the whole time. I'm sorry." Then, he did something he'd never done before. He lifted her arm and turned it to kiss the inside of her wrist. "Can we be friends again?" Savannah snuggled into his arms. Her walls collapsed, and she left her anger on the floor with snuffed-out cigarette butts and bottle caps that would be stepped on by dozens of people. Dwayne’s full lips on hers sealed his apology. 

Savannah told him to go back to his friends while she went to the bathroom. Two hand washes later, she exited the grimy restroom. Most of the place had emptied out. Savannah glanced at her watch, amazed at how long they’d been there.

            Dwayne was sitting alone at the bar, guzzling a rum and coke. The woman next to him was watching the bartender bend over to get some ice. Dwayne’s eyes were fixed on the shelf with the cognac, so he could not have noticed Savannah even in his peripheral vision, until she was about three steps away. When he did, he jumped in his seat and turned toward the woman, who was still not paying any attention to him. "No! I have a girlfriend and I love her!" he shouted at her back.

The woman’s body shuddered at the sound before she turned and looked at Dwayne with narrow, angry eyes. Savannah caught her attention and mouthed, "I'm sorry" before the woman got up and moved to a seat on the opposite side of the bar.

            Dwayne pulled Savannah onto his lap and kissed her neck. She giggled when it tickled, but Savannah knew she had to get him out of there before he had any more to drink. She pushed him away and said, "C'mon, Baby. Let's get you home. We have to be up early to move more of my stuff in before we go to your sister's for the barbeque."

 "Yes Ma'am." Dwayne held onto the bar for support when he stood. He was unsteady, but he got to the door without any help.

“Let me just get my sweater from the coat check. I’ll meet you at the truck.” The keys jingled in her hand as she promised to hurry. After tipping the attendant, Savannah put on her sweater and pushed open the front door of the club. She scanned the lot, trying to remember where they had parked, but she stopped short at the scene unfolding in front of her—Dwayne yelling at a guy who was at least two heads shorter than him. 

The stranger had come to the club with a posse that was surrounding them both. In the gaps between where each one of them stood, Savannah could see the guy reach out and grab Dwayne's shirt. The action sent two ripped off buttons flying. The shock of it had silenced them all, so everyone, including Savannah could hear the clink of the buttons landing on the asphalt. "Are you kidding me?! This is my favorite shirt!" With that, Dwayne put him in a headlock, and the fight began.

His voice unglued Savannah’s legs. She ran to Dwayne's truck, parked only two spots from where the boys were now on the ground, wrestling. As she unlocked the door and stepped up to get into the driver's seat, she saw one of the guy's friends pull the two men apart. He was red haired and lanky, but closer to Dwayne’s height.

Dwayne got to his feet. Just when Savannah thought the fight was over and they could go home, the friend swung at him. As drunk as he was, Dwayne was a Marine whose training was far beyond what any of them had ever encountered. He stepped aside, and the punch clipped his shoulder, leaving him unhurt. "You must have lost your damn mind!" Dwayne bellowed. His rage backed up and dissolved the circle of remaining friends. He grabbed the ginger by the collar and shook him. Savannah knew that Dwayne could kill him, but she also knew that was not his nature.

The guy who had started the fight jumped on Dwayne's back, but he was too drunk to do more than just hang on for the ride. The rest of the posse stood in an uneasy clump as Dwayne fended the two guys off, like King Kong swatting away annoyances he could have crushed in his fists.

Savannah pulled the truck out of the spot and sped at the group. The bystanders scrambled and moved. She stopped the vehicle only inches from Dwayne and the other two guys. The fight paused and everyone froze. The first guy slid off Dwayne’s back. Savannah jumped out quickly, but left the car running and the driver’s side door open. She headed for Dwayne. The guy who had started the fight was in her path. He was even shorter than he looked from a distance, maybe about an inch or two taller than Savannah. She pushed him out of her way and pointed a finger in Dwayne's face. "You. Get in the car. Now."

            Dwayne was still holding the gangly friend. He looked at Savannah as if she was telling him to clear his plate before he was done eating and did not let go of the guy. Savannah twisted her body to address all of them. She growled, “I should've run all of your stupid asses over.” Then she turned back to Dwayne and took a step closer, “Let go of him right now or I’ll get back in the car and do it.” 

Dwayne released the guy. He tripped on the way back to his friends. Dwayne walked to the passenger side of the truck, but he mumbled angry jibberish while he adjusted his torn shirt. Savannah crossed her arms and stared the rest of them down till they moved away. Someone complained loudly enough for her to hear, “That bitch is crazy!” When she was satisfied that no one would start with them again, she got back behind the wheel.

Savannah stewed in the silence for the entire ride home. While she unlocked Dwayne’s front door, he leaned on the stone column that held up the porch, the same column Leisa's sister had leaned on months ago, when her time with Dwayne was coming to an end and Savannah's was about to begin. Savannah held the door open and he stumbled through. He pushed past her and tripped into the bathroom. Her anger gave way to doubt. What happened to the guy I met? I can’t be stuck with this mess. Where is the guy who promised to take care of me forever if I let him?

The door slammed shut. Savannah heard a creak on the stairway above the bathroom and smiled at the figure coming toward her. They hugged, then Aaron asked, “What's going on?” He pointed to where they could hear Dwayne’s muffled singing.

 “Your brother got drunk, was in a fight, and is now hopefully peeing himself a little closer to sobriety before I get him to bed and leave. Since you're awake, can you help me with him? We have to make sure he falls asleep lying on his side, so he doesn't choke if he throws up.”

 After Dwayne's roommate had moved out, Dwayne had taken the bedroom downstairs and gave Aaron a place to stay in Dwayne’s old room upstairs. Savannah and Aaron had hit it off when they met, and they both loved Dwayne, so Savannah’s request was not unreasonable. “Of course,” Aaron answered.

“That girl is poisooounn,” Dwayne’s singing voice tipped and swayed and echoed off the tiled walls. Savannah imagined his body tilting to the side and taking every cracked note along with it. Aaron smirked and even though she tried to fight it, Savannah couldn’t help but smirk too.

After almost ten minutes, Dwayne went silent. Aaron and Savannah’s eyes were sore and droopy. Aaron knocked on the door. “Hey Dwayne, what's going on? You okay?”

Dwayne slur mumbled, “Yeah. Jussasecund.”

 Another few minutes passed. Savannah touched Aaron’s arm. “We’ve got to do something,” she said. Her voice was hushed as if being louder might tip Dwayne off about their plan to get him to bed safely.

“What if he's taking a shit?” Aaron asked.

Savannah leaned closer and listened. She heard nothing. She shrugged her shoulders at Aaron and said, “Ask him.”

Aaron called out. “Hey, Dwayne. You takin’ a shit, man?”

When Dwayne didn’t respond, Savannah lunged for the door. She was afraid that he’d fallen and hit his head or that he was already choking on his own vomit.

The bathroom was tiny, so Dwayne groaned and shifted when the door hit his feet. He was sprawled naked across the tile, his clothes thrown in a heap in the tub. The room reeked of spoiled beer. He had thrown up in the toilet. Orangey brown chunks of food floated in a lake of yellow pee.

Savannah gasped and bent down. “Dwayne. Are you ok?” She tried to lift his head, but he pushed her away.

“Stop botherin’ me. I'm..Imtryin’ ta sleeeep. Whyya make things susha big deal?” His words were garbled and threaded in meanness. 

Savannah stood up when her stomach dropped. Blood rushed to her face and she backed out of the room. “He's disgusting,” she told Aaron. “I'm outtta here, so you do whatever you want, but…” She went back in to kick Dwayne’s legs and finish the sentence. “I think you should leave him there.” She smiled when he yelped. Then, she walked out the front door. 

She climbed back into Dwayne’s truck. The plan had been to load it up in the morning and return with more of her things. Savannah turned the key in the ignition and put the car in gear. Then, she backed the truck up into a large stump that sat diagonal to the driveway. Although the rest of the tree had been cut down, no one had ever removed the stump. The wheels dug into the dirt and grass. She pulled forward and backed into it again. And again. When she could imagine the metal hitch on the truck was bent and warped, she thought, Plans change. Then, she pulled out into the street, and drove home.

The next morning, after only four hours of sleep, Savannah’s mind was made up. Her father had been an angry man and a heavy drinker. Life with him had been miserable. She refused to let her past also be her future. 

Savannah walked down the hall to her brother’s room and nudged his arm. “Get up. I have to drop off Dwayne's truck and I need a ride home.”

Rob rolled over and covered his eyes with his arm. “What time is it?”

 Savannah crossed her arms. “Nine. I just want to get this over with.” She knew Rob was sleeping off his own crazy night, but he wouldn’t argue with her when he could tell she was annoyed.

He pulled on some sweats and brushed his teeth. As they walked out to the driveway, he asked, “You got everything loaded by yourself?”

 “Things have changed,” she answered before she climbed in and started the truck.

Rob followed Savannah to Dwayne’s house. He waited outside in his car while she went in. Dwayne’s sister was in the kitchen, having coffee with Aaron. Terry stood up and hugged Savannah. “Hey. How’re you doing? Dwayne’s not up yet.”

Savannah handed her the keys. “No worries. I just came to drop off the truck.” She looked at Aaron, who averted his eyes. “My brother’s waiting for me outside. I’ll see you guys later.” Aaron lit a cigarette and stared into his mug. Terry looked from one to the other, but she said nothing when Savannah turned to leave.

By late afternoon, Savannah was sure of two things. Life would go on and Dwayne was over her. He hadn’t called to apologize, argue, or end things. If silence counted as closure, they were done.

She ran errands, made a few calls, and contemplated what she was going to do next. She could continue staying with her mother, but she was twenty-one years old. Time to grow up.

Whatever she did, she’d need to travel light. She pulled out her boxes from school and started sorting them. Low hanging fruit first. She threw out her notes from her Biology lecture and Statistics classes, then she tossed textbooks she’d never have to look at again. Her momentum grew and when the phone rang, Savannah was on box number three and garbage bag number two. She dropped a well-worn and written on notebook in with the trash and answered. “Hello?”

“It’s me.” Savannah’s hands turned to sweat. Oh my God. Dwayne’s deep voice would always affect her. Don’t say another word. You know I turn to mush when you use the sexy voice. This isn’t fair. You were bad.

“I’m sorry,” he said. Savannah flipped a notebook cover back and forth, letting the breeze cool her cheeks. For the first time in almost twenty-four hours, they were flushed with something other than anger.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me, but can we talk for a few minutes?” he continued.

“We are talking, Dwayne.”

“No. I mean face to face. I need to talk to my friend.”

“Oh, we’re friends now?”

“I ... I don’t know what you mean.” Savannah’s ear buzzed when he sighed. “The truth is, I can’t remember much of anything. I just woke up, and you’re not here but the truck is…” Savannah stayed quiet. She needed him to piece it together.“When I asked Aaron where you were, he said I acted like a dumbass. He said that you were mad, and I’d better call you right away.”

“I’m not mad. I’m done.”

“What? Please, Baby. Just come talk to me. I’m so sorry.” Dwayne groaned.

Savannah imagined him holding his head in his hands. She imagined his brain thumping on his skull, trying to remember what happened while it also fended off painful remnants of an alcohol fueled night. “Sorry for what?” she said. “You don’t even know what you did. I’m supposed you to forgive you and move on as if nothing happened, but you get to walk away without guilt, shame, or the disgusting memory of it all?”

Her question hung there like a problem with no solution. She used the silence to sort through her feelings. I want to hug you. I know how good you are. You’d never hurt me on purpose. But we have to have rules and consequences. Because when the newness wears off, if this happens again, it’ll get much uglier. On both sides.

Despite the tension, Savannah began to relax. She had tapped into her true intention and their natural rhythm could play itself out. Her ego stepped aside. Pauses were no longer personal. They were not offensive. The energy shifted smoothly between them.

 Dwayne said, “Okay. I understand. But can you please tell me what happened? I have only bits and pieces.

Savannah recounted the details as if she were reading an essay. So far no one had raised their voice. Neither of them name called or mocked each other. By the time she was done, she felt lighter. After it was out there, their balanced returned. They shared the burden and the embarrassment of what had occurred the night before.

“I’m so ashamed, Savannah. And I’m sorry. For real.” Dwayne paused. She could hear the springs on his couch creak. He groaned again. “Can I just shower and get dressed and then come apologize in person?” Savannah considered it silently and Dwayne went on to clarify. “No strings attached. I really do understand and respect whatever you want to do. But I can’t help that I love you as much as I do, and I need to say I’m sorry properly. You didn’t deserve any of that. I really was a dumbass.”

I love you too. I love you so much that I want to jump through the phone and grab you and tell you that you are forgiven. That you are always forgiven. But I can’t. I won’t. I want us to do the work. To have the best life possible. It won’t always be this easy, and I can’t wind up like my parents. Savannah kept her thoughts to herself, but she softened her tone when she answered him, “Okay.”

“Thank you. I’ll see you soon.”

And in the end, Dwayne not only knew all the right things to say, he also knew the right thing to do. As he kissed the inside of her wrist, Dwayne promised to stop drinking. Neither of them knew if he had a problem, but they both agreed that he was drinking a lot and it was causing problems between them.

Weeks later, when Savannah was all moved in, Dwayne wrote her a letter. He left it next to her glasses on the nightstand before he went to work. When he bent to kiss her gently on the forehead so he wouldn’t wake her. They were always writing notes and leaving cards for each otherat home, in their carsas if just saying the words wasn’t enough. In this case, part of Dwayne’s letter talked about his drinking and his decision to stop.

I don’t even have cravings for alcohol anymore, and I found that I can have fun without it. I kicked this habit for you. If not for you, I never would have realized how often I drank.

As soon as I found out that you didn’t feel comfortable with it, I wanted to quit. It was hard, but I did it. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal to you, but it is very important to me, for US. Please don’t be worried about the Crawdaddy’s situation happening again. I beat my problem!

Thank you for sticking by me. I love you, Sweetheart.

And now, after the miscarriage, just as she had predicted, the newness had worn off, and things were not as easy as they once were. Dwayne was drinking heavily again, and Savannah wondered if he’d find the strength he needed to live up to the promises he had made. She hoped that by hiding her grief from him, he could focus on his own, and that maybe he’d heal.

It didn't make sense. In a beautiful chateau at the top of a mountain, with a view that should have rekindled their romance, all Savannah could think about was her own misery and how the security that she used to feel, the security that had seemed so automaticlike their heartbeatscould just disappear.

She remembered how she’d sometimes squirm when Dwayne's kiss would tickle the inside of her wrist. As Savannah lay only inches from the love of her life, she swore she'd never pull away again.

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Have you read the book that started it all? SUKI is available on Amazon:

CF Winn is the award-winning author of The COFFEE BREAK SERIES, a quirky group of short stories meant to be read while on break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Her first novella, SUKI, has been grabbing hearts and hugging souls all over the United States.  The sequel, WHEN DWAYNE DIED, is coming soon.

The BOOKLIFE PRIZE (a division of Publisher's Weekly) describes MOORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: "This novel is a unique and original storyline that readers will likely find much enjoyment in. Winn's fiercely plotted storyline makes for a suspenseful read. Every plot point feels as if it is being revealed at precisely the right moment. Winn's word choice makes for a joyful ride through unexpectedly dark terrain."

You can now order SUKI in paperback at BOOK REVUE, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores, by email at Learn more about SUKI at BOOK REVUE.  

Her blogs have been syndicated on multiple sites including The Masquerade Crew. More posts like these can be found at Humor Outcasts and The Patch where she is a regular contributor.  

FOLLOW her on TwitterFacebook, and CF_Winn on Instagram.