“Look, I still love you.” Twigs crunched under Bill’s heavy work boots as he slogged along the water’s edge. “But we have to end this,” he said. “I have to think about the kids.” The pond was still mostly frozen, but water glugged out from under the ice shelf near the boat launch. Bill splashed through it.
The cold, late-winter air stole Jenny’s breath, but Bill’s words ignited a fire in her heart. She hurried to match his pace, then latched onto his arm, suddenly unconcerned with getting her suede boots wet. “You said you were going to leave her,” she managed. When he’d texted her to meet, she’d thrown a few essentials in a bag and called off work for the day. This wasn’t what she’d been expecting. Not at all. “You can still be there for the kids,” she said. My parents got divorced and it was the best thing they ever did for me. You make it work.”
That was the wrong thing to say. Bill shook her off and trudged ahead. Jenny ran to catch up. “I’m sorry.” She clung to his arm. “Bill, I said I was sorry. I know you love your kids. But we have something special. You can’t just throw it away. People wait their whole lives for this.”
“I’m sorry, but this is how it has to be.” He pulled her hand off his arm and took one step back, then another. “Goodbye, Jenny.” He turned his back on her and hiked toward his car.
Goodbye? He didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Jenny stood rooted to the ground, watching him walk away. Her lungs burned as if the air had been knocked out of her. “Bill!” He was moving at a fast clip, but she knew he heard her. “She’ll find out, you know. Even if we end it now.”
Jenny watched as Bill went still. They’d almost been caught at Christmastime. Bill and his wife had come to school for the holiday pageant. Their youngest daughter Lily was in Jenny’s class and had seen Bill and Jenny’s hands brush during the cookies and punch. She giggled. “Teacher, you held my daddy’s hand.”
Bill turned red, and his wife had given him the evil eye, but Jenny giggled along with Lily. “I zigged when your daddy zagged,” she’d said.
It was enough for Lily. But not for the wife. She wasn’t a stupid woman. “She might already know,” Jenny said. “Maybe she’s just waiting for you to admit it.”
Jenny’s heart swelled as Bill returned to her. “What do you want from me?” he asked. A crow cawed as it sailed over them.
Her mouth went dry. “I just want us to be together. I want us to be happy.”
Bill sucked in a breath. “You’ll never give up, will you?”
“No,” Jenny whispered. “We were meant to be.”
Bill looked up toward the heavens. “God forgive me,” he said. He grabbed the lapels of Jenny’s jacket and kissed her breathless.
Her head spun with the excitement of it all. Now that he understood, he would leave his wife for sure. He would marry Jenny and they would live happily ever after. The kids would be happy for them. They’d see it was for the best.
Bill held her tight, kissing her deeply. Her feet barely touched the ground as his body pressed against hers. His knee nudged her thigh. She was on fire. “We should go to the car,” she whispered.
Bill’s hands were on her hips. His grip was firm. Jenny heard a pop and a creak. The earth moved beneath her feet. She tore her lips away from Bill’s and looked down. In the heat of passion she’d stepped out onto the ice. A giant fissure encircled her. “Bill,” she said. But it was too late. The ice gave way and she slipped through Bill’s hands and into the murky water.
She thrashed, reaching for Bill, but he didn’t grab her hand. He was on his knees, leaning out over the ice, his hand a lead weight on her head. She kicked, struggling to surface, but the pull of the icy water was too strong, the weight on her head too heavy.
Bill’s face faded away as she sank deeper and deeper into the darkness. He couldn’t reach me, Jenny decided as the fight left her body. But at least he loved me, she thought, comforted. He said he still loved me.
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