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She Lets Him In

“What should we talk about?” she asked. “The Miami woman? Or maybe the others?” It was hard to control her voice. In part of her mind she was aware that it sounded a little shaky. In another part she was thinking about what his next move would be and what she should do.

He sat down on the stone step and looked up at the sky, his face blank, mouth slightly open as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the right words. At that moment Joellen had an almost overwhelming urge to lay her hand on his head and stroke his hair. She took a step away from the door, looked down at him, almost gave in to the urge to be the consoler. But she stopped short of that and waited.

Finally, after sitting on the step for a few minutes without saying anything, Brent looked from the sky to his wife.

“Let’s go inside,” he said slowly, quietly. “Where we can talk.”

Maybe it was the flowers. Maybe it was surprise at his remorseful attitude. Maybe it was just that she was tired of being wary. And maybe . . . maybe she did want to see him, to speak up, to tell him what she thought about their marriage and about what he had done to it. Whatever the reason, it was enough to make her weaken, and instead of walking back into the house and shutting the door, she looked into his eyes. She was almost defiant. Almost.

“We can talk right here,” she said. She was starting to regret that she had ventured outside the door at all.

“You’re not afraid of me, are you, Jo?” he asked.

Now she sensed some dominance game in play. In her brief dealings with Monika Novotny she had learned a few things. One was to be on the lookout for signs that she was weakening.

“Only you can give a man the right to bully you,” Monika had told her. Now she thought about that, about all the little ways she had allowed herself to be cornered.

“Of course not,” she answered him, but was it true? Or was she afraid of herself? Of giving in, of weakening in her resolve to move on with her life, of never becoming her own person.

“Then please, let’s not stand here in front of the house like this. We’re adults. We can talk,” he was coaxing now, the poor little lost boy almost disappearing, the smooth salesman returning.

Joellen stood up a little straighter, shifting her hold on the flowers from cradling them like an infant to gripping the stems with her fingers, separating them from her body with her arm straight out at a slight angle, dropping them upside down, no longer attaching to them any affection or romance, as if they were nothing but the morning paper.

“How come you’re not traveling in the middle of the week?” she asked, standing her ground.

“I took some time off. I thought it was important. Important to . . . ” he stopped. Brent was good at reading people. After all it was part of his job. He now read in Joellen something he had never seen before. It perplexed him. “ . . . to reunite my family.”

For what seemed a long time, there was silence between them.

“Exactly what does that mean?” Joellen asked him.

Brent stood up, the expression on his face changed again. He walked up the step toward her, sensing a softening in her stance, taking advantage of every discernable nuance in her demeanor.

“First it means making you understand how important it is to me to be together as a family,” he said. Now he was standing close enough that she could smell his after shave. He was wearing a suit and tie even though he had taken the day off, as if he were making a sales call on her, as if winning her back was another hurdle for him to jump, another goal to reach, another check mark on his monthly chart.

Joellen Part 3, Episode Thirty

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