Chapter Thirteen The key turned in the lock. He swore he could hear it echo, even though he knew the house wasn't empty. He had left last night, angry. No, not angry. Enraged. He hadn't meant to do what he had done. It ... just happened. No, it didn't just happen. You let it happen. It was your fault, not hers. Like it was never mom's fault ... always dad's. He was going to apologize, try to explain it to her. Make it alright, back to the way it was. Better. Even offer to go to counselling, whatever it took to make it right. "Donna? You here?" Silence. It was dawn on Christmas morning and the sun was just beginning to rise. She must be asleep. When he had left last night, he drove straight to Melanie's. Where else would I go? She's the only one who would understand. But she hadn't. After he had told her what had happened, she kicked him out, telling him she never wanted to see him again. "If you can hit her, you can hit me, and I have no intention of waiting around for that to happen." Now, he had no one. No one but Donna, he thought. He had spent the night in a hotel. He refused to go to his parents. He would never let his father know that he had become just like him. No, not just like him. I am not going to become him, because I'm going to stop it here and now! "Donna!" Still nothing. He stuck his head into the livingroom. The tree still stood its solitary vigil, a few gifts under it still wrapped, waiting for either Donna or himself to open them. The rest had already been delivered or sent to those they were intended for. He walked into the kitchen. The tea kettle was still on the floor where it had fallen the night before, a small puddle of water beside it. He thought it strange that she hadn't picked it up. Maybe she was too upset, or just went up to bed, or something. He reached for it, placing the lid into position and returning it to its usual spot on the stovetop. Then he grabbed a cloth to wipe up the spill. It was then he noticed Bosco's dishes. They held the remains of his dinner from last night, but nothing fresh, and the cat hadn't made an appearance when he came in. "Even the animals are turning against me." He walked back to the hallway, then turned, heading up the stairs to the second floor. Noticing the attic door was ajar, he pushed it shut. The click of the latch catching sounded louder than it should have. Continuing down the hallway, he reached their bedroom. The door stood open. The room stood empty. He stopped just inside the doorway, staring at the pile of clothes in the middle of the bed. It wasn't like Donna to leave the room in such disarray. Disbelief, together with shock, began to show on his face, as realization slowly came to him. "No. She couldn't have. She couldn't." Running to the dressers, he began to open all the drawers, finding Donna's mostly empty. The closet told the same story. "No." It came in an anguished whisper. It was then he noticed the rings, her rings, on the dresser. He reached over to pick them up, gingerly holding them in his palm. The morning light reflected off the diamonds. He clenched them tightly in his fist, the nails of his well-manicured fingers digging into the flesh of his white-collar palms. He staggered back against the closet door, slamming it against the wall, and slid to the floor. He craddled his head in his hands. "Donna. No." She had been driving all night. With no particular destination in mind. She just had to get away. As far away as possible. She decided to head north, along the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH as it's called in California. The serenity of the sea seemed to calm her nerves. She didn't know where she was going, but she knew she would never return to Philip. That part of her life should never have happened. She knew that now. Philip wasn't meant for her, and she wasn't meant for him. They just should have crossed paths, not merged them. She reached down to the radio, switching stations yet again. Every station was playing Christmas carols. She had almost forgot, had tried to forget, that today was Christmas Day. She wondered if Philip was home yet. Had he even returned home? Did he care that she wasn't there anymore? Despite what had occurred last night, she couldn't easily forget that he was her husband, and that she had married him because she loved him. Or at least, she thought she had. Had she married him for love, or security, or ... fear of growing old alone? Just like Bonnie had said. She hadn't thought she would ever be married to anyone but Sam, that she and Sam would have family together, a life together. That they would grow old together. But his death had ended all that. More than fifteen years together, over five of those years waiting for his return, ended because someone else in another timeline had died. Someone they didn't even know. He had died because of his need to help everyone, to save them from others or themselves. But someone else from somewhere else in time had died anyway, taking him, too. She had to stop dwelling on Sam. He was gone and was never coming back. Wiping an errant tear from her cheek, she continued on her northbound path. It was nearly sunrise, she could see the sun peaking over her right shoulder. She realized she had been driving for over six-and-a-half hours straight, her legs and backside began to protest. The roadsign told her that Big Sur was the next exit, so she decided to pull off and give her complaining body parts a break. Since she still had well over a half-tank of gas, she decided to go to the beach, rather than into the town itself. A few surfers were already there, waiting to catch the next waves in the early dawn. "Even on a holiday, they're here. Obsessed with the challenge and sheer joy of the conquest of the sea," she said, parking the car so she could watch them briefly before getting out. She walked around to the front, then leaned against the hood, stretching first her right, then her left calf. Standing, she placed her hands on her lower back, leaning backwards, stretching her strained muscles. Finally, stretching her arms in a large circle, she felt some of the tension release. Reaching back into the car, she grabbed her sunglasses, and put them on. She looked at the scene around her. The sound of the surf, the gulls flying into the wind, staying aloft yet hardly moving, the sandy beach. California oceanfront nature at its finest. It had been years since she had even been to the beach, any beach. Even though she and Philip lived less than an hour- and-a-half from Long Beach, they never went there. Not even for an evening out. 'Maybe next weekend, hon. I'm really busy at the office.' But next weekend never came. Will never come. Shouting from below drew her attention. A few surfers raced towards the ocean, boards tucked under their arms. At first she thought that perhaps someone was in trouble. She removed her glasses to get a better look. But, as they splashed into the water, throwing their boards in front of them, hopping on then paddling out, she realized they were simply enjoying the solitude of having the beach and the surf entirely to themselves. She grinned weakly, happy for them. At least someone's having a good day, she thought. "Beautiful, isn't it." The deep male voice came from behind, startling her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I thought you heard me pull up beside you." He motioned to his bicycle standing next to her car. "No, it's my fault. I was miles away." She turned her gaze back to the surfers. She didn't want to talk to anyone this morning. "Been in an accident?" He wasn't taking the hint. "Sorry?" "Your eye. That's quite a shiner." She had forgotten about her face. She reached up, now self-conscious about herself. Gently touching her right eye, she winced, imaging how it must look if it felt that tender. "It's nothing." "Really? It looks pretty bad. I'm a doctor, if you'd like me to take a look at it." "No, really. I'm fine." She tried to turn away, to make him go away. But he wouldn't. She slipped her sunglasses back on. "Okay. I get the hint. Subject dropped." They stood in an uncomfortable silence. "My name's Ken. Ken Webster." He extended his hand. "Donna Breck ... Donna Elesee." She took his hand. He responded with a firm handshake. "Nice to meet you, Donna Elesee. What brings you to Big Sur this early on Christmas morning?" "Just passing through. Needed to stretch, but it's time I got back on the road." She moved towards her car, but he stood in her way. "Excuse me." "You look like you could use an ear to bend. Mine's available. And free." "No, thank you. I really must be going. I ... I'm expected at my parents this morning, and I'm already running late." She stepped around him as he watched her, not moving. His bicycle sat directly in front of the driver's door. "Would you move your bike, please?" He took a few steps towards her, lifting the bicycle out of her way. She quickly got in, locking the door as she did. Revving the engine, she quickly backed out, then spun her wheels as she sped out of the parking lot, spraying dust and stones as she went. The cyclist had to cover his face to avoid being hit by the flying debris, but she didn't care. He had unnerved her. Don't be ridiculous. He was just being friendly, she thought. But he had still scared her. She returned to the northbound highway. The sun was now fully visible in the eastern sky, a bright orange ball. She knew she could have stopped in Big Sur, but for some reason, she didn't feel like she had gone far enough from San Bernardino. Far enough from Philip. She calmed herself down, slowing her speed, both of the car and her heart, gaining control again. Another hour-and-a-half later, after rounding Monterey Bay, she pulled into Davenport, a small coastal town. A handpainted sign, worn from years of seaspray and wind, swung from a post at the end of a dirt driveway. "Cottages For Rent -- Year Round". It feels ... right, she thought, and turned off the road. At the end of the driveway stood a small cottage, the kind you would see on the east coast moreso than on the west side of the country. The dashboard clock read 8:48 a.m., certainly not too early for someone to be up. Stopping the car in front of the door marked "Office", she approached the old-fashioned screen door. It swung open with a squeak, waking the cat sleeping in the window. It stretched its front legs, splaying its fingers and yawning quietly, then curled back into its previous position. A thought of Bosco popped into Donna's head. "I hope he'll forgive me for leaving him at Dr. Sue's", she said. "Can I hepp you, ma'am." An elderly man stood behind the counter. To Donna, he appeared to be older than time. His face, no doubt withered from years, decades, of living so close to the ocean, was wrinkled with deep crevasses. His short, stocky build told of years of hard labourous work, and was encased in a long-ago white shirt, sleeves rolled up, and denim overalls. And his speech was tinged with a New England accent. In some ways, he reminded her of an aged Popeye, minus the pipe and oversized biceps. "Yes, I was wondering if you had a cabin I could rent." "We-e-e-e-ll, lemme see." He rubbed the stubble on his withered chin, turning his back to her to view the rack of keys on the wall behind the counter. Most held red tags, which he flipped over to read. "How long you plannin' on stayin'?" "I don't know really. A fews days, a week at most." "You plannin' on cookin' here or eatin' out." "Uh, I guess I'll be cooking most rest of the time." He flipped a few more key tags. "I can give you a smaller one, but only until Sunday mornin'. Got a whole bunch comin' in for New Year's ya know. They been booked in for months." Sunday morning. That was four days. "Until Sunday's fine. I'll take it." The man took down a keyring, then reached under the counter, pulling out a form. "You'll need to fill this out. Need to know who y'are, car licence, that kinda stuff." He placed a pen on the form, then slid it in front of Donna. "And I'll be needin' a deposit, too. Let's see, four nights ..." his eyes squinted as he tried to process the calculations. "Aw, heck, just gimme a hundred bucks, and I'll let my son work it out later. He's in the house with the kids." Filling out the form, she paused at the section marked 'Home Address'. After a moments hesitation, she wrote in Sally's address, then signed her name to the bottom. Finished, she opened her wallet, taking out a hundred dollar bill. Placing it on the form, she handed both back to the man, who handed her the cottage key in return. "Now, to get to the cottage, just go down the road here," he raised his right arm, pointing in a circle beyond the office, "take the first right and it'll be the last cottage on the left. Closest to the beach, too. There's a barbeque all set up in back, if you like that kinda stuff. All the linens' already in there; pots, pans, dishes. You got any groceries?" "Actually, no, I don't. I just came right here off the highway. I hadn't plan on making the trip, so ..." "Alright then. You're invited to Christmas dinner." "Oh, I couldn't." "Won't take no for an answer. There's no place to shop today, and I won't have you not eatin' any Christmas dinner. We eat around three o'clock. And we don't dress fancy, just comfortable." The set of his jaw didn't allow for any further discussion. "Alright then. I'll see you at three." She started toward the door, the turned back. "Is there any place I can get some breakfast?" "Tilly's should be open today. Never seen her close on a holiday. She's back towards the highway, on 'tother side of town. Can't miss it. Big coffee cup on the sign." "Thanks, Mr. ..." "Jake. No mister, just Jake." "Thanks, Jake. And I'll see you this afternoon." She opened the door and left the office. Finding Tilly's was as easy as Jake had said. The giant neon coffee cup on the side could be seen from the highway. And it was open. Several trucks stood outside. Some were smallsized transport-style, but most seemed to belong to locals. Donna parked as close to the door as possible, then walked inside. The combination of Christmas music blaring through the speakers and at least a dozen male voices made the noise level above normal. However, once the men seated around the restaurant noticed the lovely woman standing at the door, the conversations slowly subsided. An older woman approached her. "Can I help you?" Dressed in a waitress outfit, but wearing a Santa hat, the slender woman appeared to be in her late sixties. 'Tilly' was embroidered on the kerchief pinned to her left breast pocket. "Jake, at the cottages by the ocean, said I could get some breakfast here." "Sure can. Let me find you someplace nice to sit, away from the riffraff over there." She grinned, tossing the end remark over her shoulder towards the truckers. "Who you callin' riffraff? Must mean you, Joe." "I ain't riffraff. Must be Sully." "Naw, I'm just riff. Raff's at home." The group chuckled at their own humour, then returned to their prior conversations. The noise level was lower than before. Tilly lead Donna towards a table in a corner that seemed less smokey, wiping the table with the cloth in her hand. Donna slid along the seat, stopping halfway. Her view was of the parking lot, but if you looked between the trucks, you could see the highway, deserted this Christmas morning. "Coffee?" "Yes, please." Tilly wandered away, returning with a mug full of what to Donna smelled like a very strong brew. "Do you know what you want, or do you need a menu." Donna looked up into the face of the woman who stood beside the table. Tilly smiled. Donna returned the smile, but without the same level of seasonally induced emotion. "Just some scrambled eggs and toast, please. And some fruit, if you have any." "I think there's some bananas, but I'm not sure. Don't get much call for fruit with customers like that." She pointed towards the men behind her. "Whatever you have will be fine." Tilly walked away. Donna looked around her. The restaurant was clean, if well used. Probably been here since the road was paved, she thought, sipping her coffee. It didn't take long for Tilly to return with a plate, placing along side it a still slightly green banana. Donna ate her meal without really tasting it. The banana was too green for her liking, so she placed it in her purse for later. Paying the bill, she returned to the cottage. Pulling her bags inside, she decided it was best to busy herself rather than sit and wallow. Emptying all the bags, she packed and repacked, fitting everything in with room to spare. She had set aside what she decided to wear that afternoon, smoothing the top with her hands. Finished everything she could think of doing, she looked at her watch. It was just past eleven o'clock. She still had four hours to kill before returning to the main house to share Christmas dinner with Jake and his family. Opening the curtains on the bay window as wide as possible, she stood and looked out at the sea, counting the seconds between waves as they crashed onto the shore. Slowly, finally, the tears came. Tears for her lost life, her lost love, herself.