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Day Eighty-one: Sunset

The email said that Flora would be wearing a red cardigan and standing by the rental car station. Chuck put down his carry-on bag and scanned the crowd. Lots of people greeting loved ones, helping them load luggage into cars and making them feel welcomed. Some flight crew on their way to a few hours of rest before they turned around and flew off somewhere else. Other folks meandering towards the rental car desk, where there was no woman in a red cardigan.

Chuck sighed. It figured. If he was going to form a suicide pact, he should have stuck with someone he knew, instead of one of those stupid websites. Lots of people whining about their problems, hoping for the Ultimate Release of Death. Most of them wouldn’t even go through with it, he was sure. Some of them talked a good game, but when the time came, he was pretty sure they’d stop short. Cut across, not along, take just enough pills to scare someone, but not enough to do the job, that sort of thing.

He really thought that Flora was different, though. She didn’t sugar-coat suicide or try to make it out to be something romantic and Goth. She saw it the same way he did – a reasonable solution to a whole boatload of problems. In her case, an abusive husband and kids who thought she was nothing more than a maid they didn’t have to pay or respect. In his case, a family fortune squandered in bad investments and real estate schemes. Fixing either problem would mean more pain and suffering than they had already endured, so they decided that the best solution was the final one. Take the quick way out with some prescription medication she stole from her sister and a picturesque seaside view. Let someone else pick up the pieces.

Well, if Flora wasn’t going to show, he could at least get a nice hotel room out of it. Reservations were already made and maybe he could get his hands on some extra-strength painkillers or something. He picked up his bag and hailed a cab when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Chuck?”

The woman behind him was shorter than he, but not by much, and she wore a tired smile. And a red cardigan. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Traffic was slow and the busses backed up.”

Chuck smirked. “Not our problem for much longer,” he said. He waved the cabbie along and the man pulled away with a scowl.

“Yeah,” she said. She looked at him for a moment and then over at the cars. “You want to get the car?”

For his very last car rental it went surprisingly smoothly. The agent had the car he’d reserved and he was curbside to pick Flora up in under ten minutes. “Good job,” she said as she got in. “Though I thought you’d go for something more sporty.”

He shrugged as he put it in gear. “Why bother? We just need to get where we’re going, and this will do us fine.” he pulled out of the parking lot and headed west.

They drove in silence for a long while. Eery now and then the GPS would chime in to tell them where to turn, but for the most part, Chuck drove and Flora looked out the window at the scenery. As they drove along the coast, the sun started to set. She watched it the whole time, glimmering in the water, until the last glowing red ember was gone. She turned to say something to Chuck, but he was fiddling with the GPS.

The Poseidon Hotel was a large place near the sea, with vast green grounds that sloped down to a white beach. the building was a brilliant white, stretching its arms out along the shore, giving nearly every room an ocean view. Chuck and Flora checked in as man and wife and were given a room near the end of the north wing. The bed was huge and looked comfortable, and Chuck told Flora she should have it “We’re not here for… Y’know. That,” he said. He sat down on the sofa. “I’ll take this.” They had both brought large suitcases, each one with only a single night’s change of clothes. They would do it tomorrow.

Chuck fell asleep almost instantly. Flora took a while longer.

The next morning, they had a small breakfast. Chuck stayed in the room and finished a book. Flora went walking along the beach. They ate lunch together – sandwich and salad. Flora took a nap. Chuck had some drinks in the bar.

They met in their room, an hour before sunset.

Chuck took off his shoes and changed into a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. Flora didn’t change, and sat on the edge of the bed, twisting her wedding ring around on her finger.

“You ready?” Chuck asked. “You brought the drugs?”

Flora sat in silence for a moment. “Chuck,” she began.

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Oh come on.” He stood up.

“Chuck, please.”

“I thought you were serious about this, Flora. I thought you were real.”

She looked at the floor and didn’t say anything.

He ran his fingers through his hair. He knelt in front of her and took her hands in his. “You’re having second thoughts, Flora,” he said. “I understand. But remember, we agreed to this. We talked about it.”

She took her hands from his. “I know, Chuck,” she said.

He tried to look in her eyes, but she avoided him. “Your husband?” he asked. “Your kids? They’ll never get any better, Flora. You know that.”

“I know.”

“You go back to them, you’re going back to a prison,” he said.

She shook her head. “I’m not going back to them,” she said. “And I’m not… going with you.”

He sat on the floor, his back against the bed. After a minute, he asked, “Why?” His voice was hoarse and dry.

Flora shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just woke up and I looked at them. Roger was already drinking, and the boys were playing those damn video games, the place was a mess and…” She laughed, almost sobbed. “And someone had tried to cook eggs. But there was just this unholy mess in the kitchen. I looked at all that and I thought about never seeing them again. Then I left the house and… everything looked different.” Her smile was small and weak, but it changed her face completely. “I looked at the world as a free woman, Chuck, and I knew that there was so much more to do.” she reached down and rested her hand on his shoulder. “So much more than this.”

He reached up and held her hand. “He’ll make your life miserable, you know that.”

“I know,” she said. “And so will my kids. But I have nothing he can sue for, and there’s no law that says I have to go home again.” She squeezed his hand. “I wasn’t late yesterday because of the traffic. I was on the phone with a group that helps women escape their husbands. They can help me, Chuck.”

They sat there for a while as the sun set. The room darkened.

“What about me?” Chuck asked. “What am I supposed to do?”

Flora stood up, turned on the light by the mirror, and took a small glass bottle of pills from her purse. She hesitated, and then put them on the desk. “Two for pain,” she said. “Three or more, and you shouldn’t drive. You’ll probably have to stay in bed for a while. More than that…”

He nodded, not moving from where he sat.

“Chuck,” she said. He didn’t look up at her. “There are better ways out.”

He closed his eyes. Flora picked up her bag and put the strap over her shoulder. She stared at him for a long while. “I’ll be seeing you,” she said.

Flora let the door swing closed behind her and walked to the elevator. At the front desk, she handed her key to the young woman working there. “My husband is getting some sleep,” she said. “I’m going out. I may be some time.” She smiled, adjusted the strap of her bag, and walked out of the hotel into the gathering darkness.

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