She sat down at her kitchen table and poured herself a cup of tea to steady her nerves. It had been so long since she had heard from him. The letter had arrived this morning, by certified mail. Someone wanted to make sure she got this message.
She reached out and grasped the lighter lying on the table, drawing comfort from its presence. Ten seconds and the letter would be ashes.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the envelope and slowly pulled the letter out. The creamy paper didn't just look expensive, it felt expensive. A mockery of a smile twisted her face. Of course he could afford the best. He had certainly paid a high enough price for it.
Of course, no price seems that high when it is paid with other people's happiness.
She had been eighteen, fresh out of high school, looking for a good job, hoping to save enough money to go to college in a few years. He was twenty-six, and TDH: tall, dark, and oh so handsome.
It was love at first sight, at least for her. Not until years later, with a tiny trailer for a house, no steady job, no education, and two screaming kids, did she realize she had been used. Claiming he had only married her to avoid out of wedlock kids, he earned sympathy for his situation. When he went back to college and got the law degree he always wanted, he got all the financial aid he could ask for. Meanwhile, she was still stuck at home with the brats.
So she left. She hadn't wanted kids, didn't really care about these two. She cut all her ties with them - Michael and his sons, as she thought of them. Instead of working to keep them happy, she worked to put herself through college.
The day she graduated, with honours no less, was the happiest day of her life. She immediately turned around and went back to school. She got her teaching certificate, and started working full-time, at a job that actually gave her financial security. There were still plenty of screaming brats, but now they were lifting her out of poverty and squalor, not dragging her down into it.
She had managed to regain most of her happiness, if not the years stolen from her. What could Michael possibly want from her now, thirty years since she had left him?
But she was wrong. The letter wasn't from Michael, just his law office. Michael was dead. Heart attack in his sleep, the letter said, no pain. The staff sent their condolences.
Michael's will had been very specific. She was to receive everything, but this letter was to be the only attempt made to contact her. If she did not respond within three weeks of receipt, the money went to his kids.
The brats could have the damned money, for all she cared. She didn't need it. Would it give her the wasted years of her life back?
She smiled and picked up the lighter.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.