Chapter Twenty

Sacrifice

"Sometimes, I don't understand us, Soren. I don't understand how one moment we are ready to tear each other apart and the next we're having sex." She shook her head and grimaced, trying once more to move to the passenger seat.

He didn't stop her. She straightened her dress and put her coat, now on the floor, onto her lap. The windows in the car were fogged up, and she surmised that even if anyone had walked by they wouldn't have been able to see inside.

It was their way, she guessed. Always, their bodies showed the love that their actions sometimes failed to support. They burned for each other and sometimes the passion blazed bright and beautiful, but other times their emotions exploded like an inferno startling them.

Soren shifted to pull up his pants and refasten them. He removed his coat and tossed it in the backseat. Loosening his tie, he started the engine.

"I…I don't know what came over me, Kendra." He left the parking lot and drove home.

Once inside their house, Kendra kicked off her shoes and Soren undid his tie, sliding it off his neck. They threw each other glances, but neither spoke.

After toeing off his shoes, Soren headed for the stairs and Kendra followed him. In their room, he unbuttoned his shirt, unfastened his belt and pants. She watched him. When he straightened, preparing to step out of his pants, she walked to him, turned around, and asked, "Would you unzip me?"

His fingers were cold when they touched her skin as he slid the zipper down between her shoulders, down her back, and down to her bottom. He ran his palm over her skin, not in a sexual manner, but a comforting one. Hooking his arm beneath her dress and around her waist, he turned her to face him. Moving a palm up and down on her bare back, he stroked her tenderly.

"I hope I didn't hurt you." He didn't look her in the eye but kept his gaze on her lips.

"No, you didn't."

The corners of his mouth lifted and then fell.

"I never meant to hurt you, and I guess I can see that you never intended to hurt me." His hand switched from her back to her arm where he caressed.

"I think what I did with Matt, what I can remember at least, was to seek consolation. I didn't go to him for sex, or to hurt you. I had nowhere else to go. Not around here. And as we talked, he listened, comforted me, and one thing led to another. It was over before it began."

"It doesn't make it easier."

"I know. I know. I never loved him—No matter how he feels about me. I never knew he cared for me that way. I never wanted you to find out. The old me would have kept that secret forever and maybe that is what you prefer, but it would fester. Do you understand?" He closed his eyes and embraced her.

"Where are we, you and I?"

She kissed a spot she could reach low on his neck.

"We're right here, right where we belong. I love you. I hope you love me. I think you do. And we'll get through this. All of it is in the past. It can't be undone. It hurts like hell, but I don't want to throw in the towel because you got drunk and did something stupid, and I was weak and needy and turned to someone other than you."

He pulled back to see her face.

"And how do we know the other won't do this again when times get rough?" Soren kissed her forehead, sighing.

"I won't. Without a doubt, I will never do this again, Soren."

"I think I'm swearing off alcohol unless I'm with you," he grinned and pulled her close.

She hugged his waist and rested her head on his chest.

"So, where does this leave us?"

"I think it leaves us wounded, but on the path to healing." She looked up at him. "I love you, Soren."

He leaned down and brushed his lips over hers. "I love you, too."

That night after showering they went to bed in each other's arms and slept worn out from the emotional turmoil.

When she woke, the first things she noticed were the covers were folded back, and an indentation was left where his head should have been. She glanced at the clock. It was late, almost eight o'clock. Soren would be at work by now. She rolled to her side and ran a hand over the sheet. Grabbing his pillow, she held it beneath her nose and inhaled his scent: pine and his aftershave.

She didn't want to leave the bed, didn't want to face the pain of knowing he was at work where she was and Kendra was not. The thought of Soren talking to her, watching her, smelling her, and lusting after her, was almost more than she could bear. He wouldn't betray her again, but that didn't mean he'd stop wanting Debbie. The more she considered the situation, the constant contact they would have, the incessant testing of his will, the more it worried her and the more curious she became about Debbie. What did she look like? Was she kind? Funny? Did she make him laugh?

Kendra rolled to her side of the bed and threw back the blankets, swinging her legs out of bed. She bent over and held her face. Had she done the right thing asking him if he'd slept with Debbie? Yes, yes, because she had known. He only validated her suspicion.

After making the bed, she dressed and went to the kitchen for some breakfast. On the breakfast table, was a piece of paper. She grabbed her chest, trying to ease her racing heart. Lifting the paper, she read the note written by his hand. With each line she read, the tears crept to the surface and eventually spilled over the rims of her eyes. Wrapping her arms around her middle, she stared outside at the grass touched by silver frost.

He planned on quitting his job. For her. Apparently, he'd come to the same conclusion as she had about Debbie. She would be a constant temptation and a constant thorn in Kendra's side. He knew she would always worry, always wonder as he would if she continued conversing with Matt. He was certain he wouldn't have trouble finding work, his great reputation, strong business background, and engineering skills, were in great demand. But he couldn't risk losing her…He wrote that she shouldn't feel guilty or worry about him quitting. It was a small gesture and one that he felt necessary to make.

There will be another job, but there will never be another you…I know you did not ask this of me, and I know you will be upset that I am quitting, but it makes sense to me. I thought about it most of the night. While I know I'd never be with her again, you have no way of knowing that. The only way to help you get through this is to leave her behind, which is what I want to do, for she is behind me. You are my future, Kendra. Please, don't be too angry and don't ask me to change my mind. Love, S

She clutched the letter to her chest and dropped into a chair. It was an enormous gesture, one that caught her off guard. He must have been awake thinking, while she slept, and yet they'd come to the same conclusion.

Kendra picked up her cell phone, stared at the screen, debating whether to call him and plead for him to stop. She knew his mind was made up and no amount of talking would sway him. There were certain things Soren she knew he'd consider against his better judgment but other decisions, like this one, were set in stone as far as he was concerned. She set the phone down.

The house, silent except for the purring of the heater and pops of the settling foundation, seemed empty. To fill the void, she turned on her play list on her phone, and cranked the volume. When the music lightened her mood a trifle, she got up and cracked some eggs in a pan, stuck two slices of bacon in the microwave, and popped a piece of bread in the toaster as she whistled and danced around the kitchen trying to pass the time.

As her music blared out one of her favorite tunes, she never heard the door open. He walked up behind her and wrapped both arms around her waist as he kissed her neck. She turned around and squealed, "Soren!" Grasping the neck of her sweater, she panted. "I didn't hear you come in. Why are you home so early?" she asked before recalling that he didn't have a job anymore.

"Let's go to the cabin," he suggested and kissed her lightly upon the mouth.

"Soren, I really wish you hadn't quit." She held up a hand to stop any of his forthcoming comments. "I know why you did it and that was incredibly," she searched for the right word, "chivalrous, but I could get over it."

"Don't care. Let's go to the cabin." He pulled her against him and stared down at her.

"What about our bills?"

He frowned. "I have savings, you know?"

"Yes, but—"

"But what? I'm not going to lose the house or let us starve." He twisted at his waist with her in his arms, rocking her.

"I know that. It's…I…" She sniffed the air. "My eggs!" Turning to face the stove, she stared at her dark brown pile of over-cooked eggs. "Shoot!"

"Go pack and I'll buy us both breakfast on the way. What do you say?"

"I say I'm a little overwhelmed. Should I go back to work?"

"Only if you really want to." He shrugged and walked toward the foyer intending to go upstairs.

"Well, you aren't worried about money or finding a new job?"

"Nope."

When she only stared at him with a spatula in her hand, he grinned and added, "We're only going away for the weekend, Kendra. I couldn't interview on Saturday or Sunday. Come Monday, I'll be on the phones and passing out my resume. Now, let's get moving."

"Okay," she mumbled and turned off the heat, removed the pan, dumped the eggs into the disposal, and then set it in the sink to soak. Turning in a circle, she noticed the remnants of her breakfast: the toast had popped and was cold, the bacon sat in the microwave, which beeped, but she left it alone, and headed upstairs to pack for a mini vacation to their cabin.

"So, why are we going to the cabin," she asked as Soren drove the truck down the highway, tiny snowflakes flying at the windshield.

"A new venue. A new start. I don't know. I feel good and wanted to go on vacation." He shot her a silly grin. He seemed lighter today she had to admit. Maybe the thought of seeing Debbie every day was more stressful than Kendra first thought. If she had to face Matt day in and day out, she imagined it would wear on her, too.

"What do you want to do while we're there?"

"Nothing, absolutely nothing!" He glanced over at her and grinned. "Except spend most of our evenings and nights in bed, having make-up sex and most of our days just…doing whatever."

She smiled and blushed.

The drive was peaceful and relaxing. They talked, joked, and when the conversation paused, Kendra watched the snow piling up on the shoulder of the road. It looked more like winter now with the white stuff weighing down pine branches and blanketing roofs. After the emotional rollercoaster she'd been on for days, she felt her shoulders relax, her fists unclenched, and a comfortable, cozy fatigue drew her under.

When Soren turned off the truck and opened his door, she stirred, glancing around. He was at her side, holding open the door, puffs of mist floating from his mouth.

"Sorry about breakfast, but you looked so peaceful I didn't want to wake you."

She shivered and slid out of the truck.

Everything looked different to her than the last time she was here. The roof of the cabin was covered with a fresh coat of snow and the pines around the house looked exhausted trying to hold up the heavy piles of snow on their branches. The air, crisp and brisk, pushed the pines, making them bow causing gobs of snow to plummet toward the ground. Cracking of tree trunks and the high- pitched wail of the wind skittering among the forest brought a smile to her face.

"Cold?" he asked.

"Yeah, my coat is in my bag."

"Let's get you inside and start a fire."

She jogged to the front door and Soren was right behind her carrying their bags. He unlocked the front door and opened it for her. She stepped inside and remembered how bare and plain she'd once thought it. Now, it looked like home. They'd had so many good times here. Some were spent with Matt and whatever significant other he'd had at the time; even her parents had spent one summer weekend here with them. She recalled that the couch pulled out to make a bed and she and Soren had slept there giving her parents their bedroom.

The walls had been left bare intentionally to leave behind any reminders of their nine-to-five, weekday lives. This place was for them. No TV. No internet. No landline phone. It was their escape, their hideaway, which he had built for them. They'd wanted to focus on each other or the guests they invited here and not electronics or frills. How different things looked today.

"What?" He closed the door and stomped snow from his feet. "Everything all right?" He set down their bags.

"Everything is perfect."