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This Time Forever

Sample Chapter
Copyright ©2001 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author.

Chapter One

Sometimes Mickelle Hansen wished she had never married. Eternity was a long time to spend with someone she often didn't like very much. Of course, she didn't tell anyone her deepest thought; in fact, only recently had she begun to admit it to herself, and then only on days like this, when everything—absolutely everything—seemed to go wrong. Feeling this way about her marriage went against all she had ever been taught, and against all her dreams. Deep down, she loved Riley, but when she'd exchanged vows with him, she'd never expected their life together to be so difficult.

She stared at the pile of dirty laundry filling a corner of the unfinished basement where the washer and dryer stood like mismatched sentinels, witnesses to her newest dilemma. For two weeks the washing machine had refused to work, and she'd been cleaning the most necessary items in the bathtub. Her neighbor, who had already fixed the washer twice as a favor, had told her this time that it wasn't worth fixing again. "You need a new one," he had declared, shaking his graying head.

She'd hoped Riley would do something about finding a machine, but wasn't surprised when he didn't. Instead, his solution was for her to go to the Laundromat. Indefinitely.
Dutifully, Mickelle piled clothes in several large baskets and took them to the ancient Ford station wagon that gleamed a dull gold in her driveway. Secretly she called it the Snail, but she never said it aloud the way she once would have. It was too real to joke about.

Outside, the late April weather was warm and filled with sunshine. A beautiful, perfect day. There were a few clouds to the east that would probably bring showers that night or the next day, but Mickelle didn't mind the rain. Her peas, planted early last month, needed the moisture.

She drove to the Laundromat in downtown American Fork near her home. While the place wasn't overly dirty, there was a certain air of depression and despair about it. She could have endured that, as she had so many other things, but she balked when she considered the cost of washing her family's clothes each week. They only had two children, but Riley was a large man, wide if not tall, and the dirty clothes he generated took up half the space in each load. Then there were Jeremy's sheets, still wet several nights of the week. In the long run, buying a machine would save time and money. She'd suggested as much to Riley last week, but his mind was made up.

Moving past the dryers, she caught sight of a faint reflection in the glass. A slender woman with smooth, honey-blond hair, blue eyes, and a pinched face stared back at her. Could that weary-looking woman really be her? Rebellion surged inside her heart. Why did Riley have to be so stubborn?

She left the Laundromat and took the clothes instead to her older sister's house in Provo, feeling like an idiot and glad that her two sons were in school and couldn't witness the lies or half-truths she might be forced to tell.

"Mickelle! What happened?" Talia looked with surprise at the laundry Mickelle carried. "My washing machine broke again. This time for good. I was going to the Laundromat but couldn't bear the thought of hanging out there. Do you mind terribly if I use yours? I brought soap."

"Of course you can!" Talia took the basket out of her hands. "You shouldn't have even thought about going to the Laundromat. What are sisters for? You can use my machine—and my soap, for that matter—whenever you want."

"Well, it's only for today. I'm sure Riley will get me a new one soon." Mickelle nearly choked on the lie, but Talia didn't seem to notice. "I'd better get the rest."
She headed back to the car, wishing she could toss off the sadness that seemed to eat at her heart. Why couldn't she face her trials with a better outlook? Why was she so weak?

Inside the house, she found Talia sorting the laundry into piles with her quick hands. Mickelle joined her, feeling her burden lighten.

"You know," Talia said casually, "last night I saw some ads in the paper for washing machines. I haven't thrown it out yet. Want to look?" At Mickelle's nod, she disappeared from the laundry room.
Mickelle finished the sorting, put in a load of whites, and started the machine. The room had ample space for the appliances, as well as an extra refrigerator and a long counter which held seven large baskets—one for each member of the family. She knew even Talia's six-year-old folded and put away her own clothing. Mickelle thought she might try something similar at her own house. Riley, of course, wouldn't have the time or inclination to do his, but the boys would. A pity she didn't have a nice room like this. Mickelle stopped the thought there, unwilling to let envy enter her heart. Talia was a wonderful person, and Mickelle was glad that she and Joe could afford such a nice house.

"Here they are." Talia came into the room with the same newspaper Mickelle had noticed at the Laundromat. "At Sears. Look at this—only three hundred dollars, and it's a super capacity. A bare-bones model, but still super capacity. You'll need that for Jeremy's sheets. Looks like a good deal to me."

"A lot cheaper than going to the Laundromat forever," Mickelle agreed.

Talia threw back her blond head and laughed. "You're so funny. What a waste—who would do that? Besides, you deserve a new machine. Aren't you still using the old one Mom gave you when you got married?"

Mickelle smiled weakly. "You know me, frugal to a fault."

"Come on, let's go have a snack while we're waiting for the clothes."

"Maybe I should zip down to Sears and see about a machine."

"Why don't you let Riley worry about that?"

Mickelle swallowed hard. "He's been busy. Working overtime, you know." She didn't mention how much they needed the money.

"That's great of him, working more so you don't have to."

Mickelle wondered what her sister would say if she told her that even though Riley worked a lot, she hadn't seen any of the extra income. Mostly it went to pay for the new stereo system he'd installed in his truck. "I wish he could get a better job," she said instead. "Although they have promised him a promotion. The pay just isn't that great until you get into upper management."

"Yeah. Department stores aren't known for their high-paying jobs."

How well Mickelle knew that! Years ago, she'd urged Riley to go back to school so he could find a better job, but he'd refused.

"If you want to go down to Sears, I'll wash your clothes for you," Talia offered.

Mickelle knew she should look into buying a used machine, but she didn't have enough cash. Buying it on credit seemed the only way. And suddenly, more than anything, she wanted a new washer, one that had never washed anyone else's clothing. Something that was all hers.

"Mickelle, did you hear me?" Talia said. "I'll wash your clothes if you want to run to Sears."

"Would you? You don't have to dry them. My dryer still works."

Talia laughed. "Yeah, right. I can just see you taking home baskets full of wet clothes. Very funny. I wish you'd come over more often. You make me laugh."

"Well, my toaster isn't working so well," Mickelle replied dryly. "How about if I come over every morning for breakfast?" Talia broke into laughter once again. Mickelle remembered a time when she had made everyone laugh, but she hadn't found much to joke about these past few years.

Chuckling herself, she drove straight to Sears, found the least expensive washing machine, and put it on her credit card. The salesman promised to have it delivered the next day. Mickelle felt good, even excited, as she drove back to her sister's house. She told herself Riley would understand.

He didn't. "You shouldn't have done that," he said that evening, his face turning so red that Mickelle thought he closely resembled a tomato with a rotten brown stem for hair. "I told you we didn't have enough money."

She'd waited until the two boys were in bed before telling him about her purchase. She'd almost not mentioned it at all but decided that even Riley would notice when a new machine turned up in the basement.

"It's going to save us money in the long run," she pointed out.

"That doesn't matter." His tongue wet his lips, and he flexed his large hands. "I can't believe you went against what I told you. I'm the head of our family, aren't I?"

At that, her anger flared. "Well, you go to the Laundromat every week then. I don't have the time! I can't believe you'd want me to do that, anyway!" Joe would never expect it of Talia. Tears of hurt filled her eyes, and she quickly ran to the bathroom, hoping the children were asleep and couldn't hear their fight.

Riley didn't speak to her for three days, except to ask what was for dinner. At least his silence meant that he didn't comment again about the washing machine or her insubordination. She noticed that while he might not have approved of buying the machine, he wore the clothes she washed in it.

The third night of the silent treatment, Mickelle felt close to a nervous breakdown. She wished there was someone she could talk to, but she'd kept up the facade of a happy marriage for so long that she didn't know how to discuss her problems, especially with her parents or sisters.

After dinner, the family sat in front of the television in the living room. Mickelle lounged on the sofa with the boys, and Riley settled into his easy chair. Next to him was a mound of newspapers that would grow until Mickelle could no longer stand it and would haul them to the recycling bin.

In the corner, her curio cabinet nearly reached the ceiling. She and Riley had been married fourteen years, and it was the only piece of furniture they had that wasn't a hand-me-down from her mother or sisters or a cheap piece made of particle board. She'd bought it on sale eight years ago, the month after Jeremy was born. In it she collected roses made of metal, crystal, porcelain, wood, or even clay. The ones she had purchased herself were inexpensive, found either at yard sales or on clearance at the department store where Riley worked. Many had been gifts from family and friends—even the boys had made her clay roses in school. All were treasured and brought her much joy. Her favorites were the crystal rose she had picked out for the top of her wedding cake and the hand-painted porcelain Capodimonte long-stemmed red rose Riley had given her for their first anniversary. Mickelle had always loved roses, but the real things were so expensive and died so quickly. In her collection, she could have them forever.

Contemplating the curio cabinet and its contents usually gave her satisfaction, but not tonight. She sighed, her heart heavy with melancholy. Jeremy noticed her depression and put his thin arms around her neck. Even at eight he was very sensitive to her moods. "I love you, Mommy," he whispered. Her arms tightened around him, and she touched her head gratefully against his blond locks.

Twelve-year-old Bryan looked up briefly from his Nintendo DS, a small, handheld game console. "Everything okay, Mom?"

"Sure. Did you finish your homework?"

He didn't answer but gave a disgusted sigh, his brown eyes returning to the game. Riley didn't look away from the TV.

"Well, did you?" Mickelle pressed.

"Leave the boy alone," Riley snapped, throwing a glare her way. "He's old enough to take care of himself."

Mickelle swallowed hard, biting back sharp words as she so often did. Tears stung her eyes. Obviously he was still mad about the washing machine, and he wasn't going to let her forget it any time soon.

Bryan's DS dropped to his lap. He looked back and forth between Riley and Mickelle, his long blond bangs falling into his eyes. "I'll do it now, Mom," he said in a low voice. He left the room and didn't return.

An hour later, when Mickelle went to check on Bryan after tucking Jeremy into bed, his light was off and she assumed he was asleep. Tiptoeing softly into the room, she saw him lying half under the covers, one arm dangling off the bed. She tucked the blanket around him, kissing him softly on the forehead. "I love you," she murmured. Then she went to her room, lay down on the bed, and sobbed.

When Riley came in, he watched her in silence for a while. Finally he spoke. "I'm sorry."

She recognized the tone and knew what was coming next. Everything would be all right now. For a time. She stopped crying, though her heart was still heavy.

He stared at her with sincere brown eyes so much like Bryan's—the beautiful, sensitive brown eyes she'd fallen in love with. "Do you want a divorce?" He always asked that after he'd made her unhappy. She supposed it was his way of asking for forgiveness.

She pushed herself wearily up on one elbow. "Of course not. I love you." She wiped the tears from her cheeks.

He sat on the bed and ran his finger along her arm. Then he pulled her close and kissed her. She didn't resist, although she had no real desire to be near him. If she drew away, he would become sullen and angry, and she would have to face more days of loneliness and isolation.

Later, while he was dressing for bed, she went into the kitchen and ate a glazed donut she'd saved from the day before. She ate it quickly and eagerly, licking the sugar from her lips and enjoying the peace of the quiet house. How wonderful it was to eat something alone, without having to share with the children or clean up after them! Though she loved them deeply, their demands were difficult to keep up with—and she only had two. She didn't know how her sisters, Talia and Brionney, each kept up with their five, and Lauren her six. Even her brother, Zack, who lived in France, had four boys. Brionney's youngest were twins, born in Alaska where they were living at the moment. Mickelle hadn't seen the boys yet, but she'd heard they were a handful.

The indulgence of eating the donut made her feel better, though she wasn't prone to binging. Her own eating was the one thing she could control in her life. She wasn't as slim as when she was first married, and certain places could use a little toning, but she still fit into her clothes. On good days, she knew she looked attractive.

"What are you doing?"

Mickelle started. She looked up to see Riley, dressed in striped pajamas, staring at her from the door. "Just having a snack," she said quickly. "I didn't eat much at dinner."

He approached and eyed the empty donut box. "Well, you don't want to get fat."

She stood and put her arms around his thick chest. She was tall for a woman, like her grandmother, and he was on the short side for a man, so she looked straight into his eyes. "Don't worry, I won't. And I'll buy you some more donuts tomorrow." Of course, that was the real reason for his comment. She massaged his back with her hands.

"Ahhh, that's nice." He put his face against her neck, and his hot breath sent warm shivers up her spine. For this moment, at least, she forgot about wanting to escape her marriage. They had problems, to be sure, but they could work it out. Love lingered in her soul like a seed ready to sprout and bloom.
"Want to watch a little TV before we turn in?"

Though it was already past ten, Mickelle nodded and went with him into the living room. She thought fleetingly how she wished the basement were finished, or at least partially, so they could have a family room. No, she corrected herself. I should be grateful we have three bedrooms upstairs so the boys don't have to share.

She sat on the couch, and Riley settled in front of her on the floor. She continued to rub his shoulders while he picked up the remote and found a late-night show on one of the local channels. Though she was tired, she quickly became caught up in the movie.

Abruptly, Riley's shoulders jerked out from under her hands. His body began to twitch violently. A seizure. He hadn't had one of those for years.

Mickelle dropped to her knees and tried to hold him so he wouldn't injure himself. She knew she shouldn't, that she was in danger of being hit, but she felt so helpless just watching. His arms and legs thrashed like the tail of a beached fish, and his eyes rolled in helpless terror. The jerking motions seemed to last forever.

"Are you all right?" she asked when the seizure had finally ended.

"What happened?"

"You had a seizure." When he didn't respond, she asked, "How do you feel?"

"I'm fine."

But she could tell he was shaken. "I'll call the doctor." She started to her feet.

He grabbed her hand. "It can wait until tomorrow."

Mickelle hesitated. As a child, Riley had been hit by a car while riding his bike, and while healing his brain had developed scar tissue that had caused seizures throughout his life. They'd been controlled fairly well by medication, but three years earlier the doctors had been able to remove the scar tissue, and the seizures stopped. He'd continued the medication in decreasing dosages for another year, but he had been medication-free for the past two. The doctor had told them he would most likely never suffer another seizure in his lifetime.

So why had he?

"Come on. Let's go to bed." Riley lurched heavily to his feet. "I'm okay, really."

Mickelle tried to take his arm in the narrow hall, but he shrugged her off. He slumped onto their bed, and she watched him for a moment to make sure he was all right. Then she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. Afterward, she checked the boys to make sure they were safe in their rooms. When she returned, Riley was snoring softly.

She touched the back of his head tenderly before kneeling to pray. Please help him, she pleaded.

Riley had changed since the seizures had stopped three years ago. Before, he had been sullen, hesitant, and shy. Now, while still reserved around others and at times very sullen, he was more outgoing and confident. He also seemed more self-centered and quick to anger. Though all the changes weren't positive, Mickelle believed he was progressing emotionally in ways he hadn't been able to as a child and young adult, when the constant fear of having a seizure loomed over him. Sometimes she wondered if he was reliving the youth he'd never been able to enjoy—perhaps that was the reason for his truck and the new stereo system. This could simply be a phase in his delayed development. He might actually be growing into the man she thought she'd married.

As she slipped between the covers, an uneasy feeling crept into bed with her. Riley appeared all right now, but what if he wasn't? Would the seizures return again? She knew that would break his heart.

Mickelle fell asleep wondering what the next day would bring.

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