It was 5am and Larry was still sleeping. Slivers of sunlight were casting bands of light across Nancy’s side of the bed, and she groaned softly, waking with the sun in her eyes. She slid out of bed and pulled a jersey from the top shelf of the clothing cupboard, but before she could put it on, she spotted a brown corner poking out from under the stack of t-shirts on the bottom shelf.
She quickly looked around, listening hard. Larry seemed to be fast asleep. She carefully tugged the corner, pulling the envelope free. It felt heavy in her hands.
Things had never been so secretive between them before. Or maybe they had been and she was only noticing now. She held a secret too, she reminded herself. The feel of Crispin’s lips against hers made her squirm with guilt – guilt at deceiving Larry, for betraying him, but also from the excitement. Crispin made her feel crazy.
Nancy stared at the envelope. It was like a test, and she wanted to cheat so badly. She cast a look over her shoulder, checking on Larry again. Just his deep breathing met her ears. She quietly closed the cupboard door and tiptoed out of the room. At the stairs, she carefully stepped over the creaking steps, her journey much more silent than Larry’s had been the night before, and headed for the kitchen. She switched the kettle, waiting for it to boil.
As clouds of steam rose from the spout, she held the envelope over it. The edges began to lift and peel back until she could open it without a tear or rip. Adrenaline was making her jump at every creak, every whisper groaning against the windows and the scratch of branches against the outside walls.
She slowly shook the contents out of the envelope. A pair of blue eyes stared up at her. Is this some kind of fucking joke? It was like the breath had been slammed out of her chest. Crispin. A picture of Crispin. He was wearing a black polo shirt. Short sleeves, and a goofy smile on his face. His arm was around someone, but she was cut out.
Her hands shook and she dropped the photo on the counter and unfolded the stapled sheets. “Crispin Grove” it read. Her eyes caught snippets of words. “Missing”, “18 months”, “exhibiting signs…”
Nancy couldn’t breathe. What was Larry doing with this? Who is he? Who is my husband? Nancy shoved the folded paper back into the envelope. Her hand hesitated over the photo, before she slid it under the microwave. In the utility drawer, she found a stick of glue. She pasted the envelope lid down again and forced herself back up the stairs.
Her legs were like lead. She had to remind herself to draw in breath and let it out again. She peeked around the door and found Larry still asleep. Hastily, Nancy opened the cupboard door, stuck the envelope back where she found it.
She threw on some clothes, and grabbed her cellphone and bag. Back in the kitchen she retrieved the picture and scribbled a note for Larry.
Nancy sat in her car and dialed Crispin’s number. It rang until voicemail.
“Shit, shit, shit!” she bashed the steering wheel and pressed redial. Again, voice mail. “Shit.”
Nancy started the car and backed out the driveway. She vaguely remembered the place their taxi had stopped at the few times they had met and she headed in that direction, hoping her memory would help her find her way.
Crispin woke up to a loud, insistent knocking on his door. He glanced at the alarm clock. 6am. The door knob twisted.
“Crispin?” He heard his name hissed. “Crispin!” And his cellphone rang. 10 missed calls. What the hell?
He stumbled out of bed and unlocked the door. Nancy practically landed on top of him. She was pale and panting, and tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“Nancy,” he exhaled, steadying her. “What happened?”
He led her to the bed and sat her down. She flung her arms around him, pressing her wet face against his neck. Crispin wrapped his arms around her, breathing her in.
She gently pulled away and scrambled in her bag for the picture of Crispin. She shoved it in his hands and stared straight at him. He looked down at the picture and frowned.
“Where did you get this?”
But she wasn’t listening. An “ahh” had escaped her lips and she was sitting stock still.
“Shit,” he whispered.
“Crispin…” She could not pull her eyes away from the scars on his right arm. She had raised her hand to touch them without thinking, but Crispin got up and pulled a t-shirt over the tank top he was wearing.
“Crispin,” he heard her again. She stood up. “Crispin…”
He turned to face her. Her eyes were huge, still glued to his shoulder even though all she could see was cotton.
“So this is what…” It was starting to add up.
“Where did you get the picture, Nancy? Did Penny give it to you?”
Nancy’s mouth was slow to work.
“I found it this morning. In an envelope. Larry’s envelope.”
“Fuck. What else was in the envelope?” Crispin was reaching for his cellphone.
“Papers. Quite a few of them. Maybe 20 pages?”
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Did you read them? What did they say?”
“I was scared there wasn’t time. I didn’t read them. I glanced at the first page. Something about you missing for…” She stared at his arm again, “18 months… Physical differences…”
Crispin collapsed on his bed, burying his head in his hands.
“Do you know where Larry got the envelope from?”
Nancy shook her head. “He snuck out last night. I think he might have got the envelope then, but I don’t know. It could have been sitting there since he got home yesterday. It hasn’t been opened. I had to steam it open.”
“So he only has my name? There weren’t any other pictures?”
“There might still be some hope.” He fumbled with his cellphone, finally finding Joe’s number.
“Joe!” Crispin was talking so fast Nancy could hardly keep up. Her head was fogging, her hands shaking. She hadn’t even noticed Crispin had ended the call.
“We’ll sort something out, Nancy.”