Finally satisfied that all traces of Clark were gone, Philip scooped up the discarded wig and hair pins into his kit bag, all the time listening for any sounds coming from the other room. But Elizabeth was quiet – if she was even still here at all.
He went back to the wash basin and stared at his reflection, still disgusted with himself. If he went back out there would she still be curled up on the bed, face turned into the sheets to avoid looking at him? Would she still be crying?
He closed his eyes, unable to bear looking at himself. In nearly two decades of marriage, he had never made her cry before. Well, that he knew of anyway. Upset her, yes; in more times and in more ways than he would ever know—Elizabeth was nothing if not exemplary at hiding her emotions. Even so he had been on the receiving end of flashes of anger in her eyes, disappointment that she couldn’t—or didn’t bother trying to—keep out of her voice when her tone turned icy, frustration in the tightness of the set of her mouth. But nothing like this. Tonight she had unraveled in front of his very eyes, so completely thrown off-balance she had even tried for a fake watery smile before her tears overtook her and she had twisted away. His chest felt leaden. How much had he hurt her?
In the silence of the apartment her cries of pain still echoed around his head, and a fresh wave of self-loathing curled in his gut. Why had he been so rough with her, she wasn’t Martha, why had he kept going when she first cried out? Why hadn’t she told him to stop or pulled away, shoved at him, anything?
He scrubbed at his face with the cold water once last time before resting his head against the mirror, resisting the urge to slam his forehead against it and forcing his breathing to stay even. If there was even the tiniest chance she was still here and would accept his help he needed to be in control.
Most likely she would be gone by now, stealing silently out the door the first chance she could get, and if he knew Elizabeth, maybe even removing any trace that she had ever been here at all.
He squared his shoulders and hefted the kit bag up, letting it bump the door jamb as he headed back through the small apartment, his footfalls heavy as he paused at the edge of the kitchen.
His heart skipped a beat; she was still there. No longer curled up on a bed that was now neatly made, but almost fully dressed. She was frozen in the act of putting on her socks, staring at the fabric bunched in her hand.
He let the bag fall on the cheap linoleum. There was no way she didn’t hear him come in as he had deliberately not been quiet, but the last thing he could stomach at this moment was startling her with his presence if she was somehow lost in her own head.
She turned her eyes up to his. Red-rimmed, but not fearful, and the knot in his stomach loosened slightly. There had been only a few times in their marriage—in the early days when they were both so unsure of each other—when Philip suspected he might have frightened her, but she had always hidden it so carefully. Now her eyes hid nothing, and the uncharacteristic openness there undid him.
His mouth opened to utter apologies, to ask if she was all right, to beg for a chance to redeem himself, but all words escaped him when she held out a hand to him—a not entirely steady hand—beckoning him.
Forgetting his resolve not to go near her lest he repel her, Philip crossed the floor in wide strides.
She buried herself in his chest. He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around her, staying as mindful as he could for any sign that she wanted to pull away, that this was too much, but she clung to him fiercely and it felt like the closest thing to absolution Philip would ever know.
There were a thousand apologies on the tip of his tongue, but they didn’t say anything to each other when he finally released her and helped her to finish getting dressed. She placed a hand on his shoulder to steady herself as she tried to pull on her boots but her legs were unsteady and he dropped down on one knee to help her, trying not think if her legs were shaking because she was in any pain—pain from what he had done to her.
He stayed close and walked her to her car. The rest of the evening was a blur as he watched her drive away. He went on autopilot, the house quiet when he returned to it alone. He felt like he could barely breathe until he finally heard the front door open. He forced himself to stay calmly at the sink, methodically washing dishes while she chatted with Paige. He let the cadence of her voice wash over him, noting with relief she sounded completely herself.
Then when she joined him at the sink and uttered her quiet question she broke his heart all over again.
“Are you mad at me?”
Her words were like a punch to his stomach. “No. Of course not.”
It was all he could do to hold it together, but her eyes held his, imploring. She was calm, at least outwardly, and her expression seemed to be begging him to just act normal too. Fine, if that was what would help her right now.
Her shoulders relaxed just slightly and she looked down. There was so much more he wanted to say but he looked like she was concentrating on breathing evenly, for all her apparent composure, so he changed the topic and she breathed easier.
It was all he could do to wait until the kids were in bed and they could finally be alone. He perched on the edge of their bed, in sweatpants and a t shirt that were damp from when he had hastily pulled them on after his shower – more clothes than he normally bothered with for bed but tonight he didn’t want Elizabeth to have to face his nakedness in case it reminded her of earlier.
His hand absently drifted across the comforter and he wondered if he should offer to sleep on the couch. His mind tortured him with the question was she taking longer in the shower than usual? If she had been injured by anyone else he would just go in there and ask if she was ok, if she needed the witch hazel or antibiotic cream or an ice pack and his stomach turned again at the thought that if she was injured, it was all him.
He wondered darkly if it had hurt her when they had first made love – to conceive Paige – although he had been as gentle as possible, she had been so tense, he could never get her to relax, and the more things he tried, the more skittish she grew, until eventually he got the message and just got it over with as quickly as he could.
The sound of the water turning off interrupted his dark thoughts, and he stood up when she came into the room, watching as she dropped her towel to rummage for a nightgown in her dresser. His eyes catalogued her body but her couldn’t see any marks his fingers might have left when they dug into her hips. Were her movements slightly stiff when she pulled her nightwear over her head?
She turned off the light, leaving only the soft glow of the bedside lamp to let him see when she met his eyes then and tilted her head slightly. “You okay?”
He swallowed as she walked towards him, managing a small nod. “Are you?”
He had tried to keep his voice casual, but apparently failed as she stopped in her tracks and looked at him. She could always read him.
She nodded, her eyes still searching his face. Then she curled her fingers over her mouth, dropping her eyes. She looked so uncharacteristically vulnerable it made his breath hitch.
He had barely breathed her name when she took his hand in hers, turning down the sheets and drawing him down with her before he could formulate a clear thought.
He let her guide him into bed, his movements clumsy, afraid to do anything at all that might be reminiscent of how he had made her feel earlier.
When she curled up on his chest he blurted out, “I scared you. I hurt you.”
“Shhh.” She twisted in his arms, dropping a trembling finger across his lips. “I asked for him. It was my fault.”
Him. She meant Clark. “Nothing was your fault. You should be able to ask your husband to do something different in bed and not get hurt.”
Her eyes were wide. “Philip. It’s okay. I’m okay. I…”
She broke off and bit her lip. He closed his eyes for a moment, holding still, afraid to do or say anything that might discourage her from opening up to him.
“It’s…” She broke off with a small shrug, dropping her eyes. Still propped up on his chest, her hand went to her mouth, fingernails indenting her bottom lip.
Philip didn’t say anything, he just moved his hands to her shoulders, his thumbs stroking along her collarbone.
“It’s not that she said what she did…it’s just,” she swallowed.
Philip blinked, taking a second to piece together that she must be referring to Martha.
Elizabeth continued, focusing on his chest and not meeting his eyes. “…The man she is married to—if he’s a part of you, a part I don’t get to see, then I want him too. I want…all of whoever you are.”
Philip’s hands stilled and when he finally spoke, his voice was quiet but the incredulity in his tone was undeniable. “That was what this was about?”
Elizabeth shrugged again. “Maybe. And…I don’t want you to feel…” She took a breath. “Like you are, I don’t know, unfulfilled.”
The incredulous tone went up several notches. “What?”
She waved a hand between them. “I thought maybe…that if that’s something you like…but you can’t have it with me, because now you know about what happened, with Timoshev—” She broke off and frowned down at the bed.
“We never…we didn’t have a relationship like that until the night you found out.” Her hand strayed to the comforter, worrying at a loose thread. “And…haven’t you ever wondered if it would be different – if you would be different—” She swallowed. “If you would be freer to…I don’t know…”
Philip closed his eyes, pained. He whispered her name and when he opened his eyes again she had risked a glance up at him, her face full of trepidation.
“That’s not…Elizabeth, no, I – I wanted to protect you from him, if anything. What I do with Martha, with other women, it gets it over with, it’s easier than if I have to fake something…emotional. It’s how I get through it. It’s not some unleashed…whatever Martha said to you.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips together and looked away.
He hooked a finger very gently under her chin, drawing her gaze back to his. “Elizabeth…Have I ever given you any reason—any at all—to think I am not satisfied? That you aren’t everything I want?”
She bit her lip and shook her head.
“Each and every time this—” he broke off and waved his hand, “this takes me away from you, from our family, to spend the night in some other bed, you have to believe me, leaving you is the last thing I want. Every single time. There is no other woman I want to be with, in any way.”
His eyes searched hers, desperate for her to see the truth of his words. Her shoulders lost a lot of their tension as she gazed back at him, then she dropped her head onto his torso and sighed gently.
He tightened his hold on her as much as he dared, gratified when she allowed it and didn’t pull away. She nestled closer and he felt something in his chest loosen. His thumb traced circles against her soft skin. He knew her well enough to know she didn’t handle emotional vulnerability well, and wondered if she recognized he was comforting himself as much as her.