She was afraid her husband would kick her out.

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Episode 37

Hartman looked at the floor.

“I asked you a question,” Matt said.

She took in a breath.

“What happened?”

She turned pained eyes on Matt. “I know she loved me,” she said emphatically. “I know it. But she freaked out when that girl saw us.”

“Why?”

“She wouldn’t tell me. But a few days after that, she said it was over.”

“I don’t get it. What was her reason?”

Brenda bit her lip. Her face was full of misery. “I think she got scared. She didn’t really trust it. Or me. It was okay when I was just some woman she met in Target. But when someone from her other life, her real life, saw us, she couldn’t handle it. A one-night stand, a week here or there is one thing. But a long term relationship? I think she was afraid. I tried to tell her we could take it slow. But she decided we shouldn’t see each other any more. She told me to move out.”

“When was that?”

“I think it was around the second week of October.”

They found Romano Monday, the nineteenth of October. Well into the third week.

“Where did you go?”

“To a hotel. Downtown”

“Where you started to write letters…”

“I wanted to change her mind.”

“You must have been devastated.”

She nodded.

“And angry.”

She looked up.

“It’s understandable. I mean, here was the woman you were searching for your whole life, and she didn’t want you.”

She seemed to choose her words. “Upset, yes. Angry no.”

Matt leaned his elbows on the table. “Brenda, I do understand. I’ve been there. The person you love rejects you. It’s all you can do to hold it together. I remember how I felt. I wanted to force her to see that I was the one. I wanted to shake her. I wanted to—”

She cut him off. “I didn’t kill her.”

“What did you do?” Matt asked.

“I wrote letters.”

“You wrote letters,” he repeated.

“I delivered them in person. I wanted to see her. But she wouldn’t see me. She made me leave them in her mailbox.”

“And that made you crazy, didn’t it?”

She glared at Matt.

He stood, retrieved a file at the end of the table. “Let’s see.” He pulled one out. “Dear Julie…” he read. “I don’t understand why you won’t let me back into your life. We fit together like two spoons. I still can feel your body on mine, taste your sweetness on my lips. We were meant to be together. I am nothing without you. Please let me back into your heart …” He sat down again. “If I revealed myself like that to someone and she threw me away like a piece of trash, I don’t know what I’d do, do you Pete?”

“I’d be plenty pissed off.”

“You don’t understand,” Hartman cut in. “I waited all my life just to meet her. I wasn’t going to let her go. I knew she loved me. She was just scared. But then, you probably can’t understand that kind of love.” She looked at Matt. “It was strange, you know. It was my first time with another woman. I should have been the one hanging back.”

Brewster scowled. Matt saw disbelief in his eyes.

“I should have been the one with doubts,” she said again. “But I knew from the beginning we were supposed to be together. She was—she was my soul mate.”

“Soul mate,” Brewster said.

Matt shifted.

“Yes.” Her eyes filled. “Which is why I knew if you found those letters, I’d be in trouble.”

They had come full circle. “Why?”

“Because I’d decided that if I couldn’t change Julie’s mind, I would go home.”

“Home?”

“Indiana. I met someone else—” Matt wondered if she meant Donna Cleveland “— but it wasn’t the same.”

She stared at her hands in the cuffs.

“I don’t get it. Why did you think you’d be in trouble if you went home?”

“My husband isn’t a tolerant man. If he found out about any of this, he’d kick me out and keep me from seeing the kids. I couldn’t let him do that. I needed those letters.”

“You discover you’re gay, you meet the love of your life, but you’re going to go home and pick up your nice, respectable life?”

She pressed her lips together. Then she nodded. “I never said I was brave.”

Matt admired her for saying that. But he couldn’t let it show. “How did you get in? To Romano’s apartment.”

“The fire escape is right by her window. The window wasn’t locked.”

“How did you know the letters were in that particular cassette? Casablanca?

“We watched it together. Several times.” Her voice quavered. “It was our film.”

It fit. Woman leaves her true love and goes back to her duty, with a “here’s looking at you kid”. He rose and motioned to Brewster. Maybe he could shake something loose.

Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.

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