The footsteps paused briefly at her doorway, then continued on down the hallway. She heard Sean slam into the crash bar on the door, heard the door squeal open, then shut with a clatter.
Julia stared at the dregs of her tea. She swirled the water, hoping to see her future, but all she saw was the stained bottom of her mug.
“Three weeks,” she muttered as she looked out the window onto the campus duck pond. It was just starting to freeze over, the water grey and calm, belying the violence of the changing seasons. Everywhere life was freezing into suspended animation, falling dormant, lying low. Whatever change was planned for the spring was plateaued for now, caught in the gray.
“Three weeks,” she shook her head in disbelief. He had never ignored her for so long, but she had cut him to the quick with their last argument, accusing him of putting everything in his life ahead of their relationship. She refused to let it go, pushing, pulling, wheedling, and demanding until he simply shut down.
In the beginning, they had buoyed each other. They had carried each other on the wind, their spirits held aloft on thermals, their abandon a pure joy, an escape from the craggy coastline of life.
During times of stress, they clung together, their connection almost psychic. Her husband didn’t care; his wife did.
Her marriage evaporated first; she simply granted her husband his every request, then walked away. Happy with little, she led a Spartan life, consumed with work and fire for Sean. Most days she seemed to exist on air and tea as she lectured and wrote and graded and read.
His obligations were messier. His wife wasn’t interested in letting him go and their children were difficult. When his sons had graduated from high school and gone on to college — elsewhere, of course — he asked his wife for a divorce. For three years he waited for her response before filing the papers, accepting the mantle of adulterer to get free of her. His wife protested loudly and told her tale of woe to everyone who would listen. He bore this in silence, knowing that his infidelity led to the dissolution of a twenty-seven year marriage. Her wrath was simply penance.
When his wife finally signed the papers, taking from him nearly every piece of their former life, Sean moved into a tiny bungalow with a slip on the lake.
It was at this point that Julia demanded more from him than he was willing to give. For thirteen years she had paid her time, waiting and watching and waiting some more. It just didn’t seem right to her that he should finally escape his wife and then choose to turn from her, too.
But he had. And she knew that she was going to suffer his chill for longer than the winter.