Photo by Iwona Pytlowska on Unsplash

Paralyzed

“Honey, there’s something I have to tell you,” Gavin Matthews said gravely.

Catherine – his wife of fifteen years was at the stove, her back to him. She paused, her hand gripping the wooden spoon stirring their tomato soup dinner on the stove in front of her.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, turning the fire down and willing her brain not to run the gamut of the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes when presented with such a loaded question. She placed the spatula on a plastic holder beside the stove.

“Justin and Audrey,” Gavin began.

The Watsons had been their friends since they had moved in across the street five years ago. Justin had been in a car accident before they moved in, a hit and run that paralyzed him from the waist down. It was no secret how much Justin despised the person who put him in that state. In fact, his homicidal threats were a joke shared between the two families.

Because of the accident, the Watsons couldn’t have children, something they had dreamed of since before they married. Justin always looked wistfully at the Matthews’ own 2-year-old son, Brandon. Audrey loved to babysit when the Matthews’ regular sitter was unable to come over. Catherine’s heart broke every time they saw Brandon with them. They had tried adoption, in-vitro, everything. But nothing worked.

“Do you remember my car accident five years ago?”

“Yes, of course. Our insurance went up because of it. Why?”

“I wasn’t entirely honest with you, or the insurance company. It was foggy that night. I-I hit something. Somebody.”

Catherine’s face contorted. “It was you.”

Gavin’s face remained stoic. “I was the one who put Justin in the wheelchair.”

“But I don’t understand!”

“Me either. Every time he mentioned the accident, there was something about it that got to me every time. When he mentioned the fog a couple of months ago, I knew – I just knew – it was me.”

“We’ve been friends with them for years! And you’ve known for months and never told me?”

Her husband nodded. “I know! Jesus Christ Kitty, don’t you think I haven’t agonized over this enough? I’ve known longer than you.”

“Should we tell them?” Catherine asked.

“Oh that’ll be nice,” Gavin said sarcastically. “‘Hi Justin. How are you? Oh yeah, I’m the one who hit you on that foggy night and left you to die.’ That’ll be a real cheery conversation.”

Catherine turned to pick up a sponge and absentmindedly began wiping the counters down. “Justin has to know.”

Suddenly Gavin became angry. “Why? Who’s that going to help? If we tell the Watsons, they’re gonna think our friendship was contrived this whole time. They’re gonna think we’ve been nice to them because we knew how he got into the damn accident in the first place!”

“Shut up!” Catherine snapped. “You could’ve killed him. What would that have been like?”

Gavin ignored that last verbal attack. “Think about it, Kitty. Does Justin have to know? He’s adjusted, gets around fine…”

“And harbors homicidal thoughts he’s not afraid to voice about the person who did that to him!”

Brandon toddled into the kitchen from his makeshift play area in the dining room Catherine had set up for him as she cooked dinner. He puttered over to his father, who scooped him up. Gavin allowed Brandon to tug on his short blond hair.

“I tapped him and I guess he went spinning. I didn’t see. It was icy, foggy, mid-December.”

“Now you’re just trying to justify your negligence? Gavin, grow up.”

“Kitty, you have to promise me that you’re not going to tell the Watsons.”

“No, I can’t. Audrey is my friend, one of my closest friends. I can’t not tell her who nearly murdered her husband.”

“But didn’t,” Gavin pointed out. “He’s still alive.”

“In a much smaller capacity. He’s a half a man, Gav.”

“Would you rather risk losing the Watsons’ friendship over something that happened five years ago? Is it worth it?”

Catherine didn’t say a word, dropped the sponge in the sink, and turned her back. “I have to finish dinner,” she said, nearly inaudibly.

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