This is a sneak peak into my novel Uriel’s Mask, from the chapter Familiar Comforts. It is a bittersweet time as Uriel prepares her childhood home for sale, after the death of her mother Melody. Her best friend Chris is there to help.
“Have you ever missed someone so much that it aches?” said Chris suddenly. His mood had clearly shifted.
“That every part of you aches?”
Uriel shook her head. She’d never been in love if she told the truth. But it was very hard for her to confront the truth. She loved how brave Chris was.
“That’s how I feel every night for Jeff. It hasn’t gone away. You’ve really never felt that? It’s torture. Url,” he paused to take a sip of his wine and then continued, “It might sound cliche, but that’s how deeply I love. I jump in, completely. I don’t hold back. I let Jeff see every part of me, every inch. Every fucked up and broken piece.”
Uriel was suddenly envious of her best friend. She rarely let Pat see her, truly see her. But maybe she wasn’t ready to look either.
“I wish I was like you,” she said instead of saying what she really wanted which was, “I’ve never been in love, I don’t even know if I love myself.” But instead, she just ate large bites of the lasagne.
“You don’t want to be like me. I’m so raw that it sometimes feels like I’m a live wire, flapping wildly in the wind. For some people it’s terribly uncomfortable to be with me, because I demand that my lover be just as raw, just as real, or I’m out. I don’t have time for so-so love. I don’t want luke warm, make love only when you’re drunk love. When I make love, I want to feel the other person’s essence. You’ll laugh. But I had that with Jeff, I did.”
Chris sighed. And took another sip of his sangria, pouring more into Uriel’s glass. “Damn, Dougy was right, this is go-ood.”
“Seriously, Url, never? You’ve never felt like you’d die if you weren’t with someone?” He looked at his friend who shrugged with a look in her face like “what can I say?”
“I’ve never been a girl that men fall in love with,” Uriel said.
“Okay, that’s a cop out and bull shit Url. It’s not about being the best looking person in the room. We are all lovable. All of us Url. You’re just chicken shit. Sorry, but you are. What about Pat?”
Uriel choked on her food. “Are you serious?” she sighed. “I haven’t even called him once. I don’t miss him. Ever.” Uriel put her plate down on the table.
“That’s awful isn’t it?”
Chris patted her knee.
“No, it’s just safe I guess.”
“Well, look at my parents. All their passion ended in complete disaster, so I guess luke warm love has its advantages.”
They both laughed at that.
“My parents were in love.” Chris said quietly.
“My father was really quiet, religious. But man did he love my mom. He called her his princess.” Chris laughed, but Uriel could see tears in his eyes.
“He was a good man Url. A better man than me. He took such good care of her up until the day he died. Her dementia was bad for a while, before he was diagnosed with cancer. But he never broke one promise to her. I mean, even on days when he got chemo, if it was on their day to play bingo at church, or their day to walk to the park, he’d go. When it got real bad, he’d call and I’d drive up from Savannah. I’ve never met a man so dedicated.”
Uriel sighed. “So that’s where your sweetness comes from.”
“Maybe! Okay, are we ready to read this next letter?” Chris stood to pull out the second letter they found earlier that day, which he had tucked into his jean’s back pocket.
Melody surprised him by pulling out the bag of weed she found in Tommy’s room.
“Maybe we should try this if we’re going to read that,” she whispered.
“Good Lord, I’ve created a monster! Champagne, sangria, now this? Hmm, could be daaangerous,” Chris said with mock concern. When they opened the bag, there was a small joint buried underneath the stale pot. The smell was rotten and similar to dried puke.
“It could be 30 years old. Does it rot? Will we die inhaling this crap?” Uriel was sort of serious. A lighter lay beside the corner ashtray that still had a few cigarette butts with red lipstick marks on their edges in it.
“Never hard to find matches or lighters in this house,” Uriel said, then added, “Okay, lets do this before I change my mind!”
Chris lit the end and took three deep puffs before coughing out a ball of smoke. “I’m rusty Url. But I think this is okay. Here ya go darlin.”
Uriel took the joint and turned it back and forth in her fingers. “Here goes nothing.” She took a deep breath in and then coughed as the burn reached her lungs.
Chris patted her back hard. “It gets easier. Not that this is a great habit for you young lady.”
Uriel smiled mischievously and took a deep drag. She coughed again, thinking, “If Tommy could see me now!”
Instead she said, “Open it,” and nodded to the letter sitting on the table near their sangria. “Read it to me. I don’t have the strength.”
Uriel picked up her wine glass, closed her eyes and leaned back.
Chris cleared his throat first, then opened the letter.
“Don’t read it first, just read aloud, k?”
“Yes ma’am,” Chris said, then added, “shit. I’m nervous.”
He looked at her and took a deep breath. “Only for you darlin,” and he opened the letter addressed to Melody. It had been mailed to an address in Bountiful, Utah, with a stamp on the outside, no return address. The other letter was handwritten, hand delivered. Not this one.
My Dearest Melody,
My hands are shaking as I write this letter. (And no, I’m not drinking!) I’m shaking with pure emotion. I want you to feel the passion behind my words, feel my love for you and the boys. You have no idea how you affect me. And I know that I don’t deserve you. I do know that. This past month without you, I’ve realized just how much you, Tommy and Shane mean to me. These aren’t just words on a page. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since you left. What a wake up call!
I don’t expect you to believe me, but she meant nothing. Absolutely nothing. I didn’t even feel anything when I was with her. Isn’t that crazy? I think back to our first night together when Tommy was conceived. God, I get chills just thinking about it, under the stars, wet from rain. Damn, I was so in love with you, so filled with love I thought I’d burst! When I said you are my heart, I meant it. I’ve never said that to anyone else, ever. And I probably never will.
When you mother called and told me that you were with her in Bountiful, my first thought was that she was ill. When she told me that you hemorrhaged on the plane, alone with the boys, all I could do was cry. Every ounce of my body froze. Baby, I didn’t even know you were pregnant! And now you won’t take my calls. Just please, please read this and let these words sink into your heart. I love you. I want to take care of you. I can’t believe that I risked you and our family for one careless slip with a stupid girl. I transferred her Url. She’s gone. It’ll never happen again. I promise. I know these words sound hollow to you. I can only imagine. You’ve lost our baby. I’m horrified. You were alone on the plane with the boys. You must have felt so abandoned, so alone, so betrayed. And for what? For me to feel like a big shot? For me to let some girl boost my ego? I know my faults dear Mel, don’t think I don’t. And they come raging out like a hunting tiger when I drink. I stopped. I threw away all the liquor in the house.
This is me. Stripped down. Raw. So in love with you that tears stain the page and my hands shake. Please, baby, find it in your heart to forgive me. Come home. You are my home. You are my center. You and the boys. Let me be a better man for you. Let’s try to have another baby. Lets mend this. My love for you never wavered, if anything, I’m more in love with you now than ever. If you feel anything as you read this, I pray that you’ll believe in me, believe in us.
“Holy shit,” Chris said. “I want to take the man back after reading this. Damn. Between his love and his writing and his music and his gorgeousness-HELLOO? Did your mother really have a choice?”
Chris looked at Uriel who appeared stunned, or stoned, or both. She turned her head slowly toward Chris.
“Wow,” was all she could say.
“I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t be born if she didn’t forgive him. I, I just don’t know what to say. Plus, I feel really weird.” Uriel giggled and then burped. She had drank and eaten more than she had in ages. Plus, the pot was starting to make her feel silly. She knew she should take this letter more seriously, but all she wanted to do was eat marsh mellows and camp out.
She slinked down and up off the porch swing and sauntered carefully over to the day bed where her mom used to sleep in the summer. Melody loved sleeping on the screened-in porch as she got older. She was always cold, so she rarely ran the air conditioning and would sleep under the ceiling fan on the porch. Chris followed Uriel, thinking she might stumble.
Instead, the two nestled together on the day bed. Uriel put her head on Chris’ shoulder and just listened to the sounds of the farm.
“Can you sleep here with me Chris?”
He giggled and said, “No nooky. I’m saving myself for Doug.”
Uriel laughed thinking how sweet it was that he might have a date soon.
“Maybe he’ll help you get over that married, in-the-closet disaster,” Uriel said.
Chris made a noise that sounded like “I don’t know.”
He cleared his throat and said, “I still love Jeff. And I think your dad loved your mom too Uriel. Hell, maybe Jeff loves his battle-axe of a wife too. Who knows? How do we ever know if the other person is truly feeling what we are? You know? Maybe our last night together meant nothing to Jeff. I haven’t heard a word from him. Nothing. It’s brutal.”
Chris shifted in the cushy day bed and continued. “I think about our last night together when Jeff kept whispering: ‘So this is what love feels like. This is what it feels like to be real when you make love to someone.’ He even told me he had never felt this way before. How does someone say those things and then Boom, nothing. A few days later it’s all gone, just swept under the rug. Sorry, I know I’m monopolizing the conversation. We should be talking about your stuff, sorry.”
Uriel sat up so she could look at him clearly. “Don’t be sorry. What’s there to talk about with my dad’s letter? Obviously, my mom and dad had this insane passion that I never saw. Why? Because my dad couldn’t stop drinking. I don’t remember him NOT drinking. So, maybe he was sober for a few years before I was born? Then went right back at it. Now Jeff, is a different animal ALL together.”
Uriel reached across Chris’ tummy. The pot and the sangria were making her feel brave. She almost tipped over reaching for her glass now parked on the floor beside the day bed. She straightened up without spilling any on Chris, which was an insane achievement in her state. Suddenly Uriel felt a clarity that she never had before. She even felt like an authority on the subject of relationships.
“How so?” Chris asked, raising one eyebrow and assessing his bff who seemed stoned out of her mind.
“Well for starters, he’s in denial about everything. He’s living a lie. He doesn’t drink, but he doesn’t have to. He’s just naturally fucked up. His wife, kids, community, church, all see him as this straight arrow, boy scout leader, family man. He’s never coming out of the closet. He let his guard down with you, which was probably beautiful, but that mask is back on. And baby, it isn’t coming off, except maybe for another rendezvous with someone who won’t fall in love with him. YOU, were far too dangerous for him. He can’t fall in love. He can’t let his mask down, lose his life, his family. He’s going to pretend that nothing ever happened. And if he ever sees you out in public, get ready, because he’ll pretend he doesn’t know you. He slammed the door. You are dead to him.”
She took a big sip of her wine, proud of herself for her insight, until she noticed the tears pooling in her dear friend’s eyes.
“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. What a stupid drunk girl I am.”
She laid her head on his chest. To her surprise, Chris just stroked her hair.
“No, you’re right. Jesus. What did I want anyway? I mean, to wreck a family? I think about that nurse who probably worked with your dad for months. Maybe she thought she was in love with him? Or obsessed with him. I mean, he was the hot, rocker, doctor. Wow. For her, she could have thought she found the one. For your dad, she was just, ‘why not?’ You know what I mean? Maybe your mom was exhausted taking care of the boys and he wanted attention, as simple as that. For her, though, I’m sure it wasn’t that simple.” He took a sip from her wine glass and continued. “I’m just ashamed of myself. I never want to break up a family. I think about all that you’ve been through and not once, not one time with Jeff, did I ever think about his children. So, maybe Jeff’s denial, as you call it, or his need to stay in the closet and live a lie, is a huge blessing for me. I wouldn’t want to live through the storm. Could you imagine how the good folks in Harmony or Statesville would deal with us? Jesus, we’d probably get the shit beat out of us, or get tarred and feathered by the good ole boys down at the lodge. You know? God, my dad would be so ashamed of me. I know better.”
Uriel put her glass down and snuggled with her bff.
“What we know and how we love are two different things. I’m tired of knowing so much. I think I ought to love more,” she whispered.
Before Chris could respond, he heard Uriel’s soft snoring. “It’s a deal, Url, girl,” he whispered while still stroking her hair. “I’ll think more, and you get to take some my live wire love and run with it.”
Uriel’s Mask is novel by Laura Roe Stevens. It is currently being read by agents and publishers for publication. If you have any questions or comments, please send me a note.