The Seed of Hardship - Chapter 22
The sound of Celine Dion singing “I’m Alive,” emitted loudly from Kristel’s car radio as she cruised through the quiet backstreet road. The covering of the trees provided substantial shade from the hot summer sun, giving Kristel a chance to turn off the AC and roll down her window. At the next traffic light, she reached across to the glove compartment and rummaged around for her Bluetooth earpiece.
Just as the light turned green again, Kristel gripped the earpiece and lifted her foot from the brakes She managed to turn on her Bluetooth setting on her cell phone as she was driving, and she immediately made a call to Tori. “It went well!” she exclaimed as Tori answered the phone
“That’s great!” Tori said just as enthusiastically. “Looks like things are really turning around for you.”
“I hope so! It’s about time!” Kristel smiled brightly and then added, “I’m early but I’m on my way to pick up the kids. Don’t worry about it, okay? Do you want me to get Stephanie for you?”
“Um, sure,” Tori agreed. “Thanks. Then I’ll get Hailey and meet you at your house.”
“Sounds good. See you!”
“See you,” Tori replied.
“Are you married?” Matthew slammed his glass down on the bar counter.
The bartender, scruffy-faced and long-haired, polished a small shot glass on the bottom of his apron.
“Once upon a time,” he replied. He turned his back to Matthew, and placed the shot glass among a few others on a rack.
Matthew scoffed. He traced the rim of the glass with his index finger. With a sigh, he slumped over the bar counter.
“Marital problems?” asked the bartended.
“Separation problems,” Matthew corrected. He let out a quiet laugh despite his forlorn demeanour. “Only because we can’t afford a divorce. How lame is that?” He propped his chin against his fist, and stared down at the bar counter.
The bartender looked perplexed by Matthew’s statement. He twisted his mouth in contemplation, trying to find the right words. At last, he asked, “You want a divorce?”
Matthew jolted upright, as though a mild electric shock had ran through his body. “Hell no!” he exclaimed. He glared at the man almost threateningly before softening his expression. “She does,” he explained.
The bartender’s mouth formed an “oh,” but he made no sound. He refilled Matthew’s Rum and Coke, and watched piteously as Matthew took a swig from the refilled glass. “What’d you do?” he questioned.
“Oh, you want to blame me too?”
The bartender detected the hurt in Matthew’s voice. “Sorry, man. I mean what happened?”
Matthew gaped blankly at the man for a brief moment. Then he frowned melodramatically, and honestly said, “I messed up.” He shook his head slowly. “And there’s nothing I can do to fix it.”
“How are you so sure? Maybe there is.”
Matthew gulped down the remainder of his drink, and held the cool glass to his head. “And what about your wife?” he interrogated.
“Dead,” the bartender bluntly replied. He took Matthew’s glass away and refilled it promptly. “Stroke,” he casually added.
A shadow came over Matthew’s face. Even the complaining tone of his voice changed. “Oh man,” he sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“It was over ten years ago. Don’t worry about it.” He gave a tired, crooked smile, and pulled a rag from his apron pocket.
As he began wiping the counter, he heard Matthew ask, “Do you miss her a lot?”
“From time to time.” He finished wiping the counter and flicked the rag before folding it and tucking it away. “But, it was her second stroke in one year and I couldn’t bear to watch her suffer any more.” He paused and stared somewhere past Matthew, a nostalgic look on his visage. “My only regret is not treating her like a queen before she became sick. Sure, I took care of her when she was sick, but she couldn’t even enjoy it then. You know?”
Matthew placed the drinking glass down, and rubbed his temples. The bartender shifted his gaze to Matthew. Swallowing rather loudly, Matthew looked at his wristwatch. It was almost nine PM. “She’ll still be awake,” he quietly said to himself. He abruptly hopped off the bar stool. “Thanks, man!” he said to the bartended. “I gotta go!”
The bartender smiled, almost proudly, as Matthew dug into his pockets and tossed a few dollar bills onto the counter. “I’ll have more for you tomorrow,” he said. With that, he ran out of the bar.
Within a few minutes, Matthew was on the road, driving at nearly 50 miles per hour in a 40-miles-per-hour zone. He unintentionally drove past a stop sign without even slowing down, and when he realised, he swore under his breath, but continued driving. “Slow down, slow down,” he told himself. Yet, he couldn’t. There was an extreme rush of adrenaline flowing through his veins.
He saw the reflection of a bright, flashing red light, which was accompanied by a loud boop! Blue and white lights joined in the red blaze as the high pitched boop began sounding more like a regular police car siren. “Crap,” Matthew mumbled.
For a split second, he glanced at the upcoming green traffic light, and seriously considered making a quick escape. Then his senses gripped him. “Stupid!” he exclaimed. He sharply pulled aside and slammed his foot down on the brakes. Pounding his fist against the steering wheel, he swore under his breath again, then he straightened his posture and looked at the road ahead.
The sound of the police car siren subsided, though the lights continue flashing. The other cars on the road decelerated slightly, looking curiously to their right as they drove past Matthew. Matthew’s hands were shaking severely. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands, and released a shuddering breath. Still, he was panicking internally, though he managed to keep a cool exterior.
The sound of a closing car door alerted Matthew of the officer’s approach. Matthew held his breath for a moment, and stared straight ahead. A knock came, causing him to jump. He released the breath he was holding, and quickly rolled down the window.
“Hello officer,” he hastily said. He gave a nervous smile.
The officer was a lanky, angry-looking man. “Are you aware that you were speeding, and ran a stop sign?”
“I did?” Matthew tried to appear clueless. “My mistake, officer,” he politely said. His mouth twitched as he tried to maintain a serious appearance. Unfortunately, a smile was fighting its way through his forced stoniness.
“Have you been drinking?” asked the officer.
Matthew’s heart skipped a beat. Trying to remain calm and collected, he looked the officer in his eyes, but as he opened his mouth to answer, the words escaped his mind. He gulped silently.
“Sir, please step out of the car,” the officer instructed.