The Breaking Point
1 December 19, 200310 AMWe're out of control.
Renee Roman leaned her forehead against the cold glass of the truck window, her teeth clenched, a barrier against the tears scalding the backs of her eyes. She would not cry. She’d cried enough for a lifetime.
She focused on the winter storm screaming just outside her window. A dense blanket of wind-whipped snow surrounded the pickup as they crept along. Visibility was nil, and gusts of wind buffeted the truck, slamming against it with seemingly determined efforts to knock them sideways.
A whiteout. How fitting. Now they could be as blind to the road as they were to each other …
Hurt tugged at her, and she pressed her lips tight against it. Blind or not, nothing was going to stop them, no sirree. Let the storm rage; their truck would still keep its steady, slow progress. Wind and snow were no match for Gabe. Nothing stopped him when he was determined—no human, no natural disaster, no act of God …
Renee’s fingers curled around her seat belt. Here they were, on a treacherous road, at the mercy of the weather, and all Gabe could do was keep moving forward. No stopping to reconsider, no looking for shelter, and certainly no asking for help. Just push your way through and make everything and everyone bend to your will.
If she weren’t so terrified, the situation would be hilarious. A small whine drew her attention to the backseat, and she turned to place a comforting hand on Bo’s furry head. Funny, Siberian huskies looked so imposing, so fierce, but under that wolflike appearance, they were serious wimps. “It’s okay, boy.” She uttered the soothing words, doing her best to keep her own anxiety from tainting her tone. “You’re fine. We’ll be home soon.”
If only she believed that. A glance told Renee that Gabe was tense, too, but she knew his tight jaw had little to do with the weather. She buried her fingers in Bo’s thick coat. If only she could bury her feelings as completely. I hate him
The words, which had nudged her heart and mind since that morning despite her stubborn refusal to grant them entrance, finally took wing.
She knew it was because of the anger. And the terror. She hated driving in the snow. Usually avoided it at all costs—which put driving in a blinding blizzard in the Oregon mountains in the “Things I Utterly Detest” category—but Gabe had been adamant. And nothing she said—no pleas to wait a day, no appeals to reason or compassion—had made a difference.
Oh, he had a list of reasons: They couldn’t afford another night in the hotel; he didn’t have any more vacation days and couldn’t afford a day off without pay; all they had to do was leave early enough to beat the worst of the storm …
But Renee knew the real reason they were on the road in the worst storm of the year. Her husband couldn’t wait to get home, to get this miserable trip over with.
To get away from her.
Tears pricked at her eyelids, and she blinked them away. He wanted to get away from her? Well, that was just fine. She was more than ready to escape his rigid, cold presence. The plummeting temperatures outside the truck cab were a virtual heat wave compared to the frigid atmosphere inside. Neither of them had spoken a word for the past half hour.
Her lips trembled. Why say anything now? They’d said enough—more than enough—that morning.
She gave Bo a final pat and turned to stare out the windshield again, then grabbed the door handle when another blast of wind rocked the cab. She started when Gabe’s hand closed over hers. Swallowing a sudden jumble of emotions, she glanced at him. He kept his eyes fixed on the windshield as he spoke.
“Breathe, Renee. I need you to breathe.” She hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath. Amazing. Even in the face of a storm—both physical and emotional—Gabe was still so tuned in to her … She forced out her pent-up air, then drew in a slow, deep breath.
Gabe squeezed her hand with gentle pressure. “We’ll be okay.” His gaze brushed hers, then returned to the road.
Fear, frustration, regret, sorrow … one sensation chased another, rippling through her until they were a bitter taste in her mouth. How did we get here? How do we keep ending up in this place?
She clenched her eyes as the desperate thought scraped at too-raw nerves. They’d been through so much … worked so hard … and she thought they were doing better. Had even dared to believe they’d make it. This whole trip to the mountains to rent a cabin was supposed to be a kind of celebration for them, a rejoicing in all they’d overcome—in all that ten years of counseling had helped them resolve.
So why had it come to this again? To this place of hurt and frustration? This place of cold distance?
Misunderstanding and miscommunication had opened the door to hurt feelings. Angry words followed, bringing resentments Renee thought were long ago resolved. Even now, thinking back on the last few days, Renee couldn’t believe it took mere moments for their hard work—and her hope—to shatter. Now the tiny, jagged fragments worked their way deep into her heart, cutting, piercing, wounding her in ways she thought she’d never have to feel again.
Renee wanted to be angry. To yell and scream and throw things. But she had to acknowledge she felt only one thing: grief. Deep, wrenching grief. She stared out the window, blinking against the glaring white—and against scalding tears.
The question came again; this time she gave it voice. “How did we get here, Gabe?”
He didn’t answer right away, but his jaw muscles flinched. For once, she waited. Not because she didn’t have anything to say, but because she couldn’t speak past the tightness in her throat.
“It’s the road home.”
Leave it to Gabe to give her a literal answer to a question that was anything but that. Please, Gabe, please … listen with your heart instead of your logic
. “That’s not what I meant—” the words came out soft and weary—“and you know it.”
Exasperation escaped him in a snort. “Right. Whatever you say, Renee.”
His glare cut her short. “Forget it. Whatever you meant, I don’t know the answer, okay? I never do.” He turned back to stare at the road. “Not the one you want, anyway.”
Bo’s nose pressed against her shoulder, halting the angry words she wanted to spew. She reached back and felt his trembling, then released her irritation in a huff. Amazing how connected to them this dog was. He was so tuned in to any tension between her and Gabe. All it took was a raised voice, a hardened tone, and he was there, pacing, looking from one to the other with that wide-eyed anxiety. He’d become a kind of emotional barometer, an alarm to warn them when things were getting out of hand.
“You’re fine, Bo. Settle down.”
At the harsh command, Renee felt her teeth grind and forced her jaw to relax. Did Gabe really believe using that tone would comfort the poor animal? She wanted to tell him how idiotic such a notion was, but as she opened her mouth, Bo commando-crawled between the seats until his upper body rested on the console and leaned into her.
“You’d probably better snap him into his safety harness, Renee.”
As much as she didn’t want to do so, Gabe was right. The harness attached to the seat belt in the backseat, and it would keep Bo from being thrown if anything should happen. Nothing’s going to happen
, her mind scolded her as she unbuckled her own belt and secured Bo. If only she could believe it.
Renee turned back to her seat and refastened her belt, trying to ignore the whining now coming from the backseat. Few sounds were more pitiful than a Siberian’s soulful whine, and it did what Renee’s conscience couldn’t: It kept her quiet.
The silence in the cab grew until Renee thought she would scream. Anything to drown out the thoughts that raged at her, shredding her already wounded heart. He doesn’t care … He can’t even stand to look at you, let alone talk to you … He’s so wrapped up in his anger that there’s no room left for you. For anyone. It’s just him and that stupid, hateful temper …
Renee closed her eyes against despair. Father God, what do I have to do? I’ve made changes … Gabe’s made changes … we’ve tried. We really have. But what good has it done? We always seem to end up in the same terrible place … Her throat constricted. What else can we do?
One word whispered through her in response: Die …