So, she was cheating on him after all. Jack had always suspected Madison's infidelity, but he could never prove it. Work kept him away too long and too often. She had done it, though, violated their marriage bed during those long stretches while he was gone. Her distant eyes told him so. She couldn't even look at him when he finally came home. He even resorted to using a private investigator to uncover the adultery, spending more than a grand in fees and expenses. The P.I. was either an incompetent boob, a drunk, or a flat-out fraud because he never found anything to substantiate the accusation—or so the man said—but now there it was, in plain sight for God and everyone to see. All it took was him dying.
He was dead, he knew that. Good Lord, most of them knew it right away. A few still held onto their hope and faith that somehow they had made it through, but that was just full-on denial. Anyone in their right mind could look at the wreckage, at the charred things scattered along the Indonesian mountainside, and see that nobody survived.
How long he'd been gone, Jack didn't know. Time seemed to take on a whole different dimension on this side of the dirt. In fact, time wasn't the only irregular sensation. The sun didn't burn. The wind whistled but he felt nothing. Since the crash, everything changed, almost as if the world he knew ceased to exist and was replaced by something entirely new.
There were other things that began anew, as well. It took him a while just to figure out how to move. For a full week, he was planted as hard and stiff as a cedar elm. What a miserable time that had been, stuck in one place listening to the investigators yammer on and on, each of them looking at a piece of wreckage and throwing out wild theories like Mardi Gras beads. Then, there was the wailing of family members who somehow made it to the crash scene, mothers mourning their lost children, husbands and wives grieving their lost spouses, children crying over a mommy or daddy who never came home. Madison and his daughter, Lindsey, never made it, of course.
He finally did move, though, and it was strange how it worked, almost like learning to walk all over again. You're born into one body as a baby, you have to discover how to use it; you die and lose that body, you have to learn how to use your new, spiritual form. Weird.
By the time he finally made it home, Madison had clearly moved on. And like everything else on this side of eternity, she had change as well. She colored her hair. She wore shorter skirts, too—totally on the market. Looking at her, arm in arm with another man, Jack wondered how long it had taken her. A month? Maybe two? Probably not that long, he guessed.
He followed them home, walked up the front porch steps with them, and watched as she invited the man in. Jack didn't want to follow, not sure that he could watch what might happen next, but felt compelled, pulled by a sense that he had to see for himself what he always suspected.
They walked into the living room, which, oddly enough, still looked the same. At least Madison kept some things in place.
She asked the man if he wanted a drink.
He shrugged a shoulder and said, "Sure."
"I have bourbon and beer."
"Ice or no?"
She left the room to fix their drinks, and Jack stayed behind to watch the man, who now stood at the fireplace mantle. He was staring at a picture of Madison and Jack, a photo taken back when it was just the two of them, a year or so before Lindsey came along.
Jack looked at the man. "So, were you sleeping with her before I left?"
The words came out, but the man didn't hear them. Instead, he scratched at goosebumps that formed on his arm. He rubbed at the back of his neck, too. Jack wanted to scream the question again, but knew it wouldn't do any good. At best, all he would do is make the man's skin tingle. He balled up a fist, ready to see what a ghost punch would do, when her voice stopped him.
"What're you doing?" she said.
Jack turned, thinking that maybe she had spoken to him.
The man answered her.
"I was looking at your pictures. Who're you with in this one?"
She shook her head. "That's my mother—my dad, too—back before I was born."
Jack took a step back. Her mother and father? This was Lindsey? How had he lost so much time?
She stepped forward, handed the man a glass of whiskey, and then stared at the photo.
"They seemed so happy back then. Something happened, though. My mother never knew what, but something had changed between her and my father. I think it was the long separations before he died, the times when he left to go overseas and she didn't know where he was exactly, or who he was with. She died about two years after he did. Went to bed and never woke up. I think her broken heart finally gave out."
Jack closed his eyes, trying to maintain his balance. Everything seemed so out of kilter. Then another voice called out to him.
He turned toward the entryway, amazed by the similarities he now saw.
"Jack," Madison said. She smiled. "You finally made it home."