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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (1)

One

PEIGHTON

If someone had told Peighton Claiborne that warm June morning would be the very last time she’d ever see her husband alive, she might’ve done things differently. Perhaps she wouldn’t have rushed out the door so quickly, barely brushing her lips over his as she passed through the hall; maybe she would’ve held him tight, breathing in his familiar earthy smell one last time and whispering how much she loved him in his ear. But, as she bustled out of the house that morning, a morning like so many mornings before that, Peighton barely looked twice at the man she loved. She would see him in a few hours, she thought, and that was that.

As she climbed into her car, she stared at the long stretch of driveway ahead of her, silently complaining about the yard that seemed to grow faster each year. Todd would have to mow again this weekend. And like usual, she would have to remind him. Given his track record…she would have to remind him several times. She pulled out of the driveway quickly, glancing at the clock and silently cursing. She was running late once again. Of course. She fidgeted with the radio, trying desperately to find something other than a weather forecast, rain, rain, and more rain, or an advertisement, finally settling on a station playing music from the young boybands that reminded her of Kyle’s childhood.

She drove mindlessly, the same path she’d been driving for years, and let her mind wander. Watching the rain patter down on the windshield, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of gloom as she pulled into the office: this was only the beginning of the storm.

“Rough morning?” a familiar voice called from behind her as she opened her car door.

She laughed. “Aren’t they all?” she asked, raising her oversized coffee mug into the air as she attempted to cover it with her umbrella, water droplets already soaking her gray skirt.

Alexis held out her hands from under her umbrella. “Need me to grab something?”

Peighton sighed, slamming her car door and attempting to hand over her coffee cup while she struggled with her briefcase, purse, and umbrella. “Thanks.”

As the women walked into the small office building, they were greeted by a few of their co-workers warmly. They shook off their umbrellas, running their hands over their wet clothes, and walked into Peighton’s office.

Alexis set Peighton’s coffee cup down. “Todd’s not coming in today?”

“No.” Peighton shook her head, without explanation. For the first time that morning, she looked up at her friend, noticing the darkness that filled the skin under her eyes. “Are you okay?”

She smiled, yawning as if on cue. “Drake has a cold, I think. We were up all night with him.”

“Poor baby,” Peighton groaned. “Are you taking him to the doctor?”

“Yeah, Micah is home with him. I was going to see about cutting out early if we aren’t too busy.”

“Of course. You know you don’t even have to ask.”

“I know, but the campaign

“Is months away,” Peighton said. “If you need time off, you take it. Lord knows I remember those days. It’s rough. I was just lucky I had an amazing boss.” She winked, teasing, as she opened the laptop on her desk. “Go ahead and go whenever you need.”

“Thanks. Is there anything you need from me this morning? I’m going to make a few phone calls to see about getting more people lined up for the community outreach programs Elijah has planned…should I count you in for those?”

“What are the dates again?” Peighton asked, pulling out her organizer, heavily clad with varied pen colors.

“The…eleventh, fourteenth, and eighteenth.” Alexis’ eyes rolled up to the ceiling as she recalled the dates.

“Okay, yeah. Put us down for all of them. Todd should be able to be there all three days, I have an appointment the 14th, but I can see about rescheduling. Is that the one in the park?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, yeah. We’ll be there.” She nodded, scribbling down notes on those dates.

“Great. I’ll make sure to notate that. What else can I do for you this morning?”

“That’s all I need. Once you’ve done what you need to, go on home and take care of that baby.” Peighton opened her laptop, typing a note into her spreadsheet and pulling up Outlook.

“Thanks, Peighton, I will. See you later,” she said as she backed out of her office, shutting the door.

Peighton picked up her phone, clicking on her most recent caller. The iPhone screen went dark as it began dialing. It rang six times before she heard his voice.

“You’ve reached the voicemail box of Senator Todd Claiborne. I’m so sorry I missed your call, but please leave me your name, number, and a brief message, and I will get back to you by the end of the day. Thank you so much.”

“Hey babe, it’s just me. I’ll try you again later. Love you.”

As Peighton hung up the phone, something in her gut felt wrong. It spread through her insides, chilling them. Goosebumps spread across her arms, making her hair stand on end. She frowned, staring at her phone. She’d had a feeling like this only once before: when, in Kindergarten, Kyle had broken his arm at school after falling off a slide. She tried to push the feeling away, continuing to work. After an hour had passed, the feeling consistently growing stronger, she finally gave in. Realizing it wasn’t going away, she sent her husband a text.

Peighton: Have you heard from Kyle?

Without waiting for a text back, she scrolled through her recent calls, trying to find one to her son. Her heart felt heavy as she realized it had been nearly a month since she’d spoken to him on the phone. Lately they spoke more in brief statements passing each other, him always busy with school and friends, and her with work, errands, and the upcoming campaign.

As she landed on her son’s name, she pressed it, listening to the line ring. When he answered, he sounded annoyed. “Hello?”

She could hear his friends laughing in the background. “Kyle? Is everything okay?”

“Um, yeah?” he responded, the anger in his voice growing. “What do you want, Mom?”

“I just…something doesn’t feel right. Where are you?”

“Everything’s fine, Mom. Can I go?”

“Where are you, Kyle?”

“I’m…at Toby’s house.”

He was lying, his voice wavering just a bit as he said it, but Peighton didn’t have time to worry about what mischief he might be getting into. “I’m coming to get you.”

“What? Why? What did I do?” She heard him shuffling around and the background noise grew softer, as he must have left the room. “I don’t want you to come get me. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I’m not saying you have, Kyle. Something just doesn’t feel right.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked, his exasperation growing. “I’m with my friends, Mom. This is embarrassing.”

“Have you talked to your dad?”

“Not since I left the house. Why?”

Peighton stood up from her desk, closing her laptop and shoving her files into her desk drawer. Her hands shook as she turned the key and locked the desk, spinning and rushing out of the building without a word to anyone.

“Where are you at, Kyle?”

“I told you…I’m at Toby’s.”

She pressed the button on her keys to unlock the red SUV in the parking lot. “I’m coming to get you.”

He paused for a moment before letting out a sigh. “I’m at Jessica’s. Over by the park.”

“Stay right there,” she warned, too worried to scold him for lying. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Whatever,” he said heatedly, before the line went dead.

“I love you,” Peighton whispered, like usual it was said long after her son had quit listening.

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