I shake my head. My underwear drops to the floor as a weight drops to my chest. A hand the size of my head frames my tight face, stroking gently in a soft coercion.
“Open them, Darlene.”
I do, immediately finding myself looking into two dark tunnels. Where they go, I don’t know. “It’s okay to look at me. Let me help you forget what brings you here every night. Let me help you forget why you drink. Let me be your distraction, your addiction. When you’re with me you won’t be able to think of anything else, I promise.”
For several minutes I don’t believe him. How could I? But when he rolls a condom over himself and watches me keenly, insisting, “You keep your eyes on me, only me,” I completely lose myself in the magic of the Blue’s.
Darlene was weird on the phone. Not weird, like quiet weird, that would have been anything but weird. No, she was the exact opposite. Like she had forgotten her previous contempt for me, or that she was over this round of coldness that she has been showering me in. Maybe a little space was exactly what she needed. Maybe time really does heal.
Hanging up the phone was so much harder than it has been previously because there was actual conversation there, actual interest in what I was doing and how our business was going here. Which is good, actually. So good that we don’t think we’ll have to stay until Tuesday. If things go smoothly then I should be making up this week’s failings to Darlene sometime tomorrow.
I’m going to start with a bit of extravagance.
Stepping out of the idolized store with a slice of every girl’s heaven in my pocket, I smile at the joy it will give Darlene. Not because of the money spent or because of the branded luxury but because of the meaning behind it. Nobody can say that I’m not romantic. I’m the king of symbolism and gift giving. I just haven’t had many opportunities to show it lately.
I’m walking to meet James back at the hotel before we meet Clarks for Sunday brunch when my phone rings. Already smiling, perceiving it to be my wife again, I fetch the phone from my pocket, only to be confused by the name ‘Quinn’ as it flashes from my screen. I contemplate not answering but my natural inquisitiveness overrides my sense.
“Hi!” Silence ensues but it doesn’t last long. “Umm, you didn’t tell me your name so I have you saved in my phone as ‘hot guy with the hair’. We met at the bar on Friday?”
Shit. She saved my number. Of course she did, you gave her your phone, jackass!
“Oh yeah, hi.”
“So what should I call you?” she asks, sounding a lot chirpier than she did when I last saw her.
“It’s Reid. Umm, Quinn, I’m actually kind of busy right now...”
“Oh, that’s okay. I just wanted to see if you were free tonight?”
James is meeting her friend later. I am certainly not going too, but I should probably keep her at bay just until James has gotten whatever he wants from Nipples, then I can tell her the truth. Or a variation of it.
“As it happens, I’m not. But maybe I could call you in the week and organize something?” I cringe at my own doucheness.
“Yeah, great! I look forward to it!” she practically squeals. I think I may have been the one who got played all along. She doesn’t fit the quiet type I had her pinned as.
As we sign off I briefly contemplate changing my number, but that would be so much more of an effort than just being upfront with her.
When I turn into the hotel lobby and see James waiting for me I want to squeeze his puny neck for getting me into this. “We better get this wrapped up today because I am getting on a plane tomorrow whether we have or not.”
My shower completed its requirements a long time ago and yet here I stand; my skin pruning as the water slowly turns cold. I could stay here all day and the burning chill of the stream would make no progress in cleansing away just how dirty I am. I am soiled in remorse, in guilt, in grief. It’s piled so thick that I feel heavy for it and it’s only getting worse because every time my torturous mind relives what happened, a part of me is happy, and in that brief flash of happiness comes more guilt.
I understand what I have done to my marriage and to Reid if he were ever to find out, and yet there is a small portion of me that feels such relief. Whatever this is with Blue has been building all week and to suddenly have been able to have an outlet for it is like being able to breathe again.
I get dressed into a fresh set of pajamas, having no intention of leaving my apartment today. Snow has been working on de-coloring the city over night and it’s a great excuse to remain housebound. I don’t want to face anyone today. I don’t want to plaster a smile over my misery and pretend that I haven’t just royally fucked everything up. I need to work out what the hell I’m going to do, and apparently that takes me all day.
I have vegged, I have read, I have sang, all in the hope of stumbling upon some dramatic inspiration, an epiphany. A decision like this seems too big to rest entirely on my scrawny shoulders. I finally ascertain that to understand what to do I need to explore what I have done and why. I mean, I know what I have done, but was it purely down to feeling attracted to Blue, or was it a pre-emptive attack on my marriages imminent failure?
Is it even imminent?
I know that whatever we had is disappearing, fast, but my love for Reid hasn’t gone, and if the foundations are there then the rest can be restored, right? Well, not if he ever finds out what I did. He would never understand how I only succumbed to Blue because he offered what I have been missing for so long. I craved the intimacy that has been lost in my marriage, and I was weak in accepting it because my emotions were taut after a difficult week at home. Plus mucho booze.
It sounds like excuses.
That’s how Reid would see it.
I guess that’s what they are, but I know that had the opportunity with Blue arisen a year ago I would never, ever have submitted. I would have been offended rather than flattered, I would have pushed him away rather than pull him close, and I would have told Reid rather than decide to keep this the dirtiest little secret.
By late into the evening I am feeling completely alone. I’m not going to tell Reid about what has happened, so does that mean that I intend on trying to salvage what remains of our marriage? Is it even salvageable? Seven years is a lot to throw away and the thought of losing Reid is as painful as the guilt. I have to believe that we can get over this, especially now that there is a possible end in sight. The job offer I had been hoping for could be the light at the end of the longest tunnel. Maybe once the balance is restored within our careers then our relationship will fall back into place.
But what is there in the meantime?
That’s six months away.
That six months could easily see the end of us, but it’s not like we can call a timeout. I can’t break all ties with Reid so that I can screw around with Blue only to jump back into a marriage with Reid when recess is over. And that’s all this is with Blue, of that I’m certain. My feelings for him are purely physical. There is something strong that leads me to him but it lies within our love of music and his undeniable appeal, nothing more. I can’t imagine there ever being anything more with Blue, and I’m certain that he feels the same way.
What am I doing? Am I justifying my desire to carry this on with Blue? In a perfect world I would have my cake and eat each delicious slice, but it’s immoral. Highly immoral. So, I should suffer in silence, alone in this apartment for the rest of my jobless life? I can’t. I’ll suffer through the guilt and I’ll make amends with our relationship when I can. But now that I’ve had a taste of the relief I find with Blue, I can’t go back to being a prisoner again. A prisoner of this home, this city, my needs. And if that sends me to hell then I’ll accept the descent. I’m strong enough for that. I’m not, however, strong enough to deny it.
Blue is saying goodbye to Nina when I get to The Nest. While his eyes brighten at seeing me she regards me with a thick scowl that I immediately return, because, well that’s what we women do. Even when we don’t understand the reason for it.
Blue holds open the door for me and I rush into the warmth. I hear him close the door behind us and lock its many deadbolts.
“I’ve been trying to call you all day,” he says, walking to meet me at the bar.
“Sorry, I’ve been in voluntary solitude.”
“Are you okay?”
“I will be.”
“No, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here,” I reply, taking a seat on a bar stool. I remove my hands from my jacket pockets and hold them to my mouth, blowing warm air onto them in the hope of restoring some feeling into my frozen digits.
“What do you mean?” Blue asks. He walks with intent to stand between my legs, taking both of my hands and bringing them to his own lips. As his breath courses through my fingers my hands are not the only part of me that warms up.
“I mean, I’m here to ask you what last night was, and if it’s not what I want then I’m outta here.” Surprisingly, my voice is as strong as I feel. I’m completely resolved on this. If it was just a onetime thing then I can accept it and move on, or stay still, as it happens. But if he wants what I do, some fun, an outlet to let off steam, then I will throw myself at him willingly.
“Oh, so this is an ultimatum?”
“No, not at all. This is me hoping that you wanted more than a single fuck from me.”
He blanches before shaking his head lightly. “Don’t say things like that. Your mouth is too pretty for such dirty words.” He leans in to kiss me but I pull away enough to let him know that I want a proper answer. He sighs, relenting, “I want as much of you as you are willing to give me, and then some. You’d know this if you’d have answered your phone.”
“I’m not good with phones. I like interacting in person.
Tilting his head to allow for our height difference, he closes the small gap between us, and this time I accept his kiss. I more than accept it, I control it. I set the slow pace and it is my tongue that intrudes on his mouth. He obviously appreciates my efforts because my coat is off within the next ten seconds and I am being guided up the stairs to his apartment.
Waking up in a bed other than my own is an altogether new low. At least it was unintentional, unlike the copious rounds of sex I enjoyed. My plan was to leave as soon as we were done, but my stamina isn’t what it used to be and so I fell asleep. I woke up, snared in the confines of a pair of huge arms around my torso. Now I’m stuck in this foreign bed when all I want to do is leave and pretend that it didn’t happen.
For a little while at least.
The arms around me tighten briefly before soft kisses fall against my neck. “Good fucking morning,” Blue says, nudging his ever present arousal into my back.
“How sweet,” I sigh. He chuckles and I feel his laughter in his hard chest. He spins me, pinning me down with his weight, while he spreads my legs with his knees.
“I like waking up next to you,” he soothes as he trails kisses down my neck. I’m not feeling it. Not in the cold light of day when my ability to sugar-coat what we are doing has yet to wake up.
“It sure is...different.”
Blue’s wandering mouth comes to a halt just before it meets my breast. “Are you okay?”
I nod quickly, overcompensating for my obvious lie. “I just really want to shower.”
And to go home. I want to go home.
“Okay, no problem. You want to...share?”
I smile nervously. “Simmer down, Duracell, give a girl a chance to recover.”
He laughs boyishly and I thaw a little. “Okay, Pilgrim. Tonight?” I nod and he’s mollified. After the quickest shower possible I decline breakfast and race home where I sink into a scalding hot bath and exfoliate off a layer of skin.
By nightfall, my guilt has done an about turn and I am ready for whatever this evening has in store. I’m performing tonight and I plan on using every contradictory, messy emotion that I have and burning it off through my music. It is exactly what I need and I have never looked forward to a gig more.
As I enter the packed out bar I hand over my coat to Nile, who whistles appreciatively at my black skirt and sheer, white, boho blouse combo. I should be offended by his reaction but his intense femininity cancels out any crudity. I pass by Veda who hands me a Corona which I intend on taking to the stage, and by Nina who tosses me a scowl which I immediately discard. What’s her problem? When she looks to Blue her problem is suddenly obvious. She wants him.
Blue picks me out as he talks to Zach and his friends at their usual table. His eyes brazenly scour my body and in response I feel incredibly sexy. This man, who is wanted by so many women, is checking me out, more than checking me out, he’s picturing me naked because he knows every single curve of my body.
Stepping away from his group without apologizing, he stalks over to me, a predatory look in his eyes. “Come with me,” he orders, removing my guitar off my back before replacing it with his guiding hand. We walk behind the bar and through the door that leads to his apartment.
“Blue, we can’t. I’m due on stage soon,” I say as he closes the door and pushes me gently against the corridor wall.
“I just want a kiss to tide me over. You look fucking amazing, girl. Every man in here is going to be imagining doing all kinds of things to you tonight and I’m the one who gets to act them out. Do you know how hot that is, baby?”
I ignore how wrong his assumption should be and concentrate on how empowered it leaves me. “I know exactly how you feel.”
Resting his head against mine, he lets out a weighted sigh. “You couldn’t possibly.” I don’t understand his words and I don’t try to. Instead, I take his sharp jaw in my hands and guide his lips to mine. They’re as magical as ever, with the added taste of tobacco. After coaxing us both into a panting mess I pull apart.
“You’ve been smoking?
Nodding sheepishly, he whispers, “Don’t worry about it.” I will though. What does he have to be stressed about now that he has gotten what he wants? “Reid’s back tomorrow, right?” I nod, weakly. “So, this is the last night you’ll be able to stay at mine? For a while at least?” I nod again. I don’t tell him that I don’t like staying the night away from home. I can’t, not when he looks as disappointed as he does.
I don’t have a chance to discuss the situation any further. He kisses my forehead before he opens the door and gestures for me to go through it. He doesn’t touch me as we make our way around to the other side of the bar and I appreciate his subtly. He hands me my Corona and takes a seat beside me. I have a few minutes before I’m due on stage and so I take this time to chat with Veda. I notice Blue talking to Nina, but it’s not until I hear the words, “total babe” coming from his lips that I pay attention.
“Who’s a babe?” I ask, unable to curtail my curiosity.
Blue doesn’t even look guilty as he answers. “Nina. She got approached by some model scout but she doesn’t think she’s hot enough. Pah! She’s hot enough, right?”
A bitter taste forms on my tongue and I’m completely uncomfortable with the jealousy that it stems from. I have no right or reason to feel jealous. He is a free person and I am not. The jealousy should be on his side, if any.
“Of course she is.” I eye her, knowingly. I know exactly what game she is playing with him and he’s falling for it. Fine, he can fall for it as hard as he wants. It’s not my problem. “Just make sure he’s legit. There are a lot of scammers out there who just want to get you alone with a camera and shoot you with your tits out.” I look down at her obscenely low cut shirt. “The rest of your tits out.” Turning to a shocked Blue, I gesture for my guitar that still sits on his back. He removes it but carries it as I walk to the stage.
“Are you flirting with her?” I ask before I take to the steps.
“Are you flirting with her?” I repeat.
“Baby, I don’t think you’re in any position to be jealous.” His words are harsh but true and his eyes are a little intense.
“I’m not jealous, I’m competitive. Do you think she’s hot?” He looks embarrassed at my front. “Hotter than me?”
Shrugging his shoulders, he concedes, “She’s an obvious kind of hot, you’re...sweet.”
He’s being purposely blasé. Whatever he’s trying to say without saying is getting me riled up. How can he flit from warm to cold so quickly? He acts like he wants me and then it’s like he’s trying to upset me. What have I done to deserve that from him?
“That’s bullshit. I can be an obvious kind of hot.” With that I walk onto the stage with an aggressive confidence.
I take a seat, crossing my legs so that my skirt hitches up and a little too much of my thigh shows. Feeling confident, I loosen the band in my hair and shake out my curls, allowing them to fall over my shoulder. I don’t even recognize this attitude in me. I have always been more than enough for Reid and so I have never felt the need to be found attractive by anyone else. Should I attribute this craziness to the strange emotions I feel with Blue? Who knows, maybe I’ll dissect my actions later but right now I’m going to work hard at turning Blue back on to me.
Allowing my voice to filter much more huskily through the microphone than normal, I begin, “Good evening, boys and girls. Thank you for another hefty attendance. Let’s get ya’ll in the mood from the start. Enjoy.”
Channeling my inner Norah Jones, I begin strumming softly to Turn Me On.
I manage to find a space to park a few doors down from The Nest. In my excitement to see Darlene I have come straight from the airport. I’ve removed my tie and loosened my collar but apart from that I am still in my grey suit and black shirt. I hope I don’t stand out too much in there. From what Darlene describes of it everyone is pretty relaxed and casual.
The music blares loudly down the street and my pride echoes back when I hear that it is my wife’s voice. I notice my shadow stretching out before me and when I turn and look I smile at the subtle sunset. I haven’t noticed it in a very long time.
I rush to get inside but I’m met with resistance from a heavy crowd. The lights are down low, but a powerful glow is cast on the stage, guiding me to her. I manage to slip through a gap close to the wall but I can’t make it any closer than thirty feet or so. It wouldn’t matter though. Her beloved audience is in complete darkness.
She’s breathtaking, and the lone light only adds to her angelic appeal. Her eyes big and blue like a child, but her wicked smile is anything but sweet. I wish I was wearing my glasses to study her beauty more clearly.
She’s singing a Norah Jones song that I’ve heard her sing a few times before. It’s unbelievably sexy and when she softens her country twang and adopts her husky tone it’s even sexier. I long for her to look at me so I can imagine it as a private performance like she has done so many times before. I’ve missed her so much and I can’t imagine a better reunion than having her seduce me through song.
But, she isn’t looking at me. In fact, she isn’t looking at anyone in the audience. Her eyes are cast toward the bar, and when I turn and look, I see Blue smiling back at her. His smile is knowing and smug.
What the hell?
My eyes flicker between Darlene and Blue and the more I look, the more I see. The more I see, the more my stomach twists. There is something passing between them that makes me feel like a voyeur. The heat between them is palpable even over the darkness of the crowd.
What is she doing? She has never resorted to eye-fucking the crowd to get them going before; she’s never needed to. And yet, here she is, giving her everything to this asshole.
I look away and look back, hoping to find that I have imagined the whole exchange, but still they stare. Her eyes are heavy as she peeks up through her long eyelashes and she’s swaying in perfect rhythm to the sultry chords. He’s loving every second of it. He’s coveting her how I have coveted her for seven years, mentally undressing her. Is he having to imagine her naked body or does he already know?
I’m going to be sick.
The crowd feels like it’s closing in on me when in actual fact nobody has moved. I’m deliriously hot and yet there are goosebumps littered over my entire body. I can’t watch anymore.
I push through the crowd and push out the door, racing down the snow-covered street and almost slipping several times in my haste to get to the sanctuary of my car.
It is no sanctuary.
The confined space only adds to my discomfort. I need to be out, I need to hit something, do something. I need to confront them, call them out on their inappropriateness. I pray to God that that’s as far as it’s gotten, but deep in my understanding of Darlene I know she wouldn’t throw them fuck-me eyes at just anyone. Shit.
My head comes to rest on the steering wheel as I fight against the urge to destroy the interior of my car. It’s not the car’s fault. It’s that prick, Blue’s, goddamn fault.
I’m an adult with the ability to control my temper enough to grasp the facts, and so far the facts are not completely conclusive.
I need evidence.
And then what?
No, first things first.
Hours pass as I imagine every possible scenario. I imagine what could have transpired between them and what that would mean for us. I imagine that I have imagined it all and that Darlene is going to throw herself into my arms the moment she’s aware of my return. I don’t know which idea is more ludicrous.
The flow of people leaving has steadily increased until there can’t be any more people left. I haven’t heard any music for quite some time. Darlene has to be ready to leave now. Unless she is about to prove right everything I have suspected since I saw her on that stage.
Several minutes later the lights are cut at The Nest and Darlene has yet to appear.
I’m panting on the stairs that lead to Blue’s apartment, having only made it this far before he rid me of my clothes and took me. Blue is drifting down from his release while mine slips through my fingers. I grind against him hoping for some friction to finish me off, but he’s spent. I sag in defeat as he pulls out of me and buries his head in my chest.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve wanted to be deep inside you since you went all Norah on me and everything since then has been like fucking foreplay,” he says, panting sporadically between his words.
“Don’t apologize, it’s fine, really.”
He rises a little off of me, looking down into my eyes with a promise that I don’t particularly need. “It’s not fine. Nobody is going to say that I’m a selfish lover.” He makes a move as if to lift me from the stairs but I hold out a hand in protest at the shock of his statement.
“We aren’t lovers,” I explain, my tone laced with nerves.
“Then what are we?”
I shrug, not having the vocabulary or the heart to tell him exactly what we are. Blue lifts off of me, standing at the bottom of the stairs completely naked from the waist down but with his shirt on, barely ruffled. I can’t help but think how that alone sums up exactly what we are.
“I think I deserve an answer. What is this? Are we fucking? It didn’t feel like fucking when you were curled up in my arms last night.”
“Don’t make me explain what we are. We don’t need to have that conversation.”
As if I have physically pained him he slips down the wall behind him until he meets the floor. His hand runs down his face as if he can’t quite believe my answer.
I can’t quite believe his response.
He knows exactly what this is so why is he pretending to feel anything but ecstatic. He gets the best bits of me without all of the crap that my husband has to put up with.
“We’re fucking,” he whispers, to himself more than me, I think.
“We’re having sex. Amazing sex, and I’d like to keep having it. Is that too much to ask?” I step over to him, hovering above him before sinking slowly onto his constant erection. He gasps and stills my hips with his giant hands.
“But that’s all we are?”
“That’s all we need to be. And that’s all I can ever offer.”
I’m about to clarify further when he starts to move me in a painfully teasing rhythm. I’m unable to say anything more than expletives while Blue proves just how unselfish he really is.
I’m frozen in a shell of denial. Locked within the confines of my car while lord knows what is playing out in there. I contemplate going and finding them in the act, interrupting them, but I don’t want any more of a visual than I already have. Besides, I think some deluded part of me is still clinging onto the hope that this is all in my head.
That hope is shot point blank in the chest and left in the street to die when I see Darlene leave The Nest with Blue’s arms wrapped around her. His poisonous lips are at her neck and she’s giggling as they turn the corner. I should follow them, I should call them out on this, but the force of what I have just witnessed has welded me into my seat.
She was giggling.
I can’t remember the last time I heard her giggling.
I throw my head back against the headrest as I work through what I have just seen. It’s no use. I can’t see anything but red. I get out of the car, slamming the door with effortless aggression. I walk in the opposite direction to them, pounding the pavement with heavy steps until my prayers are answered and I find a bar.
Midnight has been and gone and so the bar is quiet. Not that I care. They have alcohol and that is exactly what I need. I need it to clear my clouded mind, ease the tension that is shackled to my entire body, or maybe just to knock me out so that I can find some relief in sleeping.
“Whiskey and lot’s of it,” I say, slamming down a fifty on the bar and taking a seat. The bartender doesn’t question it. Filling my glass with two fingers of whiskey and leaving the bottle close by.
I flinch at the sound of country music rattling through the speakers. When I look around it looks as though I have stepped right into Darlene’s Texan dream. Fucking great.
Time begins to blur and I start to measure it in how many glasses I have drank. Around the seventh I have found the courage to go and confront Darlene.
The walk home is long and staggered but it gives me the time to work on what I’m going to say. I’m going to try not to call her bitch, for one. Then I’m going to tell her to leave. No, I can’t do that because she’d go straight to him and the thought of her in his arms makes me feel sicker than another glass of whiskey would.
I’m going to tell her that she is never to see him again. Not if she wants to remain part of this marriage. What if she doesn’t though?
I lean against a wall, prepared to hurl as the prospect of her leaving me rattles around my aching head. I hold it in, making it the rest of the way home without even remembering how I did it.
The apartment is dark, cold and uninviting when I finally manage to unlock the door. I turn on the light, thinking that I will find Darlene curled up in her chair. She’s not. Then I remember that she still thinks I’m not due home until tomorrow. I guess she has been making use of the bed.
Oh shit. Is he in there with her?!
Racing down the hall, the red haze back and burning brighter than it ever has, I clench my fists in preparation for the oncoming fight. Opening the door with as much restraint as I can, I scan the bedroom for the pair…
…but all I find is Darlene.
She’s curled up in our bed. On my side of the bed.
She’s wearing my t-shirt. The last t-shirt I wore here.
And her arms are wrapped around my pillow.
She’s playing the role of my adoring wife as she sleeps, at least.
I want to wake her, I want to get this whole sorry mess discussed now because I know that it is only going to get harder, but there is something about her that stops me. Her features are pinched, even when the rest of her body is relaxed. Around her eyes is a little red and there is a tissue balled up next to her open hand.