I’ve seen her cry only once in our seven years and that was at our wedding, and even then they were tears of joy and they were polite, elegant tears.
I can’t be certain that she has, but regardless, her intense vulnerability right now has me turning around and heading for the sofa. We can handle this tomorrow. I’m technically still in New York until then so I can go in late for work, if at all. I guess it depends how it all pans out. I drift into an unnatural sleep bought on by booze, looking to escape the nightmare that is my life.
Why’s he here?
I wasn’t expecting him back until this evening. His hair is disheveled but that’s not unusual. What is unusual is the fact that he’s completely clothed and he stinks of booze. The only thing more potent than the harsh liquor is my ever increasing guilt. Reid’s presence before me is a stark reminder of what I am gambling by playing this sordid game with Blue. It was never easy, but confronted with Reid and everything that he represents it completely belittles my reasons for permitting this affair. I blanch at the word affair, struggling with the terminology as if that alone is what makes the act a terrible thing.
Looking troubled, with a frown evident on his beautiful face, he stirs before relaxing back into the sofa. I wonder if he is as affected by our problems as I am. I don’t think he’d ever resort to cheating. No, that is for the weak. But maybe whatever we are going through is eating at him too.
Feeling the need to go a little way in repenting my copious sins, I begin making breakfast. I go all out, making Reid’s favorite omelet, laying on bacon and sausage too. I’m just making coffee when I hear him stirring. When I turn and look, he is bent over his knees, his head lodged firmly in his hands and he lets out a low groan. He’s hungover.
“Hi,” I call cheerily from the safety of the kitchen. He looks like he is going to barf any second. I may join him. All I see when I look at him is my own disgusting mistake and it’s sickening.
Turning to look at me, he groans again, as if reminded of how shitty he feels. He doesn’t even offer a smile, let alone a greeting before he stalks off to the bathroom. I’m a little bothered by his discourtesy but then I remember how I felt after my fling with tequila the other night, so I leave him be. When I hear the shower running I keep our food warm until he finishes.
Padding into the kitchen on bare feet, he looks at me properly for the first time this morning. His jaw is tense and his smoky, green eyes are full of mystery as he regards me intently. I feel shy under such scrutiny but push through it.
“You came home early?” I ask, pointlessly.
“I made breakfast. Your favorite.”
He nods again.
I’m starting to worry. Placing my hands on his chest, I recoil a touch at the rapidity of his breaths. “What’s wrong, baby?” I ask, panic creeping into my tone. His face tightens as he looks away and a shuddering breath echoes from the solid confines of his chest. Is he going to cry? Oh no, what’s happened?
My hands reach up to guide his face back to my own, stroking the roughness of his neglected jaw. Then, it dawns on me. A hand flies to my own mouth as I realize just what could cause this reaction in him. “Oh my, it’s your grandparent’s, isn’t it? Reid, what’s happened?”
His eyes finally meet mine and they soften. Shaking his head lightly, he opens his mouth to speak before closing it again. He takes a steadying breath and I prepare for the worst. “They’re fine. I’m fine. Just hungover.” He presses his forehead against mine and I relax at his words, looping my arms around him in relief.
“Jesus, Reid! You had me scared.”
He doesn’t apologize but he pulls me tighter, wrapping his arms around me as if we have been apart for months rather than days. I guess, in some respects, we have. I’m still a little confused with his demeanor but I can’t deny how happy being in these arms makes me. I breathe in his freshly showered scent and feel a lump form in the pit of my throat. I’ve missed this so much.
“Our breakfast will be getting cold,” I mumble into his shirt. He pulls away, nodding, before he takes a seat at the dining table. I suddenly feel quite alone without his warm body pressed against mine so I make quick work of getting breakfast and coffee to the table.
We eat in an awkward silence. Reid tries his best with his food but I guess he’s still feeling a little nauseous. His head hangs low throughout breakfast as he toys with the food on his plate. He looks completely disinterested, in both his meal and me.
“When do you need to be at work?” I ask, hopeful.
He shrugs. Oh, why is he being difficult?
I try again. “I was thinking, maybe now that this deal with Clarks is done, we could go away this weekend? Ya’ know, like we planned before?”
He stops rolling his food and looks at me. He regards me coldly for several long seconds then gets up from the table. He’s collecting his things from before him when he tells me, “It’s not going to happen. I’m still busy with work and I don’t think it’s...practical going away right now.”
“What about next week? I’m sure we could both use a break.”
“What do you need a break from exactly?” he snaps. “You’re not busy. You’re hardly in demand, right?” His words are mean and cold but they don’t even compare to what I find in his eyes. I begin to stutter a response but he walks out, leaving me with an internal chill.
Any hope that I had in working through this itch is dwindling fast. I can see it dimming before my eyes like the very candles of this table. My belief that we have the strength to fight this is flying away like a startled bird. Faith in a relationship can only be present when both parties want the same thing. It doesn’t look like we do. I know my actions of late haven’t exactly proven my devotion to us, but I still believed that eventually we would recover. How can we recover when both of us have given up in one way or the other?
The lump in my throat is back and my eyes burn with their traitorous tears. I draw my knees up onto the chair and wrap my arms around them in a desperate attempt to find comfort. Last night was the first time I have cried in years and it appears the gates have been opened and they have yet to shut. Either that or my life has grown so pitiful that tears are going to be a standard part of it from here on in.
As they fall from my eyes I swipe the tears away but it’s too late. Reid is standing, facing me with a look of disbelief that only makes me cry harder, and swipe harder.
“Why do you look so surprised? With enough pressure behind it the dam was bound to eventually break,” I bite, rolling my palm up my nose to wipe in the most unladylike of ways.
“Why now though?” he asks, recovered enough from the shock to blast me with his steely stare.
“Because you’re so cold, Reid! You’re so cold you’re winter. I feel like I’m lost in the longest winter ever and spring is nowhere in sight. I’ve lost all sense of who I am by moving here to be with you, but now I’m losing you too. I’ve been holding onto the hope that we’ll make it through this, but day by day that hope is thinning and now, now I feel like we’re down to the last thread. I don’t think I’m strong enough to watch it break.” I stifle a sob as it implodes in my chest, holding it in with my hand fixed tight over my mouth. Needing to do something, anything, I take a deep breath and proceed to take my plate and mug into the kitchen, sliding past Reid as he stands there in a daze.
“Is this all my fault?” he asks, his voice weak.
“No, Reid, it’s nobody’s fault. Or maybe it’s my fault. I don’t...Oh, Reid, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
The painful sobs are uncontrollable as they seize every part of me. I cover my face before sinking to the cold floor of the kitchen. I just want to curl up into a ball and teleport myself across the country, turning back the clock on the way.
“I didn’t realize you felt like that, not to that extent anyway,” Reid says, as he slowly steps closer. “I guess I never truly took into account how hard this was for you. I’m s...”
“No, please, I don’t want to hear you apologize. I couldn’t bear it.” I look up at him to shake my head but he’s falling to his knees before me. He shuffles closer so that he is eye level with me and I see my own upset reflected in him. His eyes are glossy with unshed tears and his jaw is twitching with contained emotions.
“I need to get out of here. I just need a time out for a minute. But, please, promise me that you won’t break the thread while I’m gone.” His voice is a mere whisper, but it shoots right through my heart. I hold back another stream of tears until Reid has left, his running shoes in hand.
I pound the pavement harder, faster, than I normally would, needing to burn off the hangover, the energy, the upset. I had to get out of that apartment before I fell apart in such a fashion that it would have been impossible to piece me back together again. I’ve never felt emotion like that before. I mean, I physically felt them. A weight hung in my chest making it almost impossible to breathe. My legs were weak as all of my strength was contained in holding it together. I felt sick to the point where I could taste it. I can’t even attribute these feelings to one thing. They are the combination of a dozen things, all resulting in my world falling apart.
I found it almost impossible to look at Darlene this morning because I was so goddamn angry with her, and then the anger cowered away. She smiled and I felt like she had pulled out my heart, held it in her hands and kissed it, reminding me that she owned it no matter what.
Then to see her cry…
I’d have preferred a crippling kick to the gut. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, and that pain doubled when I realized that I had caused the tears. I knew that I’d neglected her somewhat but I had ignored the responsibility under the belief that I had to because of work. I shouldered her with the majority of the blame because she was the one making it so difficult, when all along she was struggling. I should have seen, or we should have at least been in a place where she was able to tell me how she was feeling. But I guess the less she saw me the less comfortable she was in admitting her upset, especially when I know how terrible she felt at not being able to find a job.
However, even if I can understand the decline of our relationship does that mean that I can accept her infidelity? The thought of her leaving is unbearable, something I’m not willing to let happen. So I have to confront her. And then what? She’ll choose me because it is the decent thing to do. She won’t be basing her decision on what she really wants but what seven years together dictates she should do. So if she chooses me how will I know that she won’t be tempted to leave again?
If her love for me is waning then someone even more tempting than Blue might pull her away for good. I don’t want her choosing me out of duty, but because she loves me more than she has ever loved anyone, because she can’t imagine being without me, because it would tear her apart to sleep anywhere other than our bed.
I need her to feel how she felt before we entered winter. I need to find spring so that I can guide us back into the sun. I need to win her back without resorting to guilt. I need her to see that I am the best thing for her and that my love for her excels anyone else’s.
And when I’m sure of her love, of our love, I’ll tell her to choose.
I’m burning from exertion rather than anger by the time I head back. I’m prepared for what is going to be the first step of a long climb, but damn, the view will be amazing. To get back what we once had will be worth this heartache, it will be worth the effort to come and it will be something to be proud of.
In times gone by we were the couple that everyone was jealous of. We were so obviously in love and so undeniably tied to each other that it just made sense to seal that love with marriage. Nobody thought that a marriage born out of a college fling would ever survive, but we proved them all wrong.
We will prove them wrong again.
I want back that insane passion and uncontrollable thirst that I had for Darlene, and more than anything else, I want her to feel the same way.
The apartment is quiet when I get back, but I know exactly where to find Darlene. Sitting in her chair with her knees bent under her chin. She diverts her eyes from the grand window to present me with the most honest look of dejection I have ever seen. Her reflective blue eyes are burnt pink and her cheeks are flushed. Wet hair hangs forlornly on either side of her face, dragging her features into a gloomy shadow. She regards me cautiously as I make my way to her. I’m equally as cautious. I’m resolute in my decision to win her back but I’m unsure that she’s going to let me.
Silently, I take a seat on the coffee table before her. She straightens up, bringing her feet to the floor. Our knees almost touching and our eyes locked in a wordless exchange, we stay this way for some time before I stop over-thinking what needs to be said and just go with my gut.
Lifting my hand, I hold it upright between us. Immediately she seems to relax. Much to my relief, she does the same with hers, bringing them together with a little reminiscent sigh.
We don’t do pinkie promises. Pinkies are the smallest, most insignificant part of the hand. When we make a promise, it is with everything.
Skin to skin, our palms and fingers sit. “I can’t promise that you won’t have to face any problems again, but I can promise that you won’t have to face them alone. I’m going to be there every step of the way with you, if you’ll let me. Promise me that you won’t give up on us and that you’ll accept my love and learn to love me again.”
Shaking her head, she shuffles forward a little. “I do love you, Reid, that’s not the issue.”
“Promise me,” I insist, not believing anything other than our kissing hands.
Exhaling heavily, she confirms, “I promise.”
As if on cue, my phone calls from the other room, alerting me to the fact that work will have to factor into our promises, but it won’t dictate our marriage anymore. Of that I will make certain.
Closing my fingers around Darlene’s, I bring our enclosed hands to my mouth, breathing through our fingers as I relax in the feel of her skin against my lips. “I’m going to go into work this afternoon, but when I get back it’s going to be as if the last few months have never been. Deal?” She nods her head and I can see that she’s working hard to curtail her emotions.
A single tear rolls down her face. I pull us together before taking her head in my hands. I kiss away the tear and make a secret promise to myself that I will never again make her cry.
The faintest trace of hope accompanies me to work despite the heaviness that sits on my chest. I’m still hurting from the discovery of her...affair, but I have to believe that after this morning’s promise we can move on from it. Our problems are not behind us but they are at least out in the open where they can be studied and resolved. I am happy in the belief that we can make this work, and that above all else, Darlene wants to make it work. She hasn’t just given up.
I acted on my own promise to ascertain a deduction off my working hours by speaking with senior management today. I explained that in order to perform at my best I needed to feel my best and with my work life intruding so much on my marriage I was beginning to struggle. I walked away with not only an agreement to compromise on hours but also the promise of securing me an assistant to help with the workload. I’ve never had an assistant in my life! I guess bringing in some big names has granted me more stature than I thought.
Stepping into my office, feeling encouraged after said meeting, I find a text message from Darlene awaiting me.
-I forgot to tell you. I’ll be going out tonight with a friend. I won’t be late though. Promise x-
My phone is almost victim to a head on collision when I fight the urge to throw it at the wall. I want to believe that her text message is exactly how it is, but knowing what I know I can’t help but believe that it is a feeble excuse for time with him.
I hate how she signs off with a promise.
She clearly knows nothing of the word.
Socializing is the last thing on my mind after everything that I have been through today, but plans had already been made before the drama had panned out. I can hardly cancel on my only friends when I’ve wanted them for so long. They’ve assured me that we’re just going for a few quiet drinks locally so I’m still hoping that I can spend some time with Reid before bed. I think we need to act on our promise to put this sorry mess behind us, tonight. I don’t want the opportunity to right us to slip through my fingers.
Reid still isn’t back by the time I’m ready to leave so I assume that he’s working late. What I don’t want to assume is that he thinks I’m negating on our promise. Just in case, I send him a text message confirming that I have taken my phone and that I will call him later. He doesn’t text back.
I meet Veda and Nile in the park under a low slung sun and I’m almost dazzled by Veda’s glitter ball of a dress as the last of the light explodes in its sequins. It’s thigh high with a cleavage showcasing neckline.
“I thought we were just going for quiet drinks?” I ask, worriedly. I’m not sure whether my worry stems from my casual attire of jeans and a pale tank, or whether it’s because I really do just want a couple of drinks and home.
“Oh, we are,” Nile confirms. “But, Miss Try-Hard here is hoping to bump into Zach.” She slaps him playfully on the shoulder before flushing just a shade lighter than her titian hair.
“I didn’t know you like Zach?” I say, a little shocked.
“Neither does he.” She shrugs. “But it’s about time he did.” She gestures toward her dress and I smile.
“Well, if he doesn’t notice you in that then he’s definitely gay,” I encourage. Nile pipes up hopefully and we all laugh. “I hope he’s worth it though. You’re going to freeze in that!”
“That’s why we need to stop and get my jacket from work. It’s the only thing that goes with this beaut,” she declares, unaware of my immediate hesitance. I don’t say anything, not wanting to explain why all of a sudden I have an aversion to The Nest. Instead, I walk politely behind them as they usher into the bar.
It’s predictably quiet. I’ve learned that Tuesdays usually are. The only noise comes from Nina’s girlish laugh as she flirts outrageously with Blue behind the bar. My annoyance is immediate but I don’t want to pull out a chunk of her hair, so I consider that progress.
“Evening,” Veda calls, spinning to show Blue her dress. He whistles appreciatively I hear, but I daren’t look. I don’t want to be reminded of what I feel for him right now.
“You come for your jacket?” Blue asks.
“Yup. I’ll get it,” Veda responds.
“No, Darlene will. There’s something for her too.”
All eyes fall on me and I feel myself begin to blush. I follow Blue quickly through the door he’s holding open, needing to get away from the inquisitive stares and wanting to slap Blue for initiating them.
“What are you doing?” I scorn as soon as the door shuts behind him. “Do you want them to know about us?”
“I don’t care if they know about us.” He steps closer, causing me to step back against the wall. “Why haven’t you returned my calls?”
I grip his boulder-like biceps, trying in vain to restrain his advances. “Because I‘ve had a lot on my mind today and I didn’t need you adding to it,” I reply, honestly.
“Is everything okay?” “Hardly, but I think it will be.”
“Good.” He looks down at our chests as the space between them decreases and licks his lips provocatively.
“I really need to go before they suspect something, Blue.” “A kiss first?” He takes my lips before I can contemplate an answer. His tongue invites itself into my mouth but I don’t deny it. His hands are knitted into my hair and his excitement is pressed against me, encouraging my own arousal. My breath falls heavily into his mouth as his tongue works to remind me how well we do this. Us. His hand falls to my breast and the act prompts me to stop. I can’t get carried away when a curious crowd awaits us on the other side of the door.
“Please, Blue. I need to go.”
“Come back later.”
“I can’t. Reid will be expecting me home.”
“He’ll think you’re still with Team Camp out there.”
I laugh at his description before nodding. “We’ll see.”
“We’ll see,” he says, mocking my faint accent. “Behave tonight. You only drink tequila with me, okay?”
“I’m never drinking tequila again,” I assure, remembering the last time all too well.
On our return to the bar, the three of them fall silent, waiting expectantly for either of us to enlighten them. Blue has Veda’s jacket in his hand and so he tosses it over the bar to her.
“You get what you needed?” Nile prompts.
“She’ll get it later,” Blue answers, winking obviously at me. I want to spit at him.
The first bar we walk into lifts my shoulders and lightens my step. Country music blares out around us, and I rejoice in the familiar sound. Double Trouble laugh at me as they guide me to the bar.
“I told you she’d love it,” says Nile, winking at Veda knowingly.
“How did I not know about this place?” I ask.
“Because you weren’t looking,” he replies. I contemplate his words and deduce that he’s right. “But you’re here now and the first rounds on you!”
I order us beers and we find a table. We chat easily about everything. When you know someone so little there is so much to talk about. Time moves quickly and eventually these two hipsters are ready to try somewhere more them. I agree, so we find a bar a little further out.
Liberty is overly dark with the only light being emitted from fluorescent strips of various colors. The music is so loud that my head vibrates and the carpet is so used that my feet fuse to the floor like Velcro. It’s pretty small and the heat of the large crowd hits us like a wall of fire as we push through the masses.
“Why is it so busy in here?” I ask Nile as we remove our jackets. We’re looking for seats as Veda looks for drinks.
Rolling my eyes at the back of his head does little to alleviate my frustration. “I am far too old for student night, Nile.”
“Never!” he exclaims as he bounces excitedly over to an empty, all too sticky table.
“What happened to having a quiet night? I don’t want to get carried away.”
“You should probably tell that to Veda.” I turn to see the aforementioned vixen weaving through the crowd with a tray of shots and a pitcher of margarita. Reid’s going to hate me.
An hour in and peer pressure, along with copious amounts of alcohol, has succeeded in getting me into the spirit of things. I’m grinding away on the dance floor when I feel two hands get comfortable on my hips. I turn with my fist already clenched, but I’m placated at the vision of dark, dangerous eyes. They twinkle with a mischievous smile and I flit between cursing Blue and smiling back.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, removing his hands from their unashamedly familiar spot.
“Veda asked Zach to meet you all here. We were quiet at the bar so I thought I’d tag along.” He doesn’t ask if that’s okay and I have to admire his audacity.
“Okay, great, but don’t think you can paw me in front of everyone,” I reaffirm as he makes an effort to claim my hips again.
“There is nothing corrupt about us dancing together, Pilgrim.”
“There is the way that you dance.”
“Fine, well I’ll offer my services elsewhere then.” With his hands up in defeat he backs away. I continue to dance but feel so much more self-conscious now.
Nile gestures that he’s ready for another drink and so I follow with gratitude. Veda is too busy working on Zach to care about her thirst and so Nile and I sip on our beers overlooking the dance floor.
I can’t help but notice Blue amongst the party. He towers over the majority, true, but it’s not just that. He has a presence, an aura, that screams out from the rest and I’m not the only one to have noticed. A herd of females have gathered around him, leaving their shame at the bar along with their sobriety. When Blue meets my gaze he smiles wickedly.
This is all such an act and it’s ridiculous.
What’s more ridiculous is that it’s working. He wants my attention and he has it. He wants me to be jealous and I am. I hate him, but I hate myself a thousand times more.
Handing my drink to Nile, I excuse myself and head to the toilets in search of Lord knows what. Nothing there is going to relieve me of this overpowering disgust. I’m not going to find any peace in a cubicle. I’ll find it at home.
I want to go home.
I’m just about to walk into the ladies bathroom when my wrist is captured and I am tugged hard into the disabled toilets. Blue locks the door behind us.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I ask, outraged by his belief that he can manipulate me like this.
“What’s your problem, Darlene?”
“Yes, you! You tell me to keep my hands off of you but when they’re on somebody else you shoot daggers at me across the room?”
“I wasn’t shooting...”
“Stop lying to yourself!” He spins me around until my back is against the door and his grip on my waist is so eager that I’m almost lifted from the floor. “You’re pissed because you were jealous and you’re jealous because you want me just as much as I want you,” he grates, undoing the buttons of my jeans as he speaks. His voice is menacing and hot and I’m paralyzed with confusing desire. As his fingers hover over my sex he growls, “Stop analyzing everything and just go with what this wants. Feel how wet you are? That’s all me, baby.”
I moan as his fingers move against me, stripping away the last of my resolve before following with my clothes. I’m crying as I tumble into an all new low of fucking in public bathrooms.
Hell is getting so close that I am beginning to burn.
Not even the chill of Chicago can save me now.
One of my all time favorite songs is blaring through the speakers, pounding on the walls of our apartment as my good friend, Jack Daniels, attempts to comfort me. It’s funny how it takes being drunk to finally understand the lyrics to Mr. Brightside. Suddenly, the song is not so great after all. Nor is the whiskey. I’m halfway through the bottle and it hasn’t even begun to take the edge off of the pain that comes with the knowledge that she is with him. She hasn’t told me as such, but I know she is.
I look up and see her standing in the doorway to the apartment, scouring the room in distaste. I scour with her, finding it perfectly acceptable, except maybe for the flowers which were “accidently” knocked over, the books that “accidently” fell from the shelf and my clothes which got discarded in my solo striptease. I look down. At least I kept my boxers on.
The music cuts out and is immediately replaced by a hoarse sounding Darlene.
“I said, what are you doing?”
I shrug before taking a swig of my glass. Damn, empty. Lifting myself lazily from her chair, I stalk past her into the kitchen to pour myself another, but she snatches the bottle from my grip. If she were a man I would cripple her.
“Oh, you’re allowed to drink but I’m not?” I say, towering over her until she backs away.
“You’re drunk enough.”
“And you’re a fucking liar.” She recoils like she’s been bitten, and she doesn’t stop until she is in the safety of the bathroom. The sound of the door slamming echoes down the hall and rattles my anger. I fight the urge to continue goading her, but I lose, miserably.
Pounding down the hall, I imagine telling her that the promise is broken. My fist is inches from pummeling the door when I hear a broken sob. The anger is thrown from my body with the velocity of a fastball, leaving only booze intensified numbness. The numbness trickles away with each second I hear her cry until I am nothing but a man hurting for his wife. My head falls against the door as I press for a connection with her. It’s not enough.
When I open the door a thick mist pours out. I push through the hot cloud to find Darlene sitting on the floor of the shower with the glass door ajar. The water turns to steam as it hits her red flesh. How hot does she have it?