She doesn’t look at me. Her chin is rested on folded arms that sit atop her knees. She’s never looked as vulnerable as she looks at this moment, and that realization has me falling to the floor. I’m about to crawl into the shower with her when she stops me.
“Please, Reid, leave me for five minutes.”
“Let me look after you.”
“I don’t need looking after. I-I just need you to go.”
The words hurt as much as the water on her back probably does. I get up, prepared to grant her wish, and turn the temperature gauge down before I leave.
I wait for her in our bedroom across the hall, trying to work out what she has been doing while I have been throwing myself a pity party. She had to have slept with him. I can practically see the guilt dripping off of her. At least she’s ashamed. At least she isn’t rejoicing in the act.
Oh God, the act.
I swallow back the nausea that throbs in my gut. It’s one thing knowing that at some point she has been with another man but to know that it happened just a moment ago is sickening.
Where did he have her?
Did he make her come?
I can’t do this. I don’t have it in me to sit back and let her screw around. Not when I can imagine it all too easily. The image of them fucking is as persistent as if it has been glued to my eyelids. I race to get to the kitchen sink as I fight the rising bile, but find the bathroom door open. She’s not there. I douse my face in water, rubbing hard to bruise the image that sits in my vision. It doesn’t work. I heave again but this time I can’t deny it. I wretch into the toilet in repetitive rolls, but none of it empties me of the nausea. No, it’s embedded too deeply. It runs through my entire body, my mind, not just my stomach. When I can’t physically find any more relief I brush my teeth and take a quick shower. I feel grim. And disappointingly sober.
I dry myself and wrap a towel around my waist to seek out Darlene, finding her in her chair, of course. She too, is only in a towel. I stand across the room from her, gauging her quietness. Silent tears are highlighted by the moonlight that trails through the window and she doesn’t wipe them away. She’s past trying to hide her emotions.
“I’m sorry,” I say, the stillness cocooning my voice and doubling its volume.
“Don’t be sorry.”
“It’s not something I can control,” I add. She offers nothing. “Come to bed, Darl.”
She sighs so heavily that her shoulders lift and I see further tears drip from her raw blues. She’s shaking her head when I cross the room. Stopping in front of her, I reach for her hands. “You are my wife. You should be in our bed.”
She allows me to lift her until she’s standing. We’re walking when her towel falls and she makes a move to collect it. “Leave it.”
“Reid, I can’t...”
“Baby, I’m not going to...” I sigh at the very idea that I need to pacify her this way. “You don’t have to worry about me making a pass at you. I just want to be with you.”
She nods her head and I’m about to walk us to our bedroom when a sob breaks out from her puffy lips and doesn’t stop. She weeps into her hands until I pull her to me, where she lets the tears fall against my bare chest. Skin to skin we stand and I take on every one of her heavy sobs. I accept them for both of us.
Eventually her sobbing eases into sniffles and I’m able to lift her and carry her to our room. Gently, I lay her in bed and tighten the covers around her like one would a child. Opting for pajama pants, I dress and climb into the sheets. She’s facing away from me so I pull her near, my chest to her back. Our legs entwine and I have a brief moment of believing that all is as it should be. But when hot tears fall against my arm I am reminded of just how far we still have to go.
“This is where you sleep from now on, baby, only here.”
She doesn’t voice her agreement, but she pulls my arms tighter against her and I construe that to be good enough.
Morning breezes by in a gale of rare politeness as neither of us mentions last night’s theatrics, not even as I clean up the sorry mess Reid had left.
My poor flowers.
Any anxiety I harbored was soothed the moment I woke up in Reid’s arms. His slept in skin was an instant relaxant to my stubborn nerves.
Reid insists that he can go into work a little later than normal and after much persuasion he tempts me to go running with him. We’ve run together before, but I just don’t feel it like he does. He finds it therapeutic while I find it a chore. My barely worn running shoes glow a bright white next to the grey pavement at my feet while the dark sky threatens to rain, only adding to my reluctance.
“You have to stretch, Darl. You’ll feel it more if you don’t.”
I roll my eyes but copy Reid as he stretches his muscles in turn, a look of amusement glued to his face. “You don’t have to look so happy,” I snide.
“I am happy. Running will give us more time together. We can do it every morning. It’ll be good for us, you’ll see.”
I force a smile as I wonder if the extra exercise will allow me more chips.
Half hour later and Reid has to practically carry me home. I’m breathless and wet while he looks completely unscathed. We make our way up to our apartment, in the elevator of course, and I throw Reid a look of annoyance. I don’t tell him that despite how my body feels like it has just been abused in every way, there is something akin to contentment in my mind.
It was nice to see Reid so peaceful. He looks so much younger without the glasses he uses for work and with his hair left un-styled. Besides, I do feel a little more alive having used my lungs for something other than singing or sobbing.
Reid showers quickly and leaves for work, that lopsided grin fixed to his face. In his absence I shower and enjoy a well-earned hot chocolate, with cream, and marshmallows. I savor the peace that has come after the storm of last night, but as the reminder ravishes through my mind I remember that an explanation is owed.
I reach for my bag and rummage for my phone. After sending an apologetic text message to Veda last night, explaining that I’d gone home feeling ill, I had turned it off and that is how it has remained until now. It comes alive with voicemails and texts and I chew on my lip as I receive them. Blue is outraged that I left without telling him, but then his outrage gives in to worry. I almost feel bad but then there is a knock on the door to relieve my remorse.
The only knocks on our door comes from maintenance and since our maintenance guy is a small, overly wrinkled, old man I open the door with no hesitance. I shut it again immediately, but there is a foot wedged between the door and the frame.
“Just let me in, Darlene!”
“This conversation would draw a lot less attention in there!”
Panic defeats my resolve as I wonder what on earth the neighbors would think of a man shouting at me from the hall. I reluctantly let him in and back away. I don’t like him being here. It feels more traitorous than anything we have ever done.
I want him out, now.
“Why did you leave last night?” he asks as he closes the door softly behind him.
“Why do you think?”
Shaking his head, he steps closer. “I’m not going to let you feel ashamed for us. He doesn’t fucking deserve you, Pilgrim.”
“You know nothing about what he deserves! Stop acting like this is okay, because it’s not. And it’s not going to happen anymore.”
He steps forward again, challenging me with those damn puppy dog eyes. He has no intention of making this easy for me but I’ll be damned if I give in to him, not here.
“You say that but you don’t mean it,” he says with genuine belief.
“Oh, I mean it. I’m not pandering to your advances anymore. I’m not part of your game. I’m not a prize or a challenge. I’m married and what we are doing is sick. You being here is sick, and I want you to leave.” “Is that all you think you are to me...?”
“I know that’s what I am. We’re fucking, remember?” I declare, contradicting what I previously said but not caring. I need him to not want me anymore and if this is how to do it then so be it.
“No, that’s not what we’re about. I’ve never fucked you.”
“Seriously? What do you call last night? Screwing against the bathroom wall of a bar is not making love, Blue.”
“That’s called passion! Does Reid give you that?” I step back in disgust until my back meets the pillar that divides the kitchen. Blue steps with me, yet again caging me in. He is a true predator.
“Reid loves me.” I sound each word slowly, pointedly, and watch as his face pinches in frustration.
“Maybe I...” His hooded eyes descend over my body and it is only now that I realize I am still in my bathrobe after my shower. I’m panting as I see his intentions but not out of anticipation, out of anger. His hands, so capable of magic, reach out and tug at the belt, opening my gown.
He doesn’t get chance to appreciate what lies beneath because I strike him hard across the face.
The sound curses the air and my hand tingles from the impact. Blue looks hurt. Not because my weedy arms can pack a punch, but because I have dismissed his attempt so harshly. He backs up and I see that I’ve split his lip. I feel terrible and empowered all at once. I have never struck anyone in my life!
My adrenaline peaks and I push him even further away, leaving me enough room to cover myself and move past him to the door. I wait impatiently for Blue to follow but he simply stands there in shock.
As I wait for him to respond I allow myself a mental high five. I have put my foot down in the most dramatic of ways and I feel proud of myself. I hate to think of Blue hurt but he has completely overstepped the mark. How dare he intrude unwanted into my apartment, mine and Reid’s apartment!
“Did you watch Reid leave?”
“What?” he asks, still in shock.
“DID YOU WATCH REID LEAVE?” I shout, my strength finally present and sticking around.
“And so you thought you would come and keep his bed warm?” He rolls his eyes and I almost smack him again. “Get out.”
He doesn’t move.
Blue stares at me for far too long before he leaves, slamming the door in his wake. I grip the pillar for support, my adrenaline having left with him. As weak as I feel I still have the strength to smile. My actions in no way make up for the damage that has already been done, I know that. But all is not lost.
You can grow flowers from dirt.
I have taken the first step to rectifying my massive mistake. This affair was born from my dissatisfaction I found in my marriage and it shall die from its rejuvenation.
After an eventful morning what I really need is a relaxing afternoon, and that’s exactly what I plan on having. I am not to stress about Blue, or Reid for that matter. I am to concentrate on me, and building myself a life beyond the two of them, because inevitably, that is the core of my issues.
I contemplate a pampering day, nails and hair especially, seems as though both have been heavily neglected since I got here. When Reid calls to invite me to a work event this weekend he gives me the perfect excuse. I’m delighted to have been asked since I can’t remember the last time I got to play dress-up. I wonder if he would’ve asked me a few days ago or whether this is him ‘trying’. Either way, I’m happy.
I’m less happy that he has invited himself to my gig tomorrow night at The Nest. Of course, I was not planning on attending. Punching Blue in the mouth kind of secured that. But he sounded so excited to see me perform and he insisted so heavily about walking down with me that I couldn’t bring myself to deny him. Besides, what excuse could I really have for refusing the gig now? As far as Reid is concerned everything is going great with Blue and the bar. If only he really knew the depth of how not great it is.
I dress quickly and catch the El for Michigan Avenue in the hope of securing an outfit as well as a long overdue beautification. I’m lucky to find somewhere that does both hair and nails and when I leave I feel completely rejuvenated. I find a perfect cocktail dress and I splurge on new shoes, cringing as I use my plastic, knowing damn well how thin my savings are, but after everything, I can’t muster the audacity to use our joint account. Not when Reid’s is the only salary filling it.
It’s late in the day when I head home. I’d ordinarily pick up something for dinner but Reid instructed me that he was going to order in for us. I wish he wouldn’t, not when I know he will order pizza and I now have a very tight dress to fit into come Saturday.
I’m practically hopping down the street before I realize that I have to walk past The Nest in order to get home. I cross the road and move quickly but I can’t stop myself from looking. I don’t have to look very far because Blue is standing outside with Veda, sucking on a cigarette. Veda smiles and turns her body to me as if expecting me to walk over. I wave pathetically before pointing to my watch and shrugging. I see Blue scoff at my avoidance but I don’t care. Nothing can ruin the happiness that I have forced upon myself.
I have checked off everything a girl needs to be satisfied. Pampering, check. Shopping, check. A liquid lunch, check. All I need is a drama-free night with Reid. I can’t expect more than that. A peaceful night in front of the TV would be heaven compared to what has been shared between us recently, or more appropriately, what hasn’t.
My key rattles in the lock of our apartment door and when I open it I am surprised to see the room already lit. Not from above but from the line of candles that flicker across the dining table. Reid is standing beside the display, bathing in the amber glow, wearing tan slacks and an olive green shirt that makes his eyes snap. His hair is styled high to perfection and he is holding a bottle of my favorite wine. He’s smiling, but it is bridled with nerves.
“Reid...” I whisper, my voice having been stolen by my surprise.
“Welcome home, Darl.”
My smile comes thick and fast as he gestures for me to take a seat. I leave my bags at the door and do as I’m told. As Reid pours me a glass of wine I inspect our surroundings. Along with the candles, the table is adorned with rose petals and our wedding china, the smell of tomatoes and garlic trails in from the kitchen, and Mumford and Sons serenade us through the stereo.
I fight back the biting guilt that reminds me how I don’t deserve this attentiveness, and smile appreciatively as Reid kisses my hand. He needs this. We both really need this. I’m aware of how romantic Reid is, how he has learned from many literary masters what romance truly means and that his over indulgence was nothing unusual in our early years together. I guess life just got in the way. This is a perfect reminder.
“You finished work early to do this?” I ask before taking a sip of my wine.
“I took the afternoon off.”
I’m completely surprised. “They let you?”
“They’ve agreed to loosen the leash a little. I’m getting an assistant,” he declares. His smile is broad and proud and my heart does a little skip for him. This is a big step and it could mean huge things for us.
“That’s amazing, Reid. Are we celebrating?” I gesture to the splendor around us.
“No. We’re reminiscing.” Bobbing his head, he looks as if he is explaining to himself rather than me. “We’re falling in love again.”
I place my wine down. “Reid, I already love you.”
“Not enough.” He doesn’t mumble his words and there is no shame in them. He’s not challenging me, he’s just being honest.
“How much more do you want?”
He crouches before me, cupping my face as if he doesn’t already have my undivided attention. “I want all of it. I’m not sharing you.” Alarm nudges me as fleeting panic runs through my body.
Not sharing me?
Does he know about Blue?
It’s impossible. I’ve been so careful. When his lips meet mine I deduce that he doesn’t. My bags would be packed and outside the front door if he knew. His lips persuade mine to open and I forget about everything other than his tongue against mine. I’m reminded of how perfectly we fit together as he dances the same dance I do. He pulls away, leaving me breathless.
“Not that I want to break this up, but dinner’s going to burn if I don’t stop,” he says, just as breathless as me. I smile in response and watch as he goes to serve our food.
We eat in between a flowing conversation. Reid enlightens me about what has been occurring at work and I talk about how excited I am for my new job, even if it is so damn long away. He asks me about what I plan to sing tomorrow and I ask him if he has any requests. I love that everything he suggests is country.
When he pulls out chocolate covered strawberries for desert I propose eating them on the sofa with the accompaniment of a movie, like we used to. I let him choose and he picks Coyote Ugly. I have to laugh. Reid claims that he first laid eyes on me while I was singing Can’t Fight The Moonlight, and he says he was hooked from that very moment. I tell him he’s a romantic fool but inside I swoon.
When we take our seats Reid pulls me to him and I fall automatically into the nook of his arm, as if no time or tantrums have passed. We pick at strawberries despite our full stomachs and we finish the last of the wine. I can’t concentrate on anything other than the circles Reid is stroking over the skin of my bare shoulder.
“Are you cold, Darl?”
“Huh?” I reply, sleepily.
“You have goosebumps.”
I don’t tell him that the goosebumps are the result of him stirring feelings in me that I have longed to feel for weeks. Instead, I shrug. He pulls the blanket from the back of the sofa over us both and squeezes me even closer. With my head on his shoulder I am exactly where I want to be.
“Let’s do this every night,” Reid says, kissing the top of my head.
I chuckle lightly. “That’s highly impractical.”
“Okay, let’s do this whenever it’s practical.”
Reid holds out his hand and I press my palm and fingers against it. Promise. I lift my head to look at Reid directly and find such warmth in his eyes that I can’t help but kiss him. His lips are soft and tender as he sighs into my mouth. When Jersey starts to sing ‘But I do Love You’ Reid holds back. “Sing to me.”
“What, now?” He nods his head while I shake mine. “I’ve just eaten chocolate.”
“You’re such a perfectionist.”
I nod and rest my head back on his shoulder. I’m totally dreading tomorrow. I can’t imagine that Blue will even want me there and if he does then I don’t look forward to having to pretend that all is okay for Reid’s benefit. I could have called and checked if I hadn’t already deleted Blue’s number from my phone.
Reid’s swirling fingers begin their slow circles again, teasing me into a peaceful sleep. When I wake I am being carried to bed. I sigh happily when I am pulled back into Reid’s arms and I feel his breath against my shoulder.
“Night, darling,” Reid says and I drift to sleep with a smile on my face.
Work is a much happier place when I am sent there with a kiss. Darlene ran with me again this morning and seemed to take to it easier, even admitting to me that she was enjoying it a little. After that, not even James’ inane chatter can dampen my mood.
Everything seems to be slowly righting itself and after my gesture last night I feel like we’re at least looking down the right road, even if we’re not yet riding it. However, we still have to overcome tonight’s gig. I kind of expected Darlene to say that she wasn’t going to perform, but when she didn’t I told her I wanted to watch. I don’t want to watch. Not at all. Not if they’re going to eye-fuck through the entire performance again. But I can hardly leave them to it and sit at home sulking and imagining the worst. Or the truth.
I breeze through a few manuscript proposals, finding myself naturally drawn to the more romantic of the bunch, before heading home. I’m lucky to not have any work to take with me so I can go tonight without feeling guilty.
When I arrive home I am welcomed with a wide smile and the smell of chicken in the air. Darlene is wearing an apron and has her hair pulled back. She looks every bit the fifties housewife and I can’t help but appreciate her. Something about a woman in the kitchen gets to me. Especially when it’s the woman I love…and she’s barefoot. I imagine her with a swollen belly, but I don’t say anything. Not after last time. Instead, I kiss her lightly on the cheek and privately fantasize about her bearing my child.
“You smell amazing,” I say, lingering at her cheek.
“I smell like bread. I baked,” she replies, sounding overly proud. My eyes close of their own accord and my nose trails down to Darlene’s neck, longing to breathe her. She doesn’t push away. In fact, she tilts her head to allow me better access. When I graze her skin with my lips she lets out the faintest of moans. Encouraged by her response, I deepen my kiss, pulling her body flush against my own. Our embrace is ripped apart by the sound of a shrill bell.
“It’s the timer,” she breathes into my neck, inducing a noticeable twitch in my pants.
She pulls back a little. “I’ve been slaving over that bread for the last hour. I am not leaving it.” I think I’m in trouble, but then she reaches onto her tiptoes and kisses my cheek.
My tongue is throbbing from being bitten so hard after Darlene emerged from our bedroom wearing that outfit. It’s not obviously sexy, just jeans, a loose fitting camisole, and an open sweater, but in my opinion it’s too revealing. The jeans are tight to her perfect ass but I can hardly chastise her for wearing jeans, and the cami is loose but it still highlights her breasts for the world to see. Correction, for Blue to see. Shit, tonight’s going to test every bit of the thinning restraint I have.
I went for another run after dinner, and I know it’s ridiculous but I worked extra hard with some push-ups on my return. I wear a sweater that is tight to my arms in the hope of looking bigger than I am, and while I know I’m in shape, I know that I still won’t be able to compete with Blue’s bulk.
Doesn’t mean I couldn’t take him in a fight though.
I need to feel comfortable for this game that is about to go down. I know that I’m going to have to remain silent about what I know and I know that in itself is going to be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to want to prove to Blue just how much Darlene belongs to me. I’m ready to commence the biggest pissing contest of all time.
We leave with Darlene’s guitar on my back and her hand in mine. I think she’s nervous, although she won’t say why. She couldn’t. She remains tight to me as we enter and tighter still when she sees Blue behind the bar. He looks completely shocked when he sees her, probably because I’m next to her, but for some reason it’s her he shoots looks at.
Fire flows through my veins when I see him. I am reminded of how much I hate him and my restraint is at its very thinnest. I work hard to relax my brow and unclench my fist, not wanting to alert Darlene to my rage.
“What did you want to drink?” I ask her, brushing my lips against her ear and wrapping a hand around her waist. Yes, I have possession in this little game.
“Two Corona’s, please,” I call to a startled redhead behind the bar. She smiles weakly before saying hi to Darlene and getting our drinks. She accepts my cash and I let her keep the excessive change. I don’t know why. I guess I’m trying to impress.
“You’re here.” We turn to see Blue has made his way from the bar to stand behind us.
There’s an awkward silence that hovers between us all, giving me time to clock the cut on his lip.
“Cut yourself shaving?” I ask, praying that Darlene is the assaulter but then worrying about why she would need to.
“Oh this? Just an accident. My mistake.” He’s eying Darlene when he speaks and I want to rip his eyes out. My jaw is hurting from too much tension so I swig my beer and try to loosen up again. It’s not going to happen until I am far from this asshole. Thankfully, Darlene pulls me away.
“Come on, you can sit at the front.” She puts our bottles on a table near the stage. There is an old couple already sitting there but they smile warmly at Darlene when she asks if her husband can sit with them. After five years you’d think that I’d have grown used to hearing myself being referred to as her husband, but when it has felt like such a delicate title of late, it means so much. I warm under her gaze and kiss her cheek before she takes to the stage.
The room immediately falls silent when the noise of the guitar and amp pops to life. She takes a seat and all eyes are on her. I feel immensely proud already and she has yet to sing a word. She smiles at me as she tests her guitar and I see her nerves. She’s not nervous for her performance, she never is. No, she’s nervous because of Blue and I being in the same room. I don’t feel guilty. Not now that the adrenaline of his presence has been lit.
“Good evening, boys and girls. I’m going to kick off with a song that means a lot to me. It means a lot to me because apparently it means a lot to someone else, someone very special.” She brings her eyes to mine as she strums the opening to Can’t Fight The Moonlight.
I laugh and she smiles with me. She sticks a Spanish twist on the chords and alters the arrangement a little to suit a slower pace. It’s incredibly sexy and with her focus on me my unease is cooled.
It’s the first song I ever heard her sing and from that moment I vowed to not let it be the last. I’d been dragged in off the street by her melody and I stood with a crammed bar full of people who were just as captivated by her as me.
Piecing her voice with her physical beauty meant that she was a double threat to my heart. A heart that had vowed never to fall victim to the cons of relationships or marriage. But with no more than two minutes in her company I knew that I had to try. And when she singled me out of the crowd, smiling a wicked smile, I knew that I would.
Maybe I didn’t fall in love with her at first sight, not to the power of what I feel for her now at least, but there was definitely something that bound us together that night. The second I found her I knew I would never let her go. I never have and I never will.
So much has transpired between us since that moment over seven years ago and yet nothing has changed. She still owns my heart and what’s more, I still want her to. No fleeting affair will change that, not as long as it’s my bed she comes back to. I’m still competing and the longer she sings at me the more I feel the odds fall in my favor. Whatever her and Blue have been stupid enough to slip into is nothing compared to what we have, and the sooner she is reminded of that then the sooner they will be history. His feelings for her travel no further than his pants, and surely that’s not enough for him to want to pursue her anymore. Not now that he sees us as a solid unit.
Darlene sticks with country for the next few songs and I feel myself getting lost in the storytelling before reliving my own story. I can’t deny that this drama with Darlene hasn’t prompted me to look at my reasons for not walking away from an obviously failing marriage. I don’t need a psychiatrist to tell me that it is seeing my own parent’s marriage break down that has prompted this reaction. I never wanted a marriage, seeing it as a dead weight of a strain on a relationship, but when I found the one person who I wanted to be bound to in every way I knew that I could never let it fail. I wouldn’t be another statistic. My grandparents made it work and we could too.
I don’t even know if I believe my own psychoanalysis. My parent’s relationship was doomed from the start and the best thing they ever did was split up. But we aren’t them. This is a minor bump in a very long road. And at the end, we will barely even remember it.
As if in sync with my inner ramblings, both the lights and the music cut out sharply. I can’t see a thing in front of me, let alone Darlene. After a second of stunned silence the bar is filled with confused chatter and Blue is trying to talk over the top of the noise. I ignore the lot of them, focusing entirely on getting to Darlene. I hear her faint voice and use it to guide me to the stage edge. I call her and she finds me. I lift her down to the floor, but not before she makes sure to have Cash with her.
“What’s going on?” she asks, clinging tightly to my arm.